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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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.

dress-ups

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.

inside play children's art

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!

linden in stone spiral

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.

Celebrating Play: Investigate – Plan – Create

Today’s post is a guest post from my eight-year-old son Kaelan. He’s been sick for a week now, but I knew he was better when he was lying on the couch looking at a pile of felt circles I had been cutting out.  He asked me what they were for and I replied that I wasn’t sure yet – I just didn’t want to waste my scraps and they were too bulky to store so I was cutting them into shapes that I could use later. He was staring at them so intently, and about 10 minutes later he got up to do some drawing. About half an hour later he came back with a big grin on his face, and two pages of visual instructions:

 

This is the kind of stuff we did in high school art classes: visualise the concept, plan it out and then create it. Can you work it out? I was so impressed with his conceptual layout of the process!

1) Tie a knot on the end of your thread

2) Thread the needle

3 – 9) add circles of varying diameters

10) use your (left-handed) scissors to cut the thread

11) tie a knot on the end

12) your finished item should be a stack of circles from largest to smallest.

He drew this plan yesterday but due to being so sick he was too tired to test out his instructions. Today, however he was very keen, and here is the result:

 

I think they will look really lovely on our Christmas tree this year! In the meantime we’ll hang them in some place where we can appreciate them. His sister said, “Kaelan that’s pretty awesome”. Perhaps in a gesture of appreciation he then continued to make her a felt story mat, and his littlest sister a little felt kite. Felt scrap craft turns out to be a great way to convalesce (and it solves the problem of what to do with all those little pieces I was hoarding).

The story mat with pond, lily pads and two boats

Celebrating Play: Simple holiday fun, OUTSIDE

This Christmas holiday break has been WONDERFUL. Nothing else to do except play with family and potter about at home. Christmas brought some fun new focus to play in the form of some wonderful new playthings, but most of the time we’ve been outside enjoying our environment with friends and family.

There has been some of this:

beaches, creeks, swimming pools - water seems to be the key to happiness in summer!

and some of this:

These three can spend hours shifting rocks ... I seriously considered giving them rocks for Christmas 🙂

lots of this:

pottering about at home

and a bit of this:

Red Riding Hood is loving the variety of public parks at the Gold Coast

 

A pile of sticks

Last week I took the children to a playground in Landsborough for a quick run around. We’d seen this playground from the road each time we headed up the hill to Maleny and always meant to go there. In the end it was a bit of a grown-up playground: the monkey bars were very high, the slide was accessible only by scaling a  high and nearly vertical wall with a metal chain to hold on to. The balancing beam was also a bit high and scary for people who have only short legs … there were some swings and another slide (with ladder) off to the edge of the playground, so that is where we spent most of our time … until the bundle of sticks was spotted.

He didn’t even say anything. He walked right up to it and got to work.

Within moments it began taking shape.

And it was just too intriguing to stay away … so he made a path with left over sticks for walking around …

and around … all the way around the tree …

what else could one do except follow the path?

… the three-year-old provided the singing to keep the work moving along …

An hour’s worth of wonderful and fulfilling play … with a pile of sticks.

For the love of rhythm and free play!

We are starting to plan for our Christmas break school holidays. My son will have nearly two months off school. That is a looooong time to be on holidays!!

I’ve never been one for scheduling play time. I think the kids need to make their own fun as much as possible, and indeed they are really good at doing that. In our house we have six children (two families): a six, a five, 2 threes, a one and 4 month old.  The four older ones play for long periods together, and the two little ones WANT to play together but are settling for experimental interaction for the moment.

The four big ones have a great play place going in one of our garden beds: a home-made camp site they call the “Aboriginal Place” – they have found logs that are serving as a campsite/kitchen, have cleared the weeds from under trees and created rooms and are trying to put together a hut out of old palm tree fronds. All this, despite us already having a set-up camp-fire site area in our yard. It has been so rewarding and satisfying for them to have built their own. What a lot of work! And so physical too … our new home has a TV but the children so rarely ask to watch it as they are so busy doing their thing outside that they just forget. Brilliant! That suits everyone, and I don’t mind at all putting something on for them to watch when they DO ask.

When they are not constructing and deconstructing their play space they are riding bikes up and down the driveway, or upstairs drawing or making magnificent structures from blocks and lego. They play so well together, and they feed each other’s imaginations. They are also developing their own little internal hierarchy, which is interesting to watch.

They each have their own school or kindy days to break up their week and to spend time with other children, but when that stops they will be with each other all the time – and that will be the test!! School and kindy provides a rhythm to the week that keeps the momentum of activity going, without school/kindy then we need to find another rhythm if the holidays are going to continue supporting their wonderful play.

But, as I said, I don’t like to schedule children’s play and shuffle them from one activity to another, so we’ll take it easy and do some simple things at home and some simple things out and about … so this is what I’m thinking:

  • A cooking day – kids in the kitchen!! pick a recipe and let’s try it out!
  • A creative day – paint the cubby house, paper mache etc etc … whatever evolves. (I want to set the challenge of making a Christmas paper chain that wraps around our huge house!)
  • A wet day – home-made water slide here we come! Perhaps a trip to the beach, pool, rock pools, creek ….anywhere cool!! Actually this could end up just being the daily thing …
  • A park day – totally low-key, but preferably something that involves children on bikes with baby-wearing mammas walking fast behind so we can at least get some exercise!
  • Plain old home day – a day to keep house and play in the Aboriginal Place.

