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

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

I don’t remember Portsmouth. I feel that I should, having grown up in Southampton, but I don’t recall ever going.

Rewind a few months and my middle boy reads about the Mary Rose in a copy of Whizz Pop Bang Magazine. He’s been asking to see it ever since.

So we booked a caravan in December and packed the car with coats, gloves, scarves, thick jumpers, extra jumpers, hats, more jumpers, wellies and vests – and somehow managed to fit a fully grown Rottweiler in the boot for good measure, and off we went. My husband, for the record, packed a pair of trainers with holes in, one jumper and a thin coat. In the interests of preventing frostbite, I advise you dress a bit more sensibly for the beach in December. But I digress.

The less said about the caravan, the better, but there’s so much good to say about Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The boys have asked to come again and we fully intend to. There was too much here to see in a single weekend.

(Photo Credit: Unknown)

Our first port of call was HMS Warrior, which is stunning. The guided tour gave an incredibly vivid insight into what life would have been like onboard, and while I’m not crazy on history, her backstory is compelling. It’s a beautiful ship and when we get back to the caravan that evening, I flick through the souvenir book to absorb as much information on her as I can.

The boys beg to go across to the Submarine Museum in Gosport so from the dockyard we boarded the waterbus.

HMS Alliance is immense. There are no words to describe it that could do it justice. We all stare, slack-jawed at the sheer enormity of her, all the while awed at how sleek she is.

Inside, it’s a children’s haven. It’s been so beautifully done to show how it would have been aboard. The bunks are made up, there’s cups of tea and handwritten letters, photographs taped up onto beams and food cooking in the kitchen. The tour guide creates an atmosphere for us and tells the children they can poke and prod what they like, which always goes down well.

Day two brought some ferocious weather and the waterbus and harbour tours were cancelled, which put paid to our plans to head over to the Explosions Museum. A nearby P&O ferry ran aground with the ferocity of the wind. 6am saw me walking Muttley down the beach. All eleven stone of me was struggling to put one foot in front of the other and Muttley looks at me as if to check I’m serious.

We decided on the Mary Rose museum, seeing as it’s indoors, and since it’s pretty much what we came to see.

It’s haunting. The museum is almost eerie, the layout of the items recovered placed opposite the ship in a mirror image of where they were found. Every so often, they project snippets of film onto the ship, bringing to life the bare bones of the only 16th century war ship on display anywhere in the world.

The work behind the museum must’ve been painstaking, piecing together the people and the stories as each artefact was reunited with the ship.

The afternoon found us in Action Stations, which was like Christmas for three small boys: a helicopter simulator, a climbing wall, assault course, endless games and experiments to help children understand buoyancy, balance, electrical currents – the list is endless.

If anything, perhaps the biggest surprise was how passionate the staff are at the dockyard. It makes a change to find staff who genuinely love their job, and that kind of enthusiasm brings joy to the children in untold amounts.

The rain fails to stop. The caravan park is flooded. The electrics have gone. We pack up the car, wading through puddles and getting soaked to the bone. After three and a half hours in the car we get home to snow. The boys climb over the enormous pile of laundry I’ve dumped in front of the machine and disappear outside. I hear their laughter, their cries of painfully cold fingers, the slam of the door as they charge in to change their wet gloves.

The little one takes himself off to bed after a bath, asleep within moments of his head hitting the pillow. I pull the covers over him, whispering about how I’ve enjoyed the weekend. There’s no reply, only the faint drawing of breath as his thumb slips from between plump lips.

It’s good to be home, but it’s been an even better weekend.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Website

Home Education · Motherhood

Exploring Nature with Children: Home Ed.

I’ve been looking at this nature curriculum for a while now, revisiting the Facebook page over and over, yet never actually committing to it. After another day spent immersed in the outdoors and being astounded at how much my children love being outside, I finally decided to buy it.

Raising Little Shoots Website

Exploring Nature with Children (Facebook)

It’s a year long nature study, separated by season into 48 weeks, each week studying something different and encouraging children to keep a nature journal. It encompasses not just nature, but poetry, science, art, maths, crafts and writing.

(Photo Credit: Raising Little Shoots)

What I like about it is that you can pick and choose what you want to do, dipping in and out of it as you please.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into this as the end of the year approaches. The weekly topics for December are Christmas Plants, Birds, The Winter Solstice and The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Flicking through the book, I’m already working out which bits we’d like to do and personalising it for the boys. I’m determined to push through winter getting outdoors every day and soaking up the pale, watery sun.

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.

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. 

Home Education

Week in the Life: Home Ed.

Friday was our first free day for a while so we made the most of it. We’ve all been sleeping later thanks to the darker mornings and I’m enjoying the slower starts to the days. I’ve finally shrugged off the exhaustion that was sitting so heavily on my shoulders – it feels good. 

The boys are still castle-mad after visiting Kidwelly Castle so I printed out a template to make a castle and some cone castle folk – knights, peasants, jesters and dragons. 

Whizz Pop Bang magazine is fast becoming my new Bible – and our home ed. days are largely centred around them. The latest issue contained an experiment to make bendy bones, so I dug through my boys’ prized possessions to find the skeleton of a small dog we found a while back (because, you know, small piles of bones (teeth and all) are a necessity in the life of a six year old boy). 

We head to forest school where the boys make a campfire, toasting bagels and marshmallows with delight. They play in the leaves, the sun slung low in the sky. We picnic on the steps before heading to the play area, and it feels good to make the most of these last sunny days before the frosts set in. 

In other news: 

The boys have been pestering me to ‘do some work’ so who am I to refuse that request? We’ve been putting things in alphabetical order and getting my eldest more comfortable with his numbers. He’s finally wanting to learn them, which is awesome. 

The boys have also asked to practice their handwriting. I printed out these free sheets for the boys to copy and colour: Charlotte’s Web Copy Work

We head to the Tramway Museum in Crich for the last time before it shuts for winter. The woodland walk is decorated for Halloween and the boys love it. We head up to the Crich Stand and admire the views. The boys cover miles, chasing their friends and playing hide and seek.

The boys help me to make meals for the freezer: sweet potato and courgette chilli, sausage and bean hot pot and pasta sauces. The days are seemingly busier with each week that passes, and I need some room to breathe on the dinner front. It feels as if I’m either shopping for dinner, preparing dinner, cooking dinner or clearing up dinner all day, every day. It’s never-ending, so I’ve enlisted the boys to help me fill up the freezer. 

Today we’re clearing up ready for our bonfire party tomorrow. I’m getting stressed, as usual, because the house isn’t clean enough, and I’m trying to remind myself that I’ve invited 30 children over to traipse muddy footprints through my house. How clean does it need to be to start with?! 

That aside, we’re off to pick up some fireworks and then the boys are going to carve their pumpkins. The sun is trying to peek through the clouds, my cup of tea is sweet and hot, and my children are happy. Aside from a clean house, what else do we need right now?