Planning a Florida Vacation! – 8 Months To Go – Fit for Florida!

**I want to preface this post with my deepest sympathy for everyone affected by Hurricane Irma. The destruction is absolutely devastating. I can only imagine what it must be like to live through a storm like that. Please know that my thoughts are with the families of those affected.**

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights

8 Months To Go: FiT for Florida

A holiday at Walt Disney World and/or Universal is exhausting. I’m not going to sugar coat this. If you’ve never been before then you need to know. The first time we went I was nursing a 5-month-old baby, so I had to take frequent breaks in the shade to rehydrate myself and feed my little one. It was hard work but I was forced to take care of myself and not overdo it. It was actually a heap load more difficult the next time we went when our kids were 6 and 3 years old!

I didn’t have the “excuse” (it wasn’t, but you know what I mean) to sit down often anymore. I had two young kids with alternating bursts of energy and lethargy in the humidity. We were a large party with varied needs and it was tough to meet all of those.

The walking – oh! The walking! A day in a theme park of the scale we are talking about here involves walking for miles and miles. Are you ready for that? Are your kids prepared?!

What You Need To Consider

When it comes to being physically fit for a Florida vacation, it comes down to a few essentials:

  • The heat & humidity
  • The walking
  • Long days

Adults and kids alike will have varying degrees of ability to cope with the conditions of a Florida holiday. Hubby’s nephews, for instance, coped brilliantly with the long days and heat. I hardly heard a complaint from them and they were perfectly fine staying up late for the fireworks. My kids, on the other hand, were falling asleep at dinner on both previous trips and last time they both slept through different, very loud portions of Mickey’s-Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (with ear defenders on, admittedly)!

So it comes down to your family and what your unique personalities and habits are like. Plan the holiday that is right for your needs.

Planning A Florida Vacation - Fit for Florida, getting fit for the heat and walking

The Heat & Humidity

It is hot. For those of us from the north of England, where 60% of our days are overcast and we rarely see temperatures over 25 degrees centigrade, going to a place with daily highs in excess of 30 degrees is a bit of a shock to the system!

In order to cope, you need to stay hydrated. A lot of us are kind of crap at drinking enough water. In order to rectify this flaw, I began tracking my fluid intake a while back, in my bullet journal, of course! One of my daily habits that I track is to drink 2litres of diluted squash. I have had a lot of trouble drinking water since I was a kid. I remember hating it by the time I was about 5 and for years I would instantly bring up any gulp of water that I tried to swallow. I could/would only drink soft drinks – squash, juice and fizzy pop.

I am determined to change that, but it takes time to re-wire the brain to accept something that it has rejected for 30 years! So I am slowly reducing the amount of cordial that I put into my One Green Bottle, gradually decreasing the concentration so that I can eventually get to only drinking water.

I’m doing pretty well! A few months ago it was almost impossible for my drink to be too strong, now I can’t stand it if it’s more than about 1 part squash to 8 parts water. I’m going to be drinking pure water by next May so that I can stay properly hydrated in Florida.

On previous trips, I have drunk a LOT of cola. The re-fillable mug they give you when you have the dining plan, or that you can buy if you don’t, makes it oh so easy to just keep chugging away on the fizzy drinks all day long. That’s not okay, folks! It won’t hydrate you properly and all that sugar can do terrible things to your body.

It’s also worth considering that the heavier you are, the harder it will be to cope with the humidity. All that extra body fat keeps you warm and you do not need to keep warm in Florida. You need to keep cool! All the water rides and shady outdoor spots in Walt Disney World will not mean a thing if you are so heavy you can’t walk a few yards without breaking into a sweat (this is me, BTW, and absolutely NO judgement directed at anyone reading, no matter what size you are).

Last trip, I found myself almost stumbling, zombie-like, from one air-conditioned building to another, barely able to breathe in the open air. To be fair, it was unseasonably hot for October, locals kept telling us so on all the bus rides around WDW. But it helps to be prepared for these sorts of conditions.

The Walking

Miles, seriously, every day. You will be walking a lot. Having a couple of pairs of great shoes will be essential. But better yet, be fit!

Do you regularly walk 3-5 miles per day? In the hot weather? If you do, then, great, you’re all set! But not all of us are so lucky. I drive almost everywhere and have lapsed into a very sedentary lifestyle. This is something I have tried to change in the past and always ended up reverting to old habits.

It’s hard, folks, I know it is. But with a holiday like this to motivate me, I know I can smash my fitness goals and make healthy choices for LIFE!

With only 8 months to go (just under at time of writing), I need to step things up a notch as I have yet to make much progress on this goal. I have an app on my phone that tracks my steps and my goal is to get my daily steps up to at least 10,000 on average.

Last week I rejoined the gym after about 2 years absence. Just telling myself to walk instead of taking the car wasn’t resulting in actual behaviour change. So it’s time to try something else.

