Friday, 26 June 2015

Rare Breeds Centre fun

 We had a lovely new experience a couple of weeks ago when we went with Toby's nursery on their annual farm trip.  This year it was to the Rare Breeds Centre over the border in Kent.  It was nice timing as Toby has decided outright that he doesn't want to go to nursery so it was a great way to say goodbye to the fantastic staff.  I was as enthusiastic about going to this farm as the kids were because I'd heard so many great things about it.  It certainly lived up to the reports, and then some!
 The Rare Breeds Centre is the base for the Canterbury Oast Trust, "a charity which supports over 160 adults who have learning and physical disabilities" (quote from their website).  They provide a home, accredited training and work experience for many of the folk they support including looking after the animals or growing plants in the nursery gardens.

As a day out for children it is superb.  It's home to the widest range of attractions I've ever seen at a children's farm, including a huge variety of different animals with hands-on opportunities, brilliant play parks, tractor rides, pig racing, a butterfly house, walk-in aviary, a reptile room and much more.

 Picnics are welcome and we enjoyed ours in a beautiful garden, replete with chickens, rabbits, tortoises and information on projects such as square foot gardening and impressive productive vegetable beds.
 The kids were really impressed with all of it, but I think their favourites were the play parks, especially the fort and the tunnel trail.  While Matt and the kids scuttled around the tunnels I went to see the nursery garden and talked to a horticulture tutor and one of her students, who recommended we walk on up to the 'Mysterious Marsh'.

I really loved the Mysterious Marsh with it's challenge of getting around the course without touching the floor, and with a fab outdoor music area at the end of the course.  It's the first time I've done a rope swing from one platform to another in years and was a good opportunity for the boys to show off all the balancing skills they have been practicing at gymnastics.

We visited for three hours, but to do it justice I think we'd need to go back several times.  We'll certainly be looking into the family bird of prey experience which we can book on to when Toby is 5. 

Accessibility and facilities:
The site is really well thought out with respect to accessibility (even the play fort has an accessible entrance) and the staff, volunteers and residents are a really great asset to the farm - the fantastic care that the animals receive is really evident.  The accessible nature of the site means it is ideal for visitors with push chairs or wheelchairs, including accessible toilets.  Picnics are welcome, but there is also a cafĂ©, shop and other places to buy food including a counter selling teas and ice creams in one of the play parks. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

It is rocket science - the new Sublime Science Club

A while back we reviewed the e-book 'Don't Eat Your Own Slime' which was very cool, and since then I have become a presenter for Sublime Science, which is a dream job as it means getting my geek on and spreading the word that science is exciting while making things go bang, plus it's weekends so it doesn't take me away from my own little scientists for too long.

Today we trialled a great new addition to the Sublime Science repertoire - the shiny new Sublime Science Club.  For the price of a coffee a week you get access to e-versions of the 'Don't eat your own slime' book and 'The most incredible science experiment DVD ever', plus printable manuals, home decoration pack and certificates to help you get the most out of great new experiments uploaded monthly to the club page.
 The experiments have a different theme each month, this month it was 'radical rockets', which came with clear instructions videos and required only normal household items and junk from the recycling box.  Videos of experiments are available from sources such as YouTube, but what I really liked about these ones was the clear explanations of the science behind each experiment, plus suggestions of how to adapt the basic experiment to explore it further. 

Being able to look at what we would need before I showed the videos to the boys was helpful - for example we don't normally have disposable plastic water bottles so we saved some from a day out on Saturday. 

The boys were very excited when they recognised that Mad Marc's T-shirt was the same as the one I wear under my lab coat 'look, that man is mummy scientist too' was Toby's comment.  We do lots of experiments at home, but seeing them demonstrated on the screen somehow made it all seem more like a proper science project to them, not just mucking around with mummy. We also got to try out new ideas that we hadn't seen before, and the boys had great fun coming up with their own versions.

The mess was pretty limited, but being able to show a short video demonstration between experiments gave me a couple of minutes to clear away one thing and set up for the next, which gave a really nice pace to the morning.  The set ups were almost all things that the boys could manage for themselves with very little help, even at ages 3 and 5, which adds to the hands on fun.

