29 February 2012

What a Difference a Play Makes

It's hard to believe how much has changed in just one week.
Remember my post on Play? I was about to have a go at focusing on child-led play. Spending concentrated time with each child, simply playing - led by them.

We started out a bit rough. It was a crazy week. Busy busy busy. The best I could manage was letting Scrag help me stir the sauce for Macaroni Cheese.

I was struggling in myself with my old foe, the Black Dog, and Play was simply not happening.
Until Friday.
Finally a break in the schedule - Scrag and me had a day at home together with nothing planned in.

That day was the turning point.
We played with Buzz Lightyear and Batman (they had a flying race; Batman won because he's a superhero). We took photos together; I even let Scrag push the button.
We went to the park. Instead of sitting on the park bench "keeping an eye on him", I followed him round, oohing and ahhhing at his cleverness. He blossomed before my eyes, strutting his stuff on the balance rope and climbing wall; preening under my admiring gaze. All my attention focused just on him.

Later he asked to play Mouse Trap. Somehow we figured out how to put it together and got it working. Yippeee! Squeals of delight and bouncing up and down every time the mouse was successfully trapped.

By the end of that day I felt so close to my little son. I want to spend every Friday like that, just me and him; hanging out and making the most of playing together before he heads to school (I'm changing his kindy hours so we can).

Already I was seeing a difference in the way I related to my kids.
By focusing deliberately on enjoying them, I found my fuse lengthening, my patience increasing.

Not without hiccups of course - did you read my theme dinner debacle? that was my attempt to engage with Miss Fab. Thwarted, but still.

On Sunday I made the tyre swing, praised the younger kids for their excellent jumping skills and admired their cleverness. It was warm fuzzies all round.

Then Scrag shouted, "Can we play hide and seek?"
Now usually at this point I would groan inwardly, I must admit.
But this time, no such reaction.
Let's play! I was all enthusiasm.

The sound of the fun we were having drew Dash from out of the house.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Playing hide and seek, " Miss Fab replied.
 "Is mum playing???" Dash asked incredulously.
"Yep!!!" we all chorused.
"OOOH!!! Can I play???" Dash cried.

And that's how I came to spend the best Sunday afternoon with my kids ever.
Playing hide and seek in the garden.
Who would have thought play could make such a difference?

Our whole family is calmer. there is more laughter, less fighting.
Everything becomes a game, a race. Instead of growling Scrag to hurry up, he knows to shout, "Ready, set, GO!" and we race to get ready, clean our teeth, get out the door.

Homework is getting done, beds are getting made. Don't ask me how - it's magic.
OK, it could actually be Mr G's awesome "chores and pocket money chart" (more on that another time).

Mr G has jumped on the play bandwagon too, picking up on what's happening. Yesterday as I cooked dinner, I heard the sounds of hide'n'seek again in the back garden.
He'll be reading my course book so we can stay on the same page, so-to-speak.

The Incredible Years parenting course is the best thing I've ever done for my family.

I was lost and scrambling as a parent, scrabbling together bits and pieces of advice from here, there and everywhere. but this course is giving me a cohesive practical framework for building close relationships with my kids; its full of practical advice too.

Already I've minimised dinnertime agro by taking our facilitator's advice and planning meals two weeks in advance. Each person gets to pick a meal each week. they can even help with the cooking if they want to. I now have a meal plan on my fridge for the next two weeks; everybody has to eat without a fuss the meals that other people have chosen. Hard to believe that not only do i know what I'm having for dinner tonight already, but next week too!

Can you tell I am enthusiastic? When I find something that works I just have to rave about it. And this works.

There are Incredible Years parenting courses being run all over New Zealand. They are Government funded, so are completely free to attend and even offer free childcare! You can find a course near you here.

The Incredible Years is not just in New Zealand, it's all over the world. Find out more on their website.

In the meantime, if in doubt, just play.


More Play Stories

27 February 2012

How Yoda sodas saved the day

{Artist's Impression of Team G in our Star Wars gear... if only things had turned out differently}

I felt we were due for a family Theme Night. Inspired by my creative friend Meg, I suggested a Star Wars night to the family and was met with great enthusiasm (imitation is the highest form of flattery).

As Meg borrowed our Star Wars costumes and light sabers for her theme night, we planned to reciprocate and make use of her Yoda face paint and Ewok hoodie.

Email from Simone to Meg: 
Hey can we borrow your Star Wars costumes for Saturday night? We want to use your cool-as theme dinner idea. 

Email from Meg to Simone:
If you want to do a theme dinner eat "Han burgers" and have "Yoda Soda" (green fizzy or icecream sodas).

