Living in Mid-Air

Mid-Air People

 

My daughter has quite an abstract approach to art. Her selections of shapes and colours are bold, and spill across the page in a confident mass. The balance in her drawings is quite startling for one so young and I suspect reflects her (sometimes over-) developed sense of fairness. Which itself becomes particularly apparent in circumstances where she perceives favour to be weighed against her!

Gluing a tiny selection of her prolific productions into a scrapbook for posterity, I was taken by one that depicted her and little brother either side of a house. The space around them was festooned with love hearts, and colours for each figure carefully chosen to represent their favourites of the moment (pink for Ella, blue for Joe).

What struck me particularly was the way both figures were suspended in the air. Despite there being a careful line for grass, an equally horizontal bar of blue above, and the house being firmly rooted on the ground, the children were shown suspended in the No Man’s Land of white horizon, as if at the top of a bounce on a trampoline. Grinning madly.

It’s a happy picture – most of her drawings are. Thankfully. I always remember that scene in Sixth Sense where the little boy says he draws rainbows instead of the images of horrific violence that were haunting him, in order to satisfy the school therapists – ‘They don’t have meetings about rainbows’. Guess we’re doing something right then.

Anyway, I digress. Suspended people. What’s that all about? I began to fester …

Does she feel ungrounded? Without a firm base in life? Is she watching too many Fairy movies and genuinely thinks people can fly?

Or did she just start drawing the heads too high up on the page and not want to make the legs look stupidly long? I suspect this last is true. Or maybe I’m kidding myself and she is less secure that I’d care to imagine. Guess I’ll never know for sure so should quit worrying and get a life!

On reflection I think this picture is a perfect example of how our kids are not yet bound by the constraints of knowledge that dogs us as adults. It’s a freedom I’m keen for her to retain in her arsenal of art techniques. And I hope she can grow to apply this freedom of thought to her life.

Imagine the impossible.

Dare to dream.

Convention is creeping in as her depictions of grass and sky squeeze ever closer together. But for now, mid-air people are very okay in her world. Long may that last.

Do the Strop

© Creatista | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Creatista | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Do you ever feel like smiling when your kids are acting out?  I know that might sound like a weird reaction, but if yours are anything like mine, you may relate to this.  From time to time their attempts at throwing the mother of all strops result in me catching a fit of the giggles.  I could laugh until my sides split at some of the oh so serious faces they pull.  I appreciate that this is not the response of a sensitive and nurturing parent.  But I’m only human.  And their expressions are to die for.  And on some days I feel I am touching hysteria myself.

Admittedly I restrain myself if I sense their outburst is coming from a place of deep upset.  And this can be in relation to the simplest of things.  My daughter erupted the other day because little brother had disrupted the precision-made fairy bed she had set up on the coffee table, complete with acorn cups.  She was seriously affronted and close to acute internal devastation.  Clearly, a light chuckle from me was not appropriate at this juncture.

Yet sometimes … well, frankly they are just faking.

And they know it, and I know it.

And they know that I know it.

A gentle upturn of the corner of my mouth is enough to reveal the true nature of their actions, as they invariably redouble their efforts to gain my attention, with a challenging look in their eyes that dares me to proceed.  So I do.  For these instances I have developed an effective arsenal of responses:

  • A skeptical look and a grin – is often enough to diffuse the situation and send them happily away to seek out mischief elsewhere
  • Pulling their face back at them and then laughing out loud – shows them how ridiculous they look, and can lead to a fun gurning session
  • A declaration of war – in the form of a challenging “You are SO faking right now!” can often set them giggling too.  When swiftly followed by tickling and a little play-fight this settles things down nicely
  • I do the Strop – depending on the severity and nature of the fake, the kids have a great line in hopping from foot to foot, or stamping their feet.  Copying this can infuriate or delight them in equal measure, but usually makes them laugh in the end.  One time my girl actually went on to make a little dance routine out of it.  This, of course, was a very serious business.  No chuckling allowed.

Some days life can feel a little heavy.  I like to lighten the mood when I can, and most of the time the children appreciate this.  At least, I think they do!  I’m sure they’ll let me know when they have therapy later in life.  By which time I’ll be so old I won’t care, and will have perfected my own version of the geriatric strop.  Funny how life goes full circle!

