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

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

5 Ideas for Keeping Children Amused Whilst Travelling.

The long summer holidays may be over and the children have returned to school but there may be oportunities to travel or take short weekend journeys or family outings. Here are five simple ideas for keeping the children amused without playing yet another game of I-Spy.

Here’s some ideas for the children’s own lists. Each person (Dad included) makes a list of 5 things to spot on the journey. For example, a green lorry, a red tree, butterfly, elephant (seen on a sign for the zoo) a cupcake etc. The person to tick the items off their list first wins. Before you start, swap lists, so that no-one makes themselves a really easy list.

Airport List. In the same way make a much longer list of things that you might see at the airport. Things like, a pink suitcase, a cup of hot coffee, a blue label, fat man with a beard (beware much gleeful pointing), untied shoelace, diamond ring etc. Long lists keep the game going longest but can seem daunting. Put a few items on each page and clip the pages together and it won’t seem so difficult.
If the youngest members of the family can’t read much draw a little picture beside the item on the list. I used to make a shopping list for my daughter like that; making sure the things on her shopping list were at eye level for her or within her reach.

Scribbles This game only uses paper and a pencil and even very young children can play. They can provide the scribble. Take it in turns to make a scribble and pass the paper to the next person who makes the scribble into a picture. They then draw a scribble for the next person to turn into a picture.
Again this game encourages imagination rather than artistic ability and even grownups seem to enjoy it. You can’t play scribbles and remain tense if you are an adult. Just try it and see.

Travelling by car both here and abroad.

Car Number Plates

Silly Societies. Take the letters on the number plates of passing cars and use them to suggest the initials of a club or society. (Rude words are/are not allowed.) For example SDA = Silly Detective Agency/ Society of Desperate Albatrosses. You may have to be resourceful with XYZ so start collecting words.
Story line. Again using the letters on a car’s number plates, use them to make the first three words to start a story. For example CBR could become “Commander Bridlington roared at his troops….” Or ““Come back Richard” whispered the fairy hiding under the leaf…..” Take it in turns to tell the story. A suggestion for KXX – “King Xavier’s Xylophone was not quite what he ……

Alphabet Spotting. Each person makes a list of all the letters of the alphabet and crosses them off the list as they spot them on the car’s number plate. Numbers from 1 – 9 can also be used. It’s amazing how quickly even the very young can join in with this game.

Of course you don’t have to be travelling to play these games, you could be out walking or shopping as well.
Quite apart from providing a bit of fun for both children and adults and useful for staving off the dreaded “Are we nearly there yet?/I’m bored” there is a very definite benefit to these games. They encourage imagination and creative thinking both an essential part of child development.

There are so many ideas for passing the time happily and they all make for happy memories of childhood. Your children may play the same games with their children, and they with theirs. What is your family's favourite game?

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, 9 June 2014

Do Something Wonderful For Your Kids That’s Free

If you could wave a magic wand that makes your children happier, less stressed, more creative, more intelligent, more self-confident, more self-reliant, more intuitive, more socially aware and healthier - would you do it?  You can. It’s easy, as easy as saying abracadabra. It really works and there is scientific as well anecdotal research to back it up. All you have to do is…….

Let the children play outdoors. That’s it, really, that’s it. The simple fact that children are given time to play outdoors begins to show results within 10 to 15 minutes. I know I said it was easy, and I know it’s not always easy to arrange. We lead very busy lives and every moment has its schedule. But adults gain the same benefits as the children from being outside and playing or relaxing. Again the benefits are perceivable within 15 minutes. Test this theory at the end of your working day by going outside into your garden, if you have one, or a terrace or a yard, and just standing there, watching and listening. Feel the air, listen to the birds (there are always birds, even in the desert) and feel that tight band round your head loosen. It can become a precious part of your routine, the change of gear between full throttle work mode and a gentle coasting into the evening or week end.

