Best playground of all…

a pram

It’s Boatstrand and that time of year again – when tents, children, parents, aunties, uncles, grannys, grandads, camper vans, a silver cross pram and a giant inflatable pink flamingo… descend upon the little fishing pier on the Copper Coast in Co Waterford.

The pier is buzzing and children of all ages line up to be scheduled for sea life saving classes from Irish Water Safety. Class times get set and you turn up and work hard and the rest of the glorious day is yours.

So what do you do when you are waiting to be called for the class?

Because in between classes there is lots of time, time to…well, adults chat and chase children to dry them or smather them in suncream, cook, read, swim, snooze, drink tea, go fishing and chat more,  duck odd rain drops etc..  Fishing boats come and go, a fisherman works away, seagulls circle and squawl, flasks get shared around, barbecues hiss – the sounds and smells are mighty!

man work

And the children? They play and play… they invent worlds and games of their own.  I had the joy of being camped up close to an industrious bunch.  I was fascinated by them so I moved my towel closer to the action.

This is what they got up to…

a tool set

Little fingers took turns in the bucket. Sand & sea water gets moulded into oozy messes dripping between wet busy fingers, smoothing, shaping, forming perfect sand cannon balls – patting them to remove excess water, packing them tight and ready for firing.

a one mud ball


And for a target..

making target

Wet hands scrawl circles high and low on the sun dried pier wall.

The scoring they tell me goes like this –

“See the high circles , blast the outside ring and get 50 points

hit the inside ring straight on and you get 100

the lower circles –  the outside ring gives you 25 points and the inside gives you 50”

a score


making mark in the sand.jpg


A foot draws a line in the sand.

They line up with the weapons.

Negotiating to see who goes first.  “Will we do littlest goes first?” or “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo?” They stick their toes in. Sorted.

They stand in line.

Ready- Steady- Go!  – blast cannons at the wall and score!

a throw

Children of all ages simply lost in the play, in the serious business of it all, messy sensory play.

They invite me into the play cos I told them that I wanted to photograph a speedy sand cannon ball.

They demonstrated and showed me how it was done.  I found myself lost in the play too..

It was pure joyful fun.

I thought how lucky I was to have wandered in their direction. And this was just a side show to the main event.

I thought about all the learning that happens in an informal way – learning without boundaries or supervision.

Chatting, joking and making friends, adding up the scores = Language, literacy & numeracy skills.

Figuring stuff out – size, speed, texture, shape = science, art, engineering and critical thinking skills.

Playing, sharing, laughing, negotiating, taking turns = real life skills.

Albert Einstein said that “play is the highest form of research”. Rest my case.

And all in the great outdoors, the best playground of all, with the sea lapping and a gentle breeze a-stirring.

Pure magic.

What more would you ask of a summer’s day?a mud ball pact

This year, at the end of a busy week, 300+ children  received their life saving certificates from Irish Water Safety (

My daughter had me lying face down on the kitchen floor last night in prep for her finishing exam – lying on the floor “as if” I am in the water and she is saving me. I am in good hands and she is assured and confident.

My song for the week – “Seaside” The Kooks.  Check it out.


 Annual Boatstrand Water Safety week August 2017.

free play in the wild wood


The magic is always there, all you have to do is to take time out in the nature – breathe, close your eyes, count to three, and you will find it.

I knew it was going to be a good day when I passed two little girls playing shop along the Copper Coast.  A handmade sign reading “buns for sale” and a bunch of Camelias in a jam jar caught my eye.  We drove past them, turned the car, rummaged for change under the seats and stopped to be taken in by their wares.

1. Fairy buns with water and sugar icing 50 cent each x 4

2. plus the offer of their last chocolate rice krispie bun for free

3. plus a complimentary sprig of  pink Camelias                                                                  (“nicer than a rose” as Pa Hennessy used to say).

Their chatter catapulted me in to their world, I could have whiled away the day with them with talk of licking syrupy spoons and how sticky a stick is.

With a spring in my step and a ready made picnic I hopped back in to the car. Luckily the ‘just in case’ flask of tea was on board and my best buddy was at the wheel so we continued on, as planned, to the woods.

When we got there, it was teeming with birdsong and growth. We entered in to the electricity of it  – vision, sound, smell, taste, touch, volume turned UP UP UP.  I had set out to switch off but here I was plugging in to this super natural place.   Mother Nature had her merry way with me, cast her spell on me… I lost myself running  through a hideout of  bamboos, found a fairy throne, touched blossoms like candyfloss,  and heard myself, ourselves, laughing out loud – intoxicated.     This is what free play is really all about – to be fully engaged, fully alive, in the moment, in your element.  The picnic of fairy buns with hot tea was the icing on the cake of a day.  “Again! Again!”  and I remember  my own little ones when they were in that enchanted time and space.

So I want to go back “again and again” and sit on that fairy throne and wonder….

I would like to bring my 8 year old self back there and for her to idle in the sunlight, without a care in the world.  I would crouch down beside her and whisper Neil Gaiman’s words in her ear; “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can”.

My song for today is “Mother Nature’s son” by The Beatles for my best buddy x

shop and picnic
unexpected picnic

picnic 4