Monday, 6 July 2015

Educational freedom

 The boys have been working very hard on their 'school work' and so it's a great pleasure to be able to take a morning off when we feel like it to go to see the new exhibition at the gallery (it made our eyes feel fizzy) and then make the most of low tide by running around being airplanes and hunting in rock pools. 

We wrote with our toes in the sand and counted how many seconds we could walk just on our heels.
We looked at how the smooth part of the beach was good to walk on, but the rippled part started to get muddy and by the bottom of the beach it was impassable gunk that swallowed up our feet.  We 'rescued' a big pink sea snail the size of a chestnut stranded on the sand by finding a rock pool for it. 

We investigated the plants of the shore, and talked about how the seakale and horned poppies had to cope with salt and wind and storms.

We talked to an older friend we met along the way, and ate a sandwich while watching the horizon and talking about the curvature of the Earth and why the lighthouse is there far out to sea.  Then we headed off for our afternoon Yoga lesson and to present our lovely friend and teacher the cards the boys had lovingly made before we left home, Ollie writing out a whole message on his creation and even little Toby writing his name on his one.  At yoga we stretched, and breathed and listened to a story about filling our bucket with happiness by filling up other peoples buckets for them with our kind words and actions.

It was good to remember that education isn't just about reading and writing in a closed room (although that plays it's part),  it's about finding a balance and seizing the opportunities that we have to grow happy, healthy children who can't wait for the next story, the next lesson, the next adventure in learning for the whole person.   Even a trip to the shops becomes a treasure hunt with Daddy and another opportunity to learn together.  Whether children are schooled or not, this is something we can all enjoy as families - we are all free to enjoy educating our children when we are with them, and it's often in subjects that will only be tested when we look at the adults they become.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Hidden Hastings on the 4th July

Yesterday was an interesting day and a great opportunity to explore a side of our adopted home town that we have never seen before.

We were very excited to have a chance to nosy around inside one of the old Hastings Observer buildings, abandoned decades ago when the newspaper moved to new premises and now looking to be brought back into use by the Flint Group as 'an exciting multi-use hub' according to one of the artiest and least informative leaflets I have ever been handed.

 The Observer Building being open was part of a wider range of events, including the launch of a new street market which will run every Saturday through the summer in the Alley behind the Library and the Observer building.  It seems to be organised by Holy Trinity Church and according to the flyer vendors donate 5% of their takings to the 'Safehaven Women Outreach Service'.  There is a Facebook page listed for anyone interested in becoming a vendor

 There were a really nice selection of interesting vendors already in evidence, including a local brewery and a wild foraged food stall, plus an old colleague of mine who unexpectedly popped up running a juice bar.

We've often seen the front of the Observer Building as it is near the Library but I had no idea that there was anything of interest tucked behind it. 

What we found was an intriguing mixture of architecture, art and utilitarian building additions all merging in to the beautiful golden sandstone bedrock of the town.

When you start looking at one thing you never noticed before in your town, you soon start to see other details, like the amazing carvings around a sealed up door wedged between a sports shop and a record shop.  I love to walk in familiar places looking down at the doorsteps or up at the roofs - how many amazing buildings are hiding in plain view up above the bland shop fronts!


Among the surprises of the day was the Church being open for visitors, complete with a bouncy castle inside!  Built in Victorian times (as were most of the 'fancy' buildings here) this Church turned out to be an amazing space with incredible carvings and glass.  I was in agreement with Ollie at not being able to get enough of looking at wooden ceiling arches.

In true random Hastings style, in celebration of the 4th July there was a two piece band playing Johnny Cash songs from the back of a gorgeous Dodge truck, plus American Jeeps on display, the owners of which kindly allowed two very enthusiastic little boys to sit in.

I haven't covered nearly enough of what was going on that day with live music, street performers and things to try, but it would take a long long time to talk about everything that was going on during an average weekend in Hastings.  Not a bad day out since we only went into town to get Matt a new backpack.

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.