Bows and Arrows

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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!

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?