Derbyshire · Home Education · Motherhood · Parenting · Peak District

A First Attempt at Geocaching

After having had a few quiet days enjoying the snow at home, we decided it was time to get our boots on and venture a bit further afield. The snowman is a lumpy pile of snow, a carrot lying forlornly beside it amidst a couple of grapes we’d used as eyes.

We’ve been meaning to attempt geocaching for a while now – read: years, but I’ve never actually got around to trying it. I downloaded the app a long time ago and our nearest cache is apparently 100 yards down the road. It also tells us we need tweezers to find it, so with three impatient boys, I felt we’d give that one a miss as a starting point.

So in a bid to start ticking things off my to-do list and burning off the boys’ endless reserves of energy, I decided we would head to a local park to us and give it a go.

The geocaching app was showing 5 caches on the map, despite all the descriptions saying there was a trail of 9. A few of them had people posting that the caches were missing with recent dates on, so we started with one that looked like it might be positive.

The boys followed the map on my phone until it pinged up that we were very close. It gave us a clue of ‘stumpy or not’ and so we trailed over to an enormous tree trunk.

Only to find nothing. The boys searched high and low, but we found nothing.

We moved on to the next, and the next. Two were 100% not there, and one other was telling us it was in a tree but the co-ordinates took us to a bare patch of grass so we looked in all the nearby trees, to no avail.

(We did find a lot of beautiful fungi though!)

The final one had several logs underneath it on the app saying it definitely wasn’t there, so we didn’t investigate the last one. The park trail clearly needs more maintenance.

Looping back around the park and crossing the bridge, we ended up close to the first tree stump we investigated. Thinking we’d give it one last shot, we headed over, before realising we’d missed another stump nearby.

The boys bound over and find a little plastic tub nestled in a tiny stump underneath a few branches piled on top. The contents were damp and covered with mildew, but we managed to swap a painted stone for a plastic dinosaur before signing the logbook.

Despite most of them appearing to be missing (although the app history does say they’ve been replaced numerous times, so obviously a frequent issue), the boys really enjoyed geocaching and are begging to go again on Wednesday as forest school is cancelled. We’re aiming to go somewhere a little more off the beaten track in the hope that it’s less likely people will have removed them.

What is Geocaching?

Geocaching is essentially a world-wide treasure hunt, achieved by entering location co-ordinates into a GPS system. Most people will download the app onto their phone as a good starting point.

The best geocaching site to get started with is geocaching.com and the website allows you to register for free. You can then type in your town, city or postcode which will allow you to see the geocaches local to you.

Each cache has details written about it – some of them a little cryptic, and I find myself wishing I’d paid more attention to my mother doing cryptic crosswords when I was a little girl. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now.

Typing in our own postcode brought up several places we could easily park up and go for a wander, without having to walk miles in the freezing temperatures. A local park brought up a local trail of 9 caches, although it did warn that they were having problems with people stealing the caches. Feeling it was a good place to start and warning the boys in advance not to be too disappointed if we didn’t find anything, we donned hats and gloves, grabbed a flask of hot chocolate and set off in search of a needle in a haystack.

Types of Cache

Traditional Cache

There are different types of cache, varying in size and shape. Perhaps the best place to start is with a traditional cache, which is generally a plastic tub. The tub will generally contain a logbook and pencil, and sometimes will include swappable items and/or trackables.

Micro Cache:

A micro cache can generally be found in a camera film pot and are not big enough to hold any swappables or trackables.

Nano Cache:

A nano cache is like a nano SIM card – tiny! Many clues on these caches say, ‘make sure you bring a pair of tweezers!’

Multi Cache:

A multi cache is a trail which, once you have found the first one, will give you co-ordinates for the next one.

Swappables 

Swappables are generally small items that people leave in a traditional cache. More often than not they’re small trinkets to engage the children – small plastic dinosaurs, pretty shells, painted stones.

Trackables:

Geocaching.com describes trackables as ‘a trackable tag that you attach to an item. This allows you to track your item on Geocaching.com. The item becomes a hitchhiker that is carried from cache to cache (or person to person) in the real world and you can follow its progress online.’

Home Education · Motherhood · Parenting

Making Story Birds

The snow is thawing. Its still white outside, but it’s not solid ice anymore. Despite this, the boys woke and asked for a pyjama day. Being Sunday and still cold and wet, I wholeheartedly agreed. I sent one of the boys out into the garden to thieve an arm from our melting snowman and put it on the radiator to dry.

