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

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 ūüė¶

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!

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

Does the Classroom Really Prepare Kids for Real Life?

This week an interesting article came to my attention. Written by an American school teacher in North Carolina, Anthony Johnson, it details how he creates a year long real world simulation for his fifth grade students. His results are insightful, and not remotely surprising to most British home educators. Many of us are, either intentionally or by result of trial and error, practicing one of a range of similar approaches with our children.
does classroom prepare kids for real life?

Johnson’s “simulation of adulthood” provides his students with “an interactive city where all projects intertwine to create an ecosystem of businesses and homes.” While I’m sure there are home educators who follow the National Curriculum, or other structured systems broken down by subject, it seems that the vast majority of us do not. Rather, we take a holistic approach, nurturing the whole of the child’s natural curiosity and facilitating an education that is more natural. The world isn’t neatly divided into categories that are unconnected. One thing links to another, and another. Economics, housing, health, culture, art, city planning, gardening… all are connected.

This is also how our brains work. Thoughts are not isolated. One leads to another, sometimes seemingly totally unconnected thoughts will surface in unexpected ways due to subconscious connections.

For many home educators, this is the ultimate benefit of this lifestyle choice: our children are free to follow their thought processes through to completion, which is ultimately more satisfying and learning is enjoyable and memorable.

Johnson has found that the relevancy of his simulation, which he calls “Johnsonville”, has an overwhelmingly positive effect on his students. Because they can relate their classes to the real world, to events in their own lives and those of their parents, such as finding a home, paying for it, doing a job, managing projects and so on, they remember the content of their lessons much more effectively. As a result, their test scores are well above average. The average for his school on the state science exam is 58%, while his class averages 85%.

His students are in control and have freedom to explore different elements at their own pace. He facilitates, rather than teaches, exactly as many home educators do. I remember once someone suggested I go into teaching. I grimaced and gave a firm reply in the negative. She was surprised “but you teach your own!”

“No, I don’t. I parent them. I’m a parent, I facilitate their education, sure, but I am NOT a teacher.”

This was a number of years ago, and while nothing has changed at home, as it happens, I do now “teach” a creative writing group for other home educated kids. But I strive to be a facilitator there too, giving the group discussion points and room to be creative. But I no longer shrink away from the mantle of “teacher” the way I once did.

Reading Johnson’s article, as I said, there were no surprises. I felt a great deal of agreement with his approach and there were a few “well, duh” moments, where home educators have known these things for a long time. Project based learning is extremely popular among British home educating families. Children direct their own learning, choosing what topics interest them, and parents give their child/ren opportunities to explore that topic until they exhaust it and move on to something else. We are not constrained by an arbitrary bell that tells us to switch from English to Maths. We don’t have a limited number of hours in the week in which to cover everything the National Curriculum demands of us, for no good reason.

creativity, education

While Johnson’s approach is rare in state funded schools, on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is certainly a vast improvement on standard classroom offerings, it is still a simulation. Its benefits are therefore limited too. For some of us, education is not separate from life at all, it is part of it, maybe even the ultimate purpose of life itself. We don’t separate learning from living. Our children don’t “play” at being adults… well, they do if they choose to, but they aren’t experiencing a simulated real world within a controlled environment, they are actually living real life all day every day.

For instance, my eldest is keen to be a YouTuber. He has played at making his own videos over and over again. He now has his own channel, for real, and is in the process of planning out the series he wants to produce. He will be filming the videos, learning to edit and upload them, how to add graphics and animations, music and other elements. He will experience publicising his channel and connecting with other kids who have their own channels. It’s all real, and it all prepares him for independence. As his parent, I obviously take his safety online seriously and will help him find the resources he needs, but it is his project to run with.

When people raise their concern that home education may be a barrier to anything, especially “socialisation”, I have to stop myself from laughing. People’s misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather than being segregated from society in the artificial construct of school, my children are in the world, interacting with a mix of people they simply wouldn’t if they were in school. They get to socialise with people of all ages, in a range of situations, with varying degrees of closeness. My children get to choose when they want to see friends, and when they need alone time to recharge (as introverts, this freedom is invaluable to the three of us). They are developing genuine relationships based on mutual interests, rather than the forced association that is so often the case in the classroom.

This isn’t to say that school children don’t form real, strong friendships, of course they do. I have a few friends now who I was at school with. We see each other a few times a year to catch up. Some children thrive socially at school. But not attending school isn’t the barrier to friendship that many seem to think it is. What often seems to be the case when you dig a little deeper with people who believe the socialisation myth, is that what they were really thinking of was conformity and facing adversity. It’s true that home education allows children to assert their independence much more than school does. But that’s a good thing, in my opinion. I’m not interested in having children who blindly conform, I want them to be themselves.

