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?

A+ in Dreaming

A + In dreaming

My four-and-a-half year old daughter received her first report card a few weeks ago.

I scanned the boxes and ticks, my stomach tightening. My daughter’s sweet waif like spirit was being reduced to a few squares. A few ticks.

She was being marked on attendance and rhythm, and keeping beat in time to the music. It was perfectly innocent, and designed to show where her strengths and weaknesses are and where she needs to improve.

I am not ready for this.

Meanwhile, my daughter sprung around the house, legs flailing and arms outstretched as she talked animatedly about her children who live in Eng-a-land, and learning about lizards from Mr Salt in homeschool.

How do you grade this stuff? This ability to dream and create and spring around enthusiastically?

Reports and the such have been on my husband and my mind lately as we start to look at schools for my daughter.

I don’t think we are ready to have the way she holds her pen etc. and the way she keeps rhythm quantified. I try and capture some of her stories and lovingly store her creations in a Tupperware box in the cupboard, or hang them on the fridge. This stuff is not good, bad, average, weak or excellent. It just is, and as a mother, I love every bit about it as an expression and extension of herself.

I run a little Imagination School for a group of homeschoolers once a week. It used to be fortnightly, but they requested we do it every week as they love it so much. *Fills my heart.

We do simple little activities, like making mini books, or postcards from far away lands. We read, we make treasure hunts and tell stories. These boys have never been tested on their imaginative, creative ways, and so they continue to expand like the universe. Their ability to imagine is limitless.

This stuff isn’t testable, and nor should it be. But it’s the stuff that’s underpinning creative thinking, problem solving and the ability to think abstractly, which are fundamental to learning and innovation.

Even though she doesn’t attend Imagination School, my daughter counts down the sleeps until it’s on. We talk about Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, a previous life spent in Eng-a-land and Imagination School most hours of the day. On home days, we make and do with whatever is around, using our imaginations to make the world a prettier place.

For now at least in our little sunshine home, we are nurturing all those things that can’t be boxed or ticked away.

Do you have a dreamer?

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.

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Sunshine Sundays ~ A Secret Place

The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett Lauren Child

The Secret Garden

I sit on dry leaves, under a canopy of palm fronds. Our spot is shady, protecting us from the intense midday sun. I pull my knees into my chest for comfort.

My daughter sweeps the leaves with an over-sized broom.

“Just tidying up before Maddy gets home,” she tells me. “You look after Daisy and Tuna? Maddy’s plane is late.”

The leafy enclosure takes me back to a leafy, private burrow in tangled lantana across the road from our property. The burrow was large enough for kids to climb into, but too small for an adult. Like children of the wild, my brothers and I hacked with machetes and made the cavern larger. A boulder sat in the centre. We used it as a table to plan our next battle against the neighbours, Conrad and Troops. We peered through gaps in the lantana to see if Conrad had discovered our hideout.

Around the same time, with Dad’s help, we constructed a treehouse in the dense pocket of rainforest regrowth. One night, we attempted a camp out. My brother sang a tribal song to drown out the chorus of cicadas. When I peered over the flimsy railing, I saw fluorescent mushrooms tucked against the tree’s trunk. They looked like fairy lanterns. By day, they were translucent and invisible. Our courage didn’t last the night, and we retreated home to warm beds.

Not far from the rainforest, was the shade house where I tucked myself into a cardboard box one Christmas Eve after running away from home. Even though I could hear my parents calling out and see their torches, I refused to answer their calls, and eventually fell asleep. A torch shining into my eyes woke me up.

These were the secret places that sheltered and protected us from the adult world…

Back under palm fronds, my daughter interrupts my thinking.

“Now, you be Mary, and I’ll be Dickon.” I try and hide my smile as she talks. She has perfected a Yorkshire accent, like I use when I read her The Secret Garden.

“Look like tha’ spring has come. Look there at tha’ robin. Aye!

“Don’t laugh, Mama!” she says.

We have been reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett most nights. It’s our special place to wander together after I have put Rosie in bed. She loves turning to the beautiful illustrations by Lauren Child and sneaking a look.

