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Can You Really Entertain a Child for £6.12?

Posted: 22/08/2012 08:38

Ribena used to be something you drank as often and in as great quantity as your parents allowed. You gave no thought to whether or not it was good for you, only that it tasted like sugary heaven. Things have moved on. You can now buy Ribena with a "Plus" after the name - meaning added vitamins but no added sugar - and the company is joining the campaign to stop children doing little but sit semi-comatose in front of electronic devices.

This week they published a report showing that parents spend a fortune toys - an average of £10,000 before each child turns 18 - when what children really need is traditional, imaginative play. They often do this, the report says, because they feel "pressure from all angles" and also because they want to "look good in front of other families".

In order to encourage a return to traditional play, they have come up with a thing called the Pocket Playground. This is a collection of eight simple items - coloured threads, building blocks etc - costing just £6.12. With this you get a list of 50 activities that should keep children happy for hours. This all sounded a bit Walton's Mountain to me. Still, with clouds looming and a two year-old to keep happy, I had nothing to lose but the price of a fancy coffee and what the Italians don't call a panini.

I took the list to WHSmith and bought crayons, modelling clay and a packet of coloured paper, but then couldn't find any of the other things. I would have tried somewhere else, but my daughter is even less shop-happy than I am. Besides, having spent £7.23, I was already wildly over-budget, so I decided to head home and start having traditional fun.

I looked down the list of 50 activities. Even ignoring the ones using things I had not bought, I came across another problem. Number 11: Learn the art of origami and make a bird with flapping wings. The only way I could have done this was by consulting the oracle of YouTube, which would have kind of gone against the whole idea. No matter, there were many more things to choose from.

Number 34: Create sculptures of your family using modelling clay. This I was confident we could do. Not do well, necessarily, but we could give it a damn good go. I cleared the table and we sat there with nothing to distract us but a large block of gooey grey clay. I am not artistic, but it's amazing how gifted you can feel when you are with someone who still finds it quite difficult to take off her own shoes.

Within a minute I was totally absorbed in an attempt to make a life-like model of my wife. I was involving my child in the process, of course, but I wanted it to turn out well, so I was taking the lead. My daughter didn't mind taking a back seat. She was happy pulling little pieces of clay off the block and splatting them on the table. But then as I was halfway through, she looked at my efforts and said: "Is it a car?"

Undeterred, I finished the model. My daughter did recognise that it was her mother. Well, she realised that it was a human, and seeing as the first human she thinks of is her mother, the lack of facial features didn't seem to matter. She then asked me to make a model of her, then of her scooter, then of me. She further contributed by refraining from squashing my work as much as she could manage.

Then an amazing thing happened. I looked at the clock and saw that two hours had passed. We had sat at that table for two whole hours. If you have ever spent time with a child this age, you know that this doesn't happen often. All for £1.75 worth of reusable clay. Just then, she looked at me and said: "Can I watch Charlie and Lola on Daddy's iPad?"

The spell was broken, but it had already been worth it. I will definitely try some more of this arts and crafts stuff. And we did manage to play on a bit longer with the clay, even if it then descended into chaos. But that was the best bit, not least for the question she asked when I showed her some rudimentary circus skills with the discarded body parts. She looked on admiringly and said: "Can I do it, can I juggle with Mummy's leg and head?"

 

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