This year we’ve once again participated in the Potatoes for Schools – Grow Your Own Potatoes project, whereby they send you potatoes and instructions, and you have to grow your own. As part of the project you’re supposed to keep an eye on your potatoes, soil them up from time to time, and generally follow their progress. We measured them intermittently, and made sure it was slug free and so on, but we did fail miserably at the seed potato – the one you’re supposed to plant in such a way that you can actually see the root system. I know we planted it in a jar, I just have no idea what became of the jar! We did, however, do the same with a pumpkin seed and a sunflower, and were able to watch their root systems stretch towards water. It was all very interesting. But back to the potatoes…
I watched you the other day, sitting high up in a tree, watching the world go by. Actually, high up in a tree isn’t an unusual place to find my daughters when there is a tree around. I watched you scamper down again, skirts billowing, underwear flashing to the world, newly ripped tights revealing a red patch of scratched skin you didn’t even notice.
I need to tell you something about girls who climb trees:
Actually, there isn’t a quote I know of about girls who climb trees. There’s something about girls who sit on tables – apparently they don’t find husbands, or so we were told, growing up.
But there’s nothing about girls who climb trees, because girls aren’t supposed to be interested in that.
So let me tell you a few things about girls who climb trees:
(Yes, girls can possibly be substituted for boys too, and no, probably doesn’t apply to every girl, but I’m really thinking about my girls as I write this, so the generalisation of ‘girls’ will do!)Read more: Girls Who Climb Trees
Over the summer we bought a wonderful little book called the Tree Detectives’ Handbook with which the children are able to identify common British trees by their leaves, fruit and flowers.
Each two-page set has a species of trees, and each set contains vital statistics for the tree in question, including height, location, and fruiting and flowering times. The book contains fifty trees and common shrubs found in the UK including identification tips and detailed illustrations for every tree. There are also interactive boxes where little explorers can record their sightings.
Just after the recent furore about school holidays, I actually took the children to France for a much anticipated holiday. We booked it back in December, in the doldrums of winter, about to move house, and in the midst of a lot of personal upheaval. I figured if we survived to May, that would be a great way to celebrate making it to this point.
We are home educators anyway, so it being term time made no major difference to our lives but given the whole ‘term time holiday’s debacle, what children learn on holiday was on my mind a lot. Here are some of the things that stood out to me most on our trip:
1) Exposure to new things
Children see new things when they go to a new place. For example, they saw the impressive wind turbines that dot the countryside in the north of France. These gargantuan structures prompted a discussion about fossil fuels and renewable energies among other things. Not something we discus on a random Tuesday in May.
2) They learn non verbal communication
On our first day in France, it poured with rain, so we spent most of the day in the heated pool on site. Six year old Ameli picked up a little friend, an 8-year old French girl called Juliet, and for two days, these two were inseparable. They had so much fun together. They barely spoke a word of the same language. They very quickly learned that they could communicate by gesturing, by describing, by pointing. By the end of the second day, when Juliet was leaving, they had even picked up a few words from each other.
3) They learn new language skills
Which leads me here. They also learn new language skills on holiday. Whether that’s a different dialect in a different part of the country, or a new language, Ameli’s French improved significantly over the course of 7 days. (Considering she could say Bon’jour and Merci on arrival in France.) Ameli found the inability to understand and communicate frustrating, so what did she do? Downloaded an app that translated for her. That came in really handy at times, when we had to ask full sentences to people who didn’t understand any English (there was a fuel shortage while we were there.)
4) They learn about budgeting
We had been in two minds about actually going on this holiday, even though it was fully paid up front, because there are always expenses on holiday and having just moved house, we have very little spare money floating about. As a result we went in with a very tight budget of €30 a day for food and entertainment – and between 3 people, that’s not a whole lot of money, really. So we had to budget and the children had to make decisions and prioritise. After I’d bought our meals every day, we would look at how much was left. Having spent the first two days in the pools and taken some food from home we had a little ‘extra’ money, so our budget went up to just under €40 a day, which suddenly seemed so much more. On the day we went tenpin bowling we had a little less, so didn’t buy ice creams. On the day we went on the canoe and on the motorised race track we had a meat free (but local tomatoes, local mozzarella and fresh baguettes!) dinner, on the day we went to Parc Asterix we were stung a little by tolls we hadn’t realised we were going to have to pay, so only had one ice cream and a tiny souvenir each. But we still got to do all those things, and we enjoyed them all – we just had to work together and decide together what to spend each day’s money on.
