Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Imaginative Play "But No one Taught Us How To Imagine"

Perplexed child to teacher “we don’t know how to imagine. We haven’t had that lesson yet” The teacher said the children really didn't know what the word meant and didn't know how to begin. So she had to teach them how to imagine, to use their imagination. Hardest of all to begin with was to use their own imagination freely without restriction.

There has been so much talk about the regrettable decline in allocation of time for children to just do nothing. Time for children just to be children. To play by themselves or play together without interference or direction. On one hand parents think free play time is wasted time and on the other hand there are an ever growing number of electronic games for the children to use. Parents are now giving children as young as 18 months to 2 years their own tablet to play with. It makes a useful electronic baby sitter. But at what cost?


The growing abundance of websites and blogs dedicated to providing ideas for games, crafts and activities for young children and even for teens provide a useful source of ideas if you want to limit screen time. They develop the child’s creativity, and motor dexterity. Playing together develops language and understanding. The time spent is priceless, not just because it helps the child’s cognitive development but it builds a store of wonderful memories they can pass on to their children. What can they pass on if all they have done is swipe an iPhone?


 Is it a sign of the times that parents now enrol for classes to learn how to play with their children?  Search on line for Children’s craft ideas, cooking with children, free printables, and of course a wonderful way of stimulating imagination and sharing some quality time together is to tell stories. Try the Story Museum where they have 1001 stories for you to read and retell. Searching for children’s stories, stories from different countries and for different occasions like Halloween, Diwali, Ramadan, Christmas and Easter will reveal a rich treasure trove. Our own free “30 Ways to Encourage Imaginative Play” may be helpful.

 Best of all, allow time for the children to enter their own world of make believe and pretend games. That way they make sense of the world around them, have control of their own environment, develop language, and develop their imagination. All absolutely essential for their development into rounded adults, able to think creatively in business and in life and to empathise and understand others. Being able to play and to play on their own is an essential part of their development. The pressure on children to achieve, whether actual or implied, has never been greater nor has the increase in childhood depression, anxiety and stress related eating disorders. The greatest increase has become evident in affluent high achieving families. Play time is never wasted time. It is essential.

Do you have any really simple and quick ways to fire your children’s imaginations?

 Images via www.photopin.com

 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, 14 October 2013

The Most Hated Toys

There is something disturbingly eerie about a pile of plastic toys discarded at the recycling yard or half buried in the landfill sites. If on the way to their inevitable end they pass through the charity shops there is a chance that they may be played with again for a short time.

Plastic toys don’t age well, they lose their shine, their colours change (and not in a good way) and they become brittle. They don’t look enticing, just rather – soulless.

There has been animated discussion recently on Mums Net and other social media networks, and amongst parents, about “The Most Hated Toys” (must be something to do with the count down to Christmas). Without exception the most hated were all plastic and the complaints were that they were poorly made, failed to last, failed to function properly and – most telling – the child quickly lost interest in them.

Our children have an almost limitless choice when it comes to toys and games, but trying to avoid licensed or branded character toys, toys with a computer or batteries and the choice is dramatically reduced. Recognising the poor quality of design and construction and the decreasing play time value of modern toys The Slow Toy Movement has been gathering strength and now holds an annual awards ceremony for toys that meet the criteria of “real toys” that are well made and inspire imagination and creativity.

Playtime and imaginative play is such a precious, priceless part of childhood and toys in which the child invests hours of imaginative play become a firm favourite. The toy they cuddle, talk to, play “pretend” games with and want to take away with them is very often the toy they keep after childhood. The toys which hold the longest play value, that are not a passing fad are the toys which provide the greatest benefit to the child.
 Do you have a much loved doll, teddy bear, railway set, farmyard or bedside lamp that you can’t, somehow, quite, throw away? What did you keep?

