The girls have been putting their share into reorganizing our extension. It was meant to be our homeschool headquarters and to house our Lightbulb Lab, but after many leaks and much damage, the idea had to be abandoned. It became a catch-all unfortunately and is presently a horribly messy store-room. We’ve finally made some progress where the repairs are concerned though and while the job isn’t complete yet, we are feeling quite hopeful :) I think the girls could use some breathing and creating space!

They love crafting and making their own toys. This pastime has, on occasion, given me a few headaches – there are only so many pebbles, branches and leaves I can tolerate in the house! (Hence the need for the extension to be properly done up pronto…) I must admit though that I like this about children – their ingenuity.

They have been spending some time working on their “Joel Henriques” doll house.

They found an old box that was falling apart and some little wooden toys and were good to go! They worked on felt pillows and blankets and spent ages arranging their rooms and then made clothes for some old figurines they found.

I’ve always wanted to give my kids natural toys and fell in love with many, but most were only available online and were way out of my budget. There are the well-crafted Ostheimer toys for instance. I once wanted to get a set for Marz when she was much younger. It was a set of Inuit dolls – a whole family complete with sled and dogs. Each figurine ALONE cost between US$26 to US$42… yes, it just about gave me a coronary too and cured me of my Ostheimer obsession! We settled instead for what we could find locally. In Singapore, we found an unfinished wooden doll house and furniture – such a gem as it was reasonably priced and on sale to boot. I thought it would be a great craft project for the kids to do up the house. We also bought lots of wooden toys from Daiso that cost us S$2 each. Perhaps they don’t compare to Ostheimer or many other Waldorf toys that are beautifully crafted, but I think they were good finds given our finances and achieved pretty much the same goal – creative and meaningful play.

If there is a dearth of quality toys in Singapore, it is even worse in Pakistan. Most stores here seem to stock only poorly made plastic ones that are flimsy and gaudy or battery-operated toys that not only inhibit creativity but also impair hearing.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that kids don’t need many toys or manipulatives for play or learning. We’ve had to leave many things back in Singapore, but alhamdulillah it has been good for us. We’ve learnt that with imagination and creativity, we can do just fine with what is available. Most children don’t need much prompting in this respect – they know how to make do and have a jolly good time while they are at it.

Kyrie Mead of Are So Happy has written a delightful article about Untoys. Unlike finished toys, these are normal every objects that you can find around the house or the outdoors. The beauty of these materials is that they are open-ended – there is no right way to go about playing with them; it is entirely up to the child’s imagination. My kids have a collection of grey pebbles – they use them as decoration pieces, dolls’ stools and even painted some to resemble swaddled baby dolls. (I think they were inspired by the very adorable story, Elizabeti’s Doll by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen!) They also love cardboard boxes – these become their tents, cars or whatever they please.

Marz and Bear do have some plastic toys, but their passion is really wooden ones. There is something about the feel of wood – the weight, the texture and beauty – that makes playing with them so joyful. They miss some of their wooden toys left back home in Singapore, so we did what they love – made some new ones! We had some unfinished plain wooden doll bases and painted these last week…

Pic #1: The “Gal Pals” – the pink one with the large flower is going to Arizona in shaa Allah :)
Pic #2: Bear calls these two “The Twins” – the yellow one is her favourite.

The ‘hijabis’ – we prefer to keep the dolls as featureless as possible… no arms and some have no eyes.

These are smaller than the dolls in the previous pictures. We have an assortment here – a grandma, a boy and even a little baby (he’s all bundled up in a white blanket and is supposed to be asleep).

The job can be a little painstaking – they have to be very meticulous to avoid smudges – painting over mistakes is not a solution as the mistakes can show up weeks or months later after varnishing. (We have to sand any bad paintwork down.) They also have to wait patiently for each layer of paint to dry to make sure that the work is even and neat. (Of course, having a fussy, borderline OCD mum who overthinks doesn’t help!) Still, it was very satisfying and a good creative release! As Bear likes to say, “It’s always better to make your own things. It’s so much more fun!”

Well, we are still fighting a battle with clutter and dust so I’m off for a bit… I hope you have many colourful days ahead!

The Hidden Playground


On the way to The Hidden Playground…

My rowdy ruffians, bless them, love playing together. They especially like the outdoors and can spend hours in the garden, climbing the fig tree and checking on the plants and insects. They have a few favourite haunts out of home, one of which is a lovely place they call “The Hidden Playground”. Nestled in a quiet residential area, it seems almost mysterious. This park is very well-maintained – the gardener seems to have taken pains to keep it clean (trust me, no mean feat in this country!) and also to retain its woodsy charm.

Some adults meet there in the evenings to rest and talk after a long day or simply to imbibe the peace and tranquility, but it is otherwise hardly frequented by others, at least not on weekdays. Many might not find it anything special – it is rather old-school as far as playgrounds go. There are two swings, a simple climbing facility and a cement slide so old it is worn smooth. It is a spacious place with a slope to race up and down and two little gazebos for shade. Nothing out of the ordinary, you might say. However, its appeal, I believe, lies in its simplicity. My girls find The Hidden Playground a place of promise – where they can dream up ideas and adventures. This secret hideaway is where they can cavort and frolic to their hearts’ content.

There are bushes and hedges that border the upper slopes of the park and at the far end is the kids’ favourite spot. There is a cavity in the hedge, just small enough for a child to crawl into. At the base of this little hole are two strong branches that have grown horizontally, just above the ground. This is a perfect hiding spot! A child can squeeze into the ‘cave’ and crouch on these branches and remain concealed. They will be covered by the leaves and their feet will be raised off the ground and unseen. They played hide-and-seek with The Dad Man and giggled gleefully when they took him completely by surprise.

My kids do have some toys, but they seem to have the most fun when they make their own or use un-toys (more on this later in shaa Allah) and when they don’t use any props at all, except for their own imagination. I posted three articles from National Public Radio some time ago and these gave me a deeper appreciation for children and improvised play. If you are interested, you can read them here: Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills, The Evolution of Play and The Best Kinds of Play.

It is wonderful watching the kids play sometimes – as they interact with each other, create their own rules and make their own decisions, I see how they are, in fact, practising at their adult roles and I cannot help but wonder what they will become, with the permission and help of Allah.

I love this part of the park – this tree bordered by the rocks looks so very pretty with the wooden bench close by.

It has been a while since I stepped out with them to the park. There has been so much to do lately but in shaa Allah I think I will try to take some time off with them this weekend.

I think we need some Hidden Playground magic… :)