Chapter Seven-Teething Troubles

“I’m a little bit grumpy mummy.” Sitting on the bottom step, the arms are folded, the mouth is on full pout.

Why’s that then? I ask, but the drooling chin, the sodden T-shirt and the chewed hand tell their own silent story, of teeth that refuse to greet the world.

After three years of corrective braces I can, on some small level, share his pain. In the spirit of being right about everything, as teenagers always are, I raged against them, not fully appreciating what a mess my teeth were in. In my head they were fine. In the mirror they looked like someone had thrown some tombstones into a bag of pink cement. They may still not be pretty, but at least I can now talk without whistling.

Raffie got most of his teeth early and very quickly, but the last big molars have taken at least six months to make an appearance, leaving a trail of drool and misery in their wake. How many teeth is he going to end up with? I wondered, as at this rate he’ll be at university by the time they finish. Probably studying dentistry.

Raffie has been teething for so long that we took him for a check-up just to see if all was well and it turns out teeth can keep struggling through until the age of three.

Raffie practising going to the dentist. Sadly this was not put into practice.

Raffie practising going to the dentist. Sadly this was not put into practice.

Happily, dentists these days seem to be toddler friendly. Ours came up with some helpful suggestions to make Raffie’s visits more palatable:

• Get your toddler used to opening his mouth
• Ask him to show you his teeth
• Help him to count them

It seemed like a tall order but after some persuasion it worked.

Friends also recommended the Peppa Pig book after it worked for their toddlers (you can find it here and Raffie enjoyed it too.

After saying ‘ahhhhhhhhhhhhh’ whenever I mentioned the dentist during the previous week I was a little surprised, though only a little, when he clammed up in the dentist’s chair.

While I did some impromptu handwringing Daddy came to the rescue by tickling him so the dentist could get a look inside his mouth. It’s not in the Peppa Pig book but it worked a treat.

Raffie flashing those pearly whites before the final molars wiped the smile off his face.

Raffie flashing those pearly whites before the final molars wiped the smile off his face.

Raffie even got a Toy Story sticker for his trouble which he wore proudly for the rest of the day. And hopefully it won’t take much more than that and a full set of molars to put the smile back on his face, with any luck sooner rather than later.

You Tube
Here’s a blog which has some tips on taking toddlers to the dentist, and a video showing how easy it can be

This blog also has lots of advice about how to help the teething process, and you can find out more here


Chapter Six-Songs to Learn and Sing

If you thought you couldn’t sing in Norwegian-think again.

There’s been such a good response to the Lost in Translation? blog post with Cate Hamilton that it seemed like a good idea to include a short update on songs in other languages that even people like me can sing easily with our toddlers.

As Cate, co-founder of Babel Babies, explains: “Norwegian sounds very similar to English because we have similar roots in our languages thanks to the Vikings invading us and bringing their language with them! The Norwegian Head, Shoulders has exactly the same tune as our English version and the words are very easy to learn thanks to the similar vocabulary. Here are the lyrics, and there is a video available on our blog to help with pronunciation!”

And in case you were wondering, here it is:

Hode, skulder, kne og tå,
kne og tå
Hode, skulder, kne og tå,
kne og tå
Øyne, ører, kinn å klappe på
Hode, skulder, kne og tå, kne og tå.

Cate added: “The lovely Portuguese song about Mestre Andre’s music shop is very jolly and in our sessions we use it as an excuse to introduce the little ones to lots of musical instruments. You ‘buy’ a new instrument in each verse and so you can keep it going for as many verses as you can find the words for!”

Here are the lyrics, and again the video is on the blog:

Foi na loja do Mestre André

que eu comprei um pifarito,

tiro, liro, lir’um pifarito


Ai olá, ai olé,

Foi na loja do Mestre André.

Ai olá, ai olé,

Foi na loja do Mestre André.

