Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Childhood Creativity and Stories

I don’t believe there is a child who doesn't enjoy a story, whether it is one read from a book, watched on a screen or made up by the teller. From a very young age children understand much more than they have the language to articulate themselves. They understand quite complicated sentences long before they can string words together in a similar sentence or hold conversations.

The more they hear you speak to them, the more language they understand and the quicker they learn to speak to you.

By starting to read to your baby or young child you are introducing them to lots of different stimuli. Not only new words, new ideas, new pictures but to questions and answers. Then of course, there is the delight of the story. Most children, when asked, say that their favourite stories were the ones their parent or grandparent told them. They especially liked the made up stories that just developed in the telling.

Psychologists say that we all have creativity within us. It is not a gift for the few. How we express it is largely down to our personality. We don’t have to be gifted to be creative.

Not all of us have the gifts of music, art, craft or science. But all these and more need creativity. Imagination and creativity are closely entwined. Stimulating your child’s imagination is a wonderful way to encourage creativity and creative thought. It is also fun. Children respond so quickly to imaginative play and learn so fast.

Reading and telling stories with your children can be a precious time together. Telling stories can be done at any time, on a journey, waiting in a queue, walking, to relieve anxiety and to pass the time.

Here are some ideas to start you telling your own stories, and your children telling their own stories.

Find an object, a stone, a scarf, a ring, a leaf, and tell a story about it. Perhaps it is part of an adventure story, or a detective story, or a fairy story. Let your child tell their version of a story about the same object. It can be as silly or as fanciful as you like. There are no rules, unless you want to ban unacceptable language.

Start a story and pass it on to the next person. If you can’t think of an idea just start to speak – you will be amazed by what happens. The words “Once upon a time there was….” can be a great help.

Ask a question “What do you think the boy in the picture book is going to do/Why does the giraffe have brown patches/How can you get to the moon without a rocket/What would it feel like if it rained jelly? Then tell a story to answer the question. They can be very short stories, funny, serious or mundane. It’s the telling and listening that’s important.

Recount your day and tell it as a story. If you want to you can all be fairy tale characters. So if you all went shopping to the supermarket you could be a beautiful princess and a handsome prince who flew to their secret treasure house, full of wonderful things from around the world.

 It is fun to think that when you tell stories, or read books with your children, they will in turn do the same for theirs, and they for theirs. Generations of happy times and creative thinkers.

Small children will tell their siblings and other children stories to amuse them, sooth them if they are crying or just because it is a good way to pass the time and prevent boredom.

But boredom is good - and that's another story.

Monday, 1 June 2015

4 Ways to Enrich Your Child’s Imagination.

It is widely claimed that imagination is very important. A precious gift to be nurtured, not only for the developing child, but also for the adult.  Whilst all forms of play are important to the child, free imaginative play, where the child is allowed to play and follow their own imaginative games and is not directed by an adult, is the most important of all. Studies have shown that when children have indulged in lots of imaginative play they do better at school, become better at solving problems and in empathising with others. This continues into adult life.
Modern life is diminishing the opportunities for children to indulge in imaginative play and the rise and rise of the tablet and mobile phone, now so freely used as an electronic pacifier or electronic baby sitter is contributing to this problem.
Here are four simple ideas for stimulating and encouraging imagination in children that you may also enjoy. Join in and have fun together.

1.  Story Cards.
Cut pieces of white or coloured card into squares or rectangles and let the children draw a symbol or a picture on each one.  For example a crown, or a queen, a rainbow, a star, house, fairy, ship or even a whole scene. Drawing on both sides of the card gives you even more scope for play.
Shuffle the cards and deal three cards each. Then each person tells a story around those three cards, or if they prefer they can swap one of their cards for another from the pack. It may help to start with your own story or to help a child to start by saying “Once upon a time there was …..” and pointing to a card. Every story, no matter how short, long or silly is precious.

2. Ekphrasis
Ekphrasis is the description of a work of art, or art object, in words. Often this is in the form of an imagined story describing the picture. When you look at pictures, or objects of art with your children ask “Who do you think that person is in the picture/ why are they there/ what is going to happen/ why?” encouraging them to tell their own story about the picture, or the bowl, jug, jewellery. Question gently and give the child time to develop their ideas.
You don’t have to visit galleries to do this. Looking at pictures in books and magazines also works well.

3. Dressing Up
This is an old favourite and of excellent value, especially when there are several children. Collecting and making things to be kept in the dressing up box is fun in itself. Making masks out of paper plates and decorating them, making jewellery and crowns and armour out of tin foil, making brightly painted macaroni strung on string to make necklaces, and so on.

