A Bike, Community and a 3D Printer!

BikeThis is a bike. It is a sturdy and quite expensive bike. It has space for 2 small children and the potential for a whole load of fun and excitement!

About 9 months ago, one of the front wheels fell off. Mercifully no one was hurt. Somebody put the bike out of service, on one side and the children were denied any further enjoyment from it.

Some time later I discovered it languishing near the bins at the back of a nursery.  By this time it had lost both front wheels and was in a sad state. No one knew where the wheels had gone to.

Using the power of the internet, we eventually tracked down a company who had a catalogue of spare parts. We identified the make and model and what we thought were all the missing pieces. After several months of miscommunication, a parcel arrived with 2 new wheels, an axle, end caps and covers. But when we came to re-assemble it, there was one piece missing, a small black plastic spacer – without which, it would be impossible to use. We re-checked the spares catalogue. It wasn’t listed. We emailed the company, with a photo. They didn’t understand what we were asking for. All was a lost – ‘for the want of a nail…..

We put the bike on one side whilst we considered possible solutions. Finally, we decided to see if it was possible to somehow make our own. Reading an article on 3D printing, the thought came to mind whether we could find somebody locally who could do this for us.

Step forward ‘So Make It’  @MakeSoton “a non-profit MakerSpace in Southampton, UK – a friendly and inclusive place for people who like making things to sharing knowledge, experience and tools.

SpacersThis is the original alongside a new 3D printed part without which our children could not enjoy their bike. Amazing how important something so seemingly insignificant can be!

Credit must go to Tom Frame for brokering the deal – passing on the precious piece of rounded black plastic to “a man who can”.

Several days after Tom’s request went in along with him dropping off the original part, an envelope arrived by return, with not one but four 3D printed copies of the original.

I eagerly set about assembling the axle, spacers, wheels and end caps, quickly restoring the bike back into service.

bike with children

Who would have thought 3D printing could make a difference to children’s outdoor activities and that community networks can play such an important part in supporting children’s play?


From all the delighted children at Paint Pots, thank you So Make It – you made it for us!!


No Toys Week

In the run up to Christmas, our preschool at Woodlands in Harefield rose to the challenge of ‘No Toys Week’. Read their manager Dawn’s inspiring account of what happened –

No toys week: Day one

This morning the children entered the preschool to find that all of their toys had disappeared!  But a surprise had been left in their place. A beautiful Christmas tree filled with lights. We played Christmas music as I handed out the decorations for the children to hang on the trees branches.  It was then 9am (usually tidy up time but to our delight the room was as clean as a whistle!)  We had welcome time and then the doorbell rang. Who could it be?  It was the man delivering our fruit and vegetables for the week. Usually we put it straight into the kitchen but today we spent time looking at the produce from the farm, we discussed how it grew, we used number language including talking about more and less.  We then spent time with our key workers in small groups. The children talked about what we would do this week in a nursery with no toys. They said they would play husbands, walking tag and make pictures. What great ideas!  A group of children went into the garden, instead of the usual bikes, scooters and toys the garden was bare!  The children were not fazed and had a great time pretending to be dinosaurs and princesses. There was so much imagination language to be heard!  After lunch one of the children banged their leg. Another child suggested getting the doctors kit out to make them feel better. I said we wouldn’t be able to get the toys out but maybe we could make our own. They were so excited and rushed to find paper and scissors to make their own plasters and bandages to look after each other with.  They then spent time looking after each other and taking about how they were feeling.

Today has been a great day, the children have really enjoyed themselves and the adults were happy for the children to initiate activities. The children’s behaviour was fantastic and there were no arguments over sharing toys!

We’re looking forward to day two!

No toys week: Day two

Today is day two of no toys week. Some of the children came in to the preschool a little confused. Some had thought that we only had no toys for one day! Little did they know that we had taken on the challenge for the whole week? “Where are the cars?” One child asked. “Locked away.” Said another as she pointed to the closed cabinet.

At welcome time we the children were reminded that this week was no toys week and that we could make our own fun and games! At group time we had a little discussion about what we would like to do today, some children asked to go in the garden and some children asked to do some cutting and sticking with junk modelling, where all kinds of exciting things were made. A robot, a “bug ben and holly” and even a Father Christmas.” The children in the garden decided to take out a big box and turn it in to a boat, “row, row, row your boat.” They sang. One child had some pretend oars that she used to row her boat “to the shore.” We also sat in the play house and sang some songs together too.

