Fun, free play

We live in a strange day and age, where many of the activities we involve our children in are provided, and paid for.

Yet most of us (of a certain age – ahem) reminisce about halcyon days when we were able to physically and imaginatively roam free, and indulge in the true art of play.

Ever remarked how, having spent lots of money on the latest toy craze, your child is more interested in playing with the box? I have many times, and of course that’s because their imaginations naturally create worlds which are far more exciting than anything we could buy, out of the most simple objects.

Having grown up in the 70s, my childhood memories are filled with activities like playing tig down our back ‘tenfoot’; making dens from fallen branches in the woods surrounding my Gran’s caravan during weekends and holidays and exploring the fields nearby where we lived. We climbed walls, we fell in lakes, we created palaces out of old blankets, we got mucky. In short, we had an absolute wail of a time.

How many kids, nowadays, can say the same? Many of us run around like crazy people, taking our children from one arranged entertainment to another. From karate to dancing, to gym class. Why? Is it because concerns over their safety have become so great that we just can’t allow them to roam, or even play out, and entertain themselves as children are so good at doing?

All of these activities are highly laudable, and I’ve enrolled George in some classes too. However, the danger is that our children will lose their sense of discovery and individuality if all we do is churn them through this giant modern childrearing sausage machine.

I’m absolutely determined, as a mum, to buck this trend. Yet I’ll admit that this modern parenting culture is now so engrained, I’m struggling to think up ideas for things to do with George which aren’t dictated by commerciality, and will enrich him creatively and educationally. I almost feel a sense of pressure, whenever we have an unplanned day, to go out somewhere and indulge in paid-for activities, rather than generating things at or close to home.

Yet I suspect it’s well worth the effort, as a parent, of getting down to their level, rediscovering  the child in ourselves and unlocking that flair and boundless potential which exists in all of us but, as adults, gets buried beneath the weight of responsibility and convention.

This is more of a challenge, I think, when your child doesn’t have a sibling their own age to do what children do best and generate fantastical realities of their own. This is the case with George. As I’m not working at the moment, he’s also not attending nursery, so I feel even more of a need to really focus on activities which are going to enrich his time and ensure he doesn’t fall behind, after having been used to a structured educational environment between the age of six months and two years.

So today I’m setting myself the challenge (and I’d love it if other mums out there would join me) of coming up with ideas for educational, fun, play activities,  which we can do with our children, without spending much, if any money.

To get us started…

I got talking to My Working Mummy member Amy about this very topic, after she replied to one of my posts. Amy is a trained social worker who has worked with vulnerable children for the past  13 years. Like me, she is currently taking a break from work, on maternity leave after giving birth to her third child Arthur in February. Amy shares my passion for discovering new and innovative ways to interact with our children. Given her career background – and with two older children Finley, two  and Oliver, nine – she is well versed in ways of playing with and getting through to children.

Some of the examples she shared with me were so good, I couldn’t wait to share them here.

Car art

Amy says this is lots of fun if you can brave the mess (I’ll be trying this one with George, as soon as we have a fine day, for sure).

My friend Amy's son Finley standing next to one of his car art creations

Finley demonstrates car art – just one of Amy’s great ideas for entertaining children in ways which will expand their minds

Salt tray

A cheap and fun way to practice shapes and mark making, Understanding of shapes is something I’m really keen to focus on with George. Rather than buying books or downloading expensive iPhone apps, I’m going to try this one.

Shapes marked out in a layer of salt on a tray

Pouring salt onto a tray is an alternative way of teaching your child shapes, numbers and other kinds of marks

If you’re willing to do the legwork, there are lots of free things to see and do all around us too. Again on Amy’s recommendation, George and I discovered a new play park in our local area. There, as well as the usual slides, swings and see-saws (which George loves), there are balance beams and stepping stones to help him hone his co-ordination. Here he is below, relishing trying out these new challenges.


Here’s a link to a useful website we’ve discovered, if you’re interested in researching more fab, fun and free play ideas to enjoy with your little one(s)

To all the parents out there – what creative, free activities have you engaged in with your children? I’d love to share ideas for things which are educational, fitness-boosting and downright good fun, especially those which are free! Please comment below and share your ideas.


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