Family Sunshine Camping Holiday Adventures 2014. History field trip.

It’s about time I did our camping field trip write up since we’ve been back a while, and everyone has been asking how it went and where the pictures are. The holiday has given me so much to build on at home that we’ll be learning from it for a long while yet and I didn’t know where to start. First and foremost, this trip was a family holiday. We just picked somewhere we wanted to go and it just so happens to be educational, but that’s exactly what autonomous learning is all about. Tony drew this itinerary for Skylar, so she knew what we would be doing, and we kept asking her to remind us and check it each day to let us know. She’s not good with surprises (I think her imagination runs away with her, so if you tell her we are going on a surprise day out, nothing can compare to what she thinks up and she always ends up disappointed) we thought this would give her a perceived element of control. It seemed to work and there was not one whinge about where we were going. Of course there where whinges, and sulking a plenty, I’m not about to make unrealistic claims. But not about what we were doing. She was really excited about some things I thought she would find boring which was a really nice surprise. 298   Our first campsite was Batcombe Vale in Somerset. This was my favourite of the holiday. There is a video review by Cool Camping here. 012 019 016 030 038 050 160 161 033 040 The site was beautiful. As were the lakes to walk around and we loved the rowing boats which were free and available at any time. The toilets and showers were clean and looked nice too. Kai, the camp site warden was awesome. He left us to it and didn’t parade around and interfere like some wardens do, but he was happy to help if necessary… (like when he saw us struggling for an embarrassingly long time trying to fold away Skylar’s pop up tent. Those things have a mind of their own). Whilst at this site, we met a mother and son who are on the road home educators. They live in their tent all year round. Skylar was eager to make friends with any child she came across, and had been dramatically grieving for the loss of friendship of a little girl she’d been playing with over the weekend, who had gone home to school. So she was so excited when she spotted this boy and it wasn’t long before he was by our fire, carrying out an experiment on some tree sap he’d found. This kid was a few years older than Skylar and he was awesome. He was incredibly bright, polite and interested with everything. He was a scientist, a photographer, and explorer. We spent some time speaking to his mum and she was kind enough to give us lots of contacts and information about their inspiring life style. They had a very similar experience of early schooling as Skylar, and seeing this boy now, with traditional school long in his past, I am filled with confidence for Skylar’s future. Whilst staying at this site, we had day trips to Avebury stones, Cheddar Gorge caves, and Stonehenge. All of which have significant value in understanding history. Well technically, prehistory isn’t history, as there are no written records but I think that the best way to help teach about the world to Skylar, past present and future, is to start in chronological order. And maybe it doesn’t matter, but my memories from primary school history is a random jumble. I vaguely remember a roman banquet, learning about the plague, making a Tudor house, the second world war. None of these things had any order or interest to me. Avebury is the largest neolithic stone henge monument, (containing three stone circles) in Europe. It is often overlooked by Stonehenge though. Unfortunately, most of my photographs from this day and the next few are ruined with a Tiggy sized finger print smudge to the lens. 105 117 123 085 115 We also went to nearby West Kennet Long Barrow, which is a neolithic stone burial chamber. 125   131 132   The following day was Cheddar Gorge caves, this was my favourite day, I really love caves. Skylar really enjoyed having her own audio tour guide and rushed ahead to listen to it all. These photos are really smudgy too so I’ll only add a few of the hundreds I took.







