It was tricky packing up for six months. The essentials were relatively easy – the van was pretty sorted as we’d been away in it several weekends – but the non-essentials, the ‘nice to have’ extras…that was tricky. Do we need an extra blanket? Should I bring 8 towels or just 4? These questions filled my last couple of weeks in the UK as I umm’d and aahh’d about what we should bring and the pile to be squeezed into the van grew ever bigger.

The hardest choices were for the children. I didn’t want to be overrun with ‘favourite’ soft toys that take an inordinately large amount of room and that would, inevitably, sit neglected in the van. Equally, I didn’t want to not bring enough toys…obviously I didn’t want to deprive my special poppets of anything that their hearts desired. More importantly, I wanted to keep my own sanity and not be driven to murder by the relentless chant of “We’re bored” because I had failed to pack an appropriate variety of play things.

The restriction of space worked in my favour in that the children were very understanding about our limited space. They understood that not everything could be brought (this did not stop they trying to sneak as many extras in as possible!). We agreed that

  • 3 small soft toys would be appropriate
  • art supplies (felt tips, colouring pencils, lined notepads)
  • a selection of Sylvanian families toys and dolls furniture (that would fit into a particular sized container)
  • outdoor camping toys which include skipping ropes, bat and ball, boules and a throwing rocket
  • Kindles (for reading, educational games)
  • family card games including UNO, Pictureka, normal cards, The Twits game
  • some other small travel games like Othello and some spinny toys that ran in to each other (hobby’s from the 80s no idea what they’re called!)

We have then had Christmas and the collection has grown to include

  • toys cars. The girls have never shown any interest in toy cars (despite my non-gender attempt at parenting early on) but we’re given two by a restaurant owner and, for a week, they were the only toys they played with
  • paints and brushes
  • a pretty dishcloth used as a blanket for soft toy doll
  • vintage trolls
  • travel monopoly

The biggest success? The kindles, without a doubt. They use them to read, access the web for learning based activities (we use our mobile data to create personal hotspots), they have some learning apps and, of course, non-educational apps.

We have undertaken other activities; we (I) made a collapsible doll’s house out of cardboard cereal boxes. The girls spent hours and hours playing with it and decorating it. The sylvanians families toys we brought were ideal for this sort of imaginary play.

If you want to give it a go – the full instructions are here.

Cardboard is definitely our friend, as is my very imaginative nine year old (her craft ideas see us through!). We’ve made shield and swords. The best part is that when they’ve finished playing with it, it can recycled!

They’ve also enjoyed making paper doll chains (well, I make them and they decorate them).

Their play oscillates. One toy will be their favourite for a week or so then it will sit on their shelf and a new toy will become favourite. Skipping ropes were very popular and the girls had club membership and a schedule and everything! But they haven’t played with them for the last month. They have dolls which came everywhere with us for the first month or so – I thought this may be a security crutch as we were so far away from familiar things but they haven’t made an appearance recently.

I don’t want to paint a false picture of our lives – the girls spend a lot of time on their kindles (I’d love to say they only play educational games but that’s not true…unless looking after a finicky computerised egg is educational?). We live in a world of technology and technical advances but we try to balance this is our lives with some real hands on imaginative play (more of this in a later post as I’ve just listened to a very interesting TED talk).

In summary, I think we brought the correct amount and variety of toy. The craft supplies have allowed us to be more imaginative when other resources as limited. If it were me, I would have left at least two soft toys at home!