There is also fear that prevents us from encouraging children to play outside. Fear of accident and “Stranger Danger”. Parents fall into roughly three categories, those who are really afraid and super protective, those who are not at all afraid and think it’s good for the child to learn how to fall out of trees, face up to bullies, deal with strangers and look after themselves, and those who are part way in-between the two.
Let’s look at the benefits.

Mental health. Like you children lead busy lives and like you they are under quite a lot of pressure. Think about that one. Children are under pressure, pressure to conform, succeed, be brave, be nice, pass tests and exams, keep to a busy schedule etc. They are also learning about life and trying to make sense of what they see and hear. They have their own worries and fears.
Like you they don’t like being organised all the time, they need time off. A few years ago children could come home from school, fling their bags in the corner; have a quick snack and a drink and then race outside to play. The playtime let off steam, burned off energy and refreshed the mind. Settling down to homework later was easier. Studies show that the children worked much better and faster after the outdoor play. And incidentally, adults also showed the same benefits.
Now time after school is often filled with extra-curricular activities and the children are still being organised, still being taught. Can you imagine what that is like – perhaps much like your own overworked, over filled day?

Social Awareness Taking part in free outdoor play, either on their own or with friends or neighbours gives the child a chance to make sense of their day and what they have observed. By playing with others children learn how to interact, socialise, communicate within a group and different groups, co-operate and to learn to take turns. They are also learning to place themselves in their world. This can’t be learnt by playing on a computer or by using an app. There is no substitute.

Self-reliance By playing outside and running about, climbing, arguing, exploring, trying and failing, trying and succeeding the child is learning very quickly how to take care of themselves. They are learning the best way of doing things, climbing, jumping, building things, observing things in nature. The child’s self-confidence will grow so much faster if left to play without direction and supervision.

Increased Intelligence and Creativity. Children who play outdoors are learning all the time without realising it. By making dens, playing with water, hiding, experimenting with sticks, leaves, mud and observing shadows and wildlife – however tiny – they are building up a vast store of information on which to draw. They are doing what we were all designed for. It is the oh-so-essential part of being human.

By playing and using their imagination and through observations made with all the senses the child will exercise their creativity. Creativity is something that is diminishing fast in the modern environment. An engineering firm noticed that its new intake of graduates were technically brilliant but were poor at creatively solving problems. Conducting a survey amongst the older engineers and comparing training methods, activities, interests and childhood, a startling difference emerged. The older generations played outside and had made things to play with. The younger generation stayed indoors and played with other people’s creations. They had not developed the creativity of simple imaginative play and of making and designing simple play things. Creativity is essential, not just for artistic pleasure, but to solve problems whether they be physical or emotional, business or social problems..

Physical Health.  There is much interest in physical health and fitness. It has become a multi-billion pound industry. There is no need to recite the benefits of exercise, they are well known. Children are tough, they won’t catch cold if they play in the rain or cold wind. They will learn about resilience, enjoy the thrill of the elements and learn how to cope. Schools who encourage playing out doors regardless of the weather found that there were markedly fewer colds and far fewer sick days taken. Children will become physically stronger, more adept and more confident if allowed to play outdoors freely.

If you are anxious about “Stranger Danger” talk to them about keeping safe and give them a set of instructions to follow. Make sure they are playing in a safe place, even if it means that parents have a rota of being within sight or nearby and within easy reach. I never let my daughter out of my sight, even in indoor venues, whilst she was still small enough to pick up and carry away. But I didn’t stop her playing freely.

Humans are designed to be active and to keep on playing- even into old age. Exercise, creativity and enjoyment are essential for wellbeing and, within an individual’s limitations, should be indulged on a regular basis. You don’t even need that magic wand.

