Archives for posts with tag: arts

Ingredients:  A roll of wallpaper; pens / paints / crayons etc…

The Big Sell: Let’s make a Secret Hideout door!

Strategy:  It’s been growing on me for a while how useful it is to have a roll of wallpaper in your art tool kit. I often see them in charity shops for pennies, because they have old patterns that no one wants, and they are such incredible good value for money. A cheap roll of thick high quality paper is priceless and very versatile. Here are some of the many uses:

1)      For Halloween we drew around my son’s body outline, coloured him in as Dracula in a coffin and pinned it to his bedroom door.

2)     In group work with children or young people, create a Wallpaper Walk evaluation by noting down the reflections of student each week as they undertake a project, then rolling it out to re-step the journey for group discussion at the end.

3)     For younger children, draw out a road or railway and let it roll down a hallway or garden path for them to play on with toy cars.

4)     Or roll it out with markings / puzzles leading to hidden treasure (they must work out clues along the way).

5)     Use it for large scale print-making – use foam stamps, potato stamps, broccoli stamps (!) anything that takes your fancy.

6)     Bring it out for birthday parties for a group doodling session. Can they work as a team to draw the most colourful multi-layered birthday cake ever?

7)     Easy peasy set design – pin it to a wall and devise the background set of a play written by your children to perform for everyone.

8)     Or my son’s choice this week (as he had watched the hilarious Young Frankenstein for the first time and was hankering after a secret bookcase revolving doorway) was to draw the image of a boarded-up room with ‘Caution’ and ‘Keep out’ signs and then pin it to their play room door so that only those who know the password are allowed entry!

The verdict:

Arts materials with BIG impact are always popular. A long roll of wallpaper carries an inherent property of unknown possibility which is a firelighter for the imagination.

Catchphrase: Rolling, rolling, rolling… keep those ideas rolling!

Left wanting more?

  • If your children love The Wizard of Oz, why not make your wallpaper roll into the yellow brick road to add value to their play?
  • Glue string lines down the length of the wallpaper to make tracks and create a marble race game.
  • Create a landscape to feature your child’s latest lego creations.

Just a quick blog this week to share a link to an interesting article I spotted this week about the new Oliver James’ theory of ‘Lovebombing’.  This article really spoke to me and bore great similarity to my earlier blog about Special Time, encouraging pockets of high quality time in which parents focus love on their child and place that child in the driving seat of dialogical activity.

This ‘lovebombing’ technique is something I have frequently built into play experiences with both my sons and I can testify that it has powerful results. With my eldest, an artist, this was often achieved through joint arts activity – painting, drawing and making together – in which the accomplishment shared between us created a strong bond and gave us a mutual sense of satisfaction. With my younger child he prefers to read together or play games (in which he gives me explicit repetitive script for certain toys that place him in the role of being powerful / superhero-like / rescuer) and can be more dull from my perspective as an activity, but give me a profound sense of joy in seeing his self-esteem and empathy build step by step.

Over the last month I have increased from part to full time work, and this has had a dramatic effect on our family life. My eldest son in particular is struggling to share my attention with my many new work demands. Reading this article was timely for me to remember how it important it is that I continue to carve out time to hear my sons and preserve their wellbeing – so lovebombing is being booked into the diary as a crucial component of our family life.

Ingredients: A cheap photo frame from a charity shop or a recycled box (in this case a pretty circular chocolate truffle box), watercolour or acrylic paints, brushes and thick cartridge paper, pretty wrapping paper, some quiet time with your child / apart from your child.

The Big Sell: I / we wanted to make something special for you.

Strategy: Working together with your child or being inspired by your child to make a piece of art is one of my favourite peaceful past-times. Above are two examples of custom-made gifts – one of which demonstrates how you can work with your child (in this case to create a painting for my husband for Valentines), the second shows how you can be inspired to create something for your child as I produced a painting for my son who has been going through a hard time lately, and was seeking some solace to help him work through his worries.

1) A Map of Your Heart – I drew out an outline of a heart on cartridge paper and boxed off irregular shapes. Eldest son then filled in all the boxes with our shared ideas for special items my husband holds in his heart … camping, chocolate, Star Wars, etc… I then painted in the boxes with watercolour paints and mounted it in a cheap frame from a charity shop.

