Saturday, 1 June 2013

Our sister travel blog Free Range Explorers

We proudly present FREE RANGE EXPLORERS!!! Ta ta da daaaaaaa!!

It's our new blog, dedicated to all things travel and to our personal adventures of course, it features Martin's amazing photos (you've not seen many here unfortunately) and it will include travel tips and reviews as well as interviews with interesting people we meet along the way.

Find it here and ENJOY!

Friday, 31 May 2013

Food for thought

I was recently contacted by Save the Children about a new report looking at the connection between malnutrition and literacy/ability to learn.
As you all know my children are home educated, we are lucky enough to have enough food to eat and to live in a country where there are many choices regarding education. It is still shocking to me to know that many children are not fit enough physically, due to malnutrition, to be able to learn as effectively as my own. Every child has the right to enough food to be able to make the most of the wonderful world of learning we have around us, regardless of where they are in the world.

The results of the report are very worrying, here are some numbers:

And this is the story of Nguoth (from a Save the Children case study):

Although he is 12 years old, Nguoth looks about eight. Like many students in his class, for two years he had to drop out of school because there wasn’t enough food at home. He still misses school at least two days a week to go into the bush to find wild fruits. On the other days, he comes to school hungry. In 2010, the UN declared Akobo, the region where Nguoth lives, the ‘the hungriest place on earth’. Drought, floods and inter-communal conflict have left a third of children malnourished.

Malnutrition is an underlying cause of 2.3 million children’s deaths a year, and for millions more children contributes to failures in cognitive and educational development. As a result, the life chances of millions of children around the world are devastated. The long-term consequences of child malnutrition for health and resilience to disease are well established. But new evidence commissioned by Save the Children, for the first time identifies the impact of malnutrition on educational outcomes across a range of countries.

So how can we help? Save the Children have many suggestions!
  • Sign up to ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF: sign the petition here
  • Attend the rally in Hyde Park on the 8th June, more info here
  • Support Save the Children in any way you can
  • Watch the video by Lindsay Atkin and share it 

Monday, 6 May 2013

Beltane Festival at Celtic Harmony in Hertfordshire

Today is a holiday in England and luckily the weather is a gorgeous 22 degrees and sunny! We headed towards Hertford to attend a Beltane Festival at the Iron Age education centre Celtic Harmony.

Beltane is the Gaelic May Day celebration. It marks the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around the bonfire, or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. Doors, windows, byres and the cattle themselves would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire. In parts of Ireland, people would make a May Bush; a thorn bush decorated with flowers, ribbons and bright shells. Holy wells were also visited, while Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Many of these customs were part of May Day or Midsummer festivals in other parts of Great Britain and Europe.

Isaac was not very well so we did not stay for the music, dance and ritual (this evening), I was looking forward to it but I guess these things can wait till the boys are older. They enjoyed the time there and we liked using Celtic money instead of pounds. This is what we did today:

Walking into the site you can see the chieftain roundhouse on the right

First stop: sand pit

The play area was nice

The boys were captivated by the ravens

Campfire and basket weaving

They spent ages trying to send the smoke the other way!

We loosely followed a trail around the woods, I have to say it was
one of the best we've done, magical!

The event was sold out but not over booked and the atmosphere
was relaxed and very friendly

Exploring the woods

We were very excited by this but never found him... there was a storyteller
in that direction though

Our last activity, Reuben tried archery, he was very good but such a
perfectionist! He got upset he hit the target but the arrow didn't stick,
I heard him say to the instructor: I only have little arms...

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Stockwood Discovery Park

My mum sent us a list of places to visit that the boys would enjoy, so we are making our way down the list! Today was grey and miserable (to start with) but at least it wasn't snowing or raining so we decided to go out. I didn't think I could cope with another day indoors being forced to play Lego Batman for hours (I enjoy a good game but not a whole day of it...).

The Stockwood discovery centre in Luton displays collections of: Local Social History, Archaeology, Geology and Rural Crafts. It also houses the biggest horse-drawn carriages collection in Europe, the Mossman Collection. We all like a bit of archaeology and the carriages intrigued me!
The external part of the Discovery Centre features extensive gardens. The Period Gardens, ranging from the Elizabethan Knot Garden to the Dig for Victory Garden, were created by Luton Council from the mid 1980s onwards. Re-development work in 2007 included the building of the Sensory Garden, World Garden and Medicinal Garden. It is one of the few places in the country where the work of acclaimed artist Ian Hamilton Finlay can be seen on permanent display. Improvement Garden is a classical garden in which Ian Hamilton Finlay sculptures are an integral part of the landscape.

