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A Homeschooling month in Spain – Part 2

A homeschooling month in Spain

I sit on the floor, surrounded by half-packed suitcases. It’s 4pm on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and outside the sky is darkening as the sun sets. In three days I will be climbing into our Ford Galaxy with my 11-year-old and my 10-year-old, and driving to the other side of Europe.

The next five weeks stretch ahead of me like a blank diary waiting to be written in. I feel giddy with a mixture of excitement and vertigo. By the time I’m back here in early March, unpacking these same suitcases, my head will be full of new memories.

What adventures do the next five weeks have in store for us?

Language school and knobbly cucumbers

Eight days and a road trip through Spain later, we sit in the bright, airy atrium of Spark Spanish, a family-run language school in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Andalucía.

A handsome young chico smiles and tells us he will be teaching Spanish to C(11) and J(10) every day for the next four weeks.  He introduces himself as Mario, which immediately endears him to my video-game-loving son.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
At the language school

Meanwhile I join four young women, all in their 20’s, in another room. One introduces herself as Marta, our Spanish teacher. An online test has placed me in Marta’s upper-intermediate class. She asks me – in Spanish – where I learned Spanish, and I tell her about my year living in Granada. I spoke the language fluently, but that was 22 years – half my lifetime – ago!

For the next two hours my brain whirs  and hums as long-neglected pathways start to wake up. My head aches a little by the time I peek, nervously, into the children’s classroom. Have they enjoyed their class? Has J(10), who hasn’t been in a formal classroom since he left school five years ago, managed to last the morning? Will C(11), who is eager to speak Spanish, be able to learn at the pace she wants, alongside her less enthusiastic brother?

Hurray – they’re both smiling! C(11) proudly recites a list of Spanish numbers. J(10) excitedly tells me how they taught Mario to play Sudoku and  created a huge puzzle together. I don’t think he even noticed the numbers were in Spanish.

Opposite Spark we see a tiny shop. We buy fragrant olives scooped from an enormous glass jar, a short, knobbly cucumber, and a golden brown barra still warm to the touch. Our tummies rumble as the scent of bread and garlic fills the car as we drive home.

After lunch we stroll for five minutes through the terracotta and sunshine yellow houses of our new neighbourhood to the beach.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
Off to the beach…
A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
‘Our’ beach

And so our days begin to acquire a new rhythm, and our us-schooling month in Spain unfolds …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
J(10) enjoying the space

Us-schooling in Spain

In the absence of her usual busy schedule of extra-curricular activities, C(11) finds time to paint …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

… take photos …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

… and record a song, for which she films a video with her brother. The canine members of our family happily join in {video below} …


C(11) makes new friends by helping out with the English classes Spark run after school, and she and J(10) make a film at the language school {video below}.  Look out for J(10)’s creepy carnival mask, and for my cameo at around 3 minutes 50 seconds …

J(10), meanwhile, is more of a homebody than his wanderlust mother and sister. So I’m very appreciative of the way he makes the best of our month away.

He attends four weeks of Spanish classes without complaint. When he’s not in class or playing on the beach, he’s happily absorbed at his computer, ascending the levels of World of Warcraft.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain 6  Navigating By Joy

He listens to so many audiobooks that I almost forget what he looks like without headphones …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain  audiobooks  Navigating By Joy
Audiobook heaven

A taste of Spanish culture

My mum joins us for a week and we visit Cádiz, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Western Europe …

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Visiting Cádiz with my mum

… and we drive through red mountains to the delightful resort of Estepona, where we bask in the mild Mediterranean air …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
C(11) and her Grandma in Estepona

… and C(11) and J(10) choreograph some play fighting on the beach {10 second video below} …


Ten-year-old bullfighters

C(11) and I go on a guided tour of El Puerto’s bullring – the third largest in Spain.

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The bullring at El Puerto de Santa María

We realise how deeply embedded bullfighting is in Spanish culture when we see children brandishing capes in the ring – learning to be a torero is apparently an after-school activity in Spain!


My husband James joins us for our final weekend in Spain, and we join the locals celebrating spring Carnivale.

Carnival time
Carnival time

Adios, España

On 28 February the sun blazes down on our Spanish friends flocking to the beach to celebrate Andalucía Day, but it’s time for us to  pack up cram into the car and say goodbye – for now – to El Puerto de Santa María.

A homeschooling month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
¡Hasta Luego, España!

There are still a few more treats to come, though. I knew nothing about the city of Mérida – I chose it because was convenient for our route. So I am thrilled when we turn a corner to see this enormous Roman aqueduct, through whose arches we watch the sun set on our penultimate day in Spain.

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Roman aquaduct at Mérida, Extremadura at sunset (top) and the next morning

Looking back

I sit on the floor, surrounded by half-unpacked suitcases. I think back to that January afternoon when I wondered, tingling with excitement and adrenaline, what the next five weeks held in store.