Foi na loja do Mestre André

que eu comprei um tamborzinho,

tum tum tum, um tamborzinho,

tiro, liro, lir’um pifarito


Foi na loja do Mestre André

que eu comprei um pianinho,

plim plim plim, um pianinho,

tum tum tum, um tamborzinho,

tiro, liro, lir’um pifarito

“We hope that whets your appetite to learn some more songs in many languages with your children!”
You can find the Babel Babies blog here:

Chapter Five-It’s Not Rock and Roll, But He Likes It

History does not record the moment that Jack White was usurped by Wind the Bobbin Up as my inner soundtrack, but it’s one which marks the beginning of a new order. Both inside my head, and out of it.

It all started with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Since then, Raffie has gone from flailing around to this, Incy Wincy Spider and of course Wind the Bobbin Up, to earnestly singing the words while rocking from one foot to the other.

And his love of music continues to blossom daily, whether it’s sullenly repeating Sleeping Bunnies or enthusiastically yelling Baa Baa Black Sheep. Except for The Beatles, which met with a stern “What’s that noise?” It’s Twist and Shout Raffie, by The Beatles. “I don’t like this noise Mummy.”

As a roaring square I’ve never been a fully fledged member of the in crowd, but the closest I have ever came to being sneaked in by the bouncers was when I was in a band. As we whistled up and down the M4 in a Ford Transit there was much anticipation of what our future held. I was lucky to be a part of it, and meet so many talented people along the way.

The past-Ideal on bikes. That's me in the middle. Photo by Jamie Beeden.

The past-Ideal on bikes. That’s me in the middle. Photo by Jamie Beeden.

And as bass player, four strings was always more than enough for me, though I couldn’t help but feel a whisper of envy towards the guitarists who could master six strings with ease.

I never imagined however that the day I finally stepped up to learn the guitar it would be to master the Wheels on the Bus. And if I’m feeling lucky, Bob the Builder.

Raffie loves the guitar, and after daily requests of ‘Mummy plaaaaayyyyy, plaaaayyyyy!!!!!’ I have been shamed into giving it a go. Sad to say, it’s slow going, but luckily for me, two year old boys don’t tend to care so much about chord progression.

The future-Raffie thrashing out Baa Baa Black Sheep.

The future-Raffie thrashing out Baa Baa Black Sheep.

I am hoping that by the time he wants to learn I’ll have either got to grips with my How to Learn the Guitar book or found someone else who’s prepared to try and teach him properly. Either way, it’s a sign of our times and how motherhood introduces you to the unexpected. Whether it means taking up the guitar badly, or fixing a split lip without passing out, you are essentially the same, but to the power of another.

And while we don’t spend much time in a Transit van these days, our road to discovery is still paved with great expectations.


Raffie was about two months old when I stumbled, quite literally, across the Rockabye CD series at a baby massage class. They are lullaby versions of classic hits, from AC/DC to Led Zeppelin. In honour of my Dad (and my step-mother, whose claim to fame is that she was taught to play chess by Brian Jones), I bought the Rolling Stones album and it’s been played Raffie to bed every night since. If he’s not asleep by Ruby Tuesday we know we’re in trouble. Rockabye has its own website and its own blog, and you can find out more here

Back in the day, our friend Jamie took a lot of our band photos, as featured in this blog. Since then, he’s photographed all kinds of pop stars, including Jack White. You can find out more about his work here

Chapter Four-Lost in Translation?

It took less than an hour in Paris to realise GCSE French and a passing acquaintance with a phrase book meant I sounded more Del Boy than Depardieu. There are, it appears, times when a pocketful of enthusiasm and a fistful of verbs just aren’t enough.

So with my linguistic lethargy what hope does Raffie have of finding his way through French or any other language?

Well, according to Cate Hamilton, co-founder of Babel Babies, quite a bit.

She and her friend Ruth started Babel Babies, multisensory music and movement sessions with songs from around the world, in 2011. And after last week’s Mind Your Language blog I am delighted that she has kindly agreed to be Two Years Old and Rising’s first interviewee.

Cate explains how babies and toddlers learn and how those of us who are unnatural linguists can help ourselves and our little ones start to sing from the same songsheet.

If you are a parent with GCSE French or Spanish, is it worth revisiting this with your baby or toddler? Or would it just confuse them?

