Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Little chefs and The Playful Parent cook up a storm

On Sunday I spent the day at the wonderful Geffrye Museum promoting my book The Playful Parent: 7 ways to happier, calmer, more creative days with your under-fives. The shop sold out of their stock - so I guess it went well!

I set up an activity from the book, an invitation to play, where younger children could come and take part in some let's pretend cooking using home-made lavender or fresh mint play-dough, herbs, leaves and petals from the museum's gorgeous garden.



My daughter was a fantastic help, charming the little chefs in a way that no grown-up could. She chatted with them, and made them feel right at home in the little nature kitchen gazebo. They rolled, stirred, tore, squished, cut, and smelled the dough, herbs and flowers and made some wonderful 'food', leaving their grown-ups relatively free to chat with me about the recipe for the play-dough (in the book) - and how these set-ups can work at home to develop young children's independence and help them find their playful flow.

Some older children visited the stall too and, though the tables were a little small for them, they happily stayed and made some very photogenic food with the goodies - from posh canapes to nature pizza.

It was great to meet so many lovely children and their grown-ups, and to have the opportunity to do my bit towards making the world of parenting a more playful place. Thanks to everybody who came to play!

Friday, 4 July 2014

DIY haute couture

A friend just posted this wonderful video on Facebook and I've watched it about ten times already. It may not exactly be a 'how-to' demo - but it is totally inspiring. Who wouldn't be tempted into making a miniature glamorous outfit or two after seeing such a beautiful film? 


It isn't impossible to achieve this kind of experience at home with the kids. I'm not promising the immaculately appointed, soft-focus studio of course but with just a bit of child-friendly kit and using this little Dior video for inspiration, it is possible to get children designing and making their own mini-outfits independently, without using any needles, pins or even scissors. Here's how:


I absolutely love these little mannequins from Harumika. They make dress-designing satisfyingly simple for the littlest of hands and the most creative of minds. This is due to the ingenious addition of a thin rubber-lined slit that runs down the back of each mannequin. Each kit comes with a little paddle that helps tuck in and secure materials into the slit, so there's no need for any cutting, pinning or stitching at all.

Our local art, craft and fabric shop has a huge basket of handkerchief-sized (and smaller) off-cuts that cost between five and thirty pence. My children love rummaging through it and choosing a few pieces of material whenever we visit. Add to any fabric pieces you have, a few ribbons and sticky gems or sequins and that's really everything you'll need to get those couture creations off the ground.


Creating the dresses: 
Arrange the fabrics, ribbons and any other little goodies you might have to hand on a clear and clean work surface along with a mini-mannequin or two, and let the making begin. If you lose your paddles, a lolly stick or the handle of a teaspoon work equally well. If your child is unsure about how to get started, try asking them to design something for themselves or someone they know well and suggest a few scenarios for which to design a costume. Perhaps they could make a dress for a wedding party, a special lunch, a red carpet event, a garden party, a book launch, a Halloween party, a winter ball, a job interview, a rock festival or a birthday bash, for example.

Keeping the creations:
Once an outfit has been made, your child will probably want to make another straight away - it is quite addictive. Be sure to take a photo (or even a little video) showing the outfit from a few angles before it's disassembled. This way there'll be a record of its unique design and if they want to make it again in the future the photograph can be used to jog their memory.

Enjoy the video and why not have a go at making some mini-couture outfits with your little ones. If Dior can do it, so can our kids, right?

Here are some of my children's couture creations made with our Harumika mannequins.


Friday, 27 June 2014

The Playful Parent promo premiere!

Want to know more about my book The Playful Parent: 7 ways to happier, calmer, more creative days with your under-fives? Well here to tell you, as well as a rather nervous me, is my very confident daughter Daisy! She knows ALL about it.

This promotional video was filmed and edited by Paul Roscouet, and the music is by my husband Rob Deering - with vocals from our son Buddy!

For more information visit www.theplayfulparent.co.uk

You can now follow me on Twitter: @DeeringJulia 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

All the fun (and physics) of the fair!

This weekend, Carter's Steam Fair came to our lovely local park, and we spent an exciting couple of hours there on Sunday afternoon. Carter's is always a huge hit with my two children. Personally, I love the traditional-looking rides, the bright retro-colours and the 1950s music; the vintage feel of whole thing ticks all my boxes. Bud and Daisy, however, are much more taken with choosing how to spend their £10.00 as quickly as they can, and seeing how many extra times I'll allow them to go on the dodg'ems after all their money's been spent.