A Mint Idea

© Victuallers, via Wikimedia Commons

© Victuallers, via Wikimedia Commons

Last night I cooked curry.  We had an aromatic prawn and tomato dish, vibrant red and pulsating.  A white basmati rice barrier kept the sharp sauce apart from the relative sweetness of the chicken dish that beamed yellow across the plate.  The whole delicious combination was delicately contrasted with a light, green scattering of fresh coriander.  Mm mm mm mmmmmm!

I’m an organised cook, and had extracted the necessary spices in advance from the depths of the shelf where they live in harmony alongside the herbs.  These brightly coloured jars were like a magnet to my little boy.  He found a stool and clambered up next to me, all busy and full of excitement.

“Mummy, me taste this?” he asked, proffering a jar of shockingly extra-hot chilli powder.

“Erm, no sweetie, not that one.  How about this?”  I offered the jar of cloves as an alternative.

Intrigued, he scattered them across the worktop (and the floor, and the stove, and down his jumper).  Then he tasted one.

“Bleurrrgh!”  he said.  “I not like that.”

“Well,” I explained, “these are flavours.  We add them in little bits to the food, and together they mix with all the other stuff in the pan and make it yummy.”

We spent the next 20 minutes opening jars of aromatic coriander and cumin, blinding yellow turmeric, woody cinnamon sticks and nutty cardamon pods.  We worked our way along the line of 20-30 spice jars, sniffing, dipping fingers, and rolling shapes and textures between our fingers.  We had a ball.  When at last we’d finished I got on with cooking, Joe keeping a watchful eye on me from his car in the corner.

“Can me have for tea?” asked my lad when I’d finished.  He is game to try anything edible.

So today we had what I call “Little Boy Curry” for lunch.  A mild chicken korma, packed with flavour, but light on spicy heat.  He loved it.

It got me thinking about flavours.

I’m pretty passionate about food, and love to cook.  I’m not always great at it, but can turn out a decent meal.  For me, getting the kids involved in food, and in the process of cooking, is really important.  I want them to learn about how to make healthy food choices.  It’s important they know that chips are made from potatoes.  But most of all I want to give them options.  If they choose later in life to stuff themselves with unhealthy processed gunk that’s their choice.  At least they will understand what they are doing, and know how to make a change if they want to.  So I encourage my kids to experiment, and take them shopping whenever I can.  When I have time, we grow our own veggies too.

Here is a great game to get pre-teens thinking about the food they eat:

  1. Decide on a flavour that can be found in many different forms.  Mint, Orange, Chocolate and Strawberry all work well
  2. Select 5-10 edible things that contain that flavour and create little samples on a plate – keep this hidden from the kids
  3. Sit your child down and blindfold them – working in a small group works best, as they get all giggly and really have fun
  4. Give them a little sniff, and then a taste of each food, and invite them first to guess the flavour, and then the food itself
  5. NEVER force a wary child to sample something if they are afraid – you can do it without the blindfold if necessary

This game is a great way to encourage children to engage with food, and to really think about the flavours they experience every day, but may never even consider.  You can talk about where the flavour comes from, how it is added, and other foods that might taste good as a complement.  It works best with the more adventurous child, but in a gentle form with only 3 different variations that you know will be a hit, it can also be used to encourage cautious kids to try new things.

Here are a few suggestions for sample foods for the flavour MINT:

  • A leaf from the herb itself
  • Toothpaste (just a little, we’re not going for fluoride overload here!)
  • A mint sweet – tic tac, polo, mentoes, humbug, any of these will do
  • A peppermint cream
  • Minty chocolate, such as an After Eight or Matchmaker
  • Mint sauce/jelly
  • Mint tea
  • Cucumber and Mint raita – a refreshing accompaniment to curry, made by mixing plain yoghurt with chopped cucumber, dried or fresh mint, and salt
  • Minted peas – cook the peas and toss with a little butter and fresh or dried mint
  • Minty chewing gum

What’s In the Box?

© Husky, via Wikimedia Commons

Pebbles make a certain sound when they are rattled in a cardboard box.  It’s different from the sound rice makes.  And pasta spirals make a pleasant but light clatter when they are shaken.  Would you know the difference relying only on your ears?

This is a great game for young kids of all ages, and once again is inspired by my resourceful little girl.

Take a cardboard box.  Any box will do, as long as you can close it.  Smaller is better so the children can hold it in their hands and manipulate it easily.

Then take it in turns to put different things in the box.  The one who chooses the contents gently shakes it and the other person has to guess what’s inside.  So simple, but an incredibly addictive and fun game.

