Actress, radio presenter and celebrity mum Gemma Atkinson has teamed up with her three-year-old daughter, Mia, to help support Family Action’s annual Christmas campaign, Make Theirs Magic, taking time out to help gift wrap some of the thousands of toys being donated by the Fisher-Price brand to be given to families around the UK who need a helping hand this year.
The UK Fisher-Price brand team has donated 2,000 of their toys to the appeal, which will be distributed to families at Family Action’s services around the UK in the lead-up to Christmas. All of the toys donated by the brand have been selected because of their early years developmental benefits to children, with each toy having been specially developed at the Fisher-Price™ Play Lab – a hi-tech toy testing facility in the US where babies and young children test out toys that have been created and developed by Early Childhood Development experts.
As part of Make Theirs Magic, a new online hub has been launched which includes real-life stories, resources for families at Christmas and links on how to get involved or get more support. Resources include accessible ways for parents or caregivers to play with their children over the festive period, including Christmas-based sensory play for babies and festive children’s crafts to create fun and memorable moments, whilst also helping with children’s development and boosting parents’ confidence to play.
An interview with Gemma Atkinson
What have you been doing here today?
G: Today has been so much fun! We made Christmas wrapping paper by painting with potatoes which I never thought I would do. Mia actually knew how to do it better than me – she does all that at pre-school, so she loves that kind of stuff. I never would have thought to print with potatoes to be fair – usually, for me, it’s just kind of, buy the wrapping paper, wrap it, done! But this made it so much more fun, and it has made the build up to Christmas that bit more special as well and it’s been lovely bonding time for me and Mia.
It’s a bit of a messy task! Did you mind getting messy?
G: Yes, it’s a bit of a messy task, but it’s one of those tasks whereby it’s getting messy with your little boy or little girl, so it’s expected, and it is a lot of fun! Mia absolutely loved it. To be fair when I’m usually wrapping presents, I can find it a bit boring. It’s the bit of Christmas that I dread because obviously Father Christmas gets the presents, you have to wrap them yourself, send them back and then he brings them back, but it’s a chore, so this activity today actually made it fun. Almost like in Mary Poppins when she cleans the nursery; it’s fun when she does it magically, so it felt a bit magic today actually.
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Was it an easy thing to do as well as being fun?
G: Yes, it’s so easy to do, a lot easier than I expected to be fair. Obviously make sure mum or dad or whoever looks after you cooks the potatoes but then it’s a free-for-all and it’s really fun. And again, it’s something I would never have thought of doing, but I’m so glad that I got to experience it today.
Do you make time to do creative activities with Mia and why is that important to you?
G: I always try and schedule time for me and Mia to play together, especially now that she’s at pre-school. I just think it’s really really important not only for our bonding time, but if I can do something that encourages her to play and learn at the same time it’s a win-win. I think all parents sometimes feel guilt that we’re not spending enough time with our kids, and we think is our child going to be developing less than other child because their parents are more hands on. But life sometimes gets in the way of time with your family, and everyone experiences that. Everyone has moments of guilt with that. So doing something like the activity we did today, working together as a team, was perfect. It meant I could get a job done and we both had fun together at the same time and importantly it would have helped Mia with her development of certain skills by helping her to think creatively.
Can you remember doing creative things with your family when you were growing up?
G: To be fair when I was growing up, I used to do lots of creative things like this with my family, not with potatoes, but it was things like if there was ever a toilet roll that was finished, my mum used to give it to me and let me cut up the roll. Anything like that, old milk cartons, the kind of things that you’d usually just get rid of, we used them for activities. So it’s great that I can now do the same with Mia and hopefully one day she’ll pass this on to her children as well.
What is the Family Action Make Theirs Magic campaign all about?
The Make There’s Magic campaign is wonderful. Fisher-Price Play Lab have teamed up with Family Action for their annual Christmas toy appeal. They’re donating thousands of toys to the campaign so they can go on to families across the UK who could do with a helping hand this Christmas, because every child deserves to have toys.
Why are you supporting the campaign?
I’m supporting the Make Theirs Magic campaign because as a mum myself, I know the challenges that parents face when it comes to certain times of the year, and I just think every family could do with a helping hand especially at Christmas. The fact that so many children across the UK don’t necessarily get as many toys as others, it’s great that the Make Theirs Magic campaign can help to even things out and I just think as an annual toy appeal, it’s a wonderful positive thing to be involved in. I can’t wait to hear from the families who received these Fisher-Price toys that we helped to wrap this Christmas, and hopefully a lot more children will have a better Christmas because of this”.