Peer pressure and bullying are virtually non-existent, because throughout the primary years, children do the bulk of their socialising in the company of adults, who are on hand to iron out disagreements before they escalate. Families then have the freedom to choose more carefully who they spend time with. If bullying does crop up, the two families can easily avoid one another. In my experience, and that of a huge number of home educating families, schools are utterly incapable of handling bullying. Often, the bully is not dealt with at all, and the victim must continue to endure being in the bully’s presence every day.

In the real world, in adulthood, we have a stronger word for this: abuse. Or harassment. Both are illegal and treated seriously. If either occurs in the workplace there are usually systems in place to handle it. Adults can often adjust their lives to remove the abuser from daily life. This can be incredibly difficult at times, and many victims need support, but society as a whole does not condone this behaviour. Yet in children it is accepted, sometimes even held up as a rite of passage required in order to “toughen up” a young person to prepare them for “real life”.

But is that what happens? Not in my experience. Most often, victims of childhood peer abuse are psychologically traumatised by it and this then leads to problems in their adult lives. Current research agrees with me.

Anthony Johnson’s approach is truly commendable, and I applaud him for it. But I can’t help thinking how lucky we are to have another choice.

We aren’t simulating life, we are living it.

educational freedom, creativity, outdoors, learning through living

 

For more information on different home education approaches, please check out the following links.

http://www.educationotherwise.net/

http://eclectic-homeschool.com/what-kind-of-homeschooler-are-you/

2017 So Far…

This is just a super quick post to update my fabulous readers! This year has been amazing so far and I wanted to let you know that although I haven’t posted much yet, there is soooo much coming!

2017-goals-and-planning

Bullet Journal

The big thing is that I started bullet journaling. There is going to be an epic post on this coming up very soon, so stay tuned (or hit the “follow” button!). If you don’t know what this is, very briefly, it is a planning system that turns a simple notebook into a diary, planner and journal. The key component is that you place an index at the front of the notebook, number your pages, and list everything you put in there in the index so you can find it again later. You keep to-do lists, plan for the future and track whatever you like in the book. I highly recommend you check out the Bullet Journal website and watch the intro video by Ryder Carroll, the guy who first created the concept. Then head to Pinterest and search for “bujo”….

So that’s been taking up a great deal of my attention for the last month.

Kids, Birthdays & Birth

I’ve been running creative writing workshops for local home educated kids, which I am LOVING so much and am figuring out ways to do more of that.

img_2841-2It’s been a very Minecraft-focused period for the Munchkin and the Bean, they are obsessed and learning so much. I am bowled over constantly by how creative they are becoming. The Bean also turned 5 a couple of weeks ago! How crazy is that?! Of course, he had to have a Minecraft cake, and I confirmed, yet again, that cake decorating does not come naturally to me!

I did a lot of reflecting on his birth around his birthday this year, it being the fifth anniversary of an event that completely changed my life in so many ways. You can check out my post about his incredible birth here, and the contract I used to get the lotus-caesarean here.

Coming up, I am going to be blogging about what’s going on in the midwifery world right now, with bizarre and potentially discriminatory action by the NMC.

Living Life On Purpose

A few weeks ago, I decided to set myself a couple of challenges. One is a 30 days of yoga challenge, which I am actually sticking to and loving! The other, is to stop yelling at my kids. I’m not the perfect unconditional/gentle parent, I admit that and when tensions run high, I resort to yelling. I became really aware of how frequently I raised my voice and have made a conscious effort to stop, cold turkey. No yelling at all. I have messed up twice. I’ll post a more detailed account of that, the reasons for it and how I’m handling it.

intentional

The first page of my bullet journal

My main focus for 2017 is to live more intentionally. I’m aiming¬†to be productive and present in the moment, not letting my time disappear with no real recollection of what I’ve been doing, which is all too easy to do as a busy mum at home with two crazy kids. The no yelling is part of that, as is the bullet journalling. But the most significant thing is the de-cluttering. I signed up to a course late last year and got all inspired. Hubby and I did a massive purge in December and took two carloads of stuff to a charity shop. But we have loads more to do, so I’ll be posting updates on that as we progress. There might even be “before” and “after” photos!

That’s all for now, folks.

