Archives for the month of: January, 2012

Ingredients: Paper or thin card, brass paper fasteners, scissors, pencil

The Big Sell: Let’s make our own shadow puppets!

Strategy: This idea comes from a camping conundrum – I limit each child to one small rucksacks’ worth of toys to keep them amused on camping holidays. Last time , this included a small notebook, pencil, scissors and some brass paper fasteners (£0.99 for a box on Amazon), from which my son decided to make his own puppet.

1) Plan out the torso, limbs, head etc.. separately, making sure you make them sturdy enough to hold their shape and have space to lap over the edges where they attach to take a pin

2) Cut out and fasten together, hinging the joints using the paper fasteners

3) Decorate as much as required. Easy peasy!

4) If you wish, you could also sellotape a straw to the bottom of the torso to give a handle.

The Verdict: My son made his very favourite teddy as a puppet (which also doubled up as a playmate teddy toy that could participate in any number of imaginative games). When night time fell, whilst wrapped up in our sleeping bags, we could use the glow from the campfire and / or a torch to throw a shadow puppet theatre against the walls of the tent. Just make sure you don’t fall asleep on a stray pin!

At home, shadow puppetry (even if you just use the old-fashioned method of contorting your hands to make animal shapes) can comfort a nervous sleeper by demonstrating the wonder of the dark. As an aside, I’ve never been a big fan of co-sleeping your children for too long in case they are afraid of the dark – on the contrary I have always told my children, the dark is the most wonderful blank canvas where their dreams can come to life in the still hush of the night. Games like this can help comfort and reinforce that belief as they become empowered to treat night time as their own special adventure.

Catchphrase: Punch and Judy eat your heart out!

Left wanting more?


Ingredients: One hand-picked cuddly toy that takes on monumental significance for your child. This cannot be prescribed by any adult and the bond cannot be severed once established. For my children, a very worn bear and a very straggly elephant have become the lynch-pin of our family lives

The Big Sell: You can’t sell this one – children will either find (what I call) a ‘special love’ or they won’t. However, I don’t think it’s coincidence that both my boys ‘attached’ to their chosen toy at precisely the age they gave up breast-feeding, and simultaneously started sleeping through the night, reassured by their new companion. Things can be helped along the way however, by imbuing the toy with your own mummy smell (sleep with it for a couple of nights or wrap it in your nightie) and some drips of milk to make it a little stinky. This is, of course, a classic example of a ‘transference object’ and helped make a strange unfamiliar world increasingly safe as they travelled the pathway of my children’s development hand in paw.

Strategy: If your child happens to choose a ‘special love’ there are many uses this toy can play in the child’s development. Below I will name only a few examples of how ‘Horace’ the bear and ‘Happy’ the elephant have enhanced my children’s lives.

  1. Getting dressed and potty-training: as both boys built independence skills between the ages of 2 – 3 their cuddly functioned as a pupil to learn alongside them; always less competent than their child companion, Horace or Happy would experiment with sitting on the potty headfirst, wearing trousers on ears, tying shoelaces, etc.. thus making the whole process quite hilarious and allowing the child to take the lead.
  2. Getting to know our community: dragged along on walks to the library, hairdresser, dentist, news agent, it wasn’t long before Horace and Happy were well known in our town, and gave my children an excuse to practice talking to adults overcoming shyness. Both children have chosen voices that they use to speak as Happy and Horace, which they can often find even if they can’t find their own.
  3. Behavioural stumbling blocks: when going through tough times – the arrival of a new sibling, separation at pre-school, tears & tantrums – these raggedy heroes bore the brunt. They have been punch-bags, night watchmen and sick bed nurses. As a parent it is particularly useful for me to tackle jealousy or attention-seeking behaviour by exploring the issue through the cuddly, explaining to the child that I’ve noticed Horace has been a bit challenging recently – what do they think he is feeling? Shall we put Happy on the bottom step until he has calmed down and can talk nicely? You don’t feel like reading your school book – why not teach Horace how to read the first page, then maybe Mummy will help him to read the rest to you?
  4. Battling the war of materialism! When money gets tight it is useful to have a special toy that demonstrates the power of devotion and loyalty. When we were waiting in the late night pharmacy the other day, ill and bedraggled, we held our special loves up against all the new fluffy toys on the shelves and noticed how different they looked. Why did they look different? Because we could see the love all over them, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. On bored days, we have made new hats, costumes, masks for our old favourites, rather than trading in old for new.
  5. The power of imaginative thought: one of my most powerful childhood memories was approaching my Mum when she was baking in the kitchen and saying in an important voice that I had just remembered it was Belinda the Bunny’s birthday – we needed to throw an urgent party! My Mum would never say ‘Not now’ but react in deadly seriousness that she would immediately fill small bowls with party food and sandwiches, I could even help her make a cake. The gift that this selfless act taught me was that my creativity was important, my spontaneity was valued, my magical world had the potency to be real to another – it gave me my artistic centre and made me feel capable of anything.

