Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Wheezles, sneezles and princesses

This is not the first time one of my children has been ill, of course. Thank goodness it's nothing serious, just another case of wheezles and sneezles. But surviving a day at home with a poorly child can be tough. Really tough. So on reflection I don't think we did too badly...

A lie-in with the windows open? A good start. A viewing of the Beatrix Potter's ballet DVD with breakfast in bed? Better. (This was when I dashed around doing all the chores. No Mrs Tiggy-Winkle for me, I'm afraid). Next, a morning-time bath? Better still.

And this was when the theme of the day started. Daisy wanted all her princess dolls in the bubbly bath with her, and she created a bit of a spa for the royal party. When all their hair was washed and combed, everyone had their hair dried with mummy's real hair-dryer and got dressed - including Daisy. Exhausted by all this activity, Daisy organised nap-time for everyone (princesses included) under a blanket in the living room. Thirty minutes and a dose of Calpol later I put on our favourite princess-y song. It's a wonderful lilting waltz from Disney's The Princess and the Frog called Ma Belle Evangeline. To my delight and surprise ma belle Daisy roused herself and gently swayed along to its haunting and beautiful melody.

Look how she lights up the sky
Ma belle Evangeline
So far above me, yet I
know her heart belongs to only me

Je t'adore, je t'aime, Evangeline

Love is beautiful
Love is wonderful
Love is everything
Do you agree?
Mais oui

Look how she lights up the sky
Ma belle Evangeline

Her third and final bout of energy came when she decided the princesses would like an outing on our road rug. Daisy's proclamation, 'Oh, but they need a car!' was when our lovely little craft project of the day began. She wanted to make a car the princesses could fit in. A shoe box? Perfect. An empty pen packet windscreen? Sorted. Toilet roll wheels? Four of those, please. Finally, we painted it rose and added bit of bling with some glitter and shiny stars. Please note the very snazzy gold seatbelts. A lovely touch by Daisy, I thought.

We survived it! But do I hope she feels better by tomorrow, otherwise those princesses are going to have another busy day ... do you agree? Mais Oui.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Easter Baskets (Part II)

My poor Daisy is under the weather. She has a terrible cold and she's all shivery. So we've not been too ambitious in our adventures today; we've played babies and Spider-man, we've listened to our old vinyl Disney album, and we've cuddled and coddled.

And in a very low key, gentle way we've cracked the whole Easter Basket thing too! As you can see, the final touches were made to the egg-boxes. They chose motorbike stickers for papa, teddy bears for nan, flowers and butterflies for everyone else. I just love it when they're confident about knowing exactly what people will like. I wish I found it that easy.

So, we're all set for Easter gifts. Just got to get my Daisy better now.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Easter Baskets (Part I)

I'll admit I was a tad over-excited about the prospect of making egg-box Easter Baskets with my two children today. The egg boxes had already been saved up (six of them), the recycling box raided for cardboard (to make handles), and I'd set out Spring coloured paints. And there I should have stopped. Let them attach the handles to the boxes and paint away. That would have easily been enough for today.

But no, my over-zealous heart took over my practical head and I just couldn't help myself. Out came the shredded tissue paper to cushion the beautiful jewel-like foil wrapped chocolate eggs, the eggs themselves of course, the lengths of rafia ribbon and the assorted stickers to adorn the finished baskets. I really should know better.

And of course it was all too much for them. Why couldn't they put the eggs in and the stickers on the boxes straight away, they wanted to know. They grumbled about the idea of painting when they usually like it. The stickers went on clothes, the chocolate in mouths. Oh dear.

In the end I had to abandon the project. I changed tack entirely, drawing their attention to the car boxes. I explained I needed help sorting them as some were broken. They totally went for it, thank goodness, rediscovering some vehicles that had been lost in the boxes for months, then sorting them by team (colour) as the photograph shows. With the saving grace of distraction on my side I could stash away the Easter goodies - just leaving out the paints and egg-boxes.

I was so pleased when they at last agreed to paint their boxes. These are now drying out very nicely. Phew.

Easter Basket Project (Part II) will continue tomorrow; tissue paper and chocolate eggs in, stickers and ribbon on. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, 26 March 2010


I'm happy to say my children are super-enthusiastic about many many things. Conversation, listening to stories, imaginative play, discussing how things work and what things mean, watching films, cooking, dressing up, playing games, singing, telling jokes, painting, cutting, gluing, running, climbing, scooting, dancing, Lego and track construction are all popular activities in our house. However, as soon as either of them get the merest sniff that we might be spelling or adding or writing letters of the alphabet - they run for the hills.

My ruse to get them learning about the concepts of number, letters and measure is to sneak them in, by stealth. And so far this method of learning-by-stealth has been working rather well. In their play and everyday activities they get loads of experience in phonemes, simple words and numbers, basic addition and subtraction. They chat about size and shape, they sort and estimate. All that jazz.

