Friday, 25 May 2018


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Willow Cottage NZ

We'd love to see you there!

Steve and Debbie

Friday, 30 March 2018


Playing with "loose parts" or "bits and pieces" can provide children with easy, quick and extremely imaginative games.

The photograph above shows a gorgeous collection of loose parts that my daughter and I made into sets to sell.  Some very happy families snapped them up, and got a lovely selection of items to play with!

This photo shows one of our boys playing with some off-cuts of wood that my husband brought home for them.

What sort of non-toy items can you provide for your children to play with?

It used to frustrate me when I saw lists that went along the lines of:

"Here are some great ideas for loose parts play:

And I would think "what etc?!?! More information please!!"

Over the years playing alongside my children, and researching more about loose parts I started to really understand the fun and play value of loose parts,  and have been able to provide my children with many of the following items, some of them part of our household items, some natural finds from our walks, some have been op-shop treasures, and others I have purchased specially.

As you start to give your children these lovely open-ended loose parts you'll see what bits they enjoy, and what bits they don't like playing with.  But remember - children change!!  And something they didn't want to play with last year might really take their fancy this year!

Here's a pretty comprehensive list I've come up with to get you started with some more of your own ideas:

fabric pieces
pipe cleaners

tiny animal ornaments
conkers (chestnuts)
pine needles
flax pods

wool fleece
washi tape
cardboard rectangles
felt pieces
mirror tiles or little discs
bamboo pieces

tree disks

stainless steel pots
wooden bowls
glass flat marbles
tiny brass ornaments
wood shavings
beeswax modelling clay
lump of real clay
raw or carded wool
lovely little jewellery boxes or similar

safe tins
wooden pegs/sticks/dowels
rice/bean/wheat bags

tongs/stamp tweezers/teabag pincers
napkin rings
measuring spoons/cups

How's that?!?!

 Photo above shows GORGEOUS carded wool!

What can YOU provide for your children?
I'd love to see!
Send me a picture at:

All photograps my own except these two above.
The first shows a 'loose parts box' that a friend is setting up for her little girl, and the very sweet pic at the end was provided by a friend who threw this game together for her delighted little girl!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018


A young friend just told me something she had witnessed recently, and having been brought up differently, it made her sad.  

She was in a waiting room and saw a mother with a fidgety child. The mother was becoming frustrated by the child not sitting still and began to threaten/explain consequences (do the dishes for a week, go to bed half an hour early, no computer ...) to the child if they didn't stay in the seat.  

The receptionist offered some colouring things to the child, but the mother said "No. He can sit still."

I was a bit sad about this too, and having had my fair share of horrific waiting-room scenarios over the years, I knew how the mother would be feeling.  Maybe the worst thing was, when I asked my friend how old the child was (expecting her to say 10 or 11) she said "Probably about 4 or 5."

Whilst some children CAN sit still, and some children can use their imagination and have lovely games in their head while they are waiting - there are children who CANNOT or at least find it VERY TIRING AND DIFFICULT!   I urge you, as a parent, to know your child, and to be on their team to help them out when they need it.

In my (as yet, unpublished) book I've written a piece on having an emergency bag or box for waiting times.  

Here is what I wrote:

This bag can be left in the car for those times when you know you're going to be sitting in a waiting room or waiting in the car for some time.  A very large lunch box with a handle is ideal or a small backpack.  A lunchbox or case is nice to balance on a lap to press on, also nicer to open and peruse all the goodies inside.

Think of the sort of portable items your child would enjoy.  Here's a list to start you off:

- a small ball and cardboard tube to roll the ball down
- 2 small beanbags for juggling or throwing back into the case
- a sheet of stickers
- a tiny notebook
- a clutch pencil that won't need sharpening (if they are old enough not to just want to snap it off)
- a set of wind-up coloured pencils or crayons
- younger children need just a couple of chunky crayons
- finger puppets or tiny dollies
- a pack of cards
- magnets
- a small mirror
- a yo-yo
- pieces of wrapped beeswax modelling clay
- a small travel game with magnetic pieces
- a thin marker pen 
- small pebbles or shells to decorate with the marker pen
- a tiny whiteboard and marker
- pipecleaners
- a small bag of chunky beads to thread on the pipecleaners
- a "Doodles By Debbie Ball" postcard colouring book (PERFECT for waiting rooms!!!)
- a tiny car
- an A5 clipboard with either blank pages or colouring pictures
- interesting but safe bits of electronic devices that have been taken to pieces
- plasticine
- a strip of blu-tac
- a small roll of sellotape

... what else can you think of?

