Motherhood

A Week in the Life: Home Ed.

We visited family in Suffolk this week and stayed the night in a caravan in Norfolk, just in time for Storm Eleanor. A storm is pretty magical at any time but a storm in a caravan 500 metres from the ocean is even better.

We woke repeatedly throughout the night with the ferocity of the rain and wind, but morning brought the most beautiful sunrise. My eldest boy snuggles up in his sleeping bag, ignoring the TV and watching the day break. There’s no better cure for a sleepless night than a sky tearing open over the water.

The boys spent time with their cousins, lost in their imaginations and it was lovely to watch.

Back home we spend a day clearing the house, sloughing off the holiday period and catching up on housework. I step over the boys taking apart Lego to rebuild on the floor. I hear them negotiating swaps with military precision, right down to Lego handcuffs and walkie-talkies. The terms are water-tight and as I step over them once more I remind them that swaps are permanent and they need to fully consider the impact of Lego swapping before sealing the deal. For a change, it ends peacefully. For today, at any rate.

Our plans the next day are cancelled so we use the opportunity to get back to our English and Maths which took a backseat over most of December. We finally pick up some Cat in the Hat learner books a friend bought for us at a car-boot sale, and I wonder why we’ve not used them before. The two older boys read them almost fluently, only tripping up over the Cat in the Hat’s made-up words.

We spend a lot of time working through the science kits the boys received for Christmas. Our RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch pack arrives on the same day as our free binoculars from the National Trust. They now have a pair each and I marvel at how life works in my favour sometimes.

The weekend brings a visit to Clumber Park in Nottingham.

It’s been a quiet week filled with family, long car journeys and rainy days. That said, it’s been a welcome start back into home education after the festivities. I’m looking forward to next week and getting back to some semblance of a routine, and hopefully, the beginning of our home-ed climbing sessions, too.

Oh, and alien dissection.

Snippets:

Map reading, bed building, looking at geothermal scientists, reading up on penguins, beautifully clumsy and stilted reading of joke books, how steam engines work, making water filters, learning about stalagmites/stalactites, hydraulic systems, writing thank-you letters, swimming with friends, growing crystals, reading old Enid Blyton books I remember from my own childhood.

Motherhood

Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire

We wake to rain, the sky leaden. Packing sandwiches and bananas into my bag as the boys pull on their base layers, the rain continues. Throwing on my rain jacket, I nip to feed the hens and they dance at the gate, soggy and bedraggled. The rain keeps on.

I print off the walk we intend to do, and still the rain comes down. I throw the rainsuits and coats in the boot of the car. We strap ourselves into our seats and put the postcode in the sat nav – and still the rain comes down.

Clumber Park is about an hour from us, mostly on the M1 heading North, which I can categorically state is my least favourite stretch of motorway. I can’t even explain why, just that I find it bleak and uninspiring and until you pass Doncaster, I just don’t like it.

Today though, after hitting the motorway, the rain finally decides enough is enough and the dark, violent rain clouds begin to break. The last remnants of the rising sun peek through and the sky turns from darkness to a patchwork of colour, the wiper-blades on the car slowing until finally stopping altogether.

Arriving at Clumber Park, we park up in a very tight car park. I’m grateful for arriving early as by the time we left there were cars wedged all over the place, littering verges and blocking gates.

The boys head straight for the woodland play area, the way they always do.

From there we set off on our walk, which we downloaded here. Two miles of pure, solitary bliss and the sun shining on the lake.

Returning from our walk we head to the Discovery Centre. The boys were in Heaven. So beautifully decorated, with a reading corner and nooks designated to puzzles and colouring sheets, the boys immerse themselves. There’s microscopes, a huge tank full of pond life to identify, spider webs, bats and birds woven into trees and plants scattered around the room.

The lady running the centre asked the boys if they’d like to do the Clumber Quest, an Alice in Wonderland themed treasure trail, which they loved.

(Photo Credit: The National Trust)

Returning to the starting point to claim their prize, we head into the second-hand book shop for hot chocolates to warm us up as we browse the books.

My middle boy chooses Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, which reminds me of how my sister used to love this book and how we’d sit on her bed hearing our mother read it over and over.

We spend time in the bird hide, which was a hive of activity. We ticked off another few birds in our RSPB book and watched as the birds danced and frolicked in front of us.

