Posts Tagged ‘Play


These days it would seem that the Nicky Morgan and Jeremy Hunt make policies without actually talking to each other.  We are given such mixed messages when it comes to developing our children’s minds and bodies.  On the one hand the Education Minister wants to increase the amount of academic work our children do, including dreaded homework. On the other hand,  the Health Minister keeps telling us we are too fat and children don’t get enough exercise.  The amount of opportunities children have to free play and therefore exercise is decreasing with every new target that is added to the OFSTED process.

Tracey Crouch, the Sports Minister, tried to convince us that the Olympic games would make athletes of us all.  There was a little increase in sports participation but nothing to get excited about.  Our medalists didn’t inspire us to exercise more, rather they encouraged us to; open new bank accounts, eat Quorn and watch, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.  All of these activities could be done at home on the sofa and failed miserable to get anyone excited about sport. apparently there is no single reason why people don’t participate in exercise more.

School trim trails, climbing frames, climbing walls and many other pieces of playground equipment adorn our school playgrounds now, yet children are not getting as much time in the school day to play freely. In the late 70’s and early 80’s when I was at school our playground equipment consisted of a dangerous climbing frame, a huge field, crystal draining stones in a filled in stream, grass cuttings and magnifying glasses.  Incidentally the exercise we got from the magnifying glasses was running away from the dinner ladies when we used them to melt black bin bags.  If it was sunny we would go out and play rounders or cricket on the field.  If it was snowing we took our sledges to the nearest hill and didn’t worry that we were missing English or Maths.

These days, unless an activity has got a significant number of learning outcomes and can be incorporated into a success criteria anything that doesn’t have a box to tick doesn’t count as learning.  The notion that exercise has to be formal and that you should achieve some sort of accolade for participating in it is suffocating our love of sport.  My brother and I spent one summer holiday playing in our grandparent’s empty coal bunker, it was great because the adults couldn’t get to us and we got filthy.  The amount of agility and strength required to get in and out of a coal bunker is quite a lot, we slept well at night and fat kids can’t fit into coal bunkers.

We all probably interfere far more in our children’s lives than our parents did in ours.  For some reason we treat children like they are made of fine china and neither their feelings or their bodies should be hurt.  I had bruises and scuffed knees for most of my childhood – I didn’t get upset about it and our parents were caring but accepted that it was part of childhood.  Now I am terrified of my son getting bruised and scuffed simply because I am afraid of being judge as a bad parent.

Play is definitely the secret to getting children to exercise more because it is so flexible and the imagination takes away the boredom of training.  When I watch my son and puppy playing together they are both exercising but because they are playing then don’t realize it.



The year seems to go so very quickly and it seems that once we have settled back into a routine after one set of school holidays we are preparing for another.  It is the final half term before the big summer holidays and quite frankly my son is ready for a break from the school system.  My son has a decidedly laid back approach to writing, which I am sure will be an issue at parent’s evening tonight, it is not that he hasn’t got the ability or the content – he just wants to be able to take longer than the restricted time allocated to writing.  As a writer myself I can see where he is coming because deciding what to write about and making sure that it is something that is worth reading can often involve a lot of thinking, correcting and changing the title until it sounds just right.  The pressure to write has increased in intensity as the year has gone on and my son has revolted against it by writing coded letters to the fairies requesting that the teachers are turned into bubbles and blown away so he doesn’t have to write any more.

Before he went to school, my son told stories all of the time and tales of Mr Spider and Pimpa Pimpa were shared between him and his granddad.  He enjoys every other aspect of school and is very capable at maths, reading, comprehension, listening and speaking and spelling but writing is his bugbear.  The last parents evening I attended involved a lot of discussion about SATs and I felt a wave of stress come over me, until I remembered that he was only in year one and he wasn’t going to do SATs until next year and the big ones for another five years.  It is such a great shame that even in a school that values play the pressure to teach to the test always wins out in the end. This is most definitely related to the impact low SATs results has on a school’s OFSTED grading, the ironic part of all this is that secondary schools only use Key Stage SATs results as a weak guide to the groups they should be in.

It really makes you wonder why the Government has harped on about the importance of play in the early years only to begin hot housing them when they start school.  The pressure to compete with other countries has meant that passing tests and ticking boxes has become the sole purpose of teaching and learning.  When you read articles about how play can incorporate all aspects of learning such as this one by Playdale Playgrounds celebrating the learning potential of sand and water.  I am afraid that this need to test all of the time is going to take away the excitement of learning and gradually switch children off.

I guess I am just going to have to start installing an enthusiasm for writing in my son and hopefully this will be just a phase he is going through.

Interactive playgrounds aren’t something you see every where yet so when you do find one it can be quite a treat! The mix of traditional play and a new, exciting interactive element gets kids really eager to try it out. Interactive play is both challenging AND fun, and offers another encouraging way to get children fitter!


Another good aspect of it is that sometimes competitive sport can really only nurture the natural first team players and others can get left out or left behind.  But equipment like this is much more inclusive and gets everybody involved in a more relaxed way. Physical exercise for children is obviously hugely important, especially with the current obesity rates. This is a great way to get kids moving without them even really realising they are exercising.