Things we found to put in and bamboozle each other with included:

  • A walnut – one that the squirrels had missed!
  • Blades of grass – dry produces a subtly different sound from wet
  • Small stones
  • Twigs – one, or several
  • Pasta
  • Dried rice
  • Cotton wool – this was particularly sneaky of my girl, who was delighted by my failure to guess!
  • A sock
  • Scrunched up pieces of paper
  • A lego brick

The sensory aspect of this game really tests the brain’s ability to associate sounds with shapes, and different materials.  The children loved it.  We will play again.  I have to find a new box first though …. Ella’s experiment with water produced a great splishy-splashy sound when shaken, but reduced the box to a grey mush in minutes.  Nice!

Do Squirrels Like Sweets?

© Paul Whippey (Own work) – via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s philosophical question – Do Squirrels like sweets?  Okay, so this may be a bit heavy for a Sunday afternoon, but bear with me …

I was sitting doing some peaceful colouring at the kitchen table with my 2.5 year old son, when a red blur streaked past the window arresting the attention of us both.  We looked up the garden.  Nothing there.  We peered around the wall.  Nope, nothing there either.  Joe scratched his head.  He wondered if it was the deer we saw yesterday, lazily chewing dandelion stalks up the field until Joe gave a friendly but loud shout of “Hello Deer!”, and scared the poor creature half to death.  It bounced its way back into the forest in a blink.  Joe cried.

With his interest piqued again today, and keen to make amends to the terrified deer, my boy was not to be deterred from his quest to find the red streak.  So, rainbow picture abandoned, we embarked on a tour of the garden and land.  Minutes later, whilst he and I were knee deep investigating a particularly large molehill, Ella appeared breathlessly from the terrace full of excitement about the red squirrel she had just encountered en route to the front of the house.  From her account of the meeting the unfortunate squirrel was apparently subjected to an equally loud exclamation of some form, and set off for cover in a similar manner to the deer.  In any event, mystery solved.

“It’s a squirrel Joe!  A Squirrel!” she cried.

Joe didn’t look convinced.

“We need to make it a bed a give it some food,” announced my girl, ever the homemaker.

“Can’t me chase it?” asked Joe.

“No, that will scare it,” counselled Ella.

“Oh,” said Joe, beaten.

I left them to it, Ella marshalling Joe into finding grass and leaves for a soft bed, and collecting freshly fallen walnuts from around the two trees that annually shed their crop on our field.  In the early years here we used to collect, dry, store and eat them.  Then we realised that each year the crop was so large we were ending up with a growing (and wasteful) stockpile, so we now only harvest a few kilos each year, and leave the rest to the wildlife.  This keeps the squirrels very busy, and the children entertained.  But that was 12 months ago now, and they have forgotten all over again.

I supplied bowls for water, and shelled walnuts “in case the little squirrels don’t have sharp enough teeth, Mummy.”

All thoughts of the deer forgotten, they worked industriously, and both finally appeared in the kitchen, cheeks glowing with the freshness of the wet autumn day and muddy wellies tracking their progress across the floor.

“Come and look!” said Ella.  So I did.  I found a delightful little haven nestled between two planters.

“The squirrels in our garden are very lucky,” I said.  They beamed.

“I think they need sweets, to give them energy,” attempted Ella.  Nothing to do at all with the fact that this would necessitate breaking open the candy tub, from which she and her patient little brother would surely deserve a treat for being SO nice to the squirrels.  It was nearly lunchtime.

“No,” I said, decisively.  “Squirrels don’t like sweeties.”

“How do you know Mummy?” was the reply ….

Well, actually I don’t.  And I’m not likely to find out anytime soon, as the lunchtime deadline held fast, despite the hard-done-to protestations.

But her question did get me thinking …..!

Bows and Arrows

Image

As a budget conscious parent I’m always on the lookout for fun things to do with the children that don’t cost anything. The natural world has a lot to offer, and as we mooched about the site on a recent camping trip, an idea presented itself ….

We were collecting twigs for a campfire, and as we scanned the sun-bleached grass for suitable tinder wood my mind began to play tricks – were the twigs lying randomly on the ground, or was there an order to their arrangement?

After going slightly cross-eyed, I vaguely recalled reading ages ago of some psychological research around the idea that the brain seeks to find familiar shapes out of random forms – it’s one of the reasons why cloud watching works so well.

In seeking order from the twig-collection my brain was finding apparent pathways, and it struck me we could make a simple treasure trail.

