Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Want to know what your children are into right now?

Get an honest insight into your kids' current interests, priorities and opinions without them feeling like they're being put on the spot.

Living in London, we don't use our car for day-to-day journeys, so when we get in it to go somewhere out of town, it's always a bit of a novelty. For my children, I'm pleased to say, it's a well known and looked forward to chance for chat, music and games. A few days ago, when we were on a weekend car journey to visit family, I suggested we play a new game that I had just thought up and quickly decided to call 'My Top Three'. I find that a new game always has better status and chance of sticking if it arrives with a name, however hastily thought up.

I explained that to play the game we would take it turns to each choose a topic or theme or thing, and then everyone would take a minute to think about what their top three would be, ranking them accordingly. Well, they jumped at the chance of playing it and, youngest first as is often our way for deciding who starts, my daughter immediately came up with our first category. 'What are your Top Three... birds?' she asked, brilliantly. Well, we all took some time to think about it, and then we announced our answers and compared our choices. Here's what we all came up with:

D: #3 golden eagle, #2 robin, #1 penguin 
B: #3 red kite, #2 hawk, #1 peregrine falcon
Me: #3 peacock, #2 pied wagtail, #1 robin

Then we went round and round the car, each choosing a different category like Top Three Cars, Top Three Days Out, Top Three Books, Top Three Smells, Top Three Toys, Top Three Things Daddy Does, and my son, somewhat out of the blue, suggested Top Three Plays by Shakespeare.

Now, you will probably not be so interested in what all our answers were - but play this with your nearest and dearest and you'll definitely be intrigued. Their answers may surprise you, they may even delight you or move you, like my children's answers did me. But one thing's for sure - they will give you an up-to-the-minute insight into what your children are about right now. 

Try it, and see what's making your child's Top Three today. 

Way to Play : Stay and Play
Learning Opportunities: speaking about one's own opinions and listening to those of others, taking turns, making thoughtful choices, respecting other people's choices, developing self-awareness and increasing knowledge of one's own and other's preferences

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Turn your 2015 parenting resolutions into routine with The Playful Parent

It's about now, in mid-January, when any New Year's resolutions we might have made to help us make a fresh start, or better ourselves in some way or other, begin to waver. Maybe you've had a glass or two of wine by now, or skipped that last gym session, or bitten your nails - and grrrr... you'd promised yourself you weren't gonna do that in 2015. It's about now that most of us really need a bit of help; to really turn those resolutions into routine; to stop those chances to change becoming discarded and forgotten like yesterday's socks.

I recently read a fascinating article here, by Emily Temple for flavorwire.com, which shared 50 books to inspire and keep you on the straight and narrow with your New Year resolutions. The list featured a pretty eclectic selection of fiction and non-fiction books to encourage you to travel more, watch less TV, play a musical instrument, learn a new language - there was even a book to get you thinking about living your life in an arboreal kingdom amongst the treetops. But, for me, there was a category missing; for anyone who's made a parenting New Year resolution this year. You don't often hear about those, and yet I know that many mums and dads have made them. These are the parents who are trying their best but still want to improve the way their family functions. They might have made a resolution to feel more empowered as a parent and less like the maid, to be more in control more of the time, to be more present, to play more with their children, to improve their family's communication, to yell less, to get frustrated less - or they might - dare I say it - have even made themselves a promise to try to enjoy being a parent more. 

It is for those people, who have made, in my opinion, such noble New Year's resolutions - and who might by now be needing a source of inspiration - that I wish to add The Playful Parent; 7 ways to happier, calmer, more creative days with your under-fives to that list of books. There is no better time than now to plunder its pages for practical, non-patronising and positive ideas to help make the parenting of young children more of a pleasure and less of a chore this coming year.

Here's the link to my book's website The Playful Parent, and here are a few of my favourite reviews:

'As a stay at home mum of two (4 years and 21 months) I thought this would be worth a read. I must admit I approached it with a slight skepticism, having read some pretty patronising and unrealistic 'how to do parenting' books, but I've been really very pleasantly surprised. It openly acknowledges the struggles we face in raising young children and juggling the chores of every day life, but passes no judgement, and offers loads of ideas of how to entertain your little ones without having to be giving them 100% of your attention all of the time. At the time of reading this, I'd been really struggling with my feisty 21 month old boy, and even just reading the introduction really inspired me and reminded me how very lucky I am!'