We took the opportunity to have a dress rehearsal of our Christmas performance too, the children are doing really well learning all of the words to the songs. Their costumes look great too.

After lunch we had another vote, some children voted to go in the garden and some voted to do some painting. In the garden we made our own bear hunt where we got stuck in mud, stumbled through the forest and tiptoed through the cave.

We’ve never seen the nursery looking so tidy too which is just lovely because it means we can spend more time having lots of fun and not tidying.

Their imaginations have really shone through and behaviour has been fabulous again today.

We look forward to more child initiated fun again tomorrow

No toys week: Day three

We are half way through our no toys week and all of the children seem to be really enjoying it.  In the morning some of the older children used the junk modelling resources to make spaceships and rockets, others made cars and boats. While the younger children made a huge Christmas tree on the carpet and decorated it with coloured discs. They then used the discs as stepping stones over the ‘water.” In the garden they found that Jack Frost had been and left his frost on the pirate ship. The children used sticks to make marks in the frost.

In the afternoon the older children helped to make cloud dough using flour and baby oil, we added some peppermint flavouring. We talked about what we could smell, some children said they could smell chewing gum and others said it was like swimming pool water!! Crazy!!

We’ve made some salt dough tree decorations but they’re still a little bit wet so we can paint them next week.

We can wait to welcome our elf friend Mr Jingles tomorrow.

No toys week: Day four

We are nearing the end of no toys week. The children have taken to it so well. They have been making their own fun.

This morning the children were greeted by Mr Jingles the elf. He has come to visit us all the way from the North Pole. He came through his special elf door and left a sprinkling of glitter behind. In his letter he said he was a bit cheeky so we wonder what mischief he will get up to while we are not here.

Some of the children decided to have a snowball fight so they screwed up some paper in to a ball and threw them around the room…oh what a mess but so much fun!

In the morning the younger children went for a walk, they wrapped up warm and went to Bitterne. While they were out they had and hot chocolate. Yum yum!!

In the afternoon we used the cloud dough in the garden and moulded it in to different shapes on the builder’s tray.

Only one more day left of no toys week, I wonder what fun we can make tomorrow.

No toys week: Day five

We are at the end of our no toys week. We have had so much fun.  Today children have pretended to be police men, kings and queens using any props they can find around the nursery as capes and crowns. They have decorated glass jars with some sparkly sequins to be used as lanterns.  In the garden they have rowed across a cold river in a pretend boat whilst singing row, row, row your boat and played what’s the time Mr Wolf.

There has been calm across the whole nursery this week without the toys. Children have used their imaginations and made their own fun. They have taken the time to sit together and read and share stories. Behaviour has been brilliant and there has been no disagreements about toys at all.

I think we have learnt a lot this week. We definitely learnt that we do not need as many toys out all of the time.

We have really enjoyed not having lots of toys to tidy up, that’s for sure!

Families First Southampton

Print                Registered Charity Number 1164409

For the public benefit, the support for families in the Southampton area who are in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or social exclusion.”

At Paint Pots, we have become aware over the last few years of the increasing needs of some of our families, particularly as budget cuts have affected the level of services available to them through the local authority and other agencies. Our primary focus is, of course, the care and development of the children we care for. We know that our teams often go above and beyond their remit, in helping families in all sorts of ways but they can only go so far in providing additional support within their job roles.

Last year, the decision was made to set up an independent charity to work with families in need across the city. We found 3 amazing local people all with a keen interest, talents and experience in different aspects of running this charity, who agreed to be trustees. After 6 months wrestling with the application process (who knew it was so involved?) we eventually managed to register Families First Southampton as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in September 2015.

Nigel, a qualified social worker, is our Family Worker. Nigel has spent a lot of time finding out what the key needs are for families in Southampton and where there are gaps in meeting them. He has spoken to the council, other charities, education and health. Support for young fathers has been identified as a key “strategic” need within the city. Research shows that where both parents are involved in their child’s upbringing, even if they are not together, he/she has a much better chance of improved outcomes – doing well in school, holding down a job, making long term stable relationships. Engaging with fathers and supporting their involvement with their children is a vital function which can make a real difference in the lives of men and their children and also the mothers.

