Archives for posts with tag: art

Ingredients: Boxes and tubes of all shapes and sizes, bottle tops, bubble wrap, polystyrene, drinking straws, inner chocolate box packaging, some spray paints (kept out of child’s reach), stickers in all colours, winged pins, string / ribbon, different types of sticky tape (sellotape, masking tape, electrical tape, parcel tape), glues (PVA and Pritt stick), a tool that punches holes easily, possibly even a Makedo set, good quality scissors. All kept in an accessible replenishable box.

The Big Sell: Build me something the world has never seen!

Strategy: All parents do it – the roll of the eyes as you present your child with a rather expensive new Christmas present and they fling it to one side and spend the rest of the day playing with the large cardboard box. But what’s really going on here?

Children have an innate ability to be explorers – they haven’t yet learnt to be afraid of the act of creation (linking it to failure and disappointment as many of us do as we grow older). They often don’t want to be told what ‘should’ be fun (by an adult toymaker) but reject conformity to discover the world for themselves. If only we didn’t grow out of that state?!

If I were to choose one activity that has taken up 75% of my sons’ childhood so far, it would be the act of junk-modelling. And I believe it is seriously underrated as a lazy past time, an end of the day ‘that’ll occupy them for a few minutes’ second rate, cheapskate distraction before we get stressed by the mess and it’s tidied away.

But I think it is so much more. When I take a moment to watch my eldest at work with junk he is using so many skills – developing his maths by taking accurate measurements and creating symmetry; learning engineering by constructing strong platforms, pulleys, hinges, catapults; exploring critical and imaginative thinking by breaking down big dreams into the small steps towards realisation. He is also learning social skills – managing his expectations of what is achievable in a given time frame and with limited resources, recycling the useless into the useful, even demonstrating love by creating birthday presents (like a ‘tea-maker’ for me) when he has no access to bought things, and communicating his end product by providing a showcase. If I were to describe his best talents within the framework of his school curriculum, they would fall under ‘Science’ and ‘Visual arts’ – truly a Leonardo da Vinci of the junk-modelled world.

If you have a little inventor in your home, as well as supplying them with endless refuelling of interesting objects to occupy their minds and fingers, you can also encourage them with these challenges for Advanced Junk Modelling Fun:

  • The Transformer junk model – make something that turns from one object into another? (See Transformer Robot model above).
  • The Moving junk model vehicle – wheeled, flying, hovercraft (using semi-inflated balloons), floating (see Titanic model above – historically accurate as it really did sink!)
  • The Stage Set junk model – one previous effort was Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets complete with Chess set, Devils Snare (green wool), cardboard roll sewer tunnels, flying keys (hanging from thread). (The picture above is my son’s Harry Potter ‘Hogsmead’ stage set with working elevator).
  • The Garden Orchestra junk model – use old metal tubes, cans (with the edges sanded smooth), tins and pans with wooden drumsticks to make music outside.
  • The Marble Run junk model – weave all your old cardboard tubes into a taped maze.
  • The Make Do and Mend junk model – teach them about World War II and the impact of rationing on children’s experiences – invite them to invent a toy to take on an ‘evacuated’ journey (to a pretend Bunker den in the garden).
  • And of course, the Den junk model – reinvent the largest cardboard boxes you can find into an igloo / treehouse / teepee / other assorted living space of child’s choice.

The verdict: A junk modelling child is one that is following an ‘enquiry-based’ model of education, in which rather than memorising and recalling a set of facts they learn to form and test a hypothesis, use the world around them to spark an idea, pursue an ideal and visualise a transformation. A junk modelling child learns that truly creative practice can be explosive in terms of the unanticipated outcome, and that’s more exciting than any old bit of plastic from the shops.

Catchphrase: “Can I email the toy-making people, Mum, to show them my prototype for a real Harry Potter Hogsmead Play-set?”

Left wanting more?

From top to bottom: Painting alongside my children – finger painting with my three-year old; observing my seven year old start some abstract art (which I joined in with towards the end); the resulting finished painting.

Ingredients: A range of paints – finger paints, acrylics, watercolours, oils (and linseed oil), mark-making tools, and materials to paint on – wood, canvas, cartridge paper, collage paper.

The Big Sell: Let’s paint beside each other and see what we can make together.