2) The Watcher painting – all children go through their ups and downs, and so when my eldest recently went through a tricky phase, I was inspired to produce a small bespoke painting to hang in his bedroom within eye-line of the top bunk bed (and to limit the night-time visits!). I took an old round chocolate box, backed it with pretty wrapping paper and painted an eye with the text “I am the watcher. I am watching. I am watching over you”. He was so touched and said it helped it when he was struggling to drift off at night, filled with the day’s anxieties.

The Verdict:

This kind of creative upcycling costs next to nothing but produces something which tells the recipient that they are in your thoughts, they are unique and they are worthy of your time and effort. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t confident at drawing – you can cut (or paint over) images or text from magazines to make a collage. As someone who hates the commercialism of contrived festivities such as Valentines, and who objects to forking out lots of cash for something which ‘looks bespoke’ from sites such as, I much prefer this home-grown approach, which shows your child we can all make something of value from the resources we have around us.

Catchphrase: Don’t get buying, get making!

Left wanting more?

Make a DIY voucher book for your loved one (either partner or child) by stapling together long rectangular sheets of paper and filling each page with an I.O.U. to be cashed in for the future. I.O.U. one cuddle, one story, one bubble bath, one evening in which we switch off the telly and just talk, etc…

 Ingredients: Paper, collage materials, glue, scissors, pens

The Big Sell: We’re going to try some drawing some Trees of Life. You don’t have to be brilliant at drawing and you don’t have to show this to anyone. This is for you and it is to help us think about where we are in our lives and where we might like to go next.

Strategy: I have tried this recently with a group of young people and have tried it in the past whilst teaching students. It comes from The Evaluator’s Cookbook, published by NE-CF and Katalyst Tales (2005).

 The group of young people that I worked with were classified ‘NEET’ (which means not in education, employment or training). I’m not keen on all these labels for young people as I feel they can depersonalise their experiences and place the blame on the individual rather than looking at their whole life situations. I would prefer to say that these young people needed their confidence and self esteem building in order to value themselves and enable them to make best choices about their future. On this occasion I worked with a team of experienced youth workers and a small group of young people aged 16 – 21 years of mixed gender.

I asked the young people to draw a basic tree on an A3 piece of paper. I then asked them to decorate their trees and add comments according to the following rules:

1) The roots are your influences – who / what made you who you are today?

2) The trunk is your life today – what is the structure of your week, what fills your days?

3) The leaves are your information sources – who do you listen to, how do you find out about the world around you?

 4) The buds are your hopes – what would you like to achieve in the next week, month, year, decade?

5) The fruit are your achievements – what are you proud of? What have you accomplished?

6) I also added… weeds, which are things that may be holding you back from achieving your buds, or listening to new leaves.

If you don’t like writing (some young people had severe dyslexia) you can draw symbols for your ideas. You can make your tree as colourful as you like using the collage materials – enjoy the doodling!

Is anyone willing to show and discuss their finished tree?

The Verdict: This was the first time I had met this group of young people and the fact that they all took part and stuck at the activity for one and a half hours astounded me. Most found the activity very challenging – equally the drawing (which they some said they were no good at), the writing and the revealing of personal feelings. But they all completed their Trees of Life and some even were brave enough to show them to the group. This provided an opportunity for the youth workers to ask further questions or make comments. “I didn’t know you liked playing guitar!” “What do you think is behind your lack of confidence at job interviews?”

I think it may have helped that, as an outsider, I came in to lead the workshop – with a more trusted adult they may have found it easier to back out. But I also think it helped to have adults present who knew and could tease out their answers. I remained calm but gently pushed them through their complaints to stick with the activity – for one who did not want to draw her tree I drew a basic outline for her.

The final tree led to an open reflective discussion and the youth workers said they would like to keep the trees in the young people’s portfolios to aid one to one discussions in the future as they move forward.

Catchphrase: “What are your hopes?” “To get a job”. “What would improve the structure of your week at the moment?” “To be working”.

It was interesting to note the primary concern of all the young people, above what I had expected would be friendships, romance, cash, etc.. was EMPLOYMENT. It makes me very cross when young people are labelled as lazy or irresponsible. Most young people are very concerned rightly at the moment about their future careers given the global economic situation.

Left wanting more?

