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bench-black-and-white-city-new-york

You can tell a lot about a place and its culture from its seating. In this article I explore…

  • What environments for sitting in, says to us about individual’s rights and societies expectations and culture?
  • How the design of seating in the public and private realm shapes how we feel?
  • Compare approaches to function and form when planning seating solutions

Picture some atmospheric seating in a favourite spot outdoors. I wonder where your imagination took you? To a solid hewn stone bench atop a castle or riverside location; an ornately carved metal bench curved round a shaded tree trunk, or a wooden bench carved from a single tree slice? Or did you envisage something grand and huge, rustic and quaint or fantastical? Whether you’ve travelled near or far you’re sure to have encountered an array of seating solutions created from a myriad of materials. Whether they’ve ‘planted’ themselves in your archives of ‘noticings’ and memories, will I suspect come down to their successful marriage between form and function.

So what do we understand by function? For Donald Norman, as well as providing ‘delight and fun’ (2002: vii) things should be designed to be legible, that is, clear in their function. Gibson’s concept of affordance goes further, understanding the power of environments as agents in a two-way process, suggesting potential uses for individuals, but also depending upon an individual’s lens, shaped by the individual’s perception of usefulness. So to a child, the kerb may suggest ‘sit-on-able’ (Heft, 2010: 19) qualities but to an adult this is much less likely due to the disconnect between leg length and the affordance of a low step or kerb as a seat. Key to James Gibson and Harry Heft’s ideas of affordance of environments is the sense that ‘affordances are relational properties of the environment taken with reference to a specific individual’ (Heft, 2010:17).

Taken literally a seat is something to be sat on, but it should not be separated from its wider cultural and emotional affordances. Like the design of the other aspects of street furniture which shape and define our experience of the environment, the type of seating that we provide and its generosity of design, materials or size, can go a long way to providing an indicator of the value placed on people lingering in a space; the sense of safety (or otherwise) conveyed; and whether the environment is for individuals or groups.

If the raison d-etre of seating is to be sat on, what then of seats when they are empty? Reminiscent of debates about whether a tree really falls if there’s no-one there to witness or hear it, how does the design and materials of seating solutions impact upon children’s and adult’s enjoyment or experience of them when not being used as intended? And in order to garner maximum value from resources, should we be expecting seating and street furniture generally to be multi functional so as when not being used it becomes a sculpture, barrier or visual divide?

This riverside seating design actively engages people to stop, sit, lounge and socialise whilst taking in the views. The generous size and robust construction and materials suggest their ability to withstand real and varied use, be it alfresco eating, smooching couples or groups sat on the seat backs. Their nod to a sofa gives permission for people to relax, enjoy and treat them as if at home, while the bright playful colours shout out ‘use me!’ The designer has cleverly used scale not just to increase their versatility and use but as importantly, I feel, to create a surreal Alice in Wonderland-like quality, as these over-sized chairs have the effect of potentially making adults feel more playful and child-like.

The generous size and robust construction of this design invites a laid back or group interaction, suggesting to the viewer that not only is this place safe but it’s a good place to linger and relax.

IMG_8785 long picnic bench Essex uny

Compare this to a metal bench in a park near a children’s play area, the lack of back and demarcation into generous yet separate seating areas encourages a temporary form of sitting, the type characterised by perching on the edge of your seat as you wait for something or pause to watch the world go by. I wonder what was in the brief, ‘provide robust seating which encourages parents to pause without providing a space for sleeping or anti-social behaviour’ and whether in planning to prevent the ‘abuse’ of the benches, we have metaphorically thrown the baby out with the bath water as we’ve minimised adult’s comfort and therefore likeliness to linger longer while children enjoy the important business of play?

The thinking behind the seating choice and location is further muddied by this curving modern design. In many ways more inviting and open to be used flexibly by adults and children, its’ position, with back turned to the very same play area is confusing and ill-conceived. Why would we want to be encouraging parents not to visually appreciate the shared joy of children’s adventures and mastery? Or if intended for child-less passers-by, why would you choose to take in the limited view of green grass with the noises of a playground immediately behind? There is a lack of harmony between the public and private realm, creating what might be described as a ‘Norman bench’ not through its links to this historical era, but after Donald Norman, and his conclusion that ‘far too many items in the world are designed, constructed, and foisted upon us with no understanding – or even care- for how we will use them’ (vii2002: vii).

