Friday, 2 November 2012

Child Development and Imaginative Play


Do you remember when you played for hours with a simple toy, a much loved doll or train set? Or when you played at dressing up and acted out imaginative scenarios alone or with a friend. Did you have an imaginative friend who shared all your games?

It is a sad fact that children’s imaginative play and creative play is being limited and squeezed out by modern life. Parents are still anxious to do their best for their child and there are many pressures on parents, both as parents and in their own busy lives. There is enormous pressure to achieve and succeed and that pressure starts when very young, often unwittingly.

There have been several alarming studies on how a child’s development is affected by the lack of imaginative play, and especially free imaginative play. That is the kind of play time so readily available in past years. When you weren't driven off to yet another after school class or activity, or just sat in front of a television or played with a computer game. Playing with computer games is not free imaginative play – you are playing with someone else’s imagination.

Studies show how the attention span of young children is becoming shorter, their attention more difficult to hold, their communication skills are becoming limited and their social interaction poor.  That is so sad. We are a species with an enormous need to communicate and interact with one another, communication has never been so easy, and yet we are losing the ability to do so easily and naturally face to face. Just watch the people around you, especially the youngsters and you will see what I mean.

The rise and rise of the computer, especially the smart phone means that babies see the parent using one frequently – in fact the  mobile phone is the easiest thing with which to multi task. It is addictive, it is enticing and it is affecting the brains of young children. Many children are showing the same signs of addiction to computer games, smart phones and television viewing. They become irritable, find it hard to sleep, awake at odd times and throw angry tantrums when denied.

Parents who have braved the storms for an experiment and removed the computer, computer consoles and TV from their children are amazed by the results. Braving the angry outbursts, which can last several days and the complaints that the child is bored, the child soon begins to find ways of amusing themselves and soon return to being a happier, more contented child. Because they are more active they sleep better, and because their brains have been used creatively they are less stressed.

Free imaginative play is vital. Children who develop their imagination make creative thinkers and creative problem solvers in later life. They are able to understand and empathise and communicate with others which enables better relationships and friendships.

So, mums and dads let your children play and interact with one another and with you. It’s easy, there is no pressure to succeed, no exams to pass, no boxes to tick. Just enjoy one another after all soon they will be grown up and that magical phase of childhood will have passed, Forgetting the pressures and worries of your own day and entering a world of imagination and play, or just letting the children play by themselves, will reduce your own stress levels too.

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

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Climbing Toddlers - Hidden Dangers


Do you have a small child that has discovered the joys of climbing? They start so soon, almost as soon as they can pull themselves up. Remember the sheer joy in the gap-toothed grin after a tot has pulled itself up and wriggled and kicked its way onto the seat of a chair or settee? Or watched with pride as a toddler climbs on all fours slowly up the stairs to the top and then turns to look down?

A recent article about the hazards of children climbing on furniture reveals some alarming figures. The results were published by The US Consumer Product Safety Commission and reported in detail the annual figure of 10,000 deaths and scores of crushing injuries incurred from furniture or TVs falling on children as a result of the children climbing, or pulling themselves up on furniture. Apparently few people anchor large pieces of furniture to the wall, even when a strap is provided. To a child a large chest of drawers or bookcase is as tempting as a climbing frame. Even smaller bureaus and dressers can pose the terrifying hazard of “silent death” – where a small child pulls the drawer out and it falls on them. The drawer falling makes no sound as it falls on the child’s soft body crushing or asphyxiating the child.

My own fear was always that a small child would put a baby in a drawer and close the drawer. Toy boxes have to have sufficient ventilation holes to prevent suffocation and there is a regulation stating what that should be. There are regulations covering safety for children’s furniture and toys, but the big danger comes from adult furniture and adventurous tots.

The advice given was to secure furniture to the wall, even in rented properties ask the landlord if you may. Make sure TVs are placed on furniture designed to support the weight and are very stable. 

You can’t keep your eyes on small, or even larger children, all the time and accidents happen so fast. It’s the un- foreseen ones that take the breath away. I was in the room whilst my small daughter was dancing to the music of Pirates of Penzance. In one bound (in time to the music!) she jumped on a chair grabbed a long thin paper knife placed way out of her reach and out of sight, I thought, from a tall bookcase and continued to dance and wave her “sword”. Before I could stop her she had tripped on a rug and fell onto the envelope opener and driven it deep into her throat. She was lucky the blade passed and just missed her arteries, voice box and oesophagus, but was very deep. Even now, many years later, my heart still pounds when I remember it - and the dash to the hospital in an ambulance, followed by a police car with all lights flashing and sirens wailing.