Why is it important for children to have access to toys?
G: I think it’s so important for babies, toddlers and children to have access to toys because it’s not only fun for them to play, but toys can also bring them a lot of comfort to. I remember growing up toys that gave me a certain comfort. I had this little figure that I used to take everywhere with me. I would sleep with it in the evenings, I put it on the table when we were having dinner and I even took it with me on holiday. So, yes, from experience I know toys can be a source of comfort for children. And I think with Fisher-Price toys, the fact they adapt as your child grows and develops, and it’s something that they can play with for years, that joy and comfort can stay them for a long time, as well as helping them to reach their next milestone.
Many of the Fisher-Price toys that are being donated as part of Make Theirs Magic have been developed with Early Childhood development experts at the Fisher-Price play Lab to ensure the toys help with early years development. Why is this important?
G: I love that Fisher-Price Play Lab are donating so many of their toys that are beneficial for children’s early childhood development. It’s so reassuring to know that over in the US, in the Fisher-Price Play Lab, these toys have all been researched and created by their early childhood development experts. All the expertise that’s gone into making each toy, makes it so much more than just a toy. As a parent, if you can give your child a toy and you know is beneficial for them and they’re playing with something that supports them reaching their milestones, that is a really great thing.
As a mother, is it reassuring to you to know that Fisher-Price toys go through such a rigorous process of development at their Play Lab?
G: Yes, it’s really reassuring to know that the toys have been created by experts and the research and development at the Play Lab is so thorough, because then you know for sure that what you’re giving your child is beneficial for them. It’s almost like, I mean it sounds ridiculous, but giving Mia fruit for her breakfast, is a small win for me. I think yeah, she’s being fed but it’s good for her, and in the same vein, with Fisher-Price toys, children are playing but it’s also good for them. So, you kind of give yourself a little parent tick, in that, you know what, I can’t be with her all the time, but when I’m not with her and she’s playing with Fisher-Price toys, she’s still learning and developing.
Fisher-Price toys are not just for Christmas, because as a child grows the toy adapts and grows with them to help them reach their next developmental milestone, what do you think of this?
G: I think it’s great that the Fisher-Price toys grow with your child throughout their development. First of all, you know, it’s cost efficient! If you can get your child one of their toys that’s going to be with them for years, that’s a bonus, because everyone knows when you buy baby clothes, they wear them for three or so weeks and then they grow out of it, so with their toys, if you can sustain them for longer, I think that’s brilliant. Also the attachment your child will have to that toy will build up over time and that’s a god thing for many reasons. Not forgetting Fisher-price toys are built to last, so are something that can be passed down if you have younger siblings, which is another bonus. It’s a win-win.
What is Christmas going to be like for you this year?
G: This Christmas we’re at my Mum’s on Christmas Day, which I love, and then hopefully we’ll get to go Spain between Christmas and New Year to see Gorka’s family, because Mia’s got her Abuelo and Abuela out there, Nana and Gran Gran here. So yes, just a good old traditional family Christmas all-round really. I can’t wait to be honest – too much food and not enough sleep, but you know, that’s what we all love about Christmas!
Are you going to take a well-deserved break over the festive period, or do you plan to do some work as well?
G: I will definitely take a break over Christmas. My last day at work is the 22 December and then I go back in after the New Year. For me it’s really important to take a break, even if that means just sitting on the couch eating chocolate over Christmas, it’s fine. I just think quality time with your family is a must and I don’t think there’s a better time to do it than at Christmas really. Even if it’s cold and snowy everyone seems to be in a good mood and Christmas is definitely my favourite time of the year.
Is Christmas a big deal for you in your household and who gets the most excited?
G: It’s definitely a big family occasion for us at Christmas. We’re quite a big family, my sister has three children, she’s married to an Italian, so he’s got about 17 cousins, so it’s a huge, huge deal. It’s probably myself and my sister who get the most excited and Gorka my fiancé and Rob my sister’s husband probably get the most fed up and annoyed because I’m one of them whereby I’ll wake up and go ‘Gorka, it’s Christmas Day, let’s get up!’ And he’s like ‘It’s 5 o’clock, come on! And I’m like ‘no, let’s go and open all the gifts!’ So yeah, definitely me and my sister Nina get the most excited.
