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Underground and Overground Adventures in the Sun

Our two final days before packing up ready to head home. We drove three hours south to Waitomo Caves to explore the Stalagmites, Stalactites, Columns, Weta and Glowworms before heading over to Matamata for the night ready for Hobbiton today.

On the way to Waitomo we took a slightly longer, more emotional, route to go through the city I was supposed to be working in (Hamilton), and the small down South of there that we had planned to live in (Te Awamutu). I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t have a look at them, I couldn’t quite manage to stop and explore properly though :/

At Waitomo there were three caves we toured, we did them in reverse order as we arrived at lunchtime. The first was a dry cave with Cave Weta, the second and third caves had flowing water and glow worms inside – no photographs were permitted in the third cave, the main one of the three. All three had stalagmites, stalactites and limestone, together with very knowledgeable guides who gave us lots of information.

After a quick overnight stay we headed over to the Hobbiton Film Set for a guided tour there. It was incredibly busy here, lots of tours going on alongside each other. I must confess I am not a LOTR or Hobbit fan in the slightest, I’ve only seen bits of some of the films by way of osmosis when the boys have been watching them. However, it was a beautiful setting and thoroughly enjoyable experience in its own right. There were only two downsides: 1 – time, because it was busy there was no opportunity to spend longer in the Green Dragon Inn and have lunch, we had to stay with our group and get the same bus back to meeting point. 2 – there were stoneware drinking cups in the Inn that they were serving the complimentary drinks in, I wanted to buy some, the gift shop did not sell them!

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To the North!

Our journey continues up onto the North Island of New Zealand. In Wellington we took a tour to Zealandia, an amazing urban wildlife reserve where they have worked tirelessly to fence in the native species and remove as many introduced species as possible. Birds with flight are free to come and go, flightless birds are protected from the predators that were introduced by both the Maori and European settlers all those years ago. The result has been species close to extinction becoming reestablished, and a species thought to be extinct brought back after a few were found in the mountains.

The tour also took a drive around Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, with a very knowledgeable coach driver giving us detailed information on various buildings of interest and the damage caused by a very recent earthquake. He also took us to the Old St Paul’s Cathedral for a look around, a wooden structure built by shipmakers, something giving the building real character when looking at the roof structure from inside which closely resembles an upturned boat.

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Between Christchurch and Wellington, it really is quite humbling to see the damage caused by earthquakes. Lots of empty spaces in Christchurch, fewer spaces in Wellington, but being more recent there are still cracks evident across the roads. Since our visit, we have heard news of devastating wild fires in Christchurch, truly saddening especially for a beautiful city that was still recovering from the 2011 earthquake.

After Wellington came the small harbour of Tauranga. We took an excursion to Rotarua from here to see the truly amazing hot springs and mud pools at the thermal reserve. Wow is the only way to describe it. If you’re lucky enough to get to NZ you must try and get to Waiotapu in Rotarua – this has got to be the best of the excursions by far. We learnt that the reason for the hot springs is the active volcanoes around the area causing hot magma to lie below the surface and heat the water. The extreme heat also draws mineral out of the rocks to dissolve in the water, causing the bright colours. There are hot springs, bubbling mud pools and geysers aplenty in this area. The Maori tribe that settled here used, and still use, the heat provided by nature to cook their food.

Our final day on board was in the Bay of Islands, just north of Auckland. We had booked a tall ship experience here, a day spent on an authentic schooner, sailing in the sunshine around the bays, finding a secluded beach for some swimming in the sea and relaxing with a BBQ lunch on board. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side, for the first time, so the trip was cancelled – I had a spa treatment on board the cruise ship, with a sauna and full body massage with hot stones, instead ūüėČ

The final leg of our adventure is already underway in Auckland, I will post a summary of that in a few days.

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100 Ways to Home Educate: With The World!

Today I am taking part in a Home Education Blog Hop initiative, here is a little about what Home Education looks like for us.

Home Education for us: 

If I had to describe our style it would be Semi Structured dabblers in Worldschooling. This basically means when we’re ‘at home’ we follow a loose and flexible timetable with subjects and activities guided by E’s interests and future plans, but we also try to take lots of breaks around the world and country, of varying lengths of time, to discover and learn about different areas and cultures.

