Monday, 31 August 2015

Five ways to release your child's inner naturalist

My eldest son, seven year old E, has always been insatiably curious about the world around him. And, unfortunately, my GCSE in biology hasn't really equipped me to answer his numerous questions about the natural environment. I'm usually saved by Google, but my access to the internet isn't always great when he's asking me to identify common trees, flowers, birds or insects.

We are lucky enough to live in an area with a wide variety of natural environments: we live close to the beach, the river, the town and the countryside and not far from Dartmoor. So we're trying to learn more about what we see, hear and smell as we explore the world. I say we - because I'm embarrassed about my igorance and I want to learn this stuff too!

Here are a few ways I'm helping to unleash his inner naturalist. Who knows, maybe I'm nurturing the next David Attenborough?

1. I've bought him several spotter type books so he can tick off things he's found and take notes about when and where he came across it. His current favourite is the Nature Detectives' Handbook.

2. Our local nature reserve wardens at Dawlish Warren often run Junior Rangers events for children aged between 7 and 11 years old. Earlier in the summer he attended a free session on Dragonflies and Damselflies. As well as exploring the reserve, the children also made a model of what they'd seen. Art and craft are not favourite subjects of E, but he thoroughly enjoyed putting his damselfly together and I was really impressed with the result. The Junior Rangers get their own badge and newsletter too!

3. We try and take part in activities and campaigns run by charities and organisations that promote the natural environment, such as the RSPB, which runs an annual census of birds in your garden, or the Woodland Trust, or the WildlifeWatch section of the Wildlife Trusts.

4. Forest and outdoor school. E's school often runs a 'Forest School' after school club and he loves taking part. Locally, we also have a couple of Forest Schools that run holiday and weekend activities. We've yet to try them, but they are definitely on the radar.

5. When we're out and about we often stop and look or listen for signs of wildlife. I ask questions like: what do you think this is? what do you think made this? what do you think makes that sound? why do you think that? Even if we don't know the answers, maybe we can look them up or maybe I'm just helping him to further develop his curiosity about the world we live in.

How do you help your child learn more about nature?

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Silent Sunday

A trip to Minehead

Last weekend, we visited Minehead for our annual weekend away with my sisters, nieces, nephews and mum. This year, with the addition of Baby O, we numbered four adults and eight children!

Minehead, to many, is synonymous with Butlin's. Indeed the site dominates one end of the town centre and promenade. But there is more to the town than its famous holiday park and we stayed just outside the town in the Minehead Youth Hostel. It's a tradition that we always stay in a Youth Hostel for our annual weekend away.

We aimed to meet late morning and my sister inkspotsandgrassstains had found a soft play centre based in Minehead Baptist Church's youth and family centre, the Hub, that sounded ideal. In fact, we were all a bit later than late morning. We had been held up by traffic for Dunster Show, which was taking place just outside Minehead. And my sister - well, she had to travel a bit further than us. So meeting in a soft play place was a great solution as it meant the children were having fun and not bored at waiting for everyone else. The only problem was the soft play only served snacks and we were all hungry for lunch - but we made do with crisps, cake and chocolate!

Once we had all had a good cup of tea and the children had worked off a bit of steam after the journey, we decided to head into the town to have a look around and to find the beach, before going up to check into the hostel.

Minehead Youth Hostel is probably the most family-friendly I've stayed in. The staff were warm and friendly and the request for everyone to remove their shoes before coming in actually made the hostel feel more like a home than holiday accommodation. I was even more impressed that, unlike most youth hostels, this one even had a bath, which makes cleaning children up after a busy day a lot easier!

Saturday was our full day. With several train fanatics in our party, we decided to catch a steam train on the West Somerset Railway - England's longest heritage rail line, to pretty harbour town of Watchet and then back to Dunster to visit the castle and Medieval village.

We wandered round a small market in Watchet before getting the train to Dunster where we took a somewhat scenic walk (alright - we got lost and took the wrong footpath) to the town and up the hill to the castle, which is owned by the National Trust.

It was definitely a very scenic route.

The children really enjoyed the dressing up room and outside they were able to play with hula hoops and other outdoor games. I was a little relieved that the archery was finished by the time we'd finished walking round the interior of the castle.

On Sunday, we opted to travel in the opposite direction and visit Lynton and Lynmouth, where the older boys, 7 year old E and my 8 year old nephew D, were fascinated to learn about the tragic floods of 1952 in the Lynmouth Flood Memorial Hall. We then travelled up the cliff railway to the neighbouring village of Lynton where we had lunch. One of my sisters then had to travel back up north, but the remaining Devon contingent decided to travel on to visit Porlock Weir. The two older boys were keen to see more of the hills described in the account of when, in 1899, the lifeboatmen of Lynmouth had pushed the lifeboat up 1000 feet on the 14 mile journey to Porlock Weir to come to the rescue of the 1900 ton cargo ship, the Forest Hill. The weather was too stormy for the lifeboat to be launched from Lynmouth. The journey over Countisbury Hill was stunning and the ice-cream we enjoyed in Porlock Weir was a delicious end to a lovely weekend.

