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 😉

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.

Happy planning!

Sizzling Summer Travel Must-Haves

Setting your sights on your summer get-away? Make sure you’re prepared with these top 5 must-have travel items!

 

top summer travel essentials for family vacations

This post contains affiliate links. You never pay more, but I may receive a small commission for purchases, which helps to cover the costs of running this blog.

Whether we’re travelling or not, and we often don’t during peak summer season due to costs and crowds, I still enjoy this season. I’m a Leo and crave sunshine. Like Superman, it gives me my mojo! Although, I should add that I don’t have any Kryptonian super powers 😦

But if I’m not adequately prepared for the hotter days and any travelling we do, the summer can be a lot more challenging!

These are my top 5 must-have items for summer and travelling with kids.

Sun Cream

This is my top priority for the summer, whether we’re staying close to home, or venturing somewhere hotter. Getting enough vitamin D is super important, so I let my little ones get some direct sun on their skin as often as possible. After about 20 minutes, however, I make sure that all of our skin in protected.

I prefer to use natural sun cream and avoid chemicals. We use a number of Green People products, including this fab Organic Children Sun Lotion. It has a nice high SPF to protect our fair skin, is not sticky, spreads nicely and is really reliable. It contains no harsh chemicals.

swim safety

The Munchkin and Bean love being in the water, but they aren’t confident swimmers yet. It gives me enormous peace of mind to be able to let them swim, splash and play in the pool or shallow waters of the sea without me hovering nearby. They’re at the stage where they want more independence. These float jackets from Splash About provide them with that.

Float jackets have a significant advantage over armbands; they don’t get in the way of the arms or require the wearer to adopt unnatural swimming positions. The Splash About jacket has removable floats so you can adjust it to your child’s ability. My two kids love theirs!

Travel Sleep Kit

Travelling with kids is never easy! If you’re taking a long flight or train journey, then getting some rest, if at all possible, seriously helps. I’ve never been able to sleep properly in the standard economy plane or train seats as I find it hard to get comfortable and tune out the environment. Last time we took a long haul flight, all four of us were awake the entire time. It was an overnight flight too, so we literally lost a night’s sleep! It was hell driving back from the airport after we landed!

If you’re travelling with another adult, taking turns to rest, while the other is on child duty, can help make the journey easier on everyone. If like me, you struggle to do that, you can get sleep aids that really help. A good neck support and eye mask can help you find a comfortable position and give your body the darkness it needs to shut down and sleep. Ear plugs help in a noisy environment too. These handy travel kits pack down nice and small to fit in carry-on luggage.

Trunki

This has to be my favourite travel essential! My kids have one Trunki each and they have saved my skin more than once! Last year, I took the kids away to Majorca on my own. This was a big deal for me, as I had never taken them abroad without the hubster. It was such hard work and not something I am keen to repeat! But I am so glad I did it.

Coming home, the kids were tired, hungry and grumpy. Getting them through the airport would have been an absolute nightmare if it hadn’t been for their Trunkis. These hand-luggage-sized suitcases can fit a lot of toys and books, a change of clothes and any other travel essentials. But crucially, the kids can ride on them like little ride-on toys! They can also pull them along using a strap. On this particular trip, the check in queue was monstrous. But the kids were able to rest their aching feet by sitting on their Trunkis and could shuffle their way through the line without getting too bored or frustrated.

Many curious travellers alongside us in the line were looking on with envy, and an elderly couple behind us were deeply impressed by them (the kids, as well as the Trunkis!)

I swear, for as long as the kids are small enough to ride on them, I will never travel without their Trunkis! They come in a range of colours and designs to suit the tastes of any child. We have one in the original blue, but also this gorgeous Trunkisaurus Rex!

Busy Bags

Finally, keeping the young ones occupied during a long journey can be a challenge. There are only so many rounds of Eye Spy an adult can play before cracking up. Be it a car journey, or train or plane, busy bags are invaluable!

The idea is to fill a small bag, small ziplock or sandwich bag sized (you can literally use these by the way) with activities for the kids to do whilst sat in their seats. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for this.

