Playing games with nature

Conker naughts and crosses

Nature’s game of noughts and crosses

I sent out a little survey recently asking people who had taken my 21 Days of Creative Freedom course what else they would like me to share. One thing that came up and which is very close to my heart was a request for creative activities to do with children.

It can be hard, I know (as a Mum of two boys who love their gadgets), to get some children engaged in creative activities. Others will happily draw for hours, but I find that my boys really come alive and express their gorgeous, creative selves out of doors, surrounded by nature. It is where they feel freest and happiest. Me too!

The natural world provides so many things that we take for granted or appreciate for their beauty alone, but a walk in the park or along the beach offers a whole wealth of creative opportunities.

On holiday this Summer, small boy and I were sitting in full blazing sun on a pebbly beach. The big boys had ventured off exploring caves and after some time swimming and splashing about in the water, small boy and I were feeling the need for some shade. The only shady spot in view was an old bench under a tree. How would I keep him occupied there, I wondered. So, from the beach, I gathered four sticks and some stones: five shiny smooth and five rough and bumpy. On a beach towel on the bench beneath the tree, I lay the sticks across each other to make a grid and asked small boy to choose which pile of stones he wanted.

Our next half hour was spent playing noughts and crosses over and over again. I was smooth stones, he was bumpy. When the big boys arrived, we jumped into the tender with them and took the pieces of our improvised game back to the yacht where we continued playing.

Seeing the fallen conkers these past few weeks I have, on several occasions, set up an impromptu game in the park, using conkers instead of noughts and crosses, one player putting the conkers white side up, the other white side down (as above). Simple fun. Isn’t that so often the best?
They say the best things in life are free.
Conkers have been substitute balls, allowing us a spur of the moment game of piggy in the middle which raises much laughter due to the trickiness of catching a small flying conker. They have been used for throwing competitions, as have big sticks (big boy loves athletics, so this really make him grin). Small boy has sent conkers racing down slides as his friends scramble to catch them. Endless amusement.
What other games have you played with conkers and sticks? I am sure there are many other options.

Being out and about, living in the moment and aware of my surroundings leads me to point out the simple things to my children. They, in return, show me nature’s magic through their eyes. We like to notice how nature makes its own art. At the beach, it was snail trails through rock pools; on the street, slug or snail trails caught our eyes and looked like nature’s works of abstract art decorating the pavement.

Nature's abstract art

Nature’s abstract art

I have written here on several occasions of the images I have made out of doors from sticks and stones in the woods and what the water has washed up on the beach, so I won’t repeat myself, but if you’re stuck for something to do this weekend, my advice would be this…
Go out… explore.
Lead the way sometimes and let your children lead you.
Point out the details you notice and encourage them to show you the simple everyday magic that they see the world.
Draw with sticks in the mud and come home messy.
I will never forget a little girl in my art club telling me, “my mum doesn’t mind if I get dirty as she knows it means I’ve been having fun”!
Life isn’t supposed to be neat and tidy all the time… especially creativity.

Do share what you get up to this weekend in the comments below… I would love to hear about your creative adventures in nature.

How lucky I am…

Wednesday is Art Club day at school.

As 3.30pm approaches and I am preparing the room, moving tables and chairs, choosing music and building up to two hours of teaching, I am never quite sure what to expect and feel that delicious combination of nerves and excitement, reminding me that what I am about to do is both a challenge and something I love that means an awful lot for a number of reasons.

Some days, all goes well: I don’t lose my voice; great art is produced; everyone leaves with a smile.
Other days, I am faced with challenges: paint-splattered uniforms; lively mischief; tired, hungry kids.
And sometimes, I leave on a high: inspired by my students; proud of what has been achieved; thrilled by the possibilities.

Today was one of those days… an exhilarating day to remember.
Today, I walked out of school with a smile on my face, thinking HOW LUCKY I AM!
And as I walked, it struck me that some of the things that challenge me are also the things that excite me. I thought about the lively class; their voices raised in playful banter. I thought about the mess they made; the fun they had making it. I remembered the hug from the liveliest class member before he went home; his way of thanking me for the lesson he had so clearly enjoyed. I smiled as I thought about the conversation about art which I had shared with one of the students as he worked a little late, keen to finish what he had begun.

In class, as I tried to keep the volume down, my perspective shifted, in a moment, from frustration to elation… those were excited voices, the laughter and sounds I hear coming from my own children’s mouths as they anticipate some fun activity or outing.

As I tried to tame the mess, something changed in me and I chose to let it flow, to deal with it later, to let the experiments get a little out of hand… what else is art about if not pushing things further; taking things to the next level; playing freely with paint and paper and whatever else is at hand?

Watching the artworks unfold, I became more animated as I acknowledged that all that was happening was all that I wished for… the children were experimenting freely, playing, exploring, creating original works of art and feeling good about themselves, gaining confidence in their abilities and letting go of ideas of perfection.

How lucky I am…
To be working with a group of children who are lively, playful and open to new ideas.
How lucky I am…
To be learning from the children I am teaching; sharing my love of art and watching theirs grow.