Hopefully they will make a welcome change to video games. It will be great when more of our playgrounds include some interactive equipment!

Since my last post was about activities to do indoors, on these frankly pretty cold and wet days, I thought I should even it out with some outdoor activity ideas!

Garden Playtime

Now not everyone is lucky enough to have some play equipment in their back garden but if they do they should be out having fun on it, carefully though if it’s wet!


Follow The Christmas Star

Hang up stars around the garden with activities written on them and clues to find the net star. The children have to run around on the star trail and complete the activities!

Star cards

Create Natural Decorations

Creating their own natural Christmas decorations outside can be great fun. Twigs and sticks are perfect for making stars when tied together with some string for a sturdy hanging decoration, or how about making Christmas characters out of sticks on the grass.


Snowball Race

Much like an egg and spoon race but instead use either a Styrofoam ball or a ping pong ball as the snowball and see who can go across the garden and back without dropping it!


A Present Hunt

Wrap up a pretend present and take it in turns to hide it somewhere outside giving ‘getting hotter’ or ‘getting colder’ clues while they search. You can even take it in turns to hide something in the box as a small prize!


Christmas Walk

If none of that is too appealing or hard to organise, there is always a good old Christmas walk where the kids can admire and look at everyone’s Christmas lights and decorations!

If the weather’s not so good (which it often isn’t in December in the UK!) there might be a lot of trying to keep the kids entertained inside over the Christmas holidays. So I thought I’d share a few of the little arty projects we have done in the past that have proved quite popular, plus they are all Christmas related so bonus points for that!

Paper Snowflakes

The classic paper snowflakes!. Most kids will do this at school as well but it’s something that is fun and requires a bit of skill. It’s great seeing them see what they have created when they open up the paper.


Making Christmas Cards

This is something we attempt each year for the families’ Christmas cards. Admittedly, some years we have ended up loosing patience, or at least the first few are masterpieces and then they steadily go downhill as we realise just how many there are to do!


Baking Snowmen

Really fun and easy to do. Simple biscuit recipe topped with a marshmallow and icing sugar!


Bead Candy Canes

This one will encourage some patience and hand-eye coordination!


Snowmen Feet

This could get a little messy so a firm grip on a child with painted feet is needed! It’s extra fun because it is personal to them, plus they get to get a bit messy in a way they probably don’t get to that much PLUS they can be creative and decorate their snowmen however they like!


Make Your own Snow

Now I haven’t tried this one yet but it looks like it could be really fun! Instructions here.

homemade snow recipe 1

For a few more ideas, check out this blog post and this website

Up until last week I had never heard the phrase helicopter parent before.  Actually, that’s not strictly true. I hadn’t taken the time to really think about the term until then. Watching daytime television (if I ever have a moment to, and more often than not it’s a better idea not to) it always seems that I am bombarded with parenting advice and explanations of different parenting techniques (some extreme, some not so much). When in between doing some other odd jobs around the house I passed the TV for a moment and  heard someone say ‘helicopter parent’. It sounded like quite a lively debate so I stopped and sat myself down to hear some more for a moment.

Just in case you are unfamiliar, helicopter parents are basically mums and dads who find it very hard not to get involved with every single aspect of their child’s life. You could describe them as ‘hovering’ around their little ones (hence where the name comes from) finding it hard to take a back seat. That’s putting it quite politely I think. In other words (which the woman in opposition on the TV used) they are controlling, overbearing and overprotective.


A few helicopter parent symptoms to look out for –

  • You spoil them
  • It pains you to drop them off at school
  • You think your child is perfect in every way and take every opportunity to tell people that
  • You’re like their security guard
  • You help a bit too much with their homework (i.e do it for them so they get top marks)
  • You are the germ police
  • You try to hand pick their friends
  • You often feel guilty and give into their every desire to shelter them from negative experiences
  • You’re over prepared and plan to every last detail


It’s fair to say that most of us will have been guilty of some of the things on this list from time to time. But I know that I am not a helicopter parent. Doing a lot of the things on this list will stop your child from learning valuable lessons.  Failure and challenges are important and teach kids  new skills and also that they can indeed handle failure and challenges. They need a certain amount of independence to develop and grow in the ways they need to. I’m a pretty big believer in letting kids get on with what they want to do (within reason of course) whether that’s playing outdoors, drawing and colouring, dressing up and being creative and making choices for themselves. This builds up their confidence and is, as they say, all part of being a kid.

Anyway, that’s my little lesson learnt to keep avoiding daytime TV! I stayed watching long enough to hear that apparently helicopter parents have now been replaced by snowplough parents! We’ll save that for another post…


Two major studies into the impact of free nursery places for three year olds have found that children gain no specific benefit from the head start they get as a result of pre school education.  Research by the Institute of Education and the Universities of Surrey and Essex  found that although children did make good progress at five, the overall impact became diluted by the time children reached seven and was not at all evident by the time children reached eleven.  These results have been reinforced by the report made by Fiscal Studies and the university of Essex as they have found that for every six children only one child was accessing nursery eduction that they wouldn’t normally have, the other five’s parents were benefiting from reduced childcare costs.  I find these results really interesting because I have observed the catch up stage at seven years old where the children all seem to find a similar level – the quicker children tend to slow down in their progress while the children who have taken their time tend to catch up.  It is almost as if seven is the age that any assessment should be used as a baseline, especially as the attainment of children tends to drop a little in relation to the SATS results achieved in year two.

