Teacher and mother of two boys, Emma Graddon-Sims talks to 100 Toys about the joys and surprises of life with young children.
Tell us a little about your family
Hello! I am Emma and I live with my husband Giles, our two little boys and our house rabbit, Cyril. Home is by the sea in West Sussex, so we like to take full advantage of the beach; our car is always full of buckets, spades and lots of sand. We are incredibly lucky to live here, with the sea to one side and the South Downs to the other. I used to be a Reception teacher, a job that I absolutely adored, but I am now enjoying being at home with the boys.
What three words define your parenting style?
I strive to be empathetic, honest and loving. But my mum says to say spontaneous, organised and adventurous. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do like the sound of it.
What is your children’s current favourite toy?
As it is covering every inch of our house – I’d have to say their wooden train set. I am constantly surprised at how much two children can play with one toy, we even had to take it on our camping trip. We bought a huge box of trains and track second hand for and it has been a brilliant investment.The sellers told us it was one of the defining toys of their children’s childhood, which makes it extra special. My boys love to make tracks and fill up the carriages with seeds from the garden. They use their Grimms rainbow to make tunnels and their wooden animals and blocks to create scenery.
What is your - and your children’s - favourite toy of all time?
My favourite has got to be my dolls’ house. I used to spend hours arranging and rearranging my dolls and their furniture, decorating the walls and playing house. I’m still the same now, just with my real home (less easy to rearrange.) I’m so happy that I have been able to pass it down to my children, and I love seeing them get lost in their own little worlds as they play make believe.
My children’s favourites must be their teddy bears. We rarely leave the house without them, and they are utterly essential for bedtime. My brother bought them when my boys were born and they are in almost every photo I have of my children. They have been an important support to the boys as well as being dragged through muddy puddles, paddling in the sea and being companions through colds and sniffles.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
It has to be Christmas. Every Christmas of my childhood was exactly the same - in a lovely way. We always went to church on Christmas Eve, and had drinks at a friend’s house. We’d wake at the crack of dawn and drag my parents downstairs. Dad always pretended to want to go back to sleep and to hate Christmas (later I found out he was actually Father Christmas every year at the school fete.)
I don’t remember the presents, but the traditions and feelings have stuck with me. The baking, the preparations, the wrapping, the decorating, the community, the food, and just the absolute magic of it – I loved it all. Even as I write, I have that familiar, rising emotion in my chest that always makes me think of Christmas.
What have you found most surprising about your children / about being a parent?
Now that my eldest is almost four, I am so surprised that he has a personality that is entirely his own. When pregnant and preparing for the baby I forgot that we had so much to find out about this new member of our family. It is constantly surprising and constantly challenging!
He waved a heart shaped bubble wand this afternoon and announced that the bubbles were going to find their families; they were heart-shaped because they love each other. I love that he can find magic in the most simple things, is such an old soul at times, and that he is so kind and imaginative. I hope I can do my best to support him in becoming his own person as he grows.
Do you have any tips for other parents? About toys, learning or anything else?
Don’t feel pressured into having new toys. The simplest of activities are often my children’s favourite: practising their cutting skills, baking cakes, hunting for ‘treasure’ at the beach, blowing bubbles or getting lost in their own storytelling.
Toy libraries are a fantastic resource. And charity shops often have a huge range of puzzles. It gives my children a chance to use real money and we often donate the puzzles back to the shop once we have finished with them.
And finally, anything else you wish to add?
Don’t forget, if you are ever having a tough day that you are not alone. There is always someone else out there feeling the same way. Reach out to other parents, do get out to that playgroup, send that text or meet up for that coffee – it will be worth it. I have been amazed by the community of friendship and support that I have found as a parent, I feel lucky to know so many brilliant, kind and funny people.