Category Archives: outdoor play

Ideas for Playing in the Dark

Whether you’re on a camping trip and staying up late, or it is winter and there aren’t many daylight hours in which to play, the children won’t be able to wait to get out in the dark with these fun play activities. They could also help children who are afraid of the dark discover that darkness can be fun; give them a head torch or flashlight, hold their hand and venture out together.

You will need…

Other items you could use

We find head torches work particularly well for my daughter  with poor eyesight.

Taking torches/flashlights outside is also a great way to observe the weather. Mist looks really eerie under a flashlight and you  can watch  raindrops in in the light rays.

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Games to play

1. Flashlight/torch tag
The children run around, one child has a flashlight/torch and has to tag the other children by shining a light beam at them.


2. Grandmothers footsteps
The children quietly sneak up to the grandmother and if she hears footsteps she shines her flashlight/torch at the culprit and they return to the start. The object is to steal a piece of treasure she has at her side (we’ve used glow in the dark balls or glow sticks) and get back to the start with them without being caught.


3. Hide and Seek
My children love to play hide and seek so this is a real favourite. Hiding in the dark means you can find so many more great hiding places. The seeker uses their flashlight to find those who are hiding.
4. Glow in the dark water play

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We added glow in the dark paint to  water in our water table (a bowl or bucket would also work) .Drop in some glowing stars and moons, water beads and a variety of containers. Have fun making ‘star soup’.

I also love this idea from active dark, using glow sticks in a pool.

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5. Treasure hunt

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Fill plastic Easter eggs with mini battery operated lights – you can also add water beads for an extra effect. Hide them around the garden and look out for where the lights are shining. My girls also enjoy hiding the eggs  inside their clothes.

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6. Glow in the dark sensory play
Add glow in the dark paint or pigment powder to goop (corn starch and water), water beads, play dough, shaving foam, or play dough. Make sure to charge it in the light first.

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7. Glow in the dark painting
Paint on black paper with glow in the dark paint – you could put a large sheet on the fence or alternatively, mix the paint with corn-starch and a little water and paint directly onto the ground. It washes away really easily in the rain. We’ve used this to paint hopscotch on the driveway and used  glow in the dark balls as markers.


8. Shadow play
Children love to play with shadows. Use flashlights or outdoor lights to cast shadows onto white walls or even better erect a white sheet between fences or trees and get the children to stand against it making shadows and shapes.

9. Light tables
We made a homemade light table from a translucent plastic box with a black lid. Turn the box upside down and place inside battery operated lights and /or fairy light There are all kinds of activities you can do with a light table . You can place natural materials, glass beads, buttons or candy wrappers on top to make patterns, spread sand or rice on top to make marks or use interesting coloured containers.

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10. Look at the stars.

On a clear night what could be better than looking at the stars? We printed out a map of the stars but just to look up into the night sky can be awe inspiring.


11. Use glow in the dark balls or light up balloons to play catch or volleyball.

12. Swing glow sticks to see what patterns they can make or build constructions with glow sticks.

 

The Great Mud Bake Off

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My kids love any kind of cooking show. A particular favourite is The Great British Bake Off (or baking show as they call it in the US). In true bake-off style, they decided to make a mud cake. “The theme is cakes”, they told me “but it can’t be just a cupcake it has to be a proper cake”.

Today is International Mud Day, when children around the world celebrate the most diverse, low-cost and accessible plaything on earth. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

They build a plan and get to work, problem solving all the way.

They gather things from around the garden to create their designs.

The children explain the rules for the judging.

Something always goes wrong on Bake Off.  The trial run didn’t quite go as planned so the girls think again.

The trial run of the frog mould cake works perfectly, but when the final one is made it drops too early and spoils the mint and grass lily pad. After a few failed attempts a final frog is made by moulding it with hands instead.

Frog Cake in Great Mud Bake Off

And Master Baker this week is…..

The mint and rose surprise – sadly the frog was a great idea but there were a few problems with the batter.

Great Mud Bake Off

Don’t you love that play can be inspired by so many things? Happy International Mud Day.

the Great Mud Bake Off

Additional Resources for International Mud Day

Find out why mud play is good for you

Build your own mud kitchen

Make mud faces

Family Friendly Spaces: The Container Park Las Vegas.

container park by dayOn my recent trip to Vegas, I was surprised at the number of people trudging the strip with young children in tow. Though there are things for kids to do in Vegas, museums, shows, the Bellagio fountains and lounging by the pool, I’m pretty sure my kids would soon tire of walking up and down the strip.