Awww! Han burgers and Yoda sodas! What a cute idea, I thought.
Nice and easy too. 
Our family is pretty mad-keen on Star Wars. We have the entire DVD movie collection; from Dash's Star Wars birthday party we have a Darth Vader helmet, a Princess Leia wig; Dash has loads of Star Wars lego and figurines... we even have an old 1970's Star Wars pillowcase Grandma kept from Mr G's childhood.
This was going to be a fun family night, with another great "how to do a cool theme dinner" post for the blog, I was certain.

After the Weekend...
Email from Meg to Simone:
Did you have your Star Wars night yet?

Email from Simone to Meg:
Do I have a story for you...
After realising that Saturday night would be a wash-out with Dash at a friend's and Miss Fab at a birthday party, we decided to have it Friday night instead of Saturday. I grabbed some ice cream and lime fizzy drink for Yoda Sodas and then came and knocked on your door to borrow the costumes... but you were out.

Never mind. We headed home and me and Miss Fab had fun setting up a beautiful Star Wars table setting using lego figures, leftover party plates and Mr G's childhood Star Wars pillowcase, circa 1978.
My intention was to phone you and swing by and grab the stuff, when i got a minute.
We pulled out a pile of costumes in readiness for the fun dressing up...

Then Nan and Grandad turned up out of the blue... (my parents) and we said, JOIN US! So they said OK.
I defrosted the mince for the Han Burgers and made the patties.

Mr G came home, tired from a long week, and started talking bikes with Dad.

Then the screaming started.
Ear piercing "I am dying or really really hurt" screaming from the driveway.
Scrag had decided to have a go on Dash's MGP stunt scooter and had SOMEHOW jammed his finger... in the brake.

I have no idea why he thought of sticking his finger in there, but there it surely was.
And the screaming wouldn't stop.

Scrag's fingernail went instantly black, his finger swelled up and we thought it might even be broken. We tried cold packs, flannels, taping it (carefully) to the other finger, offering sweets, ice-blocks, cuddles... but nothing could make the screaming stop... and there was nowhere in the house to escape the sound.

It was hot, stuffy, the Han burgers were drying out and I was starting to melt down in the hot kitchen with the screaming going on and on, trying to remember what I was doing, what I should put in Han burgers, calculating gluten free vs non-gluten free buns...

All hope of a fun dress-up night had evaporated. 
Finally Scrag took himself sobbing to bed and before long fell into an exhausted sleep.

Meanwhile, Miss Fab had started weeping in disappointment over our spoiled plans and ran off to her room to cry over her wasted hard work; Nan and Grandad were wishing they hadn't accepted our invitation and Daddy was just counting the minutes til he could collapse on the couch.

We ate our dried-up Han burgers in sullen silence. No one was in the mood for dressing up.

But all was not completely lost. Things brightened up when we made the Yoda sodas. They were even yummy enough to lure Miss Fab out of her room. The Yoda Sodas saved the day.

Even though nobody felt like dressing up, we put on Return of the Jedi and watched it with Nan and Grandad, grateful the screaming had stopped...

On Saturday I COMPLETELY forgot to phone and tell you that we had already had our malfunctioned attempt at a Star Wars night, as I shuttled kids back and forth from Cricket to present shopping to play dates to parties... Until your box turned up so kindly on the doorstep. (THANKYOU!!!)

And that's the end of the story.
Ah well, that's family life aye???

Will return the box to you asap.


Editor's note: Actual email may differ slightly

So ends the tale of how a bottle of  fizzy lime mixed with ice cream salvaged an otherwise-ruined evening.

The moral of the story is clear...

(1) Never let a 3-year-old ride a stunt scooter - there's a reason they are for "Age 8+"
(2) Once the screaming starts, your best-laid plans are pretty much dead and buried
(3) Never mind, there'll be other theme nights
(4) An ice cream soda for dessert can fix just about any ruined dinner
(5) Even a disaster can be blogged about

If you want to see how it's REALLY done, visit Meg and see her cool photos from their awesome Star Wars Theme Night *sigh* 

Ah well, at least we tried, aye Yoda?

{P.S. For those of you who were concerned, Scrag's finger was not broken. He has a black nail and will almost certainly lose it. He woke up from his snooze feeling much better, just in time to watch the Emperor being defeated and the new Death Star destroyed. He is back to his usual happy self.}

The Southern Institute
26 February 2012

Hey, guess what I made?

It wasn't something crafty. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't even edible.
I'll give you a clue.
It's something to play on.
Need more?
It's round and black and upcycled. It lives in the garden and swings from a tree.

You got it! It's a...

...tyre swing!

Usually the construction of stuff is left to Mr G. He's good with knots and nails and testing for safety and stability and all that other important stuff.

But today I just felt like the garden needed a tyre swing.
We have a pile of old tyres leftover from Dash's Boy vs Wild party; it was a lovely summer day and Mr G was out.

What's a girl to do?

