Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Nathan the doodler

Nathan is really into drawing and doodling these days. It’s one of the regular quiet activities we do at rest time (which we implemented since he gradually started cutting down on his daily naps). I am quite amazed at the degree of focus and the level of detail he puts into each drawing at just three years old.

Nathan is really into doodling and drawing these days

He loves drawing fire engines. Lots of them. He has a basic formula he uses to draw each one: A rectangle for the body, four or five circles at the bottom for the wheels, a ladder with meticulously drawn rungs, and a fireman in front. Then he draws a big fire (that’s what the zig zag lines at the top of the page are) and the line is the long hose connected to the fire engine, shooting water out at the fire.

One of Nathan’s drawings: Can you see three fire engines
shooting water at the big fire at the top of the page?

Last Sunday morning, I woke up bleary eyed to Nathan’s bright little face smiling down at me. He held up one of his latest drawings and announced…

“Mum, look what I draw! It’s a story. Do you want me to tell you the story?”

I was feeling super sleep deprived, but I was curious what his illustrated story was about. So I consented.

“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood. One day she went for a walk in the wood. Suddenly she met a wolf and he ate her up! CHOMP. Then a dragon flew by and blew a big fire everywhere. So they called the fire engine... nee naw, nee naw. The fire engine came and it shoot the water to put out the fire. And they all lived happily every after. The End.”

I was definitely awake by the end of that exciting story. And then..

“Mummy, can I have some breakfast?”

Well, he certainly knows how to ease me into the day.

 

Linking up to
Twinkle in the Eye and Little Drummer Boys

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Independent Play: Being the observer and the storyteller

{Part 2 of my series on Independent Play. You read Part 1 about my top 5 favourite toys and materials for play}

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Sometimes I feel as adults, we sometimes have a tendency to talk too much over our children.

Already their days are filled with our non-stop yammering, asking them to get dressed, eat breakfast, clean up, hurry up.

Even during play, the chattering goes on… “What colour is this?”, “How many blocks are there?”, “What are you making?”.

It can really sound like an interrogation session sometimes. If we were to talk to another adult like that, it would certainly come across as being very confrontational and in your face.

As parents, we seem to feel compelled to constantly check if our children are ‘learning’ or gaining something from every single action they do. The truth is, children are already continuously learning as they observe, listen, experiment on their own. We should simply give them the freedom and space to do so.

Of course there will plenty of times for chatter and conversations with a talkative toddler. But there is a lot of magic and power to be found in moments of quiet observation and listening. There’s no need to fill every silence.

It’s in these moments of quiet when children discover that they can make their own magic. They can think their own thoughts, create their own ideas, and even daydream.

Be a quiet observer

I find incredible joy in simply quietly watching and observing my children’s play unfold. I hold myself back from showing, teaching, questioning, explaining, interfering. I don’t try to suggest, I don’t try to ‘help’. And every single time, I am always blown away by the unexpected twists and turns their imagination takes them to.

Some of my favourite moments of magic were stumbled upon unexpectedly… while I’m bustling and hustling around the house or in the kitchen, I pause and look around and suddenly realise that the kids are not in sight.

I stand quietly for a moment, then tiptoe over to the play area, and gently peek my head around the corner.

I hold my breath;

And simply watch the magic unfold;

In their own little world.

Sometimes I am invited in.

Sometimes I simply stand outside as a privileged observer into this magical world…

Be the storyteller

One way to encourage imaginative play is to take on the role of ‘the storyteller’. It’s basically like being a commentator or sports caster on the activity. Essentially what you are doing is narrating and describing what you see happening simply as you observe it…

“Nathan is stacking blocks on the dump truck… Now he is tilting the dump truck’s tipper... The blocks are pouring out and making a big crash on the floor… Now he is stacking them back on the truck again… He is pushing the dump truck across the floor…”

Try not to ask too many questions and try not to tell them what to do. Simply describe what they are doing.