As a teacher with a science background I can't help but take the chance to chat with my children about the physics of the funfair whenever we're there. I do try to let them enjoy the super-swirling, scream-inducing, tacky-prize-obtaining opportunities as well; I promise I don't get too nerdy and spoil the fun. But being at an old-fashioned fair such as Carter's really does provide a fantastic excuse to talk about some real-life applications of the laws of physics and mechanics and, of course, to experience them in brilliant, hair-raising style. 

If Carter's, or a similar type of traditional fair, comes to your town - try talking with your kids about the science behind the rides while you take a look around. You don't need to know much yourself; just by asking the right kinds of questions, you'll be getting them thinking about the physics behind the fun, and this will definitely fire-up their enthusiasm for scientific enquiry. And, after they've been on the rides, they'll be able to tell you, first-hand, about the effects of physics on their bodies. My son, for example, says he never wants to go on the chair-swing ride again - he hates the spinning-out feeling apparently (no future as an astronaut then) - whereas, my daughter absolutely loves it; NASA, here she comes! Buddy was more at home behind the wheel, displaying a natural instinct and unbridled joy on the dodg'ems; judging when to avoid, steer into or anticipate the inevitable collisions of other cars. Daisy, not driving and therefore with no control over what happened to the car, was hilariously surprised by practically every bump; she screamed and whooped nearly the whole time. 

Here are a few questions you could ask your children when you're at an old-fashioned funfair:

1. Take a close look at any steam-powered engines working the rides: 

  • What's making the steam?
  • How does the steam make the ride move?
  • What fuel is heating the water to make the steam?

2. Try the person-powered swing-boats:

  • What did the fairground attendant have to do to help us get on the swing without it moving?
  • Look up! Why do we have to hold each other's ropes - and not our own?
  • How do we make our swing go higher and higher?

3. Experience the centrifugal force on the chair-swing ride:

  • What happened to us, and our chairs, as the ride started spinning?
  • Why did our chairs keep moving up and out from the centre of the ride?
  • What does it feel like to be on the ride?

4. Experience collision/motion physics on the dodg'ems:

  • What happened to your car when you went into the back of another?
  • Was it different to when someone when into the back of you?
  • What happened to your car when there was a side-by-side collision?
  • Why did that man's hat fall off when his car collided with another?

At home, we've made all kinds of mini-fairground rides - from up-turning and spinning an umbrella as a merry-go-round for small soft toys and whizzing the salad-spinner to give others a centrifugal-force-experience, to demonstrating the exciting effects of collision on friction-free motion using a tray covered with a layer of ice and a few matchbox toy cars.

I'd love to know what else we could try. Do leave any ideas in the comments box.

You can find details about other family-friendly funfair physics facts and investigations here:

Monday, 2 June 2014

Out 5 June: THE PLAYFUL PARENT; 7 ways to happier, calmer, more creative days with your under-fives

Some of you may already know that my book THE PLAYFUL PARENT; 7 ways to happier, calmer, more creative days with your under-fives is released this week. I am beyond excited to the point of feeling a little sick every time I think about it. It's been over two years in the making - just one neglected blog and a somewhat nocturnal life later...

The book is designed to help parents and caregivers of children (aged 2 - 5) use play every day as a powerful tool to parent smarter, and to help them enjoy - not endure - the messy early years of childhood. It's for parents who aren't as blog/website savvy as you lovely followers of Adventures at Home and who think they may have forgotten how to play, who are fearful of craft, who hate yelling at their kids and who don't want to use the naughty step.

I know you are already brilliantly playful parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and the like - but I hope you'll find something in my book that makes spending time with any little ones in your life happier, calmer and more creative. I want to make the world of parenting a more playful place. Help me spread the word. 

Thank you.