Printing out a bird template, the boys stuck them onto card, cut them out and then decorated them with feathers, stickers, tissue paper and glitter. Leaving them to dry we made maps telling the story of the nesting birds and writing silly stories about the birds we had made.

They drew a plan of an imaginary garden and all the things they would like to add to the garden for the birds.

Once our maps and stories were finished, we concertinaed them up and pushed them through a small slit we had made in the body of the bird. We fashioned them into makeshift wings and then added a string to tie them onto the stick.

Retrieving the snowman’s arm from the radiator, now nicely warm and dry, we wrapped it in wool before hanging our story birds from the ‘branches’.  We slip it into a vase that’s filled with teasels, feathers and dried cones from a monkey puzzle tree – various things the boys have collected and couldn’t be parted with.

We’re dipping back into our nature curriculum from Raising Little Shoots this week, and the first topic of March is focused on nesting birds – hence the story birds. We also thought it would follow on nicely from National Nest Box Week, which saw the boys make a bird box at forest school.

(Photo Credit: diymamablog.com)

In our book, ‘101 Ways to Save the Earth’, by David Bellamy, it suggests saving a fruit net (the type that citrus fruits come in) and filling it with scraps of wool, string, hair from your hairbrush, etc. We thought this would be a great activity to incorporate into our nesting birds study. However, we came across a post on Facebook advising us not to do this as there have been numerous reports of birds ending up in sanctuaries needing to be cut free from unnatural materials.

The post came at the right time, so instead we’re going to find moss, lichen and small twigs to use instead.

(Photo Credit: Facebook – Wildlife Rescue Nests)

Home Education · Motherhood · Parenting

Benefits of Forest School

Wednesday is our forest school day, which is probably one of the boys’ favourite days of the week.

We love Wednesdays. Because we’ve been going every week, the boys are beginning to feel as if they are part of a team. They know that if they want a campfire then they need to source wood. They know they may need to chop the wood. They’ve learned that if they put up a shelter it needs to be taken down. They’re learning that if there’s a pile of rocks that need moving, it’s better for everyone to take one rock than it is to let one person take twenty.

It’s been really lovely watching them integrate into the team over the last few months and gaining self assurance in what roles they can play within the group.

What other benefits are there to forest school sessions?

Forest School builds a child’s confidence and esteem by allowing them to be responsible for many things they might not otherwise have the opportunity to take responsibility for. Watching the children take charge of building and lighting fires, cooking food and making hot drinks is brilliant. Their confidence in their abilities is growing with each session and it’s wonderful to see.

The nature of forest school allows children to engage in an element of risk – learning how to use tools correctly, start fires and whittle with a knife, for example. Allowing risky play enhances decision making skills, boosts confidence and provides real-world experiences.

Outdoor play can also:

  • Improve sleep
  • Improve levels of attentiveness
  • Boost short-term memory
  • Improve our immune systems
  • Improve coordination, balance, gross motor skills and fine motor skills
  • Inspire healthy choices
  • Decrease the chances of a child becoming overweight
  • Increase levels of Vitamin D – important for fighting infections as well as building strong bones and teeth.
  • Lower the risk of mental health issues
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Increase social interaction
  • Improve levels of cooperation and sharing

Our forest school sessions are inspiring the boys to get outside even more than they usually are, and as an added bonus, there’s nothing better than coming home to a warm house with the smell of bonfire woven into your clothes.

Wednesday’s are a good day.

Motherhood · Parenting

20 Ideas for a Non-Toy Christmas

Every year, on Christmas morning, my boys come down to the most enormous pile of presents. Which is great. I love how blessed we are to have so many people that care about us and want to give us gifts. I’m not complaining.

That said, my house is full of stuff. There’s so many things that just don’t seem to have a home.

Knowing already what friends and family have bought for our boys, this year we’ve decided to give the gift of time.

So what are we buying this year?

A Toolbox:

We’re buying the boys a toolbox to share with a few basic tools: a hammer, a saw, a set of screwdrivers. The idea is that every birthday and Christmas we can add to something they will make use of.

A Plank of Wood:

Alongside their toolbox we’re going to print out instructions for making birdboxes (to go in their little patch of garden), a set of acrylic paints and a plank of wood. Then we’re going to set a date with Daddy for some one on one time to help them build their birdboxes with their new tools.

