Adventures this month

  • Plymouth Christmas market (we won’t bother with this one again!)
  • Mevagissey (twice)
  • Jools Holland concert
  • Getting ready for Christmas



How are we doing?

Are we feeling playful?

In all honesty – not really at the moment!  I’m full of cold with a horrible sore throat and a cough which means I’m not sleeping.  While I can manage pretty well on a bad night’s sleep, I’m not doing so well with four nights on hardly any sleep.

However, Christmas is coming, and that does bring out the playful side in some people.  My 12 year-old daughter absolutely loves the magic of Christmas – she is making decorations, getting Secret Santa gifts, decorating her own tree in her bedroom, planning how to decorate a Yule Log, watching Christmas movies and generally showing the rest of us how it ought to be done if only we had the energy.  I’m sure once I’ve caught up on some sleep and fought off this virus I’ll be a bit more on board.

The work Christmas party

I had a bit of an odd work Christmas party.  First off, let me tell you that I LOVE a work ‘do’.  My husband keeps himself to himself and we don’t tend to go “out out” very much at all apart from the odd family meal or a music event or theatre – so I take the opportunity to dress up a bit and have a good time.  As a teacher, these work events tended to happen at Christmas and at the end of the Summer term.  With my new job, where I am working on my own almost all the time, working one-to-one with clients or visiting schools, it felt even more important to get together with the team and get to know the others better.  It was a bit disappointing, therefore, to find that I was the only one from my team due to attend.  The first bit of fun was that I turned up on the wrong night!  This was entirely my fault, I’d managed to write the incorrect date in two different calendars, even though the email had the correct date!  Because I wasn’t expecting to know many people, it took me a moment to realise that in fact I didn’t recognise ANYBODY, and when I asked, I found that this was in fact the “South West Chimney Sweep” Christmas party – though they did invite me to join them!  Fast forward to the next evening and attempt number two.  Not only nobody from my team, but in fact nobody else from our entire side of the organisation.  Luckily I didn’t stay Billy No-Mates for very long, as some friendly folk took pity on me and invited me to move my chair and come and join them, and I did have a lovely evening (and a LOT to eat!).  My team did make up for it slightly by having tinsel crowns and Christmas music playing at our quarterly team meeting this week.

Thinking of others

To be honest, one more thing is making me hesitate a bit more about the Christmas decadence this year too.  I have come across a family of five who have recently been made homeless.  No fault of theirs.  The landlord wants to sell so issued a Section 21 eviction notice, but there just aren’t enough properties for locals to rent in Cornwall because of the massive number of second homes, summer rentals and air b and bs here, so they couldn’t find anywhere.  They were advised that the council couldn’t help them until they were actually homeless and they should wait until the bailiffs came.  So now that’s happened, and they are in emergency accommodation in a room in a Travelodge, presumably over Christmas, with nowhere to store or prepare food – so having to eat out (and into their savings) to feed the family.  I just think it’s so awful that families are having to face this, and feel so lucky.  It’s making me more determined to think of ways to look after others this Christmas.

Working for Christmas

Another thing that will make Christmas a bit different this year, is that it’s the first time in quite a while that my husband will be working over Christmas.  Of course, sick people people don’t stop being sick over Christmas (though I believe they try to get as many of them home to spend time with family as possible), and doctors and nurses still need to be at work in hospital.  C will be on-call and on the ward in the run up to Christmas, and with a lot more work to cover, as the junior doctors have called a strike that week, and will then be working on Christmas Day – before having a few days off.  Christmas Dinner and gift opening will wait until he gets home.  We will also be hosting my father-in-law, who will be facing his first Christmas since his wife died in January (having taken ill last Christmas Day / Boxing Day).  

A quiet Christmas

With all this going on, I think Christmas this year is going to be a low-key, simple affair – plenty of board games, movies and short walks, and I’m planning to take Father-in-law to the Nine Carols and Lessons at Truro Cathedral too, which should be quite lovely.

So how are you feeling this December?  What’s going on with you?  Will you be going to a busy or quiet Christmas?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Are you looking for things to do in lockdown? We’re now a year into the Covid crisis and our ideas bucket might be getting a little empty.  Every day feels like the Groundhog and you can’t wait for schools to go back? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

This Spring feels very strange for those of us at home with children.  We’ve had them at home with us the whole time since they broke up for Christmas!  However, it’s important that we make weekends and “not at school” times feel different for our children.  We’re not just talking about keeping the kids occupied, it’s much more important than that.  The monotony of a year where opportunities for holidays, going out to the shops, seeing friends and family, meals out, parties and activities like soft-play, swimming pools or school discos have been severely limited means that every day begins to feel like the groundhog day.

Humans (and monkeys too, research from Rome has confirmed) like variety.  You’ve heard the old adage “A change is as good as a rest”, the times when we are not doing school-dictated activity are a great opportunity to inject some variety for yourself as well as your children.

In the past I’ve talked often about the importance of allowing children to develop boredom, not to over-organise or over-structure their day-to-day lives, to allow their imaginations to flourish and increase the opportunities for free play.  I’m going to suggest that at this point, our children have had plenty of opportunity for free-play and imagination this past twelve months.  They’ve sadly had to occupy themselves apart from their peers, which makes free play and imagination so much harder.  Right now, they probably need a bit of direction and support.

If you’re also trying to work from home, or are having to go out to work and juggle childcare (difficult to access at the moment) this can be particularly hard.  However, I’d suggest that both you and your child need that emotional connection more than ever that you get from doing things together.