If you are not bringing up bilingual children because you and your partner both speak the same language, it can be a daunting task to try and introduce children to other languages. But have no fear! You cannot confuse a young child when it comes to language, as long as you explain about how different people speak different languages depending on where they come from. They would be confused if you suddenly started speaking to them in Spanish after two years of English, but there are lots of ways to bring Spanish into your life without making a dramatic and unsettling switch.

Bilingual babies learn their two languages simultaneously in separate parts of their brain, distinguishing between the two sound groups from birth and performing incredible mental gymnastics when they switch, effortlessly, between the two. People used to think bilingual babies learned language more slowly than monolingual babies, that it somehow confused them. This is because when they start speaking they use fewer words in each language, but they still know the same number of words in total and they have learned two language systems in the same time it took everyone else to learn just one. They soon start speaking equally prolifically in both and catch up with their monolingual peers.

But, what about us mere mortals with only our humble English mother tongue and our GCSE French?

You can do no harm at all by introducing your young children to the idea that in other countries, people use different words to describe the same objects. Teaching your two year old that children in France say chien instead of dog, but they mean the same thing, is a massive philosophical step for them.

You certainly don’t have to be fluent in another language to open your child’s eyes to the world around them and a smattering of another language is better than none. You can integrate some very simple steps into your daily routine to achieve this: read a book you enjoy in English in the other language (lots of translations of your favourite books on Amazon here; after lunch, do some dancing to foreign tunes, and sing a lullaby at bedtime. You could put up a poster with the French ABC and point out different words as you are playing. In just ten minutes a day, as long as you do it regularly, you will be giving your child an amazing opportunity to investigate languages.

Baby Raffie pondering his next move.

Baby Raffie pondering his next move.

Your enthusiasm will have a far more positive effect than your lack of vocabulary or less than perfect accent. In educational spheres we call it emotional intelligence and it basically means that, when your kids are at school and learning the subject seriously, they will have a positive attitude that helps them learn. It’s not about getting your two year old fluent in French before school; it’s about getting them emotionally ready to learn by having fun together with languages and, maybe in the process, picking up some useful knowledge and a new song or two to boot.

How do babies and toddlers start to learn language?

You might think that babies aren’t really interested in language until they begin speaking in their second year, when they suddenly unleash their inner chatterbox and leave you wondering if you’ll ever have any peace again! The first year is often overlooked in the language acquisition process as babies don’t seem to be doing very much. Actually, what they are doing is listening, which is arguably the most important phase of learning a language.

In fact, listening, and therefore language acquisition, starts before babies are even born. Foetuses can hear sounds from the second trimester and during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy they really tune in to the rhythms and tones of their mother’s voice, so much so that they recognise their mother (and therefore their mother tongue) at birth. Thus babies are not a ‘blank canvas’ when they are born but are already primed for learning the language that will help them communicate with their family. Tiny babies are soothed by the sounds they are familiar with, the ones they heard in the womb, and they gradually filter out sounds they don’t hear very often.

Soothed to sleep by shhh...still is.

Soothed to sleep by shhh…still is.

But for a while, newborn babies can hear any sound in any language. An English baby can hear all the diverse sounds of Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin, Norwegian, French, Spanish, and Welsh, and can tell the difference between their primary language and a foreign language just hours after they are born. Studies use a simple sucking test to demonstrate that new babies suck a dummy harder than normal when they hear a sound they don’t recognise, thus showing that they are aware it is different.

If a baby never hears any Mandarin Chinese, however, while they are very young, they won’t be able to differentiate certain sounds that only exist in Mandarin when they are older. Their brains start to tune into the sounds they are actually going to need, the ones they hear regularly, and their amazing ability to hear any sound in any language gradually disappears so that, by the time they are babbling, they are already hard-wired into the sounds of their mother tongue.

So what about when they get older?

The sucking test carried out at 10-12 months shows that monolingual babies no longer show the same interest in unfamiliar sounds as they did at 6 months. Bilingual babies, however, continue to show interest in both sets of sounds and are even beginning to distinguish and separate them into two groups of sounds: in other words, their two primary languages.

Languages are initially learned through rhythms and patterns of speech rather than specific vocabulary, which is why a toddler will come up to you and jabber away about their favourite rabbit/dog/train without making any recognisable words, but with all the same intonation and speech patterns of an adult.