As soon as we got there the boys wanted to head to the play area, this was very well done in the sense that I saw not one garish colour in sight! No painted metal or plastic, wonderful! Lots of things to climb on and explore. All this was enormously helped by the fact that Luton airport is very close and we saw a good few planes seemingly landing on our heads, we weirdly all loved that!

From the play area you seamlessly drift into the gardens which were truly beautiful and very well kept, there is a small bee centre, greenhouses and lots to explore including unexpected statues (Isaac at one point started screaming SEA TURTLE!! He was right) and small mazes.

There are two museum bits, one at the end of the garden (complete with fossils and human remains) which charters the geological makeup and human occupation of the area. And the galleries near the entrance with all the carriages. The boys liked it all as usual, especially the fossil rooms and the archaeological dig pit.

We tried lunch at the cafe, very average, next time we will just use the cafe for coffee and cake but it was a good place to rest from the cold and as soon as we had finished eating the sun came out. So off we went again to the play area where the boys made some friends. All played happily until Isaac pretty much fell asleep in my arms. A good day out (we were there till nearly 4) and the entrance is free.

The play area

One groovy spider web climbing wall

The heritage gardens

I love this pictrure, you can make out Reuben's reflection taking it

We love an excavation pit

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Reuben's dreadlocks

In my opinion Reuben has gorgeous hair, he loves it long and it makes him instantly recognisable.

We have had a bit of a problem lately though as he doesn't like to have it brushed, I used to put a lot of conditioner on it once a week and brush it in the bath but he has now refused to be subjected to this! The result of course has been a lot of knotted hair at the back. After much discussing the issue, absolute non concern on his part and much concern on mine (dirty hair, nits we might not be able to get rid of, it looks a mess and he might be teased, etc etc) he seemed happy to consider dreadlocks. I have never had them myself so off I went to research dread maintanance (with much help from my friend H) and they seemed harder to look after than regular hair. I wanted to avoid using products at this stage so I just separated the locks in the morning, he was ok with this! It still looked a horrible mess... As you can see below all that happened is that the tangles came together in long tangles and it looked nothing like dreads anyway.

A mess of matted locks
I even started to question my motives, he doesn't care why do I? NIts? They've never had them. Am I bothered about what people think? To an extent yes I am... but that's my problem, and I just like the boys to look nice. What does nice mean? According to what culture and to whose ideas? Do I have a cool hippie skater/surfer child look in mind? Oh dear, yes I think I do! So is there any way we can come to a good solution? I found it this morning while he was in the bath, he is still adamant that he wants it long and not brushed (he has two long baths a day so I'm not concerned with cleanliness) so I will still continue to separate the locks in the morning and if it gets too matted I will do what I did today: I took the scissors to it! Not to cut it but to separate the locks even further so he doesn't get the matted messy look, just lots of small thin locks. I think we are both ok with it now. Most people probably think this is madness, just hold him still and brush the damn hair! But I feel very respectful of his wishes, after all it is his head!

Our "good solution": lots of smaller locks

Monday, 25 February 2013

Space2play in Hitchin

As the weather continues to be grotty (I love England dearly but would not complain if I was magically transported to a Caribbean beach right now) our plan to explore local parks and playgrounds is on hold. But the boys really need to run around, climb and generally have a lot of space to explore so we remembered this indoors play centre we visited last year.

I am not really a huge fan of these places as all the garish colours and plastic get to me. Without mentioning the terrible music... But the boys really like them so today I made an effort and actually it was ok.

Some indoors play centres we have been to have a terrible vibe (that's you Hobby Horse in Syston) and the boys always end up hurt and upset, and some have a good one (Oak farm park). Luckily space2play was in this last group, we went from around 10.30 to 1 so avoided all the "big kids", Reuben is getting a bit old for toddler oriented things but we were happy to find some older children there today and I wondered if they were home educated too.

