Garden Update: Building a Mud Kitchen

As long time followers of this blog will know, we’ve been trying to improve our garden space, which is challenging because a) we rent, b) we are broke and c) the space is tiny.

But we have finally made some progress! Ages and ages ago, I picked up a pile of miscellaneous wood that someone was offering on freecycle. It’s been sitting in our hallway for about two months, waiting for a dry day when both Mr Techno and I were home.

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Such a day finally arrived last Wednesday. So we took stock of what we had and drew up a plan.

To be honest, the materials weren’t completely ideal. But we selected a thick panel of mdf, a similarly sized one of chipboard and a scaffold plank.

Step one was cutting the chipboard to the same size as the mdf with our jig saw. I started out doing the cutting, but we swapped when we remembered that I can’t do straight lines.

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Then we cut the scaffolding plank into two pieces that were a bit shorter than the length of the panels.

We took it all out to the garden and screwed it together. The two panels form the top and bottom and the scaffolding plank pieces form the sides.

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This gave us a cuboid, with space for storage inside. The mdf had been covered with a thick layer of gloss paint, which helps with adding some waterproofing, so that panel went on top. We also kept a slight overhang to stop water dripping down inside and raised the whole thing up on bricks to keep the bottom getting too damp.

I then hammered the old nails we had prised off the scaffolding board into the mdf to act as hooks.

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Add Tom’s tea set, toy pans, some stones, and cast off bits from our kirchen and we were good to go.

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We have some wooden discs we plan to glue on as hobs, and I’d like to paint some details on to make it more realistic, but at least we’ve made a start!

And it hasn’t cost us a penny
(well ok, we did own some bits already we had to pay for, like the tea set and the tools. But the structure itself cost us nothing)

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Sticks and Stones…

…make really good toys!

There’s been a bout of conjunctivitis going round Tom’s nursery and, when I picked him up last Thursday, it was clear he had succumbed to it. Which meant he couldn’t go to nursery on Friday. Working from home with a toddler, especially one who is not really sick, is a far different thing from working at home with a baby who can’t yet reach your keyboard. Clearly, if I was to get anything done some of Ton’s energy needed to be run off first.

We’ve been working on building him a mud kitchen for the garden, so it seemed like a perfect time to gather up some natural materials to go in it. So off we headed, with an old plastic bag in tow, to gather up some stones from our local patch of woodland.

Tom though this was a great game, once I’d explained what we were doing. Although he was rather too keen to empty everything back out of the bag at various intervals throughout our walk.

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Once we had collected a fair number, we headed home to try out their potential.

They were put into boxes and emptied out. Dipped into plant pots and awkwardly stacked on top of each other. Thrown onto the paving stones to make a clunk and banged against tables. In short, stones are awesome.

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So awesome that Tom kept bringing me his shoes and coat at various points throughout the weekend so we could go back out to play with them again.

Hurray for stones! (And sticks which have provided many a diversion when out on walks)

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The Importance of Physical Play

It is no wonder toddlers need to nap. Tom is a constant ball of energy, every moment he is awake. He bounces and climbs and runs around. He dances, pounces on his blankie and, just when you think he’s going to stop for a moment, he’s off again, marching down the corridor whilst kicking a balloon and singing his own peculiar version of head, shoulders, knees and toes (he can’t do any of the words and only manages ‘knees and toes’ and ‘mouth of the movements). I love every moment of it.

I had a perplexing conversation with a mum I know a few months back. She was lamenting that her 18 month-old son didn’t yet have the attention span to sit through an entire tv show. I tried to be sympathetic (because I’m a pushover), but what I was really thinking was ‘why?’

Why would she want her kid to sit still? I couldn’t be prouder that mine is in perpetual motion. Granted, a bit of peace and quiet is nice sometimes and if Tom was a less good sleeper I might feel differently. He’s pretty good at independent play too (RIE completely to credit for that), so it’s not too overwhelming.

And anyway, physical play is pretty damn important. Despite the scary figures on childhood obesity, I hope that most of us don’t have to worry too much about our kids being fat at Tom’s young age (he’s currently 17 months old). But encouraging physical play, ideally outdoors, is a way of building good habits right from the start.

There are a bunch of other benefits too. Physical play helps kids to learn about their bodies – what they can do and what they can’t. They develop their muscles and gross motor control. They learn to judge risk. They develop better balance and coordination. And they gain important experiences that teach them about the world – because, despite all our intellect and our technology, humans are still physical beings in a physical world.*

Physical play with other people can also be really important. Tom loves to be chased, to be picked up and spun around, to use me or Mr Techno as a climbing frame. He loves when we pretend, very gently, to wrestle with him. He loves me nuzzling him with my head. He isn’t great at giving kisses still but will rest his head on mine and stare into my eyes in a physical motion that is just as loving.