TTFN

3 Top Tips for a Chilled Out Winter with A New Baby!

90338.jpgThis time five years ago, I was heavily pregnant with the Bean – wait, what? Was that really five whole years ago? Where has the time gone?! Three years before that, hubby and I moved 220 miles when I was 26 weeks pregnant. I really don’t recommend doing that! It’s been a few years since I had a tiny baby, but I remember it pretty clearly and have definitely learned a lot since then. You find that parenting is rather like being on a swing. It takes a bit of effort to get going and coordinated, but once you’re in the swing of it, you forget the effort it took and it becomes second nature. I hope that some of these tips from a wise old bird will help a few new parents this winter.

1Layer up! Obvious really, but this is my number one top tip. I didn’t really get it the first time around. I kept wearing the types of clothes I had worn pre-baby and was forever the wrong temperature! Nursing burns serious calories (so go ahead and let yourself have a slice of that home made cake at baby group), and in your hormonal post-partum state, you may get hot flushes. You’ll want to wrap up against the cold, but then when you arrive at your destination, be prepared to shed layers to be comfortable.

Same goes for baby, by the way! Several layers is better than one thick snowsuit, especially if baby is going to be in a car seat or be worn in a carrier (more on that in a mo). It’s super important not to put baby in anything too thick when they are in their five-point harness car seat, as if the worst should happen and you are in a collision, that padding can prevent the straps being tight enough to keep baby safely in their car seat.

When the Bean was little, I spent the extra cash on some nursing tops, rather than making do with what I had. I highly recommend Boob for fantastic tops for this time in your life. I still wear my hooded jumper from time to time. You can add layers safe in the knowledge that you can easily get to your breast to feed baby, without the discomfort of bunching up excess fabric or getting a chill from having your side/belly/chest uncovered.

Invest2 in a good carrier…. or six! I know not all parents will agree on this one, and each to their own, but I find a pram or buggy totally impractical in winter. I’ve never figured out how the parent holds an umbrella while pushing a pram, and the thought of slipping on ice and a pram rolling away down the steep hill that we live on is unthinkable! The Munchkin was in a pram a fair bit when he was little, but it was spring-summer and I hadn’t yet really discovered babywearing properly. We did have a sling, but I didn’t get on with it. It took me a while to get to a sling library and find a better carrier. He was ten months before we ditched the pram and started wearing him exclusively.12043191_1060903917277302_6469733779818377733_n

The Bean has only ever been in a buggy when we were on holiday in Florida and it was too hot to wear him. At home, I’ve never felt the need to use one with him. I got seriously into babywearing after he was born, and invested in several fantastic wraps, a ring sling, and a gorgeous custom made, Dr Seuss-themed, half-buckle mei tai by Madame GooGoo! I was wearing this in London one day, when a woman approached me from behind and told me she had seen pictures of my carrier online (sling makers often share photos of their finished products before shipping them) and long been an admirer of it, she was so surprised to see it in person. The sling world is like that, very friendly and approachable. Carriers also retain their value quite well, so can be sold on when they are no longer in use. I had to sell this carrier on last year. I often wonder where it is now and if it is still getting lots of use.

Babywearing in winter is a great way to keep each other warm and safe. Light layers, as mentioned above, are best, to avoid over-heating. I absolutely loved putting my babies in leg warmers, as in the picture above, a great compliment to babywearing and cloth nappies.

Most high street carriers are unsuitable for babywearing safely. They don’t allow for parents to follow the “TICKS” guidelines, and forward facing positions place stress on the wrong parts of a baby; chiefly their spine and crotch (these are jokingly referred to as “crotch-danglers” in the babywearing community). So, if you are going to wear your baby, make sure that your carrier enables you to wear baby in the correct position (Tight against your body, In sight at all times, Close enough to kiss, Keep the chin off the chest, and Supported back –¬†upright, facing you,. These are the T.I.C.K.S.). Back carries are great when babies get a bit older, but newborns are best worn on the front so that the TICKS can be observed.

There is a wealth of detailed information out there for those wanting to wear their babies, so I urge you to take a good look around the net, find a local sling library, and get support. There are loads of groups on Facebook dedicated to this!

3Don’t over-do things! If you are just about to have a baby, or have recently given birth, for goodness sake, don’t try to take on too much this festive season! It’s not worth it. Take it easy. Nest, or snuggle into your “babymoon” and enjoy your new baby. Get help in for Christmas, from family or friends. Don’t feel you have to cook a huge feast for all of your extended family. Traditions are great, but they can wait until next year if they involve a lot of effort. Let yourself have this pause from the hectic hustle and bustle of the season, your body will thank you. Stock up the freezer with easy-to-heat meals; get shopping delivered instead of traipsing around a supermarket with a baby;¬†say no to the invitations that you know you need to skip this year; keep it simple. I had the Bean at the end of January, so Christmas 5 years ago was a fairly low-key affair. I was waddling everywhere and unable to sleep comfortably due to my huge bump.