She uses her Kiwi ingenuity. She upcycles a couple of old baby-swing ropes and makes use of a chair. She asks herself, What would Bear Grylls do?... and ties some extra knots, just in case.

When it's looking like it should, she enlists the help of her strong-and-clever kids...

{testing for weight capacity - it will take two sturdy little bodies but three is pushing it}
We are good to go!

Yippee! It works!

{Pssssst!! We are having loads of fun playing lately. 
Stacks, loads and tonnes of warm-fuzzy playing FUN ♥}
24 February 2012

Finding the Love

This week has turned into a rough one for me. I'm waking up each morning feeling as if I've had a sleepless night. I haven't, but I might as well have.
Sleep is doing me no good. Waking is even more painful than usual. Quite literally, it hurts to prise my bleary eyes open and tend to my children's needs. Each sound (cupboards banging, doors slamming) stabs at my brain like a sharp stick. Any voice above a whisper sounds like a shout - and you know my lot are not really the type to whisper.

But enough of all that. If I dwell on how I feel (lousy) it will not help me out of my fug.

As PaisleyJade says: "I wholeheartedly believe that no matter what is happening in your life, there is always something that you can be thankful for... no matter how simple it is."

Looking on the bright side, I can list quite a few things to love already about my day.

Firstly, Scrag slept til 8am. Usually he is the alarm clock, jumping on us and urging us to hit the ground running. But today, he slept and slept, waking only as the last schoolkid slammed the front door as she ran around the corner to catch her ride to school.

{And there is another thing to love - my friend Linda, kindly being Miss Fab's school-taxi}

So instead of having to stagger half-asleep to school and kindergarten, I got to stay in my PJs for the first time this week.

I can also List the following Things to be grateful for:
  • The kids got dressed and ready without a fuss
  • They looked smart in the clothes they chose
  • There was no fighting or yelling this morning
  • They made their own lunchboxes (I made the sandwiches)
  • Miss Fab was being Green, and used paper towels & containers instead of Gladwrap
  • They DASH cleaned their his teeth (without being reminded) It seems Miss Fab only pretended to clean her teeth! Her toothbrush was bone-dry
  • Dash remembered his spelling words from last night's homework
  • He left on his scooter calling out, "Bye mum, Love you! Have a good day!"

Which brings me to the next thing I find to love - a Teacher Only Day at kindy.

Me and Scrag really needed a day at home together, and here we have been gifted one. I am seriously thinking about dropping Friday morning kindy to give us an unscheduled day together, while he is still little. This time will go so fast.

Another thing to love? After we snuggled on the window seat in the morning sun, and I made him the required two weetbix, he said, "Mummy can you play with me?"

Finally I have the chance to Play. The week has been so busy and I have been so low, that the best I've managed in terms of Playing (remember, my Parenting Course Homework?) has been reading him a story on the kindy couch before I leave, and letting him help me stir the cheese sauce for the macaroni cheese.

Eagerly I jumped at the Play invitation, remembering to let him take the lead.
He found Batman lying around and gave him a race with Buzz Lightyear. I did my best to ooh and ahh. When we re-constructed Mr & Mrs Potato Head, I resisted the urge to do it for him when the nose wouldn't go on. Instead I held the body steady while Scrag pushed in the nose. See how much I am remembering?

He wanted to colour, so I asked him did he want crayons or pencils, just like on the video clip we watched. At no point did I take over his play; it was "child-led" all the way.

Later he said he wanted to "take a Family Photo".
Turns out what he really wanted was to take some photos himself. He tried some self-portraits and I even let him snap me in all my morning glory... such a sacrifice.
I followed his artistic direction, pulling silly faces as requested. We had Fun.

So I can add a great big I Love Play to the list.

I also love these photos of Miss Fab, which I found on my camera from the weekend, taken by our young Swiss friend. Gorgeous, don't you think?

So there you have it.
Things I've found to love and be grateful for already today and it's only 10am.
I may still feel like I'm swimming through glue, but at least I'm swimming with Love, aye?

Now I'm going to turn off the computer, get out of my PJ's and walk with my boy to the park while the sun still shines. I might even Play.


What are you finding to Love today?

23 February 2012

Watch it and Weep


I'm having a crappy couple of days. The old Black Dog has sneaked up on me and has been snapping at my heels. Anxious and overwhelmed for no explainable reason, I am hiding here in the safety of my house.

Reading through some blog posts by friends, I came across a clip shared by Remaliah which moved me indescribably. I have to share it with you.

This is The Church in action.
This is what Jesus wants us to do.

Watching it lifted me, and now I feel capable of going into the kitchen, washing the crusty pile of last night's dishes and baking my sister (who is in hospital with pneumonia) some gluten-free cookies.

Watch it, really. It will inspire you too.

22 February 2012

Favourite Things

Can you tell I am anticipating Autumn???


