I had forgotten about the magic of hobby horses. This simple toy has really added to the play here in this house, and they were so incredibly easy to make. Perfect for a rainy day. Numala Kinder now has a stable of black beauties ready for a run. Hobby horses are a wonderful way to add movement into children’s dramatic play …. and we have a lot of galloping space here!

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My daughter received a hobby horse for Christmas, one that plays an authentic galloping and whinnying sound when you squeeze the ear. She loves it and fondly named it Ana. When Numala Kinder restarted after the new year Ana was very popular. Amazingly though,  one hobby horse between three four-year-old girls worked out quite well but all the same we decided to make some more lovely ponies. One rainy day this week,  when I just couldn’t coax the children outside (“I have had enough of WET!”) we made a few more.

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Of course sticks are in abundance around here, old socks are never hard to part with,  and I have stashes of emergency craft supplies so I knew I had some wool stuffing,  elastic and just the right buttons for eyes.

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Yes, I did most of the putting together and all of the stitching,  but the children were very engaged in helping to hand-card and stuff the wool into the socks. My 7-year-old made the bridles, which I had forgotten about.

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Joy! They love them! Humble and homemade, these horses don’t even seem to mind that they don’t make sounds like Ana. They have a life of their own.

HOW WE MADE THEM:

1) Gather your bits: old socks, stuffing, elastic, felt scraps, a good strong stick or broom handle, buttons, yarn, needle and thread.

2) Stuff the toe and the base of the sock well. Really well! squeeze and shape with your hands as you go to make a good horsey muzzle. When you reach the heel of the sock, place the pole inside and continue stuffing well around the pole. Secure the end of the sock by tying a piece of elastic tightly around the sock and pole together. Wrap and tie a few times so it is nice and secure.

3) Cut two ears out of some felt. I used some scraps of some strong hand-made felt I had – I imagined the shape of a cathedral door when I cut them out. Fold them in half and stitch onto the horse – along the heel of the sock. I stitched across the bottom of the ears, and then a little way up the sides to encourage them to stand up tall.

4) Make little bundles or tassels of yarn and stitch them between and just behind the ears to create the mane.

5) Choose some cute big round buttons for eyes and stitch them on. You could also glue one some felt circles.

6) My daughter added a bridle by wrapping yarn around the muzzle and attached a rein to hang on to for when those horses want to gallop fast.

This post was originally shared on http://www.numalakinder.wordpress.com

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Just down the river (shoo lie loo)

I’m really enjoying the song “Shoo Lie Loo” by Elizabeth Mitchell. It came to me as a gift just this week in the form of her cd Sunny Day. I recommend it as part of your collection of music for children – joyful songs, great rhythms, real music that appeals to a child’s world. The whole cd feels like adults and children alike had fun making it. “Shoo Lie Loo” has everything my children love: a catchy tune that won’t drive you nuts, simple lyrics that can be adapted, a celebration of childhood. I promise you’ll love it. There’s a clip of it at the end of this post, showing the circle game that goes with it.

Autumn Leaf Fairy3My children and I adapted this song yesterday when we went down to the river – it just burst out when we started taking note of all the bird life we have down there. We live on a quiet part of the Nerang river – just about the point where the water turns brackish and is just a little tidal still. It is more like a creek where we are, with mostly low ankle-deep water running over smooth rocks and soft weeds.

It is an interesting environment with SO MANY interesting birds. It is a very exciting event when we spot the pelican that comes to visit every now and then! It is quite odd, seeing a pelican paddling upon our quiet creek. Once my husband watched an eagle fishing, and I’ve been delighted by the flash of brilliant blue from a kingfisher.

Once we started singing, we just kept thinking of more and more birds we have seen in our area and of course we started to make a list. Our next thought is to take a photo of each of the birds and make a poster or a guide-book of our own with them

Our song goes like this:

This cheeky little one landed in our backyard and lived with us for about a month before flying away again.

This cheeky little one landed in our backyard and lived with us for about a month before flying away again.

Just down the river (shoo lie loo)

To see who lives here (shoo lie loo)

Hey Cockatoo (shoo lie loo)

Fly away over yonder (shoo lie loo)

Our song went on and on with willy wagtail, swamp hen, eagle, magpie, butcher bird, galah, ibis, pelican …. the little ones and I danced in a circle, spinning around with our arms out as we flew away over yonder. So much fun.

