Christmas – a Festival of Play


At Earth Wrights we love getting outdoors and playing in the fresh air, but even if the weather forces you indoors there is never an excuse not to play! So this year, after the last of the Christmas pudding has been scraped from the bowl and before you get cosy in front of the fire/radiator/x-box why not have some fun playing a silly game?

The Victorians loved parlour games. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge goes to ‘visit’ his nephew Fred with the ghost of Christmas present, Fred’s guests are playing parlour games which we still play today such as Blind Man’s Bluff and Twenty Questions. Here are some old and new games for you to try.

The Minister’s Cat

This game actually features in the 1970 film adaptation of Dickens’ novel and is a fun game for all ages.

Sit in a circle and start a clapping rhythm – two claps on the thighs and two hand claps, so thigh – thigh – clap – clap. To this rhythm each person takes it in turn to say ‘The minister’s Cat is a … Cat, adding an adjective in the space starting with the letter ‘a’. So ‘The minister’s cat is an awful cat’, the next person ‘The minister’s cat is an attractive cat’ and so on until someone misses their turn, as it gets more and more difficult to think of new adjectives. Once a person is out you move on to the next letter of the alphabet. ‘The minister’s cat is a brilliant cat’. When (if!) you make it to x you can use words starting with ‘ex’. Variations include each person doing the next letter of the alphabet or the next person having to find an adjective that starts with the last letter of the previous one. So ‘The minister’s cat is an abominable cat’ and then ‘The minister’s cat is an excellent cat’ That’s advanced level parlour gaming.

Reverend Crawley’s Game

Nobody seems to know who reverend Crawley was and what he was doing inventing games, but this is a good one to work off some Christmas dinner. Works best with 8 – 10 people.

Stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle, put your hands in the middle in a big bunch and grab any hand. Once everyone is attached you will find yourself in a knot and without letting go of the hand you are holding you have to untangle the knot. Fun, silly, energetic. Might make you regret skipping yoga class.

Category Snap

Remember playing snap as a child? Well, this is the turbo charged variant.

Each person picks a category of objects, for example flowers or food or movies. A pack of cards is dealt. (If you have a large group use two decks. Don’t worry if some people have more cards than others) Moving clockwise each person, holding the cards face down, reveals their next card. When two people have the same card they have to shout out an item from the other person’s category and the first person to shout wins. So if my category is ‘forms of transport’ and the other person’s ‘politicians’ I have to say ‘Thatcher’ before they say ‘car’ in order to win the two cards. The person with the most cards at the end is the winner. Once an item has been used it cannot be repeated by another player.

Good for upwards of 5 people. The more people the harder and more frantic it gets. Expect to be clutching your head by the end of it. 

One minute mayhem

My family’s favourite. You will think it’s impossible, and it is, until you play it.

This game requires two teams of between 3 and 6 people. On small scraps of paper each person writes the name of a famous character, dead or alive, fiction or non fiction. Write one name on each piece of paper aiming to write about 6-10 each (depending on how long you want to play) All names go into a hat.

The game is played in several rounds. At each round one of the team gets up, pulls a name from the hat and has one minute to try and make the rest of their team guess who it is. Once the name is guessed they can pick another name, trying to get as many guesses in one minute. When their minute is over their score is noted and the hat goes to the other team. Each person gets a go until all the names have been guessed. That is the end of the round. After each round the names all go back in the hat.

The first round you can use words to describe the person without saying their name.

The second round you can only use mime, no words.

The final round you can only use your facial expression to communicate the name on the paper. It helps if members of the other team cover your body with a sheet so only your face is showing.

Absurd, but hilarious. And you’ll be hooked before you know it.

Making space for the primal nature of kids

At birth we are the buds, the tips of the tree of life. Our parents are the twigs on which we sprout, our ancestors the branches, and the boughs and trunk are as old as life itself. We are gifted with a precious heirloom, our jewel-like strings of genes. Worked and reworked through our long ancestral line, they determine both how we look and function and our potential. Three bright facets on this heirloom recently caught my magpie eye.

  1. Children are born with small brains and five times the fat of their primate cousins – gorillas, for instance. They are primed with potential and fuel, ready to rapidly grow and learn how to survive and thrive in the world. Evolution has placed a tool in their hands. A flexible, quirky, unpredictable tool, useful when messing about and experimenting with the rich natural setting of planet earth. It’s called play, and children have a strong instinctive drive to engage with it. They enter the world expecting and anticipating play; it’s in their inherited genetic coding.
  2. We are subject to the influence of biophilia, an instinctive attraction to all that is alive and vital. It is during childhood that we are particularly motivated to seek out the natural world around us. Paul Shepard calls it ‘loading the ark.’1
  3. Human biological evolution happens slowly and our genetic make-up is still the same as that of our hunter gatherer ancestors of 12,000 years ago. ‘The neural processes that guided our ancestors’ behaviours in Pleistocene hunting and gathering bands are likely to still be in operation today’.2 Yet our culture has evolved at lightning speed over the last millennium, leading to today’s technological society. The ancient hand-in-hand journey of our genes and culture has been broken. They have lost each other on the path and are now strangers.

Continue reading “Making space for the primal nature of kids”

At one with the magic of nature

Earlier this year Tommy Leighton interviewed one of our directors Mike Jones for Early Years Childcare magazine. They spoke about why Mike got involved in designing for natural play and the unique approach Earth Wrights offers children and communities. If you want to know why we do what we do, read on!

Tell us a bit about Earth Wrights and your journey so far

The seeds for Earth Wrights were planted several decades ago when I finished my degree in Landscape Architecture. My focus had always been on how to make urban environments good places to live and creating playable communities is part of that. The pivotal moment came when I was asked to design a play space for a women’s refuge in London and couldn’t find anyone to build it, so I just got on and built it myself. I saw with my own eyes what a difference it made to the kids to have a playground that was exciting and imaginative and really met their instinctive play needs – allowing them to use the space whichever way they wished, rather than being stuck with just swings and slides. Continue reading “At one with the magic of nature”

Plants that love kids

It is easy to think that children and beautiful gardens don’t mix well. Think of balls and feet trampling your precious tulips and you would be forgiven for concluding that never the twain shall meet. But there are plants that are both robust enough to be handled and beautiful enough to inspire interest and appreciation from even the wildest kids.

pic: pvandermaesen

Inviting your child into the garden – whether to tend or play – allows them to build a relationship with plants and wildlife that will stay with them forever. It lets them get up close with other species and develop an attitude of care and reverence as they watch the cycle of life unfold – a cycle which all creatures, humans included, are part of. In fact, when designing gardens for play the right mindset is one where children are considered just another wild species amongst the flora and fauna that we are attempting to nurture. Continue reading “Plants that love kids”

Primed for Play – Responding to our children’s instinctive play needs

Along with bonobo apes and chimps, we’re in the top 3 most playful creatures on Earth. To most of us this will come as no surprise: watching them rolling, climbing, jumping, running – testing their bodies and minds at every opportunity – it is obvious our children love to experiment and explore. Play is vital to children’s health and wellbeing, so how can we ensure our children get to play in ways that suit their primal nature? Continue reading “Primed for Play – Responding to our children’s instinctive play needs”

Rewilding Play: Letting nature lead the way

Mike Jones and Mark Renouard think a lot about children’s play needs. They also think a lot about the needs of the natural world.  As directors of Earth Wrights, they design play ‘habitats’ – natural spaces where active, social and imaginative play arises naturally from the environment – and believe these can encourage a reciprocal relationship between what both humans and the earth require to thrive.

Continue reading “Rewilding Play: Letting nature lead the way”

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