5) They learn about planning & cartography
If you want a six year old to learn to read a map, draw an X over the ice cream shop and let her lead the way.
Or sit down together with a big map and find out what’s in the area. We stayed in a really lovely resort. Many people were there and didn’t leave for their entire stay. Others hopped on the day trip bus to Disneyland or to Paris. Those weren’t in our plan for the week – or our budget – so we arrived in Berny-Rivière and unlike me, we had no plan. I had no idea what was around us. So we picked up a map of the commune (county) and poured over it together, making note of big towns, landmarks and tourist highlights. We chose the closest three and decided to visit them. We chose two in the same direction for one day, then another in the opposite direction for a day where we also wanted to attend an event on site. Planning. Together. That’s a valuable life skill.
6) They learn about different fauna and flora
A few days before leaving home we picked up a book about popular British trees in the Poundshop (like a Dollarstore or the Reject Shop). Ameli decided to take it with and see if we could find any of the French trees in our book (we did). But we also discovered trees that aren’t found in the UK. (Or at least not in our book.)
7) They learn their limitations
Aside from the fact that (at least this part of) France is much more relaxed about Health and Safety, and Aviya was allowed to go down a water slide she has never been allowed on in the UK holiday parks, she discovered very quickly which ones she liked and which ones she wasn’t ready for. We’ve been in a park in the UK where they didn’t allow her to go down the water slide and she spent the entire week sulking about it. On the contrary, in this park she was allowed to go down the slide with parental supervision, and she only did it one time, deciding it was too fast for her and she didn’t like it. That was the end of that conversation and it was her choice.
8) They experience a bit of history
Remember the three towns we decided to go to? One was called Soissons – I’ve never heard of it, but what we did learn was that it was actually the capital before Paris was! The girls learnt all about Clovis and his wife Clotilda and the Vase of Soissons and it’s legend. At ages 6 and 4 they know more about French history than I did before this trip (although if you’ve been watching Vikings on Amazon Prime it’s a great place to visit as it must hail from roughly the same period!) We climbed up a castle turret called Septmont. We discovered a magical chateau in Pierrefonds. History, all around us, alive and basked in Spring sunshine. In the future we will return again, because there is so much World War 1 history in that part of the world too.
9) They unplug
Having no wifi for a week meant no TV for a week either (since we only watch Netflix or Amazon). It also meant no computer games, no phone games, no ‘white noise’ from having the radio on. It meant reconnecting with nature, with each other. It even meant reading to themselves when they wanted some down time.
10) Family Time
Of course it’s entirely possible to have a holiday with not a single one of these things happening. You could spend all holiday on the park by the pool if that’s your thing. There were families that did just that. They had board games, books, picnics. They swam together, ate leisurely meals, played games. They had good, quality, family bonding time. And that is valuable for a happy life.
Bonus: And as an added bonus, for me, my step counter counted almost double the amount of steps I do at home every day of the week we were away! So there’s a health benefit to throw in there too!
Are holidays of any value to children? Shouldn’t they be in school instead? Or learning at least? I don’t know – I think there are many things children learn on holiday.
After more than ten days of being sick, and sick and tired of being sick, and thoroughly cooped up, I saw the sunshine today as an excuse to layer up and head outdoors. We went to the local Garlic Farm, and after warming up on some hot chocolate, the girls went for a run around on the grass. They discovered horse hoof imprints in the grass, and decided we had to follow them, so off we went, over the grass, down a muddy track, and through the forest, following the hoof marks.
I was ambling behind with Avi (3) and Ameli went off ahead, where I found her high up in a tree, singing to herself a song about how trees should be respected, even though they are not human.
Of course Avi wanted up in the tree too, and I wasn’t going to stand her in way.
Part of the reason I think it’s so important for children to get outdoors, and to spend time in nature, and to run wild in the forest is because they learn how to manage risk. They walk on a log and slip off, they learn. They skid on mud and end up covered in it, they learn. The concept of slippery surface + sudden stops = muddy me is so much easier and less devastating to learn as a 3 year old, than as an 18 year old, fresh behind the wheel of a car.
It’s all about risk management, and it’s important for them to learn in a safe environment. And we are that safe environment.
Some time during last summer, we booked a home ed visit for one of the Pizza Express School Visit sessions, and though we had to wait several months for our session, we arrived on the agreed date and had a fantastic and informative visit.