In contrast, some benches, the kinds with lots of dividers (like those annoying seats at airports), and hard and uncomfortable materials, make it abundantly clear that people are not welcome to linger. Indeed, lingering in places like these is in danger of being redefined as loitering. Comfort is not the aim because passers-by are not to be encouraged to get too comfortable. The result of such designs is to give a clear message about what is and what isn’t considered societally acceptable. Some utilitarian and poorly maintained designs can even instill a fear and feeling of the space not being safe.

stone seats

In contrast the need for plentiful seating at this river fronted location next to a busy metro stop and transport node has inspired these satisfyingly solid blocks of granite. Each block seats 4, in the lip shaped spaces, but with the potential for cross-legged sprawling too, managing to suggest multiple users without enforcing this (as the metal dividing bars of the above bench do). The roughly hewn straight sides contrast with the smoothly shaped rounded seat tops, adding textural interest and visual contrast from the way they respond to reflections and shadows. Serving as sculptural pieces when empty they have also been designed as a visual barrier to, and reminder to pedestrians of their shared use of space with trams and cars.

IMG_8383 bench with legs Budapest

A skilled designer can introduce a sense of playfulness and movement into anything. Take this, on the face of it, simple bench, but look closer and its ‘walking legs’ inject humour and surprise, elevating this fantastic piece of Budapest street furniture to something which has the power to change how we feel. Sometimes architectural moments like these are happy accidents but more usually, intentionality is key. Just as it is essential that our interactions and the environments we plan for children are infused with intentionality, described as ‘seeding the child’s learning environment (Siraj Blatchford, J. & Brock, L. https://schemaplay.wordpress.com/about/) so too the success and impact of the environments that we provide and experience are shaped by our aspirations and underlying culture. With life moving at an ever faster technological pace, why not join me to pause a while. Are you sitting comfortably?

To contact me or find out more about my books, research and the resources and services I offer go to http://www.playtoz.co,uk

Thanks to Pexels for the headline image. All other images copyright of Sue Gascoyne

 

Sue’s inspirations and background

Sue Gascoyne is a qualified Town and Country planner with a focus on design, conservation and architecture.

Sue is also a qualified Creative Arts & Play Therapist – an area which has given her an insight into the impact of environments on children’s emotional, behavioural and cognitive wellbeing.

As an Early education researcher, with a specialism in sensory engagement, environments and new materialism Sue has an interest in not just the affordance of environments but how these actively shape human’s actions and experiences as agents in intra actions.

 

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In this article I explore some thoughts about…

  • What environments say to us about individual’s rights and societies expectations and culture?
  • How can the design of environments and spaces in the public and private realm shape how we feel?
  • Is a focus on function and form enough when planning street furniture, spaces and buildings?
  • What do we understand by function? – As in the literal function of something, e.g. as a bollard to stop cars damaging a tree, property or people, or its wider cultural and emotional affordances, as an indicator of the value placed on pedestrians as opposed to cars?
  • Does it matter and how might it help better shape environments for children?

Take a look at these bollards on two Budapest streets and jot down any thoughts and reactions that they evoke. I did just that and this is what my list included. I then grouped these into the following different themes:

Quirky

Interesting

Exciting

Novel

Eye catching

Unusual

Anti-establishment

Challenging

Creative

Animated

Fluid

THEME Novelty
Fun

Sense of humour

Playful

Child-like

Movement

THEME Playful
Sculptures

Design

Art forms

Public art

‘Look at me!’

THEME Art
Safe

Reclaiming the streets

Pedestrian power THEME Control

 

Influenced by the world of design and planning (the focus of my MA); our knowledge of the emotional benefits of the environment and the importance of sensory engagement for wellbeing; and the exciting field of new materialism (the idea that environments and objects shape us as much as we them, and the potential in the ‘space’ in between this intra-action, for creating and experiencing a unique assemblage), four qualities of spaces and environments emerge for me:

Legibility – how clear it is about how spaces, structures or environments can or should be used and experienced?

Emotion – if and how spaces, structures and environments influence our feelings?

Safety – how safe or unsafe these spaces, structures and environments feel?

Engagement – if and how these spaces, structures and environments invite or resist interactions and if so, whether as individuals or groups?