General advice on preventing accidents can be found on the NHS helpline. http://www.nhs.uk
Another website with some positive advice on keeping a pre-schooler safe at home is http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca 
This article giving tips about choosing children’s furniture from a safety angle may also be helpful.

Good luck as you try to steer a balanced path between scaring your child with too many warnings, and enjoying their adventures and triumphs.

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


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Children Learn To Read With Their Ears.


No, not a new use for the organ of hearing, but if you think about the process of sitting with a small child looking at books, magazines or junk mail, in fact anything with words and preferably pictures as well, you will both be looking at and  probably pointing to pictures and saying what the picture is. Later on you may ask the little one to find and point to the picture, or find a colour. It is an easy way to develop the child’s vocabulary and knowledge of animals, colours, flowers and objects.

Depending on their age and, to a certain degree, their personality and mood, these “reading” sessions can be short and energetic - with the book grabbed and put into the mouth to chew, or snatched from you, waved about and flung on the floor. (Been there, done that!)  If it becomes much more fun to make you wear the book as a hat and then repeatedly knock it off you might as well admit defeat and postpone the “reading” for another day – or of course, wear one book and read another.

Reading” should be fun and a special time of closeness. It can be a relaxing end to the day before bedtime, a distraction on a long train or air journey or a way to distract and comfort. If you point to the words as you read the first simple picture books the child will associate the word sound with the word shape. Soon they will begin to remember both the verbal story and the shape of the words and recognise them in other books.

I used to make shopping lists for my small daughter before we went to the supermarket together. Her shopping list had simple words on it like Bread, Milk, Butter, Jam, Apples, and beside each word I drew a picture of the item. A game of Hunt the Items was added and then as she began to learn her numbers we played “Meet you in aisle 5 or 18” using the numbers she had learnt. (I never let her out of my sight, creeping sleuth like behind her as she skipped off to find the right aisle).

At home we played a game where we left messages for each other. The words she knew and one new one were written on large pieces of paper and laid on the floor as a message. To begin with it was a very simple game. I would ask “Where is teddy hiding?” and a word like Bed was put out. If teddy was not on the bed a word No and another word like Table placed there and so on until teddy was found. A treasure hunt with word clues to find teddy developed into words being placed in simple sentences as clues.

It was all part of learning to read and it started with hearing the words first. Reading is such a joy and it delights me to see children in book shops and libraries eagerly searching the shelves for a new book to read, often so eager to start that they sit on the floor reading.

A wonderful world of imagination and knowledge awaits 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. Download your free guide to Imaginative Play at FAIRYTALECHILDRENSFURNITURE.CO.UK

Friday, 1 June 2012

60 Years Ago Today


Sixty years ago I was a little Brownie, a proud possessor of two new front teeth, living in Mombasa, Kenya. The island was abuzz with excitement as Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were passing through the town on their way from Tree Tops, a game park lodge where they had been staying, to board their vessel and return to England.

Clad in my carefully laundered and newly starched Brownie uniform and clutching a small Union Jack I joined the line of other small Brownies to wave and cheer as the big limousine passed. It was a hot day, 90F , the air shimmering with humidity. We waited and waited. The Princess never came. Unbeknown to the Brownies the Princess had received the news that her father, King George V1, had died whilst she was at Tree Tops. Theirs was a sad, private journey to join the ship.

For the first and only time in my life I got sun stroke and must have passed out as I remember voices saying “Get her into the shade. Cool her down” I was put into my father’s car which had also been standing all day in the sun. It was black - as all cars were then – and it was like being put into an oven. The red leather upholstery burned my skin.

The next thing I remember was being immersed in a bath of cold water and my mother pouring water over my head and telling me  “Don’t be so stupid” when I complained that I couldn’t breathe if she poured water for too long.

Days before I had cleaned and polished my little brass Brownie badge again and again; offering it for inspection to my mother. Mother was a stern task master, reared by a stern Victorian mother whose standards and work ethic she still followed. Again and again I had to polish until no further fault could be found. During the process I pricked my finger with the brass pin and developed blood poisoning.

I remember once again feeling woozy and watching in fascination as the little purple blisters spread slowly up my arm. Then a doctor with a scalpel appeared and lanced them all and spoilt the fun.