New Places in Our Garden

This post, Places in our garden, was from my old home, where I was offering a weekly playgroup. It was a rental home in an estate, and we were quite lucky to be able to play with it, and in it, in such a creative way. Of course it all had to be dismantled and cut back when we left.

We have a new home now – a permanent one. It is a home that came with an established and very beautiful garden full of flowering plants, including a rose garden and lush lawn out the front, flowering natives and seasonal trees out the back. With no back fence, our backyard runs into the common land on our estate, and flows in a gentle grassy slope right down to a quiet creek at the back.

We have put in a vegetable garden, added a tree house and cubby house, and enjoyed the experience of having a deciduous tree in our back yard (FALLEN LEAVES!!! How much fun are LEAVES??)

Now – to create a playscape ….. We want a butterfly garden and a fairy garden and a dinosaur garden. I want a herb garden and more fruit trees …. oh and a native beehive …

I’m not really a gardener, but I am an artist, and the children and I do enjoy creating new spaces. Caring for those spaces is part of the fun.

It’s Ok to be a Princess

I was working as a family day care provider when our first daughter was born. Caring for many different children plus two of my own meant that I had collected a great variety of playthings, so my girls entered our family with a good collection of playthings all ready for them. Of course I had some toys the boys were more attracted to, and some the girls gravitated towards, but there was something for everyone and you could choose what you were interested in, and mix it up if you wanted to. It was cool for boys or girls to take a baby/teddy/dinosaur/alien for a walk/drive/run in the pram/wheelbarrow/truck/baby carrier wearing a tutu/tool belt/helmet/crown at the same time. And they did.

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I’m not big on stereotypes for girls or boys. Archetypes are more my thing – general ideas of qualities we can all embrace.

We talk a lot about faery folk and story archetypes in our family story times and during our seasonal celebrations but I’ve never really given them form. My characters tend to be formless because I don’t know about you .. but I’ve never seen a fairy or a fairytale prince … although I have felt their presence. Princes and knights and superheros DO have a different energy to fairies and princesses. Doesn’t mean our children can’t make their own interpretations and representations.

It’s OUR interpretations that do the damage, I think. I don’t mean to pay out on Disney because we do enjoy many of their movies, but they do now have the image of being the big bad wolf when it comes to perpetuating inappropriate gender stereotypes these days … and I must say that I prefer the original versions of traditional fairy tales to the movie versions.

I enjoy an animated movie as much as the rest of us, but I do think that as soon as you animate stories, you begin to lose the quality of dreamy imagination and embodiment that comes when we listen to and play out our favourite characters. Once they are animated that image of the character, plus their voice, behaviour and role then becomes fixed and if the children have enjoyed the movie then they want to be like their favourite characters. And Disney (and many other companies and manufacturers) are happy to perpetuate stereotypes through mass merchandise, which children want because they love to surround themselves with reminders of their heros. It’s something I curse each time I go to buy my children pyjamas.

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My daughter made this gorgeous felt wallhanging when she was four. Guess which movie she had seen just before she chose her colours?

And if we are going to be critical even the traditional fairy tales themselves, before they were ever animated, tend to lean towards rather gender-specific roles that many parents object to. During my uni years my fellow student teachers and I looked for modern versions of traditional tales to tell our students so as not to perpetuate the idea of gender bias. “The Paperbag Princess” by Robert Munsch was a popular one at the time (and I still love it). We’d bend over backwards to be inclusive and encourage children to bust gender stereotypes. 

I’ve said all that so you know where I’m at with stereotypes, media and play, because once I became a parent, despite my best efforts not to go there (and even with all our gender-neutral, non-violent, natural and handmade toys), our little boy loved building, climbing, playing with trucks and shooting guns. And our girls LOVE being princesses and faeries!

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I don’t quite remember when the fairy and princess dresses arrived in our house. I have bought only one that I can think of, and yet since we’ve had both our girls there seems to be an endless supply of fluffy, frilly bunches of tulle and cheap satin in our playroom. I’ve culled the collection a few times but I’m pretty sure the princess and fairy dresses self-propagate from torn pieces of tulle at night time.