All the above factors will influence an individual’s and community’s sense of Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence within the space. These three psychological needs are cornerstones of Deci and Ryan’s Self-determination theory (2000) which is founded on the idea of humans being naturally curious, and provided they feel secure, intrinsically motivated to explore their environment. Relatedness encompasses caring for others and feeling connected and belonging to a community, while ‘competence is defined as the need to experience oneself as effective in interacting with one’s environment’ (Whipple, Bernier & Mageau, 2009). Autonomy is about having a sense of being able to make your own choices and is not at all equated with independence. If all of this seems unrelated to those bollards let me try to make the connections!

ARC in Action

If we view bollards simplistically as a barrier to movement, then we see that a barbed wire fence will fulfil much the same function as the bollards, but with startling different effects:SMALL arc BOLLARDS

Of course, barbed wire is an extreme, but there are a plethora of other barriers to our entry in streetscapes around the world, which have been created with their function, (primarily as a device to keep people out), prevailing over form. Without much if any consideration, these utilitarian designs will be subtly influence if and how we interact with environments, how we behave, how we experience these environments and how they make us feel.

Returning to the 4 qualities identified above, lets compare our potential experience of the following environments as pedestrians:

  1 2 3
LEGIBILITY I can choose to move quickly or slowly. I feel safe and protected. I have permission to move within the barrier. The barrier is to keep me and the tree safe not to restrict my movements. This space is part of the public realm and I can use and enjoy it. This is not intended for me. If this sturdy building is at risk from cars then I must be too. This is a space to move quickly through. I need to be cautious and vigilant as there is a danger of hazards. I am not allowed to access this area. I don’t belong there and it is not mine to use. I mustn’t be curious but accept the limitations. I can’t interact with the environment.
EMOTION A sense of fun, laughter and playfulness. I feel positive and enriched. I feel capable and in control of myself. I feel like a valued member of the community. I feel liberated not trapped. Austere, harsh and jarring. An eye sore and reminder of the power of the car. I feel on the periphery. Excluded and caged. Trapped and not free. Negative and controlled. Questioning why the area is restricted and is it safe.
SAFETY I can interact with the environment and feel empowered by it. I don’t need to rush. I could pause perched on a bollard and children are beckoned to run around the bollards. I must be unsafe. Accidents are likely. I need to be vigilant, cautious and not linger. Cars are threatening and powerful. I am vulnerable. Is the fence protecting something or keeping me safe? What’s the threat? How could I safely get over the barrier if I needed to escape? Am I being watched to see if I behave?
ENGAGEMENT My interaction is welcome and invited, whether as a positive feeling when quickly passing by or as an open invitation to linger and pause.  I have a strong sense of autonomy, relatedness and competence (ARC). My interaction is not welcome. The colour and stripes make me cautious and alert. This is not a place to linger. I don’t have rights of way. I don’t feel valued, capable or in control so have a poor sense of ARC Keep moving and don’t come too close. Lingering here could be seen as loitering with intent. If I look round, I’ll look guilty.

I don’t feel included, able to make choices or interact with the environment so have a poor sense of ARC.

These are just four possibilities and you may have come up with your own equally, if not more valid tools for appraising spaces, structures and environments, in which case I’d love to hear these. Of course, I’ve purposely picked extremes of environments for maximum effect, but I hope in doing so it has made apparent the effect, whether intentional or not on our experience as pedestrians. So far we have viewed this through the lens of an adult, but change the scale to introduce the child’s perspectives, and these positive or negative consequences are potentially considerably greater.

Context is Key

Returning to those delightfully animated bollards, their designer clearly understood the importance of context and consistency, ensuring that the paving and other street furniture – in this case the wonderful eye-like tree openings, acted in harmony with the jaunty bollards, so that they complemented rather than competed with each other. Quality materials were also key, as was a natural palette of colour that would have been intrusive. Rather than creating them in highly visible colours and uniformly spaced and angled, which would facilitate quicker and easier parking, the bollards serve as a traffic calming measure, effectively slowing down manoeuvres and reclaiming the streets for pedestrians. For a child coursing down the street the quirky angles break up the bollard’s height, provide a sense of movement and invitation for a child to run round them. They also create exciting shadows to be noticed and delighted in.

