Archive for February 2012

On Thursday it will be World Book Day and many children will be arriving at school dressed up as their favourite book characters.  They will then spend the day sharing books with their class and hopefully they will discover a book that they will remember for ever.

The book I remember discovering purely by chance was ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster.  I was in the library at primary school at lunchtime, which meant that I should have been outside playing or inside the classroom if it was raining.  I was pretending to tidy the bookshelves when I started reading a fascinating book.

It told the story about a boy who was very bored and received a tollbooth in the post.  When he set out the tollbooth his room filled with magic and adventure.  He met many different characters relating to stories, numbers and the clever use of words.

The book explores colours, time, numbers, sounds and many many more interesting concepts. As I have grown up I have experienced  the concept of the ‘doldrums’.  My first dip in the book was very brief because the mid day supervisor came in and told us to leave, I had to put this wonderful book back and do what I was supposed to be doing.

When it was reading time; I of course suddenly finished the book I was reading so that I could go and find the book I had to leave.  It didn’t take to long – I searched the part of the bookshelf I had dumped it in and found it with great delight and returned to the classroom with my spoils.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and have bought it as an adult and still appreciated it.  I have subsequently lost my copy through various house moves but now that I have been reminded of it I think that I will either go to a library and see if I can find it or go to a book shop.

I hope that everyone finds a magic book sometime in their lives because the memory remains with you for ever.


When writing stories for the very young you don’t have to look much further than your own back garden for inspiration for magic because nature is the forgotten magic we take for granted.

As you may have gathered my son who is not yet three has been one of the greatest inspirations in my life because he has given the opportunity to see the joy of life through open eyes again.  Toddlers are marvelous at pointing out things that stay the same and are intrigued when things change.  It is like going back in time to when people invented reasons for natural events like the rain and the sun fading at night.

When we go for a walk on the estuary you and I may see washed up rubbish but my son sees treasure and fascinating objects.  De – frosting the car is also amazing because the frost turns into water and that is amazing.  Rainbows are amazing, especially when they are caused by a glass photo frame in the house.  Spiders are scary but even more fantastic because they shed their skin.  When the sky is blue and the sun is shining that is fantastic.  Snow is amazing because you can make magic snowmen.

If you imagine seeing the world from the eyes of a two-year old you see the beauty and appreciate nature and take an interest in birds, bugs and puddles again.  My son is always muddy and jumps in puddles – he also enjoys the challenge of walking along hay bales and showing how well he can balance.

I day-dream a lot these days and see magic in everything – my gran used to appreciate this magic and would often tell us tales about fairies and show us places that looked like good fairy homes.  I see the magic now and write it into my fairy stories and my gran lives for ever in my mind. I am old enough now to have experienced the real world and all of the positives and negatives relating to it but once in a while it is wonderful to transport yourself to the magic world around us – it doesn’t cost anything and it can make you smile from deep in your heart.

Very young children seem to naturally personify everything so all objects have a personality – my son is intrigued by owls and has a favourite owl soft toy he sleeps with at night – obviously this owl has stopped being nocturnal for the time being.

When my son sees puppets he knows that they aren’t really alive but runs away when he is being chased by one attached to me and he likes chasing back.  We have a pop up book of the Chronicles of Narnia – Alistair has always been fascinated and scared by the big pop up picture of Aslan.  I can’t wait to share the full story with him when he is old enough – at the moment he is too busy living his own life story to sit still for too long.

The real magic is actually inside us and has probably enabled people in awful situations to survive with their mind in tact.  Without imagination there is no hope, dreams, ideas and inventions.  Sometimes imagination invents the object that we have to find the technology to achieve it – an example of this would be the ability to watch videos and see people on your phone – like communication in Star Trek.

Everything we watch, touch, read, use and see has been invented by some body who was probably day dreaming and had a sudden rush of genius resulting in something that changed the world. Of course this leads to the question of who invented nature?  Once in a while try to be a toddler and rejoice in the simple magic around you – jump in puddles, roll down sand dunes or get so muddy that you have to get undressed before you go into the house.  The world is magic and beautiful – enjoy!!!