The ideas below for fun things to do in lockdown range from quick ideas you can use to inspire your children to go and do alone, to more complex activities that you will need to do together.  There are indoor and outdoor activities and ideas targeting younger children as well as older.  There is bound to be something to suit you. 

Indoor things to do in lockdown 


Classic | Themes | Official LEGO® Shop GB
Image from

Are those big boxes of Lego or other building blocks gathering dust in the corner?  Sometimes all the children need is a bit of inspiration. Whether you search for “Fun things to make with Lego” (producing results like this) or you set a “build the longest bridge” type challenge.  To really get them engaged, even older kids will value having you sit and build with them as they get started.  Once their imagination is in full flow, you can nip off to make a cup-of-tea and they won’t even notice you’ve gone.  Unless of course, you’re having so much fun that you want to stay and play!

Hide and seek or sardines

Easy to play and a lot of fun, though better with more players so best for a large family.  We all know how to play Hide and Seek.  In Sardines, one person hides, then as each player finds them, they have to squeeze into the same hiding place.

Paper mache

A great (if messy) craft for all ages. A quick internet search will reveal tons of inspiring ideas and you can always make something that fits into whatever your child is interested in, from dinosaur eggs to frog pots, from spooky castles to fairy palaces. This easy and cheap craft requires patience as you wait for layers to dry before adding the next bit, but the results can be spectacular.

DIY Salt Dough Ornaments and Easy Mobile — Value Minded Mama
Image from

Salt dough crafts

Another craft that requires virtually nothing in the way of material (just flour, salt and water, and some paints to finish off).  You can create decorations, wall plaques or even doll-house food!

Junk Modelling

Raid the recycle bin to create some amazing creations: from monster robots to castles, egg box crocodiles to space rockets and milk carton cities. 


This is definitely a win-win activity.  Not only do you keep a little person very busy, teach them measuring skills, food hygiene and the importance of cleaning up after themselves, but you also get a tasty treat to eat at the end of all the fun!

Make bookmarks

If your child loves to read, then they will always be looking for something to mark their place in their book.  A bookmark making activity is both practical and fun.  Whether you go down the origami route, drawing and laminating, or sewing using binca or felt, there will be a bookmark activity to suit you and your kids.

Movie theatre

We can’t go to the cinema at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the experience.  Choose a great movie you all want to watch, dim the lights, put up the volume and snuggle down with a bowl of popcorn each.

Scout ActivitiesThe Scout Association - Wikipedia

The Scouts have been inspiring children and guiding them through learning skills for life in hands-on activities for over a Century.  Where better to turn for some great ideas for our children during lock-down.  Scouts – The Great Indoors is a great collection of activities curated by The Scouts during the first lockdown.  Even better – you might consider joining your local Scout Group (for boys and girls 6-18), many have been offering online Scouting throughout the pandemic as well as outdoor activities whenever restrictions allow. 

“Let’s go Live” and other Science experiments

There are lots of Science experiments and activities to do at home floating around the internet.  Some require a bit of preparation and equipment, others are a bit easier to manage.  An example is here on Good Housekeeping, or here on  To get really inspired though, I would highly recommend “Let’s Go Live“, with Maddie and Greg on YouTube.  They present a fun video introducing a scenario, the Science and a lot of fun each week.

Board Games and Card Games

Yes, it’s time to get the Board Games and Card games out.  You’ll often need to do these with your children to begin with, while you teach them how to play and how to both win and lose gracefully!

Dressing up!

You don’t have to go out and buy a whole load of fancy-dress costumes.  A selection of hats, bags, scarves, and access to mum or dad’s wardrobe will provide a wealth of fun!  A challenge to “see who can wear the strangest costume” is a great way to get things started.

Image result for mini crafts for kids
Image from

Making things in miniature

There are many great things about making things in miniature, but I’ll be honest, some of my favourites are that they  don’t use up much material and the projects don’t take up a lot of space! An internet search for “mini crafts for kids” reveals some lovely ideas from mini books to tiny polymer clay animals. Model railway scenery or dollhouse or fairy garden accessories also fall firmly into this category.

Home-made playdough

I’m a big fan of playdough. Not only is it fun, encourages creativity and imagination along with literacy skills as the child tells you what they are making, but it also builds up those motor skills and hand-eye coordination which are so important as children begin to write.  Here’s my recipe for home-made playdough: Mix 1 cup of plain flour, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup salt, 2tbsp veg oil, 2tbsp cream of tartare and food colouring in a saucepan over a medium heat.  Keep stirring as it turns from liquid to a dryish doughy mix.  This mix will keep well if covered. 

Paper aeroplanes

This is an excellent STEM challenge for older challenge.  There are a host of paper aeroplane instructions out there for lots of different aeroplane shapes.  Challenge your child or children to experiment with plane types, paper weight and size to find the best paper aeroplane in the following categories – paper plane that flies furthest, flies fastest, and is most acrobatic.

Water play

Technically this could be an indoor or an outdoor activity, but I’ve put it here because people often overlook the potential for water play indoors. Kitchen’s can usually be mopped, or the bath is a great place to contain water.  Whether this is a toddler just having a good splash and pouring water from one container to another, or an older child creating miniature boats, or finding a way to move water uphill, there’s something for everybody here.

Recycle box aquarium

Image result for cereal box aquarium

This is one of the simplest ideas, and yet will not only occupy a rainy afternoon, but also creates something that can look great! Cut one side out of a cereal box.  Paint the outside.  Decorate the inside to look like an aquarium, then hang your fish from the top so they “swim”.  Fantastic!