  Our second campsite was in Looe, Cornwall. The view as we drove up was jaw dropping. We had booked a camping snug for this stay. Basically a glorified shed, but we were officially glamping. Despite the stunning view and not having to set up and put down the tent, this wasn’t my favourite site. It had all the view and no atmosphere. Unfortunately the snug was surrounded by gravel, and the nearest surrounding grass was on a steep hill, so it wasn’t suitable for crawling Tiggy. We couldn’t put her down at all, except in her high chair where she was trapped a lot of the time. Luckily we had planned to be off site so much it wasn’t too much of an issue. We noticed a nearby empty snug (in a less desirable spot to ours,in terms of view) had a flat bit of grass next to it, and asked the campsite owner if we could switch to that one. He told us we couldn’t, because someone was arriving there the next day and it would mess up his rota. Fair enough. When we left a few days later, it was still sitting empty, so we did feel a bit let down by them. The showers were great, the toilets were very clean but were attached to a stables, and in an attempt to mask the smell were so outrageously covered in air fresheners (6 of those stick in gel tabs to each toilet, plus automatic spray freshener) that I was left retching from the chemical smell mixed with stable smell every time I went in there.  It’s a small thing but it made a big impact, I dreaded having to go in. Whilst we were there, we really enjoyed the monkey sanctuary and the Eden Project. We made a bit of a mistake of not thinking we’d need a pushchair while we were away. Carrying a 22lb baby in a backpack carrier around a rain forest when it was already at least 28 degrees outside was an endurance.   386 399 400 407 412 432 433 539 544 546 547 548 549 550 552 555 556 558 567 573 On route to the last campsite, we made a slight de-tour to visit the Living Coasts aquarium in Torquay. I’d love to go back and stay in Torquay, all the buildings we drove past were Mediterranean style, and the main road had rows of palm trees, and although it is a British tourist seaside town, it looked (from my brief drive through) like it was delightfully incomparable with Blackpool. I always compare tourist sites around the world to Blackpool… Places of natural beauty surrounded by streets selling tacky slogan t-shirts and sticks of rock. Due to very bad traffic (making the slight de-tour a rather big de-tour) we only just made it in to the aquarium, but it was worth it. It hosts mainly marine birds (and otters and seals) rather than fish. You could walk around next to the penguins. We didn’t have much time to do more than glance at all the exhibitions though. 586 587 605 597 618 619   620 623 630 634 635   The last campsite we went to was in Lyme Regis. It wasn’t our favourite kind of campsite, it had on site wardens, lots of random rules including a curfew on when children could use the playground. The washing machines were strictly moderated and expensive, so I hand washed everything out of stubbornness nappies and all.  But we had quite a bit space,  the toilets and showers were great,and we were only a few minutes from Lyme Regis town. We went fossil hunting, Skylar found ammonites on the beach which she is still ecstatic about. 640 644 649   Since we’ve been home we have been doing lots of talking and reading and activities on prehistory. We’ve been looking at fossils, reading about how fossils are made, about Mary Anning (a girl who found famous dinosaur fossils in Lyme Regis,who I think is Skylar’s current idol) what a paleontologist is, what an archaeologist is. We’ve been learning about caves, about the stone age. We’ve done cave painting, made salt dough ‘fossils’ and made a cave out of paper maché. We’ve talked about cave formation, about stone age tools and food the progression from paleolithic to neolithic. Most importantly we’ve discussed that because there is such little evidence left behind, we don’t really know and that is part of the beauty of prehistory. Some of the books state things as facts and cave men as savages, and we’ve discussed that this isn’t actually the case. I want her to be interested but open-minded and to foster a sense of critical thinking.


199 048 Here are the books we’ve been reading: 51MK5W018CL 61FT8DENZ2L 61Z4ct14t1L DSC00784 Stone Age Bone Age! The Fossil Girl   I was planning on moving on to the Bronze and Iron age with her soon, but I’ve decided there is no rush. We’ll keep going on prehistory until we’ve exhausted it, for as long as she’s interested, because we aren’t stuck to a curriculum. She spent her birthday money on Stone Age Playmobil which she loves (it is pretty awesome). Currently, she’s desperate for a cave girl outfit, and she wants to wear it to go foraging. I love that she’s so excited about it, but I can’t say I relish the idea of walking round the local woods with her dressed in said outfit… watch this space.

Melissa and Doug Abacus Review

I’ve always wanted an abacus. I just like the way they look. I have a habit of buying wooden toys because I like the way they look over plastic flashy ones partly because they just look more attractive (also because of environmental issues, but mostly because flashy musical toys are just really bloody annoying).  When I saw the Melissa and Doug wooden abacus on offer on Amazon for a bargain £6.00 I gave in to temptation. I thought Skylar might be a bit old for it and Tiggy too young, but I thought at least Tiggy would grow into it. I am pleased to be proven wrong however, and as we’ve used it so much I just wanted to give it a quick review.

Not only is it useful for what it’s famous for. A basic calculator, simple addition, subtraction, division, looking at number bonds, skip counting, looking at tens and units, we’ve found a few other ways of playing with it. Firstly here’s Skylar using it for simple counting, when she runs out of fingers when doing maths games like Sum Swamp. Yes she’s wearing pyjamas and swimming goggles.


She had far more fun than I anticipated making patterns with it. I found some great pattern printables on this Melissa and Doug blog post, via Pinterest here.  She also likes to take it in turns to make a pattern (or a picture or a letter), to take a photo, and then to shake it up and try and copy what the other one did from memory. I’ve done this with her, and she also asked to get it down when a friend came so they could do it too, so it must pass the fun test.




 We built on the pattern sheets by talking about symmetry.



The quality is fantastic, it’s solid and robust, my friends toddler tried to climb and stand on the top of it, and even jumped on it with shoes on, and whilst I can’t sing it’s praises highly enough to include it in gymnastics, I wasn’t at all concerned it would be damaged. And even Tiggy loves it too. Like a bead frame, she loves to move the beads along the wires, and she loves to bat at them and spin them with her hand and fingers which makes a great sound. She loves to spin things so it’s a great toy for her. And although it’s too heavy for her, one of us often uses it as musical instrument, by shaking it from side to side whilst she has a rattle or maracas. There are no sharp corners on it, but it is heavy, and she has started to try and pull herself up on it now so she can’t be left with it, but with supervision she plays with it a bit every day.