Of course, your own clothes are always a great favourite so don't throw them away. Let the children have fun with them.

4. Reading
Reading with your children is precious time together and should never be curtailed. Let the children chose the books they want to read – even if you have read it so many times you know it by heart. You can always say that you want to read your favourite book and so introduce a change.
Don’t stop reading with your child when they can read for themselves. Let them chose the books they want, you may be surprised by their choice. You are still sharing precious time with them and starting a love of reading. Nothing enriches the mind as much through life as the quest for knowledge.

The founder of Fairy Tale Children's Furniture, Zandra Johnson is a passionate advocate of imaginative play for children. Studies reveal free time spent playing make-believe helps children develop critical cognitive skills. Fairytale Furniture helps build those skills through imaginative play and encourages an early love of reading.
 Download your free guide to Imaginative Play at FAIRYTALECHILDRENSFURNITURE.CO.UK 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

5 Games To Play With a Balloon

Children are full of energy and have a ready sense of fun. It is easy to burn off that energy if you are outdoors but more difficult if you are confined indoors because of the weather. Coping with rain, snow and frost is possible by wearing appropriate clothing and children generally continue to enjoy themselves playing outdoors. Sometimes it is better to play indoors and here are five easy ways of using the humble balloon to develop those muscles and co-ordination and have some fun at the same time.
All the games can be played with several children at once, even those of different ages.

                                                               1. Jump and Head 

Blow up a balloon or two and hang them from a long string or piece of wool from the ceiling so that the balloon is hanging out of reach. The child jumps and bats the balloon with his hand, and later with his head as if he were heading a football. See how many times he can do it in a minute. This is excellent for teaching little ones to crouch and spring and to develop hand eye co-ordination whilst leaping.

           2. Keepy- Uppy 
Blow up a balloon and see who can keep the balloon up in the air the longest by batting it up with the hand. If it touches the ground counting begins again.

                                                          3. Pat and Run
                     Again have a balloon on a long string so that it would easily touch the ground when the child holds it. The child has to hold the end of the string and race and pat the balloon and keep it off the ground whilst he runs. You could run relay races.

                   4  Balloon Tennis
                  Make a bat out of a paper plate with paper handle taped on. Or just use a paper plate as a bat and play a game where you bat the balloon backwards and forwards between each other. You can use a net, as in tennis, or stand either side of a table.

                                                  5. Blow Balloon
Put a balloon on the floor and the child must blow it across the floor either to a partner as in a relay race or against the clock. Another version is to mark out an obstacle track and blow the balloon round the obstacles. Or perhaps mark out a track with brightly coloured masking tape and the child has to keep the balloon on the tape.  Beware of hyperventilating, but the child will discover that it is often better to blow long and slow, or even to use a straw to blow through.

I'm sure you can think of many more games to play with a simple balloon, but these five should get you started. Do share your ideas, it would be lovely to hear them.

The founder of Fairy Tale Children's Furniture, Zandra Johnson is a passionate advocate of imaginative play for children. Studies reveal free time spent playing make-believe helps children develop critical cognitive skills. Fairytale Furniture helps build those skills through imaginative play and encourages an early love of reading.
 Download your free guide to Imaginative Play at FAIRYTALECHILDRENSFURNITURE.CO.UK 

Monday, 2 February 2015

5 Precious Things to Do For Your Children

1. Read Together

Sitting with a baby, toddler or older child and reading together is one of the lovely memories of childhood and parenthood. It is really is quality time together, even if you are reading with more than one child at the same time. Creating a love of books and a love of reading is the start of an essential skill that will be needed through every sphere of their life; business, daily life and pleasure. Reading together can be done on train and air journeys, whilst waiting to see a medical practitioner, in the evening before bedtime to calm them down after an exciting day and, of course, the much loved bedtime story. Even if you are tired, stressed or up against a deadline that precious reading together time will be a very valuable interruption. You will find that your tension and anxieties will fade and you will feel refreshed. You will always be able to catch up on your tasks and you have shared some precious time with the child.

2. Play Together
Play is vital and something we as a species do throughout our lives, even into old age. There are many ways to play with your child and you don’t have to join in fully every time if you don’t really feel like it or can’t think of anything to play.  Just listening to your child play, or watching and answering the child’s questions whilst they play, can be a beginning. Joining in part of the play, like helping to build a den, making tiny sandwiches together before the child plays at having a doll’s tea party or teddy bear’s picnic. Playing guessing games, making up stories together whilst you cook, or do other household tasks is still playing together. However if you can join in their physical games and pretend imaginative games the memory of the fun and laughter will remind you of those precious times.

