Monsters and Imaginary Friends

My 2 year old has recently become pre-occupied with monsters, sometimes she is a monster, sometimes there is a monster in the room but she mentions them at least once a day.  I was fairly sure that this was a developmental stage connected with how young children make sense of the world .

She has also started talking about a bat that lives in her bedroom.  There is a small cubby hole in her bedroom where the stairs cut in for our loft conversion – the bat lives in here.   When I questioned her about it further she said that there were 3 bats a baby (with her baby sister’s name) a daddy (with her daddy’s name) and a mummy called Rachel.  There are also 3 ogres that live in the cubby hole with them – they scare away monsters.

This story made me think about the connection between the whole monster obsession and imaginary friends.  When my eldest daughter was around 3 she had an imaginary friend ‘Piglet’ from Winnie the Pooh.  Wherever we went Piglet came with us and usually my daughter would pretend she was Roo and I was Kanga.

By a strange turn of events as I was thinking about these things and trying to find some information about the development of imaginary friends and foes in young children, Penny at Alexander Residence wrote a post about imaginary creatures.

Imaginary companions usually start appearing between the ages of two and a half to three, around the same time as children start to engage in complex fantasy play. This also signals the beginning of abstract thought.  Children are starting to replace physical objects for mental images, for example they can derive comfort from the thought of a teddy bear in addition to the physical object.  Their fears also begin to change from concrete things like dogs or vacuum cleaners to abstract concepts such as monsters. You could help children to have the power to conquer their fears by capitalising on this imagination and asking them to suggest what the monster might be afraid of and making a concrete object to represent it.

In my quest for information about imaginary friends and foes I found an interesting book about children’s imaginations, ‘ The House of Make Believe ‘ by Dorothy G Singer and Jerome L Singer. The book suggests that the key components to fostering creative children are

  • A key person who inspires play and accepts invention with respect and delight
  • a place for play
  • open-ended and unstructured time
  • simple objects to inspire the adventure

The book also discusses their research into imaginary friends.  They found that parents reported that children with imaginary friends were largely happier and more verbal than those children who did not have imaginary friends and that the children were not shy.  Imaginary friends are more prevalent amongst only or first born  children and they can help children to solve dilemmas.  Often they take the form of real characters from television or film in particular super heroes.

Charles Schaefer found that teachers of adolescents reported that their most creative pupils had imaginary friends as young children.  Imaginative children were more likely to have parents who valued imagination, curiosity, adventurousness and creativity.

So if your child has an entourage of imaginary companions don’t despair that they are disturbed or worried about something .  Develop the stories with them and enjoy it for the short period it lasts – I loved this imaginative phase with my first and I’m looking forward to the wonderful tales that my slightly bonkers 2 year old will unravel.


Hamlet Passes on the Love – Persil Pass on the Love Picnic.

Hi, I’m Hamlet, a much loved  and very special pig.  I have been to many places including Cornwall, London and Italy.  Being a pig I quite like being dirty, consequently I have never been washed. Today however, I have received a very special invitation to a Persil Pass on the Love Picnic.  In honour of this auspicious occasion I had my very first wash.  Myself and a couple of friends (the friends were chosen to be given away for other boys and girls to love) were bundled into the washing machine with a capful of Persil Comfort Liquid. Hey Presto soon after we came out sparkling and clean and smelling like a summer meadow.  I wasn’t really sure about the smell, it was a little strong for me but my cuddle buddy liked me smelling of flowers.

We headed off for our picnic loaded with food, games and lots of cuddly friends. We had a lovely feast and I think the picnic blanket would probably benefit from a spin in the washing machine with Persil Comfort after the baby squashed strawberries all over it.

Our cuddle buddies then had great fun playing games and dancing on the picnic table before my friends were put into a green bag to be given to Oxfam to share a new life with some more cuddle buddies.

I waved them goodbye as they headed to a new life and was glad to be a special and favourite pig – even if it meant I had to endure a wash.

I am a member of the Netmums Parent Bloggers Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team from our database to review products and brands on their behalf. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time (and childcare if the fee is big enough!) but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

Free or Low Cost Summer Activities for Children

I was recently asked by Netmums to suggest some of my favourite free or low-cost ideas for keeping children entertained in the summer holidays.  Below are a small selection.

Things for Keeping  Active

  •   We particularly like woodland walks where the kids like to disappear into the woods to explore and find things, play hide and seek , build dens or run away from monsters. Blaise castle woods are a big favourite because we can hide in the caves or follow the trail to the castle. My eldest called our local woods  the hundred acre wood and spent hours role playing various Winnie the Pooh scenarios. The Woodland Trust have some great free downloadable resources with ideas for playing in the woods, Summer  activities and free things to do with kids.