On Saturday evening I had the privilege of spending a fun evening entertaining a wonderful group of nine and ten year olds.   Normally my parties occur during the day with much younger children and involve a puppet show or craft activity.  This party was a much more grown up affair.

The first part of the party was spent playing good old fashioned parlour games such as; wink murder, twenty questions, truth or dare etc.  The children were encouraged to be dramatic in everything that they did and we did have OSCAR winning deaths in wink murder.  As the children warmed up and lost their inhibitions everything got sillier, livelier and time seemed to run out very quickly.  It was an absolute pleasure to have such fun with a bright vibrant group of children.

After a short refreshment break it was time for the disco – it was the first time that I had chance to see my disco lights flashing without the sun diffusing them somewhat.  The room had a small dance floor that seemed to have been made for the scope of my lights to fit in perfectly, we started with ‘Grease Lightening’ and graduated on to ‘Agadou’ and ‘YMCA’ – we enjoyed every minute – I thoroughly enjoyed having a great excuse to behave as I did when I was ten.  (I recall my mum, brother and I doing Agadou whilst watching children’s television during the school holidays).  I think that some of the parents enjoyed the excuse too because they joined in wholeheartedly.

We continued until party food time with air guitar, strike a pose (a fancy game of musical statues) and plenty of energetic dancing.  While the children were eating their food I wrote down acts they wanted to perform for the talent show in the last half hour of the party.  I was expecting everything that they wanted to do would be really grown up and aspiring towards teenage ideas, but no we had the pleasure of ‘Bob the Builder’, ‘The Wheels on the bus’ and ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ which was great. It was wonderful watching the children enjoying themselves and thoroughly appreciating  each others’ company.

The lovely thing was that the children were not in a rush to leave and asked me if there were any more activities that they could do.  I know that the children enjoyed themselves – I also enjoyed and cherished every moment of the party and will remember the personalities and the smiles on the children’s faces for a long time.

When I saw articles about parents refusing to read traditional fairy tales to their children because they are too scary, I thought I needed to comment because my whole business is based on fairy tales.

If we look at the very traditional tales such as; Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears and the Three Billy Goats Gruff, we actually see a recurring story scenario which is used in many blockbuster films and the most successful books.  We have a bad person who tries to spoil the life of the good person and has many attempts. The good person always outwits the bad person and they always live happily ever after of course unless there is a twist.

Reading fairy tales teach children the very basic format of story telling and enable  them not only to retell the story but also recount activities they have been doing that day.  Most of these tales have been passed down by word of mouth and published versions tend to have a lot of input by the author – if you decide to tell your child the story rather than read it you can soften everything – I like to let the children consider how the bad guy may be feeling, as in the case of the Troll in the Three Billy Goats gruff, he is bad-tempered because the goats keep waking him up and he is tired so they all come to an arrangement and the goats wear slippers so they all live happily ever after.

When we are talking about scary fairy tales I think that it is the horrible and really quite macabre tales written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.  These tales are dark and shocking in their content but again have probably been written for a particular audience – I would have to research their readership because they were certainly not written for children.  However we can strip away the darkness and add sugar and spice to the stories and make them more child friendly – Walt Disney was a genius at doing this.

I know lots of little girls and boys who thoroughly enjoy fairytale parties and as long as the baddies are not too scary – they actually like being a teeny bit scared and booing and hissing at the naughty characters.  Anyway we must come to terms with the fact that life is full of wolves, cunning foxes and trolls – we only get our happy endings when we develop strength of character to outwit them and not let them take away our happy ever after.  Also there is a little bit of wolf in all of us – don’t you just like being naughty once in a while?

I planned that I was going to write about how enthusiastically I had taken up playing my guitar again ,after a long break, in preparation for my drama groups and crèches so we could all sing along in the old fashioned way.

I took my faithful old guitar to the music shop just after Christmas to have it re-stringed and picked it up two weeks later.  I was informed that the neck of my guitar was bending beyond repair and that there would be no point replacing the new strings when broken because it was on its last legs.  I was told that it would still play in tune even if there was a gap between the strings and the frets, which wasn’t supposed to be there.  I took it home and tuned it in – each string seemed to tune up successfully but when I played the notes together it sounded as if  I was playing all of the wrong notes.