3. Leave Alone
No, I don’t mean leave them unattended or alone in the house. I mean give them space and time to indulge in their own imaginary games. Allow them the time to get bored, if necessary, and find a way to amuse themselves. Being self-sufficient is a valuable asset for later life and being able to fill their time creatively is going to give them another life skill. Children make sense of life and what they see and hear by playing and it is a necessary part of child development.

4. Listen
I mean really listen, perhaps even stop what you are doing to listen. After all it is a courtesy you would extend to others.  If you are patient and listen you will be able to establish a valuable relationship with your child where he feels able to confide in you. Your child will also be developing the ability to express himself and also to listen in return. Believe me it will be worth it, although you may wonder what went wrong when your child reaches the monosyllabic grunts of the teenage years. They will emerge from that and the relationship you established will still be there.

5. Cuddle a Lot
Lots and lots of cuddles when the child is young, whilst the child is growing and for as long as the child welcomes it – keep cuddling. As they grow and go to school they may not welcome displays of affection in public or at the school gate but will still give you a hug at home. Even boys.
Some children may be a little touch averse and their displays of affection may be through words (see point 5 above) or a touch rather than through a hug. Again respect this, but holding and cuddling makes a child feel secure and loved and that is priceless.

The founder of Fairy Tale Children's Furniture, Zandra Johnson is a passionate advocate of imaginative play for children. Studies reveal free time spent playing make-believe helps children develop critical cognitive skills. Fairytale Furniture helps build those skills through imaginative play and encourages an early love of reading.
 Download your free guide to Imaginative Play at FAIRYTALECHILDRENSFURNITURE.CO.UK 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

5 Best Toys

With Christmas approaching fast and the shops full of the latest “must have” toys, the sheer abundance of choice can be confusing.

The toy companies spend millions on developing and advertising their latest offering and in keeping the best sellers available and well promoted. Space on the retailer’s shelves is hotly contested and the buyers will start the next Christmas selection as soon as the sales figures are analysed at the end of January.

Buying toys for children can be a joy and a nightmare. A joy when you see the delight on their faces when they get something they look forward to playing with. A nightmare when you do your research on foot, on line and by gentle questioning and try to find something within your budget.

But the essence of a toy is – play. A toy which engages the child’s imagination is the toy with which they will play the most. Hence the old story of a child spending more time playing with the empty cardboard box than the toy within it.

Imaginative play is the most precious of all the 5 types of play. It builds cognitive development, emotional development, reasoning, creativity and social skills. All skills that are essential to life as a well-balanced adult.

Here are five simple toys that have stood the test of time, contain no batteries or computer circuits and evoke the adult response “Aaah, I had one of those – I loved it and played with it for hours”

Spinning Top
Can you remember being fascinated by the hum and whirling colours of a spinning top when you were young? How you watched it spin across the floor and experimented with different surfaces and listened to the change of the hum and the pride when you were strong enough to pump the handle and spin the top yourself? Even playing with wooden tops and tiny finger spinning tops seems to invoke imaginative play, just watch the child’s face.

Building Blocks
Building blocks for young children are always popular, from the soft foam and cloth covered block (advisable when the small child often suddenly waves about, and then throws, whatever they are playing with) through to the coloured blocks with letters and numbers that are an educational aid as well as being used to build towers, trains, fortresses or whatever the child’s imagination conjures. Home made blocks of different shapes and colours, or simply waxed or varnished are a rich source of imaginative play.
Lego is an advanced form of building blocks for the older child and needs no introduction. Lego can be added to and the collection grows.This is something that the following toys have in common and are a popular gift for the enthusiast, offering more and more possibilities for play.

Train sets and Farmyards
Train sets, farmyards, small villages, fairy grottos, stable yards and racing tracks are all easy to start, often with a piece of hardboard or plywood painted to suggest the scene. Then add the trains, farm animals, wild animals, dinosaurs and cars, depending on the preference. Small buildings, hills, trees and other items can be made by you and the children or collected and added to the board. Then sit back and watch the children play.

Dolls and soft toys are popular with boys and girls and provide a wonderful vehicle for imaginative play and an outlet through play to make sense of the world. The simpler the doll, whether a soft toy or an action man, the better. Battery powered special effects, computer programmes and pre-loaded sound effects seem to limit imaginative play. The child’s imagination is being confined within the limits of the toy’s scope.