One great option is this handy dry-erase book. It’s potentially hours of entertainment bundled up in one small package. The book contains several pages of light weight white board that kids can draw on with water-based pens. It can be used for games of hangman, noughts and crosses, doodling, and anything else your child can think of. When the pages are full, wipe them clean and start again.

That wraps up my top 5 travel essentials. I love to hear from readers, so please drop a comment below to let me know what you couldn’t travel without this summer!

Planning A Florida Vacation – 11 Months To Go

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

11 months to go: accommodation

Last month I talked about figuring out your budget and how this would determine an awful lot of the rest of your decisions, such as duration and accommodation. Well, today I’m going to talk you through your accommodation options. Not all of them, because, you know, this is one of the top tourist destinations on the planet. There are literally thousands of places to stay!

Your most basic options come down to this:

  • A Walt Disney World property (often described as “on-property”)
  • A Universal Resort
  • Another local hotel
  • A private villa

Deciding which of these four options is best for your family comes down to a few basic, interlinked factors. The size of your family/travel party, your budget, where you intend to spend most of your time, what amenities are important to you, whether you want to hire a car or not, and how immersed you want to be.

I can’t tell you the answers, but hopefully, you went through the worksheet and figured some of this out.

off-property

A villa is great if there are quite a few of you. It can work out much cheaper than booking multiple rooms at a hotel. You also get privacy, your own pool, and can save money on food. The disadvantages of this option are that you absolutely have to hire a car and pay parking fees at the theme parks. You also miss out on significant perks of staying on-property, which also goes for the other non-Disney options. Although Universal has its own perks for guests staying there.

Local hotels can also be an economical choice if you are a family of 5 or less. Often the Orlando resorts will provide coaches to the theme parks, so a car isn’t always essential. You also get to retreat from the Disney experience at the end of the day, which might be essential for some members of your family. Or perhaps you’re only planning to spend a day at Magic Kingdom, and visit plenty of non-Disney attractions during your stay. In which case, it makes little sense to stay at a Disney resort. There is certainly plenty to see and do besides WDW. But more on this in a few months time!

universal

Universal now has several resorts to choose from, none of which are cheap, by any means, but there are two value options that offer the convenience of being nearby and early entry to the parks. The edge that the luxury resorts have, aside from the obvious luxury, is that you also get Universal’s queue-jumping perk included in the price.

The queues at Universal can get pretty monstrous and the only way to beat them is to buy their Express Pass on top of your park ticket. This is an extremely expensive option, costing upwards of $49.99 per person per day. It’s perfectly possible to manage without it, we have done so on all but one day that we have spent in the Universal parks. You can check the queue times and hop straight to rides with low waits, but this might result in missing out on a ride or two if the line never gets below an hour.

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time at Universal and can justify the financial cost, then staying at one of the luxury resorts to get this perk might save a little money on buying the Express Pass separately.

on-property

I’m unashamedly biased. This is our preferred option. It isn’t the cheapest option, but booking in advance in the UK holds a significant appeal: free dining. Disney offers three tiers of dining plan (well, four if you include the resorts that offer a breakfast only option) and for UK visitors booking the year prior to visiting, most resorts offer one of these dining plans for free. It’s a great money saver, not to mention the convenience of having the majority of your food paid for in advance. I’ll go into more detail on the dining plan in my next post because it deserves a post of its own. Guests from the USA can often pick up dining plan offers when booking in advance as well, but the offers vary. It’s worth keeping an eye on the WDW blogs for updates of offers if this applies to you.

Staying on-property also has other advantages. Disney provides various modes of transport around the vast World; bus, monorail and boat. All free. They also offer free car parking to guests staying at a WDW resort. So if you still want to hire a car for getting about then it’s not going to cost you an extra $20 a day to visit a Disney park. The other significant benefit is Extra Magic Hours; on certain days one of the parks opens early or closes late for guests staying at a Disney resort.

the Walt Disney Resorts

If you decide to go with a Disney resort, you then have a bigger choice: which one? There are nearly 30 options!