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We try to adventure, rather than holiday, doing things a little differently to a standard package holiday where we can. At the moment we are exploring the Southern Hemisphere (have a look at my recent blog posts for more information) but have also traveled by train to Italy, driven around France for a month (sleeping in the car as well as camping) and stayed with friends in Spain. In addition we try to get out and about in the UK including camping in Cardiff, a few days a year in London, Chester Zoo (which is an awfully long drive from Cornwall!) and more.

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What have we covered so far on our current adventure? So much it’s hard to know where to start, but I will try to¬†summarise some of the points! We have learnt about time zones, body clocks and jet lag. We have experienced these first hand, as well as the opposite seasons in the other hemisphere. Currency conversion and cost estimation while out and about, as well as supply and demand affecting pricing – just why did our laundry cost so much to have done on the ship?! We’ve looked at native species, deadly species, cautions for them, and sun safety. We’ve seen a dam, learnt how and why it was built, and the strong relationships formed plus other benefits of those from different cultures¬†coming together with different skills. We talked about evolution and natural selection, multiple times, and the risks of introducing species to an area. We’ve seen differing coastlines and mountains, a rain forest and icy cold waterfalls, learnt about sounds and fjords. There have been discussions about relationships between settlers and natives, what we think went well, what didn’t and why that might have been. We’ve all learnt lots about earthquakes, volcanoes and glaciers, which led onto a discussion over dinner about natural disasters and any ways we know to protect ourselves from them (duck and cover, seek higher ground, enter a basement etc). We’ve seen and talked about Maori traditions that still live on, learnt about the Haka and what it really is and means, beyond rugby!

I’m sure I’ve missed plenty, and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come. To put it into perspective a little, we’ve been away for precisely three weeks. I feel we’ve covered far more in that time, in far more depth and breadth, than we could have at home, and we still have another week to go…

Some background to what we do, and why:

E came out of school at the end of year three, after a change of schools crushed his optimism and love of learning. He plans to do his GCSEs as an external candidate, studying the material from home. Maths and Science are his favourite subjects, and I have insisted he also sits the exams for English and studies the material for French (as he has been learning French for several years now). He also covers computing (including coding/programming) within his timetable. Then there’s the local Home Ed trips out and meetings to juggle.

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O is not Home Educated at the moment, although he has been in the past, currently he is studying at college for his A levels and he went to a small independent school to sit his GCSEs as he has Asperger’s Syndrome so¬†mainstream school ¬†was not able to meet his needs and he did not wish to sit exams as an external candidate. His school set up has meant we’ve had greater flexible for adventure than many families with one or more children in school.

Blog Hop:

Previous blogger:

The Start:
http://liveotherwise.co.uk/makingitup/2017/02/06/100-ways-to-home-educate-launching-a-blog-hop/

 

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Click here¬†to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Dry Run With Friends

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A weekend of dry weather and friends wanting to wild camp in their converted camper locally meant we jumped in, with our nowhere near ready set up, for a single night test run.

It differed from the planned adventure in July in several ways:

  • Our car is far from ready
  • We are far from having everything we need
  • We have a foster dog at the moment, as well as our dog
  • The weather is nowhere near as warm as we hope it will be
  • It was only one night, and was very local
  • So we had a lot less gubbins than we will have – but that’s fine because the storage isn’t quite sorted yet

Despite these differences there was much value in doing it. It helped to spot things that were or were not needed as well as any pitfalls from what we already had – for example the carabiners for the bags were not big enough to go on the handles above the doors as planned.

The dogs loved the space, the training leads were ideal for hooking them up to the load D rings in the car (neither has great recall at the moment!). We took the foster dog (Gilda) in the car overnight, and our friends took our dog (Indy) in their van. Gilda slept fine in the bed on the front passenger seat, and Indy slept fine in the bed in the living area of the van.

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The beds fit in beautifully, and both of us found them comfortable and spacious.

There is lots of space under my bed for storage, and I have ordered a couple of Really Useful Boxes to slide underneath. One for kitchen bits and food, and one for dog bits and food.

There should also be enough space on top the the boxes to slide our camping chairs and the ‘bog in a bag’.

 

 

There is a fair bit of space¬†in all the footwells, apart from the driver’s seat, and I have also ordered Really Useful Boxes for each of them – one each for mine and my son’s clothes and the third for ‘bits and pieces’ such as wipes, towels, bog refills etc. There will be space on top of these for other things too.

The cubby holes along the roof will be used for underwear, toothbrushes, toiletries and tablets etc. The door pockets will hold the curtains, sunshades and anything else not already housed.