I look at the sun-kissed faces of my children and the hundreds of photos I’ve taken, and think of my journal, whose pages record the many tiny joys that together made up our Spanish life. I hear J(10) absent-mindedly say gracias to his sister, and I smile.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

See also A Homeschooling Month in Spain – part 1.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

History & Geography Meme 162 at All Things Beautiful

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #27

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

A homeschooling month in Spain part 1 – Roadtrip to Andalucia

A homeschooling month in Spain

When you homeschool, you have the flexibility to learn what you want, when you want – and where you want. So if you want to take off on a big adventure in the middle of a school term, you can. That’s exactly what we did this winter.

I began planning our 5-week-trip to southern Europe a year ago.  I wanted to give C(11) and J(9) the opportunity to learn a second language and experience a culture different from our own. I chose Spain, because I’d enjoyed an adventure of my own there when I was twenty-two.

We (the children and I) left England in January and returned in March. (Who wouldn’t want to swap England’s wintery skies and bleak landscape for the golden sunshine and vibrant orange trees of southern Spain?)

A homeschooling month in Spain
Car ready to go with all the essentials, like 2 guitars and a giant Lego brick

Pet passports and a Spanish house

Planning the logistics of the trip kept us busy throughout January.

We had to arrange Spanish classes and find accommodation, have our dogs vaccinated against rabies in order to obtain passports for them, plan our route, and buy funny little stickers to stop the headlights of our right-hand-drive car blinding drivers in Spain.

The children enjoyed helping with the preparations, like being taught by the vet how to scan our dogs’ microchips.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Setting off from home

Planning our route

First we had to decide how to cross to mainland Europe. Initially I’d planned to take the car on the the Eurotunnel train from Dover to Calais (the shortest distance between Britain and France) and then drive through France to Spain.

But then I compared the 22 hours’ driving that would involve with the 9 hours if we took a ferry all the way to northern Spain. The ferry won – I like audiobooks, but not that much.

Plus the ferry had a cute little cinema where we watched Night At The Museum 3 in seats that gently swayed as the ship rolled down the Bay of Biscay. It was a bit like being in a  4D theatre at DisneyWorld (a little too much, in fact, when we watched Exodus on the return trip and the ship lurched alarmingly as the Red Sea came thundering down on the Egyptians).

A homeschooling month in Spain
On the ferry to Spain

After two nights on board ship, our first glimpse of Spain was the snow-capped mountains of Santander set against the beautiful pink-grey light of dawn.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Disembarking in Spain – Santander at dawn

We made two overnight stops on our journey south, at Salamanca and Cáceres.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Our route to the other side of the continent

The weather in Salamanca wasn’t very different from the rain we’d left behind, but we knew we weren’t in England anymore when a fellow dog-walker commented on the ‘mal tiempo’. No one in England would bother commenting on damp, grey weather in January!

A homeschooling month in Spain
At the park in Salamanca
A homeschooling month in Spain
Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, which the children said reminded them of St Marks Square in Venice

Next day we drove over mountains and across plains to Cáceres, a beautiful city which still shows off its Roman roots.  We could tell we were further south by the milder air – I was gleefully shedding layers by the hour – and by the orange trees among which C(11), J(9) and the dogs played parkour, running off the energy they’d stored up sitting in the car.


{30 second video – free-running among the orange trees}

A homeschooling month in Spain
Exploring the old (Roman) quarter of Cáceres


As well as the gorgeous scenery, a couple of excellent audiobooks kept us entertained on our long drive.

One was a hilarious history of Britain which the kids listened to again repeatedly on their own devices for the next few weeks. It’s an adult book but if you’re interested in the title, let me know in a comment.

The second was Cosmic, an off-the-wall, laugh-out-loud family listen by Frank Cotterell-Boyce, who is probably our favourite author at the moment.

Are we there yet? Yes!

On Saturday evening – four days after we’d left England – we arrived in El Puerto de Santa María, and began to get acquainted with the house that was to be our home for the next month.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Our Spanish home. “Er, what are we doing now, then?”

The first thing we did was head straight to the beach to bask in the sunset.

A homeschooling month in Spain
El Puerto de Santa María at sunset

See also A Homeschooling Month in Spain – Part 2.

* * *

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop 25

History & Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Planning a Spanish Adventure

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure


My rucksack was heavy on my back as I knocked tentatively on the door of the Cappucinas hostel in Granada, Spain. I’d spoken with the proprietress on the telephone a few days earlier but my Spanish – self-taught from a BBC book over the preceding few months – wasn’t strong enough for me to be sure whether I’d actually booked a room for the night.

An elderly Señora wearing a white cotton nightgown greeted me with mild surprise. She ushered me in, showed me to a bedroom, and disappeared back to bed. I never did find out whether or not she’d been expecting me.