And I am happy to let them play princesses if they want to because THIS is what I notice when they play being beautiful princesses:

  • my girls walk taller and straighter and with great elegance and dignity (they are NOT dainty, simpering or oozing sexuality)
  • they speak clearly and pronounce their words beautifully (they are assertive!)
  • they play with respectful manners and practice kindness with each other (they are NOT helpless)
  • they set up beautiful spaces around them and play carefully with their toys (they are in control of their environment)

RosellaisaknightLHWhen my girls play princesses and faeries they don’t feel helpless – they FEEL beautiful, powerful and important and very special. I remember that feeling when playing as a child, and letting it fill me up. I don’t have a problem with them playing princesses if it helps them access these feelings! Today my girls began playing princesses and then one decided to be a knight instead. Off went the dress and on went the sword belt and cape, and a new persona emerged: confident, protective, bold, brave, decisive. She can do it all.

I don’t think that they are going to be limited in their career options because they play princesses. I’m pretty sure they are not going to grow up with antiquated ideas about what girls can and cannot (or should and should not) do because they are surrounded in enough positive energy at home and at school to feel good about themselves. They also have enough positive role models in our community to let them know anything is possible.

It’s all in being open to possibility I think. If my children grow up feeling open to possibilities I will be very happy.

Things in our garden …

I just posted some of the places in our garden that the children (and I!) are enjoying at the moment. Here are some more of the things we like to have and do in our garden … what I love about this is that we can add anything we are interested in and change anything that is old. We can care for things and play with things, and learn about soil and home and country and the stories that working in the ground unlocks. We can let our imaginations go …

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Places in our garden

We have been in our house about three months now. When we began renting here our normal suburban backyard was grass and mulch just a few shrubs. After six weeks of rain our backyard was grass and lots of weeds. Our playgroup began pulling the weeds out and little spaces began forming in my imagination. Our garden has been so much fun to develop and my children have been involved every step of the way. We now have a herb and flower garden, a veggie patch, a pea tipi, outdoor weaving loom, a place to relax in the shade … oh and lots more. Our garden is still growing new spaces and I’ll show you more as it grows. Here are some of the ones that have popped up in the last month:

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Lavendilly Doll: Stawberry Baby

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Meet Strawberry Baby. Strawberry Baby is our new Lavendilly Sunshine Playgroup friend and is going to visit all the children’s homes and play with them, each in their turn. We can’t wait to hear about the fun everyone has together! Until then Strawberry Baby can have lots of playing at Lavendilly House.

Strawberry Baby is neither boy or girl, like Lavender Baby from my daughter’s kindy, Finger Prints. This means that any child can enjoy the company of our new friend. Lavender Baby became such a special part of the kindy experience and I think Strawberry Baby will be too.

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Strawberry Baby began life as Red Baby. Red Baby is about 13 years old at least. Possibly more. Red Baby was made by Valerie, the Facilitator at Silkwood School, who taught all the staff how to make dolls while I was a teacher at Silkwood. I learned how to make dolls from Valerie and I’ve been holding on to Red Baby for years because of this connection. Red Baby was one of the original dolls at Silkwood and she came home for repairs. A few repairs later, she was still here at Lavendilly House, well-loved by my own children. Red Baby’s hand fell off again and has been waiting in my sewing room for repairs for some time … and this week I walked in there determined to repair as much as I could before packing up my sewing room. Red Baby was first and I got rather distracted, so all the other things needing repairs are still there.

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Red Baby’s face had chalk on it that hadn’t washed out, an eye was loose and the hair was all felted after years of play and cuddles. So fresh skin, bright new eyes and a trip to the hairdressers brightened Red Baby up quite a bit. New skin to cover the hands too so that Red Baby was all clean and happy again. But Red Baby didn’t look like Red Baby any more, even though the hair was the same colour and style. Red Baby wanted a green beanie and then started to look like a strawberry, and so Strawberry Baby was born.

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Strawberry Baby loves the bright red strawberries on the green belt, and little strawberry flowers are sprouting from hat and red tunic. Strawberry Baby immediately went outside to enjoy the sunshine and start some brand new adventures.

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Celebrating Play: Boys and Building and Loose Parts

My son has always needed to build. It has been one of the tricky things, living in a rental home, to find a place where he can dig and climb and build in the back yard. To have some independence in his play so that he can safely explore and create without creating too much havoc. In the days that I was offering Family Day Care at home the sand pit was invaluable – for all the children who played at our house, girls included, but for my son it was an absolutely necessary feature. A big pile of soil waiting to go in a garden was a big pile of pure joy.

