Eight hours. 


Earlier this week we spent eight hours in the woods. I’m not entirely sure what the kids got up to – I didn’t see them most of the time. 

We try to spend one day a week at Forest School. We come early, we stay late. Way late. 

The kids climb trees, make dens, chase zombie farmers, play at the mud kitchen, get stung by nettles, cook over the fire, fight (and make up) with friends, swing on a tyre. 

What do I do? A lot of laughing by the campfire. 

Because at Forest School, kids are friends with kids who are friends with adults who are friends with adults who are friends with kids. We’re all on a first name basis. 

There’s some babies, some toddlers, quite a few kids roundabout M and S’s age, and some older kids too. And mums, dads, aunts, grandparents, dogs. 

The whole place is an autonomous romp through the woods and the afternoons- everyone chooses what to do, what delights them. 


It’s a chance for kids to be totally reliant on imagination and nature. 

They get to take risks – starting fires, using knives, drilling holes in logs. They get to do big stuff – giant net forts, huge screaming games of running wild through the trees and fields, collaborative projects like the ‘summer house’ that’s been being created over the last month or so. 

But more than that, it’s full of tiny magic moments. Those are the ones I think are the most important. 

Two kids side by side on a swing, chatting. Someone playing alone with a bowl of water and some sticks. Sitting surrounded by friends while we eat lunch on the ground. 

This week we spent eight hours breathing deeply in the fresh air. Eight hours laughing. Eight hours with campfire smoke and drama and sunlight. 

It’s days like that I feel so grateful and connected and at peace. These moments are not tiny pieces of their childhood, it’s what most of their childhood is like. 

As a friend said after this week, how lucky the children are. 

Really, how lucky we all are. 

Growing tall and bright. 

I read this crazy article the other day. It can be summed up like this:

The school system is awful and needs a complete overhaul. Home education can be awesome.  Yet it is more important to go to school so people can learn to fit in among the mediocre. Many people flourish best when in someone else’s shadow.

Um, what?? 

I flourish in sunshine, with space to grow, with fresh air and fresh ideas. 

My goal is certainly not to have children who live in the shadows, functioning adequately. Being moderately happy. 

My kids are my kids. They’ll be whoever they are. 

Yet, how glorious if we all grew tall, faces toward the sun, and when we reached those heights we held out a hand and helped others into the sun, too. 

  

Awesome places to visit, galore!

We have recently been doing a lot of little road trips and travelling. Here’s just a few of the places we’ve been in the last few weeks – we definitely recommend visits!

Sand Bay, near Weston Super Mare

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This is one of our go to haunts. It’s got a bit of woodland, a bit of rocks, and a whole lot of beach. There are mini sand dunes to explore, a nice firm sandy beach, and rarely other people. There’s even a little pub opposite the beach.

We have actually been here twice in the last week or so. We stayed well past sunset to see the elusive tide come in, and every second was worth it. 

Stourhead National Trust property 

  

This place is overflowing with magic. Yes, actual magic. The trees are what really do it for me – so many different kinds, all growing a little bit crooked, all old abs magnificent. You can climb them, slide down them, do bark rubbings, or just take endless pictures. 

It’s also got little pagan temples scattered around, watery grottos, amazing flowers,  a big lake, and an excellent pub courtyard to get ice cream at. 

Caerphilly Castle, Wales

 
  

A truly fab castle to visit. It’s got a giant dragon statue (complete with smoking nostrils!) emerging from the ground, an oddly challenging children’s trail to follow, an unexpected statue man holding up a turret, and a film you should not let younger children – or sensitive ones – get within a mile of. There are also tonnes of Canadian geese outside in the large and free park. 

Of course all castles in Wales are free for home educators – I’ll have to write a post explaining how to access that!

St. Fagan’s, Wales

  

This is officially called the National Welsh Living History museum. Or something like that. 

It’s a bunch of very old buildings – thatch roofed cottages, a gazillion year old church, stables, etc set in a gorgeous, huge outdoors space. (Free to enter for all, barring carpark charges.) You can easily spend all day wandering and playing – and still not see everything. 

We particularly like the village green, bordered by ye olde shoppes and businesses. 

Kenilworth Castle

Near Birmingham and Coventry. And other places. 

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Flipping fantastic!!! We had a mini trip to Birmingham for a few days, and hit up this castle on the way home. Largely ruins, but with an excellent, kid friendly visitor centre museum place. Lots to see and explore – our kids were absolutely wowed by a massive hill at the rear of the castle. This is the steepest, highest hill. Pictures cannot do it justice.

They climbed and rolled and played for literal hours on the thing while Suzy and I sat at the top and watched as the sun set. Pretty near bliss, I’ll tell you. 

 

We have been a few others places and done a lot of other stuff, but that’s all best left for future posts, perhaps. 

Hopefully this post has given you some ideas of places that are great days out….and please, if you guys ever go anywhere fabulous, leave a comment! I’m in the mood for new places. 

Represent yourself….

My seeds post  inspired two things – a lot of laughter and mocking on my personal Facebook page…..and an angry tirade from a stranger on a public Facebook group. Apparently my attitude is terrible, I’m an embarrassment, and anyone reading my blog will end up thinking home education is bad. I, Alison the Awful and Terrible, will be responsible for fanning the fires of hatred against home education. 

But here’s the thing: I can only be me. I am not the sole representative of home educators, of parenthood, of anything. And while we do each provide a personal face for ’causes’ or issues we are associated with, sometimes the best way to do that is to be honest. 

When I was younger, I was under scrutiny as a lesbian. Was it a phase? Was my hair gay enough? Was I really as normal as I seemed, or did my deviant sexuality mask some serious deficiencies as a human?

