Watching her eight-year-old daughter, Mae, draw, dance, play and find fun new ways to creatively express herself feels a little like stepping into a time machine for Kate Ritchie.
At the same age, young Kate was taking her first steps into the world of television, her role on Home and Away as Sally Fletcher rocketing her into public consciousness.
As a consequence, her own childhood was spent juggling the dual responsibilities of school and work; play became something that would happen in the rare off times Kate enjoyed with her three siblings in their suburban backyard.
“I’ve been going through a period of late where I’ve been really reflecting on that,” she tells The Weekly today.
“Seeing this little eight-year-old person and wondering how I did what I did, or whether I would like that experience for Mae. Every now and again I think, ‘My goodness, she looks like me.’ She certainly looks like her daddy [former NRL star Stuart Webb] too but she’s like the little girl that I was once upon a time.”
While Kate remarks in mock horror that her daughter would like to start her own YouTube channel “which is never happening”, she’s been nurturing Mae’s creative passions.
“I encourage her to try lots of different things. She does dancing on Saturdays as well as gymnastics and swimming. Because the one thing I didn’t do when I was growing up – I was a bit busy working on a TV show – was that I never played extracurricular sport and I never learnt a musical instrument. They were extra activities I couldn’t fit in amongst everything else.
“Everyone on Home and Away thought I was only working part time and everyone at school thought that I had the best job in the world because I got to leave school early. But combine all that together and it’s a bit full on! I just want to make sure that I’m not pushing Mae in any direction. I don’t want her to think that she belongs to anyone apart from herself.”
It’s this desire to encourage without pushing; to inspire without pressure to achieve the impossible which has led to Kate’s latest project.
Having written two children’s books in the past, she’d been toying with the idea of a lifestyle project – one that gave a peek into her life with Mae but without making other parents feel the burden of replicating the same.
And so Everyday Play was born.
Packed with a wealth of activities, it’s a comfortably easy guide which encourages children to create, cook, write, draw as well as simply just be.
“I kept saying that I wanted it to be gentle,” Kate says. “That’s why there are lots of lovely inclusions of things like not doing anything at all. It’s okay to be bored. Or to be silly. But then on other days, tick all the boxes. Just having a whole collection of activities that are divided into how you feel on the day. I didn’t want this to be another thing you need to ‘do’. To put pressure on other parents to have the same sort of experiences or feel like ‘to be a good parent I need to do X, Y and Z out of Kate’s book on Saturday’.”
She was also determined to make the book accessible.
There are no prompts to buy materials or ingredients; everything included in the book you can easily find in nature, in your pantry or within your own imagination.
“Not everyone lives by the beach or has a bath in their house; not everyone has everything at their fingertips,” she explains.
“With kids these days every toy you buy has 20 others that you have to collect. When I was growing up I had a pogo stick and a My Child doll. There’s a piece of advice that I’ve always hung onto. The nurse at the birthing classes I did told me: ‘Kids, babies certainly, don’t need everything. They just need you.’ And I think that couldn’t be more true as I watch Mae grow. She likes all the things, but she doesn’t need them.”
Everyday Play is a tool for parents – or grandparents or aunts and uncles or friends – Kate says; but it’s also a book that kids can easily make their way through themselves.
“As much as we think that kids want to be with us all the time, they do like to have time on their own,” she laughs.
“Mae plays really well on her own, actually. It’s lovely hearing her little chatter in the bedroom talking to her toys and dolls and things like that.”
And so it was that Kate enlisted not just Mae but her wealth of nieces and nephews to contribute to the book. The pages are packed with illustrations they have created, activities they have suggested, as well as being inspired by the play she’s witnessed the tribe of cousins doing together.
“Sometimes I’d think, ‘Is this too simple? Do kids still want to make a tent?'” she muses. “Then I’d see my little nephews, Peter and Leroy, building a fort with an old skateboard and a little ladder. You could put a roll of paper on the floor and they’d be good because they are better at it than we are. We’ve become too self-aware or self-conscious or we get side-tracked. We’ve forgotten how to play.”
Everyday Play from Penguin Random House is on sale now at Booktopia.
You can read this story and many others in the December issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly – on sale now