In the last post, I asked you to think about what kind of vacation you want. Whatever you’re after, Disney can provide it. Laid back comfort? Life on the wild side? Rustic charm? Sheer luxury? You got it.

wdw resorts,hotels, Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Pop Century, Wilderness Lodge Cabins

Disney resorts by location

The first thing to consider is where in Walt Disney World you want to stay. Which park do you anticipate spending most time at? It makes sense to stay in the vicinity of that park. So to help you out, here is each resort listed by resort area. I also recommend you take a look at the official WDW map.

Magic Kingdom

  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Polynesian Village Resort
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
  • Contemporary Resort
  • Bay Lake Tower

Epcot (also close to Hollywood Studios)

  • Beach Club Resort
  • Yacht Club Resort
  • Carribean Beach Resort
  • Boardwalk Inn & Villas
  • Swan Hotel*
  • Dolphin Hotel*

The Swan and Dolphin hotels are third party hotels located on WDW property. You still get some benefits of staying at a Disney resort, but they aren’t strictly considered to be WDW properties.

Animal Kingdom

  • Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Coronado Springs Resort
  • All Stars Resorts – Music, Sports & Movies

ESPN wide world of sports area

  • Art of Animation Resort
  • Pop Century Resort

Disney Springs

  • Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Old Key West
  • Port Orleans – Riverside
  • Port Orleans – French Quarter

resorts by category (price range)

You’ll probably want to cross reference the above list with the one that follows: each resort by category. Disney has three categories for its resorts; Value, Moderate and Deluxe. There are also Deluxe Villas and the campground at Fort Wilderness. The villas are essentially suites with basic kitchen facilities in-room, with separate bedroom/s and living area.

value resorts

The Value resorts offer basic, motel-like accommodation. You can expect these resorts to be clean, well-maintained, with excellent customer service and serviceable amenities. The pools are fun and simple, as is the food. The rooms tend to be on the smaller side, while the buildings can be quite spread out, requiring a lot of walking to travel between your room and the communal areas. If you’re on a tight budget or are not planning to spend a great deal of time at the hotel, then these resorts are perfectly suitable.

  • Pop Century
  • All-Star Resort – Music
  • All-Star Resort – Sports
  • All-Star Resort – Movies
  • Art of Animation (worth noting that this resort is priced like a moderate resort)

moderate resorts

This tier offers more comfort and variety than the Value resorts. The pools have more features and some of these resorts have table service dining options. It’s usually worth upgrading to one of these resorts if you can. Free Quick Service Dining is also available from the UK at these resorts.

  • Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Port Orleans – Riverside
  • Port Orleans – French Quarter
  • Coronado Springs Resort
  • Cabins at Fort Wilderness

deluxe resorts & villas

If you want to really indulge, then these resorts offer genuine luxury and exemplary facilities. Rooms and villas have more space, there are more dining options and the pools are stunning. Some resorts have spa facilities. The theming is also more detailed and immersive. Advanced bookings from the UK get Disney Dining Plan free for these resorts.

  • Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Polynesian Resort
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Beach Club Resort
  • Yacht Club Resort
  • Boardwalk Inn
  • Contemporary Resort
  • Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Old Key West Resort
  • Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Bay Lake Tower
  • Villas at Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village & Jambo House
  • Boardwalk Villas
  • Beach Club Villas
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Wilderness Lodge

You can pick up rooms at these resorts at lower rates if you book at the right time. Last time we went we stayed at Saratoga Springs and we almost booked this resort again for this trip as it crops up among the cheaper options this far in advance.

Each resort has its pros and cons, and it takes time to read up on each. Hopefully, this post will help you to narrow down your options. For in-depth reviews of the resorts, and details about their individual amenities, decor, and so on, I highly recommend Disney Tourist Blog.

For what it’s worth, we are staying at Port Orleans – Riverside next year, after MUCH deliberation! Animal Kingdom Lodge is also high up on my wish list. I love to hear from readers, so if you have a strong preference for a resort, or if you have any questions, do please leave a comment and I will do my best to reply.

That’s all for now, folks. Happy planning!