So we arranged arrows every few paces on the ground, in a meandering path around the site, and the children had great fun following it (well, Joe, 2, tried to dismantle it, but was eventually dissuaded from his task with the lure of a mid-afternoon snack!).

Not satisfied with just a trail, my daughter decided that it must lead to some treasure.  So we hunted for precious things that would make suitable booty.  A pale flat stone, a feather and a perfect blade of yellow hay caught her imagination.  A stray red strand of thin plastic, which I think was originally a tie for a bin bag, made the perfect ribbon and bow for our parcel.

Trail and treasure complete, we had a fun hour hiding, tracing, and discovering … a game that was repeated with multiple changes of route and secret hiding places for the treasure.

The KISS Flag

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Come on, hands-up – which of you has ever embarked on a craft project with your child that you know is over-complex?  My hand is up.  I know I am guilty of this.

When my son was 18 months old he loved cars.  (He still does.)  I decided it would be a great idea for us to work together to make him a car from boxes, toilet rolls and bottle tops.  He’d been walking for only 2 months, and was still in a high chair.  But I persisted.  It would be GREAT I told myself.  He’ll LOVE it.  What a fabulous way for us to bond.

I was so full of my own cleverness of course that I totally lost that this was supposed to be about him, and for him.  And I made it all about me.

We found boxes together, and he then sat getting increasingly frustrated whilst I manically tried to glue toilet rolls to cereal boxes.  Why does it look so easy on the TV shows?  He started crying.  I nearly did too.  After half an hour I triumphantly presented my poor sobbing lad with a “car”.  He threw it on the floor.

I don’t blame him.

I tried to learn my lesson, but even now when one of my angelic charges approaches me to ask if we can make or paint something I find it hard to rein in my own natural enthusiasm to go large.  What they really want, and need most of the time, is to do it simply.  And in their own way.

Today my daughter reminded me of this.  We embarked on a painting session.   She wanted to use small delicate brushes, so we did, and I painted too.  I was enjoying myself a lot, I’m no Picasso but the act of taking time out to be creative is very therapeutic.  I lost myself in my picture and became aware she had started mixing paint with straws and daubing big blobs on her arms.  A sure sign that boredom had set in.

“I’d like to hand paint” she announced.  Wrenching myself away from my own mini work of art I realised I had done it again.  I looked at her pleading face and reminded myself of the phrase I so often heard in corporate life:

Keep It Short and Simple

So we did.  She wanted to make a flag, a single hand-print either side of a sheet of white paper, and stapled to a garden cane.  That was it, and it worked a treat, I hope you like the picture.  She was delighted.  And I was once again reminded that the simple things often make them the happiest.

Her creation has become the KISS Flag, my emblem and reminder to listen to what my children need.  I’m sure I’ll forget again, but hey, I’m only human!

Clouds, Illusions I Recall …

© Oslovite (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

As the kangaroo morphed into a whale the giggling got the better of us.  What had started as a mist had now turned into Moby Dick, and was threatening to swallow the house.  The children screamed in delight ……

We were cloud watching, lying in a row on the grass in the front garden.  I’m certain the passing neighbour thought we were quite bonkers.

Keep a close eye on the heavens and watch for moisture-laden blue-sky days where clouds start to form.  The stories that grow as the clouds take form can be as fantastic and as wild as your imagination.  The story can happily end there, or these tales of the tallest kind can be later recalled and blown once more into shape:

  • With card, glue and some cotton wool you can recreate your cloud shapes on the kitchen table
  • White pastels smudged onto blue card can bring out the artist in a child of any age
  • For older children the stories can be retold, written out, and illustrations created to make your very own story book – if you bind it through holes with string you can add to it another day when the skies come alive with stories once more

Hunting for Fairies

I find nothing fires the imagination of my 5 year old daughter more than the idea of magic.  Anything that you can’t pin down, and which allows your imagination to run wild and my girl is away in her head, creating and exploring worlds that have no earthly existence, but which to her are so very real.  Fairies fit into this idea very nicely.  You can’t see them, so you cannot say they do not exist.  They might.  And the thrill of this can keep her occupied for hours.

Anytime you are out and about, in your garden or anywhere even slightly green, there is the opportunity to go fairy hunting.  I love opening my own mind in this way, and accessing my inner child.  It is liberating and quite a challenge to set aside the practical mind constraints that the adult world imposes.  Ella at first follows, and them leads in the creativity.  Hers knows no bounds.  We have created a gentle “ting ting ting ting” sound that reflects what she imagines they may sound like when they fly.  And so we stop in the fresh-air silence and listen.  We have heard them, just faintly, many times.  Then they know we are listening, and so they stop.  No, really, they do.