A very organised parent might like to make some tick-off lists to put on the A5 clipboard.  A child can tick-off/fill in things such as:  how many times the receptionist's phone rings, how many people are wearing hats, how many children under 10 are there, number of people in shoes/sandals/jandals, are there five people with beards, two people checking their phones, someone knitting ... etc 


Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Satisfying Feeling of Being Just-The-Right-Amount-Organised

Yes, we unschool/do natural learning, but I like a little bit of structure - just enough to suit the children - not too much, not too little.

And the feeling of having something planned to use in a loose and natural way helps me feel like we're covering some of the things that I think are important to introduce the children to according to their stage/interests.

One way I have found to do this, and have made available to other parents is:

The Adventures In Natural Learning Seasonal Journal

I have sold around 120 of these Journals since their release, and have had fantastic feedback from parents who are using them according to their own family's needs.

With a new year in front of us, I thought I'd take the opportunity to plan out my first month, and take photos of the way I'm doing it this month.

Just a reminder that the Handbook and the Journal are suitable for any age from baby to adult. 
 I currently use my books for my 15, 12, 10, 7 and 3 year olds.

I wanted to make this Journal look different to the others on my shelf (my 12 year old has his own Journal) - so I put Washi tape on the front.

Seasonal Journals can be started at any time during the year - that is why I put a space on the cover for people to write the date.

 Here is the contents page which I was itching to colour, but I'll come back to that another day!

I did allow myself to colour the apples on the tree on page 3.  :)    The paper I've chosen to have the Journal printed on is BEAUTIFUL to colour on!!   Either felt pen or coloured pencil responds very nicely to this paper!

I'm wanting to start doing "Cozy Time" (our version of what might be called "Circle Time" at a preschool) again with our 3 and 7 year olds.  Most of our children have enjoyed Cozy Time over the years, and they have effortlessly learned so much in the way of language skills, body parts, sign language, maths skills, memory, logic, general knowledge etc etc etc.

I went through our Adventures In Natural Learning:  Handbook, and got some ideas for, poems, fingerplays and songs for the 3 year old, plus games I know our 7 year old will like.

Writing these on a separate piece of paper gave me more space, and I just used Washi tape to stick it to the page.    There are four entries - one for each week.  We will do Cozy Time two or three times a week, and repeat the songs and games, or I might throw a few more in - but at least it gives me a base to work on.   With many children doing different things here in the morning I appreciate having a list I can just look at quickly and it gives me direction to start something off with the younger ones.

While I was at it I cut another couple of pieces of paper the same size and stuck them in ready for next month.

I was going to get the children to colour the "Mid Summer" heading, but I had a bit of time, so I did it myself  :)  :)

Underneath the piece of paper with my Cozy Time ideas I wrote some ideas from the Handbook on other games we can play - either during Cozy Time, or afterwards.

In the box headed "Right Now I Like:" I divided it into three for my 12, 10 and 7 year olds.    I'll chat with them about what we can write in here.

One of the games I had chosen to play looked so fun that I wanted to try it out right away.  I drew up the grids (and then made the game smaller because I guessed my boys would lose interest with 9 x 9 squares, and then I made a mental note that actually 5 x 5 would be better).

But back to the organising!

I was actually done for that session.

The next day I was making a trip to the library with just a few children, so I took a photo of the "Seasonal Curriculum Ideas" to refer to at the library.

My 24 year old was with me, so it felt like cheating actually because it was so easy!!  He picked fantastic books according to my list and according to what the children like (he knows them very well!), and yes - the children DO love them!

We threw in some other books that we knew would be enjoyed even though they weren't listed.  That's one major bonus of "Do It Yourself" education - make the resources WORK FOR YOU.

Here are some of the ones we chose.


The way we "study" these topics is by leaving the books for the children to look through, or I might pick one up and start to read it.  Sometimes I just read the captions under the pictures for younger children to gauge their interest.

If something sparks an interest in a child they will let me know, and we might look something up on the internet, watch a video, or do something more hands-on.


I left my planning there as I'd run out of steam.  When I come back to it I will fill in some "Potentially Interesting Subjects" from the massive lists in the back of the Handbook.  These lists have taken me years to compile and contain many basic curriculum subjects, plus some extremely in-depth topics.  It is the most comprehensive list I have seen, and is all a family needs to use as a spring-board for a very intensive educational experience!!

