Space is limited aboard Carina, but thankfully children don’t need much to keep them amused. Quite often, the toys that encourage imaginative play are small, compact, and lend themselves to onboard storage. Here is my top ten of tried and tested favourites:
1. Lego: All four of us love Lego. It keeps the girls entertained for hours, creating and inventing, and acting out adventures with their little Lego people. Last year, Julian’s mum made a special Lego bag. It’s a large circular piece of material that, when opened out on the table or bed, makes the perfect play surface. When it’s time to tidy up, simply pull the draw-string that’s sewn all around the edge, and the bag pulls together. Ingenious!
2. The dress-up bag: Lily and Katie love to dress up, and they spend hours dressed as fairies, witches, nurses, pirates, characters from stories and fairy-tales, letting their imaginations run wild. Their cloth dress-up bag is ever-evolving and, as it’s full of soft dress-up clothes, can be easily packed away into a nook on the boat.
3. Play mobile: For Christmas 2012, Grandma gave Lily a Play-mobile camper van. It’s proven one of their favourite and most durable toys. Over time we’ve added more people, animals and furniture – but there’s room for them all. The camper van is small – only 30cm x 10cm x 8cm and it fits snugly in one of the shelves in the saloon. The Play-mobile people take on all sorts of personas, and lend themselves to endless imaginative play.
4. Jig-saw puzzles: Since she was very young, Lily has loved jig-saw puzzles. She now finds 100 piece puzzles a bit on the easy side, and I’ll soon have to find her bigger challenges. When we get new jig-saws – as gifts, or at a charity shop – I get rid of the boxes, and transfer the pieces into zip-lock bags, which are stored in yet another home-made draw-string bag.
5. Play dough: My friend Angela makes play dough, and a year and a half ago she gave me three zip-lock bags of the stuff, in three different colours. We’ve had other, mass-produced play-dough before and since (and I’ve attempted to make my own), but none compares to Angela’s, which is still going strong. It’s no longer the three distinct colours, but that doesn’t stop the girls making shapes, using their rolling pins and cookie cutters, and transforming blobs of dough into all sorts of amazing things.
6. Books: Where would we be without books? The girls love being read to and now Lily loves reading on her own. When it comes to books, I don’t scrimp. Their cabin shelves are full of picture-books and children’s novels, and on the quarterberth we have books especially written to help them learn to read. They also love reference books and we spend a lot of time together pouring over books about the ocean, plants and animals, the world atlas. They are weighty, but priceless, treasures.
7. Drawing materials: Pens, markers, paper – we never can have too many of these. Until recently, Katie was disinterested in drawing, but now seems to enjoy it almost as much as her sister does. Lily draws and writes, and especially loves writing letters to her grandparents and friends. With a table full of drawing materials, they’ll both sit quietly, absorbed in what they’re doing, for ages.
8. Soft toys: Teddies get treated to tea parties, they get hospitalised and bandaged, they are pupils at school, and are endlessly transformed into extras for all manner of games. Soft toys also have a functional role aboard Carina – as spare cushions and padding. Polar bear serves as a soft head board for Lily and elephant for Katie. I’ve never been a big fan of cushions, but on a boat with lots of hard surfaces, these soft toys add to the comfort of all.
9. Fishing net and buckets: All the other toys and activities I’ve listed are predominantly for indoor play. But we also spend a lot of time on the beach and no trip to the beaches around Plymouth are complete without fishing nets and buckets for exploring the rock pools, making sandcastles and transporting water.
All of our toys are low-tech, tough, hard-wearing, and they are powered by the girls’ endless energy. They encourage imaginative play, story-telling, co-operation and playing together. And, most importantly, Lily and Katie love them.