So all was well then after about an hour, while we were sitting down having a drink, the weirdest thing happened: the music got really loud, millions of bubbles suddenly appeared from nowhere and someone in a lion costume materialised and started to dance!!! Reuben thought it was hilarious and Isaac was terrified. But at least now we are prepared if we go again.

Before we left Reuben had a go on the go karts, he looks so small but at 5 he can do a lot more on his own that I imagine.
So I'm still not convinced about these places but the boys now want to go every week!!

Spot the Reuben

Bubbles, lots of them

Weird lion thingy, excuse the blurred photo


And motorbikes!

Another blurred photo but I had an excuse here, he was going VERY fast

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Wrest Park in Bedfordshire

We are slowly exploring the area around Hitchin and the websites of the National Trust and English Heritage were amongst the first resources I used, I came across this amazing place (a 25 minute drive from us) and we had to visit! Wrest Park is a country estate located near Silsoe, Bedfordshire. It comprises Wrest Park, a Grade I listed country house, and Wrest Park Gardens, also Grade I listed, formal gardens surrounding the mansion.

Before you even go in there's lots to do, the very very cute wooden playground is free to use (but it was very busy today as it's a half term holiday) and the cafe and shop are nice. I made a quick mental calculation and worked out that joining English Heritage as a member would save me a lot of money if the boys like the place and we want to come back, in the end that is what I did as the entry fee is £8 per adult and as a member I paid £47 for 15 months allowing me entrance to any EH property.

And the boys loved the place, absolutely loved it! Reuben made lots of friends and they all played happily for 4 hours!!

You can spot the mansion in the background

There was a layer of ice on the pond and the boys had fun cracking it


Hide and seek in the garden

Running towards the Pavilion

Lots of slopes to run up and down on

Chinese bridge

The Chinese temple

Cracking the ice

Monday, 11 February 2013

Snow in Hitchin

Since my last post we have once more turned nomadic and we are now in Hitchin, Hertfordshire! This is where my mother is from and we are currently taking advantage of the fact that one of her properties is empty, well... It's not empty anymore!

This morning we woke up to a very white world and of course the boys were in the garden until their feet froze and clothes were soaking wet, they eventually retreated to ask for porridge, toast and tomato soup, all together!!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Who initiates what

After a really interesting Facebook conversation last night (sorry can't link it's a closed group) about who initiates what activity within an unschooling framework, I thought I'd really take notice today of what happens in a normal day for us and where the ideas come from.

We had a couple of things planned for today, either swimming or taking the skateboard to the park, both our (the parents) ideas which we suggested to the boys and they were happy with. This was yesterday... Isaac burnt his hand last night (luckily this only resulted in a small blister this morning) on the stove so we had a rather sleepless fidgety night (we all sleep together). So this morning I didn't feel up to taking them swimming but I didn't say anything, I waited to see what they wanted to do.
As we got up (all at different times...) I went about my normal tasks of getting breakfast, catching up with emails and tidying up. During the morning the boys made some paper aliens, played with their railway track, the garage and cars and the waterplay canals, played with dolls and dinosaurs in the bath, went outside to fly their aliens, dressed up and played with a board game. It is now 12.20 and they are having a sandwich while watching something on the ipad. All this was completely self initiated, I did not suggest or prepare anything for them, they often asked me for help or just to play with them and I am completely available to them when they do but I find that if I interfere or show them things unprompted they do not like it! So respect is the name of the game.

After lunch as the sun is shining I will suggest the park again and if we all agree that's where we'll go, I think that the suggestion is motivated by the fact that I personally wish to go out for a walk, if the boys don't want to come I can always ask Martin (who luckily is at home a lot now) to look after them so I can go out for a stroll. As the boys are generally exposed to a lot of information, people and materials it is very rare that I feel there is something they "should know" and introduce it unprompted. A simple visit to a museum can produce months of activities, and they ask to go to museums a lot. The world is so full of wonderful things for them to explore and learn about, I try to be agenda-free when it comes to their education as I trust that they are acquiring the knowledge they need. We all love to travel and plan to do more in the future so that will provide with us all with even more learning opportunities.

Ipad, fairies and swimwear

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Responding to criticism

Recent comments I have received regarding my parenting (and I'm always surprised when I get them as I think we are completely ok and why would anyone care...) include: 1. Children need guidance as they don't know anything 2. You can't let them do what they want 3. You have to cook for them at set times and they have to eat what you make, you can't run after them making them stuff when they want it, and 4. This type of parenting means more work for you as you never get a break.