Children LOVE painting and there are lots of reasons why it’s a valuable activity for them to do.  You can read a summary here at the Innovation Kids Lab. When my children were small I tended to get them to paint at an easel outdoors where possible, or in the kitchen with no clothes on!  As they got older, we had two types of paint – poster paints required table covering, aprons, and cleaning up together.  I also bought one of those tins of water colour tablets each for them (cheap and easy to get hold of).  These are a lot less messy and meant that the children could paint whenever they wanted to. Now, aged 10 and 11, they have access to a whole range of paints and are confident to both use them, and clean up after themselves!

Microwave mug cakes and armpit fudge

We’ve already talked about baking, but these are super-easy, super-quick, minimal equipment baking wonders.  Here are 34 different mug-cake recipes from Country Living Magazine.  Armpit fudge is one that sounds disgusting, but the kids will adore squishing all the ingredients together in a zip-lock bag under their arm and then digging in for a sweet-treat.  Full instructions here at   


I know, right?  This is a radical idea.  My eleven year-old still seems surprised when I expect him to help out around the house, despite the fact that we’ve been doing it since he was a toddler.  However, the importance of teaching children life skills, and the self-esteem they get from being useful can’t be overestimated.  In addition, doing housework together is more fun!

Dance contest or Zumba

Some kids just love to move and there’s no reason why this can’t happen in lockdown.  Dance mats and the software to run them are available for most games consoles, but you could also play videos of dance routines or Zumba to join in with, some are designed specifically to be child-friendly, or just put the music on loud and jump and dance around the room together like crazy. 

Outdoor things to do in lockdown 

Getting outdoors is more important than ever.  When you are cooped up in the same four walls day after day, little niggles soon become big irritations.  Getting some fresh air and exercise will make everybody feel better.  However, current guidance restricting travel for exercise, even a trip to the Gruffalo Trail at the local nature reserve is advised against.  Try some of these activities instead:

Treasure Hunt

A way to make a walk more fun and increase observation skills. Take a list of things to spot on your daily walk around the block.  This might include: somebody walking a dog, somebody with a push-chair, a red front door, a car from another country, somebody on a bike, snowdrops or crocuses.  Tick them off together as you find them.

Lawnside Play Park, Ledbury, Herefordshire -
image from

Local Park

The current rules state that playparks remain open primarily for those children who do not have their own garden. You can take your child to a playpark for exercise, but you should not socialise with other people while there. 

Bug Hunt

A bug hunt in the garden is a great way to get the children closer to nature in your own back garden and requires no equipment.  At this time of year, the bugs are hiding away, so it’s quite challenging.

Chalk Drawing

Get a pack of chalks and draw on the walls or paving slabs outside (it will all wash away in the rain).  Younger children will just enjoy making marks with a different medium, while older children can really  exercise their artistic talents – there are some lovely ideas here and here.

Build a nest

This activity really gets children thinking about how amazing birds are.  Make a bird nest using only natural materials.  Here are the instructions.

Feed the birds

This is the time of year when birds are most in need of a helping hand.  The insects are still hidden away for the winter, seeds are becoming scarce and mating and nesting is underway using up a lot of birdie energy.  Whether filling up bought bird feeders or making your own feeders from pipe-cleaners and Cheerios, from empty plastic bottlesor from toilet roll tubes.

outdoor frozen winter craft ideas for kids - ice suncatchersCreate frozen suncatchers

Frozen suncatchers will get your little ones thinking about the weather, and also about the natural materials around them. Find the instructions here.


With a free version of the Geocaching app, this is basically a free global treasure hunt!  Just create an account and you could soon be spicing up your walks by searching for and finding caches hidden on your route.


Knife crime is reaching horrific rates, with more than 35,000 knife offences recorded between March 2019 and March 2020.  Rather than trying to keep our young people away from knives, we need to 1) give them confidence to tackle conflict in peaceful ways and 2) teach them that knives are useful tools to be handled safely, rather than weapons.  Some great advice on types of knife, safety and inks to appropriate videos and books, can be found on the fabulous Get Out With the Kids.


As a Scout Leader, I love teaching children to light fires.  First, you teach the theory and the safety – how to do the activity safely, when to light fires and when not to, adult supervision, where to light fires, extinguishing fires safely etc.  For beginners, lighting a match and lighting a candle is challenge enough.  Then progress on to learning about different types of kindling and fuel, and how to construct and build a fire.  Just collecting wood is an activity in itself!  As they get more experienced, you can look at lighting fires without using a match, trying out flint and steel, rubbing two sticks and the like. 

Bike ride

A bike ride is a brilliant way to keep fit and explore the area where you live.  Work out a safe cycle route, with as few roads as possible (or very quiet ones) and get out exploring on two wheels.

Place Kindness Rocks

Rock Painting Complete Guide to Painted Rocks | Kindness Stones or Rocks | Inspire Kindness
image from

Painting rocks is a lovely creative activity.  You can either paint images, turn your rock into a whimsical creature, or decorate your rock with a kind and inspiring quote.  On your next walk, place these inspiring rocks for others to find on their walks, and spread a little love and happiness.


There are so many reasons to garden with children that I could write a whole blog post about it (and I might!).  From engaging senses, linking with nature, learning where food comes from, motor skills, vocabulary and more, spending time engaged in active work outdoors is really fulfilling and doing it together gives time to chat and spend time together.

Night hike

Going for a walk, even somewhere familiar, suddenly becomes more interesting and exciting if you go out in the dark.  The use of a torch is fun by itself, but try switching the torches off and see how your eyesight adjusts to the lower light levels and how your brain compensates by intensifying your other senses of smell and hearing.  You might even be lucky enough to spot more interesting wildlife such as bats, owls, foxes, hedgehogs or badgers that you wouldn’t see in daylight.