Alongside Nigel’s work in establishing the charity and finding out where we can be most useful, he has also been investigating funding. In March 2016, we were delighted to be awarded a grant of £2,400 from Southampton City Council to support the work with fathers aged under 18 in the city. Nigel is planning how we will deliver this service, working in partnership with the Family Nurse Partnership. In the meantime, David & Anna have delivered 2 sessions on Promoting Positive Behaviour to parents of children in a preschool on the West side of the city, as part of Families First activities.

Nigel continues with grant applications, seeking out further partnerships and exploring how we might engage volunteers. There are exciting prospects. It is clear that there are many needs in the city. Our aims are wide enough to enable us to work across generations, communities and social groups. Our challenge is to focus on what we can do well and make the most difference.

We have received our first donations – £20 from a sale of unwanted CDs, £100 from an online giving campaign and a £5 gift, and a printer. Every little does indeed help, there are plenty of costs in setting up and running a charity.

For more information, to volunteer or to find out how to support us in any other way (eg financially), email –



Over the last few years we have become increasingly mindful of the separation that exists in our society. It is common today for families to be fragmented, for individuals to be isolated and for care and support services to be aligned with institutional arrangements organised exclusively and separately for different generations – babies, children, teens, parents and the elderly.

Some of the effects of the decline of the “extended family” include –

  • Loneliness. It is a sad indictment that there is a need for a Campaign to End Loneliness www.campaigntoendloneliness.org
  • A scarcity of parenting role models, where the maturity, experience, support and life skills of the older generation are no longer readily available to be passed down through the family
  • Social isolation and attendant health issues
  • A lack of self-worth and confidence – children seeking attention and affirmation; teenagers with a lack of aspiration and motivation; stressed and uncertain parents; older people lacking validation and purpose in life.     

Our involvement with Connected Baby www.connectedbaby.net amongst others and the wide body of research into and knowledge on attachment, has convinced us of the need for connection, not just the bond between mother and child but for all of us regardless of age. Connection between individuals in each generation but also importantly between generations.

I am clear that “I cannot do everything, but I can do something”, to quote Edward Everett-Hale, Paint Pots has therefore decided to make “Generations” our focus for 2016. Rather than just comment on the situation, we are determined to do something about it. Maybe we can’t open a preschool in an old people’s home like the one in Seattle http://bit.ly/1Rh5XDz but we can arrange visits, as we have already done.


We are not prepared to just accept the way things are.  Ultimately, as in so many matters, it is culture that needs to change and hopefully combining our stories with those of others will provide a means of influence. Who knows what benefits, what positive effects our small actions might have? Anyone care to join us as we push against some barriers this year? Why not get in touch with your stories and ideas. We are stronger together.       

Play Iceland 2015

Iceland Long Boat

From 11 – 16 October, we joined 44 early years folk from around the world on an unforgettable visit to Iceland. Play Iceland is more than a study tour. It is a campaign to highlight the importance of “real childhood”, as exemplified in the Icelandic approach to early years care and education. Not only was it a privilege to meet so many passionate colleagues from within our party and local staff who were so generous with their time but we were also fortunate to tour the stunning Icelandic landscapes and participate in a varied programme of experiences including a soak in the Blue Lagoon.

It is difficult to convey the breadth of experience or to adequately represent the landscape with photos from my phone’s camera. I am including some pictures in this blog entry plus daily entries from my daily journal, in the form of some verse which provides some different perspectives. I hope these are helpful.

Day 1 

We glided out of Keflavik

across the moss-clad lava plains

beneath the crisp, blue morning skies,

alive with steam from the lagoon.

Iceland Blue Lagoon

We joined the queue clutching brown towels,

with beer in hand we floated calm

amongst the selfie-snapping crowd,

white facepaint worn as camouflage.


In the Foss hotel overlooking the sea

we sit and discuss our pedagogy.


Day 2 

Iceland Beach

What I remember most about Krakkakot –


Isn’t the waterproof clad phalanx of five year olds

tumbling over the rocks, their hi-vis vests clashing with the light grey sky,

the glistening brown weed, the wet black shingle and the curdled, splashing waves.


It isn’t the shells, the live crab and the big stones we carried and dropped,

carried and dropped in our buckets, giggling and singing as we walked

hand in hand back inside to the warm school through the cold rain.


It isn’t hiding together under the blanket covered table,

dancing to Frozen and Lazy Town in Icelandic,

smashing dough with our hammers, making caves,

spitting steel balls, building walls, hanging bells, blowing out candles,

Rosa’s tiny Chinese hand in mine, signing me to come.