This simple technique somehow helps unlock the unseen magic in the simple play that is happening and can be helpful for certain situations such as:

  • Encouraging a reluctant independent player (this may apply to extreme situations where a child is finding it difficult to initiate a play on his own).
  • Encouraging co-operative behaviour between children (perhaps to help foster or expand co-play between children and helping them learn how to work together).

Another way you can apply this technique is to read a book out loud and have your child play out the story. Classic tales like ‘The Little Gingerbread Man’ , ‘The Three Little Pigs’ or ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ are always big favourites.

We also enjoy making up your own stories using toys as puppets and props. I sometimes offer a quick kick start with a really simple opening…

”Once upon a time, there was a little red truck. One day red truck decided to go for a drive. Then he met his friend blue car. Suddenly….”

And after that the little guy usually takes over the direction, dramatizing his own variations and versions and coming up with new spin-offs to the story.

I love watching you play

It can sometimes be challenging to implement independent play at a slightly older age. Go easy on the both of you to begin with and gently introduce it gradually in stages

Start with sitting nearby to watch your little one play. If your child implores at you to “play with me!”, patiently acknowledge their play and reassure them that you are enjoying watching them play.

Try these six magic words: “I love watching you play”.

There is such truth and power in these six little words. So plain. So simple. But so real.

Picture this scene: You and your little one are spending some play time together one quiet morning at home. Your child is stacking and building a tower of blocks while you sit nearby observing him.

Now consider these two remarks:
#1. “You’re doing such a great job building that tower!”
#2. “I love watching you play with blocks”

Can you see the difference?

No need for praise or exhortation. No pressure or expectations.

Just a simple expression of love, savouring the moment together and simply being a witness to your child’s life.

We need a witness to our lives.
There's a billion people on the planet.
What does any one life really mean?
{but}
You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.
Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness'

Susan Sarandon, from the movie ‘Shall We Dance

 

Three links mentioned in this post that are worth checking out…

 

See you again next Tuesday for the next topic in this series where I’ll talk about managing screen time.

>> Click here for the full series on Independent Play

 

Linking up to Jess’s IBOT

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Some recent additions to my favourite things

I haven’t done a post on my favourite things lately but I think it’s about time I did. Here are a few little gems that I’ve discovered list which I think are really worth sharing and recommending.

 

Nookums Paci Plushies

If your baby uses a pacifier or dummy, I think you can definitely relate to the love-hate relationship we have with it. I always dreaded having to sit on the edge of my seat ready to run in to pop it back into baby’s mouth whenever it fell out (when she was really little). So Paci Plushies was my biggest sanity saver in this department. Ever since we started using it, baby was able to look for her dummy whenever it popped out and she quickly learnt to transition through sleep cycles smoothly on her own.

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Natures Child Bottom Balm

As a user of cloth nappies, I’ve always been on the hunt for a nappy rash cream or ointment that was effective at preventing and treating nappy rash but also gentle on my cloth nappies. Since discovering this product, I am now a big fan and would recommend it to anyone, whether they use cloth nappies or not. First of all, it smells absolutely amazing. It works like a miracle balm --just a little bit goes a long way. After using it consistently, nappy rashes have been virtually non-existent. And I love the fact that all the ingredients are completely natural and organic. I also dabbed a little bit on myself whenever I have a sore spot and it works like magic.

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Nutcases Soap Nuts

My friend Rebecca at Bean Sprout Bubba had given me a pack of these to try out. I had heard of soap nuts before but never tried them myself. They are actually a species of berry which when mixed with water release a chemical known as saporin which act as a cleaning agent. It was hard to believe at first that these wrinkly brown things could actually get a whole load of laundry clean simply by placing a few in a small linen pouch and tossing them into the washing machine . But after giving it a try, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. They are more economical and sustainable than regular detergents and work just as effectively at getting clothes clean.