Nursing a newborn means resting and nourishing your body, rushing about trying to fit in too much won’t do either of you any good. If you have commitments that can’t be skipped or delegated, then find ways to manage them. You might have a school run to do with an older child, or a relative to care for. Of course you need to do these things, but try to have realistic expectations of yourself.

I hope some of this is helpful. If you have any more tips for the season, do please share them in the comments below. I love to hear from readers!

 

25 Christmas Countdown Activities

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It’s that time of year! Once Halloween and Bonfire Night are done and dusted, when the smell of gunpowder has settled, I can let myself get excited about Christmas. Our family is still quite young, but we are developing our own set of traditions around the festive season. My favourite thing to do is plan a special activity for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. We use a modified version of Elf on a Shelf, totally free of the sinister “I’m watching you” tone!

Instead, our elf, Erol, can be found each morning with a new activity for us to do that day. Some days we stay home and do a craft, others we head out to see friends or family, and on a few days throughout the season we do something extra special. I thought I would share our countdown with you.

Because we might have half a dozen different Christmas movies on separate days, for example, there won’t be 25 distinct activities here, but plenty of ideas to give you 25 days worth of activities.

img_00061. On the 1st December, Erol arrives with our Christmas tree and decorations for us to put up. I look forward to this day so much, with mounting excitement right through November, and this year, I’ll be honest, I’m having to hold myself back!

2. We attend a home ed forest school every month and this December it falls on the 2nd, so we’ll be incorporating this into our advent activity. My kids love collecting things from nature every time we head out. So we’ll be picking out some sticks, leaves and other forest goodies and making some natural decorations when we get home. Check out these ideas from Rainy Day Mum.

3. Visit friends. We’re heading over to a friend’s place to help decorate their house, eat mince pies, and generally welcome in the festive season with good company.

4. Board game day. Gaming is a big thing for our family. I played endless board games with my parents growing up, especially at this time of year. Hubby and I are very much into modern board games, as opposed to your traditional Monopoly, Cluedo and so on. Hubby has backed soooooo many new games through crowd funded projects and we now have a huge unit with the collection on. Many of them are strictly adults only (being horror based), but we have some great games for the kids to enjoy, such as Ticket to Ride. Cooperative games are a great alternative to play with children, they help reduce aggression and improve team play. Check out this list of top co-op games for families.

5. Make salt dough decorations. My kids aren’t hugely into crafts, so these are limited and front loaded so that we can put up anything we make and enjoy it for the rest of the season. We’re going to have a crack at these.

assorted-christmas-cards-1448895398jeq6. Write and post cards. A few years ago I decided that I wasn’t going to send Christmas cards any more. They just end up in the recycling after a few weeks and when sent in bulk, the well wishes seem to lose meaning. But this year I looked sadly at my over-the-door card holder and remembered it hanging empty a year ago. When I was a kid, my mum would string thread up all over the living room to hang the cards sent to us by friends and family. We would get hundreds of cards. She still follows this tradition, sending and receiving cards, in many cases this is her only correspondence with the other person or family, but it holds great value. It is a chance to catch up and keep in touch. Today, with social media, it is all so frenzied. We over-share, without really connecting. So this year, I am writing a few meaningful cards for people who really matter. I’d like to encourage my children to forge life-long friendships and connect meaningfully with those most special to them.

7. Read Christmas books! One lovely tradition that some parents observe, is to wrap up 25 winter or Christmas themed books for the start of advent and open one each day to read together. I love this idea and may well do it one year, but I don’t like to take on too much, so we’ll just dedicate a few days to this idea this year.

8. Watch Christmas films. This is probably my favourite item on the list. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting watching family films together at this time of year. With many hundreds to choose from, especially if you have access to a streaming service or movie channels, it’s hard to choose just a handful! My top picks have to be: The Nightmare Before Christmas (which we watch at Halloween too), Polar Express, Home Alone and Santa Claus: The Movie. Bring on the cheese-fest! What are your favourite festive films? Let me know in the comments!

9. Make Clay Snowflakes – with melted crayon and glitter! These simple decorations¬†over at Arty Crafty Kids look awesome and I can’t wait to try them out with my kids this December.

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An actual German market, in Konstanz. Image courtesy of LenDog64 on Flickr.