Not a lot happens in the story, and yet she is captivated. “When will they find the garden?” she asks repeatedly. I think she enjoys the conversations, and the constant anticipation of the garden about to be found, or the roses about to bud.

The Secret Garden was my favourite book as a girl too. It’s one of the books that stayed with me. It’s like carrying a secret place around inside – a place to escape to, which looks like an over-grown English garden, and smells like the Moore in spring.

I have been inhabiting secret places since I can remember, in my imagination and in the real world. Now my daughter inhabits her own.

Do you have a secret place? Can you share?

If you would like to share your story about a secret place, please link up for Sunshine Sundays. We’ve grown such a beautiful community of bloggers that come every week, comment on each other’s posts and respond with such sensitivity and thought to the theme each week. Sundays have always been my favourite days, and now they are even better. Next week’s theme is “If only…”

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Sunshine Sundays

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Sunshine Sundays ~ Imagination


At the base of the property where I grew up was an old olive tree. Its branches reached upwards from its base, making a hollow centre. Inside the tree there was space enough for a small human. The floor of the hollow centre was covered with a thick carpet of small, hardened leaves. Light filtered in through the mesh of leaves and branches.

The tree was more than a tree. It was the home to a family of tiny bears – a mother, a father and two children – who lived in the tree trunk. A lizard marched on the branches above, and a fairy made her nest among the leaves. A miserly King lived in a cut-off boab tree not far from the olive tree, and refused to share his wealth with the family of bears.

I spent afternoons after school and weekends socialising with the bears, the fairy and the lizard. We chose not to associate with the King, who clearly did not understand the art of sharing and kindness.

My memories of this tree and its inhabitants are more vivid than most of my lived memories.

My imaginative life continued through school. Imagination found its way into stories or plays. It found an outlet in visual art at some point. Imagination was my reprieve from life. It was my entertainment. It made life more interesting. As soon as I had the chance, my mind wandered into an undiscovered world of stories, characters, images and pictures…Come to think of it, all this still applies.

As a mother, I draw on my imaginative resources lying in the dark, telling stories to my little sunshine girl. She gives me a theme, like “mermaids” or “rainbows” and I weave it into something especially for her imagination. She drinks in the story, asks for another, and reluctantly drifts off to sleep, where her mind wanders into stories of its own.

Her day too is filled with imagination. Like I had as a kid, she has regular characters. The key players in her imaginative stories are Maddy, her teenage daughter and Daisy and Tuna,  her two younger children to a different father (their father died, incidentally). Maddy, Tuna, Daisy and Sunshine Girl have a life that roughly mimics our real life. They do all the things we do, could do, or can’t quite do, or possibly things I did when I was a child. Maddy recently went to Austria to visit her father, but unfortunately, he didn’t have much time to see her as he was too busy on his computer.

Imagination, like learning, knowledge, intuition, social skills and communication is one of the fundamental building blocks of life. Children naturally gravitate towards it. From about the age of three, a child wants to and is inclined to imagine whenever they have the chance.

I am giving my first ever community talk in Wollongbar this Wednesday for the Wollongbar Progress Association. In preparation, I have spent the last few weeks researching, reading and pulling together ideas about imagination and creativity in early childhood, and the more I read and write about it, the more I realise how familiar it is, and how intrinsic it is to my own life and my life with my children. I find myself getting all passionate and excited as I pull the themes together, and shape them into something I can share with the community.

If you are living near Wollongbar NSW, and happen to free this Wednesday at 10am, you are welcome to join us for morning tea and a chat. I will be sharing my passion and interest in imagination, and ideas about how to nurture and engage our children’s imagination. This free community event will be held at Wollongbar Hall on Simpson Ave. Wollongbar NSW.

Tell me about your imaginative life and how you nurture imagination in the comments below, or link up your post about imagination for Sunshine Sunday. Everyone is welcome, and posts can be old or new. You can even share an unthemed post if you would just like to join in.

Next week’s Sunshine Sunday theme is “Love” (in lieu of Valentine’s Day, naturally).

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Sunshine Sundays


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