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And introducing a new product available in Australia for the first time…

Treasures Nappies

A new nappy brand I’ve recently been introduced to is Treasures nappies. I have not used a wide range of disposable nappies and have been fortunate to have kids with minimal skin issues, so I was generally quite content to just use generic or supermarket brands whenever we needed to. So it was really lovely to be able to try this high quality nappy brand, which is on par with the market leading brands in Australia, but offer better value for money (and their adorable Hairy Maclary designs are also really irresistibly cute too!).

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Treasures nappies are actually already a well established brand in New Zealand for over 30 years. But they are now stepping onto Australian shores for the first time. If you’d like to try them out for yourselves, you can find them at your local IGA supermarket. If you are looking for a disposable nappy that provides some balance between quality and budget, Treasures would be worth checking out.

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*I was gifted with a sample pack of Treasures nappies, but was not obligated to provide a review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Independent Play: The best toys and materials for play

[This is the first chapter in this series on Independent Play. You can read the prelude to this series on why it is so important for children to have independent play]

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Whenever we visit the toy store or the toy section at the shops, the choice of toys, play equipment and educational tools can really be overwhelming. These days, there is such a wide array of toys and gadgets for kids that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Many of the toys out there are often positioned as educational and beneficial to children’s learning. Of course such toys are fun to play with, but the truth is, as sophisticated as they look, the numerous features they possess can often be quite one-dimensional.

Sure, all those buttons and lights on those toys look like a lot of fun to play with. However buttons can do only do what buttons do --be pushed and pressed. When you strip everything down, such toys actually leave very little to the imagination. After a child has pushed, prodded and pressed every single button on that toy, what else is there to do with it?

Instead, we should try and offer children open ended toys and materials to play with.

The best toys are plain, simple, and don’t do much on their own. Often they may not necessarily even need to be ‘actual’ toys. Everyday objects like bowls, cups, pots, pans, boxes can be toys --for stacking, nesting, banging and even imaginary play like pretend cooking.

Here are my personal top five favourite toys and materials for open ended play:

[Also remember to check out the sister post to this topic on two very important tips on how to let kids play]

 

#1. Blocks
From plain old classic square blocks to wooden blocks, waffle blocks, Mega blocks, Lego or Duplo blocks… any kind of blocks really. You can even find magnetic ones that stick together--there are just so many variations available out there these days. Though I would advise against veering too far away from the basics and certainly try to minimise those pre-designed model sets with a picture of what you supposedly should be constructing.

My own personal two favourite types of building blocks are the classic wooden blocks and Lego/Duplo blocks.

   
Clockwise from top left: a robot, house furniture, Lego soup and a fireman rescue scene

And don’t stereotype blocks as being for just boys. There’s more to blocks than just constructing buildings or towers. All the images of the creations above were completely initiated by my little boy (aged 2-3 years old). I was even treated to sample a taste of Lego soup!

I noticed that the babies (up to 12 months old) seem to especially enjoy the feel of wooden blocks --they love holding them, knocking them together, putting them into containers etc. Young toddlers (12-18 months old) start learning how to stack blocks and balance them on top of each other. They also can begin to observe and learn how to snap Lego blocks together (though they may not be able to it very well yet).

 

#2. Play dough
This is truly one of the most economical ‘toys’ to play with because you can actually make it yourself! Just four basic ingredients: flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil. You can add food colouring and even essential oils for different colours and scents. There are literally hundreds of play dough recipes on the internet. This particular recipe happens to be my favourite one.

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You can of course buy the tubs of commercial play dough, and you don’t need to get the expensive pre-designed kits that come with special themes. Instead, just throw in anything from around the house and see what the kids come up with --popsicle sticks, pasta, beans, old cookie cutters, safety scissors, small toys, matchbox cars, Lego blocks, and bits and pieces from your craft box.

   

And the kids don’t always necessarily have to ‘make’ something with the play dough. Some are just happy squishing it, cutting it, pinching it or making imprints with the toys and materials on hand.

Play dough may not be appropriate for very young babies to play with as they may try to mouth or taste it. But you can keep a close eye on them and let them have a feel and touch of the dough. And if you make the play dough yourself, you know all the ingredients used and can be certain that there are no chemicals or weird additives in it.