No, none of these things. It’s simple really,


I remember love.


Day 3

Iceland Story Telling

We switched on our imagination and logs became trolls; 2 stones – parents;

and a starfish – our protagonist, a boy in search of his cow.

We mooed, we swooped, we slurped, we beat our thighs – slow and loud for the big troll, faster for the smaller one. Through water, rock and fire, together we brought the cow safely home. 

In other rooms we sang, we encountered sloths, we ate cauliflower soup with warm bread, we learned 112, the emergency number – 1 mouth, 1 nose, 2 eyes.

And then we took wood and popcorn to toast in the clearing.

No one called us back, shouted ‘Stop!’, ‘Slow!’ or ‘Careful’, as we moved across the foreshore or clambered up the rocks.  

Iceland Sharing Popcorn

We splashed each other from a tap, we ran off and back, up and down and round the trees. We shared out popcorn from a hot metal sieve, fresh from the flames.

Some of us slipped, tripped and fell and got back up again without comment. All this was unremarkable –

and nobody died!

Day 4

Iceland Landscape

Iceland Landscape 2

I would have to say whoever is behind all this is either confident or crazed, I mean – chucking rainbows liberally about the place and the palette, troweled on colours, now slate, now blue, white, taupe or mauve, in crags, spume and moss, with more than a nod to greater things – the thrust of mountains; the shock of steam; tumbling, cold, clear torrents; the potential of eruption.

Iceland Waterfall

We are caterpillars in our coach-cocoon, rolling over tectonic tundra and slowly growing wings.     

Ofsted Inspection – The Owner’s View

(The following events may or may not have happened and not necessarily in this order. All names are fictional).

There is nothing quite like the words ‘Ofsted are here’ to set the heart racing as you dash for the door and drive in a blur to the nursery. The stream of consciousness is already playing in your head, as it will continue to do for the next 9 hours (yes, 9 hours) roller coaster ride –

“Thank goodness I was home today”

“Did they ask to see her id?”

“Has she signed in?”

“Has everyone else signed in? Did everyone sign out yesterday?”

“Who’s off sick this morning?”

“What sort of person is this inspector – friendly, aloof or confrontational? What will her personal obsession be – good behaviour, numbers in the garden, cushions on the floor or the Chinese word for toilet prominently displayed?”

“Has she inspected us before?”

It matters. The outcome matters.  We have prepared for this moment for years. Every policy, safety check and form has been checked and double checked. Staff have been drilled. They know what signs of abuse to look for; who the safeguarding officer is; all about disqualification by association; they have an in-depth knowledge of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum and their role in planning, assessment and observation; they know their key children and how to track their progress. They all know this but when asked, challenged, confronted or put on the spot by an OFSTED INSPECTOR, will they crumble, forget everything and utter that fateful phrase “I don’ know”?

It’s our one chance, one shot at performing to the required standard, every single member of the team, including the newest and the weakest. One mistake, one substandard performance, one missing piece of paper could blow it.

I can’t park on the front as it takes up a space for parents so I am 2 minutes away in a 2 hour parking zone, most probably resulting in a parking ticket as I forget to go back and move it. I am running with my laptop bag to the entrance muttering to myself – “Don’t forget to sign in, don’t forget to sign in.” I barge in through the door, forgetting to sign in! The manager chases after me and hands me the signing-in sheet.  Not knowing where “she” is, there are furtive glances exchanged with the team  and a hissed “Where is she?”  A nod of the head indicates the next room, so it safe to follow up with a whispered “How’s it going?”

“Alright, she seems very nice.”

Voice in my head, “That could be a ploy. Soften them up first, wolf in sheep’s clothing  etc.”

I take a deep breath and head into preschool. Utter panic sets in as I spot 3 unfamiliar faces in the room, all wearing id badges. Surely not 3 inspectors?! It turns out the Foundation Stage teachers from the local school have chosen this morning to visit our children moving to their school in September. That’s brownie points already! But first I have to unpick the confusion caused by introducing myself to 3 different people on the assumption that they have arrived to inspect us. The inspector is the one with the clipboard. She is also the smiley one!

She tells me she has been made very welcome and what she wants to do when. She doesn’t want me here until 12:30 as she wants to spend time in all the areas, observing.  Three and a half hours for me to pace the floor, fretting! I tell her I will see her later. I check the visitors book on the way out to see if I can decipher her signature – is that a ‘P’ or a ‘T’?  I’m off home, 10 minutes after I arrived, to Google her! Of course I forget to sign out. Someone shouts after me, “I’ve signed you out!”