The robins, so dainty and friendly-looking are clearly the boss around here and the boys enjoy watching them dominate the hide.

We skip the walled kitchen gardens today, saving them instead for a day not threatened by cold, sharp showers. The boys spend the journey home planning the summer days they want to spend here, earmarking the benches overlooking the lake where they want to picnic.

For a change, I take too few photos and I mentally chastise myself. In hindsight, it was actually nice to spend a day with the children and not be trying to capture the perfect image.

Sitting around the dinner table in the evening, I look at the boys. They’re rosy cheeked and blushed, their hair tousled from their hats. Outside, darkness has fallen and the rain returns. They chat amongst themselves, processing their day from a child’s perspective. It’s nice to kick back and listen.

I kiss the boys goodnight and I pour a glass of red, sinking onto my bed to start reading one of my new books. It’s been a day well spent, and the rain keeps falling.

Motherhood

A Natural Sense of Wonder

It’s 5.30 a.m. and two out of three boys are awake and full of life. They go from 0-60 in a split second and it takes me a while to catch up.

I sit on the sofa, a cup of tea clasped in one hand and my book in the other. Yet I cannot read. Before I have finished a sentence I am interrupted. Over and over by these beautiful little voices. My eldest sits at the computer desk with all his pens lined up and a brand new notebook and he says to me, ‘I’m a secret writer. That’s how I’m going to earn money when I’m bigger.’

My youngest lets me absorb half a paragraph before presenting me with a reindeer colouring sheet. ‘For you, Mum!’ he says with a proud smile. Before I’ve even drawn half a breath to say thank you, he’s moved on to mock-threatening me with a pair of handcuffs and simultaneously asking if we can go and buy some Lego today with their Christmas money.

Another sentence and he’s waving his pyjama top in wide circles pretending to be a cowboy. The dog pads into the living room with a piece of pilfered cardboard from the recycling bin. I retrieve it from him, and my half-naked cowboy rushes over to arrest the errant Rottweiler.

My middle boy makes an appearance as I turn to the final page of the chapter and incites a game of tug o’war with the arrested dog.

I sigh deeply, more for my own sanity than a need for air, and I close my book in defeat.

But if anyone is interested, this is what I’m reading. And I think it’s good, but I’m not entirely sure due to my fragmented reading style.

If you do want a good book – I’ve been reading this in the bath and it’s amazing. I wasn’t overly impressed when I was presented with it on my birthday, but it is poetical, passionate and comedic and I’ve since forgiven the gift-giver. It’s beautiful.

Motherhood

New Year Pledges

New Year Pledges – Get Out With the Kids

(Image from Get Out With the Kids)

I love this idea. Essentially it’s New Year’s resolutions for getting outdoors and increasing the amount of time your family spend in nature. They’ll email you every two months to encourage you to complete your pledges.

What have I pledged?

  • A week camping in London to visit all the big museums.

  • Investigate some more quarries around the Peak District to find a new place for fossil hunting (our last two favourite quarries have been closed to make way for building houses).

  • Summer of 100 miles – cover 100 miles by walking/running/bike/scooters.

  • Visit at least one new place in the Peak District every month.

  • Complete the RSPB Wild Challenge. (RSPB Website)

  • Invest in a National Trust membership.

  • Visit Saltwick Bay, Yorkshire to go fossil hunting.

  • Finally get our vegetable garden finished.

  • Plant three new flower beds around the garden.

  • Go wild swimming more often.

  • Spend more time camping.

Motherhood

Five Pits Trail, Tibshelf

Five Pits Trail – Download a map here.

After a few days spent indoors over Christmas and enjoying turning inwards to the family, we needed some fresh air. Although I’ve enjoyed the endless Lego, visiting family, leftover roast potatoes and board games, I feel stale and uninspired when I’m stuck indoors.

I packed up some sandwiches and a few apples, filled a flask with hot chocolate, grabbed our minibeasts book and headed out to the Five Pits Trail, parking up in Tibshelf.

We didn’t walk far, probably not much more than a mile, but we didn’t need to. Instead we found a clearing with a frosty bench and we stayed there admiring the view and climbing trees.

The boys shout ‘hello‘ to people passing, wide grins and hearty waving bringing smiles to the faces of strangers. Dogs come to play, weaving between the boys, tails wagging and noses sniffing.