A Kelly Kettle:

Photo Credit: Ceri Jones (from kellykettle.com)

Kelly Kettle Website

This is just ingenious and will allow us to spend much more time outdoors without having to worry about food. I’ve lost count of the amount of disposable barbecues we’ve gone through this year. This will allow us to easily cook hot food and boil water, with minimal effort and no waste, and is something the boys can be responsible for.

A Strike Igniter:

To light fires underneath our Kelly Kettle. And just to keep them busy trying to set things on fire (read:learn how to be responsible around fire).

Pantomime Tickets:

We have a friend coming to stay between Christmas and New Year and we’re going to book tickets to the pantomime. This year it’s Beauty and the Beast.

Camping Trip:

We’re going to head down to London and camp for a few days when the weather is a bit warmer. The plan is to do one of the big, free museums each day and spend a few days without the car, getting trains and the tube – which in and of itself is exciting for small boys.

Natural History Museum

Science Museum

National Maritime Museum

Imperial War Museum

A Calendar:

I’m going to sit down and put all the important dates on a calendar for the boys to see. I plan to add a trip or two to the beach, our camping trip, visits to my Dad and sister, birthdays, etc so that the boys can have something to look forward to.

Seeds:

The boys have been given a corner of the garden to call their own and it’s also time to start thinking about our vegetable patch for next year. They’ll each get a couple of packets of flower seeds and a couple of vegetables. I love these from The National Trust.

20 more non toy ideas:

  1. Days out – this could be anything from rock climbing to a farm visit to taking them out for milkshakes. Try the Sealife Centre or a local farm.

  2. Magazine subscription Nat Geo Kids, Eco Kids Planet or Whizz Pop Bang are all brilliant for kids.

  3. Survival kit – fill a rucksack with a local map book, a tarpaulin, compass, strike igniter, length of rope, camouflage paints, a torch, binoculars and carabiners.

  4. Camping gear – think about what you’re missing. Camping stove? Cooking pans/utensils? A sleeping bag?

  5. Seeds/plants – kids love to plant things and kids love getting muddy. Win/win.

  6. Garden tools – our kids have got some beautiful child sized spades and shovels. They’re the perfect size for small hands and, unlike many garden tools actually marketed for kids, these won’t break.

  7. Cinema tickets/panto – a family trip can be expensive so why not give tickets as a gift? Book it in the diary, buy a bag of popcorn and give them something to look forward to.

  8. A bike – if your child doesn’t have a bike then they need one. No childhood is complete without a bike.

  9. ‘Tickets’ for a film night/pizza night/ice cream sundaes – use some artistic skills and make a ‘ticket’ for a film night to give to your child. Wrap it up with a small bag of sweets, or a new fleece blanket to cuddle under, or raid the charity shop for DVDs they might like.

  10. Annual pass – whether you get an annual pass for the Merlin attractions or for your local farm, kids love going back to familiar places.

  11. A camera – give a kid a camera. Digital cameras are brilliant for little hands. You can delete the 100 blurry photos easily and keep the better ones.

  12. Microscope/Science Kits – educational but so much fun.

  13. Audio discs – these are priceless for car journeys, bedtimes and/or rain soaked Sunday afternoons. These are the boys’ favourites.

  14. Book Tokens – when I was a kid, this was hands down THE present I most looked forward to. My great uncle always sent book tokens and I remember heading to my local Waterstones on Boxing Day to spend a few hours choosing how best to spend them.

  15. Hats, gloves and scarves – no one can have enough gloves. Enough said.

  16. Recipe Books – baking books, curries, Chinese food…. the list is endless. My kids love planning meals and being in charge of what’s for dinner.

  17. Board Games – I hate board games, but my children love them. There are so many to choose from these days and can often be picked up in charity shops for a pound or two. Card games also go down well.

  18. A ticket for one on one time – kids always appreciate one on one time but if they’re anything like mine, they rarely get it. Book a date with your child to spend an afternoon with them doing something they love – a solo camping trip, indoor climbing or the cinema followed by pizza.

  19. New pyjamas – I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced a Christmas without a new set of pyjamas.

  20. Box of craft supplies – Googley eyes, coloured card, glue, glitter, felt pens, pom poms…the list is endless.

Derbyshire · Motherhood · Parenting

Friday

My middle boy says to me, ‘when I’m a grown up I will buy you lots of earrings. And elephant statues. And bees – you like bees and I will buy you lots of them, too.’

My heart melts and I remind myself that this sweet, sweet boy is mine to cherish. 6 years old and he knows all my favourite things and wants to promise me the world. 