I was 22 years old. I had £300 saved from my summer job, and a piece of paper certifying that I could teach English as a foreign language. In exactly one year I was due to start work in London as a commercial lawyer. I didn’t know a single person in Spain, and I had no job lined up.

How intrepid we were back in those pre-internet days!


Fast forward 22 years and I’m planning another Spanish adventure. I know from experience that the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a country where it’s spoken, so I’d always planned to take my kids abroad for a few months during their homeschooling years.

In my half-formed imaginings, my children would be teenagers and we’d be spending a long summer in rural France.

But over the last year, as friends have started to talk about their teens sitting exams, it’s dawned on me that instead of waiting, now might be the perfect time to go. And when C(10) expressed an interest in learning Spanish, I realised how much sense it made for her to learn a language I already speak.

We’ll start by going away for a month. My husband (who has to stay home for his work) is very supportive, but I don’t want to abandon him for an entire season. Four weeks is more like an extended holiday – enough time to immerse ourselves in the local culture, and to find out what we might do differently if we ever go for longer.

As for when to go… When you’re homeschooling in the northern hemisphere, what better time to head off for an adventure in sunnier climes than … February?

More on the practicalities of our forthcoming trip below. But first, here’s a glimpse of our first family trip to Spain, earlier this year.

A taste of Spain

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
We watched flamenco dancers stamp out passionate rhythms as we dined on tapas of manchego cheese, serrano ham, olives and almonds.

The children visited the Moorish palace, Granada’s Alhambra {the “h” is silent}, for the first time.

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
View of the Alhambra from Granada’s old town, the Albaicin

Back in 1992, entrance to the Alhambra was free on Sundays.  I spend many happy days within its intricately decorated walls and wandering through the lush gardens of the Generalife.

Alhambra collage jpg
Inside the Alhambra


View from the Alhambra
Views of Granada from the Alhambra

Granada also has a very modern side, as we discovered when we visited its science park.

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure
Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias contains hundreds of indoor and outdoor hands-on exhibits. There’s even a tropical butterfly house.

Down on the Mediterranean coast, we enjoyed afternoon promenades along Nerja’s “balcony of Europe”.

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
El Balcón de Europa, Nerja

And visited the famous Caves of Nerja, which are home to the world’s largest stalagmite, a towering 32 metres high!

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
Las Cuevas de Nerja


Planning a month-long trip overseas – Practicalities

1. Where to go

Back in 1992 I chose to spend my gap year in Granada because a fifth of its population were university students. Granada is a beautiful city, but for my long trip with the children I want to go somewhere smaller, ideally on the coast.

While I was in Granada, a uni friend was teaching English 200 miles away in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, near Cádiz on the south-west coast of Spain. Granada is situated high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains – which makes for chilly winters. When I visited my friend, I basked in the warmth of El Puerto’s mild December air on my skin, and was entranced by the orange trees lining the pretty streets.

I’m hoping that El Puerto de Santa Maria will be the perfect setting for our February adventure. We’re visiting in a couple of weeks to check it out and to meet the staff at the local language school, a very well-organised outfit I’ve been emailing over the last few months.

3. Spanish and social life

As there won’t be many other non-Spanish children around in February, the language school have agreed to provide private Spanish classes for C(10) and J(9). And while they’re learning, I’ll be brushing up my own Spanish in adult group lessons.

The language school run a full social program which we’ll be welcome to participate in. And as the school also teach English, they’ll arrange for C(10) and J(9) to get together for intercambio with Spanish kids wanting to practise their English.

C(10) has been learning Spanish with me for several months. J(9) hasn’t shown much interest so far, but he’s looking forward to our trip.  Perhaps this kids’  phrasebook will inspire him to learn a few words of Spanish before we go.

Spanish phrase book

4. Homeschooling

The children will be learning heaps simply by being immersed in another culture for five weeks. But with our computers, whiteboards and Ed Zaccaro maths books we should also be able to continue learning in Spain as we do at home.

What we may lack in science and art supplies, I’m sure we’ll make up for in other learning opportunities!

5. How to get there

I know that for many people driving long distances is no big deal, but when you live in a country that’s 847 miles by road from one end to another, 1500 miles it’s a big road trip!

Financially, it would probably work out the same to fly. But when I balanced the cost and hassle of flying us all (including dogs) plus hiring a car for the month, against the convenience of taking our own car (filled to the roof rack, no doubt, with essential stuff, despite my best minimalist intentions), the road trip won.

Google Maps says it’s a 21.5 hour journey, which we’ll spread over 4 days. Here’s our route:

Our route to Spain

We’ll make two overnight stops in France, and one in Spain. And we’ll listen to lots of audiobooks in between!


The year I spent in Spain was one of the best of my life. I become fluent in Spanish, learned to dance Sevillanas (badly) and made friends from over a dozen different countries.

But more than that, creating a whole new life miles away from everyone I knew and loved helped me to grow in ways I could never have anticipated.