The Verdict:

I cannot imagine how my children could have survived their childhood without these beloved comrades. Sometimes my eldest experiments with testing his love for his cuddly by saying “But Horace, you’re only a toy!” to which I respond (in Horace’s voice) “How dare you! I’m not only a toy! I am a real bear with real feelings and I really love you and will do forever!” and my son joyously throws his arms around his bear, and says “I know you are – I was only teasing!” Compassion, companionship, and a rich imagination have grown from the strength of this bond. Having an alter-ego as you grow gives you the chance to experiment with right and wrong, taking the leap whilst holding hands with someone.

Catchphrase: Can we take Horace and Happy too? Of course, it wouldn’t be the same without them.

Left wanting more?

If your child is bored they can make a song, a book, a painting, a costume, decorate a cake for their special toy. Allow your child to shine in showing how they have learnt to care for another, feeling the warmth of giving rather than receiving, and then you will always be able to tell your child how they are so caring and kind.

 Ingredients: White candle, pot of ink, water, paintbrush

The Big Sell: Some children, and many adults, can be petrified when it comes to drawing. “I don’t know how to draw… I can’t even draw a straight line”. When faced with a blank piece of paper, even the bravest of us can be overwhelmed by the pressure of the first mark to be right, to be purposeful, to be perfect. It’s the reason artists often start painting with a ‘wash’ of colour, blocking out areas of light and dark. So, if we are faced with a child or adult who is reticent to ‘begin’ how do we make mark-making less scary?

Strategy: I tried this ink and wax technique when teaching students (many of whom were lacking in confidence when it came to the arts), and they produced some startling and powerful portraits.

Set out your piece of white paper in front of you with a white candle and get into a relaxed position in which you can easily see your subject of study by raising your gaze.

Squint slightly at your chosen subject so you can generally see areas of light and dark.

Start to block these areas of light with the white wax. It will be hard to see the wax against the white paper, so you must engage your memory and treat the marks as a broad approach to your composition. Press down hard in the lightest areas and gradually work your way around the frame, ensuring you are capturing all the light in the foreground and background.

Once you are happy with the ‘lights’, water down some blue or black ink and produce a pale wash of colour over the whole paper. Suddenly your wax marks will stand out and you will be able to see where there you have captured the blur of your image, and where you may have made some mistakes.

Don’t worry! The mistakes are good! This is the most important part of this lesson – we are not aiming for something which is a perfect representation, but an impression or interpretation in which you bring a part of your own perspective to the reality in front of you.

Start to work into the image with ever increasingly dark washes of ink until you are happy with your ‘darks’.

Now allow the painting to dry for a bit and you can (finally) use a small paintbrush with concentrated ink, or a pen, to introduce line to bring detail to your work.

The Verdict:

Using this technique you reach ‘line’ last rather than first and you build up an image from a blur into something more concrete. You learn to work with and around your mistakes, therefore assimilating them into your work and accepting them, rather than using them as an excuse never to start.

Catchphrase: Don’t create a masterpiece, uncover an image!

Left wanting more?

Read this book by Hubalek (1997) I can’t draw a straight line, published in Maryland, US, by Health Professions Press. This author taught in the community and outlines the steps necessary to grow from complete lack of confidence to accomplished life drawing.

Apologies for the lack of posts over the Christmas festivities. I have been working hard on getting my new website up and running. This is now LIVE so please take a look and email me any feedback!

I will return soon with some new posts about imaginative creative play with children & young people,  and may even be starting a new associated page supporting parents and adults to explore their own creative expressions! In the mean time, please share your own ideas for what your children enjoy –  I’m sure there are 1001 brilliant ideas out there!!!