Out 5 June: THE PLAYFUL PARENT; 7 ways to happier, calmer, more creative days with your under-fives. You can pre-order your copy here: 

"I have had a sneak preview and it's blimmin brilliant - chock full of ideas of games to play and things to do with your little ones. Most importantly, the ideas are tried and tested and DO-ABLE (no Pinterest-type fails here!)" N Lasocki  (parent of two children under-five)

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

An investigation station

Our occasional investigation station is back, and it has a new theme - the seashore. It was easy to set up thanks to the wonderful finds we brought back from our recent trip to Dunraven Bay in Wales. My two little nature-lovers have been tempted into this activity again and again simply by my setting out the equipment and specimens invitingly and leaving everything there, ready when they are. Here's what's available:


1. A collection of small rocks, minerals, pebbles and fossils.

2. A selection of shells.

3. A piece of drift wood.

4. Prepared slides with plant material.


4. A mini-torch.

5. Hand-held magnifiers.

6. A microscope.


7. A handmade rock-pool I Spy poster (made on location in Wales).

8. A wild flower pocket book.

9. A copy of the Spotter's Guide to the Seashore.

It hasn't taken long for the children to work out that if you want to use the microscope successfully you have to have very thin slices of material to enable light to travel through. In other words, the pebbles and shells, it turns out, must be viewed using the torch and the magnifying glasses - not shoved under the lens of the microscope. 

But, whether using the microscope or the magnifiers, there have been ooo-s and ahh-s aplenty, and it's been a great opportunity to investigate our favourite bit of seashore on a very different scale.


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Biology for beginners

We're just back from our beloved Dunraven Bay; a favourite holiday spot for us, where we always have adventures. We've been so many times now that I can track the growing up of my children by simply recalling what we got up to when we were there in previous years. I remember the buggy-on-the-sand struggles, the sandy nappy changes, the one-toe-in-the-sea-and-that-was-enough paddles. My children would dig in the sand, and play with shells and pebbles along with their toy cars and figures. They loved to waddle in the sand-pool shallows, and they would use their buckets for all kinds of busy fetching and carrying. A little more sophisticated this year, their activities included intrepid body-boarding in the icy cold sea, ambitious sand-fort and moat building, confident and nimble rock rambling, fastidious fossil hunting, film-making with Action Man, and proper rock-pooling - with an identification book and everything.

Using our tattered Spotter's Guide to the Seashore took me back to the biology field-trips of my undergraduate years. Is there anything more satisfying than finding which particular sea-lavender or limpet you've just found by flicking through the pages of such a book, checking the particular shape, colour or markings on leaf or shell? No? Well, I know not everyone gets a buzz from it - but I really do. While I hoped I was passing on my enthusiasm for ecology to the children, I also knew I needed to hold back a little. I didn't, for example, push them to count and record the number of bladders on seaweed samples in ten different rock-pools, or mark out 50cm quadrats for them to study biodiversity up and down the shoreline with the Usborne pocket book in hand. Those joys must surely wait another year or two.

Indeed the best biological thing we learned about the seashore habitat didn't come from a book at all. Paddling in the sea, as the tide was coming in, we spotted a hermit crab tumbling in with the waves. As the water retreated, the crab emerged from its whelk shell and resisted being pulled back into the sea with its characteristic sideways walk. This was amazing enough - Daisy named it Swirly because of the captivating way it let itself tumble and swirl with the incoming water, and we watched it repeat its trick over and over. Imagine then how exciting it was to discover at least fifteen more hermit crabs - all equidistant from each other (about 2m apart) - doing exactly the same thing as Swirly, like they were on parade or something. We ran up and down the beach waving and jumping at each other every time we found one; the shells punctuated the smooth sand like a row of fullstops; it was incredibly cool. For my own interest, I've been searching the internet to see if there have been any studies on this kind of tidal behaviour of hermit crabs (sad, I know) - but for my children, it will simply be the magical discovery of the crabs on parade that they'll remember. They need biology for beginners for now - so I can leave its formalisation to the hermit crabs because, it seems, they're absolutely brilliant at it. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to make your own Faberge eggs

I love making up craft kits to give as gifts to people I know to be keen makers. Here's one we recently created for my daughter's friend's birthday. She's eight years old, enjoys making things, and loves a bit of sparkle and glamour. We think this kit will hit the spot and go down a treat.

Here's what went into the kit:

1. a pack of polystyrene craft eggs

2. glitter glue pens in assorted colours

3. a couple of packets of foil sticker stars

4. two packets of stick-on gems

5. a trimmed section of an egg-box and a cocktail stick to fashion into a stand for the egg being decorated

6. a picture of some Faberge eggs for inspiration

[image from www.forbes.com]

And here's the kit box - decorated by my daughter...

