Tag Archives: mess

Mud glorious mud

The unschooling diaries: week thirteen

This week, we have finally managed to start sorting the garden out for summer.

It’s not an especially big space, and because our house is essentially built into the cliff face it’s on three different levels – and has no grass. So over the wet, windy Devon winter it really does start to look quite sorry for itself, and I start yearning for a house with a proper garden with room to run and explore.

I’ve realised, though, that there is actually an awful lot we can do with the space we have. Rather than bemoan the lack of lawn, I’ve decided instead to focus on what an interesting space it is, and its huge potential as an outdoor classroom. So, with Arthur taking the lead of course, we’ve been exploring exactly what that might look like – and having lots of messy fun in the process.

We started with some digging and pulling up of weeds in our raised beds. Arthur was very keen to get involved, and was fascinated by the bugs we came across along the way. We found snails, slugs, earthworms, a centipede, woodlice and a caterpillar – and had a good chat about each of them before getting on with our work.


We also got the tuff spot out into the garden, creating a mud-filled paradise for Arthur’s beloved diggers, made even more fun when we added water to the equation.



We managed to work some arts and crafts in there too. When we were in Lanzarote we’d talked about how Cesar Manrique had used volcanic ash in his paintings – Arthur had been quite intrigued by the unusual textures it created. So, inspired by the puddle that formed after some overnight rainfall, we decided to try some mud art.

We started with some puddle painting, using oil and food colouring to create colourful swirls on the water. This didn’t work brilliantly as Arthur got a bit over excited with the amount of oil he added, but it was still lots of fun!


Especially fun was, of course, stamping in the oily puddle – and seeing how much Arthur was enjoying making footsteps on the deck I decided to give him a bit of a canvas.


Then, after a slight diversion to make a magic potion, we got properly stuck in and covered a large sheet of paper with pva glue before pouring on the muddy concoction and mixing it up with anything else that took our fancy…


There was more focused preparation too, with Arthur climbing inside the raised beds to get the earth ready for planting (and make some mud castles).


It was all so much fun! And tidying up was even more so: Arthur was super keen to use the hosepipe, and I in my infinite wisdom let him. It was going great until he accidentally splashed me whilst I was holding the tuff spot, and I yelped, and he laughed, and… well, let’s just say we both got very wet!



All in all it’s made me very excited about our little garden, and the fun and learning that is going to happen there in the weeks and months to come. There is something about being outdoors that just can’t be beat.


Going with the flow

The unschooling diaries: week nine

I’ve been mulling over various different options for this post today – Arthur’s delight in playing with sand at Paignton sea front, his growing interest in helping in the kitchen, the hours of roleplay that followed when we found a Buzz Lightyear costume in the charity shop – but it’s actually an almost inconsequential moment that I keep coming back to.

Leigh was late home on Friday, but with it being the weekend I figured we’d wait for him before pushing on to bed after Arthur had finished his dinner. That’s daddy time, generally – the chats about the day and the washing things and the stories – and both of them miss it on the odd occasions when he can’t be around.

I didn’t really have a plan – which could, at the end of a long day, have ended in disaster – but as it was distraction came in the most unexpected form. I’d been unpacking a delivery whilst Arthur ate his dinner, and it had arrived in a box filled with little polystyrene pellets. I normally whip them away from Arthur whenever I order from this company, but on Friday I guess I was feeling a bit more relaxed and so I let him explore. And the resulting play was, I think, the best fun he’d had all week.


Things started pretty simply: having watched me unpack my order from the box, he proceeded to fill it with all of his precious things and offer it to me as a present.

Then once I’d gone through and admired each of his ‘gifts’, he decided that he wanted to see what it was like in there himself.


Then of course came the tipping out, and the moment when on another day I might have put a halt to all of it. The tuff spot comes in handy for that – even if it didn’t contain the pellets for long…


He piled them up and drove his diggers into them, threw them in the air to see how they fell, smooshed them and squeezed them and generally just experimented with this new material that had previously been off limits.

And whilst he played I sat and watched and laughed, until his daddy arrived at the door and came in to find us giggling in the midst of a pile of mess. Fortunately he got it too.


I couldn’t tell you exactly what Arthur learnt from this little bit of unplanned and unstructured play, but still it felt important: to give him permission to go a little bit wild at the end of the day, to go with the flow even if a part of me was raising some serious eyebrows, to let him lead and explore and make us both laugh.

As much as it’s great to have some carefully thought out activities on hand too I think it is moments like this that remind me why I am leaning towards unschooling, and the freedom it gives my son to be who he wants to be.


