Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Right place, right time...

[Image from]

On Saturday we went to King Henry Walk Garden's Open Day. I often cycle past this rather private-looking place on my way to work so it was great to be allowed a peek inside. It certainly lived up to my expectations; it was magical. There were beautifully tended allotments, colourful flowerbeds, a pond teeming with life - we spotted pond skaters, newts and water boatmen - several fragrant herb plots and a delightfully shady little wooded area. It was all the more special for being off-the-beaten-track and - well - a  bit secret.

We spotted a craft activity table where they were making paper blossom branches, and headed over. Unfortunately they were just packing up their wares as we approached. Tears from my daughter were only avoided when the kind lady in charge offered us a few twigs and a generous handful of crepe paper squares to take home with us. Daisy was delighted.

Back at home I laid out the branches, pink paper and some glue on our making table. I assumed that one or both of my children would soon get pinching, scrunching, and then gluing the petals to the winter branches. Much later, when I realised my children were not in the least interested, I decided to make a few petals myself. This tempted Daisy and she joined in. She made precisely two petals, announced she'd finished - and off she skipped. End of making.

I decorated the remaining branches later that evening - after the children had gone to bed. It was a most enjoyable occupation that complemented a glass of wine and a spot of Saturday night TV very well indeed. Yes, I am that sad. And I'm very pleased with how my branches have turned out - see how delicate and real they look in our backyard. Daisy has asked me to point out which of the petals are her handiwork; keen to take a bit of the credit then. I'll take that as a compliment.

This weekend's experience has got me thinking about children's Making activities and how they do sometimes fail. With my son, I know that certain things are never going to fly. I always think carefully about what kind of activity to offer to him - it has to suit his skills and his interests, otherwise he will simply not participate. Daisy is more inclined to have a go at most things so her uncharacteristic disinterest on this occasion reminded me of another factor in determining the success of making things with children - the importance of timing and setting. Maybe Daisy wouldn't have engaged for all that long with the petal-making in the secret garden but she was so keen to try - the time was right then, not hours later at home. And looking back, the original place of the activity was perfect too. It would have been so lovely to make pretty flowery things in the dappled light beneath those real blossom trees. For Daisy, our living room simply didn't cut it  - and I think that's fair enough.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Tinker in the sun

On a sunny day:

1. Spread a blanket on the ground in your backyard to attract the tinkerers

2. Lay out some simple tools, and a few old and broken electronic gadgets and gizmos (we also had a solar robot kit - a birthday present - on this occasion )

3. Wait for the bait to do its job

4. Then spend a very happy hour in the sunshine with two very contented tinkerers. Help with the technical stuff like left-y loose-y and right-y tight-y

5. Lastly, sit back and admire their work. We had a free-form cartwheeling droid by a five-year-old and a solar-powered, instructions-followed robot made by a seven year old

Happy tinkering!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Time for a show

This week our Friday night film was the much loved Peter Pan. As they got ready for bed, my children asked whether they might put on a Peter Pan show the next day. Of course I said they could - but I wondered whether they would remember their plan. They often come up with something altogether different to play after a night's sleep.

But during breakfast and then as they each had a bath there was continual chatter about the Peter Pan show; from the characters and costumes to the location of scenes and ideas for props. This show was definitely going to happen. I went along with their plans - helping where I was allowed, but trying to keep distant enough so that it was their creativity driving the project along.

Firstly, costumes were chosen from their dress-up drawer; Buddy picked out a green tunic and belt for Peter, and Daisy put on a blue satin princess dress and her slippers to be Wendy. Buddy also wanted a green hat with a feather - so I helped him make one out of paper. I was also allowed to help Daisy with her hair-style; Wendy needed a kind of half-ponytail, apparently.

Costumes on, and characters collected - puppets for Captain Hook and Tinkerbell, and soft toys for the Lost Boys, Wendy's parents, Michael, John and Tiger-Lily - it was time to make posters advertising the show.

When these were completed and displayed, we rolled back the living room rug - for here was to be Neverland. They set up the mermaids' lagoon, Skull Rock (under the dining table), Captain Hook's pirate ship (the sofa) and the encampment for Tiger-Lily's family (a small table). All the characters were put into their starting positions around the house - this was clearly going to be a 'promenade' piece - and then it was time to begin...

The story started - as it does in the film -  inside the nursery of the Darling family home in London (actually upstairs in the children's bedroom) where Wendy and Peter Pan meet, and the children learn to fly.

An exciting flight (down the stairs) towards 'the second star on the right and straight on till morning' took them to Neverland where they met Hook, the Lost Boys, the mermaids and Tiger-Lily. They quoted the film's script for most of the scenes - this was very much a Disney Peter Pan. Peter even had an American accent.

Buddy and Daisy were able to remember exactly what happened in the story - a sign we've seen this film a quite a few times - and they recreated all the exciting adventure using their puppets and soft toys when required. They were absolutely immersed in the action. 

Their show was definitely more about climbing into the story than performing it for an audience - but it was all the more funny, convincing and exciting for that. I feel very lucky to have been allowed to see this magical production of Peter Pan before it transfers to the West End on the 12th of Never. It was outstanding.

Monday, 5 March 2012

It's Spring - let's go out

For me, a welcome sign of Spring's arrival is when I can say to my children 'let's go out' without any particular plan. This is what we did on Saturday afternoon - and we stayed out too; just in our neighbourhood, for over four hours. 

As we strolled towards our local green space we passed cherry-blossomed trees, saw new light-green growth on the shrubs in front gardens and listened to snatches of beautiful birdsong as chaffinches and blackbirds went about their nest-making business. It really felt like Spring had sprung.

Once we reached Butterfield Green we were rewarded with more blossom-branched trees, and with the stunning colours of crocuses and daffodils poking their cheery heads up above the grass.

I got to relax for over an hour in the warm sunshine, overhearing snippets of my children playing a brilliant let's pretend game involving exploration of strange lands and a wedding party. They checked in with me every now and again, bringing me a few more of the hundreds of funny, fuzzy, highly collectible catkins strewn all over the paths. I also received a few daisies along the way.

Later on we went to SWAPA - an adventure playground adjacent to the green. There they climbed up trees and ropes, swung on tyres, dug in the sand and rolled down ramps on unruly wheel-boards. We eventually made our way home when the sun was pale orange and low in the sky, my children wonderfully tired from all the exercise and fresh air, and brilliantly dirty with the stuff of nature and outside adventure.

Back at home I made them both a toy caterpillar each by securing pieces of cotton thread to the end of  two catkins. They trained their new pets and came up with The Captain Caterpillar Show which consisted of a mini-obstacle race on our dining table. A recorder fanfare hailed the beginning of each caterpillar's turn to complete the course - it was hilarious.

I look forward to our next impromptu outing. Where will we go? What will they come up with to amuse me? We shall see.