Tag Archives: imagination



“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

This boy turned four – four! – this week. I will hopefully find the time to reflect on that properly in the next few days, but in the meantime I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on his awesomeness.

We had a Peter Pan party at home on his actual birthday – it was a little bit crazy, but lots of fun. Then the day after we went to see a theatre production of his current favourite story in Exeter.

Arthur dressed up for the occasion, and sat spellbound as a talented cast of actors brought the story to life. I was so proud of him as he perched on the front row, eyes and ears open to this new experience and emotions kept in check just enough to be able to enjoy it all, right to the end.

I am so very proud of him, always.

Dressing up

The unschooling diaries: week forty-two

One of my very favourite things about Halloween this year was the week-long dress-up fest that preceded it.

Arthur had decided some time in advance that he wanted to be Luke Skywalker on the day. Not for any particularly special occasion you understand – we weren’t going to a party, or ‘trick or treat’ing – but just because it was Halloween, and so he could. Daddy was going to be Darth Vader, and I would be Princess Leia. Totally fine by me.

As Halloween approached, Arthur basically decided that he needed to be in fancy dress whenever we left the house (or even if we didn’t).

So he was a bat in the woods at Occombe farm…


And a spaceman for an organised foraging walk we went on.


(It was a particularly apt outfit for exploring the new adventure playground at Dartington when we were done).

This might not seem like too much of a big deal: three year old, any excuse for a costume, pretty standard. But it took AGES before he was even vaguely interested in fancy dress, and so it still has a certain novelty value.

More than that, too, his dress up games are now imbued with the wonderful imagination that is blossoming in him, and he embraces the characters he takes on with gusto.

The highlight of our Halloween adventures was a walk up to Berry Head – in costume of course. I had a meeting at the pool on Sunday morning, and Leigh and Arthur came to meet me there – in costume and clutching their lightsabers.


(These lightsabers are worth an aside themselves. I made one for Arthur a while ago using a bubble wand, and whilst it was pretty cool it way no way nearly as awesome as the discovery he made whilst I was raiding our fancy dress boxes for other props… He found the ten-year-old pop up lightsabers with lights and sound that Leigh had bought for himself and his brother and squirrelled away for his future son. And boy was his son excited.)


Arthur led us through the overgrown pathways up on the headland, taking his mission very seriously until we reached an open space. And then he took great delight in lightsaber duels with anyone who was interested (quite a few random kids as well as just his dad it turned out).


By the time we headed for home, and lunch with Arthur’s best mate, he was brimming with excitement and adventure.


Amazing how being in costume can transform your experience of well-trodden paths. And it’s Christmas soon, right? Cue all sorts of festive role-play…

Arthur’s imaginary menagerie

The unschooling diaries: week thirty

We seem to have acquired, over the past week or so, two cats, two dogs, and a fish. Oh, and an Orca whale. They’re very small, and not entirely visible, but to Arthur they are very real indeed.


The first of these creatures appeared one day as we were settling down for a morning snuggle. Arthur was about to climb into my bed when he proclaimed that he had forgotten his cat. When I asked him to tell me a bit more about it, he said the cat had been on the shelf in my study and he had reached up and taken him down. But he had accidentally left him in the bath.

Curious, and not recalling a cat on my bookshelves, I went downstairs and checked the bathroom. I saw nothing, but Arthur follow me, peered around my legs, and reached in to retrieve his pet.

She came everywhere with us, and there were regularly brief moments of panic when he was worried he had lost her. He introduced her to his friend when we went out for the day, and explained that his cat was brown with purple eyes.

The second cat appeared when we were sat in another friend’s garden. We were chatting about this first pet, and how she had miraculously come into our lives, when Arthur suddenly exclaimed “Oh, there’s another one!”. He had come down from the clouds, apparently, and was brown too – but with yellow eyes.

We were heading off from there straight to a festival, so put both of the cats into Arthur’s rucksack and went on our way.

Over the course of the weekend he acquired two dogs, and a fish has appeared at some point in the past couple of days.