I’m going to be doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) and lifting weights. The HIIT is the best kind of cardio training to increase heart health and build stamina. Weightlifting builds strength, which boosts the metabolism, which helps cope with heat too. I could write an essay on my exercise choices and why they are right for me, but you need to research this and decide what is right for you.

So, have a think about whether you need to increase your fitness to cope with all the walking you’ll be doing. Give yourself enough time to meet your goals too.

Long Days

A big part of why we are going for 3 weeks this time, instead of the more usual 2, is because none of us really manage well with really full, long days. If we’re going to really enjoy everything that this vacation has to offer, we want to be able to really take our time. It doesn’t suit us to hurtle from one ride to another with just the occasional break for food.

We want to enjoy the fireworks and other evening entertainment this time, instead of dozing through it. So we want to have leisurely afternoons at the hotel and head back out to the parks later. 3 weeks gives us more time to do this.

But the days will still be long. None of us is used to actively napping these days, so chances are we will be awake from early morning to midnight or beyond for many days of the holiday. Being fit and healthy will help with this too. The sleep we get will be deeper and more restful (being overweight can cause sleep apnea or snoring – which affects everyone in the room).

The Elephant in the Room

I have to mention this one, which is personal to me and won’t apply to everyone reading. I can’t look back at the photos from our previous trips that include me. I do not like seeing myself that big, and I’ve gotten much bigger since our last Florida vacation.

So my final Fit for Florida goal is to learn to love my body, whatever its size. I want to look back fondly and love the smile on my face in every picture. I don’t want to see a self-conscious, awkward me looking back at me from the photo album. Whether I achieve my physical goals or not (although I WILL), the one thing that absolutely has to change is how I feel about myself.

So I practice daily affirmations to send a little love to myself every day. I have phrases such as “I am beautiful – just as I am” and “I love and accept myself in every way”.

I’m also changing my visual diet. Evidence shows that the images we consume every day shape our feelings about bodies. People who frequently see very thin, unattainable body shapes, will only be attracted to those bodies and often feel negative towards their own body if it fails to measure up. Those who frequently view larger bodies are more likely to be attracted to larger bodies and feel better about their own size.

I’m never going to look like Kate Moss, nor would I wish to, my fitness goals don’t include fitting into a size zero. I want to be healthy, leaner than I am now, physically stronger, but most importantly, happy in my own skin (and fat and muscle).

In My Bullet Journal

Obviously, if you know me, you know I’m tracking all of this in my bujo. Never encountered that term before? Check out my introductory post here.

I have this spread near the start of my current journal to track my fitness goals for this vacation.

There are a couple of goals on this spread that I haven’t talked about in this post yet. Just to touch on them quickly:

Disney is really accessible. There are really no rides or attractions that are off limits due to a person’s size. Universal is a slightly different story. Wide hips can be problematic for some of the seats. So that top goal is about that. I don’t want to have to even worry unnecessarily about whether I will be too big to fit into a seat. It should just be a non-issue.

The other is that I have not always been great at avoiding foods that irritate my gut. I’ve gone through periods of avoiding dairy and gluten, but not stuck with it. I don’t really want our next big holiday marred by frequent dashes to the toilet because I ate something that bothered me! So I just want to increase my discipline there.

Planning a Florida Vacation - Fit for Florida in my bullet journal, bujo fitness inspiration

Having goals isn’t enough, you need action steps if you’re going to reach them, so these are listed here, along with mini-mouse goals at the bottom of the right-hand page ūüėČ

I check back in with this spread often, reminding myself of my “why”, my goals and action steps.

Having something positive to look at is inspiring and is helping me to get closer to achieving my goals.

So, let me know in the comments what your fitness goals are for your Florida vacation! Had you given this a lot of thought already? Or are you just realising that this might be a good idea?

Next month I’ll be back to cover how we go about choosing which attractions top our wish lists and I’ll give you a sneak peek at my Trello board for planning this vacation.

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The Importance of Creativity: Feed Your Soul

You might have noticed by now that I’m pretty passionate about creativity, both for adults and kids. Creativity forms a bedrock of my family’s entire educational philosophy and is a primary reason for us choosing home education. Not to mention my chosen career of Writer!

Enjoying creativity is one thing…

But why is creativity IMPORTANT?

Aside from the fairly obvious things about creative expression being a good way to unwind and de-stress, creative writing, in particular, has some pretty impressive benefits for both adults and children. I’m going to cover a handful of them for you today.

There is oodles of research on this out there. But if dry research papers are not your bag (they’re not mine either!) then here is a handy summary.

Aids Crucial Areas of Development For Children

Expressive writing, which includes poetry, journalling and writing stories, has been proven to improve problem-solving abilities and facilitate creative thinking in different situations. This kind of lateral thinking is incredibly valuable in both personal and professional spheres. Encouraging children to engage in expressive writing now will help prepare them for their future.