If you visit Vegas with kids and want to get away from the strip, the container park is an exquisitely designed haven in the heart of downtown Vegas.

container park vegas

 

The container park as the name suggests, is fashioned from shipping containers. The 3 storey’s of shipping containers are transformed into shops, restaurants, bars and cafes.  The container park was built as part of a drive to transform Downtown Vegas and provide affordable spaces for new and small businesses.

container park

For the kids, there is a wonderful independent toy shop, Kappa Toys  whose  owner  is clearly passionate about toys.  I spent a long time in there choosing a perfect gift for my kids.  Another favourite was the vintage clothes shop, Vintage NV. We ate a delicious brunch  at The Perch, on the 2nd storey overlooking the rest of the park .

The Perch
The Perch

Below the Perch, is an open space with a stage, building materials and chalk boards for the kids.

The play and stage area container park
The stage and play space with comfortable seating for adults

In the centre of the park is a huge, well thought out, children’s playground and outside the playground is another small stage for children’s activities.

 

By night the container park is transformed into a civilised eating and drinking area, where people sit quietly at the wine or whiskey bar. It shuts down at 11pm so doesn’t attract a rowdy crowd.

container park by night

One of the highlights of the container park at night is the animated praying mantis that blows flames in time to music.

I loved the container park, I think every city should have one.

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I Can’t Be a Teacher who Discourages Mess and Noise

For a teacher like me, who spent her teaching career with under 5’s, I am used to teaching in a messy, noisy environment.  Children are permitted and often encouraged to make a mess and be messy.

duck swimming down the waterfall

Young children need to do and create things on a large-scale. They use big chunky brushes, they use oversized pieces of paper, they are developing their motor skills through moving around in a large space, they build with big bricks, look at big books and work on the floor.

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Children are developing their language, communication and social skills. They are encouraged to talk as they learn, to ask questions, re-tell events, act out scenarios, explore sounds and negotiate with their peers.

If an early years classroom was always tidy and always quiet, I would be very concerned.

Early years classrooms are well organised. Resources have their place and children are shown how to return resources and take care of them.  But when the children are at play they are rarely tidy.

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Early years classrooms discourage shouting, teach children to take turns when talking in a group and are building the foundations of listening skills but much of their learning is verbal and kinetic so would not and should not be silent.

It makes me so sad to see children at desks in silence once they start school, children walking around the school without making a sound. It saddens me to see lots of whole class teaching where there is little room to be different, make choices or move around the classroom. Carpeted classrooms where we have to be so careful about making a mess, so there are no painting easels, water trays or sand boxes. Where the kindergartners don’t have an outdoor classroom to extend their space and experiences. Mostly, the teachers know that this isn’t right for the children, they do their best to bring fun into the classroom and make learning as active as possible, but their hands are tied by environments, school policies and by national or state curriculum and assessment.

Sometimes I think I should return to teaching to show that there is another way. Mostly, I think I’d end up demoralised, frustrated and constrained by a system with very different values.

Yesterday, for our final art lesson, I wanted the children to have fun with art, to work on a large-scale and be messy. It was to be an outdoor celebration of art.  My plan was to set up a number of art stations outdoors and have a volunteer on each station.  This didn’t quite work to plan due to a shortage of volunteers so I scaled it down to 3 activities.

Activity one

I taped paper to the base of a large paddling pool. The children squirted tempura paint in different colours into the pool.  I then threw in a variety of balls. We worked together, holding the pool and tilting it to make the balls roll in the paint and make a pattern. The children squealed with laughter. They took it in turns to send the balls towards different members of the class and tried different techniques to make balls of different weights and sizes move.

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Activity two

I added powder paint to pots of bubbles and mixed it well.  A large piece of paper was taped to the wall and the children used a variety of bubble wands to blow the coloured bubbles onto the paper and make it pop. They enjoyed touching it with their hands as it popped and dripped down the wall leaving splashes on the floor.