(I think he got that one from Daddy, who invented his own invisible fish to keep Arthur company.)

Daddy has tried to explain too that the wonderful thing about these particular pets is that they are always there, inside your heart, even if you think that you can’t see them. And that’s been important, because since Arthur’s imagination created his animals it seems to have had trouble keeping hold of them. Especially at night, when he has woken crying, afraid that they are lost.

In the light of day they are easier to conjure – he will often point to the place in the room where they are, or tell me that they are licking my feet. At night, though, I wonder whether they point to an underlying anxiety.

He called me into his room as I was writing this, panicked that he couldn’t see his cats and dogs and fish and asking to have the light on. I pondered for a moment, and suggested that they had perhaps gone off exploring, as animals often do.

Arthur seemed happy to accept that they were in his garden, and as he snuggled down beneath his covers added that he had a whale now too. An Orca, apparently, who was sat beside him on the pillow.

Such a wonderful menagerie; such a wonderful imagination.

Never lose that, little one.


The ping game

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-nine

It started with a stick.

Seeing as most sticks, lately, get made into guns and swords, I thought I would try to imbue this one with more gentle powers. Especially as it was so beautiful.

Arthur had found it on a walk at my parents’ house: it was gnarly and strong – hazel I think.

With the help of some treasures from my mum’s haberdashery collection I crafted it carefully into a wand. There was something enormously therapeutic, actually, about wrapping thread around its form, and teasing on beads to add to its magic.


By the time Arthur woke up from his nap, his wand was born.

I’m not sure who started the game – the pointing with a ‘ping’ to use this magical stick as a tool for transformation. It might have been me, with pedestrian suggestions of a frog or a bird.

Since then, though, Arthur has taken the concept and run with it.

With an imagination that would put most drama students to shame, he pings me into all sorts of things. A cannonball, a barbecue, glitter, a corkscrew: you name it, I’ve had to use my best improvisational skills to create it – much to Arthur’s amusement.

He currently prefers to do the pinging rather than be pinged, but he is growing in confidence, and when he does dare to take the stage comes up with brilliant (and hilarious) manifestations of whatever idea is thrown at him.

The wand has actually become superfluous now in the execution of this game. It is just a way to pass the time, to dispel boredom or to liven things up. It can (and does) unfold whenever or wherever we happen to be, and I love it.

Imagination, creativity, drama, communication, laughter: and all because of a stick.

“What shall we make with this?”

The unschooling diaries: week sixteen

I think those six little words might be the ones that have made me the proudest yet in this motherhood journey.

It started just over a week ago, when we came downstairs one morning to a couple of empty cardboard boxes waiting to be flattened down for recycling. Arthur looked at me, gasped with delight, and said:

“What shall we make with this, mummy?”

We have had an awful lot of fun making things out of cardboard boxes over the past couple of years, but generally it’s been me or Leigh who’s initiated it. Arthur has happily chipped in as the creation develops, offering direction and issuing demands. But this latest development, where it is him looking at a piece of trash and using it to kickstart his imagination, is just awesome.

On that morning, I bounced the question back at him and he decided we were going to try to build a spaceship. It was a little ambitious, but we worked together and came up with something he was pretty happy with – it had controls and a light and everything.

A couple of days later, Arthur’s new blackout blinds arrived, in THE BEST cardboard tube ever. Again Arthur took one look at it and asked the question:

“What shall we make with this?”

We spent a while exploring ideas – he used it as a channel for balls, experimenting with different sizes, and then as a tunnel for his cars, raising one end up on our mini trampoline.

But then he decided it would make an even better train tunnel, and together we incorporated it into a super duper train set, with the track running up and over another box then all the way down the tube. It took a few goes to get it right – some trains ran better than others – but we got there.


His other idea was on a smaller scale, but no less fun. He’d been picking up smaller boxes for a couple of days and insisting that we could turn them into a camera. He always managed to catch me at inopportune moment, and I couldn’t quite see how we were going to pull it off, but in the end we succeeded, and he took great pleasure in running around the house taking photos.