The success of any education system comes down to how well the children in any given country perform in tests at a chosen age.  Presently Asian countries are topping the list of best education systems, with South Korea at the top.  European countries seem to be slowly declining in their ability to reach the top of the tables, even Scandinavia, who are usually ranked highly, are starting to slip.  If we look deeper at the different educational approaches it becomes quite obvious that the reason Asian countries are topping the tables is because they are simply hot housed and forced to do well at tests while Western children’s education is still pretty holistic despite there being a huge emphasis on testing at the moment.  The Asian system is flawed because it produces a huge group of people who are great at passing tests and have a disciplined approach to work.  The downside to this approach is that they are not particularly good at thinking for themselves and lack innovation.  The Western system is a mish mash of trying to compete in tests and trying to put the needs of the children first that we are ending up with a load of children who are highly opinionated but are not very good at passing tests.

It would seem that the whole world seems to have lost its way in terms of knowing what is best for children educationally and schools in the UK are increasingly pressurised to educate their pupils to a standard that is average or above regardless of the child’s true ability.  Assessment is a valuable way to determine the ability of children and if used solely as an information tool for teachers would be very valuable.  However assessment in our primary schools is essentially a test for the school, as OFSTED can state that a school requires improvement on the strength of their SATs results.  Mistakenly I thought that schools in Special Measures were likely to be the most stressful but now believe that aiming to keep the same grading or improve is just as stressful.  You hear about Michelin Starred Chefs losing their nerve when they lose a star and running to the hills – I am beginning to think that this is starting to apply to school.

Hours of research has concluded that for preschoolers play is the most valuable learning tool, in fact play is the cooking pot that every life skill your child acquires originates from.  Learning to read and write for example is like the formation of the earth you need a universe worth of experience in order to achieve these skills – something that sitting at a table will most certainly not achieve.  Sure Start Centres hold courses on play and life with a preschooler is so much fun, whether you play around a climbing frame in the garden or splash about in squelchy mud you can enjoy the pleasure of the experience.  It is only through the eyes of our young children that we are able to re experience the magic in the world. All studies into the development of children generally indicate that children follow a rough pattern of development at their own pace but generally reach their milestones by the time they are five.  Two year olds are assessed to see what their attainment level is and anyone in the position of educating them such as; nurseries or childminders have to explain their provision if the child doesn’t tick all of the boxes.  Thankfully that type of assessment has not extended to children who are at home with parents.

What concerns me is that combining the concept of play and teaching to the test is causing a clash of experiences that can only end in disaster.  We are already anticipating a shortfall in engineers and skilled people who are capable of being innovative enough to take us into the next century.  History frequently tells us that the people who made the greatest difference to our lives were not always the best at passing tests – the world changers were the ones who had a vision and could turn that vision into reality.  Leonardo De Vinci invented many objects that the world was not yet ready for but have now been produced using the technology that his time period was lacking.  De Vinci would not have been able to have produced such awesome works of art if he lacked imagination.  Every film we watch, book we read, technology we use, garment we wear, painting we admire, music we listen to has been produced by someone’s imagination.  I can’t remember ever looking at an exam paper and feeling overawed by its beauty.

So as I sit here typing this, the sun is shining and the view out of my window is glorious.  School is nearly finished for the summer and I’m sure many other people will be in the same situation as me and starting to question how am I going to keep a small child entertained all day every day for a whole six weeks?  It is a thought that is partly exciting when I think of all the new experiences and all the new things he will learn before starting school again in September but then the other part is wondering what are we going to do and how many times am I going to hear “I’m bored!”    We can’t be doing grand activities and trips every day as that’s just not feasible so sometimes it comes down to making staying at home fun and exciting.

Thinking back to my summer holidays as a child I only really remember being outside, riding around on bikes or doing somersaults down the steep slope in the front garden.  Nowadays it seems things have changed a bit and kids can’t play out as freely as we used to be able to. I’m hoping though that if the weather stays as it is right now, the garden will be the place to be.  We have a plain and simple swing out there at the moment but I’m wondering whether a small climbing frame or slide could be a good addition for the summer. Of course there are plenty of other games and activities for the garden that don’t have to involve any fancy equipment. Maybe a paddling pool could be a good idea? Actually, yes, I think I’ve just convinced myself of that, a paddling pool with some toys and maybe a water gun could lead to hours of self initiated play and if that means I can read the paper and enjoy a cold drink outside while I’m supervising then I will be happy too, though no doubt a splash here and there will also be included!  I’m always looking for ideas of simple games or activities that don’t involve too much preparation or equipment. I found a little list here of garden games which are the sorts of things I think I will be doing this summer – something creative, fun and involve a lot of running around to tire them out! Any other garden play suggestions would be greatly appreciated!



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