We wander back over fields instead of returning on the same path, slipping down muddy steps and crossing half-hearted, broken bridges. The boys crunch over the frozen ground, delighting in the sound their boots make as they put their weight onto each foot.

Back home I tidy away Christmas. The tree comes down, the advent garlands packed neatly into their bags, the books collected from around the house. All that remains of Christmas is a bulging suitcase ready for the attic and the willow wreaths hanging outside the front door.

After a pot-luck dinner of leftovers – of spaghetti carbonara to use up ham and bacon, potatoes and brussels sprouts roasted in balsamic vinegar, of sausages and red cabbage – we head outside to try out our new Kelly Kettle.

The boys collect twigs and practice with their strike igniters. After getting the hang of it at forest school, the fire is lit within seconds and the water is boiling. We sit together in the dark on a muddy patio drinking tea, and there’s no place else I’d rather be.

The moon is bright and almost round, fast heading towards complete fullness. The sky is clear, a deep blue that never fails to remind me of the chunky glass ink bottles from which my father would refill his fountain pen. It’s the exact same shade and it fills me with nostalgia.

The boys head to bed with smiles on their faces. They thank me for a good day, and even though I know it’s a habit, it always brings me joy. I’ve been thanking my children for years, even when the days have been less than pleasant – but today, I know that they mean it.


In other quick snippets – the boys tried their new hand warmers today – perfect for warming little fingers when the cold sets in.

(Screenshot from Amazon)

They also tried their new base layers which my sister bought them for Christmas.

(Screenshot from Amazon)

Usually, at least one of my boys will complain they’re cold on any given outing. But today, at 1 degree Celsius, not one soul even noticed the cold.

Which makes my life a lot easier. I’m really looking forward to making use of the base layers and the boys were so excited to tell Daddy how good they were when he got home from work.

Add our new Kelly Kettle into the mix, and our outdoor adventures just stepped up a gear.

Motherhood

January: A Month of Connection

It’s almost January and I’m poor. As in, this month’s money was spent before it even arrived in my bank account. That kind of poor.

So, with January being somewhat cold and bleak, I’m turning it into something positive and calling it a month of connection. Essentially, this means I’m going to be connecting with my family doing things for free and leaving my bank card at home so I’m not tempted to delve into my overdraft.

I have enough diesel in the car to hopefully last me until February, but I’m planning on doing a lot more walking this month instead of relying on the car for short journeys. I’m emptying the freezer and the cupboards. I’m raiding the bookcase for books we’ve not yet read together and unused activity books. We have Christmas Lego to sit down and complete, endless science kits, a dusty and neglected bread maker I need to start using again – and a recipe for cinnamon buns for which I already have the ingredients.

January brings the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, which we plan to do this year now that we’ve got all the feeders in the garden.

RSPB – Big Garden Birdwatch

We plan to explore a local nature reserve that’s been on our list of places to go for well over a year. A local park is hosting a family stargazing event we hope to attend.

Mostly, I intend to spend as much quality time with my family as possible, counting our blessings and starting the year on a high.

Here’s a few ways we’re planning on connecting this month:

  • Go for a walk. It can be that simple. Step out of the front door and start walking, plan a route or go somewhere further afield you’ve been wanting to visit.


  • Pizza Night. Pizza costs pennies to make. Flour, water and yeast. That’s it. Raid the cupboards and the fridge for sausages, tinned pineapple, sweet corn, cheese, etc.

  • Go Stargazing. We have plans to blow up the inflatable mattress, chuck it on the patio on a clear night and drag all the duvets down from upstairs. We’ll dust the telescope down from having been sat on top of the wardrobe since this time last year and we’ll snuggle up outside with a few Sky at Night magazines we were given, and an endless supply of hot chocolate.

  • Join your local Parkrun. This is a new one for us. Have a look online for junior parkruns. Usually on a weekend morning, it’s a 2k run for children in local parks. (parkrun website)

  • Go for a bike ride. We have a Sustrans route less than 2 minutes from our house. Miles of traffic free cycle path right on our doorstep.


  • Film night. Get the children to pick a film and make some cheap snacks. Popcorn is so easy to make, or combine it with pizza night.

  • Go to the beach. We live a couple of hours away from our nearest beach, so a day trip needs planning in advance. Chuck the buckets and spades in the car the night before, pack up a picnic and go and spend the day collecting shells or hunting for crab shells. I might be in the minority, but I love the beach in winter.

