“The Railway Children” by E. Nesbitt is one of those books that out lasts my childhood and still captures my heart and imagination. Its a children’s book whose depth of feeling and emotion only adults can truly appreciate (Laura Ingalls Wilder books fall into this category too.) I’m sure the book is one of the reasons I do love the opportunity to take a steam train trip, (although I’d always say we’re doing it for the children.) We took a steam train from Cape Town to Simon’s Town last February and we took a short trip on a train from Aviemore two years ago. And last weekend we took a trip on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway. It was a great day out. One of the best bits was playing hide and seek in the engine shed when we arrived at the station, scrambling up onto the foot plates of the great, greasy iron locomotives or squeezing in behind a wheel taller than a five year old boy. It was magical too, standing on the footbridge as the locomotive got up steam and slowly whooshed underneath us, swallowing us up in a cloud of steam and smoke.
Some how, in the new routine that our family life is falling into this January, I have had more moments of making things with my little K. I realise with a new sense of clarity, just how much she loves creating, drawing, sticking, cutting and making. Without a doubt its when I see her at her happiest: she laughs, smiles, chats and glows with pleasure. She applies herself to these activities with a remarkable level of concentration, patience and care.
This is in total contrast to D: for him art (drawing, colouring, sticking, painting) has never been something he would choose to do. I can count on the fingers of one hand the pieces of art he brought home from playgroup at the same stage. In the past, I have been tempted to blame this difference on gender (girls like colouring, boys don’t) but I think it goes further than that with these two children of mine: this is about recognising who they are individually, how they are function and what energises and excites them.
In the last couple of weeks, K and I have made stained glass windows with book film; used fabric paint to stamp designs onto white t-shirts; and painted pottery at Ferry Potty. I am so grateful for this point of connection with my daughter and I am relishing the prospect of some lovely times with K where we can make, create and draw together.
We have been getting ready for Christmas in a hop, skip and a jump chaotic kind of way. This morning Daniel and Kirsten were able to take boxes of biscuits to school and playgroup to distribute to all their friends.
We baked the biscuits together and then I discovered the fun of letting them both type the labels on the computer (I’m amazed by how much D has learned about how to use a computer in one term at schoool). They love racing upstairs to get the result from the printer.I did find myself wondering why I do things like this? The most honest reasons I came up with: it gives us a constructive and purposeful activity to do together after school; I can’t get my head round sitting down and writing cards to every child in the class (how to find out the names in the first place?); it gives me a high level of satisfaction to complete a small and effective project. What about the recipients? Well, they might love our biscuits or they might just eat the icing. My sweet little packets will be torn up by breaktime, but we don’t mind! Happy 13th of December!
I like to think that I will make my children a present for birthdays and Christmas. Last year, I made K two little mice from Martha Stewart. This year, I decided on felt lollipops, sweets and ice-cream. I drew round some ice-lolly moulds, cut out two pieces, sewed them together, stuck the ice-lolly sticks in and stuffed them. Ta da! Ice-cream cones were made from a semi-circle of felt sewed onto a piece of card-board to stiffen them then simply stuck together into a cone shape. Large pompoms make ice-cream. Sweets I simply made from two strips of felt glued and rolled up. (I could have sewn where I used glue but I was making this late at night before K’s birthday.)
We also bought Kirsten a cash register. So we were all set for a play shop. Beads wrapped in tissue paper, plasticine lollipops, bars of chocolate (wooden bricks wrapped in foil and paper wrappers) and some cupcakes we already had completed the stock. Buttons seem to make the best money. A bag for shopping and “What would you like from my shop today, Mrs Bey?” (That’s what my kids say when we’re playing shops.)
So little K’s birthday party happened last Saturday. I imagine that it involved everything that a little girl could want: wings, a treasure hunt, cake, pink heart biscuits (thank you, Sarah!), bubbles, friends and family and lots of butterflies. We even had a Tinkerbell cake, complete with glitter (thank you, Great!). The guests were sweet: lovely and enthusiastic about all the activities. The sun shone and our tent in the garden was pretty and warm (thank you for putting it up, the two Mr M’s – it was the canvas from our gazebo, draped over our washing line). I think the tent was an inspiration: it looked pretty and gave the girls a place to play. We did face-painting there (thank you, Hannah!) and butterfly tattoos (thank you, Han-Marie!). We even read a story there at the end of the morning.
The party started with decorating their wings with sparkly stickers and ribbons. Next, looking suitably pretty, it was out to the garden to hunt for butterflies (thank you granny) and marbles (they sparkled beautifully in the wet grass). We only played a three games: musical statues, sleeping butterflies and pass the parcel. As they opened the parcel, each girl got a packet of beads and some elastic to make a bracelet. We blew bubbles and played on the climbing frame. We ate the cake half way through. The party finished with sausages and sausage rolls and jelly. There were plenty of adults around to help (granny, grandpa, two uncles, two aunties, one great-granny and a couple of mums). I couldn’t help but notice that, unlike at my boys party last month, there were moments of complete quiet. The girls were busy sticking or making or eating or sleeping (yes, in our equivalent of sleeping lions). Ahhhhhhh… lovely.
Rather unusually I’ve spent two sessions with both my kids making things this week. The experience provoked some reflections on art and craft with pre-school kids.