My Mid-Year Review

As we are now halfway through 2017 (erm… how did that happen?!), I thought it would be helpful to review my year so far and see what I’ve achieved and where I’m going for the second half of the year.

This happens to coincide with me moving into my new bullet journal so this post will cover that process, as well as a review of my goals. I’ve never done a mid-year review before, but it felt really productive and I think you could benefit from doing something similar too.

mid-year review, bujo, bullet journal, planning, goals

I began this process by looking back at the goals that I set for myself in January. It’s been a long time since I set New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I decided to set a series of goals for the year and come up with action steps to achieve them.

I broke them down into four categories: personal development, professional, home & family, and financial. In each category, I had 2-3 separate goals, such as increase fitness, publish next book, and de-clutter house. Having learned about the Getting Things Done (or GTD) system, I soon realised that having these big projects listed was of limited use. What I needed to do in order to achieve these goals, was to break each of them down into individual action steps.

Throughout the first half of the year, I have fallen in and out of my planning. Some months or weeks, I have incorporated these goals and action steps into my bullet journal spreads. But other times I’ve left them out. Take a guess when I managed to make progress on these goals…

In doing this review, I had to be honest with myself about what was and wasn’t working for me. I really set myself too many huge projects, so many of them have fallen by the wayside completely. Going forward, I know I need to limit myself to just one big project at a time, with other secondary projects that can be progressed alongside that. I wasn’t realistic about what I could take on in one year, even if my organisation had been absolutely spot on for the whole six months I would have been pushed to make good progress on more than a couple of these big projects.

There were two areas that I have made strides in, however, and I am super proud of that. I got my fourth book finished and published, resulting in my best day of sales to date. I’m now taking a little break from writing fiction to focus on this blog and my next big creative project. Right here is the other big area of progress! I wanted to redesign Spirited Mama, connect with other bloggers and grow my audience. All of this is happening.

The Big Questions

The next stage of the review was to complete a questionnaire that I picked up from Lisa Jacobs over at Marketing Creativity. Lisa created a list of 10 questions, which I adapted slightly, that cover successes and disappointments of the year so far, as well as changes for the remainder of the year.

The questions I asked myself:

  1. What feels good about the first half of the year?
  2. What areas of your life or business are feeling out of sync?
  3. What do you want the rest of the year to feel like? What would you like to see take shape?
  4. What will you need to do to make that visualisation come true?
  5. What would you like to stop doing? What’s eating up your time, making you feel bad, or not contributing to your best life in any way?
  6. What activities, products, actions, or ideas are working for you this year?
  7. What was your best creative business pay day?
  8. What actions bring subscribers, fans and followers?
  9. What isn’t working? What’s costing time and money for poor return?
  10. What do you want more of in the second half of 2017?
  11. How might you change your approach going forward?

These questions are obviously aimed primarily at people running a business, but the first five and last two can easily apply to anyone. Going through them has given me the chance to pause and reflect, examine what works and what doesn’t, and plan for the future. For instance, I know that I want to be more positive and productive, spend more time with my kids, and grow my income. What’s more, I know what tools to use and steps to take to achieve these goals.

In my bullet journal

As I am moving into my second bullet journal this month, I have been able to take on board what I have learned in doing this review, and implement changes in my bujo. I have loved bullet journaling. It’s no exaggeration to say that it has changed my life. I’m feeling so much more organised and inspired. The major advantage that bullet journaling has over standard planners is the ability to completely customise it. If you try something one week, or month, and it doesn’t work out, you can simply change it up with a new spread whenever you like.

My spreads have evolved since I started in January and I have a better idea of what works for me now. Setting up my new notebook with favourite collections that I wanted to copy over was really enjoyable and made me feel charged with purpose for the coming months.

The first page for the month that I set up was my active projects and goals spread. Knowing now that I need to be more focused and reflect on my goals more frequently, it seemed appropriate to not only have a spread for my annual goals, but one for each month as well.

bujo planning July goals spread

Next up is the traditional bujo monthly spread, more or less. Alongside it, I have included a spread that I used in June in my last notebook, an Income Log. I tried tracking my spending back in May, but I didn’t keep up with it and it actually kept me stuck in a negative mindset. I decided to log all money and value coming into my life instead. This can include things like being gifted a discount for something, or getting a freebie from a mailing list. Any time I receive something of value, I make a note of it. This helps me to feel positive about money and the abundance in my life.