Strategy: It occurred to me early on as a mum and an artist there was a big gap between mine and my child’s expectations of a painting. I expected them to sit quietly and to concentrate on forming a well composed painting with narrative and clear bright colours. They expected to swish some paint around a space (which included paper but also included the table, chairs, floor, their hands and feet) until a muddy blend plastered the area and they could run off half-decorated and leave me to clear up!

I wondered whether my boys would ever come to enjoy the tranquillity and focus of painting in the way that I did and what the steps were to this taking place. The answer was … yes they would, and here are some of the steps along that journey to my now seven-year old, who received mainly painting materials for his seventh birthday and loves abstract art more than any other style of painting.

  1. From 2 – 3 years onwards, make painting fun. Do it outside in the sun and paint on rolls of old wallpaper to make train tracks down the garden path. Paint hands and feet, toys, leaves, stones, feathers – anything that makes a print. Be well prepared with a bowl of warm water and wipes at the ready to clean them up and hang a washing line and pegs against a space wall if you are lacking in drying space.
  2. Introduce dialogue into their work from the word go. Once their paintings are dry (an hour or two later) reintroduce them to your child and using a fat marker pen show them what images you have seen in their paintings – turn a splodge into a face, a splash into a fish, a stripe into a stick man.
  3. Once your child starts to understand and enjoy ‘painting with mummy/daddy/carer’, try some tandem-finger painting. Pick the subject of their favourite book (such as The Hungry Caterpillar above) and show them how you can recreate the images using sharp shapes and clear bright colours with your hands, if you clean them in between with a wipe or bowl of water.
  4. Now turn to DIY toy-making. As they grow in confidence building images from shapes and colours, make their favourite cartoon character by giving them a basic outline to paint in, add finishing touches with black marker once dry, cut out and cover in sticky-back plastic so they can carry it around with them, attached to buggy.
  5. Alongside figurative art work, introduce elements of abstract art play – arrange patterned collage cut outs alongside swishes of paint and discuss what looks pleasing to their eye. Don’t be afraid to show them famous works of art to inspire them – any age can appreciate Matisse, Pollock, Picasso. Talk to them about the colours of their feelings and dreams and ask them to show you.
  6. As your child’s confidence and knowledge of painting grows, support them with increasingly interesting materials – by the age of five my eldest son was painting on wood and papier mache, and quickly progressed to canvas at six. Gather interesting mark-making tools – run down pens, bamboo scratching sticks, an old comb – and try using ink and wax to explore ways to build light and dark in images. By this age, they will appreciate a visit to child-friendly art galleries or sculpture parks. Explain that new materials are precious things to be considered and explored, parts of the rites of passage of becoming a skilled artist.
  7. Exhibit your child’s art work – not just with a magnet on the fridge – but by providing them with their own gallery space. If you can’t attach any permanent fixtures to a wall, just use a cork board covered in white or black fabric and lean it in a temporary space. Invite the child to be a curator of this exhibition and talk visitors through their paintings, rather than speaking for them.

Accompany this arts play with a culture of carrying sketchbooks on any long car or train journey, ready to play ‘Oops!’ – one person makes a ‘mistake’ (jabs a hole in the paper, creates a fold, line or squiggle) and the other has to turn it into something beautiful, before you swap turns.

The verdict: I’m aware that I may be making this arts development sound too serious and prescriptive, but that is possibly a response to the type of person my eldest son has become – a serious young man who craves authenticity and a ‘grown up’ approach. Other children may prefer to pursue a more freeform route, continuing to explore mess and mayhem indefinitely.

However, I don’t think there is any danger in exposing children to established artwork from a young age, nor from introducing this idea of dialogue and the closeness that comes from ‘drawing alongside’ a parent with their own style and artistic choices. And it goes without saying, NEVER describe yourself as ‘hopeless’ at art, no matter how lacking in confidence you are – to them you are wonderful and any poor self-esteem you display will only provide them with the weapons to be ashamed of their own efforts.

Differences between you and them as unique artists are a great gift to emphasize, as you journey towards a shared understanding of art as key to expression and freedom.

Catchphrase: I love painting beside you! It shows me what the world looks like to you.

Left wanting more?

  • Does anyone else remember the fantastic retro-joy of watching Bob Ross paint a laidback landscape?! Type his name into Youtube and enjoy watching him at work with your child!