I have pondered long and hard about why wooden toys have such an appeal for children and adults. Why do they engage children so much more and are more often the toy that is kept, or remembered fondly. Some points could be that
  • They are simple which leaves the child free to use the toy with their own imagination, not play within the confines of the toy creator’s imagination. There are no electric sounds, voices, flashing lights and predictable actions and responses. In terms of play value the more complicated and ready programmed a toy the less the child needs to use their own creativity.
  • They are tactile and warm, - wood is. As it ages, unlike plastic, the wooden toy develops a patina, evidence of the love and play. Wood shows the history of use, the teeth marks, scratches and rubs that are endearing and invariable raise a smile in the adult and an “Aaahh! I remember that….”
  • Wooden toys seem to be able to absorb childhood memories and keep them. Finding a very old wooden toy it is easy to imagine the children down the generations who have played with it.
  • Children and adults handle wooden toys differently from plastic toys and this is what intrigues me. The toy is picked up with the whole hand, right into the palm. This is most noticeable when you see an adult pick up an old wooden toy. Watching “Antiques Roadshow” there are often antique dolls, teddy bears and automata brought for valuation. Each of them is handled with an emotional response; dolls and bears if they are not too fragile are picked up and cradled, patted and invested with a personality. Automaton are wound up and admired. But a wooden toy elicits a smile of recognition and men and women reach quickly for the toy. They pick up the toy and hold it in the palm of the hand, often turning it to feel the shape and weight. It can’t be just because wood is tactile, there is an emotional connection as well. They are continuing to play with it.
There is no doubt that children love toys and take to technology like a duck to water, but in terms of
cognitive development, emotional development and play value the simpler well made toys are the best.
Toys that allow the child to indulge in pretend games, create their own worlds and develop their creativity are of the most benefit to the growing child; what ever the toys material and composition.



Images via www.photopin.com

 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, 5 September 2013

Imaginative Play. 4 Ways To Ruin Playtime

There is no doubt that play is an important, nay essential, part of a child’s development. Apart from it being just fun children learn so much about their world, become more self confident, test the limits of their skills and learn by their mistakes, or find an outlet for their emotions.

Children have few legitimate opportunities to voice their feelings or to learn how to express their feelings. Playing with a scary monster or coping with a tiresome doll gives them a chance to express feelings in a safe non judgemental world of their own making. Playtime, especially non directed free play time is so precious – and with the best of intention – so easy to ruin. Adults can unintentionally undermine the value of play by interfering or imposing their own standards or ideas.

Imagine that you are a child in each of these 4 instances and then think how you would react to similar scenario in your adult world.


Absent minded tidying up. You are playing with your child and you have stopped yourself checking your phone, making “to do lists”, looking at a magazine or doing any other multi tasking. You are really playing but at the same time putting away unused toys, tidying up the jigsaws, organising the small toys into some sort of order.
 As an adult if you were having a meal out and the waitress kept removing the bread, straightening your cutlery, removing unwanted glasses or brushing the crumbs off the table how would you feel? 

 Organising Play Intrusively  Your children are playing by themselves and you find you have a perfect time slot to enjoy some “Quality-Time-Playing” with them. You clap your hands and say “Right, lets play …(what ever it is that they enjoyed last time)
As an adult how do you feel when someone demands, and expects, you stop what you are doing and do what they ask right now, no matter what you are doing?


Can’t Resist The Urge To Teach You and/or your child are playing with toy cars and you keep saying helpful things like “What kind of car is that one?” “What do cars need to run their engines?” “What noise does a fire engine make?” Or you are reading a book/ watching TV together and you ask similar questions frequently, very frequently.
As an adult, imagine the same thing happening to you whilst you are enjoying a film or visiting an art gallery or listening to music. I bet you would just like to enjoy the experience and absorb what is going on.

Imposing Your Values You notice that your child is playing with farm animals in a petrol station instead of the farm, or putting the My Little Ponies in the same coral as the dinosaurs, or any other wonderful creative original combinations. You correct them and give them the right toys, or say that the cow shouldn't go in through the window but through the door.
As an adult imagine how stifling it would be to have someone constantly stop or change your writing, your projects and put limits on your creativity or imagination?  

It is so easy to influence our child's playtime through  our very natural desire to help our children succeed in a competitive world, or to assuage our guilt because we feel we should spend more quality time with the child. With the best of intentions we could be having the opposite effect and be limiting their creative and cognitive development.