In the more immediate term, creative writing gives children the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe and constructive way. Learning to manage big emotions can be challenging for children, especially if they are sensitive, as¬†mine are. Being able to sort through their feelings by writing them down in creative forms can help them to process what’s going on in their life and feel better able to cope.

Developing the skill to express themselves also builds self-confidence in children. With so many negative messages bombarding this generation from all of the information around them, a bit of confidence in their own abilities to communicate and be themselves will be invaluable.

Picasso famously said that all children are artists. But is it inevitable that they cease to be?

Children Are Naturally Creative

It seems obvious to someone like me. But I realise it may need saying anyway.

All children are naturally creative. Think back to your own childhood, or focus on the early years of your child’s life when their imagination ran wild and free. Sometimes it didn’t serve them so well, (monsters under the bed), but how about all that time playing out stories with their toys? They are capable of creating vast worlds and complex stories spontaneously with just a few simple cues.

Some people would argue that this creativity naturally declines as a part of growing up. I disagree. I think it is a trait that needs nurturing, absolutely, but in incidences when creativity does seem to abandon children it is not because this is the natural result of maturing. Rather it is the fault of a society and education system that not only devalues creativity but is fundamentally anathema to it.

If you haven’t already watched it, I highly recommend all parents, and anyone with an interest in education watch Sir Ken Robinson’s influential Ted Talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity? This video has been viewed over 46.5 million times, all around the world, since it was published online over a decade ago.

Valuable for Mental Wellbeing In Adults

Expressive writing aids organisation and planning for people who engage in it. These are important skills for both children and adults. [1]

It probably comes as no surprise to those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, but I wholeheartedly endorse this research! As someone who is somewhat keen on organisation and planning *innocent whistle* this little fact is music to my ears.

What’s more, writing poetry has been found to reduce anxiety. [2] Research from Oxford Brookes University has found that writing poems and haikus can relieve work related stress and also stimulate a better work-life balance.

Journaling or blogging can enhance mood and writing a weekly gratitude log has been found to enhance motivation and generate a more positive outlook. [3]

Writing about traumatic events has also been found to be beneficial to long-term healing. [4]

What About Getting a “Real” Job?

Well, creative writing helps with that too. One study found that engineers who were out of work found new jobs more quickly if they practised expressive writing than if they didn’t. [5]

Writing notes by hand has also been proven to improve the retention of new information, which may aid in all sorts of professional and educational endeavours. [6]

Sir Ken Robinson, creativity and education expert has wise words for us all.

It is also widely recognised now that creative thinking is one of the most valuable skills in the modern job market. The world’s problems need increasingly creative solutions and employers are valuing creativity when selecting candidates for interviews. [7]

We Ought To Be Valuing Creative Careers Anyway!

Not everyone can or wants to be an engineer, financial advisor, or doctor. Wouldn’t the world be a sad and empty place without writers, artists, musicians and dancers?

Why are we telling children not to pursue these careers?

It sort of made sense 40 years ago, when people were guaranteed a job if they went with the flow through the industrialised public education system. Well-meaning parents wanted their children to enjoy a secure future and so advised them against the perceived “high risk” arts career choices where “failure” was almost certain.

But when university graduates are no longer able to find work and the modern economy is becoming centred around self-employment and entrepreneurship, it makes far less sense to blindly funnel people towards academic subjects at the expense of those that stand a higher chance of being a) useful and b) fulfilling.

I absolutely love this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, on Your Elusive Creative Genius. It’s definitely food for thought.

Find Your Passion

I write novels, I blog and keep a journal. I found my passion.

  • What is your passion?
  • What were you born to do?
  • Are you doing it?
  • What about your children?
  • Do they want to write and create?
  • How can you help them?

First of all, model what it looks like to follow your passion and express your creativity.

Then nurture theirs. Give them space to create without criticism. Give them access to learning opportunities that will enhance their creativity.

If you’re looking for a creative writing program for your child, then you could always check out my online course, Fun and Ink *shameless plug alert*. I help young people learn how to write fantastic stories that they feel proud to share with other people.

Whatever your child’s creative passion, you can help them to flourish.

What are your thoughts? Have you found creative or expressive writing to be beneficial in your own life? Do you have a child who loves telling stories? Let me know in the comments.

Creative Writing has enormous benefits to both children and adults.

Planning a Florida Vacation! – 9 Months To Go – Saving & Booking Flights!

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan

9 Months To Go: Saving & Booking Flights

So, you’ve booked your accommodation and it’s starting to feel a bit more real now. You’re actually going to Walt Disney World!

If you’re super sensible, then you didn’t even book until you had the total sum of your budget for the holiday in the bank. Or maybe you’re reading this well in advance of ever booking and are looking for saving tips to get you ready for booking. That’s fab. But if you’re anything like me, then you already booked and you’re realising now that you need to save thousands in time to pay for the damn holiday. Eek!

