Summer Nights Under Canvas

I am sat feeling incredibly itchy and uncomfortable, fairly covered in mosquito bites but with memories in my mind of a fantastic time camping out in the woods courtesy of Bushcraft Education.

We attended a family bushcraft event in Riddy woods in Cambridgeshire. I was somewhat nervous about it, Ry couldn’t get anymore time off work to attend with me so it was looking to just be me and the three children attending. In the end my dad decided that he was also going to come along. We arrived and walked the half an hour trek with all our camping stuff across the fields from the villiage hall where I had parked the car to the campsite in the woods. I use the term campsite fairly loosely. It was pretty basic as campsites go, not really any of your creature comforts, but there was was long drop toilet and makeshift pizza ovens and tarpaulin shelters and benches around the camp fire area. We arrived and pitched our tents, first hurdle achieved, I had managed to put the tent up while the older children kept the small one amused. I was yet to discover how small one would cope sleeping in the tent at all, we were over an hour from home, over half an hour from the car and I had no idea how he was going to sleep!

Our day went well, there was a competition to see which team could make a fire to toast their marshmallows using only one log, one match, an axe and a knife. There were three teams and two of them started out well but rushed the lighting so wasted their matches and didn’t manage to get their fires going. For me and my daughter, we took our time, during which I also left her too it as small was tired and needed a nap. I should explain here that I took him to the tent and he lay down with me, nursed to sleep and then had a decent size nap while I returned to continue the activity. He slept fine, better than usual actually! We lit our fire and managed to get it to take and last, we cooked not only our marshmallows but the other teams cooked their marshmallows as well, our fire burned well into the afternoon.

After lunch we were taught how to make kazoos, using wood, a knife, birch bark and string made from stinging nettles. As you can probably guess the whole experience involved a lot of handling sharp knives and axes, for me to not be able to hover over the older children as I was supervising small as well could have been quite nerve wracking for me but everyone was amazing and small thoroughly enjoyed his time in the woods where he played with clay and jumped around as well.

We made pizzas for our dinner in the pizza ovens that had been made, they were delicious, and we were able to have extra helpings which was fab, we all ate until we were full and sat around the fire drinking tea, making things out of clay and chatting until we decided it was time to get some sleep. And sleep we did. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience (sharing a tent with the 3 children felt a little bit claustrophobic as the older ones are wriggle bums quite used to having their own space) but generally it wasn’t all bad. Through the night we had some rain and when I woke needing the toilet I was worried I was going to get soaked. I needn’t have worried, what sounded torrential outside the tent in reality was no more than a fairly heavy drizzle and despite that the morning was looking to be fairly pleasant, 5 am and the birds were singing.

The second day was kick started with a breakfast of bacon and eggs cooked without pots and pans and then the activities began. We started with some tree identification using leaves and bark and looking at what different trees are used for. Followed by making whistles, again more sharp knife work. We had a lunch of more bacon and the children decided that this wasn’t enough and they tried to dig up some burdock to go with it but gave up as the clay based ground was too tough and hard to dig through. We did some more wood splitting and worked on fire lighting with flint and steels and friction fires. I was shown how to carve a spoon and gave it a good go using an axe and a knife (It was finished for me as small woke up from his nap and needed looking after) The children were able to make some clay faces and explore and play while I packed up the tents and got everything packed ready for the walk back to the car.

Small loved sleeping in the tent, he was sad to see me take it down and I am looking forward to camping out more with him now that I am feeling that bit more confident.

All in all it was a brilliant, fun and educational experience and one that wont be forgotten in a hurry. I would always recommend to anyone, just get out there. Explore and enjoy the outdoors. If you’re not sure, then pitch a tent in a garden and just try it out. There is so so much to learn!

A history field trip.

While schools across the country were breaking up and students were filing out of school gates ready to enjoy their six weeks of free time, we marked what would have been Js last ever day at primary school with a drive down to Kent. It was our first “Educational Field Trip” that we have done as a family. We have done holidays and trips that have included learning opportunities but this one was a weekend with a purpose, and it went fantastically.

We arrive in Kent at lunchtime on Friday, having left fairly late when we were ready rather than rushing to leave early, our first stop was Dover Castle. This is an English Heritage site and would have cost approx £52 for a family, members get in for free. We have New Zealand Heritage membership which allowed us to enter for free and explore. We did the guided tour of the underground tunnels and learnt about the role that they played during world war 2. We learnt about how the Nazi army occupied Europe and operation dynamo, where hundreds of thousands were successfully evacuated from Dunkirk. We then moved up to the Grand Tower, counting the steps as we climbed to the top to enjoy the views. We watched a short film about the dynasty of King Henry 2, who built the castle, and explored the kitchen to see how it would have been.