So this time, this joyous celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, I am going to celebrate, in the shade, waving my little Union Jack and feeling just as excited and happy as I did 60 years ago.

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

Monday, 23 April 2012

You Can't Cuddle a Kindle


You Can’t Cuddle a Kindle.

There was a teacher who would wander out to supervise playtime in the school playground hugging a book to her chest. Sometimes she would walk into the classroom like that, arms wrapped tightly across her body hugging the book as though it was a most precious child. She would say “I’ve got such a lovely story here. Don’t you want to know what it is?” and then eyes merry and bright, she would tease by just showing a tiny part of the cover – a quick flash or a small corner.

I knew a librarian who did the same, selecting a book or several books as though they were exciting treasures, or with all the excited expectation of a child selecting sweets from a shelf to hoard and enjoy later.

They were, inevitably, always surrounded by children eager to know more and to share the excitement. The teacher and librarian would settle down, making a show of wriggling to get comfortable, then very slowly open the book and begin to read. The books they chose were always varied - stories, facts, picture books, pop-up books; books which opened up the world of ideas and imagination. They encouraged the children to find books for them to read and for the child to read for themselves. They were developing a love of reading and a love of books.

There are a great many pleasures to owning or reading a book, quite apart from exploring and enjoying its contents. The pleasure of the title, some so enticing and intriguing, as tantalising as a riddle; the design of the cover, the tactile pleasure of holding the book in your hand feeling the texture of the cover the thickness of the paper and the beauty of the neat rows of type covering each page. The smell of a new book opened only by you and the wonderful cocktail of smells from an old book, opened and read by so many other people and passed on.  Can the solitude of down loading a book onto a Kindle compare with the pleasure of browsing a book shop or library with so many tempting books, so many colours so many pictures?

Books can provide insights into worlds you could never visit, into situations and lives you could never experience,explore to the ideas of people you could never meet. They can educate, guide, help and encourage and they can also provide a way to escape. If you are buried in a book you forget the loneliness, sorrow or worry that occupies your mind.

By encouraging a love of books and a love of reading in a child, and you can never really begin too early, you are passing on a great gift that will last a lifetime. The Kindle is capable of holding many, many books on one small tablet, perfect for travelling. But you can’t cuddle a Kindle; it doesn’t have that seductive allure of a book, especially a picture book, and the tactile pleasure of turning real pages.

I have a childlike love of picture books and will look at the illustrations again and again after the book has been read. If a book contains photographs I will look at all the photos before I begin to read, finding them by looking for the change of colour on the page edge. E- Books also have the magic of pictures, but not, for me, the pure pleasure of settling down, with a book on lap, newly opened with the weight of unread pages on the right hand, the pleasure of slowly reading through the pages so that the weight changes from right to left, and the final mixture of satisfaction, pleasure and sadness as I close the back cover on the completed book.

As a parent or grandparent, settling with a child on lap to read together, to share a book where you both hold and turn the pages back and forth is such a joy. Can you really replicate that by looking at the small tablet of an e-book?

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

Monday, 12 March 2012

What Did You Do For Fun When You Were a Kid?


What Did You Do For Fun When You Were a Kid?

Just recently one of the Designers on a social media business network asked the question “What did you do for fun when you were a kid?” There followed a joyful list of replies from all around the world where people recounted briefly the things they did to pass the days or hours of free time. They all involved playing outdoors, making dens, damming streams, dragging empty boxes onto abandoned plots of land and making hideouts, playing games with friends and competing in teams. Or else making things out of scraps and found objects; taking things to pieces to make them into something else, digging in sand to make miniature landscapes. Each of these activities were so simple, so delightfully childlike and, importantly, unstructured, undirected and playful.

The pleasure it gave is still remembered. As one respondent said “I remember the excitement of waking up each day, eager to begin all over again”.

Child Psychologist, Jerome Singer, says “We give children the ability to create their own lives when we allow children to create their own play” – Play continues to nourish the spirit throughout life and remains key to innovation and creativity”

One thing that was particularly noticeable was that the children were playing outdoors and without adult supervision. Nowadays we are very afraid of letting our children play alone outdoors. Playing in the garden, playing in each other’s homes or playing whilst within sight in parks or playgrounds is possible for most. This however is often limited to a few hours rather than whole days of playing and exploring.  It’s sad that the fear of danger should be so prevailing.