All in all it was a resounding success, and very reassuring in terms of feasibility. We really had loads of storage space. We’re hoping the weather will be kind, and allow us another test run before our friends set off on the road early next month.

 

Prehistoric Bread

So far we’ve baked flat breads using the Neolithic (late stone age) and Iron Age heritage flours. The Bronze Age wheat had a failed harvest last year, so that flour won’t be available until the Autumn – we’ll revisit the prehistoric bread then.

To accompany the baking we had a Neolithic to Iron Age workshop at the local museum, and a Hunter Gatherer style foraging walk which included building a fire on the beach and cooking some flat breads on hot stones, together with the foraged plants, seaweed and molluscs.

We’ve certainly covered a lot of extended history around both eras, finding an in depth series of videos on YouTube that covered Neolithic to Iron Age origins from the fertile crescent across to Europe.

The baking surprised us all. There was so much flavour in the breads that were made with nothing more than flour and water. The heritage flours were also much thirstier than their modern counterpart, needing quite a bit more water to form a dough.

For the Neolithic bread, the thinner the better it seems. The thicker patties remained doughy inside, and not as tasty.

 

Slightly thicker breads were best with the Iron Age bread. Just thick enough to rise up a little when cooking, forming a pitta like pocket. Thinner ones were too crispy, and lacked the extra flavour, too thick was still doughy in the middle.

Both prehistoric breads were delicious dipped in houmous, which we realise is not authentic to the period ūüėõ

The ‘recipe’ was just flour and enough water to make a dough.
Leave to stand for twenty minutes before kneading.
Divide into flat patties.
Leave to stand again.
Heat a heavy based frying pan, dry, with no oil or butter.
Cook the patties on each side until done.

For May we will look at Romans, we have our Romans workshop at the museum next week.

Proving in Progress

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The first flours have been ordered, a baking stone has been bought; the first workshop booked at the museum, and Neolithic baking day arranged.

We are jiggling the historical order around, due to a failed crop last year which means some flours will not be available until later in the year.

The first workshop looks at Stone Age to Iron Age, which covers three of the eras we will bake for.

So far, the Neolithic, Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon flours are here, and the Roman flour is on order. The Bronze Age is one of the flours out of stock.

The first baking day is at the end of the month and I have been unable to find an actual recipe for the Neolithic bread, so before baking day I will be experimenting with flour:water ratios and baking methods/temperatures… I’m sure success will be very mixed!

En Route to…

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This summer, I am ‘planning’ a road trip in France with youngest boy (biggest boy has asked to be excused, and will instead spend the time with his Grandad). I use the term ‘planning’ loosely, as, for the first time, this trip will not be minutely ordered with check points or an itinery. We know we will cross Plymouth to Roscoff, and we know we will spend just a couple of nights in each location, beyond that we will go where the wind, beauty and urge take us.

We are taking our family car, a Ford Galaxy, and a tent. The tent won’t be used for single night stops, we will just sleep in the car. The car has a glass roof (to see the stars) so there will be no roofbox, and also no trailer. We will have to pack light… Very light! We might also take the family dog, if she can get over her travel sickness before June!

I have pre ordered a new Outwell Polycotton Air Tent (for cool in the hot (!) sun, and ease of erecting/striking over and over on my own), and today we spent much time outside two camping shops trying out combinations of camp beds and Self Inflating Mats (SIMs) to see what the best configuration was that would fit in the car.  We eventually went for a Outwell Posidas single camp bed, with lots of space underneath for storing essential gubbins, and a double layer of 3cm Outwell SIMs for littlest boy.

It’s starting to become a little scary when I think about how little space we will have for gubbins. We have large door pockets, cubby holes all over the place, and a central bank of boxes in the roof of the car (with glass windows either side). There will also be the footwells, and under the Posidas. That is it. Everything we take will need to fit in that. EVERYTHING.

There’s a dog crate, if the dog comes, which will go on the front passenger seat when we’re sleeping in the car. The tent, which will have to go in a footwell, under the bed, or on the driver’s seat. Clothes/towels etc. Toiletries (I predict these will end up in the boxes in the roof). Road maps and campsite directories. Cooking stuff, including the Cobb BBQ which I will make space for, somewhere – I expect we’ll take a Really Useful Box, at least one, to store cooking equipment and food in, this can be left outside if needs be.

Once the tent arrives in mid March, I can have a go at cramming everything in, with the beds in situ. I don’t do packing light. Fitting everything in is going to be the biggest challenge for this trip!

