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On religion, kitchen implements and bungy jumping penguins

28 Jan

I never really worried about how the children would cope without toys.  They’ve always had a knack for entertaining themselves, even if it usually means making a hideous mess.  We have brought craft stuff with us, and we also have a small handful of little toys that fit into the side pockets of their rucksacks.  Three Sylvanians, small prehistoric sea creatures, plastic soldiers, a very meagre amount of Lego and a couple of cars.  Most of which, rarely gets played with.

Yet they spend almost all day every day playing, in bus queues and airports, on beaches, in our multifarious bedrooms, so what do they do?  I suppose the short answer is, they make stuff up.  In Hawaii, after watching a baptism on the beach, they made up their own religion.  That kept them occupied for a couple of days and meant that we could wander round The Place of Refuge in peace while they tried out the various temples for size.

They make up gameshows, inspired by their Uncle Harry’s triumph on Total Wipeout, involving any available soft furnishings and plenty of leaping.

They also act out what happens around them, in the way that all children do.  In their case, this means strapping the cuddly penguin to the elastic travel washing line and making him bungy jump off the top bunk.

They tend to become obsessed with one thing for a couple of days, before moving on to the next thing.  After visiting Te Papa, we became a flax weaving collective.  I can’t say we produced much of use, but it was all done very properly and we made sure we thanked the flax plants before cutting them down.

Ned, the child who used to come home from school with armfulls of junk modelling, has carried on pretty much as before.  He’s made spoons from sticks and shells, endless boats from sticks and leaves and an uncannily accurate crocodile from snorkel packaging and a cereal box.

Lego is the one toy apart from teddies which gets played with consistently.  We’ve only got a little, which the children were given for Christmas, but it gets made into something new on a daily basis.  The minifigs are currently living in very well appointed surroundings, with furniture made from cereal boxes (them again) and a lift to carry them from our ground floor front door to our first floor flat.  It’s amazing what you can do with a ball of string and some sellotape.

Of course they also watch plenty of TV, they are my children after all.  Their favourite programme in New Zealand was America’s Funniest Home Videos. Their new ambition is to appear on said programme, so they practise regularly.  This is not at all annoying.

Half the time I’ve no idea what they’re up to, even though we’re in the same room, because it’s utterly random and involves unusual kitchen implements.  But do you know what?  In three months, I’ve only heard them say the words “I’m bored” once.  Just once.  That’s not bad is it?


There’s a dead possum in the middle of the road…

19 Jan

A Kiwi playground game for you…

One of a group of children sings the above.  They point at another child who has to sing “and I one it”, the next child sings “and I two it”, and so on until you reach “and I eight it” (ate it, geddit) and they all fall about laughing hysterically.

And that’s it.  Simple but effective.

On mice, ice rinks and sweeping chimneys

17 May

Here’s the thing, I’m very proud of my children’s ability to entertain themselves in an impressively imaginative way.  I feel like I’m a good mother because I am encouraging their creativity.  But they are also driving me mad.  I’m not what you would call ‘good’ at housework.  If I manage to put on a wash, wipe the kitchen surfaces and sweep the floor in one day then I’m very impressed with myself.  And my children’s imaginations seems to create more housework than I can possibly cope with AND chat to my friends on Twitter.

Some examples of recent ‘games’:

  1. They filled an empty bath with a whole bottle of shampoo then used it as an ice rink.  I realise that this is easy to clean but it is a waste of a bottle of shampoo and also possibly rather dangerous.
  2. The 8 year old was asked to lay a fire (not light it before anyone tells me off).  She took it upon herself to also sweep the chimney.  Using her hands.
  3. The 5 year old was found making little piles of sunflower seeds in the corners of the upstairs landing.  He was “feeding the cute little mice”.  I should point out that we don’t have any pets.
  4. They spread the contents of their small sandbox over literally half of our garden then got towels from the bathroom so they could “sunbathe on the beach”.
  5. They stuck a whole roll of double sided sticky tape on the hall floor “to catch burglars”.  I should never have let them watch Home Alone.

So, like I say, I think they are very inventive and love the fact that they get on so well.  But I also wish they’d spend a bit more time doing jigsaws.  Should I supervise them more?  And if I do that, when am I ever going to put a wash on?  Speaking of which…

On Origami, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and Origin of Species

17 Dec

What’s the point in taking such young children travelling around the world?  They won’t understand what they are seeing and they won’t really remember it when they’re older.  Why don’t you just stay at home?

Mostly, when we tell people about our travel plans they are overwhelmingly positive, Eve’s teacher’s initial reaction was “What an education!”.  But occasionally someone will not understand.

So what is the point? And what can we do to prepare them for such a big change in their little lives?

Because they are so young, I think they have trouble differentiating between countries, so we are doing all we can to teach them about our destinations before we go.  The older two frequently confuse, India, China and Japan for instance, so we look at picture atlases, read National Geographic and talk about our experiences of visiting some of these places before they were born.

We are trying to find out what children in our destination countries like to read, play and watch, and remembering books and programmes from our childhood set in foreign lands.  So ‘Skippy the Bush Kangaroo’ and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ are on order and the picture book ‘I live in Tokyo’ by Mari Takabayashi is studied with great concentration as we learn about the Doll’s Festival and how to write fish in Japanese.  Playdough sessions are interspered with origami making and Thai kick boxing.  Although I’m now regretting suggesting the latter.