I missed breakfast. I don’t want a drink. I feel sick. My mind is going again –

“Is the latest Ofsted complaints poster up?”

“When was the last fire drill?”

“Is everyone wearing their name badges?”

I can’t stop it churning out questions and scenarios. What if? It’s going ok so far but anything could happen in the next three and half hours and I’m not there.

Laptop on, browser open and I’m on the Ofsted site. I can’t find her. I can’t find anywhere she has inspected before. Was that a ‘P’ or a ‘T’?

I call the nursery, hissing again, down the phone, “Sorry, it’s me. I know it’s only 10 minutes since I left but how’s it going?” “Fine, she’s still in preschool. They’re chopping carrots.” Chopping carrots? 3 year olds with knives being watched by an inspector? What could possibly go wrong?!

“Well, keep an eye on them.” What a ridiculous thing to say.

“When you have a moment, can you sneak a look at the visitor’s book and phone me back with her name, I think I must have written it down wrong. Call me back”

I don’t want a drink but I start to make a cup of tea anyway, and look at emails without reading them and look at the garden, newspaper headlines and the tv. “What’s taking them so long?” The phone goes.

“I can’t read it very well, I’m not sure if it’s a ‘P’ or a ‘T’.”

“Don’t worry, that’s exactly what I’ve got.”

“Slight problem with the carrots, it turns out Charlie is allergic to them. His face has swelled up. We phoned mum who said the same thing happened at nannies last week but she hadn’t told us. She said to give him antihistamine and it should start to go down in a few hours.”

“A few hours? Did the inspector see?”

“Yes. We explained what happened and what action we took. She seems happy about it. We’ve done a form”

Not even an hour in and the first casualty of the day! Will it go against us?

I’m not really sure why but I phone the bank, carpet fitters and the tree man. As an afterthought I decide that I ought to tell the local authority. “Thanks for letting us know. You’ll do fine. Tell us how it goes.”

10:30 – 2 hours until my meeting with the inspector. There’s lunch to get through yet. Will they use the jugs and let the children pour their own drinks?

I can’t really recall what I occupied my mind with but 12 o’clock came and I am headed back to the nursery, well the 2 hour parking zone round the corner then a brisk walk back to the nursery.

Deep breath and walk in. I remember to sign in but my name badge dropped off in the car.

Lunch is progressing. The inspector is pouring drinks for the children! James has tipped his water out on the table for the second time and is flicking it at his neighbour. Caroline intervenes as only she can by getting everyone to clap James for dinking so nicely. James immediately stops tipping and flicking and coyly drinks. The inspector scribbles something! Then she notices me.

“Shall we collect your manager and go through leadership and management?”

We head for the manager’s office. I am desperately trying to read between the small talk about the lovely time she has spent in each room and the evidence she has collected. It’s all good humoured but what is she thinking?

The manager is still smiling. The inspector is smiling. I’m trying to stop feeling sick.

“I see you haven’t scored yourself as Outstanding in all areas of your self evaluation form,” says the inspector, “If you don’t believe you are Outstanding, I’m not sure I can assess you as such.”

What an opening statement. What’s the right answer to that?! I think quickly, “At the time we wrote that, the manager had only just taken over. She has been in post for nearly 9 months now and we have developed significantly.”

We pass on but I’m not sure how she has taken my answer. Between us, we pass an hour or so flipping between printed documents and the computer showing policies, photographs, letters from parents; page after page of evidence. And all the time being quizzed on what we do and how we do it. None of this interrogation is unreasonable but it is tiring.

We are interrupted to be told there is a parent who would like to talk to the inspector. She goes off to meet her. “Who is it?” I hiss again. “Bella’s mum, she loves us!”

The inspector returns without commenting. We carry on wading through paperwork.

And eventually she is done with us for now and it is back out round the rooms and garden for “a bit more evidence”. I hide in the staff room, waiting for individuals to come in and give a progress report.

“So-and-so didn’t understand the question on  safeguarding but thinks she managed to pull it back.”

“Our painting activity was a bit messier and noisier than expected.”

“She’s watching the garden from the upstairs window, 2 boys are whacking each other with sticks.”

Dear God, have mercy on us!

We had been told to expect feedback at 3:30.