A Slice of History Project

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Having our interest sparked by the recent BBC series Victorian Bakers, we decided to look into sourcing some historical Victorian flour, with the view to trying our own Victorian bread and comparing to modern loaves. The series explains that flour back then was more nutritious and flavoursome, and behaved in a slightly different way to modern flours. This was probably just as well since bread made up most of the diet of the working classes.

On hunting for Victorian flours, I stumbled across an amazing website that sells flours from all sorts of periods in history, going way back to Neolithic times. There was born our new Home Education project!

We have made a list of eras which we have found historical flours for, ordered some historical baking/dining books and signed up for a introductory course in Artisan bread baking (I am no bread baker, I have a bread maker, which is used from time to time, but for this activity hands, and some basic knowledge, will be required!).

The plan is to work our way through the eras, month by month, making a loaf as traditionally as we can in a modern kitchen. Exploring what factors influenced the flour, bread and diet of the time, and comparing to modern breads and other periods.

We have ten time periods, including modern, some of which have different varieties of flour, for instance a peasant and standard. I hazard it will take us about a year to get through it all.

There are lots of local Home Ed families that are keen to get involved too, so a monthly baking session at our house is on the cards. I have also contacted our local museum to see if they can run a monthly workshop for us, covering that month’s era before baking day.

Rest assured, each experiment in bread making will be blogged!

Much thanks to Annie Gray, co-presenter of the series, for her tips, pointers and suggestions of suitable books!

Neolithic bread making, coming to a blog near you soon ūüėČ

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Home Educators – Are our Children Really ‘Invisible’

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Apparently Home Education needs greater regulation, and compulsory registration. Apparently this is because our children are at risk and invisible from the watchful eye of the powers that be. This is apparently demonstrated by the tragic cases of various children who have lost their lives whilst being home educated by their parents.

But are home educated children really invisible? Are they really at greater risk of being missed when in need? Are there really no bits of legislation already in place to protect children who are home education? Will a compulsory register really change anything?

I would argue that the answers to these questions are NO, NO, NO and NO. Lets look at each in turn.

The HE Invisibility Cloak

The term ‘Home Education’ is a little bit of a red herring really. It implies that education only happens at home, perhaps in the cupboard under the stairs, or at the very least classroom style at a desk, with workbooks. In reality, for many, this is not at all the case, far from it. Only today I had an email from a company I’d contacted about an educational session, they were surprised I was asking for two spaces, they had thought I would only want one and then return home to teach my son the information.

Generally, in my experience, our children are out and about most days, mingling with wider society. Socialising with other humans ranging in age, in a range of environments and from a range of backgrounds. We have meet ups with other Home Edders on a regular basis. We tap into Home Ed trips to museums, aquariums, zoos, lifeboat stations and many other places, much like schooled children. We have workshops with other families, sometimes run for us, sometimes run by us. We go into town and run errands, have lunch, visit the library, talking to a range of people, young and old, as we go. ¬†In fact, often it’s a case of turning down activities so we can have some down time. Then there’s the usual ‘after school clubs’ that they access: swimming, cubs, gymnastics, drama, football, and so on.

My Home Ed son has a far more vibrant social life than he ever had whilst at school. The vast majority of families, really don’t hide their children from society simply because they’re not educated at school. They really are not Harry Potter wannabees ūüėČ

Home Education – The Welfare Risk?

I briefly mentioned that there have been a handful of very tragic cases where children’s lives were lost. These children were being home educated at the times of their deaths. For each, home education has been blamed for putting this children out of sight, making them invisible, resulting in them being missed by authorities. But, is this really the case? If you look at each case (pretty easily found with a quick google search), in every single one, the child was known to the authority prior to their death. Concerns had been raised already by other parties. The authorities failed to follow these concerns up properly. NOT ONE was missed, or invisible, because they were home educated. NOT ONE.

But Home Education Prevents Investigation by the Authorities

No, it really doesn’t. There is plenty of legislation in place already that allows authorities access to a child where concerns about their education or their welfare have been raised. Social Services have just as much power to access home educated children as they do schooled, or pre school-age children.

Section 47 of the Children Act. Each and every Local Authority has a Social Service department with the power to visit unannounced and demand entry into homes, provided they have a warrant. They can see children, and interview them without the parents present. This is a universal power, regardless of age and mode of education.