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

Monday, 2 June 2014

We Survived Mr Drew's School

We survived Mr. Drew’s School, that inspiring and uplifting programme where troubled and difficult young boys attended a Summer School designed to help them improve their behaviour and return to main stream school. I say “We” because our dog shaped rocking chair “Bumble the Dog” was used during the six weeks of filming and was at the end of the programme given to one family that had “become particularly fond of it”

Toys which give added benefits last longer in the child’s affection. In fact that is the essence of toys – to engage and give pleasure to a child.  Play engages the imagination and with  the enormous psychological and cognitive benefits that produces, it is an essential part of human development. Toys are designed for this, but to design furniture for the same purpose is unusual.

Our chairs are designed to engage the child in imaginative play and the accompanying illustrated story books further inspire imaginative play. The rocking motion of the chairs allows a child to work off pent up energy and aggression and to slow down to a soothing rocking motion. Some parents report that the child begins to develop an interest in reading, returning to the chair with yet another book to look at or read.

For us the pleasure is that the child enjoys their own special chair - and that never fails to touch us deeply.

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, 26 March 2014

Be a Nature Detective - Leaf Scavenger Hunt

It has been shown by studies and not just anecdotal survey that playing outside is a great boost for cognitive function, emotional health and energy levels in children and adults alike. Even being outside for a short break shows a marked improvement in all these areas and a reduction in stress levels. It surprised the psychologists and teachers alike that such a marked improvement could be calculated after a break of as little as 20 minutes. 

Schools are now beginning to insert extra outdoor sessions during the day, regardless of the weather. Contrary to popular belief the children were actually less prone to colds and infections even when playing outside in the wet and windy winter.

A Scavenger Hunt is one outdoor activity that can be adapted for any outing. The Leaf Scavenger Hunt is suitable for all ages, even the little ones. Children too young to read can help to look for a particular shape or colour and are surprisingly observant and engaged.

Even in the winter months the parks, gardens and countryside are far from bare of leaves. Leaves come in an amazing variety of shapes, colours and sizes from the long thin sharp pine needles, the huge leaves of the London Plane Tree and the tiny leaves of thyme and wayside weeds.

Right now the evergreens are easy to spot and they too come in a huge variety of colours, textures, shapes and sizes; some that are shiny some that are fluffy or furry, others that are fat and succulent, long and thin, spikey, rough, sharp and splashed with colours. Even within the same species there are variations, even with in the same plant. Being a Nature Detective means you have to look very carefully and looking carefully you find all sorts of surprises, not just in variations of leaf but in tiny creatures that live there or other plants growing there in co-existence.

Here are some easy evergreen leaves to start your scavenger hunt, mostly these are an assortment of colours, but later when the deciduous leaves appear there will be a wealth of shapes to hunt for as well.

Happy Hunting!

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, 29 January 2014

Can You Be A Nature Detective?

Dowload the PDF now.

Nature Detectives Things To Look For In The Park.

Now that the spring weather is getting warmer and the days are longer there is a lot of activity in the natural world. The birds are beginning to sing again and to feed hungrily. Squirrels will be digging for buried nuts and seeds (probably closely followed by the crafty Jay who will steal the squirrel’s buried food).

The squirrels will be making a dray ready for their kits to be born in February. By then it will be a hungry time for the squirrels and they will be eating buds and bark as well as the buried food. So keep an eye open for birds beginning to flirt and pair and squirrels to chase each other and squabble.

Plants, too are beginning to grow and produce buds and new shoots. See how many you can find and see how many different types of bud and colours of bud you can find. My favourites are the sticky brown buds of the Horse Chestnut tree and the black buds of the Ash tree. Here are some ideas to search for, not just in parks but in gardens too.

Underground bulbs are sprouting ready to share their flowers in the spring. These shoots are from the snow drop. When they show their flowers look carefully underneath and notice the little green marks like little green hearts. They are not all the same. How many different kinds can you find?

Not all shoots growing from the ground are from bulbs. These are from the Day Lilies which won’t flower until the summer. They have beautiful bright orange and yellow flowers and each one only lasts for one day. Look out for them and see how many flowers each stem produces. There are lots and lots of different Day Lilies.