Ryder Carroll traditional monthly layout, income log

I’ve been keeping a gratitude log for a few months now. Very simply, I note down one thing every day that I am grateful for. On bad days it might be something as basic as “my bed”, but since keeping this log, the bad days have grown fewer and more far between. Opposite this, I have a self care log. I used to do a monthly tracker with all the individual self-care acts I wanted to increase in my life listed separately. But I found this too overwhelming, trying to establish too many habits at once. Instead, much like the Gratitude Log, I just note one thing each day that I have done to take care of myself.

gratitude and self care log

going forward

So what are my goals for the remainder of 2017? My top priority is right here, giving you guys great content on a regular basis. Then there’s my creative writing course, Fun and Ink, which I am aiming to get launched this summer. Finally, my fitness needs a very real kick up the butt. I have action plans in place for each, and am raring to go!

So how about you? How has 2107 been going and where are you going next? I love to hear from you, so leave a comment below.

How to Plan a Florida Vacation!

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.

We are planning to go in May 2018, and we began planning last month, about one year ahead. So please consider this post the 12 months out step, even though it’s now 11 months until we go. I’ll publish an update every month to guide you through the planning each step of the way.

Now, the kids know nothing about this yet! A year is a long time to have two small people constantly asking if we go tomorrow! So, we’ll be surprising them with the big news much nearer the time. It’s your call how you approach this. Maybe your kids are a bit older and would enjoy being part of the initial planning stages. If so, go for it! I’m looking forward to the days when my gang can help pick the resort we stay at without going crazy waiting for departure day!

So, the first thing you need to do, about a year ahead of travelling, is take some time to consider these four elements:

  • Budget
  • Duration of stay
  • Your party, and any unique needs
  • What kind of vacation you want this to be

Let’s get into some detail…

Budget

Maybe you already have the funds saved up, this is definitely the sensible way to do it. But perhaps you are budgeting in advance, knowing you will have it all covered in time. Either way, you need to know your budget before you book. This will help you determine everything else, from where you stay, how you travel, how long you go for, whether you get the dining plan or not… everything.

You should think about what you are comfortable spending on each of these general categories:

  • Accommodation
  • Flights/travel
  • Food
  • Souvenirs
  • Car Hire
  • Park Tickets

Now, some of these are relatively fixed, such as park tickets, but others are highly variable. Your budget will likely play a significant role in determining whether you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, a Universal one, or another hotel or villa off site. There are pros and cons to each of these options, which I will talk about more in my next post in the series. Where you decide to stay will also determine whether you decide to rent a car or not. If you’re staying on property at WDW, and are not planning to check out much else in or near Orlando, then you probably don’t need to hire a car. Guests staying on site have access to free Disney transportation between parks and resorts, and on the whole, it’s pretty good. When we went in 2012, we just hired a car for a few days when we scheduled out days at Universal. This kept the costs down. We managed just fine without a car for the rest of the two weeks we were there, despite having a small baby with us.

It’s easy, when browsing package vacations online or in brochures, to see the cost per person and think it seems totally reasonable and doable, without thinking of the other costs associated with the trip. Don’t forget about eating while you’re there! This can be extremely costly. There are ways to mitigate the costs and save a bit of money, again, there will be more on this in a later post, but you need to factor it into your budget from the outset. Same goes for other spending money whilst away, and any other parks or destinations you intend to visit whilst in Florida, such as Sea World, the Kennedy Space Centre, Busch Gardens, and so on.

Duration

This will be determined by your budget and the needs of your family. When I was 11, me and my parents went to Orlando for just 5 days and had a blast. We only went to Magic Kingdom, of the WDW parks, but we also went to Wet ‘n’ Wild, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens.