I’m conscious that by trying to quantify something ethereal I may be devaluing the very source of wonder and delight which was worthy of sharing! Like Maria’s Montessori’s plea that we don’t try to ‘pin the butterfly to the board’ in our eagerness to understand a child’s actions. The best design solutions are not born out of a checklist of do’s and don’ts, but an awareness of the power vested in environments to shape people’s experience, emotions and perception of rights and values.

Food for thought

Having praised these bollards for their playfulness and appeal to people, unfortunately this is the very thing that’s missing from the photo! So picture a child you know (or the child within you!) and think about if and how they would notice, react to, interact with and be affected by these quirky structures? What might they do? How would they use them and the space? How might their experience of these differ to the utilitarian bollards in the article? Now think about the environments in which children spend much of their time – these are likely to be early childcare centres. Next time you have an opportunity, position yourself at a child’s height and consider how does the existing design, layout and qualities affect children? Try to view he environment and spaces through the lens of a child. What messages and emotions do the spaces and designs convey? What changes if any, could improve children’s experience? Whose purpose do they fulfil? What impact, if any, do they have on children’s sense of safety, control, rights and values?

I’d love to hear your ideas and any challenges you may have to my wonderings!

To contact me or find out more about my books, research and the resources and services I offer go to http://www.playtoz.co,uk

 

 

Sue’s inspirations and background

Sue Gascoyne is a qualified Town and Country planner with a focus on design, conservation and architecture.

Sue is also a qualified Creative Arts & Play Therapist – an area which has given her an insight into the impact of environments on children’s emotional, behavioural and cognitive wellbeing.

As an Early education researcher, with a specialism in sensory engagement, environments and new materialism Sue has an interest in not just the affordance of environments but how these actively shape human’s actions and experiences as agents in intra actions.

Lots of children, my own son included, can become disenfranchised by subjects that feel too much like hard work, with maths and literacy typically falling into this camp. For some maybe they sense failure and therefore feel safer not trying, for others the learning approach, mechanics of writing or lack of perceived relevance to their lives may be the root cause.

Walking back from school last week it was a welcome surprise to hear the words ‘That was the best literacy lesson ever!’ Now that’s a lesson ripe for Ofsted inspection! With descriptive content never the issue for my son, but the mechanics of punctuation, handwriting and staying on task the culprits, the challenge of writing a story using certain punctuation and with a word count of precisely 201 words, achieved the desired effect. With a verdict of ‘That was the best literacy lesson ever!’,  I expect you’re wondering how this was achieved? Working in pairs, story writing was elevated to a challenge and the focus on a precise word count, not 198, 200 or 202, but 201 words, apparently freed him up to write with excitement and drive.

This week his verdict was ‘Literacy is awesome!’ High praise indeed from an 8 year old sceptic! Walking through the school gate home from school he eagerly shared what they had done and later over dinner excitedly told the whole family about his robotic invention for tackling the tiresome chores of Christmas preparation. Like any good robot his naturally came complete with ipad (for online shopping of course), large box (for hiding presents in), extendable arms (for multiple present wrapping) and hover board for beating the Christmas rush! A great teacher is able to tap into the interests and strengths of children and in so doing help support and extend learning. Clearly this activity did just that. An avid inventor already, working in pairs his time and energy saving ideas flowed and literacy came to the fore as he labelled the gadgets and features of their invention.

With two such positive evaluations I was keen to share this great feedback and apparent change in attitude with his teacher. ‘How interesting’ his teacher reflected with evident satisfaction ‘as we scrapped literacy lessons last week and have been focussing on challenges, with a literacy focus instead!’ As the irony of this revelation sank in I couldn’t help smiling at the message written large by an 8 year old. With an ever greater Government focus on school readiness and meeting literacy and numeracy targets I hope Nicky Morgan will be persuaded by this convincing argument.  As for the robot invention, I’ll guess I’ll have to wait until next year!