We head to the park for some fresh air. I’m melancholy, tears not far from my eyes today, and I needed the icy cold to wash over me. I take photos of the park. The day is cold, grey, wintry, but the leaves floating in the lake are riotous and full of colour.

The contrast is startling. 

Coffee in hand, I watch a blackbird dance in the grass behind where the boys are playing. He throws clumps of freshly cut grass clippings into the air, scouting for food. He flaps gently, bouncing to the left, then back to the right. I’m mesmerised by this playful bird, dancing in front of me. 

My thoughts are bottomless and I can’t seem to complete one train before another comes crashing down. The fresh air helps, giving me peace and solitude as the boys entertain themselves. 

I talk to a man and his daughter that we met last week, recognising each other and making small talk. It felt good to laugh. 

He cycles home, his daughter secure in her bike seat. The boys and I walk around the lake. We come home and chop swede, parsnips, carrots, onions. We mash potatoes. Feed the hens. Do reading. Mop the floor. 

The day feels as if it has been composed of snippets, none of them seemingly connected, but in reality, flowing gently from one to another. I feel disjointed. 

Disconnected. 

But then my middle boy sits there telling me he will buy me my favourite things and how he will help me clean my house even when he no longer lives with me, and I’m brought back to reality – this sweet and wonderful reality right in front of me. 

I’m just tired today. 

Home Education · Motherhood · Parenting

Sowing Seeds

The mornings bring the frost now. My children breathe heavily so they can see the warm stream of air they create. They call themselves baby dragons, pretending they’re trying to breathe fire, but instead just getting puffs of hot air. 

We’ve dug out gloves, hats and scarves and we sit bundled up in the car waiting for the ice to melt on the windscreen with heaters on full-blast. 

I love this time of year. The quiet, calm descent into winter that comes all to quick each year. 

This afternoon, after coming back from forest school, the boys head straight out into the garden. We move an enormous tree stump into a corner and we pile up sticks and rocks around it. We add a couple of bug homes that we made last year on Cromford Wharf, and fill a few stray plant pots with old spice jars I can’t bear to throw out, straws, the pieces of a broken plate, leaves, sticks, rocks. They create an enormous bug hotel to house the creepy-crawlies over winter. They plant a couple of plants that have been propped on top of the chicken coop for far too long. Daddy helps to put up a bat box we were given. I rehang the wind sock in the tree. 

I prune the raspberries that have finally finished for the year. The boys plant a few remaining bulbs to add to the riot of colour that adorns the edges of our garden in springtime. We refill the bird feeders, adding a couple of fat-balls to our repertoire. 

These days are the best days – outside all day, being productive, keeping busy – the cool air nudging at your collar and nipping fingertips. 

I sit on the sofa as the day trails off. Muttley comes to me, burying his head into me and I push my face into his neck. His warmth hits me, the smell of the bonfire from 3 days ago still clinging to his fur. The wellies are lined up in a muddy row against the wall. The gloves, wet and dirty, are in the washing machine, almost ready to be put on a radiator to dry for the morning. 

They feel good, these cooler days. As night takes hold and my children sleep soundly, I slip into the bath, warming my bones. I look forward to a day with no plans tomorrow, and with that thought, I submerge myself fully under the water, losing myself in bliss. 

Motherhood · Parenting

Hemingway and Grief

Write hard and clear about what hurts.’ ~ Ernest Hemingway 

11 years. 

That’s how long it has been since I lost my mother. 

I remember the day she died with a clarity that has never faded over the years. I can see her, clear as day, lying there in her final moments and knowing I was helpless to do anything to save her. 

I sat beside her on the bed, willing her to hold on, but knowing the only thing I could do was let her know it was okay to go. 

That rattle every time she breathed in. You think that’s added to scenes in films to evoke emotion? It’s not. 

That last snippet of strength the dying cling to before slipping back into lucidity? That’s real, too. 

I clasped her hand in mine, stroking my thumb against her cold skin and praying to whatever God that might possibly be out there to stop her pain. I sat, watching her, tracing the lines on her face, listening to that rhythmic, haunting rattle. And my heart broke. 

I watched her last breath and I knew no more would come. I just clasped her hand tighter still, the grief cascading through me with a ferocity that physically hurt. 

I couldn’t find the words to tell my sister she had gone. 

Less than two months before, my father had stood in the kitchen and said, ‘she might make it ’til Christmas, but don’t bet on it.’  That was the first I knew that she wouldn’t make it through. 

You know what else is true in the films? That moment when they say, ‘I never told her that I loved her.’