"I got out the 'busy box' and she didn't have any idea what to do with it," a neighbour told me yesterday.
I say "neighbour" but she actually lives in the next street over. I saw her out walking with a small girl yesterday afternoon. She was doing an "emergency" child mind while the child's mother had rushed off to one of the hospitals where her own mother had been taken to emergency.
So, neighbour was doing a good deed. She is a former teacher, long retired. She keeps a 'busy box' for visiting children. There are all sorts of craft materials in it. "Anything to get them away from the screen for a bit."
Her own grandchildren use it constantly. She is forever topping it up with more paper, glue, paint, pencils, crayons, stamps, stencils, cardboard and cardboard rolls, plastic bottle tops. There are blunt nosed scissors for younger children. If older children are using it they get sharper scissors from "the bottom drawer". There are several books of ideas too - and an album of pictures she has taken of things that have previously been made.
My mother also did something like that. I have a similar box - although not quite as exciting as the one belonging to the neighbour. (She only has one row of books though and I have many rows.)
And this child had no idea what to do with all that treasure. She seemed bright enough. She swung around the tree on the footpath in front of our house. She climbed on the low wall and walked along it. There was nothing wrong with her motor skills.
I raised my eyebrows at the neighbour who said,
"Oh I think I know what the problem is. She is never, and I mean never, left alone. When she's home she is always within sight of her mother and at day care there is always something being organised. She doesn't know how to play on her own. She is one of those who isn't allowed to play in her own back garden unless an adult is watching."
"Oh. Helicopter parent," I said.
"Yes. I'm taking a bit of a risk but I know they do something like this at day care. Her mother wouldn't let her walk along the wall unless she was standing there right next to her."
Small girl came running back along the footpath.
"Can I do it again?" she asked me.
"Yes, of course you can," I told her and, under my breath, I muttered, "As many times as you want to."
She did it twice more and then the neighbour suggested that they could go to the park and she could go on the slide and the swing, "all by yourself".
Then she added,
"And after that you can draw me a picture of all the things you have done - and you can do it all by yourself."
And the small girl looked up at her with a smile,
"Oh goody. I like it with you."
I would too.