 Please let me know via email (here)  or message me on our FB page to order your Handbook and or Journal.  The Handbook is $30, the Journal is $20.  Or buy both together for $45  (only sold within New Zealand at this stage sorry).

FB - Adventures In Natural Learning

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Lovely Art Supply Suggestions

Some friends and I were discussing art and craft supplies.

 I thought I might take some photos of art supplies I have enjoyed over the last couple of years.

I am not a "trained artist" I haven't been to art school, I don't sell art equipment - I'm just a mum who likes doing art!

If you like my style please be sure to check my Facebook page - Doodles By Debbie Ball - where you can see more of my work, and can purchase my colouring Postcard books!

I also have all my books - including the Handbook and Journal, for sale on  Trade Me

But without further ado: Lovely Art Supply Suggestions!!!

First up are Sharpie markers (first pic shown above).  They have a nice tip on them, are permanent, but do bleed through, so make sure you protect your table!

Next - Promarker.

The Promarker is an alcohol based marker pen also - nice solid colour, satisfying to colour with.  Also bleeds through.  This brand is dual tip.

Alcohol markers can be used for shading - two coats of the same colour make darker areas.

My favourite non-permanent felt-tipped pens are Staedtler Tripuls color (above and below).  They are a bit pricey, so the children don't use these ones in our house!

Felt pens can tear up the paper if they are scrubbed over the paper, and they can often leave lines when colouring (as shown on the light blue and light green parts below).

Staedtler also do the Triplus Fine Liner.  I don't recommend colouring with these, unless you are doing really, really fiddling little small pieces of colouring.  But they are fabulous for journaling and colourful writing. 

The cheap metallic markers above are great for lettering, but not very good for colouring as you can see by the liney squares I have coloured on the left of the picture above.

We bought some Crayola glitter pens which are a bit scratchy, but fun to play with.

This next photo shows Reno marker pens (bought open stock - you choose what colours you like) alongside coloured pencil - Faber Castell Classic Colour.

Faber Castell Classic Colour are very affordable, not too scratchy, easy to sharpen, and come in really big packs of beautiful colours.

Faber Castell also have the more expensive Polychromos pencils which are beautifully creamy and easy to blend.  These are more "artist" quality.   Because they are softer they wear down more quickly.

 Faber Castell Gelatos are fun to use - they have a texture a little like a lipstick, and glide over the page easily.  They can be blended with a wee sponge - wet or dry, or a wet paintbrush.  They are great for journaling and making colourful backgrounds.

I also love using watercolours - the ones I have here are Sakura and I use them with either an aqua brush, or the brushes shown.  The flat brushes give me a little more control as I tend to be quite messy with paints, but have got a bit neater with practice.

Cartridge paper or thick art paper is fine for watercolours unless a lot of water is involved.  Watercolour paper is more expensive, but a real treat to use and gives beautiful results when using watercolour paints.

My favourite watercolour pencils are the Stabilo shown above, but I'm not sure where they can be purchased now in New Zealand - however, the Faber Castell Watercolour pencils are readily available.

In the picture above I have gone over the dry watercolour paint with some sparkly gel pens.

This is a Sakura aqua brush or water brush.  They are lovely to use, and I highly recommend everyone trying one of them!!

Gel pens are fun and popular. These are cheap ones that don't work overly well.  I don't use them for art, but they are nice to use for quick notes to people.

I believe the top-of-the-line gel pens are Sakura Gelly Roll pens.  I have a few to show you:

This is the Sakura Star Dust pen - I like to use this pen to add sparkle over the top of felt pen or dry paint.

I also have Sakura Moonlight, Metallic and Glaze pens all of which are "icecream smooth"!!!

My newest purchase is the Wink Of Stella metallic brush pen.  A bit of fun, and helps me to get a bit neater at working with a brush!

I have saved my favourite coloured pencils till last:

Staedtler ErgoSoft pencils - lovely to hold, lovely to use.  A bit expensive for everyone to use, so they are just for me.

One sensible rule in purchasing art supplies is that you need to have a place for them to live so they are accessible and don't get damaged.

These plastic drawers are very, er .. plasticky, but do the job.

I would love to go on and on and on about art supplies, but time has run out!  I hope this blog post inspires someone to have a go with some nice equipment!