It’s okay, you’ve got this.

Your Budget

By this point you should be familiar with your budget; you know how much your entire vacation is going to cost. So now is the time to look at how much you have already paid up front for the deposit and how much you have already got saved up for the rest. The Worksheet that I shared back in the first post in this series will help you if you feel a bit lost here.

Your budget will be unique to you, so I don’t want to put figures into your head. Just remember to consider:

  • Accommodation
  • Flights/travel (inc to and from airports)
  • Travel expenses (food on the go, books or magazines for the journey etc)
  • Car hire
  • Parking
  • Food
  • Souvenirs
  • Park Tickets
  • Extra paid events e.g. shows like La Nouba (if you’re going to WDW this year, it finishes forever on 31st December 2017!) or seasonal parties like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
  • Laundry – some rooms and resorts have free laundry facilities, but you may need to budget for the machines and detergent

I’ve made a handy Florida Vacation Budgeting Worksheet¬†for you to help you figure all of this out.

Saving Up

If you don’t already have several grand in the bank set aside for this, then you’re going to need to figure out how much money you need to put aside each month in order to be able to cover everything.

Take the total cost and divide it by the number of weeks or months until you need the total (remember that your bill for the accommodation will be due a few weeks before you travel, but you won’t need souvenir money until you’re actually there). This gives you a saving schedule to follow. So for example, if you need ¬£5,000 and have 35 weeks to save up, you will need to put away ¬£143 per week.

You can flip this around and start with how much you can realistically put away each week or month. Say you can manage £400 per month and have 9 months, then you can save £3,600 in total.

Using My Bullet Journal

If you’ve been following my other blog posts, you will probably know by now how much of a fan I am of the bullet journal! My bujo is used for all aspects of planning in my life, and this vacation is no exception. I have a spread for tracking my savings, another my fitness goals and various pages dedicated to planning notes.

There are an infinite number of ways you could track your savings and there are fantastic ideas on Pinterest, so check there for inspiration.

This is my spread.

Bullet journal spread for tracking my savings for our Walt Disney World vacation

Booking Flights

Flights tend to start being available to book around 10 months ahead of travel, so it’s around now that you can organise this part of your travel plans.

Prior to this, it’s impossible to get an accurate quote for the cost of your flight. You can search flights with different dates to get a rough idea, but as flight prices vary so much by season and how far in advance you are booking them, this isn’t a reliable method. This is the most significant hitch when it comes to budgeting for your Florida holiday. As a general rule, when we are planning a year in advance, we estimate flights at ¬£500 per person. When it comes time to book flights, we try to find an airline offering flights for around this price.

While it is possible to get late deals on flights much closer to the time of travel, I don’t recommend relying on this in your budget. You might not be able to get flights for the right dates, and they might not be as cheap as you were hoping. It’s better to overestimate the cost and get a nice surprise saving, leaving you a little extra room in your budget for souvenirs or extras.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share on booking flights? Or on budgeting for a big family vacation like this? I love to hear from readers, so drop a comment below.

I’ll be back next month with my top tips for getting Fit for Florida!

Budgeting and saving money for your Walt Disney World Florida vacation
Budgeting for your Florida vacation - printable PDF worksheet

Sunshine Blogger Award!

I received a lovely little surprise recently. I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award!
It’s an award given by bloggers to other bloggers. It’s given to those who are creative, inspiring, and positive! I was nominated by Alyssa Alley at Bride2Bride.

 

Once nominated for this award the blogger is required to write a post in which they:

  1.  Thank the blogger who nominated them and link back to their blog;

  2.  Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated them;

  3.  Nominate 11 other blogs and give them 11 new questions to answer;

  4.  Notify your nominees and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post!

My Answers

Alyssa set the following questions, so here are my answers.

1. Why did you start your blog?

Great question! I started this blog, Spirited Mama after the Munchkin was born. It was a traumatic birth and I needed a place to talk about that. I also hoped that by sharing my experience I would be able to help other women avoid the sorts of experiences that I went through. It’s evolved a lot since then!

2. Did anyone help you when you first began blogging? If so, who?

I began blogging back in…. oh, about 2006, I think! I didn’t know anyone else who blogged and it was really just an online diary at first. I wasn’t in any way thinking about it as a way to make money.

I guess I really only started learning more about the craft and professionalism of blogging a few years ago. I learned from other bloggers, such as Suzie Speaks.

3. Tell us a bit about your family!

My parents run Washburn Books, a bookselling business and are really supportive and lovely. I have a big brother who lives in Australia with his wife. My hubby is a software engineer and we have two kids, the Munchkin and the Monkey (formerly “Bean”, but he’s a great, galumphing 5 year old now, so that hardly seems appropriate!) who are home educated and obsessed with Minecraft. We have two fur babies too, two cats, Misty & Jemima.