When we finished I presented the boys with their official Radical Rockets Graduation Certificates which we can add to a project book that we will start for their science club experiments.  I think as a way of giving non-scientist parents and carers a toolbox for making science a regular, fun and creative part of the monthly line up of activities this club is a brilliant idea, and for the regular science explorers out there it's a way of expanding on tried and tested favourites and making an event of it.  The more families that get a chance to have fun with science, technology, engineering and maths the more chance we have of keeping kids interested in STEM subjects as they grow and choose careers.  We'll certainly be making rockets the Sublime Science way again.

Note:  I got my trial for free, but images and opinions are all my own.  Sublime Science offers a no quibble guarantee that you'll like it, so if you join and then don't like it you can cancel at any time.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Being a student

Yesterday I had my end of module exam for Oceanography, my penultimate module before I hopefully graduate next summer with an Bsc Hons Open Degree.  As a teacher I constantly had to learn new material, master new technology and discover new ways to engage students.  When I stopped teaching it seemed a good idea to keep stretching myself in that way.

 I feel like our brains are either learning and growing, or they are forgetting and decaying and in this amazing world how can I ever be satisfied that I know about enough of it?  It doesn't take an accredited course to fulfil this drive, the same urge is present in all those who travel, learn an instrument, read, take up painting, have a passion for history, play a sport, or craft, or write, or participate in a thousand other ways of expanding our horizons that don't involve gently rotting night after night in front of tv soaps.

Whatever you study and whatever your goal, the difference between success and giving up is so often the support you receive from those around you.  So I'd like to say thank you to my family and friends who put up with me waffling on about baffling nonsense and bellyaching when the going was tough, and who didn't cut me off for neglecting them periodically.  And without Matt taking a day off work to look after the kids (and to be my chauffeur to the random exam venue in a football stadium) I wouldn't have been able to sit my exam at all, never mind the regular shared head scratching over equations and steady supply of tea and biscuits over the preceding years. 

So if you have a student in your life, whether a friend, spouse or child, please don't underestimate how important you are to them and keep on chivvying them along and helping them up when they're struggling.  Your support means the world to them.  And if you're thinking that you have a space in your life, perhaps empty time in the evenings, what are you waiting for, there are literally a million amazing things you could be doing that will bring you joy (and stress, but definitely joy too).

So for me, what next?  Well, I've signed up for a free short course on Soils to bring me down gently from study adrenaline, and come October my final module 'Understanding the Continents' begins.  I've already made space on a bookcase for my next lovely haul of textbooks and am looking forward to the honeymoon period of the course when it's all excitedly opening packages with no Tutor Marked Assignment in sight for weeks.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Toby's enormous leek

Well, almost there with my exam looming tomorrow.  Eight months of study has flown by and I have found much to puzzle and much to intrigue amongst the pages of the OU Oceanography textbooks, but non which delighted me so much as my old 1950s book on the plankton of the open ocean which I've read at least three times over the years, gazing at it's beautiful hand drawn plates.

My brain is firmly shut down now from over revision, so I leave you with this random picture from this week of Toby with the enormous leek he proudly harvested.

Good luck to anyone sitting exams around now xxx

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Quiet on the blog - busy outdoors

I have an exam in a couple of weeks, so every minute not spent with the kids has been spent ploughing through past papers and scratching my head over ocean currents and whatnot, so it has been a bit quiet on the blog.  I also apologise to my friends whose blogs I have also been neglecting reading - I will catch up soon, promise.

In the meantime, we have had a busy fun filled couple of weeks, I just haven't had a chance to write about them.  So here's a quick overview of some of what we've been up to in pictures.
 Kids not convinced it's bedtime with the lighter evenings, so off to the woods we go.

 Building a gate to 'keep our cows in the field' made a good spider web challenge.
 Roman history project took a practical turn as we made a wax writing tablet.


 Ollie decided to dress up for an afternoon adventure at Battle Abbey.

Surprise harvest of broad beans as they were ready a little earlier than we were expecting last night.  Ollie did a fab job helping to harvest and pod them.  500g after podding, but lots of blanks - we need to work on supporting the local bee population as there are hardly any on our plot. Also leeks, onions and wet garlic.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Batemans National Trust

I've written about it before, but if you're in East Sussex and looking for a great place to entertain your family I reckon the National Trust property Batemans takes some beating.

