Summer holidays and too tired to play? The Museum of Tiny Things…

It’s the summer holidays and I’m tired, and that reminds me of The Museum of Tiny Things – a game born of guilt, resourcefulness and pure laziness; the kind where you just can’t move…

It was back in May, and we were on a short holiday in Port Isaac, Cornwall. The sun was shining for the first proper time this year (which meant in two years) and my mother, daughter and I had walked to a little sandy cove.  My mother and I sat upon a stone ledge at the bottom of the cliff and closed our eyes.  We listened to the waves wash upon the stoney sand and felt that longed-for sun upon our faces…

“Mum!  Gran Gran!  Game of catch? Climb the cliff?  Go in the sea?”

I opened one eye.  Here I was at the beach for the first time this year, with my lovely eleven year old girl who leaps and bounds with energy.  Here we were, away from screens and work and school and busy lives.  Here we were, and yet, I would do anything – anything! – not to move.  But the guilt!  The missed moment!

“I know”, I said, my eyes scanning the beach for something low energy. “What about.. what about… ” And then I saw a teeny tiny shell near my shoe.  “What about we see who can find the best tiny things in the sand?  But without moving!  So it has to be things near our feet!”


She’s not that easily impressed, my daughter.  Or fooled.  In fact, I think she said: “I do know it’s because you don’t want to move you know.”

But she knew it was the best interaction she was going to get and she saw the potential. She picked up a beautiful fragment of pottery about the size of her fingernail. “Yes!  Look at this one! Let’s put them on that big flat rock.” She began to arrange what we already had.  “It can be our Museum.  A Museum of Tiny Things We Find Around Our Feet.”

And so we set about our work.  And, like in those nature films where the camera magnifies the tiny world of ants in grass stems, our eyes began to see only the miniature world of the sand: the shards of rock, stone, shell, glass and pottery, and the tiny twists of wood and sea weed.  We became completely absorbed in our task, all three of us, compelled to search and delighted with what we found.  We pored over finds, compared treasures, wondered what things were and had been, and watched while my daughter arranged the best way to display the fragments to the public.

Later, before we left our Museum of Tiny Things upon the ledge for others to find and visit – several flat rocks full of it by then – I took a photo (sorry it’s a rubbish one!) to remind myself that playing with children can sometimes be as simple as just looking, with open curiosity.

Also, that when we allow ourselves to do that with them, and let go of all the busy stuff in our heads, they help us to see and experience things – wonderful things – we might otherwise miss.

And also, that it’s right that play needs to meet in the middle sometimes.  It’s good when we all – children, parents, grandparents – get some of what we need: a good game, some peace, the sun upon our faces…


3 thoughts on “Summer holidays and too tired to play? The Museum of Tiny Things…

  1. Ah – I know exactly what you’re talking about with the play-guilt thing. And a genius way around it……. May have to try that with my 5 year old boy soon, though it might be hard doing the ‘staying in one place’ bit…..!

    • Yes 5 years old is very energetic! But then, even at that age – at any age maybe – when WE are interested and our attention absorbed, children seem to quieten and get interested too. I used to notice that when my children were little, all the times I tried to get them interested in things so I could go and do something else never really worked like when I was looking through a box of buttons, or enjoying doodling myself, or sorting through a box of photos. And really, those quiet times of pottering about are not frequent enough! And even now, if I am doing a bit of writing or work at the table, my children will sometimes come and do homework next to me. But very early on, they got very good at spotting when my interest was fake (“you’re not looking/listening/doing it properly”) and even now they look at me witheringly if I try and pretend to be doing something when really my attention is elsewhere, which it too often is. Fair enough!

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