Here’s what I know…


Here’s what I know…

I hadn’t lain next to my six-year-old for a long time, because this is the year she became a Big Girl, and learnt to take herself to bed. Beside me, she whispers stories to herself. Urgent. Animated. Dialogue rapid and varied, as she swings between characters. Her narrator voice, too, is strong.
‘Go to sleep,’ I urge. ‘School tomorrow.’
But, she carries on, without a pause. Suddenly, she stops. Then I realise. She was telling herself a story to help herself sleep. The girl who never easily slept. Who feared sleep – dreaded sleep, because it took so long to arrive. The girl who learnt to whisper stories that form into dreams.

Here’s what I know…

A littler girl, my three-year-old, spends ten or so minutes getting dressed. She needs long socks. But the right kind of long. She needs big shoes. But black, and bigger. She needs sticking-out plaits, nothing less than horizontal. I do my best to meet her Pippi requirements.
‘Annika,’ she asks her big sister through the day, ‘does Pippi like bananas?’
‘Yes,’ says Annika. So Pippi eats a banana.

‘Annika, does Pippi like riding bikes?’
‘Yes,’ says Annika. So Pippi rides a bike.
‘Annika, does Pippi like broccoli?’
‘Yes,’ says Annika. So Pippi eats broccoli, and I smile over the top of my three-year-old’s head at ‘Annika’. Thank you, I say with my eyes, and she nods in an understanding way.

Here’s what I know…

While Gregor paints houses, I relax into days with my kids. I am soaking up time with them while I have them. Before my eldest is at school full time, and while my youngest is still at home. I literally can’t get enough of them.
Today, though, one is at a birthday party, and the other is at school. I have been at home since 8.30 writing. It is now nearly 7pm. I took a break for lunch, and a run, and now a blog. But those hours have been time enough to lose myself in a new manuscript.
I have always written, and studied a little bit of creative writing at university. Yet I still feel like such a novice. So I have been reading books about writing, critically reading every children’s book I can, attending workshops and doing online courses. There is still so much more I need to know, but even reading manuscripts I worked on a few weeks ago, I realise how much I am learning. And need to learn.
In the last three weeks, I’ve started three different manuscripts. I get so lost in each one, plot, characters and story forms, then a new voice leaps into my head while I am riding my bike, and a whole new outline starts to emerge. I am sticking to the one I am working on today, though, until it’s finished. The story is captivating enough to keep me going. I love the characters. A boy who talks to his resident tortoise, the only one in his life who truly understands him. A mother who blindly follows her criminal husband. A little girl, who blindly follows her new friend, knowing that everything will work out in the end.
Words drip and drip and drip, and it’s such a 
pleasure to write. My daughter needs stories to sleep. I need stories to fill my day.

But maybe we all do.

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?

Ideas for outdoor imaginative play activities

nature inspired imagination activities for kids

We did something unusual the other day. My little sunshine family sat on the beach as the sun became orange and made sandcastles.

It sounds ordinary, but despite living near some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, we so rarely sit together, playing in the sand, with nothing but bare hands and our imagination. Usually, there is a phone taking pictures, or a friend keeping us company, or another pressing distraction.

When it’s all pared back to sand and bare hands, there is nothing left to use but imagination. Ditch the toys, leave the phone on the table, and head into nature. It’s the oldest and simplest story in the book, but it works.

Here are four ideas for imaginative games inspired by nature.

Draw in the sand

The sand is a blank canvas, so perfect for drawing and moulding. Give your little one a stick, and let them draw what they like. We drew a series of circles, which became a train, which became a play park. We then bounced from shape to shape, pretending we were on a seesaw, or swinging on the swings. It was fun, and physical, and so simple.

Build your dream world

When I took my little ‘imagination school’ down to the beach the other week, we made a whole kingdom in the sand. The task was: ‘build a world’, and the boys fashioned volcanos, little houses, castles and dungeons. I asked them questions like, ‘Who lives there?’ and ‘What do they do?’ and the story unravelled. We mapped it out in our journal, so we could remember the different characters we created, and where everything was in the kingdom.

Cloud gaze

The winter sky is perfect for cloud gazing. Lie on your back in the garden or on the beach, and watch the shapes and magical creatures float by. Ask your little one what they see. The simple phrase, ‘Tell me more,’ will allow a story to form. Later, your little one might like to draw or paint what they saw.

Hunt and gather

Grab a basket, and take your little one into the garden or the rock pools. Forage for treasures, like colourful shells, seed pods, stones and leaves. The hunt will be its own story, but the treasures keep on giving when your little one finds them in their special box at home, and weaves another tale.

For more ideas for inspiring and engaging the imagination, you can listen to my podcast.

Engaging the imagination

For more tales from the sunshine house, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I occasionally run giveaways for subscribers, and update you with the latest sunshine news.

Linking with Essentially Jess for IBOT.

Storytelling: the heart of connectedness and creativity

This is my daughter Elka telling Granny Annie a tale about the Big Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood playing hide and seek. It wasn’t a happy ending.

Last week, I wrote about storytelling, and its role in our life. Storytelling in the bath, in the car, when things get difficult, when we haven’t anything else to do. Stories get teeth brushed and pyjamas on.  Stories about Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Little Pigs. Stories that are part this world, part books, part imagination.

Storytelling is a way of nourishing creativity, and to be creative, we must unleash our inner storyteller. As adults, when we write fiction, we need to switch off our analytic ‘adult’ brain, and retreat to our childlike stream of consciousness. We have to part ways with judgement and our inner critic, and simply let the story flow through our pen.

Reading to children, and inventing tales is a beautiful way to nourish creativity. Listen to the stories children tell while they play. If they invite you to, engage in their fantasy world, asking questions.

Connect with a child through stories

Stories are an insight into little minds. They tell us what a child has been reading or watching on television. They may also tell us what a child is thinking or feeling. Complex emotions and thoughts may present themselves in childrens’ stories. Storytelling is a way of communicating, and connecting us all.

In an article called The Secrets of Storytelling: Why we love a good yarn, Jeremy Hsu (2008) wrote:

Most scientists are starting to agree: stories have such a powerful and universal appeal that the neurological roots of both telling tales and enjoying them are probably tied to crucial parts of our social cognition.

Pam Allyn (2010) writes about the social benefits to storytelling:

Story reminds us that connectedness to the world does not always mean some have more and some have less, but that we all have stories and that is what brings us together.

Nourish storytelling. Nourish creativity.

Nourish Creativity will happen here every Monday.

Linking with Grace for FYBF at With Some Grace.

Please join me at the Heart Mama Community on Facebook, and subscribe to receive posts by email.