Word of the Week: Organised

I’ve been getting organised on so many levels this week, sorting out a whole bunch of things I’ve been meaning to do for ages – it’s been properly exhausting! I’d built up an epic to do list (mainly in my head) over the past few months of novel-writing, and with that in a bit of a natural lull and Christmas and Arthur’s birthday fast approaching it was time to tackle it.

It started last Saturday with an afternoon in Totnes for Christmas shopping and a long-overdue haircut. I don’t actually think I’d been to the hairdresser since Arthur was born – and my hair went from this:


To this:


Not bad huh? And infinitely more manageable…

The Christmas shopping was pretty successful, though generally rather than getting gifts I was looking for materials… I decided a while ago that I really wanted to try to make most of my presents this year, and though it seems like a bit of a crazy idea I haven’t been able to shake it. So we were trawling charity shops and craft shops and haberdashers for bits and pieces I thought I might be able to use. We did come across one thing we absolutely had to have – I’m making Arthur a doll for Christmas and we came across this gorgeous vintage pram in Oxfam:


You may remember that he rather likes prams, and I imagine this one will be used to push all sorts of things around!

By Monday I had a list of present ideas, a bunch of crafty bits and bobs, and various other things I still had to get online. With the help of Ebay and Etsy (and a little bit of Amazon) that proved to be fairly easy to solve, but there was a bigger issue looming, one which I just couldn’t ignore any longer: the mess.

When we moved into our house it needed top to toe renovation, and the work was finally finished (well, almost) about a week before Arthur was born. We did a reasonable job of getting ourselves sorted, but there were still bags and boxes I hadn’t really touched since the move and Arthur’s arrival obviously added a whole other layer of stuff. Two rooms were really suffering: our bedroom, which the three of us have basically shared since Arthur was born and which was full of piles of his clothes despite him having a perfectly good room of his own, and my study – this is where all the untouched piles had ended up, because after all I only need my desk and computer to write, right?

But suddenly I had a whole host of fairly ambitious craft projects to tackle. I needed somewhere to put my materials where they weren’t going to get sucked into the mess, and I am going to have to set my sewing machine up somewhere.

So I’ve blitzed this room. I’ve thrown out and filed and rehomed and I now actually feel like there’s room to breathe in here. In the process I’ve come across all sorts of interesting things. A whole stack of notebooks for example, from diaries full of teenage angst to teaching planning to gloriously empty pages waiting to be filled. I’d thought I’d lost them all somewhere along the way, so I was very pleased to see them.


There were other things too, piles of papers that I’m very glad I hadn’t just thrown away as hiding in between what looked like rubbish were letters and cards from old friends that I’d forgotten even existed (the letters, not the friends). All safely stashed away now, but not before I reread them all. There have been some very late nights this week…

And of course then there was Arthur’s room. This wasn’t so essential on a practical level, but there were too many things niggling away at me that really needed tackling at some point that I figured I’d just get it done whilst I was feeling efficient.

So I’ve been through all the piles of clothes that I haven’t streamlined since before Easter, putting away two big bags that don’t fit him any more and tidying the rest into his room. I moved some of his toys up that had spilled into the lounge too – in particular his Ikea circus tent which is now a gorgeous little reading nook with cushions and bears and lots of stories. As I was doing all this, the unfinished family trees on the walls were taunting me, so I finally got round to finding some photos to put in them.


Arthur loves them, especially at night when he says goodnight to everyone as part of his bedtime routine. He’s definitely very ready to be spending a bit more time in his room. I’m sure he’ll still come in with us for part of the night, and his play will of course continue to spill out to wherever I am, but there’s something very lovely about him having his own special place too.

And in the midst of all of this I somehow managed to snatch some time to start organising my ideas for my next novel too. It involved coffee, and a beautiful notebook. Bliss.


So all in all an extremely productive and organised week! Now I’d best get on with making those presents…


The Reading Residence

Word of the Week: Mess

Today the word that sums up the week that was is:


As it happens, this doesn’t actually refer to mess that was made, but rather mess that wasn’t. In fact mess that I think I’ve been a little afraid of making, a fear I might have inadvertently passed on to Arthur. It is the glorious, creative, colourful mess that comes from painting: something I’ve avoided doing with Arthur for far too long.

It’s a little odd, really. Those that know me would certainly not put me in the category of people who are mess averse. I’ve never been one for minimalism, and have embraced all sorts of mess with Arthur so far: the avocado and porridge face packs that come with baby led weaning, the bathroom floor tsunamis in the name of watery fun, the muddy knees (and hands, and noses) of outdoor exploration. But for some reason, despite loving art in all it’s forms and being brought up by a supremely creative mother who facilitated endless projects, I have thus far shied away from adding paint to the list of things Arthur has been allowed to make a mess with.