Then comes the ability to match a word with a picture or an object, which babies may be able to demonstrate before they can speak by pointing or fetching something you ask them to find, or making signs if you teach them some sign language. And finally, after all those months of listening and learning, babies start babbling and imperceptibly the babble becomes recognisable words, joining up to make sentences and then, when they are in their third year, they are fully fledged wordsmiths experimenting with grammatical concepts (“I didn’t done it, daddy, it was Henry that done’d it.”)

How does music help them to learn?

If you’ve ever done any revision for exams by recording your notes with music in the background, or changing the words of your favourite song to include your revision notes, you will probably still remember it many years later because music is a powerful tool for lodging information in our long-term memory.

Photo of Babel Babies by Sarah Kavanagh at Everything We Love Photographic Studio.

Photo of Babel Babies by Sarah Kavanagh at Everything We Love Photographic Studio.

Similarly, music is an important way to help babies pick up language(s). The rhythms make the language easier to remember by emphasising the patterns of speech. Singing nursery rhymes over and over again embeds the rhythms into babies’ brains and they soon recognise the different songs. If you include actions or signs as well, this makes them even more accessible to babies and enables them to join in with you earlier. A baby can sign Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or The Wheels on the Bus long before they can understand or say the words.

Music and repetition are a magical combination for learning anything, especially language: sing the same songs little and often to embed them in your long-term memory.

How can parents help their child learn language?

Babies are social creatures and learn language through interacting with their families. If you plonk a baby in front of the television they won’t learn how to speak from the people on screen: language is a purely social concept for young babies. Toddlers will learn lots of words from the television (so be careful what they watch!) but the process of language learning is very active; it is aural and social, emotional and physical.

Therefore, as parents, the best thing we can do is to speak to our children – constantly and about everything! It is a delightfully simple strategy that doesn’t require any preparation, cost or fancy gadgets. I often think it is like being a chef on TV because I’m always describing what I am doing out loud: “look mummy is putting the washing in the dryer – there are the red socks, and now the blue socks, and here’s the £10 note I lost earlier.”

Singing and dancing are enjoyable ways to learn language. Think of Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes as a toddler lesson in biology as well as a fun singalong! And, of course, music really helps children remember what they are learning.

Photo of Babel Babies by Sarah Kavanagh at Everything We Love Photographic Studio.

Photo of Babel Babies by Sarah Kavanagh at Everything We Love Photographic Studio.

Reading stories is incredibly important as well. Books allow you to investigate themes you can’t possibly encounter in daily life, as well as reinforcing and making sense of the everyday things, and they allow children to explore worlds they will probably never visit (unless you happen to own a rocket, or live with pirates). Books unlock children’s imaginations, help them fill in the gaps between what they have seen and what they have heard about from adults or on the TV, and the pictures support their language acquisition on all of these wonderful adventures.

Raffie 5 (2)

What are the benefits of small children learning another language as they learn their own?

As well as the emotional benefits mentioned above, there are lots of cognitive benefits to small children learning additional languages. Children at school score slightly higher in IQ tests if they have a second language because their brains are used to figuring out puzzles and thinking laterally. This also makes them perform better in maths and music, which require similar mental juggling skills as learning a language.

And I recently read that children have better powers of concentration if they know more than one language, because they are used to blocking out unwanted signals in order to retrieve the relevant information from their brain, and this helps them block out unwanted distractions in class too.

The process of learning a second language gives the brain a jolly good workout and it’s not only children who have learned two languages from birth that reap the benefits. Adults learning a second language later in life have been proven to have greater resistance to Alzheimer’s disease because, studies show, their brains are more adept at rerouting neural pathways if the usual way is blocked.

Both children and adults get a great sense of satisfaction from learning even the simplest things in another language. It builds their confidence, opens up the world before them and even gives them the tools to understand their own language better.

Finally, there is just something joyously wonderful about going to the park with your little one and them shouting “Look, mummy! Écureuil! That’s a squirrel in French!” when they see a squirrel.