I came back so confident that after a few weeks working two jobs, I squeezed in another month travelling around Europe on my own before I began my law career. Perhaps I’ll write about that here one day.


I’m so grateful to my younger self for having that adventure. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be contemplating taking my tweens off to Spain now.

I know a month with their mother isn’t quite the same as a year on one’s own, but I’m hoping that the experience will give C(10) and J(9) a taste for adventure in other cultures.

J(9) wants to go to Japan and learn Japanese. That’s just slightly beyond my comfort zone right now, but never say never…!


Have you ever made a long road trip with kids?

Any tips for overnight stops in France or Spain?

Got any audiobook recommendations?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Finishing Strong #35 at Education Possible

The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop at Marie’s Pastiche

History and Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

7 Things We Learned Cruising the Mediterranean

 1. Venice really is at sea

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley described Venice as “Ocean’s nursling.” But who knew that an 86,000 ton cruise ship could sail quite this close to it?

Grand Canal
Venice’s Grand Canal from our cruise ship
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J(9) enjoying Venice by Vaporetto (water bus)
St Mark's Square
Views of St Mark’s Square from sea and land

2. The Ancient Greeks knew their geometry10045759763 bea99fb81f z

Picture the Parthenon, the ancient temple on Athens’ Acropolis. What shape is it? If you’d asked me three weeks ago, I’d have said cuboid. But no! The Parthenon contains no right angles and no perpendicular lines.

Because the Parthenon perches on a hilltop, if it were cuboid it would look like its columns protruded outwards from the ground up. To counter this – and to make it look cuboid – the Parthenon is actually pyramidical. Yes, if you extended those columns way up into the blue Athenian sky, they would eventually meet. Clever, eh?

The pyrimidical Parthenon

3. Earthquakes preserve cities

We’ve all heard of Pompeii, the Roman city buried (and preserved for posterity) by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It had never occurred to me that earthquakes can also preserve civilisations for future generations. (I know. Doh.)

Even with less than 20 percent of the site excavated so far, the ancient (and earthquake-prone) city of Ephesus on the west coast of Turkey is the biggest Roman settlement uncovered in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Great Theatre, Ephesus
The Great Theatre, Ephesus

The photo above shows the  25,000 person theatre in which Paul is said to have talked to the Ephesians about Christ. He was so persuasive that the local silversmith, who made his living selling idols of the Greek goddess Artemis, turned the city against Paul.

After Paul was exiled, he continued writing to the church at Ephesus; his Epistle to the Ephesians is recorded in the New Testament.

Great Theatre, Ephesus
C(10) and J(9) re-enacting a gladiator battle in the Great Theatre

4. What not to wear in a mosque

It was real hands feet-on learning for C(10) and J(9) as they took off their shoes to enter Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. C(10) also had to cover her shoulders, and adult women covered our heads.

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The 500-year-old Blue Mosque, still in popular use, gets its name from the thousands of hand-crafted blue mosaics adorning its interior
Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in the world with six minarets (towers)
Blue Mosque
Chains hanging from the entryway to the Blue Mosque prevent anyone on horseback from entering

6. Hagia Sophia is now a museum

This version of the Hagia Sophia cathedral was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537 AD. Together with its two predecessors on the site, Hagia Sophia stood as the crowning jewel of the Eastern Orthodox Church for over a thousand years.

Hagia Sophia - Istanbul
Hagia Sophia

When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, they were so impressed by Hagia Sophia that instead of destroying it, they added minarets and other Islamic features, and turned the church into a mosque.

In 1935 Kemal Ataturk – the founder of modern, secular Turkey – uncovered many of the church’s Christian decorations and converted the building into a museum.

Me – excited to see the church we’ve read about so often in The Story of the World, with J(9) – a little weary after queuing in the heat to visit the Blue Mosque!

7. The Ionian Sea is very clear

Okay, this one is an even more shameless excuse than the rest of this post to flaunt a few holiday snaps. But can you blame me? The Greek Islands are rather gorgeous, don’t you think?

C(10) and our cruise ship at Santorini
Crystal clear sea at Kefalonia

Have you visited any new places recently?  What did you learn?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

The Home Ed Link Up  #15 – Adventures in Homeschool

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop – Marie’s Pastiche

History and Geography Meme#134 – All Things Beautiful

Cruising Norway With Kids – Stavanger

cruising norway with kids - stavanger children's museum

When I planned to take my my children (aged 8 and 9) on a cruise to Norway, I knew they’d have fun on the ship, but I wasn’t sure how much they’d find to entertain them at the ports. I needn’t have worried – Norway is very child-friendly with plenty to interest the younger crowd.

Our next stop after Oslo and Kristiansand was Stavanger, the third largest city in Norway, with a population of 126,500. It is is a wealthy city, and is widely referred to as the Oil Capital of Norway.

For us, the highlight of Stavanger was the Norwegian Children’s Museum.

At the front of the museum is a historical play park featuring games from times past.  The games ranged from the familiar, like this version of skittles with a ball on a rope…

Cruising norway with kids stavanger museum

…and sjoelbak, which we also played on the (Dutch) cruise ship…

Cruising norway with kids outdoor games at stavanger museum

…to the hilarious…

Boot throwing game at stavanger museum
Boot throwing

…and just plain silly!

Sko blakken at stavanger museum
“Sko blakken belongs to a group of games which often end in disaster. The point is to act stupidly and get people to laugh.”

The equipment for each game is neatly stored in wooden drawers with laminated instructions in both Norwegian and English. We had the place to ourselves so we had plenty of time to play!

The inside of the museum is small but there’s plenty to see, learn, and play on.

Stavanger museum with kids


Princess and the pea at Stavanger museum
Definitely a princess!


Stavanger museum  cruising norway with kids  clockwork toys
Making their own clockwork toys

Back outside, the children (and, for a nanosecond, I) had a go on stilts.

Cruising norway with kids stavanger museum  stilts

A pretty ten minute walk past the lake and the cathedral…

Stavanger cathedral  cruising norway with kids

…led us back to the harbour, where the kids went on an enormous ferris wheel…

cruising norway with kids - stavanger

…and re-boarded the ship for yet more games!

Games on norwegian cruise ship with kids

This post is part of a three part series about taking children cruising around Norway.  On our final cruising day we sailed up the the world’s third largest fjord, the beautiful Hardangerfjord, stopping in at the pretty town of Ulvik – I’ll tell you about that next time.

I’m linking up with Field Trip Friday at Home to 4 Kiddos.

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop


History and Geography Meme button

Taking the Kids to Norway

Cruising Norway with kids

We had a wonderful time in Norway!  Here are some highlights, to give you a flavour of our trip. And I’ve added a few more detailed tips for anyone who might be thinking of actually taking their children on a Norwegian cruise – it’s great value if you live in the UK.

I’ll write today about our time in Oslo and Kristiansand – I’ll save Stavanger, Hardangerfjord and Ulvik for next time.

Pre-Trip Preparation

norway cruise with kids

Places are always more interesting to visit if you know a bit about them beforehand. I helped C(9) and J(8) get familiar with the names and sights of Norway by making a memory pairs game using Google Images. It was very cool hearing them say “Oh! This is Stavanger!” as they caught sight of a row of pretty houses they recognised from a photo, and seeing them compare the little picture with the real life scene. (See the preparation we did for our Norway trip.)

I’d also shared with the children our cruise itinerary so they knew which days they were free to splash around in the ship’s pool all day and which days they’d have the chance to find their fun on dry land. Expectation management always helps!


Our first port was Oslo. Norway is a very (oil) rich nation and this is reflected in its clean, modern capital. The city is small enough to see most of on a ninety minute hop-on/hop-off bus tour.  Here are my recommendations for how best to spend a day in Oslo with children.

Start out by buying a multi-museum ticket from the tourist office right next to the ship, then hop on a bus to begin your tour. Stop at any museums that take your fancy – definitely try the Viking Ship Museum, the Norwegian Folk Museum, and the Kon-Tiki Museum (all fairly close to each other in Oslo Old Town).

If you have time, stop off and wander through the Vigeland Sculpture Park, the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist.

Vigeland Sculpture Park - Oslo with kids
Click image for source

Alternatively (or as well, if your kids have more touring stamina than mine), get off the bus near the Holmelkollen Ski Jump – the world’s most modern ski jump. The site also houses a ski museum with a ski simulator. We saw Holmelkollen from afar – it’s an impressive structure that makes for a super-easy to spot landmark. If we ever go back to Oslo we’ll definitely make the trip to see it up close.

Oslo with kids
1. One of Oslo’s beautiful fountains 2. C(9) spotted this sign 🙂 3. Aboard the hop-on, hop-off bus beside the cruise ship 4.Writing a postcard to Daddy

Bonus Tips for Travellers

* A multi-museum ticket is the best value if you plan to visit more than one museum. I recommend buying one so you can wander in and out of each museum depending on everyone’s interest level and don’t feel obliged to waste time somewhere just because you’ve paid £15 to get in.

* Don’t buy a bus ticket from the first ticket-seller you see – the route varies slightly between the different bus companies. Check the map before handing over your credit card.

* Take your own headphones (if you have them) to listen to the tour commentary. Cheap headphones are provided, but these aren’t always a great fit for kids.


The next morning we woke up in Kristiansand (I love that about cruising). This beautiful city was our family’s favourite port.

We picked up a map as we got off the ship and walked along the coastline parallel with Østre Strandgate. This is a delightful water’s edge stroll, with green lawns, fountains and little sandy beaches strewn with the most intricately decorated sandcastles we’d ever seen. Locals sunbathed and picnicked alongside us.