'This book is full of fun ideas, simple ideas and useful ideas. It will show you how to engage your kids when you have jobs to do, how to create invitations to play and to set up play very quickly. It encourages you to get involved and to make it easy for your child to access play independently too. It is a wise,fun and inspiring book and an easy, pleasant read.'

'I love the fact that this book is written by someone who clearly knows how kids work. It's refreshingly positive and offers such fun, interesting ways out of real, every day problems where both the parent and child can win. It's certainly a book that you can dip in and out of whenever you feel in a rut or lacking motivation. I have already adopted some of her ideas and found they have worked a treat.'

If you did make a parenting New Year resolution back on 1 Jan, I salute you, and wish you the very best of luck. Please keep me posted about how it's going - you can find me on Twitter here or on Facebook here

I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Little chefs and The Playful Parent cook up a storm

On Sunday I spent the day at the wonderful Geffrye Museum promoting my book The Playful Parent: 7 ways to happier, calmer, more creative days with your under-fives. The shop sold out of their stock - so I guess it went well!

I set up an activity from the book, an invitation to play, where younger children could come and take part in some let's pretend cooking using home-made lavender or fresh mint play-dough, herbs, leaves and petals from the museum's gorgeous garden.



My daughter was a fantastic help, charming the little chefs in a way that no grown-up could. She chatted with them, and made them feel right at home in the little nature kitchen gazebo. They rolled, stirred, tore, squished, cut, and smelled the dough, herbs and flowers and made some wonderful 'food', leaving their grown-ups relatively free to chat with me about the recipe for the play-dough (in the book) - and how these set-ups can work at home to develop young children's independence and help them find their playful flow.

Some older children visited the stall too and, though the tables were a little small for them, they happily stayed and made some very photogenic food with the goodies - from posh canapes to nature pizza.

It was great to meet so many lovely children and their grown-ups, and to have the opportunity to do my bit towards making the world of parenting a more playful place. Thanks to everybody who came to play!

Friday, 4 July 2014

DIY haute couture

A friend just posted this wonderful video on Facebook and I've watched it about ten times already. It may not exactly be a 'how-to' demo - but it is totally inspiring. Who wouldn't be tempted into making a miniature glamorous outfit or two after seeing such a beautiful film? 


It isn't impossible to achieve this kind of experience at home with the kids. I'm not promising the immaculately appointed, soft-focus studio of course but with just a bit of child-friendly kit and using this little Dior video for inspiration, it is possible to get children designing and making their own mini-outfits independently, without using any needles, pins or even scissors. Here's how:


I absolutely love these little mannequins from Harumika. They make dress-designing satisfyingly simple for the littlest of hands and the most creative of minds. This is due to the ingenious addition of a thin rubber-lined slit that runs down the back of each mannequin. Each kit comes with a little paddle that helps tuck in and secure materials into the slit, so there's no need for any cutting, pinning or stitching at all.

Our local art, craft and fabric shop has a huge basket of handkerchief-sized (and smaller) off-cuts that cost between five and thirty pence. My children love rummaging through it and choosing a few pieces of material whenever we visit. Add to any fabric pieces you have, a few ribbons and sticky gems or sequins and that's really everything you'll need to get those couture creations off the ground.


Creating the dresses: 
Arrange the fabrics, ribbons and any other little goodies you might have to hand on a clear and clean work surface along with a mini-mannequin or two, and let the making begin. If you lose your paddles, a lolly stick or the handle of a teaspoon work equally well. If your child is unsure about how to get started, try asking them to design something for themselves or someone they know well and suggest a few scenarios for which to design a costume. Perhaps they could make a dress for a wedding party, a special lunch, a red carpet event, a garden party, a book launch, a Halloween party, a winter ball, a job interview, a rock festival or a birthday bash, for example.