Ok, I've been thinking about it all and without getting upset I think that:

1. I like to take the point of view that children know quite a lot about themselves, about what they like/dislike and about being hungry/thirsty/tired/whatever. I can't imagine that the human race would have survived if we knew nothing and needed to be taught everything, who taught the first humans then? I think children are excellent observers, little scientists who love to experiment until they find a good outcome and they do not need me to tell them if they are hot or cold. What they do need me for is to give them unconditional love and support, and lots of help when they need it, they also need me to be a happy fulfilled person, not a dictator obsessed with power struggles.

2. Why not? What are all these terrible things that they cannot do? In our family we like to live by consent so if one family member wants to do something that would cause problems to someone else we talk about it and try to find common good solutions. In this environment it is very rare that the boys engage in harmful activities (to us or themselves), they can make a big mess but if they have spent the afternoon exploring the properties of water who cares if the kitchen is flooded! We can clean up the mess together afterwards.

3. This to me seems rather disrespectful and maybe practical if you are feeding an army. We do prepare breakfast, lunch and supper and the boys choose what they want to eat, if I'm cooking for 30 minutes it makes no difference if I'm making one dish or three (and Martin is a former chef so he can whip up more in less time), but if the boys are not hungry it is not a problem, they can eat later. Reuben is very often hungry in the evening so I do find myself making spaghetti and butter at 10pm! As far as they can (as they are only young) they get their own food and they are free to raid the kitchen whenever they are hungry. This has meant that the boys are in touch with their body and their needs, it has not meant that they only eat chocolate (we have it freely available in the house), in fact they have quite a varied diet.

4. Having been a teacher for 10 years I know that engaging in power struggles and living by control instead of consent is very hard work indeed! A lot more than how we currently live. It may be inconvenient to cook at 10pm but I never thought that being a parent would mean that life would be convenient for me, it wasn't when I was working all the hours of the day, it wasn't convenient to get up at the crack of dawn to go to the British Council and lesson plan for the day. I got paid so is that ok then? Do I not get paid in love and all the satisfactions that come with having children? So I'm happy to be inconvenienced!!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Our last week in Italy

We are finally back home in Leicestershire still a little dazed from all the train travel. A lot happened in the week we spent on the coast including Reuben swimming in the sea in January, much skateboarding, broken water heaters and a trip to the local hospital... The train journey back was ok and this time we got a regular taxi in Paris and had no problems whatsoever. Here are some of the highlights!

Isaac on the beach in Sabaudia, on the Italian coast about 90 minutes south
of Rome, my father has a house there which he kindly lets us use.

Beach hut closed for the winter, it was a lot of fun exploring at this time of
year, this stretch of coast gets VERY busy in the Summer

There's a lot of debris and abandoned things on this stretch of beach

Coats and jackets are quickly discarded

A cleaner beach in S.Felice Circeo, the town next to ours.

Sand angels

The playground in S.Felice, our favourite in the area, at lunch time it was

Skateboarding lessons in the S.Felice playground

Reuben really really wants a motorbike

He borrowed this battery charged bike from my stepsister's son,
he rode it into town, zoomed around the square then it ran out
of charge so we had to push it all the way back to the house!

More skateboarding lessons in Sabaudia's national park

The national park is a wonderful place for children, all sorts of interesting
things can be found if you walk around

Me and Isaac take a walk through the woods in the national

Actually I take a walk in the woods... Isaac enjoys being pushed in the
monster buggy

Our last day in Sabaudia and we take advantage of the
beaches again

The boys find lots of abandoned toys behind a hut

Pose for daddy

Isaac found some of my father's heart medication in one of the drawers
(my father had forgotten it there so did not tell us about it), not
knowing if he had swallowed any we took him to hospital in a rush. The
staff took the situation very seriously and we were there for 5 hours while
he was continuously monitored, luckily he showed no worrying symptoms
so we took him home. Here is is watching telly in the pediatric waiting room.

The hospital was in a terrible state, some of the machinery
was not working, the building was dilapidated in parts and
a lot of the signs were either so old you could not read them
or hand written

Waiting for our train in the Eurostar lounge in Paris

Gare du Nord

More skateboarding while waiting for the Eurostar

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