It carried on, all of it. When we first had the babies, I was conscious again of our status as queer parents. While I had long ago made peace with being Other, suddenly I was in a world where even more people than usual were in straight relationships. We had to come out again, and again, and again. Every single health professional commented on us being a two mother family. And while the vast majority were (over compensating) very positive, it was still a constant presence. We were judged as parents. Could two mothers function as parents? 

All I’ve ever been able to do is to be myself. I’m not perfect. I like to swear, I kill plants with the greatest of ease, I’m tired and just want ten minutes alone to watch Full House. But all of that is good enough. It’s all we can hope for. 

I’m a real person, and perhaps because of my ‘otherness’ the internet stranger’s critique didn’t bother me as much as it could have. But did it bother me? Sure. I don’t want people to view me as a shining example of ineptitude and home education failure. But you know what else? I’m not an example of that. Nor are you. We are both allowed to have off days, to wobble, to tell funny stories that make people laugh because they relate. Not everyone will like us, but that’s okay. (And not everyone has a sense of humour…it isn’t always about you or me, it can be about that other person having a bad day or just being radically different in their viewpoints.)

We are allowed to be gloriously messy, to make mistakes, to spend too much money on eBay. The best and truest way to let people know who we are is to be who we are. It might feel like a risk, but it is the easiest way to find like-minded souls, to celebrate and relax into who you are, to represent yourself as authentically as possible. You and me, we’re okay. Just as we are. 

  
(Me and my castle buddy, twin expressionistas.)

That one time we disappointed science on an international level. 

You know those Pinterest memes that we all love in a schedenfruede sort of way? On one side is the goal – a perfect, giant, lifelife Cookie Monster cake. On the other is what actually happened – a melted Smurf-looking apocalyptic nightmare.

My life is sort of like that.

You see, I belong to a lot of great UK based home education Facebook groups. A few months ago someone posted a link that sounded awesome. The kind of link that makes you feel smug to be home educating, because your children are getting to do the stuff of dreams, the things schooled children can only dream of.

In this instance, it involves space seeds. Yes, the British astronaut currently residing in the International Space Station brought some seeds into space. Said seeds return to Earth soon. They needed schools and home educators to grow the seeds.

I was like, ‘Oh! How bloody majestic! How amazing! We like space. We like astronauts. Yes, we’ve killed a lot of plants in our time but these are effing space seeds. I am creating the perfect childhood. I hope they select us.’ I filled in the form, quietly writing as minimal an amount as possible because some part of me already knew The Truth.

And The Truth is now. A long ass email filled with a list of supplies and instructions. I didn’t get much past how we need to plant this stuff on an exact day and do precise measurements on specific dates and log them in some national database. I just inwardly cringed and forwarded the email to Suzy.

She didn’t reply in a favourable way.  We’ll leave it at that.

So now some seeds are winging their way back from darkest space, down to our magical and mysterious blue planet, landing right on my very own doorstep. And all I can think is, ‘Oh, fuck.’ I’m not a measuring on specific days, remembering to water shit sort of person. We don’t even have any compost. The little pea plants that started growing from Woodcraft Folk (why, yes, we are those sort of people) can attest to the fact that even the most hardy, friendly, survival-y plants come into our house and enter a season of neglect and potential abuse.

I’m trying to be positive. I mean, in the last month we met an actual astronaut. We watched what happens to troll dolls when placed in a vaccuum – and so should you. You’ve not lived until you have. But I digress.

We’ve touched components from the International Space Station, we’ve watched how a 3D printer is being built that will be able to replace things using fucking MOON ROCK as a printing material.

All that is awesome. But now these seeds are coming. And the emails that accompany them are all feverishly stern – DO NOT ACCEPT OUR SEEDS UNLESS YOU ACCEPT YOU ARE A SLAVE TO THEM FOR THE NEXT FEW MONTHS. Don’t go on holiday. Give them only exactly as much water as needed. Make sure your ruler or measuring device is the most accurate measuring device in the history of measuring devices.

I don’t function well under this sort of pressure, man.

Random strangers on internet forums are banging on about how blessed they are to have been selected. Meanwhile there I am, coldly assessing how many people post about these seeds and trying to decide if Planet Earth will have enough scientific data if our particular packet of Space Seeds languishes on the windowsill next to the free potato planting kit we received and never followed up, the poor pea plants leaning haphardzedly in a corner of the kitchen.

Yay. Space.

Science.

Oh, shit.

Tick!!

  
Every year I make a list of 100 things I’d like to do that year. Big, small, silly, dead serious. 

Every year for the last three years I’ve had ‘go on a mini break adventure alone with the kids’ and never managed to get around to doing it. 

While this may not quite count as ‘alone’, it does to me as Suzy wasn’t there and she’s definitely the more adult/responsible one. 

So that’s a big tick off 2016’s list.  We had such a good time I think I can probably backdate my tick to 2014. 

Score! 

Never say no to an adventure! 

About a week ago, a friend said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Spain with us?’ A couple of days after that we were on a plane with her and her adorable kids. 

Today’s our last day here. After a few days of sun and heat, it’s cooler and windy. Obviously we feel at home on cold beaches. Ha. 

  
  
I was worried if I’d cope on my own with the kids. All the bedtimes, all the nighttimes, all the picky eating that new countries and food allergies bring. But you know what?

It’s been a joy. A time out from normal life which has reminded me a bit more of what I’d like normal life to be like, what it once was before all the classes and clubs and meet ups. 

A little bit slower, a little bit more joy and instinct led, a little more flexible. 

Of course, excellent company helps. So does Spanish sunshine and water with lemons picked fresh off a tree. 

  

Perhaps the biggest lesson (and reward) in these past few days comes from the reminder of how good it feels to say a resounding YES whenever you can.