Keeping the creations:
Once an outfit has been made, your child will probably want to make another straight away - it is quite addictive. Be sure to take a photo (or even a little video) showing the outfit from a few angles before it's disassembled. This way there'll be a record of its unique design and if they want to make it again in the future the photograph can be used to jog their memory.

Enjoy the video and why not have a go at making some mini-couture outfits with your little ones. If Dior can do it, so can our kids, right?

Here are some of my children's couture creations made with our Harumika mannequins.


Friday, 27 June 2014

The Playful Parent promo premiere!

Want to know more about my book The Playful Parent: 7 ways to happier, calmer, more creative days with your under-fives? Well here to tell you, as well as a rather nervous me, is my very confident daughter Daisy! She knows ALL about it.

This promotional video was filmed and edited by Paul Roscouet, and the music is by my husband Rob Deering - with vocals from our son Buddy!

For more information visit www.theplayfulparent.co.uk

You can now follow me on Twitter: @DeeringJulia 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

All the fun (and physics) of the fair!

This weekend, Carter's Steam Fair came to our lovely local park, and we spent an exciting couple of hours there on Sunday afternoon. Carter's is always a huge hit with my two children. Personally, I love the traditional-looking rides, the bright retro-colours and the 1950s music; the vintage feel of whole thing ticks all my boxes. Bud and Daisy, however, are much more taken with choosing how to spend their £10.00 as quickly as they can, and seeing how many extra times I'll allow them to go on the dodg'ems after all their money's been spent.

As a teacher with a science background I can't help but take the chance to chat with my children about the physics of the funfair whenever we're there. I do try to let them enjoy the super-swirling, scream-inducing, tacky-prize-obtaining opportunities as well; I promise I don't get too nerdy and spoil the fun. But being at an old-fashioned fair such as Carter's really does provide a fantastic excuse to talk about some real-life applications of the laws of physics and mechanics and, of course, to experience them in brilliant, hair-raising style. 

If Carter's, or a similar type of traditional fair, comes to your town - try talking with your kids about the science behind the rides while you take a look around. You don't need to know much yourself; just by asking the right kinds of questions, you'll be getting them thinking about the physics behind the fun, and this will definitely fire-up their enthusiasm for scientific enquiry. And, after they've been on the rides, they'll be able to tell you, first-hand, about the effects of physics on their bodies. My son, for example, says he never wants to go on the chair-swing ride again - he hates the spinning-out feeling apparently (no future as an astronaut then) - whereas, my daughter absolutely loves it; NASA, here she comes! Buddy was more at home behind the wheel, displaying a natural instinct and unbridled joy on the dodg'ems; judging when to avoid, steer into or anticipate the inevitable collisions of other cars. Daisy, not driving and therefore with no control over what happened to the car, was hilariously surprised by practically every bump; she screamed and whooped nearly the whole time. 

Here are a few questions you could ask your children when you're at an old-fashioned funfair:

1. Take a close look at any steam-powered engines working the rides: 

  • What's making the steam?
  • How does the steam make the ride move?
  • What fuel is heating the water to make the steam?

2. Try the person-powered swing-boats:

  • What did the fairground attendant have to do to help us get on the swing without it moving?
  • Look up! Why do we have to hold each other's ropes - and not our own?
  • How do we make our swing go higher and higher?

3. Experience the centrifugal force on the chair-swing ride:

  • What happened to us, and our chairs, as the ride started spinning?
  • Why did our chairs keep moving up and out from the centre of the ride?
  • What does it feel like to be on the ride?

4. Experience collision/motion physics on the dodg'ems:

  • What happened to your car when you went into the back of another?
  • Was it different to when someone when into the back of you?
  • What happened to your car when there was a side-by-side collision?
  • Why did that man's hat fall off when his car collided with another?

At home, we've made all kinds of mini-fairground rides - from up-turning and spinning an umbrella as a merry-go-round for small soft toys and whizzing the salad-spinner to give others a centrifugal-force-experience, to demonstrating the exciting effects of collision on friction-free motion using a tray covered with a layer of ice and a few matchbox toy cars.

I'd love to know what else we could try. Do leave any ideas in the comments box.

You can find details about other family-friendly funfair physics facts and investigations here: