It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Some kids really ARE exceptional

Isn’t this amazing?

A thirteen-year-old has a provisional patent on a new kind of solar panel array, which he devised by analyzing how trees interact with the sun.

I’ve argued before that not all children are ‘exceptional’. But this kid? He’s exceptional.

August 19, 2011 Posted by | random and odd | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Of course they do!

On considering yesterday’s post, I realize my thoughts have clarified further. It was an email conversation with a friend, with the further addition of Jen’s comment that brought it all together for me.

Here’s what I think:

Of course they know.

Sorta. See, it depends on who you mean by “they”. In my first post, I was conflating two sets of people. But that’s a misapprehension, and when you realize there are two distinct “they’s”, all becomes clear.

Somewhere there is a room filled with designer-types armed with computers, terrific graphic programs… and a wicked sense of humour. THEY know.

Somewhere else, there is an office filled with the marketers hired to promote the product. THEY don’t.

But think about any creative types you know. Do you think, for one second, that Mr or Ms Designer doesn’t know damned well what it looked like? Course they do! Not only do they see exactly what that thing is, they left it in the design because the fun of having zillions of those things… erected… by oblivious parents in back yards across the nation was just too good to pass up.

And zillions of parents are oblivious. The rest of us are just entertained. 🙂

July 10, 2010 Posted by | random and odd, sex | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

More Hallowe’en crafting

Take an orange pumpkin shape, add features, and voila! Jack o’lanterns.

To make it Educational, you talk about:

colours — black and orange, the colours of the month
shapes — the children choose from piles of precut shapes for their pumpkin’s faces
emotions — the mouth is a black squiggle, which can be put on to make a sad mouth or a happy mouth, as per child’s direction.

There you go. Emotional awareness, math, art, not to mention the fine motor control necessary to manage glue, and to place the features where they belong.

(The hats were another craft, very simple: pointy witch-hat shapes onto which they put some sparkly Hallowe’en stickers. The tots themselves decided it would be fun if their pumpkins wore the hats!)

October 24, 2008 Posted by | crafts, holidays | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Making lemonade

Not too long, one of my parents gave me this:

She’s a research scientist. This book was no longer of use to her, and rather than just toss it in the black box, she wondered if the kids might make use of it in some way. The cover is not what one might term “promising”, is it? I flipped through its pages. Most of them looked like this:

While others looked like this:

Oh, yeah. Just leaps right up screaming “OH! FUN TIMES!!!”, doesn’t it? There were some pages with a little pizzazz something recognizable to look at, as Mom pointed out: pencil drawings of snakes and amphibians, black-and-white photos of fish.

But the ideas, they were not a-flowing. I had NO IDEA what I’ll do with this thing. Short of tossing it in MY black box and keeping Mom’s environmental conscience pure…

Which is exactly what, when I thanked her for her thoughtfulness and tucked the book onto a shelf, I thought I’d be doing with the thing. But, see, while I am not always 100% convinced of the necessity of honesty, I am a kind person. Dammit. Which meant that while I am perfectly capable of tossing it and telling her that I’d lost it, I couldn’t bring myself to ignore the kindliness of her impulse. To sneer at her generosity, no matter how uninspiring its manifestation, would be unkind. And ungrateful. And that, I just couldn’t manage.

That means I couldn’t throw the thing away without at least trying to do something with it.

And, whadday know? We did it!

Creativity doesn’t require huge amounts of intelligence, or even artistic talent. It’s just a matter of looking at things in a playful way…


October 15, 2008 Posted by | crafts, holidays | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Non-toy playthings

When my eldest was three, she had a “doctor box”. I’m not quite sure how it earned that name, but that’s what it was.

The doctor box was in fact a shoe box, filled with … oh, this and that. A lot of it came from the kitchen: plastic measuring cups and spoons, a funnel or two, a mesh strainer. There was often a (carefully washed) pill-bottle or two in there. (Maybe that’s where the name came from?) Fabric scraps, a belt buckle, a handful of jigsaw puzzle pieces, a couple of polished rocks, a feather. You get the idea. It was just a collection of interesting stuff. Interesting to a three-year-old, at any rate.

The contents of the box were not static. Some things were returned to their orginal spots, or used in crafts, or just lost somewhere. Other things were put in.

Whatever its contents, the doctor box was the favourite plaything for months and months. I could take it on car trips or trips to the doctor (maybe that explains the name?) or anywhere there’d be an otherwise boring downtime, knowing that the wonders of the doctor box would keep her happily occupied for as long as necessary.

Sometimes she was a doctor (name?), sometimes she was a chef, sometimes she was a fireman. (Not “fighter”. She was a fireman.) Sometimes the items in the box had personas and characters: they tended to squabble amongst themselves a lot, the strainers and the feather and the rocks. A lot of chatter, a lot of imagination, a lot of very happy hours were passed with the doctor box.

It was the best money I never spent.

I take a similar approach to the daycare. People often assume that, as a daycare home, I must be overrun with toys. It’s true, I have more toys stored in my dining room than the average mother of teens and a twenty-something! But I’m quite, quite sure I have far fewer toys kicking around than many (most?) homes with only one toddler. In part, that’s simply practicality: I have a small house. I do not want piles of multi-coloured clutter toys littering my home. I do not want them, but, even more to the point, children do not need them.

Children do not need great mounds of toys. I am convinced that children with shelves and closets and cupboards full of toys are poorer at amusing themselves, and more in need of distraction, than children accustomed to fewer toys. Just because they have fewer toys does not mean they play less! They just play differently. One might argue, more creatively, using more imagination.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s discovered the glories of the non-toy. I know I’m not because the writers and commenters over at Unclutterer have come up with a lovely long list of toy alternatives. Don’t stop with the post. The commenters have a ton of good ideas!

One might note that a significant number of these non-toy playthings look to the adult eyes like work: sorting socks, making cookies, straightening the fringe on the carpet. Not to the child! With these kinds of activities, the children’s play is not something remote and unconnected with the Real Life of the household, but is, instead, part of it. This sort of children’s play models adult behaviour, helps children feel part of the family, gives them real, productive tasks in which to take pride. It builds self-esteem.

It is we adults who have decided that “play” is by definition frivolous, with no agenda but the activity itself. For children, play is how they make sense of the world around them. Everything and anything is play fodder: colouring, singing, sorting socks, putting dirty dishes in the sink (non-breakable, at this age!), blocks, puzzles, washing the car, counting to ten, sweeping up the dried leaves that fell off their leaf belts. Play is not frivolous, it is practicing life.

Life. Work, recreation, even conflict. It’s all fodder for play.

My, I’ve wandered from my original idea… All right, given that we needn’t feel guilty for “only” baking with our kids and “only” letting them help with chores, rather than playing with them; given that you can choose not to spend a heap of money on a mound of toys… Given all that, how does this manifest in your home? What are some non-toy playthings or activities that your child particularly enjoys?

October 9, 2008 Posted by | crafts, daycare, Developmental stuff, socializing | , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Lateral thinking

Anna has taken a fancy to our nesting/stacking cups these days. They have been out every day, hours at a stretch. Who says toddlers have short attention spans?

Oh, sure. When you want them to sit at the table for an entire meal, attention span is a problem. Try putting on socks or have that diaper changed, and there are forty-seven other things that must be done NOW!

But. Give them something riveting to do, something like putting the dog’s food, kibble by kibble, into the dog’s water, or stuffing 500 pieces of lego under the couch cushions? Anyone notice a whole lot of inability to focus when they’re trying to get your attention when you’re on the phone?

So… the stacking cups are big this week.

So far, they have been beds for her babies.
You think those are cookie cutters in there, I know.
You’d be wrong.
They are babies.
“Baby Mika, and Baby Boo-boo.”
I have no idea which is which.
I’m not sure Anna does, either.

They have been cups for lemonade.
Lemonade which needs much vigorous stirring with those spoons you see jutting out of the cups.
Spoons which miraculously morph into straws when the time comes to drink said lemonade.
You thought they were train tracks, I know.
You’d be wrong.

They have been sorting cups.
Red pigs in the red cup,
blue pigs in the blue cup,
green pigs in the green cup?
(I taught her how to sort.
I am so proud.)
I know, you thought those were bears.
You’d be wrong.

They have been stuffed full of playdough, and have been cakes and cookies and toads.
Cakes, cookies and toads all look like lumps of playdough stuffed into a cup to me.
I’d be wrong.
She ‘eats’ the cakes and cookies.
She shares them with her friends.
She does not eat the toads.
Nor does she share them.
She just pokes them full of holes with a pudgy finger.
“There, toad! And THERE!”

She lines them up on a stair,
and plonks herself down in front of them
(Yes, those are her jammies.
Some mornings are like that.)

And plays the drums.
You might think that’s a drumstick in her hand.
You’d be wrong.
It’s a rattle.
I might think she’s pretending the rattle is a drumstick.
I’d be wrong.
“I’m hitting the drums with a rattle,
because I don’t have a good drumstick.”

September 8, 2008 Posted by | Anna, quirks and quirkiness, random and odd | , , , , | 7 Comments

What I’m doing on my Summer Vacation

It is eight in the morning. The only sound in the house is the hissing of the shower upstairs. The dog sits curled on the couch beside me, the curve of her back nestled against my hip. (Yes, she’s allowed on the couch. She is not allowed on our bed. She knows the difference.) Birds in the trees outside.

I do not hear the trundle of small feet, the chatter of small voices, the bellow of not-so-small outrage.

I am, you see, on holiday. (And before any of you start with the well-meaning questions re: travel that all my clients have asked of me, let me answer them pre-emptively: I am not going anywhere. I am not going anywhere because there are no funds to take me, and certainly not me and assorted family members, anywhere. There never are, and that’s all we need to talk about that, okay?)

But don’t worry, I have plans!

I have already put the first coat of paint on the bathroom!!!

And… it looks like shit. Not because of the colour (yellow), but because this is an old house. As soon as the wall was painted a smooth uniform colour (as opposed to the textured effect given by its previous mottled white coat of dust-and-flaking-paint) turns out to be not so smooth. It has bumps and divots, cracks and crannies. And the fresh, pretty paint highlights each and every one.

So today, instead of painting the trim the shiny white as planned, I will be mixing up a paler shade of yellow and ragging it over the first coat. Then I’ll probably do a third coat of white. The idea being to create texture — pretty, painted texture, far better than dust-and-flakes texture — which will camoflage the bumps-and-divots texture. That’s the theory, anyway.

THEN I will put on the shiny white trim.

And then there was yesterday’s task: a mattress for my daughter’s bed. But not just any mattress, you understand. This bed is not a simple rectangle, like every other bed in the world. This one has “five sides and not one right angle”, to quote our carpenter friend who built it for the cost of the materials — and the fun of working on such a weird project.

So, Mary has two pieces of foam appropriate for a mattress, between them amply big enough to fit in the frame. But nothing like the necessary shape. That’s okay, because Mary also has ingenuity, courage, chalk, and a bread knife!

It didn’t take that long, either. Dump the foam in the frame, mark the edges, cut with knife. Just like cutting slices from a loaf of bread! It’s all in there. Now we will glue the edges of the pieces together with spray adhesive, cover all with a foam topper, and encase in custom-made* mattress cover… with five sides and no right angles…

*Custom-made by me, of course. Out of old sheets. That, however, is tomorrow’s task.

Today I am ragging the bathroom.

August 18, 2008 Posted by | holidays | , , | 8 Comments

Craft resource!

I like messing about with stuff, making one thing from another, putting this with that and seeing what happens. Creativity is something we’re all blessed with, though some, undoubtedly, are particularly gifted. At its heart, creativity is play. Unselfconscious experimentations, curiosity, and a willingness to mess about with stuff.

Creativity does not mean that you can paint a canvas that will one day hang in the National Gallery, nor compose a sonata played by orchestras around the world. Creativity just means messing about with stuff. Putting this with that, attaching this to that, seeing if we can make this from that. Mess about enough, and something fun, interesting — creative — will emerge. Because you’ve let it. Because you haven’t seen anything you did as a “mistake”.

An “uncreative” person sees her little craft disintegrate. “It’s fallen apart! God, I’m so hopeless at this crap. I’m so uncreative!” And she walks away, confirmed in her uncreativity.

The creative person, instead, sees the disintegration as part of the process. “Hmm. That glue won’t hold fabric. Maybe if I used a twist-tie?” The glue wasn’t a mistake. It just didn’t get you where you wanted to be. And the more messing about you do, the better you get at it.

The difference between the creative and the ‘uncreative’ person in my made-up example is primarily one of mindset, not ability.

When it comes to crafts, I mostly make it up as I go along. However, I’m not about to dismiss a great craft resource when it pokes me in the eye, or shows up in my inbox once a week.

Isn’t this cute? A pig! Made from a sock and a lid, some stuffing and a few clothespegs and bulk clips. Love it!

If you’d like a little more craftiness in your life, but aren’t so good at making it up as you go along, you might consider subscribing to this site. We’ve had fun with it!

July 8, 2008 Posted by | crafts | , | 2 Comments