Nature's Miracles

Albert Einstein is attributed with saying:

“There are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle or you can live as if everything is a miracle. “

It seems to me that children are naturally endowed with an appreciation of awe and wonder, easily finding miracles in a frozen puddle, fossil, unusual shell or snowflake. Given time, children’s fascination for detail and a positive disposition help prime them for spotting the abundant miracles offered by Mother nature, the very same things that often pass us adults by. Reading this quote really struck a chord for me. As a parent I feel that a key part of my role is about providing magical moments in my children’s lives, from Christmas stockings to fairy notes or even just an amazing icicle that I’ve spotted or a picture of a building or construction vehicle that I think they’d enjoy. These little pieces of magic don’t have to cost the earth but bring real pleasure and delight. For a baby where every experience brings something exciting, finding out that a metal tin can be open and shut, makes noise when banged or a rattle when filled and shaken, are all mini miracles to discover.

Striding purposefully to school one balmy spring afternoon last week my eyes were drawn to a young boy on the other side of the road. Aged about three years old, he walked slowly yet equally purposefully, with his neck craned upwards and his head looking skyward. The source of wonderment was the billowing petals on a cherry tree, filling the sky with creamy blossom and literally captivating this little boy’s interest. As he approached the densest part of the canopy, nearest the trunk, he slowed to a standstill, just staring open-mouthed at the laden brunches above. His mum (I presume) who had been walking a little way ahead, turned and paused before remarking upon how beautiful the tree was. Unhurried he moved on, his gaze averted by the speckled pattern of blossom on the floor.

Walking back from school with my children I told them about the little boy and suggested that we cross the road so that we too could enjoy its magic and the miracle of nature’s abundant store cupboard. And that’s exactly what we did, whilst trying to catch fluttering petals in our hands and open mouths!

2014 – A time for reaching for the stars

I remember years ago debating the issue of emotional intelligence with my husband. He was firmly of the opinion that it is a result of nature, while I was equally assured that nurture had to be involved. The debate had been sparked by one of those pearls of wisdom that young children are adept at dropping into the conversation. Aged 4 our daughter matter of factly suggested to her daddy that maybe ‘a compromise’ would help him with the power struggle that he was having with her younger brother! Flushed with pride at her emotionally sophisticated comment, these words spawned the nature/nurture debate.

Seven years later I was reminded of this by the inscription on a mug that I was given this Christmas.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

As I read the words on her carefully chosen present I couldn’t help feeling moved. With the loss of my mum to cancer in 2013 it had not been a good year and Christmas was understandably slightly subdued. Knowing my love of good old fashioned tea and my appreciation of this positive mantra, my 11 year old’s emotional intelligence made my day. Whether nature or nurture, or a combination of the two, tea’s never tasted so good!

Christmas Treasures

It was our staff Christmas party this weekend, the culmination of a good year’s work and lots of home baking! The tree was up and looking majestic, nibbles arranged and glasses ready to be charged with mulled wine. With adults happily ensconced on sofas and children playing nicely, a knock on the door bought the arrival of our youngest guest, a gorgeous 1 year old who I have been observing playing for the last 6 months. Raring to go and making an instant beeline for the peanuts, chocolates and glasses on the coffee table, adults sprang into action removing everything to a safer level. This little girl was clearly in exploratory mode and so an empty table was simply not going to do. Grabbing a treasure basket for her to play with kept her happily occupied for the next three hours picking up objects, taking them to the other guests and doing a circuit of the ground floor, always with object in hand. Even hardened skeptics would have been converted to the joys of treasure baskets seeing this toddler happily occupied and clearly on a mission to toddle and explore. Now you might be forgiven for thinking that she only played with the treasures because there was nothing else to do, but this was not the case. With a splendid real tree bedecked in sparkling lights and decorations, a growing mound of brightly wrapped presents under the tree and stairs to climb, there were lots more obvious distractions to be had.

Clearing up later, a warm glowing feeling pervaded. Not just because of the lovely company and tasty food but because this little 1 year old had poignantly reminded me of the importance of what we do, providing children with the opportunity to do what they do best, playing.

When I was at school, research for homework involved pouring through books, not just because it was fun and enriching but because there was no world wide web to answer questions for us. Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a fabulously enabling tool for information finding and sharing, but I firmly believe that it is not a substitute for books.