What are a Few of Your Favourite Things?
21 February 2012


The Incredible Years. That's what we're living through right now, with our kids.
I've also just begun a parenting course of the same name.
With all my free time now that Scrag is in kindy, and knowing how my attention tends to wander unless focused, I thought it would do my kids good if their mum spent some time learning how to be a better parent.

What did I learn today?
I learnt that I need to play.
Play Play Play.
Get down on the floor and engage. Take ten minutes to be young and silly again.
We learnt all the ways children benefit when we play with them (and by "play" they don't mean the grown-up takes over and does it for them; they mean, child-led play).

Our kids feel valued because we make the time to do something that matters to them.
We learn what goes on inside our child's head.
All kinds of other good things happen when we play with our children.

"Play helps to build a warm relationship and strong attachments between family members and to create a bank of positive feelings and experiences that can be drawn on in times of conflict. Through play, you can help your children solve problems, test out ideas and explore their imaginations. As well, playtime with adults encourages the development of vocabulary so that children can learn to communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs... Play is a time when you can respond to your children in ways that promote feelings of self-worth and competence..."
- from the book "The Incredible Years" by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, PhD

The Incredible Years parenting course has been developed on a solid base of forty years of research by Dr Webster-Stratton. It is very interactive, lots of fun and really gets you thinking.

What are the things that prevent you from playing? we were asked.

I wrote: My boredom, interest in other things, busyness...
I'll admit it, playing wooden trains is not much fun for me once I've built the track.
Playing soccer Match Attacks is not my idea of a good time.
Playing hairdressers is slightly more appealing...
But it's not about me, is it?

We had to write down our memories of games we played as children.
Instantly I could recall my dad playing "the three little piggies" with me and my sister in the woods behind our house, when I was three. We would run and hide in the old shed while he (the Big Bad Wolf) huffed and puffed and pretended to blow our house down while we piggies squealed in terror and delight.

I remember dad being our playground. We slid down his back, had see-saws on his feet, swings in his cupped hands. Donkey rides, where all four of us would pile on and he would jiggle and bump until one by one we all fell off.

Is it surprising that I always felt close to my dad growing up?
He was fun. He played with us. He made us squeal and run and giggle and shriek.

Me, my sisters and Dad, 1975

Mr G is the one in our family that is a play genius. He can turn anything into fun.
Me, I am the sensible one. The one who sees trouble brewing in wrestling matches and who warns: "This will end in tears!"
I am good at reading stories and having deep-and-meaningfuls, but the playing? Not so much.

So my homework this week is to Play.
Ten minutes of child-directed play, with each of my kids.
I even have to record it down.

This will be a challenge for serious busy me, but I have a feeling it's gonna be fun.


What games do you remember playing as a child? How do you go with "child-directed play?" - is this a new concept to you or are you an old hand?
20 February 2012

Dreams are Free

I've just returned from a weekend in Heaven.
Not the celestial one, of course, but someplace a little bit closer to home.
Sandy Bay. A little slice of Kiwi Paradise on earth.

Unlike celestial heaven's golden gleaming, this Kiwi paradise is laced with seaweed and cobwebs, but it is paradise nonetheless.

The sort of place I dream of living One Day.

Going to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing.
Waking to the call of gulls, as the sun peeks in my window, revealing a breathtaking stretch of sea and sand.

I dream of evenings swimming at dusk, walks at sunset collecting driftwood for the fire.
Painting the tides, the sea in all its shades. Writing at a desk overlooking the ocean.

I can imagine wild winter nights, storms crashing as firelight flickers.

Summer days in the shade if the pohutukawa, watching grandchildren climb and run and splash.
Did I say grandchildren?

Yes. I'm figuring this dream might be some time in coming.
I'm not asking for a mansion, just a cottage by the sea, with enough room for loved ones to come and share weekends and holidays.

I will need internet connection of course. A telephone line.

"It would be very isolated," Mr G cautions me when I speak my dream to him on the return journey.

OK so maybe a Sandy Bay location is a little too far from the rest of the world, but somewhere like that.
A cottage by the sea, me, my honey and internet connection.
What more could a girl want?

Well, dreams are free.


We had a wonderful weekend at Sandy Bay which is like our home away from home, in technology-free paradise. Mr G went fishing (but caught nothing), the kids were in and out of the water like dolphins. We hosted our Swiss friends and they agreed that Sandy Bay is indeed, heavenly. 

I thought of Gail, and how we had planned to return to Sandy Bay as soon as they return from China. We are still waiting. I hoped for a glimpse of PaisleyJade, but she must have been busy. I was reminded of my first time meeting Leonie, when she wandered up the beach to find us last summer; how we swam together right here.  Sandy Bay is a great place to hang out with friends. 

We didn't want to come home and managed to make a weekend feel like a week. I hope to return to Sandy Bay with Gail before too long. Come home soon, Gail!