The hard work of capturing joy

She calls out to me and I glance up at her breathless giggle, forgetting the weeds momentarily.

Mama, look!

My heart stops in my throat at her girly smile all of eight years old going on nine in a few weeks, marveling at the sensation of mud oozing between her toes and the sticky smear of soft brown clay on her ankles.

Can I? May I?

I muster just enough courage to nod because she’s fast becoming a magnet for two younger sibling boys who suddenly find garden spades and sticks and worms uninteresting and look as if they’re envisioning a thousand and one possibilities presented in one gooey, mucky pit.

In that split second I can almost see mud splats being traipsed into a house I cleaned at 1.20 a.m. and a pail full of laundry I don’t want to deal with.

But in that moment it somehow seems unjust to deny three children the pleasure of just being children.

And in that moment also I see the day when this innocent allure of a mud patch will be replaced perhaps by nervy driving lessons or 17 checks in the mirror daily or hours of cramming for exams.

I bite my tongue and peer at them through glasses that now sit on the tip of my sweaty nose and turn back quickly.

I daren’t look.

Squishy sticky sounds and squeals of laughter emerge from the corner next to the young passion fruit vine and marigolds that reflect the warmth of the evening sun.

I am caught unguarded by their wonder and all of their childhood that’s going by too quickly.

Snarls of weeds, too many and with roots going in a mile long. For now, they can wait.

Their raw undisguised joy reaches out to envelope my aching arms as I sit back and I can feel the chaos of a day with four children trying to talk to me all at once spiraling away, whisked far far away along with the evening breeze.

This living playfulness day in day out has occasionally ended in tears and clocked in a considerable amount of exhausting moments in which I want to retreat to a sound proof room or pack them all up in a suitcase.

And yet it makes me pause, gifts me with what can happen when I remember to live in the extraordinary ordinary present and allow myself to stop long enough to breathe and look with eyes that see and listen with ears that hear and play with a spirit of come what may in between the homework and the cooking and the laundry and the muted phone beeps and the pile of work papers.

There is so much to treasure and gain beyond What Is Convenient To Me.

This grueling glorious work of growing young seedlings, loosening the soil so they can breathe, training them to remain as branches on a Vine, loving with warmth and firmness, this is a vocation threatened to be choked out by the stubborn weeds of personal weakness, the distractions of things that will never last for eternity and the weight of other adult responsibilities.

I heave and dig passionately into the ground again, deeper deeper and deeper until I grasp the weed bulbs and yank them out.

Overhead, the open sky and the billowing clouds sail past and I feel God watching us.

Hard at work, hard at play.




This post was written two weeks ago on my phone in the midst of So Much Happening over the past few months. I’ve been busy with work, homeschooling, Parenting talks and doubling up at home chores while the Man has extra things on his plate. Thank you for stopping by! 


Making a Sound Book with Jolly Phonics

Piglet has been enjoying phonics in a very casual way over the past year.

He’s been learning letter sounds, forming letters with his finger, blending sounds to read words, listening for sounds in the words he hears (also known as “segmenting”) and looking at a few tricky (irregular) words.

I know it doesn’t sound casual, in fact it may sound highly technical if you’re unfamiliar with phonics. But the material we use (from Jolly Phonics) is so easy to teach and Piglet likes doing it so much that all of it seems more like play.

And it is play. The Jolly Phonics characters are endearing, the songs are lively and memorable, the indented letters in the Finger Phonics books are lovely for little fingers to trace, and the games are engaging.

I have taught Jolly Phonics (and its follow-up, Jolly Grammar) at home to our three children for the past 5 years and I have to say I’m not bored of it yet.

Let me share with you in more detail what Piglet and I did this year with Jolly Phonics:

  • Told stories using Finger Phonics (Books 1-7)
  • Blended sounds to read words in Finger Phonics books
  • Traced indented letters in Finger Phonics books
  • Sang all the Jolly Songs
  • Learned the actions for each sound
  • Looked at letter sound flashcards and tricky word flashcards
  • Played games from The Phonics Handbook that involved letter recognition, blending and segmenting

We went over all of this many, many times and I’ve decided it is now appropriate to progress to other activities to maintain interest, reinforce learning and develop existing skills.