3:30 comes and goes. I am hiding round corners listening in on safeguarding interrogations.

“What would you do if a child disclosed information to you that made you concerned for his safety?”

“Where on the body might bruises indicate possible physical abuse?”

4:30 The inspector wants to observe preschool again. Why now?

I remember my car is still in the 2 hour zone. I nip out to move it. Mercifully there is no parking ticket.

5:15 The inspector needs to talk to the baby room staff again.

5:30 We now have 15 minutes to wow her with anything else we feel would be useful. My manager pulls out more testimonials from parents.

5:45 We leave for her to deliberate and ponder the “couple of issues” she needs to consider. (What does that mean?)

5:55 We come back in and she is still scribbling, The inspection handbook  is open on the desk. She finishes, turns round and declares “I’m ready.”

So this is what it comes down to, 9 hours later – one word; the overall judgement to be published and ranked alongside all others; the adjudication by which we stand or fall; the assessment that parents use to decide whether to entrust us with their children.

Get on with it!

“Firstly, I’d like to say a big thank you to your team for a most enjoyable day”

Get on with it!

“You might like to take notes as I talk as there will be 1 or 2 things for you to consider”

Uh-oh, Get on with it!

“I saw some lovely practice today, blah, blah,blah………………”

I’m not listening but finally –

“So overall I have judged you as………….…….”

And that’s it. Thank yous, usher her out of the building, don’t forget to sign her out and tell the team the outcome in confidence.

it’s time to laugh or cry but at least it’s over – for now. We have to wait several weeks for confirmation of the judgement in the report.

China Diaries – Day 8

The current population of China is 1.4 billion. A new baby is born in China every 23 seconds. 20 years ago 15% of the population lived in cities. Today, 50% do. This is the largest urbanisation in history and presents enormous challenges to China, both economically and politically.  Modern day “reformed China” dates back to the death of Mao in 1976 following which Den Xiao Ping visited Boeing in the United States and started an “open door” policy of industrialisation and technological development based on international trade.

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We were up early and down in our Xian hotel lobby for 8, to walk to the local park to observe and join in with Tai Chi. We took our life in our hands but successfully negotiated 6 lanes of traffic (Zhiang informed us that volumes were low due to it being the Moon Festival – just as well!) to arrive at a beautiful local park where several groups of pensioners were already well into their routines.  We approached a couple of groups who were happy for us to join in. We learned that they usually do 2 hours every day. Most of them were well into their 70s and 80s.

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After breakfast, we departed for the city walls. Xian city walls are a famous attraction. They are 10 metres wide and circle the city with a circumference of 14km. Most of our party hired bikes and set off on a trip to the next gate and back.

After the city walls, we visited a jade museum and retail outlet.

Peter joined us as an additional guide today. He told us his father was a doctor who studied in the UK and returned to China to practice, working from 1952 – 64. He had been killed by the Red Guard during the cultural revolution.

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In the afternoon, we visited the 900 year old Grand Mosque in the Moslem quarter, walking through the vibrant narrow lanes where unusual food-stuffs such as sheep trotters were on display alongside a whole colourful variety of wares.

In the evening we attended the Tang Dynasty show  at a local theatre. We enjoyed a “hot pot” dinner in the theatre restaurant – each diner has their own pot of hot water boiling over a heater, into which you place various ingredients to cook for your own meal, eg eggs, meat, vegetables etc.

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The show was a colourful affair with traditional instruments, dances, costumes and  songs. It was very Chinese and entertaining.

China Diaries – Day 7

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Lions often guard the entrance to Chinese buildings to ward off evil spirits. Look at their front feet to determine their gender – females will have a paw resting on a baby, whilst the male will have a ball under his paw.  In Chinese symbolism, dragons signify males and the phoenix, a female.



Today we visited  a shopping district compriP1030253 (Small)sing narrow lanes bordering a lake. It was picturesque and the shop prices were quite reasonable. We bought some fans and chopsticks.




P1030265 (Small)After the shops we toured the Olympic village and used the “bird’s nest” stadium as an iconic backdrop to our photos.

There are 4 treasures of Chinese national culture – opera, calligraphy, panda and kung fu.

We later headed to a community project run by Amy Zhou’s “Young Zen Foundation”, a not for profit social enterprise. The project runs in a community centre in a district of Beijing. We caught the lift to the first floor, walked along the corridor where we welcomed into a large bright room where children were engaged in a parachute game, joined by grandparents and some parents.