It is a very worrying time for us all but especially our future generation of decision-makers. On 6th November 2011 the Observer published an article ( about the star-studded cultural backlash against government plans to concentrate the British schools’ curriculum on a core of “traditional” subjects through the government’s push for an English Baccalaureate system. They are supporting the newly published ImagineNation: The Case for Cultural Learning, a campaigning report launched by the Cultural Learning Alliance (see I agree that unless we invest in our children as creative thinkers, both within and outside formal education, we will not nurture the transferable skills necessary to formulate a resourceful, hopeful, forward-thinking society to overcome the current hangover left by the recession, leaving only a sense of frustration and injustice.

Ingredients: A talkative child/children combined with a bored Sunday afternoon / walk to school / car journey to fill up.

The Big Sell:  Let’s take turns telling a story and see where it takes us…

Strategy:        Old reliable favourite in our family that I consider far less mind-numbing than I-Spy.

I take turns telling a story with child / children such as:

“Once upon a time there was a frog called Gerald who really wanted to fly… (your turn)”

“… so he climbed up a tree and jumped off but luckily was rescued by a passing sparrow called Brenda who took him back to her nest and tried to eat him (your turn)”

“… but he escaped and decided to follow plan B by strapping himself to a passing ladybird….” etc…

The Verdict: My son now often asks if we can play this game either if he is bored stiff or wants a bit of one to one quality time. The beauty is not only that it makes turn-taking fun (you really can’t wait to  hear what the other person is going to come up with!) but it teaches imaginative story-telling and broad vocabulary by stealth; the more you use your turns to add twists, turns, humour or tragedy, the greater the landscape of your child’s imagination. Of course, it works particularly well for boosting your child’s self esteem if you make them / their teddy / their siblings, the main protagonists / heroes / heroines of the tale. When I first started playing this game my son would tend towards more conventional plot lines which came to a close quite quickly, or would say little and ask me to take longer turns. However, as his confidence grew he took on more of the story with increasingly adventurous twists and is now an excellently eccentric story teller and I barely get a word in edgeways! You can’t really go wrong with this one!

Catchphrase: “Another one! Another one! Can I start this time?”

Left wanting more?

  • If you want a drawing version of this game, try using a piece of paper to take it in turns to draw the face, chest, tummy, hips, legs, feet of an imaginary person or creature without the other person seeing, folding over each section. When you open up the page you can see what wonderfully strange individual you have made together.
  • You could develop a particularly successful stepping stone story into a written version by asking your child to make it into a book or illustrating text you have typed out on the computer.

Ingredients: Paper and pens / or a computer and printer, one talkative child

The Big Sell:  Write me the silliest nonsense poem you can think of…

Strategy:        At a certain age children love to practice rhyming sounds (for eldest son it was between 3 and 5 years). He would idly recite nonsense rhyming words to himself whilst playing. I tapped into this and told him I would touch-type EXACTLY what he chose to put in a poem (note, I think it’s important not to make any of your own suggestions unless the child asks for it. If it is theirs word for word, they can sample the early delight of complete editorial control!)

The Verdict: The resulting poem was typed, printed and displayed proudly on the wall. When (adult) friends came round they would notice it and recite it aloud much to eldest son’s delight who felt it had become a famous work of art. If your child is slightly older it can also help with teaching them phonics by showing how to spell out the sounds they have chosen. In our home we will always have a special place in our heart for “Snow Monster, plo monster, elemeny toe monster” and the following 5 verses!

Catchphrase: “Read me my poem again, Mummy!”

Left wanting more?

  • An obvious reference is to read your child some Spike Milligan to show them how fantastic surreal poetry can be
  • Other good poetry books for young children are ‘The Booktime Book of Fantastic First Poems’, edited by June Crebbin, published by Puffin, and the rhyming story ‘Never use a knife and fork’ by Neil Goddard, published by Macmillan books (loved equally by our 2 and 6 year old because it actually recommends you are naughty with your food!).

Ingredients: Sand box (I just use a large plastic tub with lid on the patio, so no need for a proper sand tray, get play sand cheap from Wilkinsons or B&Q), various treasure items including shells, plastic dinosaur bones, costume jewellery, plastic coins, etc…, paintbrushes (large and small), spade, sieve

The Big Sell:  Let’s be archaeologists and discover hidden treasure!!!