What made the difference between our enjoyment of the two experiences? Providing easy to use materials. Doing open-ended activities where the materials and the children determine the outcome. Enjoying the process as much as the result. Having some new and pleasing materials to experiment with. Not trying to make ‘something’ by following instructions.
Our successful (second) session was prompted by some ‘washi tape’ that I bought at the weekend – I love the pattern. I’ve read lots about it so I thought we could have a go together. We also used white paper, paper squares (you can lick and stick – or use a sponge) and boring old masking tape. Both kids were engrossed. We stuck squares, cut tape and stuck it. They were totally in control, just needing some help with the cutting of the tape. K was engrossed in carefully cutting and sticking and hole-punching (those are her creations above).
D found some paper fasteners and asked for a hole punch and went off in another direction. As he finished each creation, he dashed upstairs to store it in his bedroom before coming back for: ‘more paper please.’ Maybe its just me, but I love the results. Television was forgotten and so was tea. If only all crafting could be like this.
Our first session was prompted by D watching Mr Maker. “We can make a goldfish out of a milk bottle,” he said. We had the materials – paper plate, empty plastic milk bottle, gloopy glue and orange tissue paper. The experience of putting it all together was not fun: messy glue, tissue paper, far too much interference and direction from me and in the end an orange bottle that neither child has any interest in. Lets not do that again. (But if you want to try it, you can see the instructions here: milk bottle fish)
D has been playing a new game today. It started in the bathroom: “Ma, I think I heard a squeak. There must be a mouse in here.” After he had “found” the mouse he was busy finding it food. “Mice eat cheese,” he told his little sister. “Peas? Peas?” she replied, laughing at him. A little later he had made it a bed in a cardboard box that has been played with a great deal in the last week. “Do you want to see my mouse?” he asked me. “Come and see, its sleeping in the box. Shhhhh, don’t wake it up.”
Oh, I love it when life imitates art. Immediately I was seeing Antoine St Euxpery’s beautiful drawings and hearing his words:
“This is only his box. The sheep you asked for is inside.”
I was very surprised to see a light break over the face of my young judge:
“That is exactly the way I wanted it! Do you think that this sheep will have to have a great deal of grass?”
“Because where I live everything is very small . . .”
“There will surely be enough grass for him,” I said. “It is a very small sheep that I have given you.”
He bent his head over the drawing.
“Not so small that–Look! He has gone to sleep . . .”
We had so much fun with this dough this week.The buns we made are so good: I can’t resist the combination of cinnamon, icing, melting sugar, dried fruit and sweet dough. The best thing about making them was watching Kirsten ‘kneading’ a piece of dough and laughing: she bounced it around, threw it up and down and hit it on the table, punching it with her little fingers. And then turned it into lovely little buns.
The recipe come’s from my friend Julia. I worked with her for a year in Zambia and every now and again she would produce a plate of these delicious buns. They were especially good since we were miles and miles from the nearest baker or coffee shop. I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing her recipe. Here it is.
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons dried yeast
Activate yeast in warm water. Continue reading Julia’s refrigerator dough
I love the end of summer – there is something very friendly about September weather. The evenings are still light and the days can be warm. The busyness of harvest is comforting, berries are ripe, leaves are not yet yellow. Yesterday and today have been bright and dry, but there has been a nip in the air that signals autumn is close. This afternoon we went out to make the most of the clear air and sunshine.
Just before we left, I remembered this, found here on ElsieMarley, so I grabbed an empty egg box, lined the cups with coloured paper and as we walked we treasure-hunted. Such a great idea: we noticed things we would never have seen – like berries on a tree or a white feather – and our walk in a place we have walked before had a whole new dimension. D grasped the idea immediately: “We could find some bark from a tree for the brown one”. I loved the way the bright colours of our paper were so easily found in nature. It could be expanded to fill a box for a dozen eggs (I’d include grey next time – we noticed lichen, feathers and stones) or complicated for older kids (made into a competition?). If you’re wondering about the pink – we did find pink flowers but none of them were wild / weeds so left them where they were.
One of the things we did on holiday was take a little ride on a steam train. I read D a ‘Thomas’ story every night at bedtime so we are familiar with words like fender, funnel, tunnel, buffers and trucks. I love the romance of steam and this trip had some particularly beautiful little details on the old train.
My favourite ‘Thomas’ story is about an old Welsh engine called Skarloey. I love reading this at bedtime:
“The coaches ran nicely, but he soon began to feel tired again. His springs were weak, and the rail joints jarred his wheels.
Then with a crack, a front spring broke, and he stopped.
“I feel all crooked,” he complained.
“That’s torn it,” said his Driver, “we’ll need a bus now for our passengers.”
“No!” pleaded Skarloey, “I’d be ashamed to have a bus take my passengers. I’ll get home or burst,” he promised bravely.
The Thin Controller looked at his watch, and paced the platform. James and his train waited impatiently too.
They heard a hoarse “Peep Peep”, then groaning, clanging and clanking, Skarloey crept into sight. He was tilted to one side, and making fearful noises, but he plodded bravely on.
“I’ll do it, I’ll do it,” he gasped between the cranks and groans, “I’ll… I’ve done it!”
(Four little engines, The Rev. W. Awdry)