Our second day was spent at the War and Peace Revival show. There was all sorts of living history reenactors, showing life in the trenches, home front ww2, Vietnam etc. There were tanks in the arena, and battle demonstrations along with fashion, vintage hair salons (I enjoyed getting my hair put into victory rolls) shooting ranges, stalls, vehicles, emergency services, noon day gun, spitfire fly over, a victory tent demonstrating music dancing and fashion of the 40s and so much more that we didnt even get close to seeing! The children were able to have a go holding up a police riot shield against the blows of a police mans baton, shoot at targets using an air rifle and feel the weight of various weapons. A watched the lady in the vintage salon at work and is quite interested in having a go at doing the victory rolls in my hair for me. It was a roasting hot sunny day and we all caught more of the sun than is ideal so when we left the show we took a trip to the beach where we swam out in the sea, watched crabs making their way across the sand and generally played and had fun. Small was especially interested in watching the crab and splashing in the shallow pools.  Lets not forget the important learning experience that EVERYTHING is for a 2 year old. Of course it was “play time”… but to feel the different textures of the sand under your feet as you move down the beach from fairly dry and firm to wet and sloppy is an experience in itself, and not one that went unnoticed as he got stuck in digging his hands into the wet sand, picking it up and allowing it to slop back to the floor through his fingers. And the memories of childhood swimming in the sea with mum are just as important as anything else! … (PS) Mums, get your bathers on, stop hiding under your layers reading your books letting the children get on with it! Go swim, splash and play. Children wont remember your stretch marks or wobbly bits…. they will remember the playing and the laughter!!!

Our third and last day was spent at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park.A treat trip after a pretty fully packed, history heavy couple of days. We were lucky to get there nice and early, we saw the wolves playing like puppies running around with their tails wagging before the heat of the sun got too much for them, we saw the tigers also roaming around being very active where usually they are lounging around either basking or seeking shade from the sun. We took the African safari experience trucks which really was a fantastic, though bumpy, experience and enjoyed our walk around the dinosaur forest, which took us back in time through the stages of evolution from fish through to mammoths, just to top off our history themed weekend.

It certainly was a fun and eventful weekend and lovely to have that family time.


Its all good fun?

From the outside looking in you see children not in school. You see children laughing, playing, having fun. Splashing in rivers, climbing trees, playing in parks and enjoying the sunshine with friends. From the outside looking in it could be easy to think “what are they possibly learning?” “They arent being educated, they are having fun.” “They wont get an education playing in the river.”  I can see that, I can understand how that might be a very easy assumption to make. Society has reached a point where the common belief is that children learn by sitting at a desk in front of books. There is a level of acceptance amongst most *some* that this can be done at home (though I still come across parents saying “I am not clever enough to teach my children!”) but the general assumption seems to be still that learning, education and fun are completely separate entities and that they can not over lap. I wonder why this is? Why is it assumed that if children are laughing with their friends they cant possibly be getting an education at the same time?

Two years ago I had angry, hurt, distrustful children who suffered with low confidence, poor self esteem and struggled in social situations with groups of people and people they did not know very well. They were in school, they were learning at their desks and doing their work and sitting in their classroom. But education is about providing young people with the tools that they need to survive as adults in society, and neither of them were gaining those tools in school. Yes they may have continued through school, gained some GCSEs if they were lucky and may not have lost their love of learning so much that they chose to continue on to further education. They may have over come the bullies and the difficulties and worked through their anxieties as adults and got by, many people do. I know a lot of people, my self included who struggled at school not with the learning but with the people. Who have experienced anxiety as adults. I didnt succeed in getting GCSEs in school, I did go on as an adult to repair myself sufficiently to get my degree but I dont give my school years any credit for that. I had to jump through hoops and fight those anxiety issues that came as a result of years of being bullied before I was able to move  forward.

Yesterday I watched my children playing in a river, in their swimwear, with friends and with some children who they had never met before. I watched my 11 year old ASD son engage in conversation with a young man who was at the river with his girlfriend and they practised skimming stones together. There was a small argument between my son and another boy, but that boy was taken away by his mum and came back having been told off and made to apologise and my once angry young guy gracefully accepted his apology, apologised for the way he had responded and shook hands before running off together to enjoy the rest of their afternoon with no grudges held.  I observed the children working out the easiest and safest way to get down the steep river bank to the water and how to move against the current to get back up to the top of the small weir to ride back down again. I saw one of them hurt themselves on a piece of a shovel that some caring citizen had littered the river with, and them getting it out and moving it out of the water to prevent anyone else getting hurt. Unprompted, just done. I saw them working together figuring out how many people could go down at the same time and working together, taking turns, to keep everyone safe.