David Elkind,Ph.D., one of today’s leading psychologists, believes “that silencing  children’s play is as harmful to healthy development (if not more so) as hurrying them to grow up too fast too soon” So let kids be kids and enjoy their wonderful worlds created in their imagination – it is precious, so precious.

Images via www.photopin.com

 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, 15 August 2013

Which Play Personality Are You?

In his book “Play – How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul” Stuart Brown MD and founder of the National Institute for Play http://www.nifplay.org/  has identified 8 play personalities that develop over time as we develop strong preferences for certain types of play. “Some things float your boat, others don’t”

In adult life the work that we find most fulfilling is almost always an extension of youthful play. For example children who played with their hands, taking things to bits and putting them together, often become engineers and enjoy their work. It is an extension of what they did for fun. They are still playing.

The 8 Play Personalities are as follows. You may recognise yourself and your children in some of them. Often a person may embrace two personalities or a mixture and it is interesting to watch as the child grows and develops


The Joker
 This is the most basic form of play. We begin by making the baby laugh by making funny noises, blowing raspberries, pulling faces and tickling.  Child Jokers love playing jokes on others, collecting jokes and easily see the funny side of things. They often become the class clown and grow up to be people who love to play practical jokes on others. Entertainers and comedians are often continuing this play into their adult life, whether for a living or for fun.

The Explorer
Every child starts as an explorer, in fact their curiosity is one of their most endearing traits.  In the adult the Explorer may continue actively to explore as a way of keeping active, creative and imaginative. Think of Sir Richard Branson here.
However the Explorer may explore new avenues to find deeper emotional feelings through writing and acting, through music and art or through mental development in research. The exploration does not have to be physical; it can be conducted from an armchair by watching programmes or reading.




The Kinesthete
These are people who like to be active or to move about. They seem to have a reserve of energy that they expend even when thinking. Often they continue in this play mode by practising yoga, swimming, playing team games or working out. If they do not make the activity their career they will make it their recreation.
Children are often observed with this play personality, see the review given by the father of a very active little boy “Does Our Dog  Chair Have Something Special” Parents will find that The Kinesthete child will learn better if they can do so whilst moving, reading whilst rocking, reciting whilst skipping or just rolling around on the floor.


The Competitor
The Competitor enjoys playing games with rules where scores are kept and where they can be a winner. They always want to win, whether in sport, business or academia. They are constantly measuring themselves against others or against themselves with computer games. 
In social groups the Competitor loves to be the top person in the group and in business the scores are bonuses and perks.






The Director
Directors enjoy organising, planning and executing events. As children they love to take charge and direct the game, the play or organise trips to the beach. They thrive on being the dynamic centre. Full of energy and ideas they find it difficult to remain passive.





The Collector
The thrill of play to the Collector is the excitement of owning and holding the best, the most interesting, the most complete collection of what ever takes their eye at the time. Whether it is bottle caps, a series of toys, comics, wine labels, classic cars or storm chasing the Collector finds pleasure, excitement and recreation in his interests. The Collector may enjoy the collecting as a solitary occupation or a means of making social contact, as a profession or a hobby.


The Artist Creator
The Artist Creator is never happier than when they are making something, whether painting, modelling, crafting, or simply working with their hands fixing things. They get enormous pleasure indulging their particular interest and may not grow up to be professional artists, potters or woodworkers or set designers. Instead they may pursue
a creative hobby or, as Margaret Thatcher did, relax by hanging wall paper.


The Storyteller
The Storyteller is imbued with imagination; its thread runs through the very fabric of their lives and childhood play. Even when doing something quite mundane the Storyteller is acting out a fantasy in their head.
Adult Storytellers are performers, actors, playwrights, writers, musicians and dancers; they are all telling a story. Storytellers also enjoy listening to the music, to plays and reading books even if they as adults do not create them themselves. In business it is becoming more and more valuable to tell a story not only in marketing material and advertisements but to illustrate a function or business purpose. 
The imaginative creative mind of the Storyteller adapts happily to business tasks and problem solving. 


Play has been shown to develop the brain especially in childhood when the brain is developing at its fastest. But we are designed to be lifelong players and for as long as we continue to play we continue to develop. We are built to benefit from play at any age. Being given ample opportunity to play and a rich source of fertile ideas is priceless for the child - and the adult.