Whilst out dog walking one weekend we came upon three boxes of dumped books left next to the river. Why anyone would feel the need to fly tip books is beyond me, when charity shops proliferate every high street providing a free outlet for people’s cast offs. Sorting through the now slightly water damaged books we discovered some real gems which we decided to take home and give a new lease of life. Once cleaned and left to dry by the radiator my 8 year old son began leafing through the books. One in particular caught his eye. Called Modern Technology it featured page after page of carefully drawn picture and nugget of facts on vehicles and construction contraptions. The best bit was the fact that the book was published in 1971 so the ‘modern’ technology solutions were themselves a talking point.  In some instances technology had moved so quickly that it was as though we now inhabit a futuristic world. In others, the book had surprising foresight, such as talking about how hybrid cars would be a pollution solution in the future.  A series of facts about traffic accidents also sparked a flurry of questions. With approximately 500 road traffic injuries cited in the UK the obvious question was how does that compare to today? A quick search on the internet provided the answer, a trebling in the number of accidents in 40 years and a discussion about why this might be.

The page about engines similarly elicited a quest for fact finding. Still clutching the book my son looked on the internet to compare engines today with the ‘modern’ and historical ones in the book.  Another page of images showed the evolution of the wheel which inspired a whole host of wheel drawing as 8 year olds do. Far from becoming redundant, this slightly dated encyclopaedia has actually taken on greater interest than perhaps it had when new. It helped of course that he could relate it to his daddy who would have been 3 years old when the book was published. This created interest and a talking point as my husband and I reminisced about life when we were younger. I fear it also confirmed in his young mind just how long ago that was!

As Oscar Wilde famously said “ If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again there is no use in reading it at all” and for this collection of discarded books this is certainly true as they have found a new lease of life and light bulb to ignite in the hands of a certain boy.

You’d have to be hibernating not to notice the carpet of autumnal coloured leaves transforming the world outside. Vibrant and springy, now is the time to gather handfuls of freshly fallen leaves for a host of fun activities. Pick the leaves carefully to avoid urban litter or other hazards. If needed, wash in soapy water and leave to dry, then you’re ready to start. My quest for leaves was driven by the challenge to make times table revision fun for my 8 year old son!  But once we got started we were inspired to do and make lots of fun things, suitable for children young and old. Here are some of the things that we did, if you come up with your own ideas don’t forget to share them!

Times table games

We played lots of times table games with the leaves, all of which were a great hit. To play any of the following games you will need 12 leaves and a pen. Write the numbers 1 to 12, one on each leaf. We wrote the numbers on the back of the leaf but either side is fine.  All these simple variations proved to be a lot of fun and due to their physicality, resulted in the children doing their times tables but with the main focus on catching or picking up the leaves!

Leaf Race

Arrange the leaves in a pile with numbers face down. Pick a times table to focus on, say the three’s and the challenge is to turn over each leaf one at a time and work out the resulting sum. So if you pick the number 4 leaf the sum is 3 times 4. You can add further excitement by doing this against the clock or using a sand timer. We also used counters on a 100 square, so he could cover the answer to the sum.

Falling Numbers

An alternative to this involved me standing on a stool and one at a time dropping a leaf for him to catch. He then worked out the number sum and positioned a counter on the 100 square grid before repeating with another leaf number. We did this against the clock which really added to the challenge and excitement.

Number Pick

Another variation involved spreading the leaves out on the floor, number side up. The challenge was to pick up the leaf and put it in a large bowl saying the answer to the sum, without using their hands. Children experimented using their elbows and feet and we also tried this with large tongs instead.

Catch a Leaf

The final variation involved throwing all the leaves up into the air for two children to try and do as many times table sums as they could with their leaves.

Here are some other fun things to do.

Leaf Masks

Make simple leaf masks by cutting eye holes in large leaves, (sycamore leaves would work well). Use the leaf stalk to hold the mask with. Decorate if wished with pens.

Leaf Boats

To make the boat hull you will need to either find a boat-shaped leaf or cut a boat shape from the centre of a large leaf, ideally with the central line of the leaf skeleton forming the centre of the hull. Cut triangular boat sails from another leaf, decorating with pen if wished. Use a small twig to create the mast and secure the sails and mast in place with sticky tac. Once finished, make more boats for a sailing race using straws to blow the boats across a tray of water.

Image

Leaf snowflakes

Create snowflake decorations using leaves. Simply cut geometric shapes in the folded leaves and hang by the leaf stalks from the ceiling or a window. Sycamore leaves work particularly well, as these can be folded and cut along all three lines of the main skeleton.

Creepy Crawlies

Make leaf spiders and bugs using leaves for the body, pipe cleaner legs and pen or bead eyes.

