The boys’ illnesses have dragged on and even now my eldest is still fighting an ear infection. Instead of swimming today, we decided to wrap up and head to our local park. The boys weave down the canal path, racing each other and doubling back to do it over and over. Our bag is filled with blackberries, mince pies and coffee. Little hands in mittens find mine and the face of my youngest looks up at me with such pleasure it melts me every time.

We trail around the park and find a path leading to the back of a housing estate I never knew existed. There’s another play area here, with a clear view of the train tracks – which may or may not sound exciting, but it’s sheer bliss when you’re four years old. I sit on a old log, bark flaking, as they climb to the highest point they can to watch the carriages whistle by.

Returning to the original park, I seek out berberis. While numerous people consider these spiky plants essentially a weed, I love them. It was the first plant I sought out a name for and over the years I’ve come to love too many varieties to count. Our park is home to many of them, and this berberis darwinii (above) is one I really must buy for my garden now we’re at the planting stage. The fiery but dainty tassels are stunning. My youngest sees me seeking out the flowers and he says, ‘oooh, those are beautiful’

Our nature curriculum suggests choosing a tree to study through the seasons and this elegant skeleton above is the one we’ve chosen. I’ve not yet identified it, due to the fact it’s not got a single leaf left on it and the wind has tumbled a muddle of leaves onto the ground below it.

Heading to the library we pick up a book on tree identification with clear pictures of trees in winter. We’ll take it with us next time we go and hopefully become a little wiser.

The boys stack up library books as if we don’t have a bookcase with bowing shelves upstairs. My middle boy picks a poetry book and it’s all I can do not to shout out in excitement. Poetry! My favourite! I’m trying to play it down, but he’s knows he’s picked a good one.

It’s Tuesday, and the days are short and bleak. The sun stubbornly refuses to grace us with its presence today and there is a metallic, industrial feeling to the day. It’s inhospitable, cold, lacking charm. But the berberis surrounding the play area, with its glossy red berries lends a much needed warmth. Sometimes you just need to remind yourself of that goodness and warmth, holding your children close as a headache pounds behind your eyes, gaining strength ready to hit you with a violent crescendo. Sometimes you’ve just got to admit it’s not the best of days but it’s the best you’re going to get today.

And I’m okay with that.

A Month of Links

A month of links that have inspired me over the last few weeks.

Why We Need Children to Get Outdoors – Raised Good

This article is so beautifully written, it’s got to be top of the list.

“Childhood reminds me of anticipating cherry tomatoes ripening in the conservatory, of snow peas filling their shells in the garden and craving the comforting smell of fresh bread in the kitchen.”

(Dance With Me in the Heart)

Icelandic Christmas Eve Tradition – a gorgeous article on giving books on Christmas Eve.

(Creative Child Magazine)

The Bond of Brothers – The Guardian

“What would you say if you had an hour, and no more, with someone you love and have lost? And, why don’t I have an answer? The reason is, I have already had my hour with my dead brother. I had it when he was still my brave, beautiful, dignified, dying brother.”

Is Your Child’s Worst Enemy Your Smart Phone? – I am so guilty of this. I’m reminding myself of my break from technology last December that I enjoyed so much and setting myself some limits on my usage.

On Reading Readiness – Frontier Dreams

When you really think about it, childhood is short enough as it is – why should we try to rush it even more?! Everything has its time and season. We need to slow down and enjoy it. Let the children be wild and free as long as they can. They have the rest of their lives to be adults with all the worries and cares that come with it.”

A Message from the Crone

“Child, they will never stop telling you to act your age, they do it to me often.

And my reply has always been the same: I will act the age my soul sees fit.

If you take issue with that, then I suggest you turn away and take your leave, because I’m not going to betray my heart and sacrifice myself on the fires of your expectation.”

~ C. Ara Campbell

(Photo by Natalie Grono)

8 Things to Remember Before Gathering with Family at ChristmasHappiness is Here

Christmas generally brings gatherings with family members that don’t understand home education and will do their level best to make their criticisms known. Here’s eight reminders of how to be graceful around such people.