Cruising norway with kids
1. White sandy beach 2. I was there too 🙂 3. Rock-spotting: gneiss! 4.Swans in the sea

The whole bay is strewn with play equipment, from toddler swings to adult outdoor gym machines, and everything in between. My 8 and 9 year olds were in heaven!

Kids in kristiansand

We saw lots of ducks, ducklings, swans and cygnets, which sparked a discussion about how we don’t usually find these birds in the sea because they prefer fresh water. I’ll share what we later discovered is special about fjords that makes this possible when I talk about our time in Hardangerfjord, next time.

Bonus Tips for Travellers

At the end of the stretch of promenade is a headland (with the biggest rope climbing frame we’ve ever seen). Turn around here and walk back along the shoreline until you get to Markens gate, and follow Markens gate up to Dronningens gate. Revitalise with free wifi at McDonalds* and then make your way along Dronningens gate, popping into as many pretty beach-themed home decor shops as your kids can tolerate before you head back to the pool on the ship.

(* I’m torn between wanting to look good (me?wholesome homeschooling mum, take my kids to McDonalds?!) and giving you, who might one day visit Kristiansand, the benefit of being able to check your email and refresh your blog reader in the middle of a week-long offline stint. I opted for altruism – please take that into account in my defence. ;-))

Kristiansand with kids2

Next Ports of Call

Our next stop on the cruise, Stavanger, was very different from Kristiansand and Oslo, and our final port, a tiny town at the top of the world’s third largest fjord, was one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. I’ll be back to tell you about these soon.

And if you’re considering a Norwegian cruise but aren’t sure how you’ll entertain the kids in port – go for it. I’m glad we did!


Norway Unit Study

Norway Unit Study

In two weeks’ time we’ll be waving goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover, bound for the Norwegian fjords.

To get the most enjoyment and educational value out of our trip, we’ve been learning a bit about Norway.


I printed off a map of the area we’ll be cruising, plus a map from the cruise line showing our complete route from Dover. We also found Norway on our giant map of the world.

Norwegian fjords unit study

The children looked at our printed itinerary and located on the map each of the ports we’ll be visiting. They noticed how far inland Oslo seems, and traced the fjords which connect Norway’s capital city to the sea.

Norwegian fjords unit study cruise route

I found pictures of each of the ports we’ll be stopping at on Google Images and added text labels using iPiccy, before printing them. For Oslo I also selected a few landmarks we might spot – famous statues, the harbour and the giant ski jump.


Edvard Munch’s The Scream is housed in Oslo so I added that to our set of pictures. For more on Edvard Munch, see The Tiger Chronicles’ excellent unit, Scream.

The Scream - Munch - Norway Unit Study
Click image for source


Edvard Grieg composer - Norway unit study

I also added a picture of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, whose music – pieces like Solveig’s Song and Peace in the Woods we’ve been enjoying.

Here’s a great orchestral version of the famous In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt. I say “famous” because it’s one of those pieces of music that’s made it into popular culture such that even I’m familiar with it – and now I know it’s by Grieg!

How not to make memory pairs printables

I completed our set of pictures with the Norwegian flag, a map of the area we’re cruising, and the map of our route.

Norway unit study memory pairs

I printed off and laminated two contact sheets of the pictures* and we played memory pairs, which also gave us practice saying and hearing the Norwegian place names.

(*Confession. I’m a printables rookie, so what actually happened was this: I printed off the pictures (so far so good).  Then  I realised you could see through the paper – no good for memory pairs. My dear husband suggested sliding in a dark backing sheet before laminating, to solve the problem. Then I laminated them – without sticking the two pieces of paper together.  Guess what happened?! One full hour and much Sellotape later, I had a set of cards. Let’s just say it was a learning experience…)

Norway unit study memory pairs


Norwegian in 10 minutes a day

I can’t resist the opportunity to dabble in a new language when I’m about to visit a foreign country. I haven’t done any formal Norwegian with the children but they’ve also enjoyed picking up a few phrases as I’ve been learning.

I started out using Norwegian In 10 Minutes A Day which I really enjoyed. It comes with a CD Rom which the children and I had fun with, guessing the rooms in a house or food items in a kitchen, for example.

But about halfway through the book I realised I wasn’t getting enough pronunciation practice, so I switched to the free Memrise course Norwegian with Sound for Friends and Family. I’m a huge Memrise fan now!

To take away with us I’ve bought a pocket-sized phrase book which comes with a pronunciation CD. I’ve loaded the CD onto my phone and listen at odd moments like when I’m cleaning my teeth.

I’m not sure how much I’ll get to use my Norwegian, given we’ll be eating and sleeping on an American cruise ship, but I’m determined to visit at least one cafe and say “Jeg vil ha to kopper te, takk” (“I would like two cups of tea, please”), and perhaps I will ask for directions to the gallery, even though I won’t be able to understand a word of the reply – I can’t even follow English directions!