Images via www.photopin.com

 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, 2 July 2013

To Play or Not to Play? That Is The Question!

Playtime has been much in the news recently, both in the UK and abroad. There is mounting concern that play is being reduced in favour of structured-time and academic subjects, even with children in Early Years.  The concern is around the affect this is having on the developing minds of our children.

When it comes to happiness and psychological well being, there has never been any doubt amongst psychologists, sociologists and educators of the importance of play time to the developing child

The experts have categorized and studied many forms of play: Heuristic play, playing with friends and adults using games and objects; Sensory Messy play; Role play directed by an adult; Creative play using crafts music and drama and Outdoor play. All are valuable and the child learns and develops within each of them.

Free Imaginative Play is probably the most precious kind of play for kids. This play is created by children (not by adults) and begins at that moment when children enter a magical world of their own making. Whilst playing, they explore boundaries and different roles, make sense of things they have seen and heard. They make their own rules and experiment with imposing them. Sometimes they are leaders and sometimes followers. They are in control.

Imaginative play does not happen with interactions with computer toys or games. No matter how much the makers claim that it inspires imagination, with computer games the child is playing within a programmer’s imagination, following their games, not making up their own. Reports show that screen time limits the sensory interaction, crushes creativity, imagination and communication in children. It’s a growing concern amongst parents and experts both in the UK and abroad.

Imagination sparks endless opportunities within the brain and makes even adult brains come alive with spontaneous creative thinking Problem solving, both in business and personal life, and the imagination to innovate, begin with the power of imaginative play

It’s hardly surprising that 98% of three year olds register near genius levels of creative thinking yet only 2% of adults over the age of 25 do. It’s time to take a hard look at how constant exposure to structured play and computer gaming is affecting our children’s ability to engage their imagination. Encouraging Imaginative Play in children is crucial to the healthy development of creative, engaged successful adults.

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



Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Why Bumble Bees Have Smelly Feet


Bees have been much in the news of late with a petition signed and presented to Parliament and the government placing the EU temporary ban on the use of neonictinoides  when spraying crops. In true British fashion, there were protests and demonstrations, often with an element of humour. I have a friend who dressed as bee and paraded with others dressed as bees and flowers singing “Give Bees a Chance”.

There has been a decline in our native bees not just because of crop spraying and pesticides but also because so many of our hedgerows and woodlands have been lost and with them the loss of wild flowers. In spite of this the wonderful soporific sound of buzzing bees can still be heard in gardens and countryside. The sound of birdsong and buzzing bees, and the scent of flowers and new mown grass is quintessentially British.

Even if you live in a city or town and do not have a garden, bees, especially bumble bees can still be found and once you start to notice them and notice the difference between the types it can become quite a quest. Children are very observant and I find very quickly become interested in nature and insects. Insects live interesting lives with murder, violence, love, selfless dedication and courage to rival any sci-fi or video game. This makes them an easy subject to give little snippets of information to children; just enough to kindle an interest and not too much to put them off. This is a lovely site with lots of videos to watch.

Now for the title of this blog. The queen bumble bee lay her eggs in the spring and then has to keep the nest at a constant 30C even when the temperature outside falls to freezing. To do this the queen sits on her eggs, rather like a bird, and shivers her muscles to generate heat. This takes a lot of energy and the bee needs to visit 6,000 (yes six thousand!) flowers a day. Now for her smelly feet; when she has drained a flower of nectar she leaves behind smelly little foot prints so that she or another bee knows that flower has been drained  and won’t waste time and energy trying to find the nectar. So if you see a bee visit a flower and leave straight away you know why.

Another thing that fascinates children is to read the flowers and see how they have left a “road map” for the .
bees to follow to find the nectar. The foxglove is one of the easiest flowers to read. You can see the little stepping stone maps for the bees to follow.

Even the humble weeds growing in cracks in pavements or exotic plants in far away places do the same.

This little video has snippets of information presented in an engaging way.

Enjoy the summer and happy hunting - for bees, flowers and weeds - wherever you are.

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