Criticism about my parenting is not about me. I am comfortable with my choices. I am open to listening to others concerns, expressed respectfully, but my choices are not up for debate. Nor are my child’s rights. If people have a problem with that, it is about them, not me. I have a right to enforce my personal boundaries.”

(Dance With Me in the Heart)

How America’s Culture of Shame is a Killer for Boys – The Good Men Project

“Once we have been trained to be ashamed of ourselves, we don’t need active confirmation from others. We assume they are disappointed in us, even contemptuous of us. We fill in the blanks with the most damaging possible messages.”

A Week in the Life: Home Ed.

It’s been a week of illness, so we’ve spent a lot of time in front of the TV. Generally we limit screen time and use it sparingly, but this week we watched both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory films in one afternoon. We also watched the Lego Batman film, courtesy of the Into Film Festival.

We’ve started our new nature curriculum which I’ve enjoyed. I plan to post about it separately.

Christmas is fast approaching and I find myself wondering where 2017 has gone. Facebook reminds me that this time last year I took a month off from social media and I’m nostalgic for those last few days of 2016 that I enjoyed so much. I vividly remember putting up the Christmas tree as the sun set over the day, casting a golden hue over a living room covered in tinsel and glitter. I recall my eldest gorging on enormous pomegranates, his face splashed with jewel-coloured juice and his smile wide and sticky.

We dragged the Christmas books down from the attic – the box that has one book too many in and is splitting at the seams. The smell of those books, dusty and damp, never fails to fill me full of excitement for the magic of the tales told between their stained pages.

We walk to see a friend. The sun beats down on an icy morning and we race down the canal path where it splits into two, seeing who can run the fastest to where the paths reconvene. I lose, as ever, even taking the shorter path.

Forest School brings little fingers wrapped in woollen gloves and hats perched at jaunty angles atop my boys’ heads. They learn how to tie knots and make simple wooden frames. We warm up in the ranger’s office with hot chocolate and investigate water filters and shed snakes’ skins. Getting home, the boys raid their stick collection to make stick picture frames for their bedrooms.

Home ed. this week has consisted of nature journals, reading, a few snippets of maths, but mostly getting outside in between the bouts of lethargy. We carry on ploughing through the Roald Dahl books, moving on to Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

The boys are awestruck to see how pine cones open up when they are warm and dry. My eldest brought some home on a wet afternoon and put them on a radiator to dry. They knew how they closed up when the weather is wet, as wet weather isn’t conducive to seed dispersal, but to actually see it – they’ve told everyone they’ve seen this week about the magic of pine cones.

The snowberries dance in the gentle breeze, plump and pure as the boys roll them in their fingers whispering, ‘what are these, mum?!’

We pass mahonias as tall as me, their prickly leaves and yellow flowers standing proud in the bleakness of a wet afternoon.

I genuinely struggle to understand why people stay indoors as the cooler weather devours us. There is so much beauty over these last few months of the year and I want to shout from the rooftops: ‘Take your children outdoors! Come see the spellbinding magic that is the world in November.’

But I don’t. Instead, I decline yet another invite to an indoor play-area and we venture out alone to witness this beauty.

Darley Park, Derby

I’ve visited Darley Park numerous times and never known that it accommodates the largest collection of hydrangeas in the U.K.

Admittedly, November wasn’t the best time to stumble upon it as most of the plants are losing their flowers in preparation for winter, but there were a few solitary blooms still peeking out.

Yet I do find the tawny, dying flowers somewhat beautiful and we spent a little while wandering down the overgrown pathways.

I have to confess that this is not one of my favourite parks. I have friends that practically live here, and summer always brings a few nice picnics by the river with those same friends. But mostly, I find this park a little dreary.

There are some beautiful trees, gnarled and twisted into grotesque, unnatural looking shapes. The grounds are well-kept, the cafe friendly and welcoming. There’s just something about the park that I don’t particularly enjoy.