Even better, was the scenery as we drove over Exmoor on our journey home. The heather and gorse were in full bloom and the hues of purple and yellow were simply amazing. Sometimes, a trip fairly close to home can be a reminder to enjoy what we have. I definitely plan to return and explore the North Devon and West Somerset border a bit more. And I'm very tempted to do that bit of the South West Coast Path. And maybe next time I'll try and make sure I take a camera with room to take a few more pictures.

Now to decide where we should stay next year. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Sweet little lies - why has motherhood corrupted me?

Honesty is the best policy. That is something I have always truly believed in and I have always taken pride in telling the truth the majority of the time.

However, since becoming a mother, I have found myself telling more and more lies.
It started with Father Christmas, then the Easter bunny, then the tooth fairy.

I can't believe I'm posting a picture of Santa Claus in the middle of the summer.
 But tonight really took the biscuit.

As I was kissing 5 year old B goodnight, she said to me: "Look mummy, look up there." B's bed has a canopy over it and as I looked up where she pointed, I saw a big spider's web and, sitting proudly above the web, was its creator.

Now, while I'm not exactly frightened of spiders, I'm not that comfortable with handling them either. And I didn't fancy the circus of a spider chase just as I'd put her to bed. So I lied...

"Oh, you are such a lucky girl," I said. "That spider has spun a web to catch any bad dreams and now the spider is sat over you to watch you and make sure you sleep well."

"Spiders don't sleep, do they mummy?" she said.

"But they do rest B, they do rest." I replied.

And as I gave her another kiss goodnight and left her room I felt terribly guilty. How could such blatant lies so easily trip off my tongue?

What have I turned into?

What lies have you told your children?

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Siblings (August)

The blogger, Dear Beautiful Boy, runs a monthly linky that celebrates the sibling bond as it grows and develops.

I find it very difficult to capture all four of mine in one go, so hopefully, Dear Beautiful Boy has given me the inspiration to try and get a photo at least every month so I can watch as all four develop and witness as their bonds grow.

Here's my picture for August:

This was taken on the morning of B's 5th birthday. All four of them were crowded into our beds for the ceremonial present opening. You can see how excited they are about the presents. Unfortunately, Baby O is a bit of a wriggler, so it's almost impossible to take a photograph without some blurring around whichever limb he is waving around at the time.

dear beautiful

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Camping at Woodlands

What could be better than a campsite with its very own theme park?

Not much, according to my children after we had an amazing weekend at Woodlands, just outside Dartmouth in Devon.

If you book two nights at the Woodlands Grove campsite, you get free entry into the theme park next door. And if you work your arrivals and departures out right, you can end up spending nearly three days on the rides.

We arrived at 1pm on the Friday and went straight up to our pitch to start getting the tent up. Well - I say our pitch. This is August and the height of summer, so we were shown an area of the top field without any particular markings and informed that this was our pitch. After some slight misunderstandings about where our friends we were supposed to be camping with, and who had already arrived, might be located, we were eventually united and able to get on with pitching our tents. Luckily, there was plenty of room for our tent along with a smaller hiking tent for our au pair and our friends tents and parking for all our cars.

There were a few downsides to booking in peak season:

  1. You can only get electric hook-up if you book for a minimum of three nights (although Mr B says this was a good thing because it meant that I was without my phone, which has a battery life of about 20 minutes, for the weekend).
  2. The showers were freezing, unless, like Mr B, you got up early and showered at about 6.30am

On the day of our arrival, Peppa Pig was making an appearance in the park, so we sent 5 year old B and 3 year old W straight down into the park with our au pair to see their favourite character in the flesh, while we set up our home for the weekend. We headed down later to check out a couple of rides and the small zoo area.

The Saturday was a scorcher and Woodlands is brilliant for its water rides. The benefit of being on site is that we were able to get into the park first thing and avoid the worst of the queues. We had originally planned to head back up to the tent for lunch, but we were having so much fun that we ordered a hot dinner from the pizza and chicken parlour and retired to the shade of one of the indoor play areas to enjoy our food and revitalise ourselves for a busy afternoon.

By the end of the day, we had managed to cover about 80% of the park and we headed back up to the tent for a well-earned hotdog and burger, cooked on the barbecue.

On Sunday morning, we got up and packed up our tent before heading back into the park for a final day of fun. We headed to the bits we missed first before revisiting some of our favourite rides. 7 year old E was a big fan of the Swing Dragon Swing Ship, B loved the water slides, and the Dinosaur Farm ride in the zoo farm was a firm favourite with W.

Would I book again? Definitely. It was lovely to spend a weekend without having to use the car. And even if we aren't blessed with good weather, Woodlands has a lot of indoor attractions and, further down the campsite, a large shower and toilet block with a TV and games room. I have a feeling we'll be returning to Woodlands quite a few times in the coming years.

What campsites would you recommend for family fun?