You can find out more about Babel Babies here and this BBC story sheds more light on how little ones learn even before they are born

If you’re feeling nostalgic you can take a trip down memory lane to Peckham and revisit Only Fools and Horses, including some of Del Boy’s greatest French phrases, here

Chapter Three-Mind Your Language

Chapter Three-Mind Your Language

For the want of a nail the kingdom was lost.
And for the want of an ‘l’ a reputation has been gained.
The rogue consonant in question is the missing ‘l’ which Raffie merrily, and loudly, leaves out from the word ‘clock’.

Raffie words

The last time he yelled this at a toddler group, while pointing cheerfully, it met with a chorus of disapproval. This was mainly from the group organiser, whose raised eyebrows probably explain why I wasn’t offered a biscuit that week.
Awkwardness aside, I have a passion for words, so while Raffie’s enthusiasm for language is not shared by all, I love to hear him using new language no matter how it sounds.
And despite the indignation of toddler group leaders, his cursing is completely innocent.
I am still at a loss, however, as to how he has mysteriously managed to turn the word restaurant into two four letter words, the second of which I cannot repeat online. Raffie revelled in repeating it as we hurriedly left the restaurant, while we talked very loudly about how marvellous the food was as a distraction.
Proof, if yet more were needed, that eating out with toddlers comes with a rare and unique set of challenges, and a taste of the unexpected.
But Raffie is two years old. He doesn’t care about his missing ‘l’s or whether swearing (however unintentional) is appropriate in a family restaurant. Perhaps for him and other toddlers, the devil is just in the detail.
We can iron out the wrinkles in pronunciation later, while he harvests new words to articulate the world around him. And though he barely pauses for breath, every one of them can open the lines of communication and maybe even take the wind out of a tantrum’s sails.
When he’s not issuing the occasional profanity, Raffie can often be found thanking people in shops, his ‘thank you lady’ is straight out of Mary Poppins, and we love Dick Van Dyke in our house.
He can also be seen waving at people on buses and trying to make new friends with anyone who’ll listen.
So for me, kind actions speak far louder than the odd mispronounced word. But with such a talkative toddler, only just.


When it comes to the spoken word, Babel Babies know their cebollas. They help babies and toddlers (and mums and dads) learn a host of languages through music. You can find out more about how they do this, along with lots of songs and ideas, here

I became part of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network this week, where there are people blogging on everything from parenting to politics. There are lots of great blogs and articles to enjoy, and you can find out more about them here

Chapter Two-What’s That?

I like Hugo. For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, he is the animated host of What’s the Big Idea? and his programme can regularly be seen on CBeebies. Raffie likes his red jumpsuit and freckles. I like Hugo because he has an answer for everything. And a lava lamp. You can see for yourself here

Even in the theme tune Hugo questions the big issues in life, what is work? what is play? why do walls get in the way? And hats off to anyone who tackles explaining the concept of infinity to pre-schoolers.

Like Hugo, Raffie is full of questions too, though with infinity slightly out of his reach they aren’t quite on the same conceptual level. From beer cans to bin men, nothing is safe from “what’s that?”, particularly when it comes to the life cycle of litter.

whats that

So this week we continued our ‘what’s that’ odyssey as we made our way to work. At 40mph it’s hard to tell what the ‘that’ racing past the window actually is, and so the conversation went something like this:

Raffie: What’s that Mummy?

Me: Is it the tree?

Raffie: No.

Me: Is it a bird?

Raffie: No.

Me: Is it the grass?

Raffie: No.

Me: Is it the sky?

Raffie: No.

Me: Hmm. Would you like some milk?

Raffie: Yes.

A friend told me today that there are three rules to parenting. The questions gradually become fewer, just more costly and more complicated. But until the day we can adopt Hugo, it’s looking like I’ll have to start raising my knowledge game-and start leaving the milk at home.


For those of us who appreciate cute characters in jumpsuits, By Hook or By Crook has a lot to offer. We are very pleased with our own little crochet creation, which we’ve imaginatively named Red Rabbit, and its creator even has her own blog all about how it’s done. You can find out more here

rabbit-7 (2)

And for those of us bombarded with what’s that? questions, this article has some useful advice, including a question book which bewildered parents can refer back to later, which sounds like a great idea to me: