The Curious and the Thoughtful

Londoners are spoiled for choice for things to do with our primary school-aged children. Really, we are. Once in a while though, everyone gets into a rut. I do. But you’ve got to try and find a light and climb out.

Last Thursday, after a fairly family-focused few weeks (read: exhausted, burned out, could not see the cherubs in my children), I had the unexpected pleasure of a preview tour of the Adventures in Moominland exhibition now on at the Southbank Centre. Followed up by a slightly boozy lunch with a dear friend, it was a somewhat perfect midweek afternoon (but it’s not that kind of blog post) and just the light to get me out of my rut.

20161215_123902-1You’ll need to book in advance and the cost is between £13.50 and £16.50. The recommended age is 7+. You’ll understand why if you go. To walk through these rooms is like being a child on a movie set. You’ll be asked to move around, to look, to listen, to crouch, duck, and peek. You’ll want to touch everything, but you really should not. It looks like it’s been put there just for you to discover. And it has. Appreciate that it takes an army of people to guide the small groups through and tidy up after each of them, restoring each of the several rooms (I lost count) back to its pristine state. If your child likes to run about and doesn’t really care for listening, please skip this event. And if you cannot go for the session without reaching for your mobile phone, please spare the others on the tour. One of our tour members was typing on her mobile the entire way through and it was really, really distracting. Please be considerate of others when you go. Hopefully, someone in your group will be a Moomin enthusiast and you can watch a grown-up gush with excitement over finding a ruby in a suitcase. It’s marvellous.

Now to the important bit. It’s absolutely magical. Having dined on other magical fare in the last few years (Efteling, Disneyland Paris, the Alps) I didn’t expect to be wow-ed by a museum exhibition. But I was.

I’m a latecomer to the Moomin tribe, having discovered a few of the illustrated paperbacks at the library when my children were toddlers. We fell in love with the language (for who wouldn’t love to read words like ‘Tooticky’ and ‘Snorkmaiden’ with your toddler) and the lovely strangeness of the worlds depicted in Jansson’s stories. If you haven’t been to Moominland, wait no more! Get yourself to a library and introduce yourself.

As my toddlers became children (and I regained time and energy to read again) I picked up Tove Jansson’s Summer Book, which she wrote later in life. I fell in love with this little book, a portrait of grandmother and granddaughter castaways, coexisting somewhere off the coast of Finland. Perhaps its the lack of a mother in the book (she’s died recently, thus bringing the pair in the book together) which appeals to me so much. Apart from introducing me to life in the Scandinavian archipelago, a scattering group of rocky outcrops which are only habitable during certain times of the year (how exciting), my heart wanted to know deeply about this relationship between a grandmother and a granddaughter.

Reading of their adventures with the cats, the boats, the weird neighbours, just being bored, I wondered about my own relationship with my grandmothers, strange beings whom I didn’t know very well, but whom I admired and respected deeply. They were tricky ladies–one probably just far too exhausted from raising ten children of her own to bother too much with her childrens’ offspring, but nevertheless taught me important lessons about how to endure and live, about how to be quiet. But in a very good way. The other, who smiled mischievously, and who claimed both Indian (“East”/South Asian) and Arawak ancestry, always seemed a little too attached to an odd collection of things and ideas, including how dark we children should not be allowed to become or how beautiful our long hair was. I tried as an adult to put myself in both of their shoes, as women growing up in very male-dominated, colonial societies where markers of ethnicity mattered and when being a woman meant proper hard work. I wondered as I was reading The Summer Book about whether I’d ever get to have adventures with my own grandchild (I’m an old mother, I’ve recently been told). I hope so. We’d be stranded in the Caribbean archipelago, though.

Anyway, back to the story. Moomin. The magic of Moomin. Tove Jansson has given us so much in her stories, in her sharing of her life with us through them and her drawings. Worlds to explore, the space and silence in them to let our minds wander back to thoughts of our own lives, the memories we are making for our old age.

I’ll remember Tove Jansson’s glasses, the p772691bf529714fdb2fde80d120af800hoto of her swimming outside wearing a floral garland next to the actual floral garland: the very picture of thoughtful decadence, of living (I’ve found a copy of it on someone’s Pinterest page). But it’s the self-portrait in one of the rooms that’s stuck with me after last Thursday. Our tour guide described it as lovely. In its bold strokes of pencil, I saw the wearing of life on a face, tired yet robust and still full of fight. Because I’ve been feeling exactly that myself, I think I was equally relieved to find the one of her swimming and carefree.

Adventures in Moominland is there, at the Southbank Centre, until April 23rd, the world of Moominland, cast in beautiful, sensual imagery and in three-dimensions. After that, you can find it in the books.

Georgia Lindsay’s Family Garden and ‘Bub Tub’ Competition

Calm and reassuring, the figure of a circle makes us think of a great big hug, and Georgia Lindsay, a finalist in  the 2014 Grand Designs Garden Design competition, created a garden full of them. We met the London-based designer during a family day out to the Grand Designs show last Spring and instantly knew we had to help her show it off!

Action man

A gorgeous metal swing seat designed by Steve Myburgh (Myburgh Designs) provides comfortable and playful respite from all the action in the garden. Artificial turf is used throughout. This can be cut in shapes to help form the lids for the tugs and circular play spaces.

The colours and shapes of this wonderfully child friendly space made my children beam, a response Georgia was clearly aiming for:

“The circles were very deliberate. Soft curves seem much friendlier and child orientated than angular lines.” I also was taken with the boldness of simple colours and shapes that were. . .well, appealing.

Georgia-Lindsay A penchant for clean lines were traded in for a family garden resplendent with circles in order to create a family friendly and appropriate design.

“I am actually known for doing very clean lined contemporary gardens but for this Family Garden I made a deliberate decision to smooth out all the edges.”

The garden upholds the circular theme, from the choice of a single proliferating bloom–a daisy–to the circular-seats of the beautiful steel swing and Georgia’s signature ‘Bub Tub’ kiddie seats to the holes dug as an interchangeable sandpit or paddling pool or trampline recess, or even a fire pit for some grown-up fun!

The seating area is inviting, comfortable, and purposeful. The softly circular theme is maintained whilst remembering that children DO go to bed (after helping to put the toys away, of course) and then the adults do not want to be sat in the middle of a landscaped toy shop. To that end, she has oh-so-cleverly devised turfed fitting lids for the play pits.

seating zone

Georgia’s “Bub Tubs”: One of the attractions of the chairs is that they can easily transform back into a storage bucket once the kids have grown out of them. They also stack easily when the cushion is taken out and look fabulous in all the beautiful rainbow colours they come in. People also love that they can store toys in the little compartment under the cushion, a little bit less clutter is always a bonus with kids!

So how did she dream up this amazing landscape? “The brief of the competition this year was introducing colour to your garden,” she tells us. “It would have been too predictable using colourful plants to fulfil this brief so I purposely didn’t use any flowers with colour and chose the white daisies and green grass as a neutral palette.”

Atop this neutral palette are the play spaces and sitting spaces: a beautiful wrought metal swing seat hovers over a dug-out circle, giving the feeling of depth. The gentle steps up and down were designed to make the terrain easily navigable for little ones.  She is a mum of two toddlers, ages 2 years and 9 months and 11months, so the well-imagined and safely realised space is a true labour of love: “The garden was really a tribute to them,” she says, and “completely designed for that age group, hence the curved lines and easy heights to navigate.”

Grand Designs Live Excel 4-12 May 2013

Kevin McCloud, of the Grand Designs Show, called the garden “innovative and practical.”

Since the show this Spring, Georgia has been overwhelmed with interest in her design and for the “Bub Tub” she designed for the garden. “The reusable quality of them really has appealed to people. As we parents all know we go through kids’ paraphernalia so quickly as they grow out of things so fast.”

Innovative yet practical. And we really like that.

Creating Your Own Garden

daisiesGeorgia’s design was purpose-built as a small show space, but you can use some of her great ideas in your own garden, large or small.

Do consider the shapes of the things in your garden–choose furniture, flower beds, and blooms with rounded edges instead of sharp, angular ones. Georgia recommends sunflowers for rapid and impressive growth.

And back to the theme of purposeful–why not incorporate edible, weed-controlling blooms? “Strawberries are another great one, not only do you get the thrill of picking the juicy fruit but also the added pleasure of putting them to bed in a little nest of straw. All veggies give great satisfaction, I don’t think anyone could ever tire of the thrill of pulling a carrot from the ground and the condensed carroty smell which fills the air.”

 

Play Along and Win a Pair of Bub Tubs

Grand Designs Live Excel 3-11 May May 2014

These amazing little chairs are soft, stackable, and have toy storage underneath! Perfect for toddlers and pre-schoolers, for indoor or outdoor use.

This garden is so chock full of playfulness, irresistibly so. Mumsnet Local and Wanstead’s neighbourhood pub, The Duke, would love for you to play along, so here’s your big chance.

We’d love to hear your suggestions for simple, affordable child-friendly home gardens. The winner will receive a pair of Georgia’s signature Bub Tubs, pictured here. These are valued at £45 each. If you’d like to get up close and personal with the Bub Tubs, they’ll be at The Duke in Wanstead from Friday, July 25th until the competition closes.

