With its wealth of inspired activities, Laura Brand’s book, The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play, is essential reading for parents in need of new ideas to play, create and connect with their children

From bath art and outdoor crafts to mindful exercise and kitchen creations, illustrator Laura Brand is a font of ideas for wholesome family fun. Her debut book is brimming with 50 engaging, stimulating and creative activities to enjoy with kids of all ages. Best of all, the suggestions are easy to do, requiring only everyday household items, natural materials found outside, or simply a child’s own imagination.

What motivated you to write The Joy Journal?

When my first daughter was two, I began journaling the joyful activities we were doing together, jotting down easy recipes and the things we were creating. I experienced such amazing bonding moments during making and playing that it started to guide the sorts of activities we chose. 

Have you had any crafting mishaps? 

One hot day, I made a batch of finger paints and put them into a Tupperware box near a window. Later, I heard a massive ‘pop’ and looked up to see the box lid stuck to the ceiling… it had combusted in the heat! Needless to say, I amended the recipe and learned never to leave my experiments in the midday sun. 

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Which activities do you most enjoy doing with your two children?

Play dough is our go-to indoor creative activity – I can make it with my eyes closed now. We love treasure maps and hunts and we also adore getting out into nature and looking for things to do in line with the season. At the moment, we’re doing a lot of gardening.

Do you think a nature-based approach is especially important now, in our screen-driven times?

Yes, absolutely. I immediately notice a positive difference in our mood, energy and general wellbeing when we’ve been outdoors. Observing what’s around us and being imaginative with materials found in the natural world really sparks our creativity. Plus, watching my girls creating mud pies as if they’re in a restaurant kitchen leaves me in awe of their ability to instantly transport themselves into a different place. 

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What advice would you give parents struggling to keep children amused?

Keep things simple and use what you have in your home – you don’t need to buy lots of stuff. Try not to set time limits – creative projects should be open-ended. Offer relaxed craft sessions: You can use favourite books to inspire themes – put some good music on and get a selection of materials, such as massive pieces of paper or a roll of Kraft paper, on the kitchen table. Or simply go on a walk with a map or nature-hunting cards. You’ll be amazed by the explorative nature and confidence of children – they will nearly always follow their bliss. For toddlers, I recommend creating water sensory bowls using bubbles, utensils and toys – just be sure to have towels to hand! 

Do you have plans for future projects?

Yes! My creative lifestyle website, which I’m aiming to launch in May. It will include lovely stories, interviews, ideas and activity prompts for all ages. And there is also a second book in the works. Watch this space…

The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play by Laura Brand. Published by Bluebird, £12.99

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Floating flower bowls

What you will need

  • Flowers 
  • Petals 
  • Leaves 
  • Bowl of water 
  • Scissors (optional)

Engaged for?
20–30 minutes; add on more time if you are collecting the flowers.

Potential for mess
There is only potential for water spillage so to help prevent that causing any stress, put your flower bowl on a tray or, better still, do this activity outside. 

Parental enjoyment
A very relaxing, peaceful thing to do with your child.

Good stuff

  • Bonding
  • Creativity
  • Emotion 
  • Imagination 
  • Nature 
  • Senses

Method

This is as calming and perfect for the grown-ups as it is for your kids, so I really encourage you to try this out for yourself next time you feel the need to decompress.

If you have flowers to hand – from the park, your garden or a bunch in a vase (perhaps looking a little sad and in need of repurposing) – pick off some petals and leaves or flower heads, get a bowl of cold water and sit quietly for a few minutes, creating your own floating flower pattern. I cut the leaves into little strips and chop some of the petals into smaller pieces, then start from the middle with a focal point, working outwards and laying the foliage onto the surface of the water delicately.

If you are keen to follow the same principles of the Nature Mandalas [an abstract, circular design], aim for the pattern to be symmetrical from the centre. But there are no rules here, just the idea that working in this focused way with your hands for a short amount of time (try five minutes) will help to reduce your feelings of anxiety and stress and give your mind a calming rest. Your kids will love this too, so perhaps you can all get a bowl and sit together at the dinner table before bathtime – or maybe it will be just what’s needed on a hot summer’s day to keep everyone cool, calm and collected.