When you are ready, you can even advanced to other forms of play dough (I did mention that there are literally hundreds of recipes out there)… like cloud dough, silky dough, ice-cream dough and even oobleck.

 

#3. Water
There is just something very soothing about water that kids just love. You don’t even have to own a pool to be able to enjoy some water play. Just plunk down a tub or bucket of water with some containers and it can keep children completely occupied for ages.

There are many ways to vary water play… just throw in a few other toys or little figurines to fuel some imaginary play. You can even add a few drops of food colouring in to boost the wow factor or turn it into a learning opportunity to experiment with colour mixing and measuring.

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With a couple of paintbrushes, take the action outside for a session of water painting. And I also gave Nathan one of those plastic syringes for our own makeshift water gun play.

Even babies can get in on the action --just ensure that you are always nearby to keep a close eye. And even with older children, always keep the water play area in sight for supervision.

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#4. Sand
We have the benefit of having our own sandpit in our backyard and I can honestly say it has been one of the best investments for the children’s play. Like water, there is something very calming and therapeutic about sand. It is also a very versatile play material for children.

When I was setting up my house and yard for my family day care, one of the essential things I was told to set up in my outdoor area was a sandpit. Even if I don’t get anything else, I had to get a sandpit.

“Just a sandpit? What about a slide or swing set?”  I remember asking the officer in surprise.

Her reply: “Yes a slide or swing set would be nice too, but what can children do with those? Slide and swing --that’s it. With sand, they can pour it, shape it, build with it, you can incorporate science into the play or sensory activities”.

The kids have all benefited from hours of play therapy here. I sometimes throw in a few toys and figurines to spur some imaginary play. I also like to add some water into the play which really ups the engagement level.

   

And don’t leave baby out either. As long as you are close by to supervise, I don’t think there’s much real danger in the situation. Just a very sandy baby and lots of sand between their tiny toes and crevices to clean up after.

You don’t necessarily even need to have a sandpit or sandbox for sand play. Even a tub filled with sand can do the trick (you can pick up a 5kg bag for around $7.00 from Bunnings). I also quite liked this idea of converting an old bookshelf into a small sandbox.

If for some reason, sand is not an option for your situation, you can actually try making your own moon sand with just two everyday ingredients from around the house.

 

#5. Cardboard boxes
This is also a highly economical ‘toy’ for open ended play. And there’s no shortage of supply of these, you can pick some up at hardware stores like Bunnings or ask your local store if they have any used boxes to spare. It’s good to have a few different sizes and shapes and some really large ones which kids can climb into.

Some of the ways the kids have played with cardboard boxes include: converting them into an imaginary train, bus or truck, using them as a wheelbarrow, a ramp for rolling their cars and trucks, and stacking and arranging them into a play ‘house’ or ‘shop’.

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Cardboard boxes also make great caves and tunnels to crawl into, and babies can also get in on the fun crawling through the tunnel. You can put in some toys and objects inside for them to explore as a sensory experience.

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After stocking up on all these fantastic toys and materials for your kids, it’s not enough to just stop here. There are also two very important things to keep in mind to allow open ended and imaginative play to happen:

Firstly, hold back from ‘showing’ children how to use or play with the material or toy

Secondly, accept the mess that can happen during play and find ways to work around it

>> Read more on tips on how to allow open ended play

And check back again next Tuesday for the next topic in this series where I’ll talk about ‘How to be your child’s storyteller’ and share some pointers on what to say (or not to say) to your child during play.

Click here for the full series on Independent Play

Linking up to Jess for IBOT

Independent Play: Important tips on how to let kids play

So, after reading about my top five favourite toys and materials that encourage open ended play, there are also two very important things to keep in mind to allow open ended and imaginative play to happen.