Strategy:        Tell the kids to close their eyes, you hide the toys at different depth levels, then teach them how to use the sieve / paintbrush to gently discover the treasure

The Verdict: Both ages loved it, youngest (18 months) found the toys on the top and played for fifteen mins before getting distracted. Eldest (5) dug deeper, then developed their own idea to create a treasure map and bury that too for younger one (and me) to discover – the game lasted over an hour. They both ended up in full pirate dressing up! It’s become a popular game to revisit since, requiring no set up on my part as they have the idea now and will find their own props to bury.

Catchphrase: “What else can we find to bury Mummy!?!”

Left wanting more?

  • Look at BBC website for a computer game that allows you to be a Viking archaeologist at this link:
  • Whilst on the subject of pirates, the book Pirate Pete by Nick Sharratt, published by Walker Books Ltd is great for younger and older kids. I took it camping once and the youngest (age 16 months) sat in the travel cot and played with it for OVER AN HOUR whilst we snoozed! Incredible!

Hello world!

I am a mum of two young boys (2 and 6 years) and also work part time as a Freelance Youth Arts Worker. Writing a blog is the last thing I thought I could, would, ever do … so why?

I have been battling for some time with the strong desire to continue this act of creation that is motherhood. One last time. The third child, standing in the corner of the room, waiting to be brought into being. A question mark.

I have considered it deeply and know now it is not ‘the Johnson’s effect’- I have no desire to swell again or sweat the birthing pain, to wear the right maternity clothes or push the trendy buggy – so this is not hysteria from the fetishized image all around me. I’m past that.

This is seeing how each child builds us stronger, makes us wiser, embellishes and surprises us. It is the gift of knowing a new person. And how mothering that unique individual requires flexibility, compassion and patience; the development of profound and heartfelt connections to the world in nurturing our act of creation – the family. And I don’t want to have restricted my world only to my particular two marvels.

But I know it is a self-defeating argument and with each child the elastic frays…  And I’m realising I could choose to see myself as an addict, because I know this urge has always been there and will never pass. It is a feeling I will have to learn to live with. I do not want to bury it, but be mindful of it. So I have chosen to see this as who I am, but as greater than the sum of my womb.

It could be how I spill into all aspects of my life; how I connect to my community. More than creating children, it could be creating meaning so I don’t make a life half-lived, sunk into an insular dolls house but weave a web that is bigger and richer than I could have imagined.

So I’ve decided to start this conversation with the world about the thing I am most passionate about – imaginative creative play with children. I’ve spent the last six years riding the ‘play rollercoaster’ with two very different sons, and now have a wealth of experiences that could keep me chatting for hours at coffee mornings. But it’s also a subject on which none of us can ever become an expert, because it’s always changing and always new.

I know that some adults find it hard to fall back into childhood play – it can make us feel self-conscious, bored or even too over-involved (how many times have we proudly completed a lego construction we didn’t want the kids to knock over!!) Also, with 101 other things to do it can be very easy to let CBeebies take control for an hour or two…

And that’s all fine, as long as it’s balanced with a healthy dose of high quality play time, in which we don’t construct our child’s game for them, or leave them to wreak havoc with a new pack of felt-tips, but actually engage in a dialogue. A process in which we all learn something new about ourselves, feel proud of our achievements, or laugh over our shared mistakes. And I believe just 15 minutes of this kind of play each day can transform our relationships with our children – my own experience shows this kind of play grows an emotional intelligence that helps to deal with sibling squabbles, playground bullies or any growing pain – that respects the child’s individuality whilst asking them to be the best they can be. Such is the power of the rich imagination, transferable to any situation life throws at you.

I hope my blog will grow as my children do in age, to move from the toddler years, through after school activities, eventually to how we could use art to negotiate the teen years… I’ve got all that to come!!

The blog will consist of a brief description of a new game or arts activity, with an honest review (hopefully straight from the babe’s mouths!) Hit or flop, all will be shared. The idea is to mainly utilise toys you are likely to have around the house and combine them in new interesting ways, supplementing with the minimal expense of odd arts / crafts resources (with the best prices I’ve found in local shops). I’ll also recommend good books, toys, etc.. helping you form your own resource library at home.

In turn, I hope you will provide your own reviews – did your kids love or hate this activity? Did they subvert it into something new? Did they suggest a better idea than ours?!

So here goes …

Artspip x