4. What would you do if you won a million dollars?

Well, that’s about ¬£800,000, so it’s not such crazy money these days. So I wouldn’t do anything that extravagant! I’d want to buy a nice little house and a new car, take the family to Florida and put the rest away somewhere to earn a little interest.

5. Do you have any pets?

Yep, our fur babies, as mentioned above ūüôā

6. If people could know one thing about you just by looking at you, what would it be and why?

Ooh tricky one… that I clearly love my chocolate! I’m carrying more than a little extra weight these days!

7. What do you like most about blogging?

I like connecting with other people. That’s ultimately why I do it. The blogging community is so warm and helpful and I love my readers to pieces too. I hope that I am serving them well with my posts.

8. What is one food that everyone loves but you hate?

Garlic? I’m really not a fan. The smell makes me queasy! But not many people seem to feel the way I do about it.

9. If you could only bring 3 things with you to a deserted island for the next year, what would they be and why?

My bullet journal, a pen, and my Kindle (with a magical, infinite battery!) I have to be able to read, or I’ll go crazy. Likewise my bujo, I need to be able to write and create.

10. What is your absolute favourite beauty product?

I’m not that into beauty products really, but I do love a nice spritz of perfume. Nothing fancy, my favourite fragrance right now is White Amber from Next.

11. What do you do to relax when you’re stressed out?

Read, or hand lettering. I almost always read before sleep as it helps me unwind and unplug from a tech-intensive day. I love to get my brush pens out and write out a beautiful quote if I’m feeling super stressed though. I also love mindful colouring. I’m actually giving away a stunning colouring book on my Facebook page right now! Shameless plug alert!

 

My Nominations

So now I get to spread the sunshine and nominate some other beautiful bloggers for this award. Here goes:

  1. Boho Berry
  2. Tiny Ray of Sunshine
  3. Disney Tourist Blog
  4. Diary of a First Child
  5. Attachment Mummy
  6. The Blossom Edit
  7. Suzie Speaks
  8. But I Smile Anyway…
  9. Art and Soul
  10. Journey to Ambeth
  11. Wendy Fairy Art

The Questions

So, the 11 questions for my nominees to answer are as follows…

  1. Where do you come from?
  2. What inspires you?
  3. What is your favourite book, and why?
  4. If you could travel to any one destination, where would it be?
  5. What is the one item you can’t stand to be without?
  6. Who are you closest to?
  7. Why do you blog today?
  8. What do you want to do with your life when you retire?
  9. If you could be 16 again, would you?!
  10. Do you do most of your internet browsing at home or on the go?
  11. What’s your morning routine like?

Thanks!

Thanks for reading. Thank you again to Alyssa for nominating me and for spreading the Sunshine. I hope you enjoyed reading and will go check out some of the other bloggers! When people support one another we all benefit ūüôā

 

Top 5 Summer Activities for Kids

Beating the boredom over the long summer can be a challenge for some parents. I promise¬†you are not alone! The lure of unlimited screen time can easily lead to weeks of lethargy and inactivity for a lot of kids. It’s understandable, parents need to work and get things done and the kids may be wiped out after a hard school year.

top 5 summer kids activities water blob, sprinkler, chalk, squirt gun painting

If¬†like us, you home educate and don’t especially observe term times, it can still be tricky to get through the summer. Many home ed activities do take a break until September, and the higher crowds at parks, museums, the beach and so on, can sometimes result in home educators feeling trapped at home in order to avoid those crowds. I jokingly refer to school holidays as hibernation time for our family! After all, why brave the crowds on a Saturday in August when we can go any other time and enjoy a bit more peace and space?

If you’re stuck for ideas on how to keep the kids entertained at home this summer, these are my top suggestions.

This post contains affiliate links. You never pay more, but I may make a small commission, which helps to pay for more content you love here on the blog. Thanks ūüôā

  1. The Water Blob!

Seriously, this is so cool! On a hot day, getting outside and making the most of the rare British sunshine is a must. The water blob is basically thick plastic, sealed at the edges and filled with water. This outdoor water bed-come-trampoline-come-slip-and-slide is fun for the whole family.

The above video shows exactly how to make it, including adding food colouring to make it bright. You can also put these battery powered LED lights or outdoor rope lights underneath to light it up at night!

2. Spray Painting

Not the graffiti¬†kind. Take a water gun, fill it with watercolour paint, or water mixed with food colouring. Pin up some sheets of paper and let the kids go wild! It’s a chance to coax them into being creative when they might not otherwise want to be. I first came across the idea on Fireflies and Mudpies.

3. Pavement Chalk Art

pavement sidewalk chalk kids street art

In a similar vein to the spray painting, chalk gets kids outside and expressing their artistic side, all while playing and having fun. I remember countless days playing hopscotch and drawing on the paving in mine and my friends’ gardens. Let your kids’ imaginations run free with this open invitation to create and play.

