Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How Do I Love Thee? Playsets

Before this parenting journey started, I had no idea what playsets were. I didn't know what kids did in kindergartens, as I could only relate to the grim memories of my childhood kindergarten run by strict nuns.
Truth be told, I had no idea what kids did... I've never been a "clucky" person and I never really quite liked kids: quite simply my family was a little insular, we didn't have much extended family, and there weren't any younger children in my immediate circle of family and friends, so I could never get to know them and appreciate the beauty and marvel of childhood. I was, like many youth, very engrossed in myself and my own matters.

So when Sosi was born I changed. Suddenly everything was about doing the best I could for my child. Everything that pertained to children was suddenly interesting!
The best thing about not having prior children knowledge is, I am a blank slate. I am looking at all the possibilities with enthusiasm, all activities are exciting, anything new is amazing. No grown-up smugness.

So when I came across the concept of a playset, I was like "whoaa! way cool! gotta do that!".

Through following Sherry and Donna's Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning (here's their Facebook page and here's their blog), I stumbled across Homemade Rainbows. It is run by two stay at home mums, ex-kindegarten teachers, Janine and Michelle. They create playsets using natural and refurbished/recycled/repurposed/homemade etc materials. They are op-shop queens. They have a knack for eye-pleasing arrangements. They are amazingly talented. Here is their Facebook page. If I remember correctly, I was their 9th or 14th follower, something like that. Now there are over 2300!
If you have kids and like doing things with and for them, you MUST check out their playsets! They sell out REALLY fast (mostly to kindergarten teachers... and a couple of hyper-keen home educators...), and many are probably a bit too pricey for the budget-tight one-income family, but the array of themes and the number of ideas you can get from looking at the photos of their sets is humongous!

This is how my passion for making playsets really started. Sosi saw this (because we often look at nice things on the computer together):
from here 
And she said she wanted it. I thought, cool. Then looked at the price. 80 bucks? I'll see what I can do sweetie... the kid was so set on it. She even gave it a name. The Turtle Playset. I could see in her eyes that this thing that to me looked pretty, for her was heaven as far as making up stories with little figurines goes...
I decided to buy it. Too late, someone else had beaten me to it! So I thought, why not, sure I can go to a couple of op-shops and make the same playset, how hard can it be?
Oh boy, was it hard... I visited op-shops (hoping to find the right pieces), the $2 shop for bits (pebbles, stones, shiny beads etc, even found the treasure chest!), Toys r' Us for the turtles, Riot Art and Craft then Big W for seashells, Spotlight for shiny fabric, my kitchen cupboards for fancy bowls... It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it when I saw the look on the kid's face! Here's what I came up with:
my first playset... March 2011
Some elements are there, others I improvised a bit... Our love affair with playsets started then, I often prepare one at night for the kids to find as a Morning Activity, but they (mostly Sosi) like getting bits and creating their own.

Since following Homemade Rainbows' efforts I started regularly visiting op-shops. The kids and I have picked up so many interesting and useful items. Boxes, trinkets, gadgets, little wooden wheelbarrows, so many objects of dubious taste that your aunties and uncles might give you for Christmas end up in op-shops. And you know what? So many kitsch items are just so perfect to spur a child's imagination! And with a minuscule price tag! And so environmentally friendly :)

I am not even going to start on how many different sets can be made up. I think it is all about following your child's lead. We have lots of figurines (savannah animals, turtles, squishy reptiles and amphibians, dinosaurs, etc), so bit by bit everyone is getting their turn at having a playset purposely built for them. Even the My Littlest Pet Shop figurines! I used to really hate them (the concept of them) but Sosi always comes up with great imaginative play with them. 

Here are a few playsets I came up with. I think I'm getting better at them... ;) I will try to find more time to write more about each playset, and add lots more photos, let me know if you're interested! Also photos and lists of my "playset stash", all the bits and pieces that I've collected to make up cool playsets! I also bought one really big beautiful playset from Homemade Rainbows, with lots of great wooden bowls and scoops etc, which always find their way in my own playsets, lots of mix and match!
More parents should give it a go, they're really great fun for the kids, they tend to be quite cheap and quick to set up (once you've built your own stash) and are a great way to unleash your own parental creativity!

my 2nd playset, May 2011
marine playset, August 2011
snakes and frogs playset, October 2011
Little Pets (from My Littlest Pet Shop) playground
my father made the playground equipment a few months back,
with lots of popsticks and matchsticks and glue and creativity :)
dinosaur playset, February 2012
(with some references to the Ice Age movies, the kids' current obsession...)