Thinking about their habitat is a lot of fun too.  Wild mushrooms are obviously tables for the fairy dance, and rocks provide hiding places for fairy hide-and-seek.  Acorn cups are the perfect cups and bowls.  Crinkly brown leaves are what the fairies use as confetti, and the lush green ones are perfect for surfing or fairy magic carpets.  Holes in trees are the fairy houses into which we carefully place soft cut grass or heather for their beds, and abandoned rabbit holes show that the fairies have a clever network of underground tunnels that allow them to stay hidden.  They’re not daft these fairies.

At home, our explorations complete, and imaginations exhausted, we take the table from the doll’s house and gently lay acorn cups supported on plasticine upon it.  Filling them with minute drops of water provides a signal to the fairies that they are invited to come and play in the night.  Now she is learning to write, she will often leave a note for them, with instructions on where to sit, or which of her toys they may play with.  From time to time we also leave a real fairy cake.  Both it, and the water, are always gone in the morning.  Eyes tight shut in bed, my girl is convinced she hears them, but never peeps because that would break the spell.

Fairy hunting is great for stretching the imagination of your child.  And yours too.  The real world will interrupt their innocent musings all too soon, so I like to take every chance we have to exercise that sense of wonder in the hope she will carry some of it into her adult life.  Who knows, maybe the fairies will follow?

Capturing Seaside Memories

The summer holidays are a time for making memories, and a visit to the seaside is a treat that many children will treasure forever.  All those experiences of windswept or sunny sand banks, clambering in and around rock pools and dipping toes into chilly waves can leave a delightful and indelible mark on the childhood psyche.

As I write this I’m accessing the faintest hints of memories from many years ago, a tranquil smile on my face and a warm fluffy feeling inside …. leaving home in the dawn hours, crammed into the backseat of the car, wedged in by the cool box not a car seat … slip-sliding with giggles across planks laid on muddy fields outside our tiny caravan home … shell hunting in the rain … burying Dad in the sand … squirming at the feel of slimy seaweed underfoot … buying pink rock from a beachside stall …

My memories.  And now I’m a grown-up I like to help my children make theirs.

My daughter loves collecting pebbles.  The more colourful the better, and if they are smooth and have specks that glisten in the sun she is in heaven.  She also loves shells, and the pearlescent shimmer of the interior that seems to ebb and flow like the tide.  Driftwood, dried seaweed, and crab claws all make lovely additions to the stash.

A beach treasure hunt is a lovely way to take a walk in the salty air, and collect treasure at the same time, but how to make the excitement last?  Here are a few ideas:

© Youssouf Cader | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Youssouf Cader Dreamstime Stock Photos

A Seaside Memory Jar

  • Save some sand in a bag
  • Help your child sort the special items from their collection (there are likely to be a lot of weird and wonderful items in there!), and wash them together in the sea
  • Dry the sand and other items thoroughly at home
  • Find an attractive jar – a mason jar, or jam jar with a colourful lid are ideal – sterilise and dry it completely
  • Empty the sand into the base of the jar to create a mini-beach
  • Arrange the treasures on top
  • Seal the jar – it can be nice to decorate it with a bow, and a sticker to note the date the items were collected

A Memory Box

This is the same idea as the jar, a place to store your seaside gems, but allows you to also add in a few photos, and pictures you child has drawn to reflect the day.  Decorating the box with seaside shapes, starfish, mermaids, sailboats, and so on can make it extra-special.

A Shell Box

  • Collect a good selection of shells from the beach
  • Wash and dry them at home
  • Find a sturdy cardboard box about the size of jewellery box
  • Paint it in seaside colours
  • Glue the shells to the outside
  • Your child can use it as a treasure chest for other items found on the beach, or anything else they choose

A Sand Picture

  • Bring some sand home from the beach and dry it thoroughly
  • Take a large tray, a thick piece of card, and some white PVA glue
  • Choose a seaside theme with your child, and sketch a few simple shapes – a boat, a starfish, a whale, a fish, whatever fires their imagination
  • Daub glue liberally onto the card in the form of the shape you have drawn
  • Sprinkle the sand all over the glue and leave it to dry
  • Shake off the excess sand and there you have a sandy seaside shape
  • A light spray with a fixing agent such as Spray Mount will help to prevent any excess sand falling from the picture over time