Children hit the play trail

Take some farm animals, craft activities, face painting and sandpits and you have the formula for some very happy children. But while the emphasis was very much on fun at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, near Dereham, yesterday, the message was educational.

Take some farm animals, craft activities, face painting and sandpits and you have the formula for some very happy children.

But while the emphasis was very much on fun at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, near Dereham, yesterday, the message was educational.

The Norfolk Pre-school Learning Alliance was holding its annual fun day and all the activities and attractions were designed to give the 600 visiting children an insight into life in a rural workhouse farm as well as encouraging parents to play and learn with their children.

Project manager Sadie Ditton said play was a really important part of a child's development.

"Parents often think that playing is just something children do to fill their time," she said.

"But it is very important that they take some time out to spend with their children and do things together, especially these days when many are so busy with work."

Most Read

One of the many simple craft ideas which was very popular with the children was making animal banners, cutting out shapes and attaching tissue paper streamers. Volunteer Margaret Dewsbury who had come along to help said the parents were enjoying it as much as the children.

"An activity like this actually teaches parents how to interact with their children. They often don't get the chance to do this because they are at work and the children are at nurseries."

She said that as little as 30 years ago childcare was a dirty word and parents often ran their own playgroups on a voluntary basis.

"Now people go out to work they don't get the chance to be with their children on a regular basis and are not learning how to play with them. If you don't know how to play yourself you can't teach your children how to play.

"In an activity like this the parents are teaching their children how to differentiate between shapes and colours and these are great pre-reading skills. They are using mathematics to count and it all becomes a good educational experience."

Down at the farm some children were enjoying tractor rides while others were playing with sand, peat and water using diggers, scoops and funnels to improve their hand-eye co-ordination. They were also learning how to wash clothes using a washboard, watering the garden and finding out exactly where their vegetables came from.

In a marquee outside the workhouse, exhibitors were selling books, craft equipment and even washable nappies.

Del and Julia Lewis, from Hales, near Loddon, brought their three-year-old daughter Amy and said she had surprised them by how much interest she had shown in all aspects of the event.

"She has been asking lots of questions and particularly liked the steam trains in the museum and the old-fashioned classroom," said Mr Lewis who was taking some precious time off work to spend with his family.

"I think she has learned a lot and where I thought some things might be a bit too old for her she has proved me wrong. We will definitely be coming back again."

Other parents said they were impressed by how much there was to do and it gave them plenty of ideas to take back home.