4. DIY Sprinkler System

Fantastic Fun and Learning has this terrific list of home made sprinklers, from simple to elaborate. You can turn your garden into a full on water park if you’re feeling ambitious and crafty! That should keep the kids entertained for a whole afternoon. But if quick and simple is the order of the day, then try this water bottle sprinkler idea by Housing A Forest. Take an empty¬†plastic bottle, pierce holes in it, tape a hose to the neck and turn on the tap! You can as easily use a skewer rather than a drill to make the holes.

5. Writing or Journalling

If the weather isn’t so great, or if it’s too hot to be outside for long, then having a few indoor activities to fall back on is a good idea. Summer is a great time to get kids journalling. Invite them to write a little about their day, their hopes and dreams or try their hand at creative writing. This epic list of summer writing prompts is sure to keep them busy.

Your child could also try scrapbooking and save their favourite memories from the summer along with doodles, notes, photos and stickers.

The options are endless, but hopefully, these ideas have given you somewhere to start. Check out my Pinterest boards for more ideas!

Unschooling – Why We Don’t Need Holidays

We’re an unschooling family.

With the schools breaking up for the summer, it seemed like the right time to talk about the fact that we don’t take a “school” holiday. There a lot of myths around home education, one of which being that we have to follow school terms. We don’t!

home education homeschooling taking vacations, we don't need holidays

What Is Unschooling?

There are a lot of special terms, or jargon, around education. So let’s just get this one out of the way. I described us as an “unschooling family”. What on earth does that even mean?!

Unschooling is an educational philosophy or style based on the principle that children have an innate curiosity and desire to learn and that traditional schooling actually damages this. The idea is that when children are allowed to direct their own education, they will gladly learn anything they are interested in, and crucially, retain the information far better than they do if they are force fed information.

When children come willingly to a topic, they genuinely want to know all they can and they will absorb the information, or develop the skill, with no need to be “taught” by someone else. They can acquire the information through a variety of sources, and it is the parent’s role to provide access to those sources.

No limits are placed on education, or no arbitrary ones, at least. We don’t follow a schedule, or have a bell that tells us “that’s enough maths, time for geography”. If they want to spend four hours measuring things, they can do so. If they want to obsess about dinosaurs for eighteen months, they can do so. This actually happened. The four hours measuring never did, that was just an extreme example to illustrate the point.

Educational Value in Everything

Those eighteen months where all the Munchkin and the Bean were interested in was dinosaurs were AMAZING. The level of obsession was a bit intimidating, sure, but they came through it with encyclopaedic knowledge.

We read books, looked at pictures, watched videos, did volcano experiments. They learned so much about the history of the planet, geology, palaeontology, fossilisation, and reproduction! Not to mention special effects in filmmaking.

That knowledge has stuck with them. The Munchkin is now reading, totally self-taught, and can confidently read words like “Carnotaurus”, “Diplodocus” and “Tyrannosaurus”.

Children are learning all the time, so by not placing limits on their learning, we don’t ever prevent them from learning something. That would damage their relationship with education, put them off, or hold them back. Likewise, we don’t insist on them learning anything.

We appreciate that learning is lifelong, they do not have to cram everything they will ever need to know into a fixed time frame. If there is something they need to know, according to their needs, not some prescribed idea imposed on them, they will learn it.

As they go through life, they may decide they need to know how to run a business, or bake a cake, or fix a car, or design a web page. Once they decide, they will know how to find out. That is the central ethos behind unschooling: ensure they love learning and know how to learn. Then they’ll be set for life.

We have never forced numeracy or literacy. Both of them are particularly attuned with numbers. We talk about maths all the time, we explain principles, we illustrate with examples – when they ask questions. As a result, the Munchkin has a profound grasp of the theory of mathematics. So he can figure out the answer to any sum he needs. He understands the principles. If we had drilled him in his times tables and made him learn by rote, I don’t believe he would a) love maths the way he does, or b) understand it.

Likewise with reading. I’m a writer and hubby is an avid reader, so this is super important to us. I was adamant that our children would love stories. I never wanted to put them off reading or writing. So there is no pressure to do either. The Munchkin is 8 now (yikes!) and has been read to almost every day of his life. Our home is filled with books and he sees his parents and grandparents reading all the time. In his own time, in his own way, he has learned to read.

It really only clicked this year, but I wasn’t worried because I knew that this is really common. That when children are given the space to direct their own education, they typically learn to read when they are ready, sometime between 6 and 10 years old.

Our education system pushes reading at ever younger ages. It was bad enough that four-year-olds were having to do reading home work. I hear now that some preschools are forcing toddlers into phonics lessons at two or three years old (parents talking in Facebook groups, I wish I could cite a source as I find this really shocking). To me, this is madness and the only certain outcome is a generation of people who, at best, tolerate reading when they must, at worst, despise it!