Entries will be accepted from Friday, July 25th until Midnight on Sunday August 3rd. The winner will be chosen by Georgia Lindsay herself.

If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, our friend at Mumsnet Suffolk and Norfolk has some great ones on her blog.

When you’re ready, post your idea to the Talk thread on Mumsnet Local – Redbridge. You must post your entry by midnight on Sunday August 3rd, 2014.

Good luck and have a wonderful, playful summer!

  • Find your Mumsnet Local web site here–register by updating your Mumsnet account and receive a customised monthly newsletter with all the latest happenings in your area.

duke wanstead

Head over to The Duke on Thursday 31st July & Friday 1st August at 10am when they will be hosting their Little Duke’s kids club.

Oh, Just the School Starting Age Issue. . .

Excerpted from the University of Cambridge article “School Starting Age: the Evidence“:

“Earlier this month the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest.”

In the interests of children’s academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously

– David Whitebread

130924-back-to-school

“Back to School”. Homepage banner image by Woodley Wonderworks via Flickr Credit: Nick Page from Flickr.

In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four. However, the UK’s Department of Education states clearly that compulsory school age is five.  Children born in the summer months, like mine, spend the entire first year at school in Reception class before they reach compulsory school age. Yes, she will be playing. But she will also start her journey in formal learning, in a formal setting, learning phonics and arithmetic, even ICT.

Am I happy about this? Not particularly, no. I am much happier to have her at home singing her ABCs, visiting the playground, playing with her sister, and freely using her imagination. At least, we have secured the consent of her school to allow her to attend part-time during the Reception year.

I have witnessed the Herculean efforts of the campaigners who head the Summer-born Campaign, giving advice to parents with similar concerns about deferring or delaying admission for their child to primary school. They do this day and night, answering queries that Local Authorities and the Department of Education will not. They help parents to exercise their rights under the law, to wait until their child is five to start formal education, in the Reception year. These parents are successful sometimes, but sadly, some–even those whose children were prematurely born or have developmental issues–are flatly and discompassionately denied. One can only guess that bureaucratic expediency is chosen over the welfare of these children. Or else what?

In our case, we are simply concerned that, but for a few weeks, our daughter would have started her journey in formal education next year. So we lose an entire year at home. We have been reassured by anecdotal evidence that she will cope, and because she’s bright and self-motivated, she will “do well.” Our response is, “Yes, that’s great. We agree. But we wanted that to start when she’s actually of compulsory school age.”

charlie and lola too small for school

Read by Pre-School Platinum of YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8fdu9PMgNo

There is a universe of common sense in the Charlie and Lola book, I am Too Absolutely Small to Go to School. In it, Charlie asks four-year old Lola, “Don’t you want to read words?” and Lola answers “I don’t need to read words and I’ve got all my books in my head. If I can’t remember, I can just make them up.” Lola eventually consents to go off to school, but on her terms. And the school depicted in Charlie and Lola is hardly one of ‘schooliforms’ and rules and formal lessons.

We understand that not all children have the supportive, loving and stimulating homes they so very much deserve, and that this is behind the impetus of the current government to consider the start of formal education at an even earlier age. But is starting formal education in the tender ages going to be the answer to Britain’s social problems? Because it does seem as if recent gestures by Education ministers are aimed at curing social problems rather than reforming the Education system.

And clearly, the research presented by Cambridge, states that the start of formal education, to promote educational goals, needs to go in the OTHER direction.

So here we are, stuck in a malfunctioning politico-educational system in which academics, educators, and parent-led groups are becoming advocates for childrens’ rights and doing battle against Education policy makers and politicians who can’t see the forest for the trees. As a reminder, the government’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that there is an “obligation to ensure that the child’s best interests are appropriately integrated and consistently applied in every action taken by a public institution.”

The Research and Political Action

“A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including Whitebread, published in the Daily Telegraph  (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being).

We were curious about where the UK stands in relation to the rest of Europe on this matter and, indeed, how these children are faring in comparison with ours.  Compulsory ages for the start of school throughout Europe from the National Foundation for Educational Research’s web site:

4

Northern Ireland

5

Cyprus, England, Malta, Scotland, Wales

6

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey

7

Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania , Poland, Serbia, Sweden

So have you seen now that the countries who start later have the best results from education?

Let’s use research—-our own and that of the experts–to help determine Education policy that’s in our childrens’ best interest. Let’s leave the anecdotal evidence to the chat boards.

Please read David Whitebread’s original article here.