Ingredients: Mod-rock (£3.50 per 5metre roll on Amazon), chicken wire & poster paints; DIY or shop-bought modelling clay (see recipe below or £6.75 for 1kg on Amazon); junk modelling of any sort you have to hand.

The Big Sell: As my Nana always said “I want doesn’t get!” but if you want to make your own … it does!

Strategy: Is your beloved child desperate for the latest Star Wars / Harry Potter [insert any merchandising nightmare of your choice] toy, which is out of your price range? I’ve found if children are given the option of making their own robot / space ship / stage set etc.. they are equally if not more happy with the result, than if one was bought for them. Our home is homage to many DIY replicas from my son’s latest craze.

Here’s an easy guide to modelling a Make-Your-Own toy:

1)      Wearing your thickest gardening gloves and pliers, get snipping some chicken wire into the shape of your choice (in the case above, R2-D2). Make sure the sharp ends are bent into the centre of the model – this is a job best done by an adult. Once the shape is formed, cover the kitchen table in plastic sheeting and soak cut lengths of mod rock (bandage soaked in plaster of paris) in water before draping them onto the wire frame. This is a job your child will really enjoy joining in with as it’s methodical and messy! The boring bit is waiting for the plaster to set (leave for a good 24 hours to be sure) then get painting your design. Hey presto, one life-size R2-D2 for your child to enjoy!

 2)     Follow this recipe to make your own air-drying clay if you can’t afford to buy any:

1 cup cornflour

2 cups salt

1 cup warm water

You add food colouring if you want. Mix together in a pan on a low heat, until it becomes sticky and solidified. Then knead with your hands (you may have to do this until it becomes cool enough for your child to handle).

This clay should keep pliable for at least a week if wrapped well in cling-film. When your child is ready, they can model their clay into any shape of their choice, and leave to dry for at least 24 hours to ensure it goes hard and dry all the way through. Once dry, they can paint if they wish. Good for modelling their favourite characters, both baddies and goodies – you could make a marvellous snake or three-headed dog for Harry Potter to battle.

3)     Junk modelling – THE staple activity in our household. The only problem a parent faces with junk modelling is gauging the right time to sneakily disassemble and return their models back into the recycling bin, otherwise the house would be over-run with their masterpieces! My eldest junk-models EVERY DAY after school, and no cereal box, bottle, straw, piece of string, egg box is safe as it goes straight into his Junk modelling box which lives in an easy access spot beside a sellotape dispenser and some decent scissors. He recently made The Chamber of Secrets by combining a cylindrical tube in the top of a large cardboard box, with a tangle of green wool hanging below for Devil’s Snare and shiny foil for the watery lake. We simply added chess pieces & a toy snake, and his Harry Potter figurine could drop in to his very own sophisticated stage set.

The Verdict: In my experience, it tends to be adults who discriminate between shop bought and homemade toys – children are not so fussy as long as they can indulge their latest passion. Modelling of any kind provides a child with the feeling that their dreams are within their own grasp – rather than waiting for birthdays (by which time they’ve often lost interest in the latest fad) this offers an immediate and animated way of bringing to life the stories which occupy their imaginations.  Given a little mess and patience, modelling isn’t tricky and provides grand results for your efforts – a satisfying activity to work on together.

Catchphrase: Right … who can provide the best R2-D2 sound effects?!

Left wanting more?

  • The grand masters of modelling, and homegrown UK heroes, have to be Aardman Animations – creators of Wallace & Gromit, Morph & Shaun the Sheep – all favourites in our house. You can buy a Make Your Own Morph set – £9.10 on Amazon currently – which includes a DVD. I love that our homemade Wallace and Gromit figurines have been given superb play possibilities by being combined with an electric train set or a junk-modelled Dog Food Crusher machine, we can recreate their best screen moments.
  • Once you’ve mastered the basics of modelling you could move on to live animation. I’ll follow up how to tackle this in a later blog! (To be cont ….)

Ingredients: Some tracing paper, pencils and black felt-tips, (optional) air-drying clay.

The Big Sell: Struggling to get a group or individual drawing at all? Doodling is the safest place to start.

Strategy: We all doodle, don’t we? When I’ve been working with groups of teenagers or adults who say “I don’t do drawing”, they at least admit that they doodle – on their pencil case, on the pad beside the phone, on the backs of hands. It comes from that deepest part of our brain that refuses to be self-conscious and when bored loves to come out and play.