When not digging in the sandpit he’d wander around the place and find all kind of loose parts. Then, seemingly in the period of time it took for me to duck inside and answer the phone, he would have all kinds of bits stacked up on top of each other in sometimes very precarious arrangements, and sometimes with his younger sister inside or on top. I learned to let go and trust. I had to because when I worried about the dangerous arrangements they would happen again anyway. It was actually a great way to learn about safety, balance, strength. It would often take all my self-control to go out there and respect the construction and the experience by quelling my fear and panic and then quietly offering some observations that led to conversations about how to make things safer. The need to build led to the need to tie things down, which led to the need to have play ropes and octopus straps readily at hand. The kids didn’t have many accidents at all – certainly not as many accidents as I had heart tremors each time I looked out the window. And what really amazed me was the sheer strength he needed in order to lift the heavy garden benches, chairs, tables and random pieces of wood he used in all his constructions!

One of the best pieces of play equipment we added to the backyard were a collection of plumbing pipes and connecting pieces. This was actually his gift for his fifth birthdayNo explanation was necessary … he just went straight outside and began to connect – then he began to experiment by pouring water and sand and small bits and pieces down the pipes, zooming cars through the pipes, working out how to keep them upright, learning what happens when water and sand pool in the bottom. There was so much problem solving involved in this simple gift. The pipes were an awesome addition for outside play, but they didn’t quite cut it as a gift – after spending hours with his pipes he came back in and asked when he could have his birthday present 🙂 All the same we had the pipes in our backyard for a couple of years and they served their purpose.

Rocks are great too. Provided they are kept clear of climbing structures (he’s learned that the hard way too). Rocks can be stacked and arranged. They can be markers, walls, designs, weights. Here we found a cache of rocks in a nearby park and couldn’t help ourselves. He and I spent a good half an hour shifting rocks to make a double-ended spiral. At home he and his sister have enjoyed finding rocks that they can polish, or crack open, or grind into powder to make paint. I’m a bit wary of the rock-cracking because of the small sharp bits that fly everywhere … but then again both our children have learned through experimenting (and with some adult guidance) how to engage in this play safely.

Then of course there are boxes. After we moved house I re-taped a few of our boxes together for some large-scale building on the verandah. Everyone enjoyed this, but we had to let the toddler work through her natural instinct to deconstruct stacked blocks before any serious building could begin.

For building that required a more stable construction material there is also straw bales. These were bales of mulch ready and waiting to go on our large garden … but the children found them first and the entire household just had to respect the sheer strength and effort and cooperation it took for the kids to build themselves a fort from those heavy bales. We kept the fort up until the rain dampened them, and with the threat of mould growing on the inside the fort was deconstructed, but that was ok too. The children took almost as much pleasure spreading the mulch everywhere too.

Our backyard has always been full of loose parts and tools. The ‘toys’ we have for outside play include a trolley for carting things around, shovels, rakes, hammers, gardening gloves, ropes and buckets. We have a few structured toys in the sandpit (dinosaurs etc) but even still those are ones that facilitate creative play.

Loose parts in the backyard means: creativity, strength, cooperation, problem solving, innovation, persistence, resilience, adventure, experimenting. Having unstructured playthings rather than commercial toys in the backyard also means you have children who can play for lengths of time anywhere, with anything. It means you have children who have the chance to show leadership, caring and consideration. It means you have children who are open to fresh ideas and new ways of thinking. It means you have children who can cope well with failure and set about finding another way.

I don’t regret the lack of ‘toys’ in our backyard at all.

Craft: Home made Water Colour Paints

These watercolour paints were another great idea I found – the instructions are here at Happy Hooligans, which is a really great blog to visit. It was really simple to make, and also a really lovely thing to do with my three children who were not up to much activity after being sick from a horrible virus during our holidays. We had all the ingredients right there in our kitchen cupboard too, so they are completely non-toxic, but I wouldn’t recommend eating them 🙂

We doubled the recipe (so that we had enough so everyone could stir something) and set the watercolours in two ice cube trays. These trays have lids, so we can put the paints away for later on.

We used liquid food colouring – perhaps a bit too much because it took a while to set – but I think it turned out brilliantly! The colours are clear and vibrant, the paint goes on the paper really well and the bicarb in it makes it set with a sparkly sheen. Which, according to my 2-year-old, is just as pretty on clothes and skin, as well as on paper.