Pizza Express School Visits offer groups the opportunity to not only see how pizza is made but also to get hands on and involved. For some children this is a brand new experience, of course, and for our group there was a mix of abilities too, considering our participants ranged from about 3 – 14 years.
Obviously the details may differ from visit to visit, but for ours on the Isle of Wight, the children were decked out in chefs hats and aprons, and given loads of flour to flour their work surface – a set of tables in the restaurant. Each child was given a ball of dough. The chef – whose name I sadly can’t remember – was amazing. He had such great rapport with the children, and was engaging and informative and did a fantastic job of managing such a range of ages.
They spoke about the different steps they went through, the chef demonstrated, and the children were able to take their own dough ball, and knead it, twist it and shape it into circles – they even got to toss it up into the air. Read more: Pizza Express School Visits & Home Educators
This year we are making a big deal out of Advent. I am totally overcompensating for the fact that there are no cousins, no nieces and nephews, no aunts, no uncles and no grandparents around, and on as tight a budget as possible, I’m trying to make every day of Advent special in one way or another.
In order to do this we are starting each day with a toy advent calendar, a book advent calendar and an activity advent calendar. We try to marry up the book advent with the activity advent, so if the characters in the book make biscuits, we make biscuits. If they decorate their tree, we decorate ours, and so on. Sometimes the link is only a tenuous one, but a link none the less. It’s more about the togetherness than the actual activity really.
To make our activity calendar as fun as possible, I start by making a list of everything that’s happening around us. Friends are having a Christmas party? There’s a community candlelight walk? There’s a community carols by candlelight? The cathedral in town has a Christingle ceremony? Christmas market? Santa cruises? All these things go on my list and in the calendar. That way I can pre-buy tickets to make December a little less costly. I can also look through the Christmas books and see which stories would marry up with what’s happening in the area, then I number those books with the date of the activity – A ‘Jack Frost’ matinee show at the theatre on 10 December would mean I label the Jack Frost book Number 10.
It’s a fair bit of work and planning and it’s a good idea to have backups like craft activities in case weather, sickness or just not feeling like it change the plans.
- Act out the nativity story with a nativity scene
- Attend “Carols by Candlelight”
- Attend a Christmas concert
- Attend a Christmas parade (or watch on TV/YouTube)
- Attend a Christmas market
- Attend Christmas Eve Mass at a beautiful cathedral
- Build a snowman together
- Bundle up and go on a sleigh ride
- Buy bargain events and activities on websites like Wowcher, Groupon, Living Social, and Little Bird
- Buy easy and ready made craft kits – for example Lidl and various Pound shops have small Christmas craft kits, and Baker Ross too
- Clean out your toy boxes and donate good quality items to a charity shop
- Colour a Christmas picture or make a Christmas craft
- Create Christmas messages and videos using Portable North Pole – one for the day you post a letter to Santa, one for a few days before Christmas, one for Christmas eve… loads to choose from
- Cut or pick up a Christmas tree
- Deck the halls with boughs of holly
- Decorate a gingerbread house
- Decorate a wreath together
- Decorate the tree
- Donate tinned food to a food bank
- Dress up for dinner one night
- Drive around to look at the Christmas lights
- Fill a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child or similar shoe box appeal
- Go ice skating
- Go sledding
- Go to a Christingle church service
- Go to a tree-lighting ceremony
- Hang some mistletoe and give out kisses
- Have a candle lit bubble bath and pretend it’s snow!
- Have a Christmas party
- Have a snowball fight
- Have hot chocolate with candy canes
- Invite a few friends over for a cookie decorating party
- Make (or draw inside) thank you cards that are ready to be filled out after Christmas
- Make a magic elf door
- Make a snow scene with fake snow and ice crystals
- Make a family bed by the Christmas tree
- Make a handmade Christmas ornament for someone else in the family
- Make a paper garland to hang on the tree, over a door, or in the kids bedroom
- Make a photo album of your year and look through it together
- Make a silly Christmas message to send out on Christmas day
- Make Christmas cookies
- Make Christmas trees out of ice cream cones, green frosting, and sprinkles
- Make eggnog
- Make gingerbread cookies
- Make glitter snow globes out of baby food jars
- Make hot apple cider
- Make paper crowns and talk about the wise men and the gifts they brought Jesus
- Make paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling
- Make play dough snowmen
- Make sand angels
- Make snow angel biscuits
- Make sugar crystals on a stick
- Make thumbprint snowmen
- Make reindeer food
- Participate in a local toy drive
- Read the Christmas story in the Bible
- Roast chestnuts
- Roast marshmallows inside over a flame
- Subscribe to Weekend Box (Code for free box: Luschka690) or Toucan Box (Code for free box: A1014) for the winter months. First box is free if you use those links and codes
- Visit a local farm or donkey sanctuary and talk about Mary and Joseph in the stable
- Visit Santa for photos
- Visit NORAD to track Santa
- Visit a Santa Grotto
- Watch the Nutcracker Ballet
- Write (or colour on) Christmas cards
- Write letters to Santa
We’re participating in the Bostik Bloggers campaign for a few months, which means every month a box of crafty goodies arrives in the post and my children’s faces light up because they know what’s coming! This month the theme was ‘snow’, and in our box of tricks we received something that among the other Bostik Bloggers we didn’t know what to do with! It turns out that it’s actually a Hama Bead Mobile Ring but since we don’t have Hama Beads, we decided to make a different mobile out of it, featuring all sorts of wintery bits.
