Category Archives: children

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.

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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.

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 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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. Check out these Seattle Splash Parks.

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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.

Are Twos Really Terrible?

The bedroom door opens and a loud and enthusiastic voice proudly announces that she has opened her own door. She attempts to climb over everyone in the bed  asks for covers and then announces that she is hungry and wants breakfast. We are lucky if we get breakfast on the table without a shriek of ‘No me’ or ‘mummy do it’ if her sister tries to help.  ‘Me do it’ is the favourite phrase when getting dressed, followed by a Rumpelstiltskin stamp and jump if she fails.  Late for school again, we are lucky if we make it that far without  a tantrum over picking a flower, whether to walk or get back in the buggy, wanting to bring something we have left behind or failing to say hello to someone on our way.

Welcome to a typical morning in the McClary household  courtesy of my challenging middle daughter aged 2 and a half.  I don’t remember the 2’s being particularly terrible with my eldest, perhaps memory fails me, but then she didn’t have to compete with 2 sisters for attention.   I was once told that 2 year olds are not deliberately difficult, they just make mistakes.  I’m not always convinced – particularly when I say don’t wake your sister and she proceeds to shout in her loudest voice . We give her a hard press sometimes but always come back to how gorgeous she is.   When a day starts in this way it’s often difficult to focus on the positives but in reality there are lots of lovely things about 2 year olds.

The pride that they show when they achieve things – my daughter beams and says ‘I did it’ .  As difficult as it may be to let her do things herself , especially when we are in a rush it’s wonderful to see her achieve things.  Hopefully she will soon be independent and able to dress herself by the age of 3 like her sister.  I also remember my eldest making me breakfast for the first time before she turned 3.

Though often toddlers like to challenge us and do the opposite of what we say, they also love being helpful.  If you give my  daughter and her friend a special job to do they are eager to help.  She is good at tidying up, putting things in the bin, helping put the washing in the machine and feeding the dogs.

She is incredibly loving .  She loves to have hugs and often says ‘I love you’ .  She wakes me in the morning with a hug and a kiss and if her dad is away says ‘ I want my daddy’ and sometimes when her sister is at school ‘ I want my sister’.

I love the way she can hold a long telephone conversation .  She makes funny little mistakes like showing my dad that it is raining in our garden ‘ look, see, in this garden.  It is raining’ or that anything that happened in the past is referred to as yesterday. She sometimes has telephone conversations with her best friend.

Her vocabulary is improving all the time and never ceases to amaze me.  I love listening to her use new words and phrases and hearing  the things she has obviously picked up from us or her sister.

I love hearing her laugh – she is incredibly ticklish and it’s lovely to hear her unrestrained laughter.

She is still working out how things work so sometimes comes out with funny things.  Recently she said ‘mummy remember I lost you and you were in hospital, then we went to hospital to buy my baby sister’ or the time that she saw horse manure on the road and said ‘mummy has the road done a poo?’

I love that she is learning new things all the time and her beaming smile when she discovers something new.  Her latest discovery is rhyme and often recognises rhyming words  and proceeds to list as many word as she can that rhyme with the original word.

I love reading stories with her.  She has had a love of books from before she was a year old and is always asking for stories.  When she is getting difficult because she is tired she will sit and cuddle in to you sharing her favourite books.  It’s also lovely to see her ‘reading’ books for herself – reciting the well-known phrases verbatim .  If you give her a book with single words accompanied by a  picture she believes she can read and looks so impressed.

I often find myself hoping that the 2’s will soon end in the hope that we will have a more civilised little girl.  This exercise has reminded me of all the lovely things about her and that sometimes I should take a step back and remember those things. Children grow up so quickly and soon these times will have been and gone and I’ll wish I had appreciated them more.

My Top 5 Books for Under 5’s

To mark World book day, I thought I would list my top 5 books for under 5’s .  I have chosen the books that the children enjoy, but also that I do not get tired of reading. There were lots on the shortlist but I think these are my favourites.

  Any of the original Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves.  I loved these as a child and my children love them too.  The stories are witty and clever without being too long and my eldest learned some really sophisticated vocabulary from them when she was 3 .  When I was a child (much older than 5) my aunt worked in a bookshop and we would visit her and sit by the Mr Men shelf reading all the ones we didn’t have.  Timeless.

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne – not strictly for under 5’s but my eldest had a real thing about Winnie the Pooh when she was 3, to the point that Piglet was her imaginary friend and went everywhere with us.  We used to have to listen to the audio books (with Stephen Fry and Judy Dench) in the car, but I never tired of them.  This is a book that I first read as a university student and found it endearing and hilarious.  Thankfully the children love it too.  Some of the best quotes come from Winnie the Pooh.