Create a “percussion wall”

Hang various old pans, wooden spoons and pipes and tubes from a wall, fence or tree in your garden to make a space where noise-making is encouraged and celebrated.

Star gazing

Before sunset gets too late for the little ones, take the opportunity to spend some time looking at the stars.  On a cloudless night, find the darkest place you can, away from street lights if possible – just a few miles out into the country makes all the difference, if restrictions allow.  Take a deckchair or blanket so you can lie down, and snuggle down into a sleeping bag or more blankets and check out the stars.  There are plenty of apps out there such as Star Chart or StarGazing that can tell you what you are looking at.  If you have a telescope or binoculars, you can examine the moon and stars more closely.  Keep warm with a hot chocolate.

Winter photography

How often do your children get involved with photography aside from daft selfies? Encourage them to broaden their photography horizons with a winter picture challenge.  Any camera will do.  Whether its getting up close to a dew-spangled spider-web, or taking photos of a hare in a snowy field, winter holds some fascinating scenes for those who take the trouble to frame a shot.

Tic Tac Toe - Stone Bees & Ladybugs - Red Ted Art - Make crafting with kids easy & funOutdoor noughts and crosses

So quick and easy to create, this can provide a quick activity for children to do together or with you at any time.  Paint pebbles in two different ways (I love this bumble bee and ladybird idea from Red Ted Art).  A 3 x 3 grid painted on a paving slab or log slice creates the playing zone.

Winter BBQ or cooking on an open fire

Following on from the firelighting activity earlier comes the liberating activity of cooking on fire.  Reaching back through the mists of time to prepare food just the way your ancestors did (or just toasting marshmallows on sticks!), is a fun and creative activity and creates a whole new taste adventure.  Look up “Backwoods cooking recipes” or “cooking on open fire” for some great suggestions.

Stick sword fight

So often in our risk-averse world we tell children to “put that stick down” or “watch out” and “be careful!”.  Wouldn’t it be great to take the brakes off and allow them to stick fight – or better yet, join in with them too!  

Local area exploration

Are your children often ferried in the car from activity to activity? This is particularly true for families in rural areas and you may have found that your “daily exercise” in lockdown has been the first time you’ve roamed your neighbourhood footpaths and byways.  It’s always fun to take time to “see where this goes” or follow a coin-toss adventure (at every junction toss a coin – heads = right, tails = left) to see where you end up.

I hope that you’ve found some great ideas for things to do in lockdown with your children at this time of year, despite the weather and the covid restrictions.  I’ll be writing in more detail about some of these activities in future posts, so do keep coming back for more.  I’d also love you to comment your own ideas of activities you’ve been doing with the children this Spring.

computer play

Recently I wrote about different types of play.  When I got to Computer Play I realised that I had opened a complete can of worms!

This is a very controversial area.

As far as I can see, its all about balance.  There are some potential problems to watch out for:

  • computer games can be very addictive.  It’s difficult to get off that screen once you’re on it.
  • Some computer games revel in violence.
  • despite the chat functions, gaming is often a solo pursuit.
  • While you may think your child is safe in their room, computer game chat rooms are the perfect haunt for unsavoury characters looking for vulnerable children.
  • Lots of other children are playing, yours may feel they are missing out.

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Everything in moderation.  We want our children to be able to make healthy choices in their lives, so it’s important that they get a good balance of outdoor, physical, creative and exploratory and social play as well as screen time.  There is no recommended limit on screen time in the UK, but the American Society of Paediatrics recommends no screen time at all up to 18 months, and then a maximum of 1 hour per day up to the age of 5.  Tell them the time limit before they start playing, and then give them 5 minutes warning before the time is up.
  2. Use the age ratings on games to ensure that the game is suitable for your child.  It’s tricky if their friend is playing a game that you don’t approve of, but talking to your child about why you don’t think it’s okay will help them understand.
  3. Play with your children when you can.  The computer game is a perfect babysitter, your child is sitting still and you can get on with something else.  However, they may get more out of it (and also take your time limits and guidance with more credence) if you occasionally play with them.  They get to teach you how to do things, they can show you and tell you what they enjoy about the game and you build a relationship.
  4. Talk to them about e-safety, the importance of not giving away any personal information in a chat-room, coming and telling you if they are worried about anything etc.  There are some great resources on ThinkuKnow to support this learning. 
  5. You should always know when your child is online or playing a computer game, and you should always be able to look over their shoulder and see what they are playing and what they are doing.  Hiding their computer game playing is a warning flag and you should talk to them.  It either means that they are playing when you haven’t agreed it (going over the agreed time limits), they are playing something that you wouldn’t approve of, or they are chatting in a way you wouldn’t be happy with.
Types of play

If you look up different types of play, you will almost certainly find the six stages of play development in pre-schoolers suggested by the research of Mildred Parten in 1932.  Parten suggested that children move through stages of: unoccupied play,  solitary independent play and onlooker play, to parallel play, associative play and then cooperative play.  You can find out more about this here on Purewow.

For older children though, it’s worth bearing in mind that being playful comes in lots of different guises.  Some children may develop a preference for one type of play over another, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for a well-rounded child, it’s a good idea to encourage participation in a good balance of different types of play.

Below, I’ve summarised some of the different forms of play you will come across.

Physical Play

Playing on the swings, running races, monkey bars, tag, gymnastics in the sitting room, wrestling, spinning, skipping, football and badminton.  Your child may engage in physical play independently or with others.  When they engage in this play they aren’t doing it to “get fit” or “be active”, they are doing it because they enjoy it.  Sometimes they may initiate an element of competition, but that isn’t the most important thing in the play.


