Homeschooling on holiday: our camping trip

We recently took our first family camping trip to one of our favourite places – the New Forest. I had been looking forward to this trip as an opportunity to enjoy some unique learning and bonding with the kids. I envisioned rustic evenings and adventure-filled days.

Yeah, I’m an idealist.

As it happened, hay fever and a terribly uncomfortable gravel tent pitch meant we didn’t embrace the fullness of my camping vision, and had to leave for home a couple of days early. However, we had some fantastic fun with some very special friends (who, very sensibly, ‘camped’ in a nearby cottage). We made the best use of our time that we could, and overall enjoyed learning, laughing and loving despite the set backs.

Day One:  After setting up camp, we spent our first day picnicking, walking and playing in the forest. The kids had tons of fun just ‘being’ in the natural woodland. The educational benefits of being outside are often overlooked and under-supplied, but this day was a feast of connecting with nature.Day one

Day Two:  Having just signed up for membership with the National Trust, we took advantage of unlimited free visits and went to Kingston Lacy twice. This day was our first visit, where we enjoyed relaxing on the lawn, exploring the hidden bamboo garden, and reading poetry in the shade. After a lovely lunch in the cafe, we then went to Studland beach, another National Trust owned area, where we licked ice-creams and paddled in the sea. I highly recommend National Trust membership to homeschooling families. There are properties all over the country, and they offer opportunities to enjoy beautiful gardens as well as historical houses.IMG_2033

Day Three:  Salisbury cathedral is one of Hubby’s favourite buildings, so this day was dedicated to enjoying the architecture with our friends. We were blessed to be there while the boys’ choir was rehearsing, and all our musical drama kids got to watch as the boys treated us to some high quality singing. The kids followed an activity trail here and learnt a bit about the history of the place, as well as appreciating the craftsmanship of the building itself.IMG_2184

Day Four:  We went back to Kingston Lacy to explored the house this time. We got to see beautiful marble staircases, real cannon balls from the destruction of Corfe Castle, the cutest turtle footstool ever, and Prince’s favourite – an extensive Egyptian artifacts collection. The kids completed an activity trail here too, and collected badges at the end. We followed up this morning with a little walk around Christchurch castle ruins and another beach trip. Then we headed home to our oh-so-comfy beds.Day two

Although we didn’t get to do all the things we had planned, our few days away were full of blessings. They gave us a chance to spend more time together as a family. They offered new and exciting learning opportunities. And they created memories which we will hold close for years to come.

But I am never camping on gravel again.

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Sunshine soaked learning

“We must challenge people to think, “Why learn indoors?” 
Robert Brown MSP, Deputy Minister for Education and Young People

My poets, inspired by nature.

My poets, inspired by nature.

We packed up a bag of books, snacks, drinks and picnic blankets and headed off to our local field. The sunshine was bright and the weather set to be glorious all day long. I wanted to get out into nature and soak it all up before the heat of the day set in too much. And it was even more delightful than it looked. Although we try to go outside for at least a walk around the block whatever the weather, on days like this we can’t seem to help being out as much as possible. It’s like the sun is calling us, eager to shower us with health and inspiration if we’ll just step outside.

Sunshine girl

Sunshine girl

One of the (seemingly endless) blessings of home education is that we are not restricted by timetables and classrooms. On days like this we can take our work outside with us. And when we do so, it seems that just like the sun feeds the plants, it feeds our minds and increases the fruit of learning. In fact, this is not just a theory – evidence has shown that grades and personal development both benefit from taking learning outside of the classroom. I recently read a publication by Natural England which stated that,

“A recent synthesis of the evidence highlights the wide ranging benefits to children of learning experiences in natural environments (Dillon and Dickie, 2012). However there is also evidence to show the extent to which children are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural environment (England Marketing 2009).”

(School Leader and Teacher Insights into Learning Outside the Classroom in Natural Environments – A Study to Inform the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, Forward. Emphasis mine)

The benefits according to this study included improved motivation, better behaviour, and increased self-confidence. Really, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I believe we were created to be in nature, and whenever we do what we are created to do, we thrive. (One of the reasons I think education should be child-tailored to individual gifting and passion.)