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#1. Try to hold back from ‘showing’ children how to use or play with the material or toy
A very common thing we adults sometimes do when sitting down with our children to play is to pick up the toy and start building or making something with it, or talking the child through what they should do (e.g. “Here, use this roller and roll the dough out like this, press out the shapes like this” or “Let’s build a house, here stack the blocks like this”). Not that it’s wrong or bad, but sometimes there’s a subtle tendency to start guiding a child to only play with toys a certain way… i.e. Our way.

Take Lego blocks for example, they are a fantastic basic toy. However sometimes when we buy a Lego model set, we will naturally take the blocks out and build the structure based on the pre-set model on the box. And once it’s build, that’s it. We might even have a tendency to get a little antsy when a child tries to take it apart or don’t fit the pieces together in the exact same way as in the instruction sheet.

And even with Play-Doh, often these sets come with all sorts of fancy gadgets and moulds, like a bakery shop or a barbeque kit and I’ve even seen a Star Wars set. We then start teaching and showing the child how to ‘play’ with it, telling them how to use the specific moulds and pieces provided.

 

Sometimes it’s nice to build something after a set model or design. And sometimes it’s okay to build and explore the toy together. But most of the time, children should be allowed to play with a toy any way they like as long as it’s not dangerous. It may not look perfect or things may sometimes get a little messy, but at least they are exploring and experimenting freely with their own imaginations.

Let them build anything they like with the blocks, let them squish, roll or pinch the play dough any way they like. Toys are meant to be just props to fuel the wild and creative ideas inside their own minds.

#2. Accept the mess that can happen during play and find ways to work around it
This is an area I’m still working on myself. It’s hard not to cringe when we see paint splattered everywhere, or sand being tracked around everywhere, or coloured water being splashed all over the floor, or play dough getting squished into the carpet.

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I too have caught myself jumping in to pause or stop play or try to tell the kids to play a certain way in an effort to contain the mess. It’s hard not to do so sometimes when I think about the massive clean up I would have to deal with in the aftermath.

Of course there are times when we do have to step in if things get out of hand, such as if children start deliberately throwing and flinging toys and things (which can also be dangerous) or if they step out of boundaries and meddle and mess with things or areas that are out of bounds.

However, if we keep hovering over everything trying to contain and control the play, children will eventually stop trying to do anything meaningful… because what’s the point? They can’t do this or that or only have to use and handle the toys and materials in a certain way.

So how can we strike a balance? Here are some practical tips you can consider to work around the inevitable mess and allow children the freedom and liberty they need to explore and experiment for themselves:

  • Take the play outside --that way you don’t need to stress out about your carpet and furniture and save time on having to wipe down everything thoroughly afterwards
  • Find strategic spots to set up the play --such as in the kitchen or an enclosed corner or area in your house so the mess can stay relatively contained
  • Set boundaries and limits for children --clearly explain to children from the start where the play area is and that they need to stay within the limits of the space during play
  • Have clean up things set up and ready to go --you can prepare towels and rags and some buckets of water so kids can clean up straightaway once they are done
  • Keep a brush handy near the sand play area --so kids can brush the sand off (or at least most of it) before going inside. It also helps to position the sand play a bit of a distance away from the door so most of the sand shakes off during the walk or run back to the house

I shared about my challenge with handling mess with the officer at my family day care scheme, and she told me “Yes, but you know it’s happy mess”. I also found the following words to be another good reminder…

il_fullxfull.303911726Image credit

 

See you next Tuesday for the next chapter in this series where I’ll talk about ‘How to be your child’s storyteller’ and share some pointers on what to say (or not to say) to your child during play.

>> Click here for the full series on Independent Play

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Caterpillar update

In case some of you were wondering, our wriggly wiggly little caterpillar has now turned into a cocoon!

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I’ve been finding the whole process very fascinating to watch myself. I was especially intrigued to observe the white filmy layer surrounding the cocoon itself. I guessed that the caterpillar first spins this filmy layer around itself as an initial protection before going on to spin the actual cocoon.