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Activity Three

I would have done this one outside on a large piece of paper too, but I felt the teacher felt more comfortable at a table, so this activity was moved inside. The children blew paint onto their paper with straws and then used sharpies to turn the shape into a character or person.

My teacher was a substitute. She greeted me with a bewildered look when I described the projects. Her face suggested she was unsure that I had thought it through and that it would be a logistical nightmare to manage.

I suppose our priorities were different. I didn’t care if the kids were noisy and overexuberant. I wanted to see them laugh, explore and take risks. I didn’t mind if transitions weren’t completely orderly. The children were excited by what they had experienced and what they were to try next. I didn’t mind if the children were messy and paint got onto the playground. The paint was washable and the weather would wash it away. I didn’t mind that the end product wasn’t beautiful or particularly thoughtful. I  wanted them to see that we don’t always have to sit at a desk to paint, that we can create with our whole bodies and with a variety of materials. I didn’t have a learning goal. I wanted the children to share a new experience and to have fun.

Children from other grades who were out at recess, came flocking to see what we were doing, they looked on with envy. The Kindergarten children were full of joy, they talked freely amongst themselves and to me, without inhibition and they helped me to lay the pieces to dry, placing rocks to stop them blowing away. They enjoyed the responsibility, before returning to the classroom to sit at desks, eat their snack and listen to a story in silence.

If you have thoughts about spaces for children Suzanne Axelsson is collecting information about how space affects children’s play and learning outcomes and also, more importantly, how it affects your teaching…. if you cannot teach the way children learn, then it is going to have a HUGE impact…  You can respond to her questions and engage in a conversation about learning spaces here.

 

 

10 Outdoor Painting Activities

WP_20160606_003This week we have been painting pebbles. We used a mixture of our own designs and some that we found online.  The ones that we liked we sprayed with mod podge so that the rain wouldn’t wash them away.

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In the summer it is so much easier to paint outside and with more space and capacity for mess you can be more creative with your painting activities.  Here are a couple of our favourites.

  1.  Spray paintingWP_20160422_003

 

Save your old spray bottles and fill with paint to spray on an easel attached to a fence or on the floor. You can also tape images or leaves onto the paper to make prints.

2.  Splat painting

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Fill a stocking with sand, drop it from a height and watch it splat.

3. Paint the ground

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Use watercolour paint or pavement chalk paint and it will wash away.

4. Paint with water

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It’s a roly-copter.

Use different types of brushes and paint rollers

5. Foot painting

large scale painting

6. Print leaves

 

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We painted this giant leaf in stripes and pressed the paper on top to make a print.

7. Bubble painting

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Add dish detergent to paint and blow with a straw. When the bubbles come over the top print onto a piece of paper. Alternatively you could add paint to bubble mixture and blow bubbles onto paper and watch them pop.

8. Paint a snowman

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Outdoor painting needn’t be confined to the Summer. In winter paint a snow sculpture or paint on snow or ice.

9. Ice painting

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Freeze ice cubes of paint with a stick inside. As they melt you can make a picture. You could also sprinkle powder paint onto blocks of ice to make patterns.

10. Body painting and Face painting

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My kids love to get the face paints out in the summer, their designs get more elaborate as they practice.  You don’t have to stick to faces, body painting is fun or paint tattoos on their arms and legs.

10 Outdoor Painting Activities

 

What is That White Stuff Flying Around? Co-constructing Knowledge, Sustained Shared Thinking and Seeing the World Through a Child’s Eyes.

Disclaimer the links to books referenced in this post, contain Amazon Affiliate Links.

Many years ago, I attended a training course where we were encouraged to follow the acronym OWLS in our teacher-child interactions.  OWLS stood for

Observe

Wait

Listen

Speak

Children are naturally full of curiosity. Sometimes questions are asked as a way of thinking out loud and sometimes asked directly to obtain an answer from an adult.  In both scenarios, if we follow OWLS we will discover a great deal about the children’s way of thinking and enable them to provide their own hypotheses.

If we are to support, rather than limit, children’s developing understanding, we need to allow them to help us recapture some of the wonder and innocence we have lost and to gain insight into their struggles to make sense of what is often a confusing and worrying world. Teaching is not about imposing our views, concerns or values on others. It is about enabling children to carry out their own investigations and draw their own conclusions. (Margaret Edgington – The Nursery Teacher in Action)

My children watched the fluff flying around the playground and wondered what it was. I’m not sure if they wanted a direct answer from me or a means of discussing possibilities together. I took it as the latter and listened to their thoughts.