Another sign of spring is the catkin on hazelnut trees, pussy willows and alder trees. Some trees have two kinds of catkins, male and female on the same tree. Can you find it? This picture is of the catkins on a Hazel tree and they will form round brown nuts later in the summer and autumn ready for the squirrel to pick and bury in the ground to eat later.

To be a Nature Detective all you need are sharp eyes and ears, but if you also want to take a camera, paper and pencil to draw things you see, and a magnifying glass for a really close look it will be even more fun.

How many things can you tick off the grids in the downloadable pdf.?

Dowload the PDF now.

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, 17 January 2014

5 Good Reasons To Encourage Activity

Once children enter your life, life will never be the same again. It is often said that you can never go back in time, can never recapture that feeling, that perfect moment, or smell again that fragrance that enchanted you. The way you lived as a couple before children will never return, you can’t replicate that but you will change and be changed. You will feel love that is like no other love you already experience, you will value sleep like never before, accept the invasion of your space, time and privacy with a wry resignation and you will develop such a fierce feeling of protection it may scare you. There will be many highs and some lows on this rollercoaster of parenthood, but throughout there will be the desire to protect and help.

The desire to do the best for your children comes in many forms and one of them is for their wellbeing and development. It is well documented that exercise, particularly outdoor exercise, is beneficial, not only to develop fitness, burn off energy and to reduce screen time but because it also provides demonstrable benefits to the development of the brain.

     1.   Brain Development
Toddlers enjoy exercise, to them it is just play. They learn so much through all their senses.
Learning to spin, tumble and rebalance, learning about touch, sound and smell. Learning to make decisions and deductions with each experience. The cortex of the brain is developing fast in early childhood and is responsible for the higher functions like decision making, planning and impulse control. Exercise improves the blood flow to the cortex of the brain which causes the neurons of that area to grow and form more synapses and connections.

     2.   Academic Performance

Studies have shown again and again that exercise improves academic performance . We are designed to be active, not sedentary screen-starers. Exercise develops us physically and refreshes us mentally and no studies have ever shown a detrimental effect of exercise on academic performance. (unless of course it completely replaces accedemic tuition) Exercise was recommended to help my daughter’s dyslexia. She didn’t enjoy energetic exercise so we added a bit more pep to the things she did enjoy, long walks with the dogs, swimming and bouncing. We played impromptu games involving more energy. The dyslexia is still there, but she became happier and less stressed about it and it is hardly a problem now. And that leads to the next benefit.

      3.   Mental Health

It is often reported that nowadays children suffer from anxiety and depression more than before. There are so many pressures on children to perform well, be good, behave, and be careful that sometimes this gives rise to anxiety. Exercise and playing sport or team games, or just following a self- directed activity is a welcome relief and also a release of energy and pent up anxiety. This applies from early years through to teenage and then adult hood. Don’t you feel refreshed after some physical activity – even if you felt tired before you started?

 4.       Improved Behaviour

Children are naturally full of energy. There is a growing culture of indoor sedentary occupations. There is no doubt that children who can run around, play actively without pressure to achieve and enjoy what they are doing are much happier as a result. Many a parent has reported that the children fight less, are less grumpy and prone to aggression when they have been denied the TV remote control and the use of all computer games for a period. After the initial sulks and tantrums the children said that playing games and amusing themselves was “more fun”.

      5.    Increased Confidence.

If you can find an activity that your child enjoys and encourage them without pressure to improve your child will gain confidence as they gain ability. They may set their own goals “I can now swim a whole length without stopping”. Some children are naturally competitive and others are not. Let them set their own levels of exercise at their own pace. Be a facilitator not a pusher. School teachers have observed that where a parent is embarrassingly over supportive of their child’s sport or other activities the child will drop that sport or musical instrument as soon as they can. Never to partake again.

These benefits continue throughout our lives. Even into old age there are noticeable benefits to being active and expending energy. So whilst you are helping your child you are also doing yourself good.

Do you have a favourite activity that you enjoyed as a child, or enjoy now? How do you encourage your children to be active?

 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