We are planning to see volcanos, coral reefs, glaciers, deserts and jungles on our travels, so we’ve been mining the library for reference books.  I would love it if we went on a walk through the Malaysian jungle and one of the children said “Look there’s a …”  Then I would know that we were doing the right thing.  Having a geologist Daddy is helping.  I’m confident that we’ll all know a lot more about glaciers and volcanos by the end of our trip.  Whether we want to or not.

Learning about animals is easy, with Battersea Park Zoo down the road and a well-used season ticket to London Zoo last year.  We’ve adopted a Cambodian otter and an orangutan called Sen, who lives at Sepilok Sanctuary in Borneo, a place we intend to visit.  He’s the same age as Dickon, likes splashing in the bath, throwing food and playing with his toy train.  Apparently, Charles Darwin’s visit with his infant daughter to the orangutans at London zoo was one of the catalysts for the Origin of Species.  Hmm.

One of the great joys of travel is trying new foods, particularly somewhere like Thailand or Vietnam.  But if you are four years old, trying new food  can be something akin to being made to walk across hot coals, and if you add chili to the food, well you might as well be throwing your four year old to the lions.  I don’t want to have lots of battles about food, so I’m quite prepared to let them survive on a diet of rice, fruit and cartons of chocolate milk for three months.  But I’d love it if they could enjoy eating in Asia, so to that end, and also because we are greedy, we eat out as much as possible, and almost always Thai, Vietnamese or any cuisine involving chillies, noodles or raw fish.  We have also persuaded them that seaweed makes a yummy snack.

I do realise that a four year old will have a limited memory of a trip like this as an adult, but I also think he will get things from it that are not all about remembering.  He will have a year away from formal schooling, a year spent with his family, a year of learning to adapt to new places and new experiences, a year of learning to amuse himself on long bus journeys, all things which I hope will have a lasting impact.

As for not remembering, we’ll have blog posts and photos coming out of our ears by the end of the trip.  Forgetting about it won’t be an option.

That old chestnut about cardboard boxes

7 Dec

In this week’s Ocado order, there were two large boxes of tissues in an attempt to stem the flow of snot from winter noses.  As I was putting them away, Ned asked “Can I have the lids from the boxes, please?”.  “No, the tissues will get dirty before we’ve used them”.  “Oh, please, please, please.  Dickon and I really really need them for our game”.  “I suppose so, here you are”.  “Come on Dickon, you’re my pet budgie and these are your cuttlefish”.

I’m not overly worried about how the children will entertain themselves without cupboards full of toys.

Recipe for happiness

14 Aug



  • 3 small children
  • 1 slow moving, shallow stream
  • 2 cheap fishing nets
  • 1 bucket


  1. Remove children’s shoes and socks
  2. Mix the ingredients together
  3. Leave for as many hours as you like, or until the children are hungry


Repeat as often as you want happy children

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. For more pictures, click here.

Toys for trips

23 Jun

DSC_0247 by you.

If you want to see a spiffy version of this photo with labels, click here.

When we go on train journeys, or anywhere with backpacks rather than a car, I pack a large selection of very small things to keep the children entertained. Almost all of these toys are useful for the journey, all of them can be played with at our destination.  Like everything we take backpacking, each of these toys usually has DSC_0245more than one use, or can be played with in an imaginative way to extend the value we get from them.  It may look like a huge amount of stuff, but believe it or not, it all fits in a zip up spongebag type thing, the size of a hardback book.

Clockwise from top left the items are:

  1. Seven mini versions of our favourite books.  A few publishers are doing this now, Red Fox has the biggest selection.
  2. Selection of small animals, mostly Sylvanian families characters,
  3. Mini magnifying glass (in green plastic case),
  4. Plastic dinosaur, can be used for chasing Sylvanians,
  5. Dice for number games,
  6. Two pop up frisbees which fit in a small pouch.  They don’t fly brilliantly, but much entertainment can be had from simply popping them out.
  7. Sheets of stickers,
  8. Selection of small vehicles,
  9. Pocket watercolour set with paintbrush and small watercolour sketchbook.  The paint also gets used on stones, shells etc.
  10. Inflatable beach ball,
  11. Writing pencils,
  12. Mini self-inking stamp set,
  13. Plasticine (oil based modelling clay).  Can be used for many things including building furniture for Sylvanians or tunnels for vehicles.
  14. Glue, sellotape and rubber,
  15. Small coloured pencils and felt tips,
  16. Usborne’s 100 things for little children to do on a journey with white board pens.  These are dry wipe cards with the types of activities you get in children’s magazines such as spot the difference and matching games.
  17. Handful of magnetic rocks,
  18. Bouncy ball.

I also take a school-type exercise book for each child which they use for arty stuff and sticking in things they find.  If we’ve got space, I’ll also take a game like Uno, or Chinese Chequers, but I find the art materials and little toys keep them occupied for a lot longer.  I don’t bring anything with small parts, like Lego or Playmobil, as I can’t bear the anguish when the knight’s sword falls down the side of the chair, never to be seen again.

With this basic kit, they can put on shows, build rockets out of old packaging, do science experiements, write and illustrate stories, or poke each other with pencils.  Just like at home really.