Doll’s House
The doll’s house, a Victorian favourite, is still very popular. Again, it is a toy which can be added to with additional gifts and certainly provides hours of play. Castles, fire stations, garages are another alternative which provide hours of play and start a collection of additional small toys. Collecting small toys and new additions to the toy venue, whatever it may be, can become a hobby and make choosing future gifts easier.

Then, of course, there is the extra special gift of a chair they can play with and which itself encourages imaginative play. Fairytale Children’s Furniture® animal shaped chairs, each with its own illustrated story book, provide years of imaginative play, reading and developing a love of books. There is even a chair for the doll’s and teddies so that they can have one too.

Children play longest when they play in their imaginations, so sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet whilst they play with their favourite toys.

The founder of Fairy Tale Children's Furniture, Zandra Johnson is a passionate advocate of imaginative play for children. Studies reveal free time spent playing make-believe helps children develop critical cognitive skills. Fairytale Furniture helps build those skills through imaginative play and encourages an early love of reading.
 Download your free guide to Imaginative Play at FAIRYTALECHILDRENSFURNITURE.CO.UK 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

5 Simple Games to Play on a Bike.

Children love riding bicycles, whether they start with a balance bike, a little bike or start straight into a bigger bike that will last some years as the seat and handle bars are raised as they grow. Cycling is a good way of enjoying exercise out doors and it can so easily be enjoyed as a family. Perhaps to begin with the parents are walking and teaching the children to ride and teaching them road safety. Later the whole family can ride together and may enjoy the following games. Even little ones on balance bikes can join in and grow in confidence

1.        Slow Bike Races

In this race the slowest person wins. Everyone starts together, as in a normal speed race, and has to cycle as slowly as possible to the finish line without falling off or putting their foot down. It’s an excellent way of developing balance and control. If someone does put a foot down or fall over they are given a penalty point and can continue in the race. The winner is the last person to cross the finish line with the least number of penalty points.

      2.       Obstacle Course
In this game the cyclists have to negotiate an obstacle course and you can all have fun building or devising the course. Depending on the skill and agility of the riders the course can be as simple as weaving in and out of obstacles like stones, balls, sticks, baked bean tins or it can become more complicated by including simple tricks. For example raise both legs sideways as you pass a certain obstacle, or do a wheelie at another obstacle. For the more advanced riders a see saw can be made with a plank over a log and the cyclist has to ride over the plank. A bucket can be added to the course and the rider has to toss a ball into the bucket as they pass.

 3 . Follow the Leader
This is a good way of developing confidence and agility. Take it in turns to be the “Leader” and ride in circles, figures of eight, up a curb and down a curb, put down the bike and run to touch a tree or gate post and then jump back on the bike. Parents can call out the name of the next “Leader” to keep the game exciting – the Leader has to ride to the front of the group, or the group can turn to chase the new “Leader”

 4 Ride Along the Lines
This is another game to develop balance and the more proficient riders can be handicapped to make it interesting for them as well. Using chalk draw a line along the road or pavement and make it curved or wavy as well as straight. The cyclist has to ride along the line without putting their foot down. Balance bikers are allowed to put their feet down but the concentration of following the line will develop their balance and confidence. Proficient riders can complete the course with “no hands”
For very young children you can draw two parallel chalk lines several feet apart and the child has to ride towards one line and as they cross it lift their feet out sideways until they have crossed the next line. The lines can become further and further apart and they grow stronger and more confident.

  5. Bicycle Relay Races
This is very like an ordinary relay race with teams and team members. The riders race towards their team member and give them something, a baton, a ball, a balloon, a handkerchief to grab and race back to the next member and pass on the object. Or the rider may wear a hat which he has to place on the next team member’s head as he races past. You can combine the relay race with an obstacle race as well.

Children benefit in so many ways when they ride a bicycle, not just in the development of new skills but they are also learning about road safety, awareness of others, and learning independence and self-reliance.
There is undisputed evidence of the benefits of exercise and especially outdoor exercise for children and for adults.

You never know, what starts out as simple family fun can build into a lasting interest in cycling, whether it be touring, racing or enjoying cycling holidays. However, it will always remain a happy memory of childhood and no doubt that fun will be passed on to their children and the beauty of these 5 games is that grandparents can join in too.
Happy cycling!

Images via

The founder of Fairy Tale Children's Furniture, Zandra Johnson is a passionate advocate of imaginative play for children. Studies reveal free time spent playing make-believe helps children develop critical cognitive skills. Fairytale Furniture helps build those skills through imaginative play. Download your free guide to Imaginative Play at FAIRYTALECHILDRENSFURNITURE.CO.UK