 Creative Fun
  • Give children a large piece of clay, for the younger children the bigger the better. Make it wet and squidgy and enjoy feeling the texture. Give them things to put in it, we use cocktail sticks, bottle tops, seeds, feathers, pebbles and shells. Older children can be taught to model clay around wire or make a flat tile with a picture on it.

  • The best summer activity I had as a child was with an empty large cardboard box, we slid on it and built things with it and spent the whole 6 weeks playing with nothing else.
  • The best creative play comes from being outdoors with natural materials,  in the woods, park, beach or even in the street. If your kids aren’t old enough or you’re not happy about them playing outside without adult supervision, take a group of children to an open space and sit at a distance from them so that they can develop their own play but you can still see them. My kids love digging, building dens, pretending to fish, making pretend dinner and many other scenarios.

  • Our local town has a flower show and the children love to enter the competitions, it gives them a sense of achievement and pride.
  • Give your kids pieces of material, old sheets, netting or even bin bags and get them to make clothes and have a fashion show – this was my favourite summer holiday game.
  • When its sunny it great to get a big roll of paper, spread it across the garden and let the kids paint , they can use hands, feet or whole bodies – great for babies too.

Inspiring children
  • Children’s Festivals often give a number of inspirational ideas many are free or low cost.
  • We have been to some brilliant museum exhibitions and as museum entry is usually free it is a great day out. Our local museum has lots of activities for children of all ages to accompany the exhibits.
  • Go blackberry picking , picking your own fruit always leaves us inspired to come back and cook lots of yummy treats. In the US we pick huckleberries at the local park – they make delicious muffins.
 Keep them Laughing
  • Local councils often provide fun/play days in local parks, ours involve entertainment, games, activities and crafts – the children have lots of laughs.
  • Get Wet – be it in a  water park, paddling pool, swimming, with a hose pipe, playing with water bombs or splashing in puddles in the rain – have a water fight and you can’t help but laugh. Weston Super Mare has a fantastic water park opposite the sea front and splash parks are really common in the US.

 I think sometimes we plan too much for kids, give them some freedom to make their own play, give them the chance to be with their friends and they will come up with some great ideas of their own.

Bristol Zoo 175th Birthday – Big Village Fete

What a fantastic day we had today at Bristol Zoo.  To celebrate their 175th birthday Bristol Zoo organised a Big Village Fete, hosting a multitude of local talent, stalls and crafts.  It could have been a washout looking at the torrential rain first thing this morning but by lunchtime the sun was shining and the children were dancing to the music.  My 2 year old although taken aback when she first saw a gorilla dancing around the lawn, soon became obsessed with following it everywhere.

On the dance stage there was an amazing group of young street dancers and my 2 year old couldn’t wait to get on stage when the Egyptian dancers asked for volunteers to join them.

There were some fun activities and stalls in the family area and the girls loved making masks.

My personal choice of the day, had I have been on my own would have been to sit in the beautiful flower garden listening to the acoustic music sipping a glass or 2 of wine – oh well, maybe in another life.

As members of Bristol Zoo we go there a lot and today made a refreshing change not to see the animals (though we did check out the new meerkat house which is a vast improvement on the small space they had previously).    There are a number of new sculptures dotted around too – we spotted a kangaroo (you can sit in its pocket) 2 new gorillas and a lion but I’m sure there are more. There are also a number of historical photographs dotted about and film footage of the zoo in past decades. 

To mark the 175th Anniversary of the Zoo  life-sized gorilla sculptures are dotted all around the city of Bristol. A map is available to download from the zoo’s website.   That’s another few days to kill during the school holidays.

Barry Island – A Strange Phenomenon

I am completely intrigued and bemused by the phenomenon that is Barry Island. I grew up in Barry and Barry Island has always conjured up a Morrissey lyric

This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down.

So when my friend’s 13 year old niece greeted me with great excitement and a multitude of questions after telling her that I grew up in Barry, I was a little taken aback.  Of course it is all fueled by Gavin and Stacey, a programme that I absolutely love and somehow Barry has been given a chance to redeem itself.