The children used their existing knowledge about fairies, clouds, snow and cushion fillers to create hypotheses.  They also borrowed ideas from the familiar story Cloudland by John Birningham to create a new story. Their answers could be a springboard to a project where the children create worlds, stories and characters involving the mysterious fluff.

Jerome Bruner explains that when we see children as thinkers, understanding is fostered through collaboration and discussion. The child is encouraged to express their views to achieve a meeting of minds with others with different views.

As the discussion ensued, the girls used their senses to explore the material and build on what they already know about the world  to find answers. My role was to build an exchange of understanding between the two children and myself, to find the roots of the children’s systematic knowledge.

 

As we turned the corner we found a clump of the fluffy stuff.

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The children began to construct even more elaborate stories, connecting with worlds they had previously imagined.

Encouraging these moments to develop into projects is described by Carolyn Edwards in The Hundred Languages of Children. She describes the role of the teacher in Reggio Schools.

The teachers constantly pay close attention to the children’s activity. They believe that when children work on a project of interest to them, they will naturally encounter problems and questions they will want to investigate. The teachers’ role is to help the children discover their own problems and questions. At that point, moreover, they will not offer ready solutions but instead help children to focus on a problem or difficulty and formulate hypotheses. Their goal is not so much to facilitate learning in the sense of making it smooth or easy, but rather to stimulate it by making problems more complex, involving or arousing. They ask the children what they need in order to do experiments – even when they realise that a particular approach or hypothesis is not “correct”. They serve as the children’s partners, sustaining the children and offering assistance, resources and strategies to get unstuck when encountering difficulties – Carolyn Edwards.

I wonder how many rich learning opportunities are missed in our school system because there isn’t time to slow down and teach in this way? Perhaps, all the more reason to share these experiences with our children when they are at home.

The children went on to discuss the ‘fluff’ with their friends. One friend told them it comes from a tree and they thought it was Dogwood.  The next question was ‘What is a dogwood tree?’. This will be the next step in their discoveries.

20 Outdoor Things to Do Before You are 5

 

outdooe pin.pngThese Ideas were originally written for Parentmap in 2013

When my eldest daughter was working through the National Trust’s list of ’50 things to do before you are 11 3/4′.  I was inspired to create a companion list for my younger children.  Some of the challenges on the National Trust list, like picking wild blackberries were easily completed by young children but I felt a list of basic foundational outdoor experiences for babies, toddlers and preschoolers could work alongside it.

I realise that we are fortunate to live in a house with a garden and nature all around us but I tried hard to make the experiences accessible to all, in all weather and without an outdoor space at home. There are many amazing things that young children can experience outdoors, these are the ones I believe are essential .

20 things to do before you are 5.   

  1. Splash in a puddle:  Put on your rain boots and/or waterproof trousers and splash in puddles large, small and muddy.puddles
  2. Blow a dandelion clock : counting out the hours of the day as you blow

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    child blowing a dandelion clock
  3. Play in sand: In a sand box, at the park or at the beach. Playing with sand needn’t be limited to building sandcastles. Explore wet and dry sand, fill containers, hide things in the sand, draw in it with a stick or make a dinosaur swamp.

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    Sand play
  4. Walk through crunchy autumn leaves: You could also catch some from the trees as they fall, take them home and print with them or make a crunchy collage.autumn leaves
  5. Catch blossom from a tree.blossom
  6. Play in the snow:  If snow is thin on the ground head out to a snow park or if you live in a country where you don’t have snow, set up some icy play in the sunshine.

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    I just want to lie in it
  7. Grow a flower from a bulb or a seed: Guess the colour of the flower that will grow or grow a tall sunflower and measure it as it grows.WP_20130718_004 (2)
  8. Ride a tricycle, bicycle or scooter.IMG_0513
  9. Make a mud pie: You could even build a mud kitchen using old pans and kitchen utensils.mud kitchens
  10. Walk barefoot on grass, mud or sand: Walking barefoot helps children to balance and strengthens muscles in the foot. It is also a great way to stimulate the senses and talk about different textures.IMG_0615
  11. Collect natural materials from the woods, beach or park: Collect shells, leaves, pinecones or seeds. Put double sided tape on a pair of boots or a hat and help the children collect items to stick on. Use them to make pictures, sculptures or for small world play.skeleton leaf
  12. Go on a bug hunt: Dig for worms, look in dark places or watch spider webs wet with dew.