However, things that have so far been easily disguised in play are inevitably emerging as activities of learning in their own right at nursery and school. Maybe my children will always be prone to reject anything remotely resembling school work; maybe it's too early to say, but they are certainly making it clear they are not ready for it yet.

So, I've been thinking about how to start translating their obvious enthusiasm for learning (in the widest sense) to include the three R's. Learning-by-stealth can't last forever, you know. Recently I have discovered the phonics and number games on the Family Learning website which are really quite good. Buddy is lapping them up; his love of all things computer-game is being used for good, at last!

Tapping into another of Buddy's passions - Formula One, is a trick I've used before to help him try something new. Using some high frequency word flashcards, I've added Formula One vocabulary (e.g. pit stop, fuel, win, race, flag) to create bingo-style and dice games.

And so to the photograph. This is evidence of this morning's little triumph. Buddy wrote 'formula one' using our magnetic letters. He copied the spelling from his World Championships 2010 Guide And he did this happily, enthusiastically even. Result!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Guitar Girl

Daisy took one look at the empty box and announced, "This is going to be a guitar!" Fortunately we were able to provide the extra cardboard - from the recycling box, the sticky tape, the string for the three strings (very important, had to be three) and the orange paint (very important, had to be orange) so that Daisy could realise her vision.

She knows her guitars, does Daisy - daddy plays the acoustic and electric variety - so she was very clear about its design. I was there merely to cut out and help out with the assembly of her instrument. Once satisfied, she allowed it to dry. Daisy disappeared upstairs, reappearing sometime later dressed as a mermaid, in a large tie-dye silk scarf, "Ready," she explained, "for my gig."

We were then thoroughly entertained by our mysterious singing, dancing, guitar-wielding creature from the sea. And the guitar was most proudly taken to nursery for Show & Tell today.

It's a shame I didn't mix more PVA glue into that orange paint though. It's peeling off quite dramatically now. How very rock & roll...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

An Early Start

This morning we had one of those early starts, the ones you get so used to in the first years of having babies. As my children move out of the toddler years, I'm pleased to say these unhappy, uncivilised sessions of parenting are becoming less frequent. However, this does mean that whenever I hear the padding of bare feet into our room at some ungodly hour, it's an almighty struggle not to snap, "It's still night time, go back to bed!" It's also unrealistic now it's getting light before 7 am.

Desperately clinging to the last vestiges of sleep, I usually let them into our bed, cuddle up and pretend to myself they are going to be quiet, peaceful and even still for a while. But of course they squirm and chat at full volume, they unintentionally thrust a car or corner of a book in my eye. Eventually, one or other of us will relent and get up to play downstairs with the wakeful one.

However, I do have a trick up my sleeve which works like magic, quietly occupying my little ones for ages - or at least until it's a more reasonable time to get up. And although I have to join in with this activity eventually, it's a gentle, gradual involvement which actually puts me in a good mood for the day (with the addition of a huge cup of coffee, of course).

To my children, my jewellery boxes are the ultimate treasure trove. I only possess costume jewellery so I have no qualms about allowing my inquisitive pair to rummage through them. They are old enough to know the jewellery is not to be thrown or stretched, but they also know - because they've played this one a few times now - that each piece has a story. And now the museologist in me emerges, as I from sleep, to share their stories upon request.

You've heard of Radio 4's recent series The History of the World in 100 objects? Well, my jewellery collection is a history of mummy in 100 trinkets and baubles!

They are always so interested to hear (again and again) where that ring came from, "An 18th birthday present from my mum and dad, and yes, one of the stones is missing. The 'diamond' choker and bracelet I wore for my wedding - yes, you've seen the photographs, you can see me wearing them. The bracelet of interlocking squares from nana? - that's right, I can't wear it any more - the catch is broken. And that bangle made from cardboard, glitter and glued-on buttons? You made that one for me. On your first day at nursery."

So, although I can't honestly say I wouldn't rather be asleep at 6.00 in the morning, sharing memories about personal and precious objects with my little ones is definitely the next best thing.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Post-film posters

Yesterday, we watched Disney/Pixar's Cars at the new Kids' Club at Screen on the Green. Now, I am still equivocal about being immersed in darkness for two hours on a Saturday morning - it certainly felt strange surfacing at the end, blinking like a mole, into a busy Islington lunch time. But it was a drizzly, unpromising morning and my children love this film. We just had to go. Our toy Lightning McQueen accompanied us and upon arriving home was the focus of the children's play for quite a while.

