Archives for posts with tag: parenting

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: 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: Toys you already own (dinosaurs, playmobile, play dough, cars / trains, arts & crafts leftovers, wrapping paper, throws, cushions, etc…) , all the time you can give, freedom to make mess and have fun for ages 0 – 90.

The Big Sell: Never mind new presents under the tree, the thing most kids want this Christmas is you, your inspiration and focus on play time as a family – so ransack the toy boxes and get busy!

Strategy: Clear a carpet space or table and use the toys most families usually have to create the MOTHER OF ALL FAMILY GAMES! Some ideas include:

Dino Valley

Transform a rug into a landscape using a shallow tray or bowl filled with warm water for a lake on a towel, cushions for hills covered in throws, sand or moon sand in a shallow tray for a desert, plasticine / play dough trees and all the dinosaur toys / play mobile people with jeep, to create Jurassic Park in your own living room.

Towering Inferno  (or any 70’s style disaster movie!)

Combine lego, drawbridge made from string/ wood off-cuts (see Ball of String blog post), playmobile, toy garage & other sundry buildings, and scrunched red tissue paper (for flames) left from presents to create a disaster movie better than any ITV3 re-run. The kids get to pick which Playmobile men play the Jeremy Irons / Sean Connery / Kurt Russell etc… baddies and goodies, perhaps employing your best attempt at impersonating the accents for a giggle? Make a bomb from a matchbox to be placed in a central spot that the goodies have to disable before the egg timer pings!

Constructions with Play Dough

I don’t know about you but I get terribly bored with repetitively making sausage shapes or using cut out shapes with Play dough. For a new approach, cut play dough into small brick shapes and build your own wall or castle. Combine with a toy crane with added play dough wrecking ball to knock down and re-build.

Or flatten long thin sausages of play dough to make networks of roads or train tracks round the dining room table. Combine with your Thomas the Tank Engine or Postman Pat toys to create village life – run play dough roads over folded tea towels to make bridges and cardboard rolls for tunnel, or even attempt a full rollercoaster – be as ambitious as possible!

The Verdict: This is the kind of play which provides unforgettable family memories – get relatives staying for the holidays involved too and everyone regresses into a united fantasy world. The games provide an antidote to the chocolate-fuelled, present overkill, post-Christmas blues that hit any time from Boxing Day onwards. Every year I promise not to buy the kids so much ‘stuff’ and every year I fall prey to the commercial tsunami, before realising too late that it’s these imaginative “let’s see how many toys we can use in one game” activities that really make us genuinely happy and bring us all together again.

Catchphrase: Run, run for your lives – T-Rex is coming from under the Christmas tree!!!

Left wanting more?

Struggling to get the kids to write thank you notes to generous relatives? Why not bump their heads together to write a bespoke Christmas thank you poem or song and email round a short recording of them in full recital to one and all?!

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!

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