By the way I deliberately did not introduce pencil writing up till now as I wanted Piglet to develop fine motor skills and finger strength first. We did many sensory activities including making and playing with homemade play dough over the past year to achieve this. Piglet is now ready to transition from finger writing to pencil writing and his work this week demonstrates it.

Here’s what we did over the past three days to take Piglet’s phonics learning up a notch.

In preparation, I restocked our craft supplies last week and photocopied relevant pages (the Sound Sheets) from The Phonics Handbook.

On Monday, we reviewed the “S” sound. (“S” is the first sound in the first group of sounds in Jolly Phonics, 7 groups altogether.)

I told the story using Finger Phonics Book 1, blended words with Piglet (as he already knows all the letter sounds) and we sang the song “The Snake is in the Grass”. Piglet then traced the letter with his finger. (Regular stuff he knows)

To develop this further, I presented him with a blank sheet of paper and drew the letter “S” in the middle with a marker pen.

I then brought out our arsenal of craftsy bits which Piglet had never seen before. This sparked tremendous interest. I let him explore the boxes and decide what he would like to use to decorate his “S”.

He chose glittery stars. I showed him the difference between water glue, glue stick and UHU and we both agreed UHU worked the most effectively for this kind of material.

I applied the glue and Piglet got to work. I showed him how to dot on a star using a light finger and he did most of it by himself with me helping him through some sticky moments.


Pleased with the result, we put it aside to dry and I introduced the Sound Sheet.

He coloured it following the colours in Finger Phonics. I then showed him how to hold a pencil properly and trace the letter, starting at the black dot. He quickly insisted he knew it already, so I left him to it while I went to check on lunch stewing on the stove. When I got back, I was pleasantly surprised to find he had completed the whole row of letters quite well.

He made a comment on how much he liked the fat colouring pencils instead of the thinner ones and I had to agree. (We use the ones by Stabilo as they are good for small hands and their colours are vibrant.)

That was enough phonics for the day. Just 20 minutes. Later, Piglet proudly showed off his work to Puppy, Lamb and Sweet Man and was happy at how they all poured over it.

On Tuesday, we went through the same process with the next letter sound, “A”.

This was the result. (Having eyelets in one’s craft box makes me an immediate superhero in Piglet’s eyes!)


On Wednesday we did something special. We went to the regular stationery shop nearby so Piglet could choose a ring file he liked to store his growing work.

When we got home, Roo needed to nap right away and Piglet wanted to play-pretend Pirates with Puppy and Lamb so I postponed lessons.

In the evening though, it rained so after drawing with chalks on the shaded driveway outside we went on to do what we missed in the morning. (Being flexible about lessons makes everyone happy and we still get learning done!)

It was the letter “T” and I added an extra activity: “I Spy”. Piglet was excited to hunt for pictures from old magazines that began with the sounds we reviewed so far (S, A and T). We hunted for pictures for “S” first, followed by the rest.

It was rewarding to see him recognise sounds on his own.

“Toothbrush! ‘Tuh’ (the sound for ‘T’) for toothbrush!”

“Stool! Stool starts with ‘Sss’! (the sound for ‘S’)”

It was like uncovering missing treasure.

I drew frames around the pictures he selected so he could cut them out properly. Then I supplied blank paper and he pasted the pictures onto a blank sheet.

We finished the lesson by storing his work in the new ring file. Piglet watched me punch holes into the sheets of paper. I then got out ring enforcements and he stuck them on one by one so the sheets wouldn’t tear as he turned them in the file. Next, I showed him how to insert his work into the rings and he tried it himself, in the following order:

  • Letter sound
  • Sound Sheet
  • “I Spy” picture collage

I’m happy Piglet can now use his very own decorated alphabet to practise letter formation in a sensory way, look at his Sound Sheet to review the letter sound, its action, and try blending words. With the I-Spy sheet he can associate pictures that begin with (or contain) particular sounds and relate his growing vocabulary of words to the sounds that make them.