 

 Something Else by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell  This is a heart warming story about a creature who is teased because he is different and then strikes up a friendship with another creature.  It has beautiful illustrations and a quirky twist at the end.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child  – I love this one, a traditional story retold in an intelligent and witty way,  in the way that only Lauren Child can.  On my first reading it made me say ‘Wow!’  If you love Charlie and Lola you will love this too.

 

Burglar Bill by Janet and Alan Ahlberg –The comical story of a burglar who steals a box and later finds a baby inside. I really enjoy reading this one and acting out the voices of Burglar Bill and Burglar Betty.  There are lots of funny bits in it that make the children laugh out loud.

 

 

Who touched your life when you were a child? – Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture

I have finally managed to watch Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture.  How refreshing to hear someone from outside of the world of Education recognising how undervalued the Early Years profession is.  The lack of financial reward and status means that many of the UK’s brightest individuals are discouraged from entering the Early Years profession.  Working with our youngest children is one of the most important occupations of all, as Morpurgo put it

‘a pound spent in the early years can save ten pounds later’

Thank goodness some of us care enough not to desert the profession.

The lecture also decried the target driven education system we have in this country.  When everything relies upon targets and league tables it is easy to forget about the individuality of each child and how their needs can be met.  Morpurgo explained how  in New Zealand children enter school on their 5th birthday, thus allowing teachers time to get to know each child individually , rather than having a class of 30 all arriving at once. Also in Finland, which comes 2nd in the OECD World Education rankings, children do not start school until they are 7 years old.   With an education system built on targets and children starting school at such a young age we are setting our children up for failure.  No wonder we  keep seeing headlines about how boys are failing to read.

Morpurgo argues that the most important part of a child’s education is building trusting relationships, focusing on the unique qualities of each child. When teachers and adults are passionate about a subject, be it reading, music, sport or science they enthuse children to enjoy those things too.  This reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’.  In this he talks about how each of us have something that we excel at , that we enjoy and is at the core of our very being.  Many of these things are discovered by perceptive and enthusiastic adults when we are children, others of us do not find our ‘element ‘ till much later in life, if at all.

There are a number of people who helped me to find a passion.  My mother read me books, took me to the library and showed me that books were special, instilling in me a love for reading.  The primary school teachers who first put me on the stage in school shows and sowed the seeds for a love of performing and my secondary school English teacher who recognised my talent for writing and called me her ‘shining star’ helped me to believe that I could.

It also made me think of another thought I had earlier in the day as I taught my eldest daughter to play clock patience.  I thought about all the things my grandfather taught me to do when I was young.  Not only clock patience, but how to make a paper hat and paper aeroplane, how to play pick up sticks and two little dickie birds with pieces of paper on your fingers – things that I hope I remember well enough to pass down.

Working in Early Years Education I am sure that we touch children’s lives in many ways, with the experiences we give them, through listening to them and sharing their worlds and understanding their needs.  In some ways it’s a bit sad that few of the children we teach will remember the influence we had on their lives, they wont cite us as someone who touched their life, but I’m pretty certain we did.

For a full transcript of the Dimbleby Lecture    http://www.michaelmorpurgo.com/news/read-michaels-dimbleby-lectur/

 

Hooray for Kindle!

kindle My most useful recent purchase has to be my Amazon Kindle.  As part of a de-clutter my husband suggested selling/giving away our room full of books and replacing the ones that we really like on a Kindle.  I wasn’t really sure at first but it has been just fabulous.

I often find myself downloading pdf documents that I think might be interesting or useful for work and then they sit around on my laptop without being read.  Occasionally I will read a few pages before my eyes get tired from reading on screen.

Now that I have my Kindle all I need to do is email them to my Kindle email address with the subject ‘convert’ and they are instantly transferred to my Kindle in an easy to read format.  Now I can sit and read them like a book without having to print them and they are always to hand.  I can organise them into folders so that I can find them easily and there is even a function for defining words that you do not understand (very useful when reading journal articles).

When I’m bleary eyed I can change the size of the text and the unlit screen isn’t harsh, but slightly brighter than a standard book. I could happily read by the light of the fish tank when researching a few nights ago.

I’m hoping that as more books become readily available I won’t have to carry piles of books or study with a stack of books next to me.  They will all be contained in my little slimline friend.

We are even considering buying one for my daughter’s 7 th birthday – she is such a bookworm .  I could make some much needed space in her bookcase and as an able reader who usually reads alone, she would be able to look up anything she didn’t understand. I think  this would bring her reading to another level.  Though stopping her from ordering endless books on my credit card may be an issue.

And as an added bonus you will be able to subscribe to this blog on your Kindle in the next few days.