Do you have any Christmas traditions?
G: We have a tradition where every year I have to cut the Christmas pudding. I’ve done this since I was about four years old, I used to do it with my grandma. I don’t actually like Christmas pudding – my mum has to get a Vienetta chocolate ice cream for me! – but I still have to light it and I have to cut it. We’ve actually got pictures of me from aged 3 or 4 onwards holding a knife with a family member panicking holding it as well. We’ve kept that tradition going and I always get to cut the Christmas pudding.
What are your earliest memories of Christmas?
G: A vivid childhood memory for me is on Christmas Day at my grandma’s. We used to go every single year and she used to put this emergency pop-up table in a little room in a house and we’d all be on different sized chairs. I remember one year we had to bring garden chairs round to sit on, but it was just full of family, full of fun watching Only Fools and Horses while grandad fell asleep with a Christmas hat on! Nothing too flash or fancy, just everyone I cared about in the same room eating, drinking and being merry. What’s not to love about that?
How has Christmas changed since becoming a mum?
G: Since being a mum Christmas has got the excitement all over again. Before Mia came along it was still great, but as an adult, you kind of know more about Christmas so you look forward to a big family meal but it’s kind of like just going round someone’s house for a Sunday dinner. But now with Mia around, the excitement is there, the build up there, Christmas is just so so wonderful. I love leaving the carrot out for Rudolph and a mince pie for Father Christmas, so it kind of like being a child all over again really.
Is Mia in a nativity play this year and if so, will you be sharing any acting tips with her?
G: She’s not doing a nativity this year, she’s at pre-school and there’s nothing planned, but next year when she goes to school, I would imagine she will be doing a nativity of some sort. I would love to say I’d help her out with acting tips, but I think I was like donkey three or something like that in our nativity, I kind of just had to stand there with these fake ears and I think I just looked at my mum and dad the whole time with my finger in my mouth! If it’s a dancing show though, I’m sure she’d be great at that because obviously she’s got a dad for dancing!
What’s top of your Christmas Wishlist this year?
G: It is so cheesy and so corny, but I say it every single year. On Christmas Day, I say, please for the rest of this year, just health and happiness for myself and my family, that’s all I want. Health, happiness and safety. We’ve said that every single year on Christmas Day for a long time.
Do you or Gorka also like playing with the toys that Mia receives from her family?
G: I think every parent at Christmas secretly gets toys that they can play with! Anything to do with hair and things like that, I will definitely be doing because I need to learn how to French plait. So yes, we will definitely be getting involved in the toys, and I think our dogs Norman and Ollie will probably do their bit by chewing up all the wrapping paper.
Do you have any good Christmas hacks that you can share?
G: A good Christmas hack – make your own wrapping paper. It’s cheaper, more fun, bonding time with your child, and something to be proud of on Christmas Eve when you see it there under the tree thinking that’s my work of art.
You’ve been incredibly supportive of Gorka and Helen, how are you seeing them on the show?
Gorka and Helen have been amazing so far this year I’m so so proud of them. Helen is just wonderful, she’s lovely, Mia absolutely loves them, although she does like Will Mellor as well, she’s got little crush on Will Mellor. But yes, I just I’m fingers crossed for everything for the final, I can’t wait to see them, and I’ll be going down to support them. I think when Strictly starts, it’s the countdown to Christmas, especially in our household.
Does Mia like seeing her dad on the TV?
G: Mia love’s seeing her dad on telly. She does miss him, but we’re lucky though in this day and age that we’ve got FaceTime and Zoom, so he calls every day, every hour of every day. She loves seeing him on telly and she will definitely be a little dancer herself I think, the number of times we’ve had to re-watch the dances, I would say even I know the routines by now actually!
Could this be your last Christmas as a fiancée?
G: It could be my last Christmas as a fiancé, yes. We have spoken about getting married a few times, talking about what we want to do. Half the time we say should just go to registry office and do it there, and then it’s done, then have a big party. I think that will be the route we will go down. Two of my friends are getting married, one at Christmas and one next year and seeing the stress they have gone through planning a big wedding, I’m kind of like, no, I’ll do a little small wedding and throw a big party afterwards.
CREDIT: “Family Action Make Theirs Magic Campaign supported by the Fisher-Price Play Lab”.
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