The two times I have been as an adult, with my young children and all of my husband’s family, we went for two weeks. When travelling from thousands of miles away, it’s a good idea to consider the time it takes to travel, the recovery from that (hello, jetlag), and how long you will need to make the most of your trip. It’s often very economical to go for two weeks instead of one, with the price not being as much more as you might think.

But for our next trip, we are going all out and staying for three weeks! This might sound crazy to some folks, but for us, it makes a lot of sense. Both our previous trips were interrupted with brief illnesses (I blame economy flights and all those germs percolating in a pressurised cabin). There is so much to do, especially if you want to go away from Disney for a bit, and the weather is so hot for most of the year – us Brits with fair complexions have to think about our sun exposure! Both previous trips were exhausting and we would prefer to pace ourselves. When you stay at a Disney resort, one of the perks is Extra Magic Hours; when one of the parks opens early or stays open late for resort guests. When you can plan to take advantage of this, you can easily retreat from the sun and busy parks during the peak of the day (roughly 12 noon-3pm), then head back out late afternoon for a few more hours.

We want to do this and still have time to do everything we want to do. We don’t want to be contending with blisters, sunburn, fatigue and so on; all perils of this kind of holiday.

Your Party

This is very much wrapped up in the above point; consider who is travelling with you and what they need from the experience. How many adults? How many children? Anyone with accessibility needs? Anyone autistic? These things will be important in deciding where you stay and how long for. What are the unique needs of your party?

Last time we went, we were a party of 5 adults, and 6 children, including a baby only a couple of months old. One of the adults had recently had a hip replacement, too. So we had to consider this in deciding where to stay and how to structure our vacation. For example, we hired cars for the entire duration, rather than just a few days like the previous trip, so that we had more transport options for the less mobile members of our family.

What Kind of Vacation Do You Want?

This might seem like a daft question, but it really isn’t. It’s not a simple matter of Florida = Theme Parks and Thrills. A Florida holiday can be a slow and relaxing one; with ample golf, sunbathing, and spa treatments. It might involve exclusively Disney, or completely avoid WDW! You might want the high-adrenaline of Universal at Halloween (totally on my bucket list for when the kids are older!), or the awesome experience of seeing a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. All mod cons and luxury? Or rustic wilderness?

Disney has a resort for everything. Never mind the myriad of non-Disney options.

If you’ve decided on staying at a Disney resort, think about which park or parks you’re likely to visit most on your vacation. If you have young children, that’s likely to be Magic Kingdom; older kids might be keen to spend several days at Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios; adults only may get most out of Epcot (though there is lots for kids too!). Consider this when looking at the resorts and their locations. Think about transport. WDW is huge, it can be a fairly long bus ride out to Animal Kingdom, for example, so if that’s your top destination, consider staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

My point is: do your research!

I highly recommend the following sites for all your Florida vacation prep needs (I am not affiliated with any of these sites or companies and only ever recommend people or products that I have used myself):

Walt Disney World – official travel site

WDW Prep School

Disney Tourist Blog

WDWInfo

Universal Orlando – official site

And you can’t beat Pinterest! Check out my Florida board!

Now, I’ve gone and dumped a whole load of information on you, I’m sorry. After what I said up top about overwhelm. Well, I want to help you beat the overwhelm and plan the vacation of a lifetime! So take a look at my free printable worksheet. This should help guide you through the initial planning stage and focus your thoughts. I’ve also included a basic planning schedule, with reminders of when you will need to organise the different aspects of your trip and plenty of space for notes.

WDW Walt Disney World vacation holiday planning worksheet free printable

Florida Vacation Planning Worksheet

Open Letter to the NMC

open letter to NMC freedom for independent midwives

I’ve mentioned this in passing in a few posts recently, finally I’m able to sit down and write a full post about the farcical treatment of independent midwives by their governing body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). The backstory to this goes back years. In very brief summary, in 2014, it became mandatory for all health professionals to have indemnity insurance. Prior to this, independent midwives (IMs) were practicing without insurance. Clients would simply sign a declaration stating that they understood this, myself and the husbeast signed such a document when we hired our IM in 2011.