You can harness this harmless activity to free up people who will admit they actually find it quite fun, especially as it carries an unspoken attitude of recklessness when it comes to mistakes.

1. If you are working with a group, cut up small squares of tracing paper, and ask them to sit in groups of 4 or 5.

2. Ask one person to start doodling for 2 – 3 minutes, then pass on their doodle to the person on their right who adds another sheet of tracing paper on top and continues to add to the doodle. Keep going until everyone has doodled and there are many layers of paper accumulated.

3. Ask the group to consider their combined image by holding it up to the light – what symbol has emerged from their combined free-association? What would they like to edit? Where is the strongest part of the image?

4. Now ask them to take a black pen and each draw out the final image that the consensus agrees works the best. Alternatively, you could ask them to interpret this selected image by each carving it into their own lump of air-drying clay.

5. You will notice each person’s image is slightly unique, despite the fact that they are working from the same template. If they have made them into clay, these can be rolled with printing ink and made into stamps for comparison to be printed next to each other.

The Verdict:

Above all, this activity works well by bringing people together to work on a combined project. Even the most reluctant artist can be drawn in to contribute to the doodle. They must show sensitivity and engage critique by working on top of each other’s art work and by coming to democratic decisions.

They come to appreciate their own individual creativity and its’ part in this group effort– were they drawn towards curves, geometric shapes, text, decorative detail? The final symbol could be used to generate many things, from a brand for a club to a wallpaper pattern.

When I used this exercise in teaching students, I explored the deeper principle of free-association beneath the doodle and the psychotherapeutic roots with Jung who asked patients to undergo a process of confession through using the arts to expose the unconscious. I asked students to think about what youth work means to them as they doodled – we then looked at the final symbols and asked what it told us about their professional ideals.

Catchphrase: Don’t worry, just doodle…

Left wanting more?

• You can buy excellent doodle books from a bookshop near you – they are filled with half-finished pages to inspire you, such as Do you Doodle? by Nikalas Catlow, published by Buster Books.

• Look at Keri Smith’s blog for more ideas and books you can buy that encourage this type of approach towards creative stimulation:

Ingredients: A very sick family who, despite running sky-high temperatures and aching all over, still need some self-help entertainment after a week of being bored watching endless telly, necking paracetamol and hugging hot water bottles.

The Big Sell: Help! What can we make that requires minimal effort but provides some creative respite before we go out of our minds?!

Strategy: This was our family’s reality this week, and we came up with the following ideas to help us survive cabin fever during our plagued half term holiday.

1) Easy peasy treasure hunt. I wrote 10 rhyming clues leading the children all around the house on a treasure hunt which eventually led to a locked box with two cup-cakes inside. My son, who is currently Harry Potter-mad, particularly loved this clue:

I see I cannot trick you easily.

You are more cunning than Ron Weasley.

Next you must travel through a long dark tunnel

To find the clue where a ball meets a funnel.”

(they had to crawl through a play tunnel to their marble ball run where the clue was folded and hidden).

2) Home-made sock puppets – we added feathers, wiggly stick-on eyes, pipe-cleaners (for antennae), sticky spots, and pen embellishment on old clean socks to make our own unique aliens, forever more to be known as The Flu Specimens.

3) Origami and paper aeroplanes – an art of extreme dedication and concentration amongst the men-folk in our house, our corridors became littered with the ghosts of ingenious flying machines (my husband even tried attaching a light-weight motor to one effort!) It helped that we were given a marvellous book: “The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes” by Doug Stillinger ( There are also some wonderful app’s for your i-phone for intricate orgami animals of every sort – put ‘origami’ into search in the App Store and have a go.

The Verdict: Even in a fog of flu-induced hell, we are one of those families who can’t quite switch off and ease into chilling out. I guess we have an exceptionally low capacity for boredom? If you’re the same, I hope these ideas give you some small distraction from the pain of being ill this Winter (which if you are a parent of little ones, seems to be every other week?!) If you aren’t like us, then please just PUT YOUR FEET UP!!!

Catchphrase: Cough, wheeze, sniff … that was fun! I almost forgot I was ill for a moment!

Left wanting more?