And this week, I decided it was time that changed. I bit the bullet, got out the various supplies I’ve collected so far, and waited for Arthur to make a mess. Except he didn’t seem all that impressed. It didn’t help that the first thing he did was put the paint-laden brush in his mouth – those embittering agents really don’t taste all that great. I felt a bit guilty for setting him up in his high chair at the spot at the table where he normally eats… Confusing much?

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He seemed vaguely interested in the brushes and stamps I’d been recommended by a friend, but admittedly more in the different sounds they made when he banged them on the table than in what would happen if he put them in contact with the gloopy stuff.


And he was considerably less impressed when I gave him a helping hand to coat his fingers in said gloopy stuff, appearing to get positively afraid of what it might do as our little art session went on.

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I tried my best to model the messiness, sacrificing any attempt at artistic merit for the sake of lots of smooshing and smearing and slapping. But he really wasn’t having any of it, and in the end I had to admit defeat.



I’m a little mortified that my reticence to get out the paints for anything other than tightly controlled mummy-led crafts over the past fifteen months might have given Arthur a paint phobia. And for that reason alone I will most definitely be persevering. I’m thinking next time we should scrap the high chair, and just free things up with paper on the floor. I admit I’m cringing a little as I write that with thoughts of baby paint handprints over everything the minute my back is turned, but if that’s the sacrifice I have to make then so be it.

If all goes to plan, there should be plenty of messy, paint-splattered posts in the weeks and months to come. Wish us luck! It’ll be fun, right?


The Reading Residence

Baby-led weaning ears

Despite being pretty convinced before we got there that I’d be embracing the world of purees, Arthur’s explorations of food beyond breast milk have ended up being very much baby-led. And we’ve loved it! I’ve loved watching the expression on his face change as he tentatively brings new tastes to his mouth, I’ve loved the delight he’s taken in a variety of textures as he squidges food through his fingers, I’ve loved how his dexterity has slowly improved so he can now pick up even single grains of rice, I’ve loved having him as a companion at the dinner table with his giggles and expanding conversation. But what I haven’t loved is the mess.

I was ready for the carpet of discarded morsels on the floor, for the smears of carefully smushed food on anything he could get his hands on, but (perhaps naively) I hadn’t quite anticipated the effect on his hair. Arthur has a lot of hair, beautiful hair, and there is nothing he loves more at the end of a good meal (and at various points during it) than running his fingers through that hair. Cute, but oh my gosh so messy.

We tried various headbands, but all the ones that fitted were invariably and unmistakably made for baby girls. I’m all up for avoiding gender stereotyping, but as the collection of photos grew and our friends and family raised a huge collective eyebrow I decided we maybe needed to find another solution. And so baby-led weaning ears were born.

I started back in the craft burst of December, creating bear ears, mouse ears and fox ears from old pairs of tights and scraps of felt.



They came out rather well, and certainly did the job of keeping the hair well away from offending foodstuffs. So much so that I’ve decided to add to the collection, beginning with a pair of dragon ears that I will talk you through here.

First, amass your materials. These ears are brilliant for using up bits you might have lying around, just taking a bit of creativity to fit what you find to an appropriate creature. For the dragon I used a palette of green and yellow. You’ll need part of a pair of old tights, two colours of felt, and thread to match.


The first step in the actual making is to create the band itself. I tend to loosely test this on myself first, cutting a section of tights that fits snugly on my head so it will have a bit of give for Arthur. Then you simply need to sew a line along the two cut edges, turning the band inside out ready for the next stage. I use a back stitch for this which seems to hold, but feel free to bring your own sewing expertise to the details!

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Before you go any further you might want to just check the headband fits your little darling. As you can see Arthur was thrilled to have me interrupt his play time to test this out:


Next it’s time to start work on the ears themselves. You’ll need four larger pieces for the main part of the ears, leaving an extra bit of felt at the base of the ear shape for attaching to the headband. These pieces should all be pretty much identical – I drew the first one freehand with tailor’s chalk then used it as a template for the others but a paper template would work well too. You’ll also need two matching  ‘inner ears’ in an appropriate colour.


Before you begin attaching the ears I’d sew the inner ears on to their base like so:


Then with a bit of pinning to get the ears in place, attaching the ear shaped parts to each other and separating the flaps to pin to the headband, you can sew it all together so it looks something like this:


I played around with the stitching a bit with these ones to give the ears a more three dimensional quality, but the other ones worked out fine just staying flat.

And that’s it! The finished ears will go through the washing machine on a 30 degree cycle, though I haven’t tested them in the drier yet. Their potential is of course not restricted to the dinner table – after chatting to a mummy friend over coffee yesterday I’m thinking that tails might be the next step to take them to a whole other level…

But as you can see they do a very good job of holding back that beautiful hair whilst Arthur tucks into his food. And all whilst looking totally adorable in the process.

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