Tag Archives: Field Trips

Plant Explorers at Wisley

I love RHS Garden Wisley with its beautiful plants, trees, wide open spaces and gigantic glasshouses, but persuading children to go there has always been something of an effort.  Yesterday, with the help of  some wonderful ladies from the gardens’ Education Centre and a bunch of friends from our local home education group, we all had a wonderful time there.

After the children had had plenty of time running around playing on the grass together, we went off to the Learning Centre for an engaging talk on plant adaptations – no, really, it was great!  The first session began with a brief discussion on plant habitats and then had the children deciding in groups whether words like “light”, “water”, “drought”, and “competition” belonged in “desert” and or in “rainforest” (or both).  I liked the emphasis on creativity rather than there being right or wrong answers.  The next activity was similarly open-ended: various objects, like a ladder, an umbrella and a candle, were brought out while the children, in small groups, looked at laminated photos of plants and considered which plant each object reminded them of.  This primed them perfectly for venturing, clipboards in hand, into the Glasshouse, to spot the plants for real.


Later, during a talk from a real life “plant explorer” the children were taught how to take cuttings and even given the  chance to take and bring cuttings home for themselves.  Which is why we now have two tiny peperomia plants nestling on the window sill among the vegetable seedlings 🙂

The Joy Of Planning

One of the things I was looking forward to about home educating both my children was having more flexibility to travel.  In a year or so I’d love to spend a month exploring Europe by camper van or train, and driving home from Centerparcs I made a shortlist of places I thought we could “practise” on: Italy (culture, sunshine, food), the south of Spain (I spent a year in Granada in my 20’s), and Paris (culture, French, Eurostar).

It was therefore with great excitement that I booked for the three of us to go to Italy for three days in April.  I had had in mind Florence, a beautiful and managably-sized city I fell in love with when I was lucky enough to visit on a business trip.  C fancied Pisa, for its famous tower.  J was happy to go anywhere there was pizza, pasta and ice cream!  MyItalian geography isn’t great, so I was thrilled to discover that not only is Pisa a budget-airline destination whose airport is ten minutes walk from the city centre, but that Florence is only an hour away by train.

With flights and hotels booked (two nights in Florence, one in Pisa) I am now ridiculously over-excited!  The Earworms Italian app is on my iPhone; I have tracked down second hand copies of Pippo The Fool (a children’s story about the eponymous architect considered to be the father of Renaissance architecture, and whom we have to thank for Florence’s famous Duomo) and Leonardo And The Flying Boy (“an exciting introduction to the great genius of the Italian Renaissance”); I have added some wonderful blogs like CiaoBambino to my google reader; and I have even started reminding myself what the Renaissance was all about, thanks to some excellent children’s history websites!

So – very inspired, and extremely appreciative of the instant and free resources the internet provides – and the people who put them up there, of course!

The South Bank

As most of C’s old Y2 school friends seemed to visit the Florence Nightingale museum over half term, we thought we’d go up today to see what it was all about for ourselves.  Even J was enthusiastic, on the promise of a gruesomely realistic black “toy” rat like the one a friend had brought back  last week.

The museum is lovely, with plenty of thoughtful little touches  – peepholes, a treasure hunt,  stethascope audio guides – to engage young children.  It seems to work best with where we are in our home ed journey if I allow C and J to experience places like this in their own way without too much up front discussion beyond some basic context-setting.  I then enjoy noticing, over the following weeks and months, how they begin to refer back to what they experienced, prompting lively discussions on all kinds of subjects; it’s a delight to watch and listen as their mental maps are created, amended and connected.

We escaped the cold and wet of the last day of February (winter is back) by picnicking on the London Eye, eating our sandwiches as we admired the views of the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey (you couldn’t see much further than that! We didn’t mind though as the trip was “free” with our Tesco-points Merlin Passes and there was no queue; we’ll go again soon when it’s sunny).

Our South Bank adventure was rounded off with tea and cakes at the Royal Festival Hall.  I’ve never been an arty-type, though I’d like to be  –   not enough to actually do much about it, but enough to experience a pleasant wave of wellbeing in places like the Festival Hall.  Today I was rewarded with a double feel-good hit: as we enjoyed the “Shoebox Living” exhibition that had attracted me (colourful junk-model shoebox rooms made by children), some sort of public professional ballet class was going across the lobby. I’ve no idea what it was all about (the children were hurrying me back to Waterloo Station by this point), but there was good-sized audience and I do like the thought of all this Art going on, and being appreciated – even if I, for the time being, am otherwise engaged!


History has changed.  Or to be more accurate, the way it is taught has changed.  The BBC’s Horrible Histories programme, which my children love – blood, guts and all – was my first clue that the stories of the past are no longer told in the same dry way as they were when I was at school.  And since we’ve begun home educating I’ve become even more aware of how history is being brought to life by people passionate about getting children actively involved in discovering how their ancestors lived.

Following our Victorian experience last month, today we were immersed in all things Tudor.  Our “Tudor Activity Day’ was led by Peter, an enormously talented member of Arriere-ban Historic Enterprises.  Dressed in rich Tudor costume, Peter entertained and educated us from 10 this morning until 330 this afternoon.  It is a testament to his genius that even my fidgety five year old was engaged for most of that time!

We had so much fun, I’m certain we all learned heaps.  Here are a few of my favourites out of the many things I personally learned:

(1) Henry VIII wasn’t his parents’ eldest son, and so was allowed to spend his youth indulging in sports and music, rather than studying politics and religion, which was the lot of his older brother Arthur.  This had an effect on the kind of king Henry went on to become when Arthur died.

