Monday, 30 August 2010

The Siblings' Busy Book - review

My sister-in-law had a copy of The Siblings' Busy Book and I really liked it,so I bought my own. Basically, it is 200 activities that children can do, with sections in each activity focusing on what you can do with a baby, toddler, pre-schooler and school age child. It's an American book so some of the activities are quite US-focused, for example making paper hats for Columbus Day, but the only one that you really couldn't do in the UK (unless you lived in Dartmoor) is letterboxing, as this doesn't seem to take place here (I may be wrong).

You might say, as some have, "surely you can just think of things to do with your kids anyway", and it is true that, especially in the "let's pretend" section, many of the games are things you might play anyway - shops, doctors, and so on. But even here, it is helpful to have new ideas to prolong a game, or make it relevant to different ages, or just save your sanity from having to go through exactly the same motions for the nth time. While we play shops all the time, for example, I wouldn't have thought of playing "libraries", which has become a great game to play when I am feeding HackneyBaby ("HackneyBaby would like a book about squirrels. Do you have one you can recommend? What happens in this book? Is it short or long?").

It's also useful for when your brain is entirely blank at the end of the day. Other sections include music and movement, outdoor adventures, learning and exploring, in the kitchen and rainy day fun. As well as libraries, we have played "mail for you and me" (again, I would have thought of playing post but this gave added ideas like making postcards and using stickers for stamps), Diddle Diddle Doo, and apple printing. The next thing I want to do is make ice bricks and build with them, and do bark rubbing.

A lot of the activities are really for babies over six months ("your young baby will like to watch his siblings during this activity" it says quite often which is not true for HB for any reasonable period of time) so I'm hoping that the book will really come into its own over the next few months.

Funnily enough, HackneyChild keeps wanting me to read him the book itself, rather than do any of the activities. "What is this game called? How do you play it?" he keeps saying. Me:  "Would you like to play it?" "No."

Thursday, 26 August 2010

On repeat

Kids love repetition. They really, really, do. It's most obvious in the books for little'uns like That's not my kitten/ dragon/ princess but older children respond well to series like Malory Towers, where a lot of satisfaction is derived from the repetitive set pieces like New Girls Visit The Head; Midnight Feast; and Lacrosse Match.

So I should have realised when HackneyChild demanded a "story about shapes" (?) that this would not be a one-off. Au contraire, we have stumbled across a winning and not-to-be-deviated-from formula, which I shall now provide for you in the hopes that I can spread the pain. We have had this "story" ten times today alone.

Once upon a time there was a little XY (where X is colour, and Y is shape - eg blue rectangle). The little XY lived in the land of X2Y2 (another colour, another shape). He was quite happy but one day he started to feel a little lonely, and began to wish he had someone to talk to about Xness and Yness, instead of having to go on about X2ness and Y2ness all the time. So he decided to try to find the land of XYs.

At this point the X2Y2s can be dismissive or encouraging, it doesn't matter, as soon the little XY is packing a bag filled with an array of random food and drink and setting out on a mode of transport (car, helicopter, street cleaner) to find the XYs. First he discovers the land of [new colour/ shape combo] whose inhabitants are unfortunately unaware of the location of the XYs, but suggest he try the [yet another shape/ colour combo]s who live by the Prominent Geographical Feature over there. This can go on until your brain rots and the little XY is finally reunited with other XYs like himself. He can then live with them forever or live with them for a bit but then go back to the X2Y2s who have been so kind to him (or both, if HackneyChild is telling the story).

Shakespeare this is not. I remember in What Katy Did Next the eponymous Katy is forced to relate the incredibly dull adventures of two little girls called Violet and Emma to the little girl Amy she is travelling around Europe with. "Now, Violet and Emma, if the truth is to be told, had grown to be the bane of Katy's existence. She had rung the changes on their uneventful adventures, and racked her brains to invent more and more details, till her imagination felt like a dry sponge from which every possible drop of moisture had been squeezed." So she kills them off, to the distress of her young charge. I really feel for Katy at this point.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Go market researcher!

I will review the excellent The Siblings' Busy Book properly when I am not about to go to bed to try to get some sleep in case tonight turns out to involve another 2am trip to Tesco to buy Calpol (or something similar, clearly we already have the Calpol. And I must point out it wasn't me who went, but there was still a lot of screaming for many hours).

But back to the book - HackneyChild has quite taken to one game in it which involves professions and music. You have to say a little rhythmic verse, altering the profession each time, something like: "Hey diddle diddle, Who's in the middle, When you want some bread? A baker, that's who, diddle, diddle doo. Go baker!" (It's an American book, as you may have guessed).

HackneyChild liked it so much that we quickly got through all the child-friendly professions - firefighter, teacher, doctor, etc. So I was forced to turn to family and friends to try to make up new verses. It made me realise that modern day jobs are quite resistant to being summed up in two or three words, like "Who's in the middle, when you want to gather information about markets or customers?  A market researcher, that's who - go market researcher!".

Or: "Who's in the middle, when you want to read an article about promotional T-shirts? A trade journalist, that's who - diddle, diddle doo - go trade journalist!".