I am really quite saddened by the demise of my guitar bought from Argos in Romford in 1996 when I taught in a school in Dagenham.  I decided that I wanted to be able to accompany my class with a musical instrument and signed up for lessons in Dagenham College every Monday evening.  I used to travel by bus and by train to get to my lessons and for the first five or six lessons I was too self concious to play in front of my very patient tutor.  Eventually I learnt how to read music and play the guitar to a level which enabled me to accompany the children in my class.  I even decided to share my new skill by giving guitar lessons to interested children.  When I look at my guitar I feel the enthusiasm and hope coming from it and do feel as if I have lost a connection to a time passed.

When I moved back up to Cumbria I continued to share my guitar playing with children who were interested in an introduction to playing the instrument  – I found a letter. that I hadn’t realised was there, tucked into one of the pages of my music book from a parent informing me of how ‘ecstatic’ her son was having guitar lessons.  The little boy is now approximately seventeen years old and I hope that he did benefit from sharing my enthusiasm for the guitar.  My own son has shown interest in musical instruments and will probably inherit my guitar when I replace it – he is nearly three and it won’t matter having a slight discrepancy with the notes because he will be plucking the strings randomly.

While I was teaching in Dagenham I also decided to learn how to play the recorder and had the privilege of six or seven enthusiastic girls who wanted to learn with me – I say learn with me because it really was learning as I learned.  We would practice every lunchtime and lots of playtimes because we were determined to play this simple instrument.  We could all read music and play songs for the rest of the class to join in (I am not certain about the accuracy of the pace and rhythm though).  By the time I left the girls were ready to be taught properly by the much more experienced music teacher who arrived at the school.  I hope that they too made use of their musical skills.

I am spending every spare minute at the moment practising the recorder and can’t wait to play it accompanied by a group of young children shaking the instruments they have just made.  As soon as I replace my guitar I will make new memories and am thinking of learning the flute.

Being able to make music – at whatever level is a joy and a gift – so cast off your fears and enjoy yourself with anything that plays a tune and brings joy to your heart and everyone else – if you are too squeaky just play for yourself!

One of the best things I like about my job is spending time with people when they are celebrating the happiest times of their lives.  One of those times is during a wedding day, normally between the wedding breakfast and the evening celebrations usually during the speeches.  This lull seems to be the time that children need to be children and let off steam and parents need time to talk amongst themselves and think about their own enjoyment for a short time.

The type of entertainment we have developed combines entertainment and a crèche facility enabling us to supervising the children to ensure that they are safe and that we know where they are at all times – children tend to like to wander back to parents if everything is too relaxed.  One of us concentrates solely on the under fives while the older children have a more chatty and relaxed supervision.  It is essential to have two people supervising the children because you can’t stop a two-year old from wandering about when your hands are stuck up two puppets and performing a puppet show.

All staff members are either qualified and experienced teachers or teaching assistants because we believe that there should be no compromise when caring for precious children.  After the puppet show we tend to do a craft activity followed by something active, such as a search around the room looking for clues.  If the older children’s shoes allow it we also play on the spot moving games to get rid of the energy pent-up after sitting and eating a lot – we also do party games giving the children chance to warm up for the disco.  All activities are clean so that the children won’t return with paint, glue and glitter all over them.

Our role at the wedding is very much in the shadows, normally in a room next to the dining room – we are there solely for the needs of the children and rarely seen by the adults.  The children are so beautifully dressed and seem quite grown up, they always seem relieved to have a break and they sometimes ask about what types of things are said during the speeches and discuss the events of the day.  Children are treated in the way they act – if an older child requires a lot of help then they are helped and if a younger child is striving for independence then we assist them accordingly.  The oldest children will carry out activities relating to the theme but will be able to approach them in their own way so that they can explore their own ideas.  The children aged five and under will be given activities with the Early Years Foundation Stage in mind in order to develop their basic skills.  Most of all, the children will have enjoyed themselves and be refreshed for the next part of the day and so will the parents.

More and more people are including children in their weddings these days and are making sure that they have part of the day themselves.

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February 2012

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