I usually prepare them for the kids at night, so when they get in the morning they have an exciting Morning Activity they can keep playing throughout the day (we usually leave a playset on the yellow table a whole day before dismantling). Some nights I stay up way too late, just to make sure it all looks enticing, and that there are little elements of interest in each corner, like these: 
turtle cave (oil burner from $2 shop)

smooth sand for the turtles

nooks and crannies for the snakes to slither in and hide

Add caption

brontosaurus munching on a tree

and here's our version of Diego, Manfred and Sid from Ice Age
(this Schleich meerkat is pretending to be a sloth...)


I love this part of my job. It does take a bit of time to prepare them (but you get better with practice) and a few goes at figuring out what elements your kids will really love in their playset, but it really pays off: Casi is still little so the playset might only hold his attention for 10 minutes at a time, but Sosi will happily spend 2 hours or more over the course of the day playing with it! Now, to me that is totally worth the effort I put in it :)

Do you do playsets or similar activities for your kids? 
Any ideas you might like to share?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Skipping the supermarket challenge

It's official: I'm joining in Little eco footprints no supermarket challenge!

You might've realised by now that I am quite keen on reducing my impact on our planet: in this post I explain how we use up all packaging from Ikea furniture; here I mention my birthday request not to be given presents; here I profess my love for markets; and this is a long post about my environmental conscience and I clearly mention boycotting big supermarket chains.

And then, comes this post from Tricia at Little eco footprints. Clearly she wrote it for me! ;)
So this week I tried to see how I'd go without supermarket. And this is what I realised: it takes practice, but it can be done. Products can be sourced elsewhere, and many at a better price. I think D was a little petrified when I announced I'd go without supermarket, I think in his head he was foreseeing me spending big bucks at fancy little shops...

Tricia is such an inspiration. I receive email updates on her posts and every time I feel a bit more spurred to be environmentally friendlier. And it's exciting seeing that other bloggers are taking up the challenge, I'll be following all of their efforts and getting ideas on how to improve myself too.

So this week I bought fruit and veg from the market and from the local greengrocer (used to go there all the time but they changed ownership last year and the quality of the produce has noticeably deteriorated); bought cashews and fennel seeds from a middle eastern spice shop near the local shops (opened up last year, had never set foot in it, was pleasantly surprised the other day by the huge variety of spices and nuts and dried fruit!); bought bread from the bakery; eggs and small name-brand milk from the greengrocer; cream from the bakery.
There are a few things that I still have to figure out where to buy. Like coffee and sugar and staples and cleaning products (not that I buy many anyway, I'm a bicarb and microfibre cloths sort of gal!). I'll have to have a look at local independent supermarkets for those. I'll keep you updated as I learn a new way to do things.
even Sosi's Dolly came to market with us :)

Last week I actually had to buy new shoes for the kids. I thought I was going to have to go to the closest shopping centre. Instead, I asked my network: a friend of mine is an op-shop queen, she has a keen artistic eye and always manages to find great pieces that work together (both in clothes and in home decor). And her daughters always have "friendly" looking shoes. You know, comfortable, canvas, that the kids can run in, no obnoxious merchandisable characters drawn on them... So I asked her where she gets her kids shoes. Turns out she buys them from a local small shop! They are called Walnut Melbourne Shoes, they are comfortable, good looking and affordable. And my friend even washes theirs in the washing machine! Bonus!
So both kids got a pair. They both love theirs! I think I'll be getting myself a pair too :) And it was so nice going to a small shop: the owner is such a nice person, she was so helpful and lovely, we had nice chats and even ended up buying a couple of capes for dress-ups!

Sosi with her new shoes (ready to go to the ballet with the grandparents)
And the other thing I looked into, is buying eggs from well looked after chooks! I had earmarked a while ago Family Homestead free range eggs, I like the way their chickens are really free to live as a chicken should. So I sent an email to find out in which independent shop I could buy their eggs. I got a prompt response (there's a retailer 10 minutes away from us), and a phone call from the director Vesna: she was so nice and we had a bit of a chat (albeit interrupted frequently by my two kids...) and we might actually go visit their farm, even if it's a bit of a hike for us. I am always so excited at the idea of taking the kids where the food really comes from, farms, orchards, vege gardens, these places excite me! So I'll keep you posted on that one too :)

That's it for me now. I have a bit of research to do, on where to get all the things that we need. I have the time now to do my research and make the right choices, I can't make any excuse like I did when I was working full time out of the house and I felt guilty but did little about it, the "convenience" of having everything in one place is now outweighed by the need to do the right thing for me and the kids, to pay the farmers/growers their worth, to look into products that do less damage to our planet.