This worked absolutely fine in the overwhelming majority of cases. For two main reasons; first, the client entered into this arrangement with full knowledge and acceptance of it. If it had been a deal-breaker for a client/couple, then they simply wouldn’t have hired the IM and would have sought midwifery services elsewhere, either through the NHS, or a private provider (note: independent and private midwives are very different. Private midwives are employed by a corporate/private maternity care provider. IMs are self employed, totally independent and traditionally free from corporate/insurance interests).

Second, it is generally recognised that IMs provide the gold standard of midwifery care, therefore adverse outcomes are extremely rare. In the exceptional circumstances where something did go wrong, AND the IM was found to be negligent, it was up to the client whether to pursue a legal case or not. With the relationship typically built up between woman and IM, it seems inconceivable that the woman would decide to bankrupt the midwife. Of course, there are a couple of cases of this happening, but it is essential to look at the big picture and assess whether broad strokes that affect nearly 100 midwives and the many thousands of women that they care for are proportionate to the tiny number of cases where lack of insurance was a serious problem.

The reason that IMs were practicing without insurance was that there wasn’t an insurance product available to them. Insurers, with no knowledge of birth or midwifery, considered it too high a (financial) risk.

In 2014, however, when IMs were left with no choice in the matter, they found a provider who was able to create a custom policy tailored to their practice. Any IM registered with IMUK was covered by this insurance. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, until late last year, when the NMC suddenly decided that the insurance they had in place was not adequate. To date, they have refused to explain in what way it is inadequate, or what additional coverage would make it adequate. There have been muddled statements about there not being enough money in the pot to make a single large payout. However, it is my understanding that this isn’t true, and that if a claim were successfully made against an IM, there would, in fact be adequate funds available by the time the payout was expected to be made.

The NMC refuse to accept this and simply forced all IMs to sign a contract, under duress, stating that they would no longer attend births. The lack of warning left hundreds of women without their midwife for their births. Apparently, the NMC found this acceptable.

Birthrights and other organisations have been working tirelessly on this issue. Below is an open letter, written by Birthplace Matters founders, Paula, Jeannette, and Anna. The complete document and correspondence history can be found here. Please feel free to share widely. Tweet the NMC @nmcnews and #savethemidwife and make your voice heard. IMs and birthing women need our support.

Open reply to the NMC from Birthplace Matters – March 2017

Dear Catherine Evans and Emma Broadbent,

Thank you for your response to our letter. It is clear that your goal is to focus on compensating mothers after the event of their birth. We wish to explore this in broader terms and discuss what really matters to the many mothers we hear from at Birthplace Matters.

It strikes us that when a woman is hiring an independent midwife, it is often done as an act of insurance, to protect herself and her baby from damage which she does not want to repeat from an earlier birth. Sadly, the damage we hear about is occurring far too often as a result of ‘routine’ or commonplace procedures which are happening every single day up and down the country.

As such, far from being a luxury lifestyle choice for a wealthy and privileged elite, a woman’s decision to hire an independent midwife is much more often an act of desperation following anxiety attacks, symptoms of PTSD, and feelings of anger and sadness following an experience of giving birth under NHS care. Often, they just want to avoid the same ‘routine’ procedures and treatment again.

Your statement that women still have the option of choosing non-IMUK midwives, fine though they may be, is not actually viable for some – since some women live too far from one for that to be a safe option for birth – especially for 2nd, 3rd, or 4th babies etc, who may come too quickly for a midwife to drive 3 hours to her. In such cases women are left facing the option of going back under NHS care, choosing to birth alone with no midwives, or, as we have been hearing more and more recently, actually choosing not to have any more children. All three of these options are unacceptable when taken as acts of desperation. Do you see now what peril women are in because of this insurance fiasco?

Without exaggeration, some stories we have heard by women describe their birth in the language that rape victims use about the violation of their bodies by strangers. Some are triggered for weeks, months and even years afterwards, often suffering silently. Even if a birth appears on paper to have been a success, with no legal category for suing a hospital, it doesn’t always mean that a woman walked away from her birth experience unscarred. There are invisible wounds which cannot be accounted for in a tick-box on an insurance claim form. Some feel too beaten down to fight anyway.

