What you will need
1/2 cup cornflour
4 tbsp liquid soap
4 tsp cooking oil
Jar with lid
Potential for mess
There is a moment, when you tip the mixture onto the work surface, that seems a bit wayward, scattered and scary, BUT it redeems itself within seconds, trust me!
About 5 minutes to make and weeks of play.
HUGE, because it is so effective. Simple, natural and fascinating.
Bathtime play was the main inspiration for this activity; however, the result has way exceeded my hopes and dreams and is now used to encourage hand-washing regularly, water play outside and has even on occasion managed to defuse unbelievable tantrums. It is the miraculous . . . SQUISHY SOAP!
I don’t know if you remember the packets of squishy soap (or was it called putty?) from The Body Shop in the 1990s, wrapped up like sweets, smelling of pineapple – it’s making me swoon just to reminisce on it now. Well, this is like that. Except we know exactly what goes into it and it’s safe, natural and so easy to make it will blow your mind.
As with Play Dough (see page 45), I decided to measure out my ingredients before allowing them into the hands of my toddler – as this removes any possibility of overpouring and it means the activity would hold her attention span successfully. Of course, if you have older children, do let them get into the weights and measures as they will enjoy that scientific element. So, I put the cornflour into a bowl, then the wet ingredients followed before I handed over to Mabel and let her stir until the onsistency was like a ‘more powdery’ and oily play dough. I then, SHOCK HORROR, poured it out onto the table and let her mush it about. I had a go myself, gathering the stray bits of mixture into the surprisingly silky ball that was forming, then kneaded it a few times.
After a tussle over who got to play with it first, we were left with a remarkable moisturizing, play-dough-but-not, bubbly ball of mouldable soap. This is now offered up at bathtime, after playing in the garden and before lunch, and sometimes just with a big bowl of water and towel on the kitchen floor, which honestly settles any challenging emotions.
‘Do you reckon you might like to play with the squishy soap now?’ – I hear myself exclaim, more times than I thought possible.
Pop it into a lidded jar between uses, and ENJOY!
Indoor Treasure Hunt
What you will need
Clues – we used easy peel stickers
Piece of paper
Fancy dress (optional)
Potential for mess
Depends on what you are using as clues and treasure – we used stickers that peel off easily, which meant zero tidying up because we collected them as we went.
Around 30–45 minutes.
This game reminds me what it is like to play in adulthood. Wear hats and get into character!
What do you do on a rainy weekend morning when you are unmotivated to leave the house? On this particularly bleak Saturday, we were all home as a family and boredom had struck, early doors. My husband suggested an indoor treasure hunt. I didn’t think we had the right gear. What about the clues? What about the prize? What about the energy? I thought, as I stared into my coffee.
There is no denying that I needed a bit of encouragement to get into the spirit of a treasure hunt. I was tired, uninspired and the thought of chasing around and looking for things, pretending I didn’t know where the clues were leading us, felt a stretch too far. That’s the thing with parenthood, though; I totally believe in self-care but Saturday morning family time is no place for a take-it-easy attitude. No parent is rolling back into bed at 9am on a weekend to watch movies, eat take-away food and sleep until they can sleep no more . . . are they?!
At this moment, husband and daughter march into the kitchen wearing a policeman’s hat, a pirate’s hat and brandishing a sort of Crocodile Dundee number for me, shouting in unison, ‘Come on, Mummy! Let’s play!’ How could I refuse? I was put in charge of drawing out the clues; for this we used a sheet of easy peel stickers that were in the art cupboard. I replicated as best I could, on a sheet of A4, pictures of the chosen stickers with a little tick box by each. The stickers themselves were then thoughtfully put around the house by PC Husband (the policeman’s hat was a child's size: tacky, plastic and perched adorably on the top of his head – just for the mental image) and with both parents now fully invested creatively, it got a little more serious. A sense of urgency suddenly descended on the treasure hunters, Mabel completely captivated as she held her clue sheet, and we started the search with dedication.
As yet, the treasure hadn’t even been decided on, and the reason I am telling you this is that I want to get the point across that improvization, spontaneity and being in the moment are key components of successful play. Everything was unfolding as it was, with no prep or planning, and there was no need for a big prize at the end, because we were allowing it to happen organically, enjoying the process as much as our daughter was. We trusted that we would think of something ‘high stake’, something we already had in the house, by the time we came to the final stretch, but the imperfection of this was in itself quite liberating.
We were now hunting for the stickers, ticking off each as we went . . . I had done myself proud on the drawing front, as thankfully everything was easily recognizable on the clue sheet. We were halfway through and I finally decided on the treasure and hid it by the final sticker. I should also mention that as each sticker was located it was unpeeled and stuck onto our clue sheet – that’s important to note because . . . no tidying up afterwards, it’s being sorted as you go!
Sometimes we were soldiers crawling on the floor, sometimes rolling from one clue to another – whatever we could think of to make the experience immersive and different, with no prep or tools. The dressing-up items made a difference, too; it was simple but it took us out of ourselves. We looked silly and it didn’t matter – it was the not-caring that was so much fun.
Last clue on the page was a rabbit picture . . . and our adventure had brought us to Mabel’s bedroom. Stuck onto her cot was the rabbit sticker next to her treasure. She was happy. She felt she’d achieved a great thing in finding the treasure, her favourite food, a Babybel in all of its red, shiny goodness, clutched in the paws of her favourite night-time cuddly bunny. And so did we, we’d achieved quality family time at home, filled with laughter and joy.
Moving and Shaking
What you will need
A playlist of good music
Potential for mess
Between 5 and 15 minutes – customize this to suit you and your kids.
HIGH. This is something that I regularly do with my daughter, and as a family we feel movement really has a positive effect on us. Letting go of our inhibitions in front of
our children is good for everyone’s mind, body and spirit of play.
I have included a movement exercise, because I don’t think this has ever not worked to shake off stagnant energy, sadness, or ease the mad half hour. The music is optional but I recommend, if you have any time, putting together a family playlist – choose songs with your kids that they enjoy but also ones that you enjoy (because for goodness sake, how much longer can we stand listening to Baby Shark!). If you have created this list and have access to it, then it will save you the time and tension of potential Wi-Fi drop out and ensure that you can think about nothing other than getting into the moment.
We start by shaking off an arm at a time, then a leg at a time, then both arms together. ‘Shaking off’ the body like this releases muscle tension and restores the body and nervous-system. Animals instinctively do this and that’s why you might see them shaking off after they’ve experienced a stressful situation or trauma.
Following our shake off, we take some deep breaths in and out, then we think of how animals move, and start to do a few laps in character. Here are some examples to get you started:
Now let’s . . .
Slither like a snake
Hop like a frog
Walk like a bear
Crawl like a crab
Stomp like an elephant
Go slow like a slug
Flutter like a butterfly
Wiggle like a worm
Gallop like a horse
To close off our moving and shaking activity, we stand ‘statue still’ and bring our attention back to our breathing again, long breaths in and out . . . finding a place of calm, ready to continue with our day.