Linking a cinema trip with an adventure at home has previously resulted in poster-making. For example, after we saw the film Up my children each made a lovely collage poster featuring a cut-out house beneath lots and lots of balloon-shaped stickers. I remember how much they enjoyed joining each balloon to the chimney with a 'string' of felt-tip pen. But yesterday we simply shared a story from an old copy of the Cars magazine.

I've never found the cartoon-strip the easiest of formats to read aloud (one has to go to town on the accents, I suppose). I usually find myself embellishing the story outside of the dialogue. I wondered if Buddy was getting the concept of speech bubbles at all. Could he work out who was talking from my dodgy accents? But it turned out he knew exactly who was talking; he knew about speech bubbles.

He told me, 'I even know about the ones that have blob,blob,blob and then a bumpy circle. Those are the finkin' ones, mummy.' The story didn't have any examples of characters doing any thinking, more's the pity, but I 'fink' I know what he means....

Friday, 19 March 2010

Rocket Science

When I look at this picture, it makes me smile. It didn't start from a particularly inspired idea; I'd just bought Buddy a packet of stickers on a recent shopping trip and he wanted to use them straight away. So, to his specification I very hastily drew the planet background on a sheet of A4 paper (otherwise his attention would have undoubtedly wandered). As he arranged the rockets, he became increasingly animated. He told us how fast they were going... that they were nearly crashing... racing... zooming... through the galaxy and so on. Lovely stuff for 50p's worth of stickers!

Later, I noticed Buddy gazing at the eye-catching, light-reflecting picture now proudly displayed on the wall, and he said wistfully, 'I love that picture SO much. I want to keep it there forever.'

But the reason the picture makes me smile so much is that it keeps reminding me of the hilarious, if slightly alarming comment his younger sister made earlier today when I was gently suggesting Buddy might want to adjust his pencil grip.

She looked over, sighed in an exasperated fashion and said, 'Oh Buddy, it's not rocket science.'

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Where's Wall.E?

It often occurs to me when the Nursery and Reception doors open at 3.30pm, that everyone apart from my little one is clutching a drawing, painting or junk-model to thrust enthusiastically into the arms of whoever is collecting them that day. Buddy is what you might refer to as a reluctant 'producer-of-art.'

Yesterday, I was encouraged slightly when he emerged brandishing an empty square tissue box. He claimed he was bringing it home to 'make it into something.' Not wanting to push him in any way, we left it overnight and decided to think about what transformation it might undergo.

Buddy was very sad when I collected him today. Lunchtime shenanigans, I think. He needed a lot of encouragement to play or even engage with us - he just wanted to loll sulkily, thumb-in, not joining in. The only thing he wanted to do was to play on the Wall.E website. Argh..... his gradual draw to all things computer-game is beginning to concern me (but that's another worry for another day).

But it was his mentioning of Wall.E. that made me link the shape of that tissue box with the cube-like body of Wall.E. Ah HA!

A deal was struck. If Bud helped me make a Wall.E from his tissue box, he could use the Wall.E website. Slowly slowly he joined in. And we even talked about possible solutions to the lunchtime problems whilst painting the gluey yellow over the box. Positively therapeutic, I'd say.

We've just finished the evening off with a viewing of the Wall.E DVD - what a treat! And Bud cheered up so much that he agreed to pose with his fabulous-not-quite-dry-yet-Wall.E. Just for the record.

Ploutering Away

When one of my children asks to wash up I jump at the chance; not because they are particularly good at it - far from it. No, I try to facilitate this activity whenever possible because of something my nana once told me. She said, 'It's only for a short time that just ploutering* about in the sink is exciting.' How true, how true. And what a lovely way of describing the ineffectual washing up technique of a three year old.

*a Scottish word for splooshing things about in the water.

Washing up - often such a chore to us grown ups - can be a delightful, wet, bubbly and absorbing adventure at home for young children. So up on the kitchen stool they climb. Apron on, sleeves up, a sink full of soapy warm water, a selection of plastic plates and non-sharps later, and they're ready to plouter away!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

All creatures great and small

Here is our collection of soft toys. I found them drinking in the sunshine in my children's bedroom this morning. I love the way they seem to be emerging from the box as if waking from a long winter's hibernation.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Spring Clean

Now I know this is small-scale, but as someone who uses their craft resources with two small children most days, a sort-out like this is a rare treat and as refreshing as a long drink of cool water.

When I was a class teacher, I once audited the Art resources of the whole primary school. Now that was no mean feat. I took over the entire assembly hall one Easter break and covered it with the paints and paintbrushes, mixing palettes and scissors, piles of scrap fabrics and paper we'd all been hoarding in our classrooms for years. The spring clean urge is strong in me then. This lot only took up my living room rug and a couple of child-free hours (thank you, nursery).