10. Visit a Christmas Market. I absolutely love traditional German markets, the ones that pop up around the holidays. I love the wooden cabins, the smell of fresh food, the hubbub and festive music. Nothing gets me in the mood for Christmas quite like these markets. I can usually pick up a few interesting gifts too. Last year I bought some gorgeous scented candles. The key, when taking the kids, is to see it as a family day out, rather than a shopping trip. Don’t expect to be productive; just enjoy the food, music and atmosphere; take the kids on the carousel; and try to relax and enjoy it.

 

img_013811. Bake a gingerbread house. Or gingerbread men, cookies, cupcakes, mince pies; whatever takes your fancy. Last year we made star shaped cupcakes with some fantastic silicon molds and covered them in glittery frosting and star sprinkles.

This year will be our first attempt at a gingerbread house! I’m going to get one of those kits with everything you need. I can’t wait to let the kids loose with the icing!

12. Go on a Christmas Photo Safari. Create a list of festive sights and see how many you can find and photograph. You could include things like a nativity scene, a star, a Christmas tree, Father Christmas, and so on. You could rope in some friends and make a team effort out of it.

13. All the crafts! If your kids are more crafty than mine, then there are hundreds of things you could make and do with them. My favourite list of inspiration is this one over at One Creative Mommy. We did make the scrap ribbon trees a couple of years ago and still have them to hang on our tree ūüôā

14. Play games. When I was growing up, charades was my favourite game to play this time of year. I would bore my parents rigid with it for weeks! Making the time to play with the whole family is lovely for bonding and making memories. Make it festive by theming the games around the holiday season. You could play pictionary, set up a candy cane hunt, do a quiz. There are stacks of ideas here, at The Military Wife and Mom.

15. Go carol singing. One of my few positive memories from school is singing carols, it’s one of the items on an extremely short list that I feel my kids might be missing by being home educated. So we get our musical high notes any way we can! We aren’t a religious family, but going to a family-friendly carol service at a nearby church is on our to-do list this year. If you have older children, and a group of friends or family who are up for it, you could even go door to door and collect donations for your favourite non-profit organisation. My family have sung carols for Amnesty in the past. If everyone is enthusiastic it can be lots of fun.

16. RAOK. To really get your kids into the spirit of giving, you could encourage them to perform a random act of kindness every day for advent. We’re mixing a few into our calendar. These can be as simple as saying a cheery “Merry Christmas” to a tired-looking check out clerk in a shop, or paying for the next customer’s coffee in a cafe.

17. Reverse Advent Calendar. In a similar vein to the previous point, we’re going to be doing a reverse advent this year. Each day of December, we will find a food item we don’t want or need, and add it to a box. At the end of the month, we’re taking it to a local donation centre who are collecting food parcels for refugees. You could donate to a food bank, or collect up old toys or clothes to give to charity.

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18. Make Solstice Lanterns. We like to observe the wheel of the year, so the Winter Solstice, or Yule, is a key date in our festive calendar. The ancient pagan celebration is about marking the longest night, the darkest point in the year before the sun returns (it’s easy to see how it became about the birth of the son of God). There may be a lantern parade near where you live, or perhaps you’re lucky enough to be near one of the ancient neolithic sites that marked this day in its construction. If so, consider taking a visit to see the sun rise or set there. This year, we are going to be making lanterns at home.

Stonehenge image © Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

19. Christmas Eve Box. This is a fairly new tradition that I’ve introduced to our family. We only started it last year, but it has quickly become one of my favourite things. I have a box covered in scraps of festive wrapping paper and on Christmas Eve, Erol appears with it late in the afternoon. Inside are new pyjamas for everyone, a box of chocolates, a new festive kids’ book and a new DVD. Now we’re all set for a cuddly Christmas Eve together.

20. Stockings! Finally, on Christmas morning, the kids find their stockings, stuffed full of goodies from Father Christmas and handed over by Erol. We don’t make a really big thing out of Father Christmas, my kids know that their main gifts come from family. We don’t take them to visit a grotto. But Santa does fill their stockings with nice little treats; some chocolate coins, a couple of small toys, and a few other bits and bobs. My kids are both early risers, even in winter, so these keep them occupied for half an hour to an hour while the grown ups wake up properly and are ready to start the day.

There are heaps of other things you could do with your family; get the extended family together for a meal out somewhere, go to a pantomime, take a drive or walk out after dark to look at the lights. Let me know what your family traditions are in the comments, I love to hear from you!

You can find links to pretty much all of the activities above, along with many more, on my Pinterest Board: Christmas & Yule Crafts & Activities. Follow me there for future Pins.

I hope you have a magical Christmas!