Creative play

Any play where the child is able to use their imagination to make something or to create a world in their head can be termed creative play.  This includes the worlds they can create with building blocks, Lego, dolls houses and playmobil as well as drawing, painting, playdough, crafts and story-writing.  Sometimes they may be following instructions or building a kit, at other times they may be creating more freely from their own imagination.

Role play

Role play is a really important way for your child to make sense of the world around them.  From “feeding baby” with a doll, to a complex game of “cops and robbers” or “mums and dads” as they start school.  Role play can be inspired by a story, or by providing a few props.  A basket of generic dressing-up items – you don’t have to buy ready-made costumes, which are limited to one character – a beard, a few hats, a toy stethoscope and a hand-bag from the charity shop, can be put to a very wider range of uses.  In their free time on the playground children still happily engage in role-play games right through Primary school, and after that, this is often developed through drama, plays or role-play games like Dungeons and Dragons.

Exploratory play

Exploratory play is where a child chooses to use their senses to explore the world around them.  This may be just sitting and scrunching leaves, or it may be peering through a telescope at the moon.  Making mud-pies, grabbing your own toes, squelching slime, pouring water from one container to another, playing with the door stop, cooking, and building sand-castles.  All involve exploring different materials.

word play

As they develop more facility with language, children add word play to their repertoire.  To begin with they will enjoy playing with rhyming or alliterative sounds, coming up with rhyming words, learning nursery rhymes and short poems etc.  Later they may enjoy finding out new words, creating acrostic poetry or acronyms, doing word-searches and finding and sharing puns or jokes which play on words.

social play

Technically this isn’t a type of play.  It’s just one of the ways play happens.  This is a natural progression.  By the time they reach Primary School, most children are happy to play cooperatively with other children as well as playing on their own.  The social skills involved in negotiating a shared game, establishing rules, sharing props, solving conflicts and communicating, or of being gracious both in defeat and victory are all part of the learning curve on the way to adulthood and this type of play is vital in developing them.


computer play

There’s a lot of controversy about computer games and screen time for children. 

There are a wide variety of computer games for children.  Some encourage coding, building and creating online (LegoWorld, Minecraft and Roblox), others involve a fantasy world where you collect things and solve problems, and others just involve a bit of in-computer role play – the hair salon or the vets.

We live in an age of technology and games have been designed that are fun, beautiful and inspiring (as well as some rubbish, just like anything else!).  

We should approach computer play like any other type of play, and ensure that our children are playing on the right game, with the right people, and getting a healthy balance.  I’ll be writing more about this at a later date.

Number play

Sadly, many adults have negative ideas about numbers and maths.  Be open to the idea of playing with numbers.  Children love to be able to count – counting steps, counting food, counting money; measure – for cooking etc. and to find and repeat patterns.  All these are great for developing maths skills but are also intrinsically fun – watch the delight a child can have playing with and sorting a big tub of buttons!  This kind of play includes board games – matching numbers to symbols on the dice and moving the corresponding number of spaces; dominoes; darts; counting games; there are some great times tables games on the computer; card games etc.

Musical Play

There’s always that irritating uncle whose idea of a joke is to get your child the noisiest toy in the shop.  The joke’s on them because while you hope that your child won’t strike up the band at six in the morning, playing that recorder or that tambourine is helping them develop their rhythm.  Opt for child versions of percussion toys or small “real” instruments rather than electronic noise toys.  Make a band together and play along gleefully (if tunelessly) to your favourite songs on the radio while parading around the kitchen.

Bringing it all together

You can probably visualise your child engaging in some of these different types of play and you will probably have a good idea of their preferences.  The thing to remember is that each of these different types of play is important for child development.  Make space for a good balance of lots of different types of play in your child’s life or in your child-care setting.  Encourage children to try different types of play (the best way to do this is always to start playing yourself – they will soon want to come and join you!).

A good mix of types of play will lead to a good mix of fun!


Play is important

You may have heard me mention that play is important.  It’s important for child development, but it has many benefits for adults too.

Despite knowing the benefits, statistics show that the amount of time set aside for play has been declining for decades.  All adults out at work mean family time is tighter and more scheduled and structured.  Parents are more fearful about allowing their children to play outside or unsupervised and the power of the screen is pulling children and adults away from creative, imaginative or physical play.

Improve brain function

The mental activity involved in playing games such as chess, bridge or cards, doing puzzles and jigsaws keep the brain active and help to ward off memory problems.

Learn more

We learn best when we are having fun.  If you are in a relaxed and playful mood your brain is more receptive to new ideas and building connections.

Relieve stress

Play can trigger the release of natural body chemicals called endorphins.  These make you feel good.  Playing with family and friends provides a social network that can ward off stress and depression.

Boost creativity

Play relies on imagination.  Imagination is what helps us to “think outside the box” to be creative and to solve problems.

Improve relationships

Having fun together develops empathy, compassion and trust.  Being playful can help you as you approach new situations, meet strangers and foster new business relationships.

Develop Social Skills

Children learn social skills as part of the give and take of play.  From learning that snatching a toy from another child makes them sad to feeling how cooperative play is more fun than solo.  They learn verbal and non-verbal communication, boundaries, cooperation and teamwork.  

Decision making

When we choose how to play we practice decision making skills and discover our own areas of interest.

Active and healthy

While there are many benefits to playing computer games, they are highly addictive.  Active play, on the other hand, helps to build healthy bodies, increasing physical activity.

I really like the infographic on, which shows some of the facts and stats about why play is important, and tells you the study or work that provided the information.