In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four.  A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph  (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being). – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.MpcyBeRB.dpuf
Earlier this month the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest. – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.MpcyBeRB.dpuf
Earlier this month the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest. – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.MpcyBeRB.dpuf

Earlier this month the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest.

In the interests of children’s academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously

David Whitebread

– See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.MpcyBeRB.dpuf

Off to See Matisse’s Colourful Cut-Outs

matissethesnail1953

The Snail, 1953

The famous shapes of Matisse’s Cut-Outs are at the Tate Modern! This is the largest collection of them shown to date, in fact, with 120 or so of the Cut-Outs to enjoy.

The vibrant colours and shapes should really be engaging for children, so we’re thinking it’s definitely worth a visit. The folks at the Tate are expecting this and have prepared some material for the wee ones’ visits: read the The Tate Kids Blog here. Already, some enthusiastic young fans have sent in photos of their own Matisse-inspired creations to the blog.

We are learning to use scissors carefully around here, so the transition to home should be a good and useful one. Cutting, sticking, and positioning paper into sought-after shapes seems like something we could all get happily stuck into.

This will be my first trip to the Tate with children. I’m thinking of starting at St. Paul’s Cathedral and taking a walk across the Millenium Bridge on the way to the museum.  I’ve always liked that journey.

Matisse, the Cut-Outs runs from 17 April – 7 September 2014

Adult £18 (without donation £16.30)
Concession £16 (without donation £14.50)
Help Tate by including the voluntary donation to enable Gift Aid
Additional booking fee of £1.75 (£2 via telephone) per transaction applies
Under 12s go free (up to four per parent or guardian)

Making Time to Play

acting bugsCapturing the twinkle twinkles of childhood can sometimes seem a low priority in the grand scheme of parenting. But often, it’s that magical element of play, introduced at the right moment, that can elevate a sad or grumpy mood or stop a brewing tantrum, even encourage a penchant for creativity or a lifelong love of the arts. But we can forget all of that with the stress of parenting, working, living, and the many many other things that occupy our mental space. We grown ups can–and do–forget how to play.

I recall a moment in one of my favourite films, Finding Neverland. J.M. Barrie, played by the most wonderful Johnny Depp, sits in the theatre among the patrons watching the premiere of his latest play. They are displeased. And he reminds them that it is a play. It’s a profound moment in its simplicity: stop overthinking and overexpecting and just enjoy what’s in front of you.

The connection? Well, sometimes, I need to remind myself to play with my children or to let them play and not worry so much. Among the many many words of advice I received when I became a mother was the very simple “enjoy your children” from a dear friend. This week, I made the connection a literal one.

Enter Acting Bugs, run by actress Samantha Seager. Originally from Manchester, Sam has been a Wanstead local for many years now; she started Acting Bugs (for preschoolers) and Diddy Bugs (more sensory-based and for under threes) in 2012.

sam seagerSam has acted for grown-ups and for kids, most notably on Coronation Street and CBeebies. She created the classes to encourage active storytelling in family life: a worthy cause. During the class, parents and children are meant to interact, given the dramatic prompts by Sam. These include verbal prompts to imitate animals, or a runner bean, or play pat-a-cake. These also include physical prompts like puppets or a giant canopy / magic carpet. So there’s a lot of hopping, jumping, whisker-twitching, body hugging–playing, essentially, and acting, as Sam might say, like “silly sausages” for the better part of an hour. If you’re going to be reserved about it and not play along, you might miss the whole point. And all of the fun.

As this was a one-off for us, I asked a parent who’s been coming for a while. For Bella’s mum, Acting Bugs is helping her daughter to have confidence in herself, something we all wish for our children when entering the world. Though the class uses some props, Sam mainly relies on the parents and children to use their voices and bodies to express ideas. This focus on the body and all it can do is perfect for confidence-building in children. My outgoing three-year old engaged with the activities instantly and my very shy two-year old was happy to do a little here and there. I thought the Spring Chicken song and dance were really fun. Apparently, I was caught doing that in the garden this afternoon.

The class takes place in the hall of Wanstead’s beautiful Christ Church, which has a charming garden. The hall is roomy (lots of space to run around and play) and has loads of stimulating natural light. An amazing venue for an afternoon of imaginative fun.

In addition to the classes, which are offered in Redbridge as well as nearby in North and East London, Sam offers inspiring and imaginative nursery and library sessions and story-based parties for children aged 2-7.

Mumsnet Local – Redbridge is happy to provide further information about Acting Bugs. Click on the link or find it under Things To Do > Classes > Preschool Classes > Drama.

We also list drama club and acting classes for children of school age and by other providers, so please contact us if you can’t find what you’re looking for!