Play as a catalyst for positive change in a family’s daily life

by Creative Homes

Story by Creative Homes, in partnership with Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre and Peabody Housing Trust.

Lead Artist Helen Maier tells the story of how a visit from the toilet training sailor inspired a family to use play as a creative solution not only for toilet training but also to reduce stress in other areas of their daily life.


We climb to the fourth floor of a brick block of flats on a Peabody estate in South London, Leyla opens her door, she’s wearing a colourful orange and pink hijab and a huge smile. Omar (4) and Jamel (2) stand next to her with colourful plastic cups of water in their hands. “Are you here to build a den with us?” asks Omar.

“Yes we are”, I say, holding up the 3 big pieces of cardboard I’m carrying. We go into the living room, there’s an intricately patterned white and beige rug covering the whole of the floor and low red and gold velveteen cushions for seating against two walls. A small window lets in a bit of late afternoon light. Two framed pieces of Arabic writing hang on the walls and there’s a T.V. hanging in one corner of the room.

Omar and Jamel decorate the cardboard den with colourful paper bricks and curtains over the windows. They jump up and down shouting “we have a house, we have house”. Leyla stands nearby, wide-eyed with a big smile. “Yes, it’s your house” she says to the boys then looks at me “they love it, they’re really excited”.

We spread out a spotty plastic tablecloth on the floor inside the den. “Picnic time, let’s make fruit kebabs” I say. Everyone sits down and I hand Omar and Jamel their own chopping board, plastic knives and half a banana each. “Banana!” shouts Omar as he peels and chops it. Leyla sits with Jamel and helps him chop his fruit. When all the fruit is chopped I hand everyone a wooden skewer. Omar loads his with fruit in no time, while Jamel makes his with Leyla. “Mmmmm delicious”, says Omar with bulging cheeks.

I’m sitting on the floor of Leyla ‘s flat with Leyla and Jamel, I’m dressed in blue sailor trousers and a red and white stripy top. We’re making bean tambourines. Jamel is drawing on his tambourine and starts to say ‘wiggle, wiggle’.

“That’s brilliant Jamel”, I say “ you remember my sailor song from last week”. I start to sing “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, woo I need a poo or a wee”.
Omar and Jamel join in singing. We stand up and my colleague Charlotte puts on the music “Shake your tambourines up high”, I say we all shake them up high, down low, and side-to-side. “On your head”, says Omar trying to balance his. Leyla joins in and we skip around the room together until we’re out of breath.

“How’s it going with the night toilet training?” I ask Leyla.
“Well, Omar is still wetting the bed”, says Leyla “I’ve put the mattress cover on now but it’s wet most nights”. She looks over the boys having a snack of seeds and apricots with Charlotte.
“Don’t worry”, I say, “it’s only been a week since our last visit so it may take a few weeks more. Keep trying, you’re doing really well”.
“Yes, thank you”, she says “I will keep trying”.

“Come in!” the two little boys run in front of me down the short corridor to the living room, they start jumping up and down on the low cushioned seating on the floor. Straight away I notice a new, brightly coloured road play mat on the floor. There are toy cars and trucks in different corners of the room and some picture books propped on the highchair in the corner.

“Sing the song!” says Omar bouncing over and staring up at me with big brown eyes.
“Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, woo” we all sing, twisting back and forth on the spot.

My colleague Sally sits on the low seating with Leyla. “So how is it going with toilet training now, we haven’t seen you for a month or so”, Sally says.
“Oh yes, he’s fine now”, says Leyla smiling. “No more nappies at night. Jamel has started toilet training now too, he wants to follow his brother”.
“That’s great to hear”, says Sally.
“We play more together now too”, says Leyla “I have more ideas of things to do and since we made those fruit kebabs I realised they can help me with cooking too. They chop vegetables and mix things, before I did that all myself”.
As we leave Omar says “we’re making dinner now”.
“Yes says Leyla, we’ll make it together”.
“And cakes” says Omar “yes maybe” says Leyla. She opens the child gate in front of the kitchen and the two boys run in. Omar climbs up on a footstool “I want to make!” he says.
“Yes we will”, says Leyla laughing.


At Creative Homes we generally work with families to reduce a specific point of stress that they identify with us, be that tooth brushing tantrums, toilet training troubles or fussy eating. To do this we introduce the family to techniques for incorporating creative play into that bit of the daily routine that’s become difficult. Although our focus is on a specific area we often find that once a parent takes our techniques on board and really starts to celebrate creative play with their children, as Leyla did, these simple tools can result in wide ranging changes for the better throughout rest of the family’s daily life.


*All names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.

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