History – the Vikings

As part of our trip preparations we’ve reviewed what we learned about the Vikings back in September. And we’ve finally finished our model Viking ship!  It’s made out of a milk carton – for full instructions see here or watch this video.

model viking longboat for kids
Our viking ship


As we’ll be cruising through some spectacular natural scenery, I thought we’d find out how fjords are created. This is the best explanation I’ve found:

Fjords are found in locations where current or past glaciation extended below current sea level. A fjord is formed when a glacier retreats, after forming its typical U-shaped valley, and the sea level rises to fill the valley floor. This forms a narrow, steep sided inlet (sometimes deeper than 1300 metres) connected to the sea.  The terminal moraine pushed  down the valley by the glacier is left underwater at the fjord’s entrance, causing the water at the neck of the fjord to be shallower than the main body of the fjord behind it.


Geirangerfjord - norwegian fjords unit study
Norwegian fjord (click image for source)

I showed the children a Brainpop video about glaciers, and some photos of U-shaped valleys. We then made our own mini-glacier to see how glacial plucking changes the landscape as a glacier moves through it.

To do this, we put some garden soil in a container, and added some small rocks and pebbles. Then we poured in water to represent the glacier’s liquid base layer (caused by pressure), and piled ice cubes on top for the solid glacier.

make your own glacier - Norway unit study

We left the container in the freezer overnight and next day discovered the earth and rocks were completely stuck to the ice!* We talked about how the earth and rocks would be pulled downhill as a real glacier slowly moved.

how to make a glacier - norway unit study

*The instructions we followed said to use an inch of earth and to add enough water to saturate the top layer of earth so that “some pooling occurs”. I wondered if we used too much water because the whole block of earth froze, so we tried it again with less water, but the whole block froze again. We might try it again using a deeper layer of earth, to see if we can achieve the effect of just a few rocks and some of the earth sticking to the “glacier”. C(9) said this was the best science we’d done in ages, though, so it must have served its purpose.

We’ll be taking our laminated memory pairs on our trip to use for a scavenger hunt – I’m determined to eke every bit of use out of those hand-crafted cards!

Look out in a few weeks for a first hand account of our trip to the Norwegian fjords.

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop

Highhill Homeschool

 Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I paid for and use the books mentioned.

Fun In France

skiing and learning in France

We flew home yesterday from Tignes, a beautiful ski resort in the Savoie Department in the Rhônes-Alps region in south-east France, where we spent the last week.

Map of France showing Tignes jpg

One of the things I love about homeschooling is being able to take the children away on holiday during school term time when it’s more affordable and crowds are smaller. They learn heaps during these trips and we have so much fun together as a family.

Both children were able to practise their French, especially C(9), who was the only English child in her group ski lesson. Among other things, she learnt several French words for “sorry” as the young skiers routinely bumped into each other!

We took advantage of all the exercise we were getting on the slopes by indulging in plenty of delicious French food…

French food collage


family ski holiday in Tignes France
Croissants for breakfast


family ski holiday in Tignes France
Chocolats chauds up the mountain


We got lots of exercise (rather more than my thighs would have liked!).

skiing in France
J(7) skiing


C(9) and J(7) worked hard to reach their respective skiing goals and were both rewarded with the medals they’d been hoping for.  I learned to ski as an adult so I don’t have any of these awards, but they seem to be very important to children!

children's ski medals
Ski medals and kids’ club certificates

They made new friends, which helps reassure me that I’m not making them too weird by homeschooling them! (I know I shouldn’t need it but, you know…)

skiing friends
Where there’s boys, there’s Minecraft…

And when I told them that our bloggy friends over at Adventures in Mommydom are looking at France soon as part of their Around The World In 12 Dishes project, C(9) and J(7) wanted to send this special greeting:

bonjour de France
‘Bonjour de France, Batman, Superman and Princess!”


Even the motorway service station near the airport was beautiful.

french motorway services
Breathtaking scenery, even on the motorway


And for an introvert like me, the best thing of all about a holiday… coming home. Ahhh!

A Tuscan Adventure

We’re just back from Italy!  And I’m reeling with joy, not just because of the fantastic experiences we’ve had over the last four days, but also with the sheer delight of having witnessed a desire manifest so exquisitely!