Barry used to be a thriving resort full of day visitors and holiday makers at the Butlins Camp. As a child we didn’t visit Barry Island much because my dad hated sandy beaches, bemoaning how he got sand in his sandwiches.  We spent most of our time at the other pebbly beach in Barry scrabbling for the tiny piece of sand that emerged when the tide went out.  Going to Barry Island as a child was a huge treat – oodles of sand, arcades, funfair, tacky shops – a child’s dream. We had a children’s party once on the penny machines and the arcade with the historic slot machines displaying 1940’s film stars was a huge hit for those on a small budget.

As teenagers we used to meet at the amusement park for a night out, go for day trips to Butlins and trawl the arcades in search of ‘foreign’ boys. As 6th formers we loved the Warehouse nightclub and Pebbles but by the late 80’s early 90’s the holiday camp had closed the nightclubs were mostly boarded up and anything that was still open was forced to close at midnight.

During the 90’s I worked at Barry Island and often went for walks to the sea front on a Sunday afternoon. It was still busy but not quite what it had been in its heyday. We took my daughter to Barry Island funfair as a toddler – I was amazed at how little it had changed from when I was a teenager, it certainly hadn’t moved with the times.

I still think I was extremely lucky to grow up by the sea, to be able to make going to the seaside a regular occurrence and to be able to sit and look out over the sea when I needed thinking space. We took it very much for granted as children. Now  I live by the sea again but we don’t have any particularly nice beaches so I do appreciate more the ability to walk to the beach on a regular basis.

I think it’s great that there is a new sense of excitement about Barry.  It’s become a popular location for many television programmes including Being Human (filmed in my cousin’s street), Dr Who (our Wedding Venue featured in an episode) and of course Gavin and Stacey.  I just hope that it lives up to the hype.

So for me, a small town Welsh girl, the idea that my home town has become a phenomenon is very strange, but I’m getting used to it.

photographs courtesy of Augusta Trussell

Lauren Child

I was going to write a very different post but have decided that on reading an email with a link to the new Lauren Child website that it needed to be shared.

I am a huge fan of Lauren Child, I think she is a creative genius.  All of her books give me a warm fuzzy feeling, from the witty text to the colourful illustrations – and the children love them too. If I have as much talent in my little toe as she has I will be happy. 

A while ago I took 3 children to the Lauren Child exhibition at Cardiff Museum.  I was awestruck.  The children had an amazing time playing in Charlie and Lola’s kitchen  and dressing up in their clothes.  They read books and played with puppets, even the one year old had a great time.

For those of you who are aspiring writers Lauren Child’s website offers useful advice on writing for children and the Frequently Asked Questions  give  some great insights into her writing.

If you haven’t read any of her books, please do, I promise you won’t be disappointed

Wedding Singer / Things that Could go Wrong on your Wedding Day.

This weekend I sang at a friend’s wedding, both in the church and later at the reception with my lovely 7 year old daughter.  This is the thank-you Message that the bride posted earlier, I thought it was beautifully written so she has agreed that I can use it as a Guest Post.

Things that Could go Wrong on your Wedding Day by Jane Northcombe

You could be woken up by rain so torrential that you couldn’t hear yourself think; you could still have a prominent red rash on your (bare) shoulder from the persistent scrubbing of the fake tan so shockingly applied two days previously; your dress could be creased like a screwed up newspaper following the aborted attempt at steaming it by the bridal shop who had double booked themselves the day before your wedding; in setting up the perfect shot, your photographer could fall backwards through the open french window with such a force that the heel is prised from his shoe as his back hits the deck; you could be standing in the lounge in full wedding attire, anxious to get to the church, listening to the strains of your beautiful vintage Austin car turning over and over and over . . Things that could go right on your wedding day: The rain could stop just in time for your three beautiful bridesmaids to leave the house with hair, make-up and dresses intact; you could hold your father’s hand all the way to the church, both sporting big cheesy grins because you’re both so happy; the creases in the silk could enhance the quirky asymmetric design of your fabulous Benjamin Roberts dress, you could walk into a church filled with virtually all your close family and friends; you could manage to refrain from crying when your dear friend sings the most beautiful rendition of Ave Maria; you could marry the man you love; your children could be beautifully turned out, beautifully behaved and be allowed to throw confetti over you inside a church, where the throwing of confetti is not even permitted outside; your two year old could be charmingly two and drive his toy cars around the altar, making loud ‘broom, broom’ noises, keeping the guests amused while the non-spectator sport of signing the registers takes place; the sun could come out at the perfect time and stay hot even to the extent of inflicting sunburn on some unsuspecting shoulders and you and you brand new husband could have the best day of your lives, surrounded by fabulous friends and family. Thank you to everyone who helped make our day so brilliant x

And if you would like to check out the aforementioned rendition of Ave Maria