I have since reaped the benefits. Being able to produce with relative ease a resource suggested by one of my children has been hugely satisfying. I have also been able to offer one of the boxes, containing perhaps the ink stamps, or felt tips and stencils, or scrap paper and scissors and let them become absorbed in the simple freedom of exploring the medium. I've just supplied plain paper, card or an empty toilet roll or two as their canvas and let them loose.

Chatting about what happens when they scribble or colour over another colour, or discovering the kind of mark one pen makes compared to another, or discussing the colours and textures of different scraps of paper as they cut them up or stick them down is a lovely shared experience. The end result may not be wall-worthy but of course that's not the point here.

And I know I know, our craft stuff will get messed up and mixed up in a surprisingly short amount of time. But when it does, I'll just look at the photograph above and remember!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Rabbit Pie

During breakfast this morning, Daisy decided she would like a story by candlelight (there was one left on the table from a rare grown-up dinner time the night before). We shared a lovely breakfast reading Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit; its illustrations being gently illuminated by daytime candlelight (one of my favourite things). When we got to the page where Mrs Rabbit warns Peter about the dangers of Mr McGregor’s garden, ‘Your father had an accident there. He was put into a pie by Mrs McGregor,’ Daisy asked what was meant by having an accident and being put in a pie.

I explained that some people eat rabbit, and that is what had happened to Peter’s father. Buddy, her brother, said he would never eat rabbit. ‘I would hate to.’ And Daisy, not to be out done gave her view on the matter. ‘If I ate rabbit, it would make me do a big burp.’

When I asked why, she replied, ‘It would make me a do a big burp because of its big ears.’ And this from a three year old who announced she was a ‘vegetawian’ not two days ago. Love it.

This has given me the idea of using The Tale of Peter Rabbit as the story in my next Nursery Rhyme Time at the Geffrye Museum. I’ll be leading an hour of songs, games and craft for children under five and their carers. It links with the Museum’s latest exhibition A Garden Within Doors - plants and flowers in the home.

One of my sessions is called Lavender’s Blue and now I have my story idea, I think. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first published in 1902. So it’s right time-wise, with a lovely garden setting too. Maybe we won’t use candlelight in the museum though, there are Health and Safety issues of course. But they do have a lovely LED candle that fits into an authentic Victorian candlestick. Hmmm. That should set the atmosphere nicely.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Let's play Honey Bear

This being my first post, I wanted to write something by way of an introduction to my new Adventures at Home blog. Overall it will be about my endeavours to be a creative mum with my young children at home. The highs and lows. The successes and failures. The tears and laughter (and hopefully the tears of laughter). But to give you more of an idea, my daughter provided me with a gem of an adventure yesterday. I must share it with you to illustrate something of what Adventures at Home will be about.

In the afternoon, I set out our small toy animals and sure enough a 'let's pretend it's a zoo' game began. As I stepped away from the play, I noted my daughter changing the game to a birthday party at the fairy house to which all the animals had been invited. Soon I could hear her announcing that it was time to play a party game. I thought I would be needed here, but no.

She placed all the animals in a sort of circle and told me she was playing Honey Bear, like at nursery. She re-enacted the game that usually requires a group of at least six people with just her, the animals and some cardboard cut-out fairies. Brilliant.

Explaining the rules to the assembled party, she orchestrated every toy taking a turn at being Honey Bear. So, here are my daughter's rules for the game. I'm not sure they relate closely to the rules at nursery but doing it her way certainly entertained her until teatime.

How to play Honey Bear (my daughter's version)

1. One child (or toy) is the honey bear who 'sleeps' in the middle of a circle of other players.
2. A small pot or cup is placed next to the bear's head.
3. Everyone chants 'Go to sleep Honey Bear, don't peek honey bear'
4. As the bear sleeps, someone from the circle is chosen to steal the honey pot. They must creep to collect it, then return silently to their place, hiding the honey pot behind them.
5. Everyone in the circle puts their hands behind their backs and shouts ' Wake up, honey bear. Your honey's not there!'
6. The bear then has to guess who stole the honey. The players show their hands if an incorrect guess is made. The player who stole the honey pot, is the next honey bear.

We went on to make balloon-banners for the fairy house from scraps of paper and ribbon, and lots and lots of glue but that's another adventure for another post.

I think the Honey Bear game illustrates something fundamental about being a creative mum, dad or carer. It's the ability to recognise the importance of stepping back sometimes and allowing the child's creativity to flow. If I had muscled in, I don't think I would have seen that wonderful game being led so expertly by a three year old. She was totally immersed.

It is so tricky to know how much to input, when to step back, when to guide and when to join in with gusto. Practice makes perfect I suppose. I hope. I am trying to navigate a way through family life, nurturing creativity and allowing it to flow naturally whenever possible in all that we do together.

And this blog will be a record of it all.