It’s not just cardboard boxes either: as we explore this whole act of making together he is beginning to see potential in all sorts of other things around the house. He picked up a ribbon yesterday and asked his same question:

“What shall we make with this, mummy?”

I was initially stumped, but he jumped in with “A twirly thing! Let’s make a twirly thing!” whilst spinning the ribbon in circles around his head. I had actually been planning for a while to make him a twirly thing out of ribbons (not sure what the technical term for it would be) so dashed upstairs to find an old bangle and my ribbon stash, and together we picked out a selection of ribbons to add to the one we’d started with and tied them on.


I love the extra injection of creativity it’s given to our everyday routine, and the sense of limitless possibility that Arthur exudes at the moment. He takes inspiration from everywhere – he declared on another morning that he would like to make a scarecrow, and it turned out that he had been fascinated by one in Curious George.

It sounded like a bit of a mission, but I didn’t want to let him down – and actually making a scarecrow wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be – and we now have him ready for when we finally get round to planting up our veg patch!

It’s not just pride at Arthur’s enthusiasm that I’m loving about this particular phase. It is also, as so many things about parenting are, incredibly liberating: to look at trash and see potential, to have an idea and to keep going until you achieve it.

Lessons for life from a three year old.




“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

These diggers have come everywhere with us since we bought them last week.

I really try not to just randomly buy stuff for Arthur, but he is so completely fascinated by anything to do with construction that when I saw them online I couldn’t resist. They are the first things he wants when he wakes up: he came out of his room a few mornings ago, earlier than usual, and headed straight towards the stairs instead of into me for cuddles. When I asked what he was doing he said that his diggers needed him because they had been having bad dreams.

At home he plays with them with kinetic sand, or on his road mat, or with his trains. Sometimes he just lines them up carefully in front of him so he can look at them more closely: he knows the names of almost every part of them, and will happily relay them to anyone who will listen.

He’s been having some trouble with the tracked excavator, because the rubber tracks keep coming off when he drives it on the floor or in the tuff spot. We worked out, though, when we took them to the beach, that it just needs rough ground beneath it and it works just fine.

The things you learn when you spend your days with a three year old…

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Creative construction

The unschooling diaries: week seven

The fascination with all things construction (and demolition) that last week led us to the library has directed lots of Arthur’s play over the past few days. He has gathered his motley collection of construction vehicles with the kinetic sand in the tuff spot, brrrrming them round his little building site which I sense still has further to evolve.


Whenever we’ve been out and about he’s been drawn to diggers and steam rollers and cranes. There seem to be plenty around – way more than I’ve ever noticed before. But maybe that’s just because I wasn’t looking properly.

Back at home, he has taken tremendous delight in directing me to build increasingly complex creations using duplo and his train track only to smash them to smithereens, scattering pieces across the lounge and declaring an emergency as he brings in the nee naws to sort it all out. I’ve had to resist the primal urge in me to get irritated at this wave of destruction – I know it’s important that he explores how things break as well as how they come together.


His impulse to understand how things work has been focused on the vehicles themselves. We’ve found a great selection of YouTube videos that he watches with studied concentration as they break down the complex operation of an excavator, for example, into language that a preschooler can understand. The vocabulary is precise and the mechanics stretches even my understanding.


The most fascinating aspect of this play for me, though, has been how he has taken it into his whole body – a kinaesthetic exploration of the engineering concepts underlying the things he observes. He stretches his arm out like a crane, his movements slow and robotic as he fashions his hand into a scoop, all the time replicating the mechanical noises he has heard with his voice. He loves it if I join in too, both of us together forming a human construction site.


If I were taking the lead on his learning, I’m not sure I ever would have thought to take this topic in all these different directions. Even with my background in physical theatre I don’t think I’ve ever stood and worked out how to move my body like a crane. He is literally consumed by learning – and the power of that is more than a little awesome to behold.