Who needs sand when you can build with cut grass?

Who needs sand when you can build with cut grass?

In our hour on the field today we read history, nature studies and poetry. We interspersed this with playing, running, laughing, climbing, chatting, relaxing, eating and drinking. It was a feast of joyful learning, spurred on by the energising sunshine and fresh air. As we packed up to walk home again, Prince said to me, “I’m going to write a poem when we get home – called ‘The Lonely Field’. And he did. Princess asked, “Please can you help me write with dandelion milk?”  (A fun idea we read about in our Nature Year book.)  And I did.

Thank the Lord for the simple blessing of nature, and the delight of home education!

The Visitors of the Lonely Field.

The Visitors of the Lonely Field.

All things bright and beautiful

Yesterday the kids and I went with some of our homeschool friends to the Natural History Museum in Tring. It was incredible! If ever you need a reminder of the awesomeness of creation, this is a great place to go. By the end of the day I had a renewed appreciation of the beauty and wonder God has put into the world, and of His majesty and power.

The green field - I caught it on camera on the way back home.

Tring is about just over an hour away from us, but due to rain and road works the journey took us two hours to get there. It was a pretty grey day, and I was looking out the wet windows as we drove along the motorway, not seeing anything of particular interest. Suddenly, as we rounded a curve in the road, a gorgeous bright yellow-green field came into view. It took my breath away! I was awed by the simple beauty of the crop, as it stood out bold and cheerful though dull, damp air. Wow – God can sure paint a scene!

The view across the hills as we left the motorway.

As we drew nearer to Tring the weather cleared up a bit. The blue sky brightened the day as we turned off the main motorway and began to drive along the winding roads. The countryside here was soft and green, with rolling hills, grazing sheep, and dandelions providing spots of yellow colour. I wished I had time to stop and walk though it all, and really take it in. As it was I had to simply enjoy it as we whizzed past, and attempt some pictures with my HTC phone camera!

God is amazing!

By the time we arrived I already knew that I would have to share this wondrous beauty with you all today. Little did I know what was waiting inside to confirm that decision! The car park was tiny and subjected to construction work, and the building looked like it could hardly hold anything of value. I gathered a few of the kids while our driver kindly went to look for a parking space further afield, and we walked into the building. We were greeted by friendly people, who showed us where to buy some activity sheets for the children. After spending £1.50, gathering pencils and drawing boards, and checking I had the right number of kids with me, we entered the first gallery.  Wow.

I could have stayed in this gallery for hours. I think we did spend about 45 minutes there. It was a small room for a museum – hardly bigger than the square footage of my flat – but it was packed from floor to ceiling with animals. There were bears, wolves, gorillas, big cats and birds of all kinds. Up above we could also see glimpses of safari and ocean creatures, which we saw in more detail when we got upstairs to gallery three.

It’s hard to say what my favourite part of the museum was, but I can narrow it down to three top experiences:

  1. Seeing the incredible beauty of a huge variety of birds up close.  I  have never been particularly interested in birds, but I’ve been getting more taken with them as I get older. Yesterday upped my interest a lot!  There so many varieties, and all so beautifully and intricately designed.
  2. The delighted cries and amazed faces of the children.  From the moment we entered until we left the children were moving from display to display, calling out for us to look at each new amazing discovery. They loved being so close up to the animals, seeing what they really look like. They took time to learn new facts, compare and contrast species and draw their favourite creatures.
  3. The ocean gallery.  Prince is very into ocean creatures at the moment, and whenever he is passionate about a topic I find myself being drawn into it too. The coral, crabs and sharks were particular favourites of mine in this section.  There was such detail, beauty and power in these creatures.

We stopped for a yummy indoor picnic half way through our exploring, and then made our way around the last galleries in the museum. After browsing the gift shop (Prince bought a pen for drawing with his own money), and a last trip to the loo, we walked back to the car. It was parked down a little village street, opposite fields where a few handsome horses were grazing.  Just lovely.

In our bedtime prayers we all thanked God for the amazing day out, and for the creation which we were blessed with witnessing that day.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20 (NIV)

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