Batemans was the home of Rudyard Kipling, prolific and gifted poet and author of ever popular children's classics such as The Jungle Book and Puck of Pook Hill. The property will be familiar to you if you watched the film 'My boy Jack' as it was one of the locations used in the filming of it.
 The house itself is lovely, but what the boys most love are the gardens and wildflower field.  We've spend many happy afternoons playing on the lawns in front of the house, but the meadow is perfect for the wilder games.

A favourite we have to play each visit is 'fox and rabbit' or 'tigers' -it's the same game but the name changes depending on their current interest.  This involves a lot of hiding flat out in the grass, stalking on hands and knees and running and shrieking.  At this time of year the hiding is less convincing, but seems no less fun.

A pond area put in recently is providing a lot of interest - to the boys and to me.  I was sitting watching the water last visit while Toby climbed a stump behind me when I saw a huge dragonfly larva swim up and hang tail up below the surface while making a rather grisly meal of a tadpole.
Laying on tummies and watching the whirligig beetles spin busily to and fro provided plenty of entertainment too.

Unfortunately on this visit we learned that the beautiful old water mill has broken down, so we've done our best to help the fundraising to repair it by buying a raffle ticket each.  The prizes are really good too - i.e. cash prizes rather than the mysterious tins no-one wanted to eat that turn up in village fete raffles.  All being well in three years time the mill will be up and working again, with a fully repaired building and plans for lots of hands on kids activities.  In the mean time it's still fun to visit and explore, although I missed our regular bag of lovely stoneground flour.

We regard our National Trust membership as our charity for the year because as well as providing us with lovely days out, our contribution also helps to maintain and develop the places we love so much.  However with times hard financially it's brilliant that home educators can access the sites for free too if you go during the week, outside school holidays, and give a few weeks notice to the property first.  However you get there, sitting outside in the walled garden enjoying a cream tea while little birds flit between the apple blossom and the crumbs on the table is a memory worth savouring.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Tesco Farm To Fork

We had a kind invitation out of the blue this week to join a group of fellow home educated children on a Tesco Farm to Fork outing at our local store. 
It's something I've seen on their notice boards that they offer to local schoolchildren as part of their 'Eat Happy' commitment to help combat childhood obesity by encouraging a good relationship with food.

The basis of this good relationship is knowing where food comes from and how it ends up on the supermarket shelves, and throughout the trip round the store the provenance of each food and how it is transported, stored and produced is covered.  They hope that it will also encourage children and families to try something different - our bunch of explorers certainly did, with cheese tasting and exploring exotic fruits amongst other things.

One of the highlights was the bakery trip where, as well as seeing how the dough is made and turned into bread, we all got to add our choice of extra ingredients to make our own bread rolls.  Ollie made a cheese and seed slug with raisins for eyes.

 I liked the look of the proving oven - that would be very useful for getting a speedy rise on my bread on cold mornings!

 We were blown away by how helpful and informative the ladies running the session and all of the staff involved were.  They really made the kids feel special, speaking to them by name and taking time to talk to them not just at them - a really interactive educational session rather than a quick tour around.

The amount of opportunities to get hands on was perfect too - feeling the flour, smelling the yeast, tasting the pancakes.  The worksheets were good too, giving us an opportunity to have some writing and reading practice as well as something to share with family when we got home.

Ollie really enjoyed the fruit and vegetable scavenger hunt and picked Okra as his unusual vegetable to show the group (we've enjoyed it frozen from a Chinese Supermarket in Croydon before but it's not something we see fresh very often).

We were given a lesson in different types of seafood and where they're from, and a demonstration of filleting a fish and shelling a prawn.  We even got a chance to experience life in the chiller and in the freezer - I would not like to be a tub of icecream at -21oC! Brrr.

I had heard these visits were good, but I am really grateful to all the staff who made it so memorable.  I am also very grateful to the home edding mum who organised it and invited us, and the other mums who welcomed us into their group and made us feel a part of it.  It was a bit tricky when Toby found out where we had been while he was at nursery, but hopefully the bribe of a sticker book has done the trick and he's forgiven us now.  If you have children over 5 (and are in the UK) and have the chance to get involved in one of these free sessions I would definitely recommend it.

Note - I've linked to the 'Eat Happy' page for information only and because there are good resources there, but have no affiliation with Tesco (other than occasional product testing).