The Happy Campers













My older daughter’s been asking to go camping for months. I’ve been itching to go too. Too many screens in our house. Need nature.

We finally found a couple of days in a row to escape last weekend, and packed our trunk with all the things we figured we would need to survive over two days in the bush – food, clothes, sleeping stuff, and not one, but two tents – because one tent was ridiculously tiny, and the other was ridiculously big – so we weren’t sure which ridiculous would be better.

We found a remote campsite in the Mebbin National Park forest. With a composting toilet, but little else but nature, it was perfect.

After pitching our ridiculously small tent, then deciding the ridiculously big tent was more suitable, we wandered down the bush track to the crystalline creek running through the valley. The girls waded, and balanced on slippery stones. The afternoon sun dusted their shoulders.

We ate surrounded by wildlife – goannas, kookaburras, wallabies. Despite the hard ground, we slept peacefully, huddled together in one corner of our oversized tent.

There’s something about going back to basics. A simple life, without all the excess stuff is so – simple. I hadn’t realised I was stressed – but something – stress? evaporated in the little bush camp. Without toys, there were no arguments. Without routines or places to be, there was no agitation.

Children were lost in their imagination, inspired by fresh air, seedpods and leaves. My love for my husband flourished, as I watched him competently build a fire, pitch a tent etc. So useful, and manly.

We were good in the forest.

I could have stayed forever.

Are you a happy camper?

Imagination School

An image for "When Alien's Came To The Byron Bay Library" created in Imagination School.

An image from “When Alien’s Came To The Byron Bay Library” created in Imagination School.

I’ve mentioned ‘Imagination School’ a few times here, and on Facebook, and realised I have never really given you the low-down.

It kind of began on our honeymoon eight years ago, walking through the wetlands of Kakadu.

‘What do you really want to do, if you could do anything?’ asked my husband.

I thought of the sum of all dreams, and realised it would be to run a creative school for kids.

I love kids. And as a kid, I loved being creative. It was a path I followed into adulthood, having studied art history and creative writing. My first real job was working in an art gallery. And now I am a professional writer.

Lots of my friends at school did Brownies, or played netball or soccer. I did sewing classes. We had an amazing teacher – Mrs Corry – whose house we visited after school. We’d have afternoon tea, then as a group, we’d work on our projects. We made quilts, sweaters, suit jackets, pants…

I was laughing the other day at the outfit I made for our overseas adventure when I was 10. A soft tailored navy jacket with shoulder pads, and soft balloon trousers. Fashionable!

All of my after  school activities involved creativity and imagination. Our primary school was pretty excellent for promoting creativity in their curriculum. And my high schools too had excellent art and drama departments. I was lucky.

I had always imagined myself as an adult inspiring kids to engage with creative projects after school.

The conversation with my husband had long been forgotten when I did a talk about imaginative activities at a community event sometime last year. Shortly after, a lady contacted me to see if I would be interested in running a regular group for their homeschoolers. Yes, I definitely would be.

Particularly when I met the kids, and connected so well with them.

Our classes were fortnightly to begin with, and are now every week. We have so much fun. We make books, stories, and lately an animation. We play imaginative games, and storytelling games. We act out fictional characters and situations.

All our activities are collaborative. I bring a small bag with a few props and prompts, but the kids will take up my initial suggestions and weave something new and fantastic.

I feel like I could write a book of all the fun imaginative games and activities we’ve invented.

I love how imaginative these kids are. I also love how well they work together. The older kids help the younger kids. They all inspire each other. They are – this group is – a total testament to homeschooling.

Anyway, here’s the animation we made last week using the children’s watercolour paintings, Adobe Photoshop CS6 and iMovie. Hope you enjoy it.

May your day too be filled with creative, imaginative fun. x

When storytelling becomes lying, or maybe doesn’t


image Yesterday, my five year old told me about her day at preschool.

‘We found a cat,’ she said. ‘It had a name tag on its collar, which said “Please look after this cat. Its parents have died.”‘

‘That’s sad,’ I said.

‘It’s okay, Mum. We will look after it. It’s a big white fluffy cat.’

A few days before, she told me the preschool had guinea pigs.

‘How many?’ I asked.

‘One for each child,’ she said. ‘We also have horses. One for each child. And snakes. One for each child.’

‘Can I see them?’ I asked.

‘No Mum. They are around the back. Adults aren’t allowed back there.’