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    I found a beetle.
  13. Play with a stick: Sticks can be swords, fairy wands or pencils. We have a huge collection outside our front door as our only rule is ‘No sticks in the house’.

    Y sticks
    Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.
  14. Go for a walk in the woods.
  15. Paddle barefooted in the ocean, lake or stream: If your budget or location doesn’t allow you to get to the seaside, lake or stream, paddle barefooted in a puddle.paddling
  16. Play Pooh sticks.pooh sticks
  17. Throw and kick a ball: Start with large balls and as children get older experiment with different shapes and sizes.

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    Throw the ball at the trampoline and see if you can bounce it into the tub.
  18. Go fruit picking: At a farm or pick wild berries in the woods or park.strawberry picking
  19. Run in an open space.kite(1)
  20. Chase and blow bubbles.
    dr mazes farm
    small bubbles

    My little ones are over 5 now but still their favourite thing to do is climb the tree in our front garden,  make a mud pie or potion (my 8-year-old carried a pot of gooey mud home from school yesterday) or collect and create with sticks, petals and stones.

What would be on your list?

 

4 Ways to Inspire Kids to Go Outside and Be Active

Disclaimer: No payment was received for writing this post. I received a few small samples of Go Organically Fruit Snacks.

go organically outdoors

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports month and to inspire kids to get outside and be active this spring Go Organically have come up with 4 things to try. I don’t often share content from brands but I liked the ideas in this one and they align very closely to the ways I encourage my family to go outside.

My kids favourite outdoor activity is climbing trees. It’s the first thing they do when they get home from school and I love that it attracts them more than any other activity.It is important to me that my kids get independent playtime outside, but sometimes kids won’t go outside without a little push from an adult.  Here are some simple ideas from Go Organically fruit snacks  if your kids need a little encouragement.

reading in the tree

1.       Gear Up

Make sports equipment easily accessible so you’ll be more likely to use it. Park bicycles near the front of your garage, or keep scooters in the mudroom to inspire impromptu usage. Stash a Frisbee or soccer ball in your car for pick-up games, or “catch up” on the day while playing a quick game of catch in the evenings. The idea is to integrate activity into your everyday life so it becomes a part of your routine.

I love the advice about integrating it into everyday life. We use scooters to go to school everyday, often stop at the pond near school to explore the changing seasons and have skipping ropes near the door so they are easy to grab.

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2.       Play Nature Bingo

Which family member has an eagle eye for spotting things like squirrels, ant hills or pine cones? To find out, head to your local park—or simply your own backyard—and play an active yet educational game of Nature Bingo. Print out a free online template (we like these for their earthy feel) and try to find as many items as you can, marking off each square as you go.

Nature bingo is always fun. When my girls were younger and struggled to walk back from the park, I would pretend we were pirates and give them a list of “treasures” they had to find or collect .You can also try some of these  woodland activities we enjoyed. They would work equally well in a garden or park.

finding big cat markings

3.       Embrace Old School Games

When we were kids, it was all about classic backyard games like Freeze Tag, Simon Says and Hide-and-Seek. Our favorite? Red Light/Green Light. One child acts as the “stoplight” and stands with his or her back to the crowd across the yard from the other kids. When the stoplight shouts “green light,” the kids move forward and try to be the first to touch the stoplight. At any point, the stoplight may shout “red light!” and turn around. If any of the players are caught moving, they’re out.

Regular readers will know, I think it is really important to teach my kids games from my childhood and other simple games. It will not only preserve these games and rhymes for future generations but it is also an opportunity to play together outside. I recently taught them how to play elastics (French skipping) and we had great fun.

Try out some of my families favourites here.

hopscotch

4.       Take a Walk

It sounds so simple, but sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics with regular family walks. Take the dog out together in the morning instead of making it a one-man job. Or work off dinner by hitting the pavement as a family for a sunset stroll. It’s a great way to discover your surroundings, get to know your neighbors, and enjoy quality time as a family while burning off energy. When my youngest was small she hated to walk but loved to see things in our neighbourhood. I bought her a scooter and she used that and never complained.

