#MySundaySnapshot is an internet link-up from Rachel Swirl. On a Sunday, you post a snapshot that says something about your week – with as few words as possible.
I’m going to say a few words with this one. Goodbye to an amazing lady – playful, intelligent, strong, funny, caring and soooo generous with your time and your talents.
Welcome to 2023! We’ve made it through another year of chaos and madness and are ready to hit the “refresh” button.
This means I am making some changes to the blog. For the last 13 years I’ve had my personal blog on a blogger site inkspotsandgrassstains. For a couple of reasons, I’ve decided to close down my blogger blog, and to make this blog here at The Playful Way more personal. One is that the Blogger platform, which I joined so long ago, has not really kept pace with the technology. The other is that I’m a busy person, and I can’t keep two blogs on the go, so I’ve been doing neither!
I’ll come clean right now. I’m unlikely to have a blogging schedule. I’m unlikely to follow all the rules of SEO and I don’t have any plans at this stage to start stuffing my blog posts with affiliate links or other “monetization” strategies, though I may point you in the direction of my own money-making endeavours every now and then when I create them.
At some point in the coming days I’ll try to turn all my previous inkspotsandgrassstains content into PDF form and host it all on here (because some of it was pretty good!).
So, welcome, come along for the ride, and join me in 2023 as I continue my journey to a more playful, happy and fulfilled life, and try to help everybody else come on the same journey.
So what do we have planned for 2023?
I’m trying not to give myself a whole lot of resolutions or plans for 2023 which I then don’t do and feel bad about it. So I’m focusing on a few projects at a time. Here are my first four.
Project number 1! I’m turning our bare patch of garden (it was just a lawn and a large greenhouse before) into a productive and beautiful space. I’m aiming to break the back of the landscaping in January so I can plant fruit trees and build a willow sculpture before the Spring comes along. Then I can spend the Spring getting more plants in and sowing seeds, and the Summer adding all those beautiful and playful little touches, and actually enjoying the garden.
Project INDEPENDENT INCOME
Much as I love teaching, I don’t plan on being a classroom teacher this time next year. I’m currently working as a Supply teacher, which gives a lot of flexibility, but I’m building a bank of teaching resources for sale, writing my first e-book and marketing my parties and school workshops as well as continuing with art and crafts. The plan is that I can build multiple small income streams. I have also applied for a job for a charity, working with and supporting children – I have an interview for that on Thursday!
Project MAKE FRIENDS
Having relocated in Summer 2022, as a family we are settling into our new lives in beautiful Cornwall. However, I’m a friendly, sociable kind of person, and without the “school gate mates” that you get taking the children to a primary school and pitching in with the PTFA; without the work friends that you get if you are in a regular job; I haven’t yet “found my tribe”. I firmly believe that humans are made to be sociable, and that our current screen-oriented, nuclear-family society doesn’t encourage the building of meaningful, supportive, friend relationships. My intention this year is to make connections with people. I’ve already identified groups and places to target: St Austell Bluetits (outdoor swimmers – the Facebook Group reveals a lot of fun and playfulness); St Austell Canoe Club – we’re already members and there are some great people here; local art and crafters; St Austell Friends (this is a Facebook Group with a lot of members, based on their lovely posts, there are a few people I’d love to reach out to); my neighbours.
My intention is to start going along to groups and meet-ups, and reaching out to people to suggest getting together for a coffee etc.
Project ACTIVE ADVENTURE
We have also stopped our volunteering with The Scouts, which, while incredibly rewarding in many ways, had become more of a burden than a joy. Without this time sink, we have found more time for adventures. However, I’ve also found my fitness somewhat lacking. This year I plan to log our adventures of all types, to intentionally adventure – on the coast path, on the moors, on our holidays, up hills, kayaking, cycling, walking, swimming, snorkelling, fire and den building. A year of adventures!
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 ScienceFun.org. 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 www.mum-friendly.co.uk.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Create 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Outdoor 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.
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.
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.
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.
Play relies on imagination. Imagination is what helps us to “think outside the box” to be creative and to solve problems.
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.
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 thegeniusofplay.org, which shows some of the facts and stats about why play is important, and tells you the study or work that provided the information.
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.
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:
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).
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?
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.