The previous week, she’d told me some teenagers were getting married at her school, and all the kids were invited, and they were allowed to eat fairy floss.

‘No adults are invited though,’ she said. ‘The teenagers only like kids.’ Their parents had also died.

I listen, and play along with her stories. I am never sure where the truth begins and ends. Maybe it doesn’t end, in her mind. And that’s okay, right?

I remember my own stories at that age. Clearly. Some I remember more clearly than things that actually happened. In fact my reality and my imagination are kind of confused. Some imagined things feel like were real.

Like the donkey.

When I was about 9, my mum heard me telling someone we had buried our pet donkey in the paddock.

‘We never had a pet donkey,’ she said.

But I was sure we had. For years, I’d been telling people about my pet donkey and about where it was buried.

I was caught out a few times. Although never malicious, my storytelling was construed as lying on a couple of occasions.

One day, when I was a bit older, my aunt was driving us home, and we couldn’t cross the causeway because there was water over the bridge.

My aunt went to the house on the top of the hill and asked to use their phone to call my dad.

The house had a beautiful cottage garden. When she returned to the car, I told my aunt that one day my dad had asked the owners if he could pick a bunch of flowers for my mum, and the owners said he could.

I strongly remember my family sitting around the dining room table laughing at my ‘fib’.

I can’t remember why I told it. It wasn’t to cause harm though. I’ve never really had much reason to lie. I never did anything too naughty, and if I did, Mum and Dad were generally forgiving.

I like to think my daughter’s stories are equally as harmless.

The irony is she’s ridiculously honest about things that matter.

Like that time she threw her good canvas shoes out the car window. She immediately confessed – she could have easily got away with it, as I had no idea. But she came right out with the truth.

For now, in these innocent childhood days, I am enjoying – and in fact marvelling at the stories she tells. Some are so damn imaginative and original I can’t believe they came from her young head.

I’m not sure what the psychologists say about this stage. But what do you think? Do your kids tell stories? And when do stories become something more sinister, like lying?

The Little Story Jar

little story jar

little storytelling jar

little story jar - prompts

In my little Imagination School, I’ve been using a couple of really simple ways to prompt storytelling and imagination. Here’s one – the little story jar. Basically, take one jar and a few pieces of paper. Write down random words on the pieces of paper,  roll them and place them into the jar. Invite your storyteller to draw out the words – maybe three at a time, and ask them to use the words in a story.

When we do this game in Imagination School, the boys take turns guessing what each other’s words were.

I have been loving the inventive stories that have come from the simple prompts. Seriously amazing.

I reckon the storytelling jar is suitable for most ages, and for non-readers, you could replace the words with images.

If you would like to have a go at coming up with a story using these words: laugh, leaf and cloud, enter it into the comments or email me at zanni{@} and I will send the most creative story-owner a lovely new book {surprise}.

Can’t wait to read your stories!

Zanni x

For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, which is full of sunny goodness.

Linking with Essentially Jess.

How to make a tiny book

How to make a little book

I discovered this great thing recently – I can make a book out of a single piece of paper, with nothing but a pair of scissors. Actually, you don’t even need the scissors, if you are a really neat tearer.

It’s really really easy, and you can make books for all sorts of things. My imagination school kids have made them for presents, Dr Seuss-like tongue twisters, drawings, mini graphic novels and even an autograph book. Elfie and I were inspired to make a haiku one, after reading a Japanese picture book.

It’s technically called the French Fold, but I call it a tiny book.

1. Take a plain piece of paper.

how to make a little book 2. Fold long ways.

how to make a little book 3. Fold end to end.

how to make a little book 4. Fold again in the same direction.

how to make a little book 5. Unfold.

how to make a little book 6. Fold again, but this time, fold ends together.

how to make a little book 7. Now cut (or tear) along the middle, from the fold down to the centre. Only cut to the centre!

how to make a little book 8. Open again. You should have a slice down the middle.

how to make a little book 9. Refold, this time long ways again. Push the short ends together, and it should make a concertina.

how to make a little book 10. When you push ends together, you should see your eight-page book!

how to make a little book Hope you enjoy this cute little project. Once children learn the fold themselves, they can make a book from any old scrap of paper, for any purpose.

Let me know how you go and feel free to share your projects on my Facebook page. x

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how to make a little book from  single piece of paper

For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, which is full of sunny goodness.

Linking with Essentially Jess.