"We start and finish each day with stories" - Staying Home with Sally Nicholls

Published on: 21 April 2020

Author Sally Nicholls tells us how she and her family pass the days in lockdown - from building pirate ships to reading books together - and how the experience inspired her latest book, Staying Home.

Like the mum in Staying Home, I’ve been locked down with my husband and our small children – a four-year-old and a two-year-old. I’d like to pretend that the cheerfulness and good humour of the parents is entirely based on us, but that may be wishful thinking. However, the book is definitely inspired by our experience.

Like the raccoons, my husband and I have both been trying to work from home and do childcare shifts. We go out most days – my eldest on his bike and my youngest on a scooter. We’ve had the tent, paddling pool and sprinkler out in the garden. And they’ve been playing a lot of football outside and ‘the running around game’ inside, which involves them both running through the house shouting. The neighbours love us.

My kids are usually in school and nursery, so one of the nicest things about lockdown has been seeing them playing together. Yesterday they built a pirate ship out of chairs in the garden and walked the plank. They’ve done a lot of dressing-up and played a lot of trains, cars, Playmobil and Lego. And they spend a lot of time sitting in cardboard boxes, drawing on them, and pretending they’re cars and aeroplanes. I like to think of it as extreme social distancing.

We have ‘school’ every weekday morning for an hour or so, but it’s very relaxed. My eldest is in Reception, so his homework is very much of the ‘float things in the bath’ or ‘draw a trap to catch the Easter Bunny’ variety, though he is expected to read a book online every day, and we usually manage a bit of writing. One of his favourite bits of homework was to time how long it took him and I to do various activities like running around the kitchen. One day we had to make a shop and practice counting and giving change. Another time we had to make a video of him acting out a nursery rhyme. I love his school. The homework has been consistently thoughtful and varied and fun. We’ve tried to keep it going through the Easter Holidays, but the quality of content has varied, and some days school has been ‘watching Numberblocks’.

Which brings me to screen time. My editor asked me gently if I thought there was ‘too much screen time’ in Staying Home. I’ll admit there is more than in most ‘day in the life’ picture books - you never catch the kids in Peepo or Lucy and Tom’s Day sitting down to some Peppa Pig. But screen time is very much part of most children’s lockdowns, and ours is no exception. About three days in, we realised that the time just before dinner is generally a nightmare, so now our children get Shaun the Sheep or Hey Duggee every day while one of us makes food. It’s just better for everyone. My eldest has also been trying some of the phonics and maths games suggested by school, with mixed results.

What else? Well, I bought my eldest a set of 48 coloured pencils for Christmas, and I think they’ve been used every day of lockdown so far. He also gets one-on-one attention from a parent while the youngest naps, and so far he’s always chosen to play board games. Forbidden Island is his favourite, but we’ve also played Snakes and Laders, Ludo, Outfoxed, Draughts, Dobble, Animal Upon Animal, Fiery Dragons and a simplified version of Ticket to Ride London. My talented collaborator Viviane Schwarz is also a board game designer, and I’d love to try some of her print-and-play games with him, but he’s been rather reluctant to try new things in lockdown. I think like most of us, he’s sticking to comfortable favourites.

And then there’s books. We have of course been reading – very often there’ll be an awkward ten or fifteen minute period at the end of our shift, and books fill that time perfectly. Pre-lockdown, I usually read chapter books with my eldest – Dick King Smith’s Sophie stories and Alex T Smith’s Claude books were particular favourites. But since lockdown started, he’s turned back to picture books. Which is convenient, as my youngest is just starting to grow out of the board book stage, and it’s meant we’re finally able to read to them together. Some of our favourite books to share with two children at the top and bottom of the picture book age range are Pippa Goodheart and Nick Sharratt’s You Choose series, Shirley Hughes’ Alfie stories, Michael Brownlow and Simon Rickerty’s Ten Little… books and Michelle Robinson and Nick East’s Goodnight… series. We start and finish each day with stories, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

About Staying Home

Sally's latest book, Staying Home, is about a family of raccoons going through a day in lockdown - no school, no nursery, no work - and explaining to the youngest members of the family how they're doing their part to save lives just by staying home!

Andersen Press are offering the book free of charge online, with a first-look agreement on future printed editions, should lockdown become a regular part of family life.

Download Staying Home for free here.

About Sally Nicholls

Sally Nicholls

Sally Nicholls is a prize-winning British children's book author. Nicholls was born and grew up in Stockton-on-Tees, England. On finishing school, Nicholls chose to travel around the world. Nicholls' first three novels all have death as the central theme.

Read more about Sally Nicholls

Topics: Features

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