Learning While Living

Unschooling families don’t divide up learning from living. Education isn’t something that happens Monday to Friday, from 9 am until 3 pm. Learning happens all the time. When a child isn’t squashed into a time table, they are open to learning from all sorts of activities, at any time they are awake! Their brain even goes on processing information while the child is asleep.

We don’t have a “school room” or “learning area”, because of this basic philosophy. We don’t need to sit at a desk to learn. Really, home education is a bit of a misnomer. A great deal of our education happens outside the home. It happens at the park, in the woods, at museums, at the cinema, at friends’ houses. It happens in the car on our way places, around the table in a cafe.

We don’t follow an educational schedule and we don’t have term times and holidays.

Because learning is not separate from life, and because education is not a negative thing; hard work and unenjoyable; our kids don’t take breaks from it. They don’t get exhausted from needing to focus for six hours a day. They don’t need down time to just watch cartoons – they can watch cartoons whenever they like! They often choose to do other things, but even cartoons can provide learning opportunities.

I was once asked by a well meaning relative if I gave the Munchkin time off for the summer. This was when he was 4. I was so stunned by the question that I don’t think I gave a very good answer.

So let me say now what I wish I had said then:

He’s four. He plays all day, every day, enjoying his childhood. We don’t do sit-down, formal work. So no, I don’t “give him time off”. Time off from what? Being a happy, engaged child? No, I don’t. He is free to be that all the time, all year round.

He may be eight now, but the same is basically true. The Bean is five, so yeah, the above is totally on point for him.

freedom

We enjoy an enormous amount of freedom and I want my children to truly appreciate that.

When I say we don’t take holidays, I don’t mean that we don’t go away anywhere. We travel! We love to travel. But do we go to top tourist destinations in August? Er… no. We don’t. We avoid doing that deliberately!

One huge advantage to home educating is that we are free to travel all year round, whenever we like. We can take advantage of off-peak travel deals, saving us a lot of money! We can also pick quieter times, and avoid big crowds. We don’t have a school to answer to (or fines to pay) if we go off to the USA for three weeks.

Taking a “holiday” or “vacation” is a chance to get away from home and do different things, but the kids don’t “need” to do this in order to relax or get away from school stress.

Also, really crucially, because of our belief that learning is always happening, we totally acknowledge that there is a lot to be learned from travelling. Contrary to what the schools seem to be saying – that if you are on holiday, your child will fall behind because they need to be at a desk being forced to learn during set hours!

Some of it is obvious; visits to Rome or Athens or Egypt are obviously going to be enormously educational. History, culture, geography, art, architecture, politics, archaeology, all without really trying. But then there are the more subtle things, like using another currency, speaking and reading another language, coping with a different climate, entertaining oneself on a plane. These are all important skills.

Being part of the wider world, grasping globalism, understanding cultural differences; being shut in a school room simply doesn’t allow this sort of education to happen.

educational freedom, creativity, outdoors, learning through living

I hope this post clears up any misconceptions you may have had. I hope you like what you’ve read and have a greater understanding of unschooling.

What are your thoughts? Is this something you would like for your family? Do you disagree with this approach? Polite debate is always welcome ūüėČ

Planning A Florida Vacation – 10 Months To Go – Dining Plan

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months Out – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months Out – Accommodation

10 Months To Go: Dining Plan

So, you’ve decided to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort and either created a short list, or already picked out the exact one. It’s time to book and time to decide about the Dining Plan. Is it right for you, or can you manage without?

For me, personally, this is the number one perk of staying at a Disney property. The Extra Magic Hours and complimentary transportation are nice, but nothing adds more value to a vacation than the Dining Plan.

3 Options

There are 3 basic tiers of Dining Plan. As you might expect, they increase in cost and value:

  • Quick-Service Dining Plan
  • Disney Dining Plan
  • Deluxe Dining Plan

I haven’t included prices in this post, as they are subject to change without notice. For up-to-date Dining Plan prices, check with Disney directly.

All three options work basically the same way. At the start of your vacation, your meal and snack credits are pre-loaded onto your Magic Band; a wristband that each guest can wear throughout their stay, which acts as room key, Fast Pass, park ticket and credit card (kids’ bands can’t be used to charge purchases to your credit card, don’t worry!) When you opt to pay for a meal or snack with your dining plan credits, you tap your Magic Band to a reader that the cast member has and the credit is deducted from the total.

It’s ridiculously simple and convenient!

Also, you don’t have to use your credits on a given day. Although you are allocated a certain number of credits “per night of stay”, you can use them whenever you like. If you really wanted, you could use them all on the first day or save them all until the last! But I don’t fancy eating that much food in one day. But if you venture off property for a couple of days, to check out Universal, for example, you don’t “lose” your Dining Plan credits for those days if you don’t eat at WDW. You can use them another day.