National Play Day

National Play Day 2020

Every year on the 1st August in National Play Day.  A day when organisations, children and families get out to play at hundreds of community events across the UK.  It’s a celebration of play and a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of play in children’s lives.

This year Play Day is different.  Normally the campaign co-ordinates hundreds of events, getting children together to play in communities everywhere.  Due to current government guidance about social gatherings and distancing because of the Covid crisis, they are asking people not to organise public Playday 2020 events.  Instead, the emphasis is on encouraging families to play at home.

Where did Playday come from?

Playday started in 1986.  A group of playworkers were concerned about cuts and closures of play centres in London. They decided to have a day for play to raise the profile of these issues.  By 1981 this was a national event and last year there were more than 850 events across the UK celebrating playday and highlighting the importance of play.  It’s now coordinated by Play England, in partnership with Play Wales, Play Scotland and PlayBoard Northern Ireland.

What can you do for playday?

Events can be as small as a group of friends, a school or a playgroup getting the children together for a day of play, imagination and creativity in a hall, woods or park, or as large as a massive organised festival or street party.

This year for Playday, there are two things you can do:

Play @ Home

Here are some ideas to get them off those screens to celebrate play day today:

  • dressing up and role-play – stimulates empathy, development of emotional literacy and language skills.  Whether you set up a vet surgery for the soft toys, a mud kitchen restaurant, a “cops and robbers” scenario or play schools.
  • card or board games
  • running around games – remember hide and seek, sardines, tag?
  • building – whether you are building a townscape with wooden blocks, turning cardboard boxes into a train, car, doll-house or city, using Lego or modelling, you will be developing imagination, creativity and story-making skills.
  • simple games – marbles, jacks, tic-tac-toe, battleships, hopscotch, bottle bowling.
  • outdoor games – football, french cricket, “Robin Hood”.

There are some amazing ideas on: 

The Genius of Play


Use social media as a power for good.  Raise awareness of the importance of play.  It’s fundamental for children’s health, development and happiness.  Post ideas of ways you can play.  Share images of you and your children enjoying play.  Use #playday2020.

I’d love to hear what you do to celebrate Playday today.  Please do comment below and share your play.


As a society we have just been through (and are still dealing with) a global crisis the like of which hasn’t been seen for a century.  Across the world schools and businesses have been closed and movement and socialising have been restricted in an attempt to slow the spread of the covid-19 virus.  This virus can cause no symptoms in many, but can be deadly to others.  We know that play is crucial to social development and learning, so what is the impact of covid on children’s social development?  What effect has this crisis had on playfulness, and where do we go from here?

Where play suffered

When you think about what play is, you realise that this crisis will inevitably have had an impact on it.  Play is spontaneous, internally motivated and creative.  Play is undertaken for the joy of the activity. 

For several months our children have been stuck at home, unable to socialise with their peers, unable to visit play-parks.  For some, this has meant being confined in a dwelling or flat, while others have had access to gardens and the countryside.  Parents have been anxious about the risk of infection for themselves and loved ones, but also about the security of their jobs as businesses have been closed for protracted periods, and dealing with the stress of supporting their child with learning at home while the schools have been closed.  

With little option, and in many cases having to use this for school work too, many children have turned to their screens for solace.

There are children out there who may fall into one or more of the following groups:

  • key worker or vulnerable children who have been at school throughout the crisis, sitting at individual desks and separated at play-times.
  • children who have been at home with parents who have been supporting multiple children while also attempting to work from home.
  • children who have been at home with parents who are extremely anxious about either the virus or financial instability
  • children who have been parked in front of a screen throughout the crisis
  • children who have suffered loss and grief because of the covid crisis.
  • children for whom home is not a safe place – perhaps due to poverty, homelessness, addiction or abuse.

These children will have experienced some form of play deprivation during lock-down.

Where play has triumphed

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and boredom can often be a catalyst for creativity.  Where parents have been furloughed (at home but not working) and where there are siblings, there has been time to build relationships and play in a way that may never have been possible before in our over-timetabled society.

Many people and companies have shared their resources for free to give parents ideas and activities to do indoors with their little ones.  It’s possible that some families have realised that play doesn’t have to be a bought-in, organised commodity relying on foam filled climbing frames and ball pits.  They have enjoyed spending time with one another and have discovered their playfulness.

Children in these groups:

  • children with siblings to play with
  • children with at least one parent at home who is not having to work (either stay-at-home parent or furloughed) who has the inclination to spend time playing with the child

will have done much better both with their academic work learning from home, but also with the ability to be creative, to socialise, to come up with new activities and ideas.

Where do we go from here?

There’s a pretty huge gulf opened up during this crisis both financially, academically and socially.  We can’t even begin to count the psychological and social cost this pandemic has had on our children until things begin to return to normal in September and perhaps we won’t truly know for many years.  It’s true that children are resilient.  However, it is widely known that childhood is key for building social skills, for developing creativity and for developing neural pathways.  History has shown that children who are deprived of play have psychological and social problems as adults (an extreme example, but many children who spent time in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s have still got psychological and social problems as adults, even after 30 years living in loving adoptive families).  Our children have been deprived of play and of wider social interaction for several months, at a crucial time in their development.

Our priority needs to be to get children playing again.  Of course, we want to ensure that they are safe, and we want to avoid transmission of this dreadful virus, but to reduce the impact of covid on children’s social development has to be a priority.

“Our priority needs to be to get children playing again.”