Hide & Seek

Play a game of hide and seek by spreading out the leaves and hiding treasures or mini creatures under these. Use for an unusual game of pairs, with matching pairs of items (e.g. coins, beads, numbers or pictures) hidden under different leaves, for the children to remember and pair up.

Fairy Leaf books

Gather together several leaves of the same shape and size. Pick a special one for the top and bottom of the pile, dark colours work well as they look like leather. Create mini leaf books by sewing or stapling the pile of leaves along one edge and cutting the leaves to book shape. If you’re lucky when finished the cover of the book will look like well worn leather and the pages will curl as the leaf dries out.

If you’re inspired to make the most of nature’s abundant treasures, don’t leave it too long as before you know it they’ll be transformed into a brown mushy squidge!

This half term saw my children try their hand at all manner of creative pursuits. From lantern making to glass decorating; Mexican flowers to God’s eyes; photosensitive creations to spoon whittling; musical graphics to cartoon drawing and a sprinkling of baking in between. I knew that all this artistic expression had had a positive effect when my 10 year old daughter announced to her dad that ‘We’re all artists you know’.

Like so many things in life, practice and mastery breeds confidence which in turns enables creativity to flourish. This progression was certainly in evidence when my 7 and 10 year old decided to create wooden spoons from split logs. An hours whittling yielded smooth pale bark stripped logs, then began the lengthy process of creating the ‘bowl’ of the spoon. For this we lit a fire and collected embers to carefully position on the logs and burn a hole. With adult support the children mastered the art of safely collecting embers, innovating as they did so by using a fire blower to both hold in place and ignite the embers! Next came more whittling, sawing and sanding as the children shaped their creations to something resembling a spoon. In this era of instant gratification it is important to celebrate the process as much, if not more, than the end product. This prepares children for life’s lessons that achieving almost anything great is hard work and that if you have a vision you can realise it.

When it comes to divergent thinking we know that prior to school most children would be ranked as geniuses. Yet years of colouring within the lines and learning that green is for grass and blue for sky can stifle this creativity leading children to declare “I’m not very artistic” or “I can’t draw.” A first step in reversing this trend is for us adults to rediscover our own creativity and immerse ourselves in a culture of artistic expression. You only have to look at the winners of the Turner Prize to see that we are all potential artists. It’s just a matter of how we look at the world around us, be it a messy bedroom or the carcass of a cow!

I expect most parents have been through the awkward phase of their child becoming frustrated with reading. Not quite fluent enough to read at an exciting pace to appreciate and enjoy the story, a temporary dislike of reading sets in, bringing out a stubborn streak in many a child. In my experience at times like this we need to pull back rather than chastising. Instead, channel your actions on finding the most interesting reads and exciting environments to hopefully rekindle the fire.

When it came to my seven year old son, picking a focus was easy and we started reading anything and everything to do with boats, planes and trains. The mix of reading was also key, from a fantastic diary of an epic duo circumnavigating the world in a dingy in the 1960’s, to a competent crew manual, complete with ensigns and Morse code, exciting novels of adventure to books brimming with facts about the different parts of a plane, or even the Hornby train catalogue! All these provided rich reading fodder to share with myself or my husband. With subject matter picked to appeal and excite, these reading materials also allowed my seven year old to become the expert, explaining to me about the forces of wind on a sail or design of an aircraft wing to accommodate fuel tanks. The topics may be clichéd but what was important was that they dovetailed with his current fascination. Several weeks on The Romans and cooking would have been added to the list!

With reading materials sorted the next challenge was making the occasion and environment special. Blankets and torches transformed a corner outdoors into a den, while indoors, beanbags on the floor and a canopy made from a sheet or Thai cushions in the bathroom gave reading an edge.

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For those of you gingerly nurturing fragile egos, working hard to reignite the temporarily elusive magic of stories, I have provided a photo taken this week which I hope brings you comfort and hope. The image captures the spontaneous moment when for my seven year old son, reading a book became something not easily stopped, not even for a bath! Walking in the bathroom to discover this sight was one of those everlasting special moments, especially in National Storytelling Week! It may look staged but I assure you it is not. What’s more it marks the moment my youngest child metamorphosed from recalcitrant reader to a voracious, insatiable book worm!