National Trust and English Heritage members long before we had the kids because it was a way of supporting our historic buildings and landscapes, experiencing beautiful gardens and experiencing history and art on many many days out all over the country.
Once we had the boys though our memberships provided us with something extra - outdoor spaces where our children could roll in the grass without rolling in dog dirt. One of Ollie's first words was 'poo' from the unfortunately necessity of my constant 'mind the poo' as we walked the paths, parks and woods locally. It seems to be an epidemic at the moment and it makes me really sad and angry that I can't relax while the kids use of the many great local playing fields and outdoor spaces because of the thoughtlessness of others.
Paying out annually for memberships to the National Trust and English Heritage has therefore provided countless 'clean dirt' experiences for the kids as they climb into hollow trees, balance on logs and crawl through meadows. These physical play opportunities are the best way for children to develop their gross motor skills and learn balance and coordination, as well as all the other opportunities for learning that they present.
Bodium Castle, and instead of charging straight up to the Castle itself, this time we took a stroll along the country lane running near by it. As part of our seasonal 'farm to fork' series of experiences it fitted in really well, since we could show the boys the oil seed growing in the fields, smell the flowers, watch the bees and butterflies and watch the tiny black pollen beetles hiding in the crop. We talked about how the pollen is blown by the wind and carried by insects between the flowers and this helps the flowers to make seeds which will be crushed to produce cooking oil.
Every so often we would stop and listen to the birds, watch the buzzards circle overhead, try to spot the pheasants making a commotion somewhere out of sight and look at the movement of the strange looking hoverflies with long proboscis stretched out from their heads like funny looking bees sticking their tongues out. Talking about what we could see, hear and smell as we walked along was an excellent way to build the boys vocabularies.
There is a great deal to be learned about the world around us, the history and the nature, from books and TV documentaries, but for any age there is no richer experience than getting out into historic sites and drinking it all in. It's worth repeated visits to the same site too, because both the National Trust and English Heritage frequently add in new interpretation resources and provide special events and volunteers to describe or reenact elements of history. One of the boys favourites experiences at Bodium was last summer when they made medieaval beer bread and saw the trebuchet launching projectiles into the moat. Don't be put off from visiting with small children and even babies, there has been a real improvement in recent years in trying to make sites more family friendly. All in all I highly recommend a visit to your nearest historic site, just stay away from the cream teas because they're all mine!