If you can’t get out of the house, set up a video call with a group of friends, preferably with a couple of games or craft activities pre-arranged so they can play and interact in a positive way.  Another alternative would be to initiate a creative task, for example creating an imaginary world.  They can work on it separately but share their creations.  For example, one person could draw a map, another could create characters and then they could email one another with stories based in this world.  Even better if it leads to model making and a game that could continue once they are able to meet up again.  

If you can get out of the house, do so.  Go and play in the woods.  Set up a picnic and let the children play.  A few children with some trees and sticks won’t need much prompting for play, but if in doubt read the stories of Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh or Red Riding Hood before you go.  A little nudge for the imagination should provide enough ideas for hours of play!

If you have a garden, invite a few of your child’s friends over.  Remind them of the importance of social distancing and hand-washing, and then let them play.  If they are a little unsure what to play (and seem to be hanging around looking for inspiration) then create a fort / tent using old sheets and an airer, create a potion station using some jam jars and a pestle and mortar, get out a box of cars or lego and then just watch them play.

writing for pleasure

“She’s loving all the work you’ve been setting recently.  Except the writing.”  This was something I heard several times when speaking to parents during the lock-down.  It worried me.  I’d worked hard to plan work that was engaging and creative.  But these children had learnt to dislike writing before they got to age 6, and it wasn’t going to be easy to convince them otherwise.

Writing falls into two broad camps.  Writing to communicate, and writing for pleasure.  

Writing as a form of communication

is things like:

  • Reports for the boss
  • Information texts
  • Instructional texts like recipes
  • Letters, emails, texts and tweets
  • Newspaper and magazine articles and blog posts.

It’s important when you are writing for communication that you follow the rules of grammar and spelling and the expected form of the genre.  This ensures that the person / people reading your writing gets the meaning from it that you intended.

Writing for pleasure

is just for you.  It’s writing because you want to, as a form of expression.  This might be:

  • Journalling,
  • Poetry
  • stories

When we are writing for pleasure, it isn’t so important whether anybody else can read it because it isn’t for anybody else.  Just for you.

Clearly, there’s an overlap.  We can take great pleasure in writing for communication and I certainly enjoy writing my blog and writing a good letter.  In addition, stories and poetry intended for publication must be clear and adhere to those same rules as writing for communication.


The sad thing is that children in school are missing out on writing for pleasure.  Before they even reach age 5 they are supposed to have moved on from the delightful emergent writing “mark-making” stage to writing “simple sentences that can be read by themselves and others” (EYFS Framework, England).  From this point on they are taught phonics and an ever increasing repertoire of grammatical terminology.  By the end of Key Stage 1 (age 6-7) children’s writing is being assessed on their ability to spell, to form neat handwriting, to write narrative, to use punctuation and tense and subordinate clauses.


The focus on the technical aspects of spelling, handwriting and punctuation is great from a writing for communication perspective (though when, as an adult, you would ever need to know whether you have used the present progressive or present perfect tense is beyond me) but for many children it has led to writing being a chore.  I’ve seen teachers recommending almost a formulaic approach – “Open your first sentence with a simile.  Make sure your next sentence has a subordinate clause.”  Even I have ended up saying, “Check, have you included a question mark yet?  If not, try to get a question in the next couple of sentences,” as I’ve tried to tick the Assessment tick-boxes that say that the child needs to use a range of sentence types.  Children are taught the structure and form of different genres, without the real sense of purpose that goes with them.  Teachers do their best to make their lessons fun and purposeful.  I’ve seen a Reception classroom with a “crashed spaceship” in the corner where the children are busy writing letters to the missing alien.  The headteacher claimed that the local council were planning to extend the leisure centre next door and we would lose half the playground so the whole school could write persuasive letters to argue why this shouldn’t happen.  However, with such a focus on getting the technical aspects right, it is very hard to help children discover the pleasure of writing spontaneously and creatively.

Because that’s the difference.  Writing for pleasure needs to be an intrinsic form of self expression – it can’t be an externally dictated exercise.

A simple answer

I covered an absence in one school where each child had a “journal”.  The end of the afternoon on Friday was journal time.  They had been bought beautiful notebooks.  During that time on the Friday afternoon they were asked to fill a page or two of their journals.  These were private and were not collected in, though if they wanted some feedback they could leave it on the teacher’s desk.  They could write or draw or both.  They could use fancy pens and colours.  They were not told what to write, though there was a list of prompts to help them if they were stuck for an idea.  These children all loved their “journal time”.  I saw beautifully illustrated poetry, short stories, diary entries and comic strips, a recipe for a good friend.  What I loved was that these children were putting into practice the technical and structural features they had been learning in their Literacy lessons, but they were doing it in a way that was completely theirs.  They were learning that writing can be pleasurable and creative.  

To read more:

Writing for Pleasure course for 8-11 year olds

I offer a 5 day “Writing for Pleasure” course for 8-11 year olds to rediscover the pleasure of writing as a creative art.  I guide the children through different genres, exploring and playing with form.  The course is made of 5 x 30 minute exploratory sharing sessions:

  1. Short stories
  2. Poetry
  3. Journaling
  4. The writing community – sharing your writing
  5. Improving our writing

There are no “homework tasks” from these sessions and children are encouraged but not compelled to share their writing.  The atmosphere is fun and supportive.  Click here to find the dates and sign up for the next course.

the playful family

Why build a playful family?

Do you ever find yourself wondering where the fun has gone from family life?  You and your partner used to have fun, right?  That’s why you chose to spend life together.  Somehow, the joy is harder to find as you work hard to keep a roof over your heads, ferry children from one activity to the next, arrive at home and all collapse in front of your various screens.  Is this what it’s really all about?