• Make a creative sketchbook by attaching together A5 sized sheets of interesting materials – foil, fabric, baking paper, old envelopes, bubble wrap – punching holes and tying ribbon through to bind. Your kids will have to find innovative ways to make marks on all these different types of media.

• 3D drawing paper – available from Amazon for around £4, it really works! Just use a black pen on this specially gridded paper and put on your 3D glasses to watch it jump off the page!

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: 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.

Ingredients: Paper and pen and/or computer programme with ‘Wingdings’ typeface.

The Big Sell: We must create a new code language so the baddies can’t intercept our messages!

Strategy:        In the UK, there is a high level of concern about boys’ enthusiasm and abilities in literacy. My two have grown up in a household which is full of books, with a quantity of children’s books that would rival the local library, and faithfully read at least 3 books every night since they were 3 months old. But STILL my eldest, despite loving being read to, has resisted learning to read. I have struggled to work out why this is – perhaps as he is quite proud about learning he feels embarrassed when he gets words wrong? Perhaps he has a low concentration span and gets frustrated that the slow pace of his reading prevents him from getting into the story? Regardless of the reason, I’ve had to think of creative ways to keep his enthusiasm buoyant in each of his three first years at school when it’s started to wane.  

My essential 3 golden rules are:

1)      Don’t get stressed about it yourself. If they don’t want to read a story, create a word game, like Word Bingo, instead until they get over the stubborn phase. (I have to repeat this mantra to myself as I must admit it really gets to me when he’s resistant as I love books so much!)

2)      Don’t stop reading to them. Even when it’s gets frustrating that you feel you are doing all the work, seek out books that they will love and keep their passion burning for story-telling. Or get them to make their own books if they are artistic like mine, which they can then read to others.

3)      Even if you feel like they have more than sufficient books at home, keep up frequent library visits so that they feel the printed word is infinite and all-encompassing, framing their play and accessible within their community.

I also want to share a game I created which, although not directly a reading activity, underpins the idea of the importance and excitement of communication. My sons love playing secret spies and by employing some ‘danger’ in our literacy games they suddenly become fun.

We invent our own ciphers either using ‘Wingdings’ on Microsoft Office Word to assign a symbol to each letter of the alphabet, or drawing our own symbols (e.g. a cat face for c, a house for h, etc…).

We can then use our ciphers to write a short message and post or hand to each other. A nice aspect of this game is the child and adult are at level pegging – it’s equally hard to extrapolate meaning which gives the child back some power, whilst also reinforcing how crucial it is to find a way to communicate effectively. You can introduce some time limits, for instance “We must crack this code before the bomb explodes!” if needed.

The Verdict: This doesn’t work every time, if the child is tired or overly stressed about reading. However, used at the right time it can reintroduce a sense of challenge in a slightly subversive way.  For a teacher, it could be a way to get a group of children to work together to encourage reading by leaving secret messages to each other – perhaps to crack a series of clues to locate a prize? It can also tie in to historical messages about communication – how did MI5 use codes to win World War 2? How did other cultures use smoke signals or pigeon carriers to carry information?

Catchphrase: S.O.S!

Left wanting more?

  • Read ‘Why?’ by Lindsay Camp, published by Andersen. It not only helps kids empathise with how they often use language to wind up their parents, but an alien species descends with their own code language supplied at the end of the book.
  • If you have an i-phone there’s a brilliant app with Grover from Sesame Street called ‘There’s a Monster at the End of this Book’. It encourages the same interactive approach towards reading as above, in which the process of storytelling can come alive for the reader. Loved equally by our 6 and 2 year olds.


Ingredients: Rug, blanket or large towel; any associated paraphernalia you might need for your journey, a favourite cuddly or two, your own mouths to make noises and / or some musical instruments.

The Big Sell: Let’s go on a flying carpet journey – hold on tight!