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The children enjoyed examining the little cocoon. Things have quietened a bit in this department as there is not much ‘action’ happening at the moment. Just watching and waiting.

In the meantime, we’ve been reading the story about ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and doing some other activities related to the story like acting the story out with pretend fruits and stringing beads on pipe cleaners to make our own caterpillars.

Hope you’re having a lovely week.

 

Linking up to
Twinkle in the Eye and
Little Drummer Boys

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why children need independent play

One of the common laments often heard in conversations with fellow parents is:

“My child can’t play independently on their own”.

 

Other related remarks include…

“She has a very short attention span.”

“He needs me to sit right next to him all the time.”

“She’s just not very imaginative”

 

I came across this quote in this article which said…

“Kids don’t need adult playmates, they need parents”.

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Although it sounds rather extreme, I think there is an element of truth in it. Looking back on my own childhood, I certainly don’t recall my parents being at my beck and call to entertain me or constantly try to find things to amuse me. Sure there were many times when they did jump into our games and plays, but inside I always knew that they were my parents with their own things they needed to do. And I was perfectly content with that.

For the most part of my childhood, hours of play were spent outdoors, exploring the neighbourhood with my two brothers. We cycled to the playground and played with other children there, or we would wander through the bushes and trees in the open areas around our house.

Even indoors, I would be constructing whole towns and castles from Lego blocks, creating my own make-believe world with made-up characters using the various toys we had. Sometimes my arms would be sprawled across the table, doodling and drawing all sorts of stories and characters from my head. And for hours on end, I would be nestled happily among the pillows and cushions on the sofa with my nose tucked in a book, .

Yes, as parents, we do need to make an effort to spend as much time as we can with our children during these precious fleeting years. And yes, we should often get down to our child’s level, step into their world and just follow along with their play (though take note that the operative word here is “follow”).

However, I believe we also need to recognise that our children are growing into independent self-sufficient individuals. And as part of this development, children need to have plenty of uninterrupted time to explore their own inner world, make their own magic and discover themselves.

Allow me to borrow this excerpt from the article I mentioned (which is really worth reading)…

Children do NOT need a parent to play with them every minute of the day.  Children need to acquire the inner resources to entertain themselves.  Most kids own enough toys to stock a store; put the kid in there and tell him he's on his own because you've got grown-up things you simply must do.  Be sure you can keep a close eye on him, if he's tiny, but make him do some exploring on his own, for crying out loud.

A child who doesn't have the inner resources to entertain himself becomes an adult who requires outside stimulation at all times because they don't have what it takes to sit quietly and dream, or think, or draw, or read, or open the damn toy box and find something to play with.  Requiring your children to learn to entertain themselves encourages them to become imaginative and creative.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this area. But I personally do believe in the importance of independent play. I’ve made my own mistakes and also learnt from others in my own parenting journey and discoveries in my early childhood education studies.

So I thought I’d share five simple tips and keys I have learnt and tried to apply in our own family. I’ll be sharing on this topic in three parts every Tuesday for the next three weeks:

  • For Part 1: I’ll be sharing on the best toys and materials for open-ended play and how to use them
  • For Part 2: I’ll be talking about how to be your child’s story teller
  • For Part 3: I’ll cover off some tips on managing screen time
  • Bonus Post: Two tips on how to allow open ended play to happen

>> Click here for the full series on Independent Play

 

Linking up to Jess for IBOT

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Watching the magic unfold

I am presently working on a longer post on ‘Independent Play’, so this is just a quick pop in to say “Hi” to everyone. In the meantime, here’s a little snippet from the piece I’m working on…

Sometimes while I’m bustling and hustling around the house or in the kitchen, I pause and look around and suddenly realise that the kids are not in sight.

I stand quietly for a moment, then tiptoe over to the play area, and gently peek my head around the corner.

I hold my breath;

And simply watch the magic unfold;

In their own little world.

Sometimes I am invited in.

Sometimes I simply stand outside as a privileged observer into this magical world…

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Linking up to Jess for IBOT