For this mobile we used:
- Hama Bead Mobile Ring
- Opalescent ribbon
- Polystyrene stars*
- A large foam snowflake*
- Wavy Trim Bias Binding in shades of blue and purple
- Glitter paint*
- Silver bead string*
- Bostik Foam Squares
- Christmas embellishments*
To start with, prepare all the parts – paint the stars and snowflake with the glitter paint and thread the ribbon through the holes on the mobile ring. You can determine your own pattern, but ideally stick with the one you start with. (So e.g. through the hole, to the left, across, or through the hole, across and through the hole on the opposite left etc) This creates a nice woven look, but also gives an area for things to hang from the centre of the mobile from.
Around the outside of the mobile ring, attach the sticky squares and attach Christmas- themed embellishments to each sticky pad. The pads work well here with a flat surface to attach to on each side. They peel easily too, so though a little tedious going all the way round, it works without hassle.
Select bias binding in different shades and tie to the woven ribbon on the ring, spreading it out so that they appear to hang randomly. I used three lengths, but feel free to add more.
Finally attach a giant snowflake to the centre, quite high up, and do the same for the stars.
I didn’t find the glue foam pads to work too well on the stars. Either my glitter paint was still a bit wet or there just was’t enough flat surface space, but the Bostik glue dabbed on then left till it was properly dry did the job.
Attach a string or more of the ribbon to the centre and sides of the ring to give the mobile something to hang off and hang the mobile somewhere that the light can catch the glitter – if it refracts the kids can pretend to catch falling snow! 😉
Marble art is a lot of fun, and if you use large enough sheets, you can use them for gift wrapping your Christmas presents. If you’re a little concerned about marbles with small children, then you can use non-toxic water beads instead. They do the job the same way, but if they are softer so they are a little more small-child-safe.
You will need:
- Marbles/water beads
- a large box, dish or roasting pan
Dip the marbles or water beads into paint and lay them down on paper.
Lift the sides of the tray or box and tilt it so that the marbles run around the page. Replace the beads as they require new paint, and fill the page with fun, bright colours.
Set aside to dry and soon you’ll have lovely coloured paper that you can use to wrap your Christmas presents.
You can also do this with glitter glue. It takes a while to dry, but it’s really pretty!
I’ll admit up front that I cheated with this craft and didn’t use real leaves. All the leaves, buttons and embellishments were provided in the craft kit from Bostik as part of the #BostikBloggers challenge, and we did a few Halloween crafts, but we also did two Autumn crafts (you can buy similar leaves here on Amazon*:
Autumn Carry Bag
For this craft you will need:
- A cotton bag
- Owl decal or other designs
There’s no real trick to creating a bag like this, except sitting down and doing it. Here are a few tips to help you though.
Depending on the glue you’re going to use, it could be useful to put a page of paper inside so that the glue doesn’t seep through sticking the two sides of the bag together.
Lay all your embellishments out without glue so that you can decide on the pattern, then glue everything in place.
Set aside for a few hours, to allow the glue to dry
Leafy Candle Holder
For this craft you will need:
- Glue Dots
- Glass Jar
- Tealight candle
This really couldn’t be simpler. Lay the leaves onto the glue dots, then stick them onto the glass jar. If you’re not using glue dots you’ll need to be sure to use a glue that is adhesive to glass.
Add a candle, then bask in the beauty of backlit autumn leaves.
We were sent a box of goodies for crafting with, including Bostik Micro Dots and Craft Glue.