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.

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.

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.

Week in the Life: Home Ed.

The days are getting shorter and I look forward to the end of the day. After dinner, the boys head out into the garden. Darkness is falling and the sky is inky blue. There is only silence, punctuated by my excited children.

I’ve given them a corner of the garden. They’ve built their bug hotel, planted hydrangeas and grasses, put up a bird feeder. After forest school, the park ranger sent us home with a couple of trees each and the boys plant their Blackthorn and Dog Rose saplings. They protect the spindly wood with plastic bottles to keep them safe from Muttley.

It’s so good to see them taking pride in something and working towards a vision, however small that vision might be. Their excitement over a small, muddy patch of garden is heart-warming and I smile as I watch them work together.

We head out to a country park we’ve not been to for well over a year. We follow the Ladybird Trail – hunting for 32 different species of ladybird native to the UK. The boys shriek and squeal as they find each one. Reaching the end of the trail, we have only found 30, so we reverse the search and still only find 31.

We spend hours more here than we intended. As we drive home, the boys watch the sun set. It sinks slowly, dripping lazily in the sky like a leaking tap – hardly noticeable, but every time you look, the sky has changed completely.

The days are flying by. I have a stack of the boys’ work that never seems to make it to their folders, but instead gets moved around the kitchen from the toaster to the fridge to the coffee-maker, before being added to and then sent on another journey around the worktops.

We do Reading Eggs and Mathseeds, read Whizz Pop Bang and old copies of Eco Kids Planet, spend time cooking together, swimming, forest school…the usual home ed. suspects.

We complete science experiments from sets given as presents. We snuggle under crochet blankets to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Daddy orders the films so we can stay under the blankets and watch the story play out in front of us, with popcorn and pizzas. We spend far too much time in the garden.

We’ve slowed down these last few weeks and I’ve enjoyed it. The air is cold and the grass crunches underfoot when you first step out in the morning. Christmas is in the air, the first few houses bravely sporting twinkling lights and shimmering stars. The occasional festive song is slipped into the repertoire at the supermarket. Mince pies are stacked up in every shop.

But for now we enjoy the cold, spending time together, reconnecting, turning inwards.

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. 

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.