My memories of childhood play also involved lots of fresh air. I was born and grew up in Kenya on the coast. I swam in the sea every day, played on the beach making miniature villages and sand sculptures of strange and sinuous shapes which I said I would make into big concrete sculptures to play on and in “when I grow up” I climbed trees, collected wild animals (small ones!) gathered coconuts and made up lots and lots of stories to tell my younger sister.

The next question asked of the group was “Do you use any of the things you did whilst playing as part of your business now?”

I certainly do – children having fun and playing, especially imaginative play, is very much a part of Fairytale Children’s Furniture®. We Tweet daily and post to our FaceBook pages weekly and produce a monthly video on ways to have fun with children, and of course stories still play a big part. Every piece of furniture will always have its own accompanying illustrated story book.

So, may I ask you – what did you do for fun when you were a kid?

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

Monday, 30 January 2012

Story Telling - The Ancient Entertainment


It is National Storytelling Week every year for the first week of February and round the country there are hundreds of story telling events, competitions classes and gatherings of story tellers swapping tales. The UK’s First Laureate of Story was Taffy Thomas and he said that the best gift you can give to anybody is to give them a story. If you give them chocolates they eat them, if you give them wine they drink it, but if you give them a story they will have it for life and they can swap it for another story, and another. 

I love stories and spent a happy evening in London with a story telling group where we tell a story, either our own or one from other cultures, and give each other feedback. One ghost story was told in the dark, with only the light of a candle in the room. That reminded me of the days when I was small and lived in Kenya.

Every evening an old African watchman would come on duty and would light a small fire to heat his evening meal. In the darkness he would squat beside the fire and I would squat next to him listening to his stories. The sparks from the fire were swallowed up by the night and the old watchman’s face and crouching form were part illuminated by the red glow. When he spoke in Swahili I could understand, but when he became particularly involved in the story he would revert to his tribal language and I could only follow the gestures. He was brilliant at mimicking the actions and sounds of animals.

Do you enjoy cuddling up with your children reading stories, or telling ones of your own? The Story Museum has 1001 stories to listen to and download and is a rich source of free stories from all round the world.

A story game I used to play with our daughter was telling stories from a Story Bag if you go to our FaceBook video channel there are some short videos there with stories, and making a Story Bag. We keep adding videos so please come back and visit again.

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


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Do You Rock?


Rocking is such a natural and soothing motion. From the very first days of cradling your new born babe and soothing them to sleep, comforting them when they cry, or rocking from one foot to the other as you hold them against your shoulder.
Cradles, traditionally, were mounted on rockers. In medieval times they were just a box on rockers. The rockers were placed across the foot and head of the box and the cradle was rocked from side to side. Some Scandinavian cradles had the rockers placed lengthwise along the box and the child was rocked with the head and foot rising and falling. I wonder which is the most soothing motion – gently from side to side or gently up and down?
Lying in a hammock and swinging gently, or sitting in a garden swing seat – both are pleasing and relaxing. Especially if you add the sound of sea gulls, warm sunshine and a cooling drink…… The pace of the swing, smooth, slow and rhythmic is what is so soothing; almost mesmeric. In fact hypnotists in dramas are often depicted using a swinging pendulum to lull their patient into a state of receptive somnolence.
Swings are a favourite part of playgrounds and a garden swing at home can amuse a child for hours. This time the swing can become not just soothing, but exhilarating as well. Standing on the swing instead of just sitting, swinging as high as possible or leaping off the swing at the height of the forward arc all add to the experience.
Another well known childhood favourite, the rocking horse, provides the same soothing motion. Rocking toys have never been in such abundance as now. Even tiny toddlers have rocking animals and rocking seats. I confess that I rode our rocking horse even more than my daughter and was so sad to see it leave us.
And so to rocking chairs. There have been rocking chairs in the UK since medieval times, but they have not become part of our culture as they have in America, and the tropics. Perhaps our climate has something to do with that. Here the chair was associated with the elderly sitting by the fire, and now as nursing chairs mounted on gliders rather than rockers. Yet if you search under “Rocking Chairs” and then click on “Images” in the top left hand section of the browser bar you will be shown pages and pages of innovative designs.
As adults it would seem that we are a sedentary, but still nation. We loll, lie, sprawl but not rock; either in the garden or the house. It is as children that we enjoy the rocking chair the most.

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