We are hearing frequently from women who say they were ignored, laughed at and even abused by NHS staff – ironically, your actions in preventing IMs from practising is pushing some women to have to go back to the same place and potentially go through the same traumas all over again.

When we allow insurance companies, governments, and lawyers to determine the T&C’s of birth, it can be interpreted as a carte-blanche to behave appallingly, in the arrogant guise of rescuing women and protecting babies by a highly interventionist approach. The onus on deciding what is safe is therefore shifted away from the mother, where it rightfully belongs, and is assumed by her care team. When a woman is not trusted to make informed decisions, but is instead bullied, this undermines/violates her rights over her own body and her own baby.

This is why so many women seek out an independent midwife – because the word independent means just that – they know full well that whilst their midwife is insured for what is to most mothers, a reasonable and reassuring sum, these midwives are not entirely in the pocket of insurance companies so are not motivated primarily to satisfy insurance company tick boxes over and above the wishes of the mother. They often avoid the same knee-jerk interventionism that is offered within NHS settings, providing instead truly 1:1 watchful, continuous care with the time and space to be with-woman in the way that midwives in hospitals cannot due to restraints outside of their own control. Without wishing to offend individual midwives within the NHS who offer sterling care, we feel that this continuity actually makes independent midwifery a much safer model.

Even the very best NHS midwives will sometimes admit they are just too busy to truly give the full care and attention they would wish they could give to women, knowing that CTG monitors are a poor substitute for 1:1 care and have not been shown to have saved even one life. Even in those places where the NHS aspires to offer truly holistic care, it is not always consistently available for all women coming through the doors. When women are lucky enough to receive truly individualised and holistic care it is more often than not at a personal cost to a midwife’s career progression.

There are so many good NHS midwives working within the system who are being disciplined and over-ruled to satisfy bosses who are thinking of insurance and malpractice tick-boxes first and foremost. Many are leaving the system altogether due to stress and burnout in their attempt to balance gold standard care with restrictions from on high. As well as working within ever more restrictive insurance company T&C’s, it must also be said that the over-riding of mothers’ wishes within the NHS is done in a spirit of old-fashioned paternalism which is very tiring for women to have to put up with in 2017 after all the gains we have made to improve women’s rights elsewhere.

In the light of what we have discussed above, we at Birthplace Matters feel that the NMC’s definition of what it means to protect women and their babies needs to be re-evaluated. In 2017, it ought to mean so much more than a woman’s ability to claim financial reimbursement in the event of lifechanging birth complications – since no insurance company should have a monopoly on defining what those complications are. Clearly, many women are left scarred by their birth experiences in ways that are invisible, but are very real and life-changing for themselves and their babies in ways that affect whole families. Offering a wildly inflated sum like £10m is meaningless to a mother who has to drive a 10 mile detour so she doesn’t have to go past a hospital where she gave birth and who does not want to relive the trauma all over again by pursuing a legal case – especially if the hospital closes ranks and proposes what constitutes harm by their own definition only, ignoring or belittling her complaints.

The insurance cartel that is taking over birth practice is turning this very natural process into an increasingly clinical event with unhappy consequences for many mothers and babies. If such insurance-dominated practice was translating into safer and more satisfying birth it would make sense – yet the opposite seems to be true, judging by the soaring rate of inductions and other interventions which drive up the cesarean rate.

We ask that you pay attention to the voices in the #savethemidwife campaign and recognise the ridiculousness of telling independent midwives they are not insured for enough without stating what ‘enough’ is, leaving them and their clients in a state of confusion and despair. Why not let mothers decide on what level of insurance they want to choose rather than letting the insurance companies dictate whether a woman can afford an independent midwife, or not? Independent should mean just that – forcing them to fall in line with the NHS suggests you do not appreciate the difference between the two uniquely different models. They should remain separate as they have been to date, and women should rightfully be at the helm in choosing what they need.

Yours in frustration,

Paula, Jeanette and Anna – The Birthplace Matters Team