There’s a great exploration of this in Larry Cohen’s book ‘The Playful Parent‘. I didn’t necessarily love the book – it mainly explores play as therapy and seemed to miss some of the joy of playing just because, not because it is a teaching moment or a way to work through big feelings. Though of course play can do both those things too. But I did like most of the book and it had some really thought-provoking things to say about the importance of ‘rough-housing’ – there’s a summary here.

So hurray for running, jumping, wrestling and dancing. And for what they teach our kids.

*Sources and further reading:

http://health.act.gov.au/healthy-living/kids-play/active-play-everyday/benefits-regular-physical-activity

http://www.nature-play.co.uk/identifying-play.html

http://www.early-years.org/parents/docs/learning-through-physical-play.pdf (warning: opens a PDF)

http://www.skc-ecd.ca/documents/pdf/Bulletins/Parent_Series/Parenting_2011-04.pdf (Another PDF)

http://www.kidspot.com.au/Toddler-Development-The-importance-of-active-play-for-toddlers+6069+26+article.htm

 

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A Great Big Box

Our bin broke a little while ago. Not seriously – just the catch on the lid and we could still get it to close by kind of wedging it down under the rim. My solution to this was to carry on with it, but Mr Techno decided enough was enough and bought us a new bin. But not from the B&Q just down the road. Or any of the many small local shops who sell household items. Nope. He decided to order one online instead.

It arrived on Wednesday (whilst I was in waiting on the shelves which are still nowhere to be found), in the biggest box I have ever seen. Getting it up the stairs was a real challenge. Once up in the flat, it took up half our living room.

Clearly, this was too good an opportunity to ignore.

The box was a wonderful prop for our lazy weekend. Tom spent most of Saturday morning playing in it. I cut a little entrance way, which makes me think a bit of a drawbridge, so he could get in and out by himself. Which just made it even funnier.
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Since he was having so much fun, I decided the box could stay…just not in the living room. After a lot of maneuvering, I managed to get it in the corner of his room that used to be occupied by his blanket fort. Believe me, it was not easy getting it there, especially with Tom ‘helping’. And it does still block the bottom draw of his chest of draws (which only contains clothes that are currently too big, so isn’t really a problem). But I thought it looked pretty good, especially once I had moved his fleece in there. Cosy.

Of course, Tom hasn’t glanced at it once since I moved it. Still, it was good fun whilst it lasted.

Nature Club: An Update

Back in November last year, Tom and I went to the open day of our new local Forest Nursery and had a great time exploring their facilities and discussing the importance of free play outdoors. The full time nursery starts from 3 years old and up, but there is a Nature Club for the 0-3’s. We found out in December that we had managed to get one of the places (there seems to have been some competition) and Tom and Mr Techno have been going every Tuesday for the last five weeks.

They are currently on a break from half-term, so it seemed like a good moment to update you all on how they’ve been getting on. Of course, I am at work on Tuesdays, so have to rely on reports from Mr Techno, which can be a bit lacking in detail at times!

The first week they went, Tom was suffering with teething pain and was not in the best mood. Apparently he didn’t really join in and just wanted cuddles the whole time, which is understandable if he wasn’t feeling 100%.

From the second week on, though, Tom seems to have really enjoyed himself. The ethos of the nursery is very much about free, child-led play, which suits us down to the ground. Apparently there are always some organised activities available, but no pressure to join in – it is up to the child whether they want to or not. Tom generally chooses not to – he is so used to wandering at will that he is entirely comfortable doing his own thing outdoors. Plus, at only 17 months, he is not yet at the stage of playing directly with other kids. Mr Techno, like me, is entirely happy to let Tom roam, as long as he can see where he is.

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Unsurprisingly, Tom’s favourite time is snack time. Mr Techno forgot to bring food one week, so Tom happily Yogi-beared it off everyone else (yes, that is the technical term). Boy does love to eat!

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He has played with chalk, clay, and their mud kitchen. Apparently he has also gained some little admirers – there are some older girls who follow him around everywhere.

This Tuesday, which was the last one before the half-term break, the site they usually use had become a little, ahem, waterlogged (thanks, Storm Imogen). So they all headed out onto the Marshes for a nature walk. Unfortunately, our little man took a bit of a tumble… face first into a puddle. But he was well togged up with waterproofs and recovered with a little helping hand from one of my jumpers (which he has adopted as a comforter following the tragic loss of his former comforter…one of my bed socks).

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Mr Techno seems to be enjoying himself too. He doesn’t often get a chance to meet other parents, and there are some other dads there, so he doesn’t feel like the odd one out. And it is nice to be with a group who share similar values to us (and don’t think we are being irresponsible for letting our toddler play outdoors in the winter).

The next half of term starts in a couple of weeks and they will definitely be going back!