Your Name’s on a List, You’re Safe From Harm

Really, who honestly believes that a register of all HE children will serve to protect them from harm? I would hazard there are very few HE children that aren’t registered in some capacity already: at birth, for tax credits, for child benefit, with GP surgeries, with dentists… The list is endless.

Schooled children already have their names on a register, they are still at risk of neglect and abuse, at home, at school and in wider society.

The source of your education (teachers at school, or parents at home) does not determine whether you’re at risk of neglect or abuse or not. Being named on a list does not protect you from neglect or abuse.

If anything, having a compulsory register, or worse still regulation, of all HE children will make matters worse. It will be harder to find the children that really need help, it will cost the UK much more money to implement and maintain.

So, what exactly is the purpose and benefit?!

Our Journey into Home Education

The History

My eldest child has additional needs, with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. He found school very difficult, he found everything very difficult. When our family made the move South, from the midlands to the South West, O was seven and he struggled a great deal to settle into a new school. He did not yet have his diagnosis at this stage.

What followed was five long years of being repeatedly failed and let down by our Local Authority. He spent more time at home on exclusion than at school, this was the result of the lack of appropriate support, or even a basic attempt to understand his difficulties. I was trying to complete a degree at University at this time, training to become a midwife.

The upshot was, between the ages of seven and twelve, the vast majority of O’s learning occurred at home. I unofficially Home Educated him through his endless exclusions.

He is now settled in a very small ‘mainstream’ independent school that understands and supports him. He is happy and has chosen to be there to complete his GCSEs. ¬†I had to fight the Local Authority every single step of the way, and to get the school fees paid through his statement (fees which are significantly lower than the alternatives that the LA were suggesting!).

Moving On

As a result of my experiences with O, I was not in the dark about the option to Home Educate, nor was I shy to make that choice if I felt it was right for my child(ren).

E had always adored school, he loved learning, asked questions all the time, and skipped to school daily waving hello to all the local villagers along his way. It was the right place for him to be.

Until we moved house, and E had to change schools. Within two terms I had made the decision to deregister E from his new school, a school that has broken him. He no longer looked forward to school. He no longer asks questions about everything. He started to dread school and had very much lost his love of learning.

E’s home education journey began in September 2013. The deregistration letter was handed in on the last day of the summer term, and the the summer holidays were what E needed for deschooling (getting the mindset of school out of the child, and parent). We are now beginning the second term in our third year of home ed.

E’s Home Ed Journey

Having researched ‘proper’ home ed (as opposed to the unofficial, off the cuff, no choice left, home ed I had done with O in the past) I knew there were as many ways to approach it as there are children experiencing it. On of the key positive points is that home education allows flexibility to fit around each and every child’s needs and preferences.

E is a reader. In the early days I got caught up in the ‘buy lots of workbooks and sit and do them for a couple of hours a day’. This cost me a lot of money, time and sanity. E hates workbooks. Absolutely detests them!¬†I quickly learnt that E prefers to learn by reading. So I shifted the approach to a loose, very flexible, timetable and trying to cover as much as possible through reading, rather than workbooks.

In the early days heels were dug in and a distaste for a timetable expressed. So we discussed what might help and agreed a work basket for each week, with a clear written list of what work ought to be completed for that week. He trialed this, with the intention to have finished the list by the Sunday when he went to bed, giving a full week. He quickly decided to go back to the timetable!

Our Timetable

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We follow a loose timetable, and loose term times as well. The main reason for this is having one child in school.

I have a flexible approach to lots of things, our home ed timetable is no exception. It is a laminated sheet of paper with boxes for each ‘lesson’. Then there are subjects (also laminated) which blue tack on to the timetable, and can be moved around. The day starts at 10am and finishes at 3pm. There are two 1 hour session before lunch and one 2 hour session afterwards.

If we have something else to do, or don’t feel like doing something right then, it’s simply missed or moved to another time. Full flexibility to allow for the freedoms and joys of home education (as well as the bumps in the road of life). We often ‘ignore’ the after lunch sessions ūüėČ

How Our HE has Morphed

So, we’re a third of the way through our third year. Things changed a lot in our first year, as we tried things out and settled into a way of doing things that worked for us. Whilst remaining mostly stable after that initial settling in period, things still change as we discover new ways of working, new interests, or E decides he doesn’t like the way we’re tackling something.

Home education is a fluid and flexible journey, as fluid and flexible as you need or want it to be. That is the beauty of it!