I also like the ring file because we can go back and insert more developmental activities later on.


Join us for more phonics! I’ll be posting more as we progress, so do check in or follow on Facebook. Comments are welcome and please feel free to email me if you want more details on using Jolly Phonics at home. Thanks for reading!

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Two wheels

Piglet started learning how to ride a two-wheel scooter when he was two.

That’s almost two years ago, when I got pregnant with Roo.

But I still remember.

That first step on the gleaming, shiny deck. Hands tentatively holding the grips, not daring to push off.

We guided his hands as he held on. He learned to navigate, walking on one side, both feet on the ground.

We celebrated the day he pushed off with one foot on the deck even though he stumbled back on two feet again soon after.

We stood back and he gradually developed enough courage to let go and allow the scooter to slide a short distance, keeping one foot on.

After a few months, he finally managed a straight line along the entire length of the driveway, balancing with one leg on and the other leg off.

From that moment, it was no turning back.

Most mornings after breakfast I’d sweep the driveway while Roo stared from her stroller and Piglet zipped around in circles.

Growing in confidence with so much joy.

When he was happy enough with his progress, we went to the park and I watched, breathless, as he pushed uphill eagerly and began careening down the slope, tiny wisps of hair sticking out from beneath his helmet and blowing backwards fiercely in the wind.

Strangers paused to stare. This small daredevil of a three year old, zooming past joggers and weaving in between adults on a casual stroll.

I am glad we never insisted that Piglet do more than he felt ready for. It would have been pointless anyway. He would do what he was ready for, when he was ready for it, and in time the whole family would exult in his success.

Some months ago, Sweet Man got out the old bike Puppy got for her third birthday five years ago. The first kid bike in the family. It was worn, had a flat tire and the chain had fallen out of position. Nevertheless, cleaned and fixed, it was good to go.

The trainer wheels had been ditched years back so Sweet Man helped Piglet balance on the seat and guided him a short way as his feet couldn’t touch the ground.

After that first attempt, Piglet didn’t try biking again for a long while because it was not very interesting having to be helped so much like that while Puppy and Lamb swooped past him independently and effortlessly on their bigger bikes.

One morning when the older kids were at school I asked if he wanted me to help him bike. He wasn’t interested so I left him to scooter about.

Four months ago however, Sweet Man asked him if he was ready to try again and he was more than willing. I watched from the kitchen window as he put his feet on the pedals and held on tightly as Sweet Man pushed.

Some evenings after work, Sweet Man would hold up one wheel slightly so that the bike remained stationary and Piglet learned how to move the pedals with his own feet.

Two months ago he discovered he could balance on his own, sitting on the bike at an angle with one foot leaning on the ground. Both feet still dangled in the air if he sat up straight, but he was ready for more.

Sweet Man pushed him off, let go gently without any warning and Piglet went on his own. Right across the driveway, somewhat shakily, all by himself. He tottered slightly at the end and Sweet Man caught him before he fell.

Puppy and Lamb cheered. I left the cooking and ran for the camera.

He didn’t try it again for sometime because we were all busy, but last week Sweet Man helped him get on and he managed a circle all on his own!

Monday morning this week, I left Roo in her stroller and helped push him off and he did it, again, right across the driveway.

I watched as he turned at the corner, went past the laundry and came back towards me, his face tight with concentration. He made it around the pillar, almost banged into Pegs the dog, fell down and got up to do it all over again, undeterred.

I laughed, cheered, clapped and made all the silly noises only a parent will understand.

That same evening as Puppy and Lamb played tennis, he went cycling around the court.

For half an hour.

My heart ached.

From a two-wheel scooter to bicycle, Piglet’s come a long way. It’s a milestone he’ll likely forget when he turns four next year and joins his older siblings on bike trips with his very own wheels, unassisted.

As for me, I’ll spend some time yet this week, looking back and remembering just how I birthed this amazing little baby into the world and being awed simply at how quickly he is growing up.

3 year old riding a bike