  • Have a bonfire. Get the kids out for a walk and collect as many fallen branches and sticks as you can carry home. Get them to make ‘doughnuts’ out of newspaper, help them build a fire and then roast some marshmallows.

  • Try geocaching. Whilst most apps charge for unlimited access, you will still be able to view quite a few caches. Stay close to home or set out for the day.

  • Wash your car. Buckets of soapy water and kids go together like bread and butter. Give them each a bucket and sponge and let them get soaked. Hoover out the inside, check tyre pressure and refill the screenwash.

  • Give your kids a camera. This keeps my kids busy for HOURS. We have two old digital cameras so we charge them up and let the kids loose. Okay, so you have to delete 50 photos for every one that’s decent and in focus, but they love it. Print out a couple of the better ones and let them pin them up in their bedrooms.

  • Bake bread. Whether by hand or by machine, bread making is therapeutic and makes the house smell amazing. Flour and yeast are crazy cheap, and kids love getting their hands mucky.


  • Get out in the garden. Clear the leaves, jetwash the patio, plant bulbs. There are endless outdoor jobs to be done that kids would love to help with. Offer a reward of baking muffins once everything is done.

  • Invite friends over. As long as there’s coffee on offer, friends will be happy. Kick back for a few hours and enjoy being home for a change.


  • Check your community calendar. Many towns and cities host free events that can be fun. Allotment open days, church coffee mornings, markets, library Lego days, nature clubs – to name a few.

  • Watch the sunrise. If the kids are up early and you know it’s going to be a long day, watch the sunrise. Put your coats on over pyjamas and take a cup of tea outside while the kids have breakfast, or move the sofa around so they can see out of a window. Let them eat their cereal on the sofa or give them watercolours to paint the beautiful mix of colours seeping together.

  • Cook dinner together. Plan a meal together by looking through the cook books a few days before. Round up the ingredients and let the children take the lead.

  • Head to the woods. Pack up a bag with everything you need to spend from 10am to 4pm in the woods. Think a flask of soup, loaf of bread, hot coffee, a few books, some fruit, a pad of paper and some pens/paint, a scavenger hunt sheet, a bag for collecting things, homemade boats to race in the stream, binoculars and a bird spotting book…. the list is endless.


  • Break out the board games. I have a confession to make: I hate board games. My kids love them though, so this month I’ve committed to sitting down and playing with the boys (although I may try to sway them into playing card games or connect-4 instead!).

Here’s to a month of enjoying my family and reconnecting.

Oh, and the most important thing? My phone is going to be mostly turned off during the day.

It’s going to peaceful in more ways than one.

Motherhood

Christmas Morning

(Artwork by Pascal Campion)

It’s 4.10 am on Christmas morning and I’ve totalled all of two hours broken sleep. Between the dog, my husband and my eldest boy, it’s been a long night, and I’m laying here listening to the wind scream outside.

The sheets are crumpled, the edges slipped off the mattress where I’ve tossed and turned all night. The boiler is kicking into action with its familiar whoomph in the corner of the bedroom. The dog pads gently into the hallway downstairs for a drink, his collar clinking the edge of the bowl the way it always does. The front door creaks as he sinks down against it, settling once more.

The minutes tick by. 04.16.

The wind chimes rattle in the garden, a pretty little trill that irritates me more often than it soothes. My youngest boy calls out in his sleep – my little chatterbox, even in his dreamlands.

04.19

There is a break in the wind and silence engulfs me. A rare thing when you live on a main road, and I love these empty streets. It’s ghostly and eerie and I love to watch the emptiness under the glow of warm streetlights. A tabby cat runs across a neighbour’s garden, jauntily perching momentarily on their wall before tumbling down gracefully and disappearing into the darkness.

04.21

It’s ticking closer to morning and the boys will begin to stir soon. I love how all three boys get up well before dawn. The magic of Christmas morning will begin, if it hasn’t already. Tiredness engulfs me, but these quiet moments alone are some of my favourites before a long day.

I’m excited to see the boys open their gifts. We have chocolate croissants wedged in the fridge ready for the oven. We have fresh coffee in abundance and a comfy sofa. We’re with the people we love most in the world. And tired or not, surely there’s no better place in the world to be.

04.32