Of course, we are now desperate to have a go ourselves, and as it's coming up Easter I think we've got a great reason to make some time to decorate some eggs - Faberge-style. 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Lego Years

Although I adored my children throughout the baby and toddler years and marvelled at them during the preschool phase, when we held a birthday party for for my son on Sunday, I couldn't help but enjoy just how clever, well-mannered and sophisticated they are now that they're big kids. His party had a Lego theme - hence the birthday brick-cake efforts above - and we took a bunch of his friends to the cinema to see, you guessed it, The Lego Movie. To top and tail the party we simply put out all our Lego bricks and let the guests make what they would. This worked out brilliantly; everybody wanted to make something. It's safe to say we have entered a new phase of parenting - the Lego Years; it really does seem to be my son's go-to toy at the moment. It never fails to lure him in to some wonderfully imaginative, construction-based play. Our mantra of the moment is definitely: if in doubt, get the Lego out.

To find out whether he feels this is true, and to see what else he really likes, aged nine, we decided to interview him just as with our daughter here when she turned six. The interview took place during a sunny bike ride round the park when we talked about a whole lot of other interesting stuff too - lively conversation seems to come easily when we're pedal pals.

Yummiest food: cheese and ham omelette
Favourite word: 'basically' and 'deny'
Pudding choice: chocolate fudge cake
Best toy: new cuddly minion, old pink hippo and Snowy the bear. Lego comes second after soft toys
Pattern preference: tartan (any clan)
Favourite music:YMCA (minions' version)
Coolest outfit: kilt, with sporran, worn with Olympics 1948 T-shirt
Best film: Tomorrow Never Dies, Despicable Me II and The Lego Movie
Favourite book: Casper Candlewax and the time-travelling toaster

Happy Birthday to my gorgeous curly-haired boy.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The reluctant ramblers

The big news on Sunday morning was that, for once, it wasn't raining. So I hatched a plan to get us out and under those blue skies for as long as possible; to meet Daddy at King's Cross station where he'd be arriving on the 14:02 from Edinburgh. If that doesn't sound like we'd be getting much sunshine, well, let me tell you the cunning nature of this little outing - we were going to get there on foot. It was to be an urban ramble, if you like - but with a goal, a purpose - and the reward of seeing Daddy. This concept seemed to sell the idea to my children anyway. That and showing them some of the delicious snacks in my backpack and the promise of a hot chocolate once we got there - I'm not stupid.

We set off a little after midday, snug in our walking boots and winter coats, ready for all the puddles, pavements and tow paths we might encounter  - and headed towards the New River. This took us right into the heart of Islington but kept us pretty nature-orientated for the first part of our ramble-with-a-mission. We saw a frog, two squirrels, a cat and three wood pigeons, and spotted snowdrops, smelled some crazily early jasmine and tested out a mini-waterfall feature for the fairies by sending down leaves like little rafts into the 'rapids'. There was also the best tree in N1 to be climbed. We never miss that one.

We left the green and pleasant New River path at Essex Road station and cut across to Upper Street past  the Little Angel Theatre. When we got to Screen on the Green we made our way to Liverpool Road via The Old Royal Free residential development. Cloudesley Road took us to Copenhagen Street and then we picked up the Regent's Canal. We wanted to find out more about the history of these places - and made a note to 'Google' them later; it was all very intriguing round there. My children loved checking the map with me as we made our way back to the water - it was rather unfortunate that the entire route seemed to fall right on the ring-binder between pages 48 and 49 of our London A to Z. Why does that always happen?

Once on the canal's tow path, we stopped for snacks and a drink then completed the final leg of our journey with renewed energy - all the way to Granary Square. We rewarded ourselves with a well-deserved sit down and watched the wonderful water-fountain displays - which were really quite mesmerising and  most relaxing. With mere minutes to spare, and very tired feet, I encouraged my now slightly moaning and reluctant-to-move ramblers along the pedestrianised boulevard and into the newly refurbished King's Cross station - just in time to meet Daddy. I thought it had been a fantastic walk and, as you might predict, those hot chocolates went down a storm.

On the bus home, we calculated the length of our urban ramble. I turned to my daughter and proudly told her, 'Wow! Do you know, we walked three miles today! Isn't that amazing?' To which she replied, 'Whaa...? three miles? That's TERRIBLE! I can't believe I walked three miles.' And she placed her head in her hand, her hand on the bus window and closed her eyes.' Still a reluctant rambler then.