In the past two years we have done a number of classes, lessons, workshops and outings. We have done formal learning at computers, we have watched documentaries and I have no doubt what so ever that academically the children are thriving. But the other stuff at this age is so much more important. They are leading and taking control of their learning. Learning valuable life skills, not out of a book from the safety of a classroom, but out there, in the real world. Learning about forming friendships based on common ground and shared interests rather than when you were born, solving disputes and getting on with people who think differently, because being different is not a bad thing! Having the confidence to stand for what you believe and to try the things that scare you.

Friendship is an important part of life. Being able to make and maintain those bonds of friendship is a life skill in itself. Something that has come up quite a lot recently is the relationships between siblings and opposite sexes. It seems to be common amonst school children that there is this idea that if a boy and a girl play together they must be boyfriend and girlfriend, or want to be. They cant just be friends because they get on. It has also come up how socially frowned upon it is in the school environment to play with children not in your year group. Can you imagine the outrage in a school playground where two boys were friends and at playtime one decided he wanted to go and play with the other ones younger sister?! But why is that so frowned on?! As adults we do not ask for a potential friends date of birth before working out if we can go for a drink with them do we? And for the record a number of my friends are also friends with my older brother and vice versa.  Thats just how it is out with home educated children, age and gender are not issues. Children either get on with someone or they dont, if they do then great we plan events and activities together, if they dont then hey ho, they dont have to hang out and they certainly dont have to spend 6 hours a day 5 days a week at a table with them.

We will continue with the organised workshops, the guided tours, some formal “learning” and the social events, but most importantly we will continue to have fun, enjoy each other and remember that whilst it is all good fun, it is so so much more.


A busy month of “unwinding”.

How are we half way through July already?! How does the time fly quite so fast?!

Its been pretty full on with out much time to sit and think, as is the way sometimes. We had our Home Ed Summer Party at the adventure playground, the children enjoyed the bouncy castle, go karts and nerf battles as well as the usual activities. We wont be meeting there again until September which makes me feel slightly sad as we have all made such good friendships through the group it feels like a long summer without that meeting place set up. It will be very hard to think of an alternative venue open through the summer that gives us everything we need for such a broad age range that wont be so packed full of people that the young people with anxiety cant cope. So in that sense there will be the usual level of hibernation.

It has been amazing seeing how the children have progressed through these fortnightly meetings, all the children have come such a long way. Children who have battled with anxieties around meeting new people, who have struggled to make friendships or who worry about being outside have all flourished. N has grown obviously, to think he was only 5 months old when we began the adventure meets and he is 2 now. It is amazing to see him playing confidently with children of all ages, he runs around and explores the outside, walks around the woods and plays on the trampoline and the equipment comfortably. It doesn’t phase him if there are bigger children or small children, he will be friendly to all of them and will just join in. I have observed so many 2 year olds behaving shy and nervous around other children, but not him.

J has grown and matured, I have been so proud to see his ability to form friendships, compromise during games and even share his nerf guns with people he doesn’t really know. I have seen him in situations that have made me hold my breath, knowing that even 16 months ago this might have spoilt our whole day and caused me to need to take him home and remove him from a situation and he has just taken a deep breath and moved away. I have seen him learn new skills and work on improving those skills by criticising himself positively, to look at where he can improve rather than shooting himself down and giving up as “I cant”….. and I have seen him come out of workshops that he has struggled during moments but the organisers and other parents have praised him for keeping his cool and keeping trying.

A has improved her  confidence in going into new surroundings. She has completed her Duke of Edinburgh practise expedition with some minor injuries and she took nearly a week to recover BUT she completed it, and even if she hadn’t completed it I am extremely proud that she went for it. She continues to attend and is looking at areas she needs to work on before the main expedition. Most importantly she is eager to work on these areas, rather than being scared, worried and put off by the things that she struggled with.  When I think of the girl so worried about going into new environments and being around people who she didn’t know that she had full on anxiety attacks leading to chest pains, crying and even vomiting at the prospect of attending a group situation, she is like a totally different person. She sat her exams, she studied  for those exams. She is enjoying falling *jumping* into the lake during her kayaking lessons,  she enjoys camping and cooking on fires in the woods, she is taking the dogs out on longer walks and maintaining more positive  friendships with the ability to tell others to get lost when she needs to.

I don’t feel that I need to update on the academics, anyone who takes the time to talk to the children will know how well they are doing, how much they are learning and how motivated they are.  I can look through learning journals and see handwriting and spellings improving and when baking J is even quicker at working out measurements in his head to alter and adjust ingredients as and when needed.

If I had one wish, one plan for the future it would be to include more travel into our plans. It is something to look into a bit further. But for now, I can look at how far we have come and feel nothing but pure excitement of where we have still to go.