Last week, on the boarded up wall of the classroom, we installed a hanging system – a simple hook and eye contraption on which I can display the work and cover the wall. Our art class is now becoming a gallery too… living with art is as important as creating it. I want these kids to share their art with pride.

I love to witness their first experiments with new techniques and see their joy as they realise they did well.
I love to 
see that pride as they spot one of their artworks on the gallery wall and show their parents what they have created.
I love to
watch their eyes light up as I tell them how brilliant they are, how original, how creative.

I love art and it is a privilege to share it.

How lucky I am.


In celebration of tradition

A collage to celebrate the end of the school year

A collage to celebrate the end of the school year and the beginning of the holidays

Yesterday was the last day of term… the beginning of the Summer holidays… the start of six long weeks of school-free time.

Year six-ers walked through the gates for the final time; shirts signed; tears in their eyes. Younger ones hugged their teachers goodbye and some littler still (those brothers and sisters finishing their time at nursery), stood in the playground just a few weeks away from donning the same uniform as their older siblings, lining up for their first days of school.

There is always excitement attached to this time of year. Expectation also; apprehension; anticipation.

Each important stage of life is to be celebrated… so why not the end of a school year… and why not with a new tradition?

This idea of celebrating the end of a school year with a new tradition came when the story behind a curious photograph on a friend‘s Facebook page was revealed. The photograph showed a little girl’s dress hanging out of a window on a stick. I was curious.

School dress flagged up. Photo: Sarah Riccomini Carlin*

What was this all about? The explanation was right there in Sarah’s comments: “It is our family tradition. Every year the uniform gets flagged up! One year was on the garage roof, the next was on the antenna of the car and here it is this year!”

What a fabulous tradition! What a wonderful way to celebrate the end of the school year!

NO SCHOOL yahoo

This was something I wanted to introduce to my own family too. I suggested the idea to big boy. He liked it. He wanted to add his own twist. “Can I write on the shirt, Mum?” he asked me. As I have only a couple of school shirts which still fit the rapidly growing boy, I suggested he write on paper instead and we pin it to the shirt. He was happy to do so and the words “NO SCHOOL YAHOO” were carefully written in permanent pen and attached to the shirt which was threaded onto a bean pole and hung from his bedroom window like a flag. And there it hangs, blowing in the breeze, celebrating the start of our time off together.

There is something rather special about traditions. Something wonderful about those things you do as a kid, year in, year out. Those things that are unique to your family or a few people close to you. Those things that you remember as you grow up, and as you grow older, you wish to continue, to pass on to your own children. With this in mind, I will now look for opportunities to introduce new traditions to my family. I will seek out ideas and find ways to include such celebrations in our year… there are so many opportunities to create these magical moments and memories if only we remain open to them.

What are your family traditions? What traditions did you enjoy as a child?

A few of my own spring to mind:

At Christmas, my brother and I would do a “stocking dance” on Christmas eve. This involved laying our stockings (big handmade creations in white cotton, embroidered with lovely pictures by our Nanna) across each other to form an X and doing a kind of highland fling-type jig. This was where the real excitement began… in the moments before bedtime, before hanging the stockings, before laying awake in bed for what seemed like hours before tiredness took over and sent us to sleep.

Summer holidays were always spent in Wales. In Fairbourne to be exact. At the same bungalow we always stayed in, my brother and I; with Nanna and Gramp and Mum and Dad. In the run up to our trip (which was usually the middle two weeks of the school holidays), my brother and I would make magazines for each other. Dad worked for a newspaper and brought home large unprinted sheets of paper so we could make something to entertain each other on the long drive to Wales. The creation of these mags was done in secret; each of us knowing what the other was making, but never were we allowed to look until we got into the car, seat belts fastened, ready to leave. Days were spent cutting out pictures of favourite bands, inventing quizzes, writing articles, pasting photos. These colourful creations were fun to make, great to read and, looking back, a delightful exchange of love and creative energy. We were doing something together, for each other, with a common goal in mind… to create the most brilliant entertainment possible before the big swop. We wanted to be appreciated. We wanted to be entertained.

A little extra pocket money was also given to us before our hols and tradition had it that this was spent on sweets for the journey. I remember my own personal favourite was the Texan bar; a chewy, chocolate coated treat, which took a long time to chomp through. The other regular in our white paper bags was a Curly Wurly; a lengthy chocolate covered toffee bar, specifically chosen, I believe, for the time it lasted (probably much to our parents’ delight it kept our mouths closed for a long while). Pink Panther (strawberry chocolate) bars were also much favoured, but in later years we were unable to find them and I still have memories of looking out the back window of the car and seeing my last ever Pink Panther lying in the middle of the road, having fallen from where it was sitting in the basket that had been left on the roof of the car when Dad drove off. It is only now, as a parent myself, that I understand how easy it is to leave things in such silly places.

Decorating boiled eggs on Easter Sunday; toasting marshmallows on Bonfire night; going to the Nativity service on Christmas eve. These are some of the traditions I hope my boys will always enjoy and pass on to their own children. I look forward to introducing and enjoying more family traditions as time goes by.

Can you think of some new traditions to introduce to your family?
What are the traditions that you would you like to pass on?

*Many thanks to Sarah Riccomini Carlin for introducing me to this new tradition and inspiring this blog post.