At least I know to visit in summer, when the hydrangeas will be back to their finest.

Oh, and rocks. More rocks to add to our collection ready to re-hide.

Derbyshire Rocks

Exploring Nature with Children: The Handbook of Nature Study

This arrived this morning:

It’s the handbook suggested to go alongside our Exploring Nature With Children Curriculum. It’s beautiful. The prose is so delightfully old fashioned that I can’t put it down. It was first published in 1939.

“Nature study cultivates in the child a love of the beautiful; it brings to him early perception of colour, form and music. He sees whatever there is in his environment, whether it be the thunder-head piled up in the western sky, or the gold flash of the oriole in the elm; whether it be the purple of the shadows on the snow, or the azure glint on the wing of the little butterfly. Also, what there is of sound, he hears; he reads the music score of the bird orchestra, separating each part and knowing which bird sings it. And the patter of the rain, the gurgle of the brook, the sighing of the wind in the pine, he notes and loves and becomes enriched thereby.”

How beautiful is that?

Or this:

“Let us not inflict permanent injury on the child by turning him away from nature instead of toward it. However, of the love of nature is in the teacher’s heart, there is no danger; such a teacher, no matter by what method, takes the child gently by the hand and walks with him paths that lead to the seeing and comprehending of what he may find beneath his feet or above his head. And these paths, whether they lead among the lowliest plants, or whether to the stars, finally converge and bring the wanderer to that serene peace and hopeful faith that is the sure inheritance of all those who realise fully that they are working units of this wonderful universe.”

I love it.

Spanning across 700 pages is Anna Botsford Comstock’s elegance prose, covering the teaching of nature, birds, insects, amphibians, trees, wildflowers and everything in between.

“The child studies the cabbage butterfly in all its stages, the exquisitely sculptured yellow egg, the velvety green caterpillar, the chrysalis with its protecting colours, the white-winged butterfly, and becomes interested in the life of the insect. Not under any consideration, when the attention of the child is focused on the insect, should we suggest a remedy for it when it becomes a pest. Let the life story of the butterfly stand as a fascinating page of nature’s book.”

The boys are in bed now, and I sit on my own bed as the day draws to a close around me, with this book resting on my lap. It’s perfect. It’s the nature book I never knew I wanted, and I can’t wait to share it with my boys.

This Little Robin

It snowed during the night. Not enough to qualify as snowfall but just enough to coat the ground and then freeze over. Despite having poorly boys, we wrapped everyone up and headed out.

Every time we head to Shipley Park this little robin comes to say hello. We stood watching him for a while as he ate berries from the trees.

The boys climb in the play area, then hunt for rocks (we find 4 today and re-hide some previous finds). They push their wellies through the thin sheets of ice atop the puddles. They enthusiastically attempt the exercise machines dotted around the park.

But mostly, we just enjoy the cold and the grass crunching underfoot.


We have two poorly boys, which inevitably leads to three poorly boys in this house. They were late to bed last night and early to rise this morning and I knew it was going to be a long day.

We woke to frost; beautiful, delicate patterns of ice weaving across the garden. The boys and I made hot chocolate and we headed out to the park for some fresh air in a bid to blow away the viruses coursing through their bodies.

Trailing around the lake, the boys find some enthusiasm from under their blankets of lethargy and they hunt for hidden rocks painted by other children. They total 10 rocks by the time we tumble back into the car.

We sit in the sunshine with our hot chocolate, hats slipping down over our eyes. My middle boy asks for my phone to take photos of his rocks, and of the ducks keeping their eyes trained on us in the hope we have food to share.

Returning home, the boys are exhausted. Instead of trying to fight it, we drag the blankets and cushions down from upstairs and watch BOTH Charlie and the Chocolate Factory films. We cuddle together under duvet covers, not even noticing the sun setting until we realise the room is in darkness and bedtime is upon us.

I sit listening to their rhythmic breathing, heavy with illness. It’s been a long day, but it’s been a good day – and I know tomorrow will be the same.