So that is three home days and two out days and nothing expensive or strenuous. We can throw in the odd surprise excursion to some exciting place. The other two days are days when the daddies are home, and those are exciting enough just having a house with 10 people in it. Those days we generally potter about, garden, cook and hang out with the kids.

It is a rhythm we can work to and play with – play being the operative word!

And don’t forget the siesta after lunch every day!! I live for siestas … I just wish my kids did too!

 

Celebrating Play – Good vs Evil

Kaelan BuildingI am a believer in ‘unsupervised play’ – within limits. I don’t watch my children’s every move. If they fall I don’t respond straight away. I let them play alone, with (most) objects they find. I let them take risks and test their boundaries. I let them cry to heal and soothe themselves (yes of course we hug!)

As a result our children pick themselves up when they trip over, fix (most) of their mistakes, ask for help when they need it, problem-solve well and are very rarely ‘bored’. They don’t even know that word … when we see them lost for something to do, they tell us they are ‘tired’, and so we suggest they rest with a book until they can think of something to do. My husband and I are ready with ideas, but this is pretty rare. There is always something to construct for a game: a cubby, a boat, a truck. When the cubby house appeared in the backyard, our son immediately began constructing a ‘shower’ and a ‘verandah’ for it out of two planks of wood and a piece of string. Needless to say a little imagination goes a long way! I am not convinced such ideas would present themselves if I were always there next to them in their play, watching what they use and how they use it.

I might not SEE everything my children do … but I do listen. At five years and 2 years old they are still too young for me to completely let go of guidance in their play, but I leave them alone as much as possible to explore the themes and ideas in their minds, and to experiment with found objects. There is a level of trust that has developed between us when they play, but I am still aware that there are some developmental limitations too. While I trust (sort of) our son with a selection of real tools, I don’t trust him to play with his sister using a plank that has nails sticking out of it. He is, however,  becoming more responsible with rules and expectations of safety. So long as I am aware that their environment is safe, they can do what they like.

But their play took a new direction today. This morning my two children and their friend began playing killing games. Killing monsters and animals, to be precise. I listened for a while, feeling a little uncomfortable as this is the first time that killing has entered our household as a theme in play. I’ve been poised by the window, listening and watching carefully, in two minds about whether I should respond, and if I do, how? It was a personal challenge to see how long I could let it go for before I said something.

I do understand why these games arise. Particularly for boys, who seem to absorb knowledge about weapons and shooting and methods of warfare directly out of the ether of the earth – and with several parts of our world constantly in the grip of war it does not surprise me at all that there is such a detailed awareness floating around out there for the little-boy radars to pick up. Boys just don’t seem to need direct exposure in order to gain knowledge about this topic! It is out there.

I’m not worried about it – I do believe it is important that children explore these themes if they arise. There are ways and means to help children learn about these topics in a way that is healing, developmentally appropriate, and actually reinforces positive values. It is a natural part of a young child’s world to explore the balance of good and evil. It is how they measure the safety, comfort and surety of their own world. You have to know what evil is in order to know how to live without it. You have to hurt yourself in order to know how it feels and how to take care of yourself next time.  You have to wonder and question and explore these themes in order to give them a place, to heal a hurt, to know your enemy. Sometimes you just have to let it go and see what happens.

I tried.

I did.

The thing is I was a bit shocked at the venom in their voices when they were hunting and killing these monsters. It was our little 2 year old daughter I was watching closely … who absorbs everything like a sponge and then leaks it all out again in play and conversation. To see my darling little sunshine baby stalking, hunting and killing monsters as if she was born to do it was too much.

I couldn’t help myself – I went out and suggested they make a monster trap so that they didn’t have to kill the monsters. They could trap them and then work out what to do with them.

There was a pause while this idea was taken in – I don’t think the boys were fooled for a second about my motives … but after a moment they shrugged their shoulders and said “OK. That’s a good idea” and began finding the things they needed for their trap.

Phew!

So what was it that bothered me the most: the theme? the appearance of real evil? protecting my little 2-year-old magical rainbow universe?

I’m not sure, but I have bought some time to think about it, and to do some reading about it, and talking about it with other parents. That’s how we learn. Perhaps I’ll let it go next time. Perhaps not. At least I am sure of the gold in my child’s heart (and his friend’s). I know that the good and the beautiful and wonderful is a big part of their world, and these themes would be just as I suggested – an exploration of an idea or an adventure.

My intervention has led to a new track in their play. As I write this their monster trap (built of chairs and bits of wood, a drop sheet, 2 bicycles and a piece of rope) is now a boat and they are sailing through the jungle with the monsters trapped within.

It has returned to a level of positive, constructive and imaginative play in which everyone has a role and is looking out for each other.  There is problem solving, use of tools, sharing, caring and great listening and communication. I have moved away from my seat by the window and am happily eavesdropping on this Utopian world of creativity and cooperation. Would their game have naturally returned to this point of equilibrium? I’ll never know!

What would you have done?