P1030281 (Small)The project provides a programme of activities focused on physical and language development. Amy uses charitable funding to pay for rental, salaries and resources. The model has been “franchised” to enable it to be replicated across China. There is a defined kit of resources with a specified set of activities, procedures and desired outcomes. As well as providing development activities for the children, the programme educates carers – uneducated relatives (typically grandparents) of the children of migrants, in the principles and methods.  

Recognised as fulfilling a need within the vast challenge of child development for migrant worker families, the foundation has attracted government attention and support. Amy is a charismatic social entrepreneur in the new China and looks destined to expand her activities far and wide. Her enthusiasm, passion, commitment and optimism is infectious. She had recently returned from a visit with Hilary Clinton, so reasonably well connected then! – apart from being one of June O’Sullivan’s contacts.

Tomorrow we fly to Xhiang, location of the Terracotta Warriors. 

Christmas Thought

I just had to include this morning’s email exchange between a kind and thoughtful donor and one of our managers, as my thought for Christmas –

Dear X,

I am sorry I missed you when you dropped into the nursery earlier.  I just wished to thank you for the kind donation of Christmas Books.

The children here love listening to stories with the staff, and we will ensure these books are looked after and cherished by further generations of children who will be able to experience the wonder of Christmas through the beautiful illustrations within them.

May I take this opportunity to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and Thank you once again.


Dear Manager,

As I explained when I stopped today, over the years, as my children grew up I have collected these copies of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ . We carried on the tradition of me reading our ragged copy to the children on Christmas Eve each year. The last was when my youngest was 35! Our copy is threadbare and I have lost count of the new copies I have given to other families and children. I only ask the child to choose someone they love to read it to them. Knowing children, you won’t be surprised there is no guessing who they choose. Some have even had it repeated by several.

I am now ‘Downsizing’ and must part with my collection. Looking for a new home, I could not have chosen a better place than the meeting place for young people. You are welcome to share copies with other Paint Pots or Parents. I hope you and they too will establish a nursery and or family tradition.

With my best wishes for Paint Pots and Christmas

China Diaries – Day 6

P1030195 (Small) P1030186 (Small) P1030192 (Small)P1030175 (Small)Today we visited the Summer Palace. The opulence of the emperors we had seen yesterday in the Forbidden City was very much in evidence in the grand scale and impressive construction of lakes, hills, pagodas, gardens, temples and statues. It was another stunning display of grandeur and wealth, clearly designed to impress. At the same time it is a stark reminder of inequality, repression and serfdom sustained across the millennia through the various dynasties. It took some time, in the heat, to walk the length of the corridor by the man-made lake and take in the detail of exquisite decoration – all for the enjoyment of one person. It is extraordinary.

Various notices and displays alluded to the invasion by the British and their trail of destruction as they rampaged through the area, burning everything in their path. We attempted to look non-British and hoped that our nation had been forgiven by now!

En route to the Great Wall, north of Bejing, we stopped off at the Bejing Zoo to observe the pandas. I have to say that if I was a panda stuck in a zoo with a plentiful supply of bamboo and people looking at me the whole time, I think I would turn my back on them and retreat to the confines of the shadiest recesses of my enclosure. And that is exactly what these creatures did. We managed a couple of photos – job done and back on the minibus.

P1030231 (Small)An hour later, we arrived at the Great Wall. As with all the sites and attractions we visited, the scale and experience of actually visiting in person is difficult to capture in words of photos. There is something about climbing up a small section of the Great Wall and extrapolating the effort expended to the vast distances that the wall disappears off into, that gives you an appreciation of the breath-taking organisation needed to build all 6000km of it.  We were surprised that the climb was so steep and the steps so uneven in height. It was a tiring endeavour at this altitude, we often had to stop for breath.  Thanks to our remote location and the time of day, we were some of the only tourists on the wall itself. From the top of the valley, we enjoyed some spectacular views, tracing the wall’s passage across the distant range of hills.

In the restaurant that evening, we quizzed our waitress via Zhiang and learned that she came from the Gobi Desert  area; that she had been in Bejing for 1 month, working in the restaurant, who also provided her accommodation in a shared room with 3 other girls. As her identity card marks her out as originating from Tibet, it would be difficult for her to get married as any prospective husband would not want the responsibility of returning with her to visit her family.  She asked us if we would let her take a photo with us as she had never met westerners before.