Snack credits can go a long way. A number of times on our last vacation, we got the kids their breakfast using just their snack credits. This left us two meal credits to use elsewhere. There are a number of tricks you can use to maximise the value you get from the dining plan. More on that later.

Quick-Service Dining Plan

The Quick-Service Dining Plan does what it says on the tin; each guest gets 2 quick-service meals per day, plus a drink (non-alcoholic) with each meal, 2 snacks per day, and a refillable mug. There are over 50 locations around the whole of WDW that you can redeem these foods and beverages at.

This is the cheapest option and really good value, especially if you aren’t that bothered about having table service meals. The moderate resorts often offer this tier of the dining plan for free when booking during promotions.

Disney Dining Plan

The middle tier is the one we had last time. With this plan each guest gets for each night of their stay:

  • 1 table service meal
  • 1 quick-service meal
  • 1 non-alcoholic/alcoholic drink per meal
  • 2 snacks
  • Refillable mug

You can redeem these credits at over 100 locations, and character dining experiences are included in the table/waiter service credits. Some dining experiences cost 2 table-service credits, but this often works out cheaper than booking without the dining plan.

This dining plan is the one included with deluxe resorts during promotions. We got it for free when we stayed at Saratoga Springs in 2015. We didn’t quite use all our credits. Just before boarding the coach to the airport at the end of the two weeks, we were rushing around the resort quick service dining area loading up on snacks that we could take on the plane!

Deluxe Dining Plan

I honestly can’t imagine ever needing this much food. Given that we left with credits to spare last time, and that the quick-service meals and snacks can still be substantial enough for the average person to only require one table service meal a day, this plan seems excessive to me! But if you really want to eat three huge meals at the best restaurants Walt Dinsey World has to offer every single day of your trip, then go for it!! Each guest, for each night of their stay, gets:

  • 3 table or quick-service meals
  • 1 non-alcoholic/alcoholic drink per meal
  • 2 snacks
  • Refillable mug

You probably get the best value out of this plan by booking a deluxe resort with a promotion on the Disney Dining Plan and upgrading to this plan for a reduced cost.

When looking at your budget, make sure you check for Dining Plan promotions, because it may well be worth upgrading resort in order to get free dining. Without the Dining Plan, you’ll want to budget for food. Obviously, all families are different, but most will want to allow about $60-$100 per person per day. You can eat for less, especially if you buy groceries off-property and take hand-made lunches into the parks. But if you want convenience and sit-down meals more often than not, then the dining plan needs serious consideration. If a free dining plan is on offer when you book, and the difference in accommodation cost is less than your food budget, then don’t hesitate!

Dining Plan Hacks!

Walt Disney World Dining Plan Hacks to save money and get great value

On the surface of it, all three tiers of the Dining Plan look costly. But make sure you run the numbers and be realistic about how much food you eat and what it might cost without the Dining Plan. Then be sure to factor in these hacks in order to assess the full value of the dining plan.

  1. Turkey legs only use a snack credit, but they are HUGE! They could easily serve as a lunch on the go for one adult or two children!
  2. Be Our Guest offers a unique experience: you order from a monitor on entering, then take a seat and your food is brought to you. It’s a sort of quick/table service hybrid. But it counts as a quick service credit on the dining plan.
  3. Breakfast can easily be acquired using just snack credits. Muffins, croissants, fruit and drinks all use snack credits. Don’t be afraid to use snack credits for drinks throughout the day either!
  4. Epcot World Showcase offers delicacies from around the world as snacks. Strolling from one stall to another sampling these can make for a full meal.
  5. Some quick service meal options are much larger than others. For example, the breakfast bounty platters offer exceptional value for one quick service credit. Whereas the Mickey-shaped Waffles cost the same credit but are a much smaller portion. Without the dining plan, the bounty platter costs $11.49, whereas the croissant sandwich is $6.99, both use one quick service credit. Maximise the value you get by picking the more expensive options (or not! Your choice.)
  6. Character dining experiences give you the chance to load up and have a huge meal, as well as getting to meet your favourite Disney characters.
  7. Table service credits include dessert for lunch and dinner, but not breakfast. So only use a table service credit for breakfast if it’s a buffet, as you can eat as much as you like and maximise the value of the credit.
  8. The system doesn’t differentiate between adults and children’s credits, so if your child eats little and often, you can use spare adult snack credits to keep them going.
  9. You can use a quick service credit to purchase 3 snacks.
  10. For kids who are big eaters, they can get adult portions with their meal credits.

I hope this post has given you some insight and helps you decide whether to purchase the Dining Plan or not. What are your thoughts? Any questions or comments very welcome below. I try to reply to everyone.

Next Month: Saving Up & Booking Flights