The trip was so good I’m in danger of letting the old perfectionism get in the way of writing about it …  so, while my memories are still fresh, I’ll list a few of the highlights of our Tuscan experience:

  • The best thing of all, and the one that’s hardest to put into words, was how C totally “got” the joy of Italy: chic Italians eating ice creams as they go about La Passeggiata; narrow streets winding their way between beautiful old buildings;   the legacy of centuries of magnificent art strewn liberally around the city; golden sunlight on the Ponte Vecchio in the early evening…

  • The view from our Florence hotel room

  • The children’s excitement at spotting things on the “treasure hunt” I “put together”.  (I use both terms loosely; I am really good at launching ideas and less good at following through – what started out in my head as something involving laminated photos and a treasure map ended up as post-it notes flagging pages in our guidebook.  The kids didn’t mind a bit though.)
  • We’ve been lucky enough to take the children abroad many times, but mostly on package holidays to the beach or ski slopes, so this felt like their first real experience of another culture, close-up.  They were thrilled, as I still am, by simple experiences like taking Italian trains, window-shopping and enjoying the early morning sunshine at pavement cafes, savouring super-sweet croissants while locals at the bar chatted noisily over their breakfast cappuccinos.  J admired the taxi which took us back to Pisa airport: “it looks like a racing car!” (earning him an appreciative grin from our suave young driver), while C remarked, excitedly, “I’ve never been in a foreign taxi before!”

  • C’s delight in the miniature statue of Michelangelo’s David she begged me to buy for 4 Euros from a Florence souvenir stall.  I cherish her innocence of any cynical grown-up notions of tackiness!
  • Climbing the narrow, windy steps (and ladders!) to the very top of the Duomo (dome) of Florence Cathedral.  This really was the perfect culmination of a desire which began with our reading of “Pippo The Fool”, the story of how Filippo Brunelleschi designed the dome.

  • Our afternoon wandering around Boboli Gardens, the grand, sweeping gardens just south of the river Arno, laid out nearly five hundred years ago by the Medici family.  My consistent inability to orient us on the map made for wonderful meanderings through parts of the gardens we never would have seen had I had more of a clue where we were at any point!  We spent about an hour indulging our senses on this smooth, cool piece of marble nestled in a dappled glade.

The children spent another hour happily messing around with the trickle of water flowing down here…

While  I took  photos.

And of course there was ice cream at the end of our travels.

  • Pisa: basking in the sunshine with C in the Field Of Miracles (while a few feet away J added “in the shadow of the leaning tower of Pisa” to his list of “places I have played my Nintendo DS”!); playing “I Spy” in the botanical gardens; J’s photos!

One of my favourite things to do when I’m on holiday is fantasize about the next one. (I used to worry that this was detracting from enjoying the moment; but when I checked in with myself I realised that, for me, it enhances it!)  I’d like to continue the Southern European theme and make our next destination the Spanish city of Granada, where I spent a wonderful year when I was in my twenties.  In my planning I’ll take on board one of the things we learned in Italy – that, as introverts, we need to balance time spent in the exciting hustle and bustle of a city, with green open spaces and, in warm weather, cooling water to play in .  Granada, home of the magnificent Moorish palace, the Alhambra, with its delightful Generalife gardens, is perfectly situated right next to the beautiful Alpujarra mountains and within easy reach of the beaches of the Costa Tropical.  I’m getting excited already!

Back From Skiing

I knew on the journey home today that I’d a lovely week away skiing, but it seems even nicer now I’m luxuriating in the prodigal comfort of home.   The cases are unpacked, a second load of washing is on, my body, hair and spirit have been fully cleansed of the grubbiness of travel in a deep, hot bath.  Big J is feeding the children some much-needed vegetables, and while the rest of my little family enjoy the rugby, I am in My Room.

My Room is a space in the house which is all mine.  It’s a space, I realised while I was away, that I haven’t been making as much use of as I’d like.  I intend to change that.  More on My Room soon.

Meanwhile, some thoughts on the holiday, and coming home:

  • I love coming back from skiing holidays and realising that despite having eaten a ton of gorgeous (ie someone else cooked it) food, I haven’t put on a pound thanks to the enormous amount of energy I burned every day on the slopes.  Not that I’ve been foolish enough to step on a scales, of course!
  • I love that we all have lightly tanned faces (even through the Factor 50).  Noone else would notice it except on olive-skinned Big J and C, but I know that my own face is ever-so-slightly beiger than its usual white and pink 🙂
  • Thanks to free wifi in the hotel bar and Byline on my iPhone, I have read a lot of blogs this week! So much wonderful inspiration – home ed ideas, books to read, apps to try out, resources to investigate…  The children have already immersed themselves in Wizard 101, a free online game that one of the GeekDads was enthusing about.  I love Byline!
  • As well as other people’s blogs and my lovely family, three fantastic books kept me company: two (non-fiction) on my iPhone, one (fiction!) in paperback (I needed something for takeoff and landing 😉 )  More on these soon.
  • I loved that the children begged to go to the hotel’s kids’ club as often as they could, and both made friends there (yay, home educated and they can still “socialise”!)  And I’m loving even more having them back 🙂
  • I loved skiing by day and dining by night with my wonderful husband while the children did their thing.  Ooh the Byline posts we shared!
  • I had a great learning experience over the course of the week’s skiing.  I love learning – and learning about learning.  Again – more soon!

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