Strategy:        Do the kids need an outing but it’s raining outside and there’s no cash left for a train or bus ride? I take mine on imaginary journeys using a rug as a flying carpet. The children choose the location – the zoo, seaside, moon – and we have to find ways to make the noises using our mouths and a box of instruments I’ve gathered (shakers made from yoghurt pots taped together with rice or lentils inside, rainmakers, wooden sticks, bells, whistles, tambourines). As we journey closer to our destination the noises get louder, when we’re creeping up on the sleeping dragon the noises must fall to a whisper. Sometimes we close our eyes and listen carefully to hear what noises are all already around us and might give a clues to our imaginary world – the hush of passing traffic might be a waterfall nearby, the squeal of children outside must be mischievous munchkins. All this sensory exploration helps grow the imagination and set the scene for a rich and child-led drama game to which they hold the key. There can be disaster  (teddy’s fallen from the hot air balloon, can we throw out a tea towel for him to hold onto?!) and happy endings (we’ve arrived home to a princesses tea party – help me arrange the biscuits on this pretty plate).

The Verdict: Even my older boy will fall back into this kind of play with his younger brother. They adore the fact that the adult also suspends disbelief and shares the imaginary world that they often live in. Suddenly the same old four walls fall away and every object lying around has an exciting use – a wooden spoon becomes a paddle, a throw an invisible blanket, Daddy’s shoes are the feet of the sleeping giant. We now keep a rucksack handy filled with useful travelling tools – a compass, an electronic toy from a charity shop that bleeps and can be a walkie talkie, an old crab line, a small pencil and notebook, a torch, binoculars. One of my favourite ‘Mummy memories’ will be when my two sons first came downstairs (age 18 months and four and a half) both dressed in travelling hats and matching rucksacks ready to take their first imaginary journey in the garden, without me!

Catchphrase: Quick, the giant’s woken! Run back to the flying carpet!

Left wanting more?

  • Look at ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, by Michael Rosen published by Walker Books, for another journey that uses sounds to come alive. Use it journey round the house – the swishy grass is the doormat, the squelchy mud bouncing on the bed, the dark cave under the duvet! And of the course favourite teddy has to play the ferocious bear!!!

Ingredients: A garden, local park or other green space, pair of scissors and / or as many wood-working tools that you consider safe for your age group, pencils.

The Big Sell:  Let’s make our own Forest School!

Strategy:        If you haven’t heard of Forest Schools, check out their website: Their philosophy is “to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through positive outdoor experiences.” I’m very lucky that my eldest son already goes to a school that provides regular Forest School activities in their conservation garden. But if this is new to your child, look at the website with them and then get going in your own green space!

Over the summer I was cutting back the garden and decided to utilise some of the cuttings for impromptu arts projects with the bored kids. We used some lengths of clematis vine to wrap a wreath shape and then stuck leaves in between the twisted branches. The final leafy wreath became our Forest Schools Sign that we tied to a low hanging branch of a bush of our ‘Forest Schools area’ on the grass.

We then searched the garden for large flat leaves and used these as ‘drawing pads’ etching Forest School secret code-words and pictures on the leaves with pencils by leaning on the hard patio. These could then be poked back on to low hanging branches or posted through a (blanket) den door to gain entry.

Finally we collected pebbles and painted Forest animals (ladybirds, hedgehogs) on the top side and laid these out to dry to decorate our Forest Schools home.

The Verdict: Once the garden toys have lost their sparkle this idea presents children with the idea that their garden holds a treasure trove of natural resources they can plunder if they use their imagination. Around the same time the BBC were screening ‘Human Planet’ and we showed our son one clip of the family living in the sky high tree-houses – he was captivated and this added lots of value to the Forest School idea. The Forest Schools aim to provide children with a sense of awe and wonder at the environment which is especially important as we often wrap them up in such cotton wool at home. Although some of the activities can seem dangerous they intentionally gradually introduce ideas of responsibility and measured risks to children who will usually take this very seriously and consequently feel very special. Once our boys had created their own Forest School in our small back garden, they brought our blankets, cushions and snacks and felt very at home to the extent they wanted to sleep out there!

Catchphrase: “Now we have Forest Schools at home too!”

Left wanting more?

  • The tradition of Forest Schools often involves fire-making with school age children, with very careful safety rules (and the occasional use of marsh-mallows might not go amiss!) You can buy a Storm Kettle from sites such as and they are perfect to get an older child starting to build their own fire from which they can boil water.
  • Additionally when we had some very bright (unexpected!) October sunshine last week, my husband brought out a magnifying glass and carefully taught our son to burn symbols onto wood whilst wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes.
  • Also, if you love this kind of outdoorsy play you MUST visit Bewilderwood in Norfolk which is a theme park like no other. Look at and feel inspired to make a trip!