(2) Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was Arthur’s widow.

(3) The only reason the Pope denied Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon (precipitating the country’s break away from the Catholic church and the establishment of the Church Of England) was because the Holy Roman Emperor was Catherine of Aragon’s uncle. (I’m not sure how I managed not to know these first three facts – I have A grades for history O level and A level! I guess they never lodged in my memory the way they did today when I saw giggling children dressed in costumes and wigs carrying name badges, acting out the parts!)

(4) On a Tudor ship of 150 crew, there would have been about 20,000 rats!

(5) The expression “to have the stuffing knocked out of you” is derived from the Tudor custom of bulking out their middles with sawdust and dried peas, which would spill out if they were attacked.

(6)  Cheese was a crucial food on long sea voyages, because no matter how mouldy it got on the outside, the middle would stay fresh for years.  (This makes me feel better about how we used to carefully cut the mould off certain rarely-requested cheeses in my days as a Saturday girl in a cheese shop.)

(7) It was a legal requirement for everyone to wear hats in Tudor times.  Most people also wore a tie-on cloth under-cap as had been worn in medieval times, so that when they bowed or curtsied, the other person wouldn’t have to look at the fleas and other hair bugs jumping around in their hats!

(8) Since it was forbidden to leave a room before someone more important did, men would  pee in the sides of their high “bucket boots” if necessary.  Women’s skirts saved them the trouble!


I spent this week at Centerparcs, Longleat Forest, with C, J, my mum and my nephew S (3).  In retrospect I realise I didn’t go into  it with high expectations of my own enjoyment, seeing it more as a holiday for the children and an opportunity for our extended family to spend some time together.  But I am delighted to report that I can have fun outdoors in England in February!

Biking around the forest was surprisingly enjoyable, C and J relishing the independence the car-free environment gave them.  I smiled as I witnessed their pleasure at being responsible for their own bicylces, finding “parking spaces” and securing them with their own mini combination locks.

We spent a large part of each day at the “Sub Tropical Swimming Paradise”, where we hurled ourselves down the Wild Water Rapids in various poses (C commented, “I wonder why they even bother putting up those ‘feet first’ signs?”), saved the planet as underwater superheroes in the lazy river, and launched ourselves at speed down waterslides.

C and I enjoyed spectacular views of the forest as we challenged ourselves on an “aerial adventure” assault course through the tree tops, our adrenalin levels peaking at the “vertical drop” finish, where we jumped off a platform some 30 ft in the air.  Luckily a clever mechanism of ropes attached to our harnesses gently broke our fall at ground level, allowing our wobbly legs to carry us to nearby Starbucks for well-earned hot chocolates.  (J is willing himself to grow 4cm in time for our next visit so that he too can swing from ropes among the pines.)

Another mother-daughter highlight was the evening C and I went to the pool on our own.  The rapids at night are something else – the gushing water illuminated by a dazzling array of lights, twinkling through the clouds of steam as warm water meets cold night air.  Add in the fact that as you enjoy the view your body is sliding and spinning at speed through a series of whirlpools and slides, and it’s a pretty stimulating sensory experience!

I left Longleat with the same combination of pleasantly aching muscles and high spirits as after a skiing holiday, and spent the two hour drive home reflecting on what had contributed most to my enjoyment.  During our days in the forest the children and I were mostly engaged in the same activities (usually me playing alongside them).  I spent more time outside than usual, and I was much more physically active than at home.  Also, although we mostly cooked and ate in our villa, I wasn’t spending large amounts of time organising “stuff” as I do at home as part of running a household.

It’s now a day since we got back, and I’ve identified the birth in me of a new desire (unrelated to my delicious dream last night about Jack Davenport): I want to bring more of the elements I enjoyed at Centerparcs into my everyday life.  At the moment I’m in the “knowing what I don’t want” phase – the “asking” referred to in the Hicks’ “Ask And It Is Given“;  I know I don’t want to be surrounded by so much “stuff”, that I want to have more fun with my children, and I want to spend more time in nature.

I know from experience that having identified my desire, my role in its creation is now over.  My only work now is to be in wellbeing; in wellbeing lies everything I desire, in wellbeing I feel no lack, and in wellbeing anything is possible.  Watch this space!


We went to a wonderful event at Fulham Palace this morning – a sort of living history presentation in which the children dressed up and took part in various scenes which would have taken place within the palace in the Victorian era.  The main enactment involved the children taking various roles as servants preparing for and serving at a large garden party.  C took the part of head cook.  As part of her duties she had to liaise with J’s gardening team who grew most of the food, including of course cucumber for sandwiches. Some of the children showed us, using tongs, carbolic soap and wooden “dollies”, how washing was done in pre-washing machine days, while others took the parts of the butler and housekeeper and members of their respective teams of footmen and housemaids.

While I know that the best learning takes place when as many senses (“rep systems”, in neuro-linguistic programming speak) are engaged as possible, and try to adopt this approach with my children, I have always personally been quite happy to learn sitting down, from books.  (I used to put this down to laziness but I now know it is actually quite common among introverts, especially highly visual ones – sounds like a good excuse to me.)  But even I thoroughly enjoyed being at an imaginary Victorian party, and I can’t deny how much we all learned through being immersed in the sights, sounds, costumes and artefacts of the period.

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