In recent months many of us have spent more time with our partners and children than perhaps we have ever spent before.  It’s been hard!  Attempting to work from home, manage the children’s learning and somehow keep everybody on an emotional even keel can put strain on even the best family relationships.

It was when I realised that I was worrying about my to do list and not enjoying spending time with my children, and that they were crying out for some positive attention as they tried to navigate their way through the covid lockdown, that I knew we needed to put some playfulness back in our family life.

“Play is any activity that allows you for a moment to celebrate your existence wholeheartedly and unashamedly.”  Rebecca Abrams

Playfulness doesn’t have to involve getting down and playing Barbies with your four-year-old daughter… though of course it can. 

Instead, Playfulness is about building a better family relationships by having fun together.  In a stressful world, where we’ve got used to being “grown up”, sometimes that can be hard to find.  Here are some ways to find a more playful family relationship:

Family game time

The first thing I introduced was game time.  We spend so long telling the children that we are “too busy” to play.  I wanted to ensure that they knew that playtime was now a priority, so after dinner every day for a week, we played a game.  Sometimes it was darts, sometimes cards, once Scrabble.  It was a time for us all to do something together.  After that, if any member of the family suggests a game of any sort, I’m in.

Share humour

In the back of the car yesterday my son made a comment about the funny name of a village we passed.  I put down my magazine and joined and extended the joke.  We spent the next ten minutes giggling as we played with village names and had fun together.

Race and rough and tumble together

I used to play a great game with my children (I think I read about it in the wonderful Tom Hodgkinson’s “The Idle Parent”).  It’s called “Tickle or Trap”.  You, the parent, need only sit on the sofa.  The children run up to you and you ask “Tickle or trap?”  If they say “Tickle” then you have to grab them and tickle them, if they say “trap” then you have to grab hold of them and give them a big hug.  The idea is that they have to run away when they say the word so you have to catch them to trap or tickle, but in reality they are loving the rough and tumble so much that they don’t move fast and before long you are both dissolved in giggles.  Now my children are a bit bigger but they still absolutely love it when I join them for a game of hide and seek, sardines, tickle-fighting or other such nonsense, and I’ll quite often liven up a walk with a “race you to that tree!”

Enjoy a crisis

As a child I have fond memories of car break-downs.  In my memory we spent a lot of time jump-starting the car, but certainly every family holiday involved a ride in a recovery truck at some point.  To us, this was a huge adventure!  Sometimes, when things go wrong, the best way to deal with it is with a healthy dose of humour and a spirit of adventure.  Compare these two walks:

  1. Walking in the Malverns, my daughter lost her camera.  I was furious.  We retraced our steps to try and find it, I lost the dog lead, then we lost the dog.  We found the dog, returned eventually to the car-park where a lady handed us the missing camera (she’d recognised us from the photos).  
  2. The route on the map took us across a golf course.  I think I exited the golf course at the wrong place because we ended up wading through a field of head-high ferns and nettles, lifting the dog and the children over a barbed-wire fence or two.  

In both walks, all ended well.  However, the second walk is remembered fondly by all as a great adventure, while the first was an absolute disaster.  The difference was entirely in how I reacted to the crises on the day.

Be a bit spontaneous

Routines are great for helping to ground children and make them feel secure.  However, one of the best things about a routine is the joy of breaking that routine every now and then.  Get the children up before dawn and climb a hill to watch the sunrise.  The adventure is in the unusual.

The adventure is in the unusual.

Gamify the boring stuff

Children find transitioning from one activity to another hard.  When they are engrossed in what they are doing they find it hard to extricate themselves and move on to the next task.  In addition, tidying up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and putting shoes on are all necessary but irritating intrusions on the fun part of the day.  You’ve got two options… you can either nag and scold the child and end up frustrated, cross and late… or you can join your child in the play that they are engrossed in, engage with them briefly there, and then move them on:  “Shall we park the cars over here so they can wait for you when you come back?  Great!  You parked yours quickly.  Now… I bet you get your shoes on the right feet.  I’ll do up this shoe, you do the other one.  If you brush your teeth for two minutes I’ll let you tickle me for 10 seconds!”  

For yourself, think about how you can make your boring tasks more fun.  I hate ironing, but I love to put on my cheesiest, most karaoke friendly music and sing loudly while I do it.  Suddenly the job seems more fun. 

Make mealtimes fun

By the time they are 18 children will have experienced over 6000 meal times.  Nothing makes me sadder than the sight of families out for a meal together with the children fixed to a screen while they wait.  This is a time when the family are altogether and it doesn’t take much to infuse it with a bit of fun to help build family relationships.  You could read from a joke book, play a word game or ask silly (deeply philosophical) questions: if you were an animal, what would you be?  What colour was today?

Humour me

Sometimes children can be emotional or angry.  That’s absolutely fine.  No emotion is unacceptable.  However, we need to help our children to manage their response to their emotions and to move through them.  A great way to do this is with a sense of humour.  While acknowledging their feelings, try to get them to see the funny side of the situation.  As I say to my children, “you have no control over what has happened, but you do have control over how you react to it.”  The question, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” is a good one.  It not only helps put things in perspective, but its also an avenue to come up with all sorts of preposterous possibilities which can inject a dose of humour.

Playfulness helps build family relationships

Playfulness means having fun, letting go, being yourself and being creative.  Playfulness means sharing joy and making one another happy.  This is what family life should be all about.  We are there for one another in tough times, and we help one another find the pleasure in everyday life.  Society today is increasingly fragmented.  Mental health issues, obesity and suicide are all on the rise.  Stronger family relationships, built by having fun together, are key to building resilience and mental strength.  They give us the confidence to go out there and make the world a better place.  

A family that plays together, stays together.