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Before my youngest started school, she would ask me everyday if we could go for a walk.  We wouldn’t go far, a quick circuit around the neighbourhood was often enough for her, but she loved to discover things you can only find on foot.  We identified flowers and plants, rescued worms and snails, found caterpillars, ducklings, birds, frogs and salamanders, caught blossom, collected leaves and carried sheets of ice.  My daughter didn’t like to walk far when she was younger but once I bought her a scooter we could go on long walks together.

carrying a sheet of ice

What are your favourite ways of getting outside?

If you like these ideas, and you would like to explore more, below are some of my many outdoor play posts.

Activities with leaves

Inspiration for a low cost outdoor playspace

Ideas for encouraging children to enjoy their natural environment

Water Gun activities

Build a Fairy Garden

 Ideas for playing outside in the Spring

Ideas for playing outside in the rain

Ideas for playing outside in the dark

Ideas for playing in the snow

Children connecting with Nature (discussing the findings of a 3 year study into how connected to nature the UK’s children are)

Loose Parts

Why mud Play is good for children

Finding the alphabet in nature

To find more resources, click on the outdoor play tab above.

The March of the Vegetables in Duvall

This weekend we were invited to the March of the Vegetables, a community event in Duvall to support Snoqualmie Valley farmers.

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The event began with a parade for vegetables. My family found the idea of dressing as a vegetable suitably hilarious and loved the comment on the website – What if I don’t want to be a vegetable?  Local artists have been working with the community over the past few weeks, to create costumes and props – some were really imaginative and some simple, such as a man covered in branches to look like a tree.

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A kind lady handed us some beetroot seeds. I love beetroot so will look forward to planting them.

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The parade made it’s way to Depot Park where local farmers and artists had stalls.  There was live music and a fire pit to keep warm, beer, wine and hot apple cider and lots of smiling faces.

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The kids made their own entertainment by rolling down the bank which quickly got muddy.  I observed two boys lying face down in the mud, smearing it over their faces.

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My daughter enjoyed making a hat and puppets with a local artist and the little ones made a puppet theatre to put them in, when they got home.

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I love these little community events as we all need an excuse to get out and celebrate during rainy March.  We’ll definitely head back next year.

 Photographs by Michael McClary

Holi – The Festival of Colour

I used to work with a wonderful teacher who celebrated Holi with the children every year by covering their clothes and throwing powder paint around our art room.  It was always a favourite time of the year but we thought him very brave for taking it on indoors.

Holi

Since then, I’ve always thought my kids would love to be involved in the celebrations.  This year I took them to the Festival of Colour at Redmond City Hall.  This is how they describe the festival,

The festival does not recognizes any bars of caste, class or creed. Drenched in colors, everybody comes to resemble each other losing their original self. This is the beauty of this festival. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that this festival treats everybody at par, all differences dissolve in the colored water that flows in plenty in it.

Holi calls to put an end to any hard feelings that might have cropped up during the year. People apply color and give each other a friends hug as they greet Holi, the tradition is called, ‘Holi Milan’. It is strongly believed that even enemies turn friend on the day of Holi.

Holi announces the arrival of spring and the passing of winter. The festival breathes an atmosphere of social merriment. People bury their hatchets with a warm embrace and throw their worries to the wind. Every nook and corner presents a colorful sight. Young and old alike are covered with colors (red, green, yellow, blue, black and silver). People in small groups are seen singing, dancing and throwing colors on each other.

Two bags of coloured powder costs $5 on the day and slightly cheaper if you book in advance.  Other packages are also available, for those who want additional colours, t-shirts or food.  We chose two bags each which was plenty for at least an hour of fun.

Holi

Wading in mud, music and dancing and throwing coloured powder at each other – it was pretty much my kids idea of Heaven. Strangers greeted them with cries of Happy Holi as they daubed colours onto their face.

They competed to see who could get the most colourful hair.

And their favourite part was the countdown.

All topped off with a bit of dancing.

 


Mess, music, fun and friendship, essential ingredients for the best festivals .