Free Outdoors

More than I want my children to have a plethora of certificates and qualifications that lead to financial success, I want them to have a good grasp of ethical issues. I’m not dismissing the value of financial success as it would make their lives easier, but if they were to achieve it I’d be most proud if they had managed to do so without abandoning moral issues. I do however appreciate that this is neigh on impossible to achieve in today’s capitalist society. Personally, the only jobs I have had that didn’t challenge my morals too much has been bar work. The others-child care, care work, primary and special needs education have all been emotionally taxing because the practices and policies went against all my research and beliefs. I hope my children can be more successful than me in that respect, to have the same question of ethics but more confidence and creative power to challenge them. For a start, I want them to have a good sense of environmental ethics. I am hoping that giving them an opportunity to be outdoors a lot will foster a love of nature. I hope that this will encourage them to know their place in the world.


A passion for physics, biology, chemistry, history, geography, literature and arts all come from nature. An interest in what is going on outdoors is a big motivation for learning. This is one of the biggest failings of classroom education. A bit of classroom education I think could be useful, but when the perception in our society that children can only learn if they are in a classroom sat at a desk is a bizarre and sorry one. Whilst discussing home education with a friend recently they told me that another home educating friend of theirs had been stopped by a truancy officer in the park. After explaining that the children weren’t playing truant and were home educated, the officer apologized, but proceeded to ask them why they weren’t at home learning. The parent explained that they had been learning about life cycles, plant and tree classification and the change of seasons that morning. The officer said that’s great, you should hurry up home and get back to it. Unfortunately classroom education is so ingrained in our culture that we can’t see that real life learning is more valuable than desk and textbook learning. Some people can’t even contemplate that you can learn at all without sitting and listening.

Currently Skylar attends some sessions at a forest school. I will do a post all about forest school and what it’s all about soon. We try to visit local beaches, woods and green spaces as often as possible. Another way I hope to encourage a love of nature is with regular camping trips. What better way to learn and enjoy the outdoors than by looking at and studying the night sky, building campfires, and being self sufficient. It’s all the more important when home is in the midst of a concrete jungle with very little wildlife to observe. Unless you count the local crack heads that congregate on the grass verge adjacent, or the alcoholics who sit on the library steps opposite. I just hope that this tactic of mine doesn’t have the opposite effect, as most of my parenting techniques with Skylar often do! I guess there is a pretty good chance she ends up writing a blog post of her own in ten years time about her complete hatred of the outdoors due to all the horrible camping trips she was forced to endure as a child.

We recently went on our first camping trip of the season. As Tiggy was born end of August this also happened to be her first camping trip. And her first gig in one. Tiggy was a dream baby and really enjoyed it. Skylar on the other hand despite having camped lots before was a total nightmare. I think it was a mix of extreme excitement, coupled with late nights and a bad diet choice (a packet of Wotsits on the journey there…she is never allowed Wotsits again, for fear of a repeat episode). I’ve been coming up with some strategies to keep her calm during our impending two week camping trip to the south west coast in a few weeks. We also have a 5 day home-ed camp not long after we return, probably a weekend in north Wales and another festival or two planned. Be prepared for this to turn into a camping blog until September.  






The weekend (Guttercrush Punk Festival) was held at Llanfyllin Workhouse. The building was a workhouse until the 1930’s. After becoming a care home amongst other things and then being abandoned, it was taken over by a charity as a community project. There are many other small festivals held here, we will be going to one (or two) later in the summer. It’s a really interesting site, the big stone building with it’s cruel history as a workhouse (with mainly women and children as inmates) is set in now beautiful and carefully landscaped garden. There is a children’s playhouse and tree swing and once Skylar found it and a couple of other children, she spent nearly all her time there. She even planted a tree. 







On our way back from Wales we stopped in Ashton for another gig/biker rally, to complete our history/geography/music field trip. 






Burt Reading Test

I just wanted to post this to make a note to see how much progress Skylar makes with reading without continuing to use a reading scheme.  School informed me that she was in the bottom struggling set for numeracy and literacy, and despite me telling them she seemed to be making great progress with reading and her ‘Biff Kip and Chipper’ reading books weren’t challenging enough, they didn’t move her up any levels. I haven’t done any structured reading practice with her since she left school but her interest in reading seems to be growing naturally now that she isn’t being forced to do it. I have just done a reading age test with her, which says she has a reading age of 8 years and 4 months. (She’s 6 years and 10 months). Maybe I’ll test her again when she is 8, and if she hasn’t made any progress by 9 then we’ll try some structure with reading but I think it is all completely unnecessary. Given some of the best schools around the world don’t start formal learning until aged 7, I think I can give her a break and just let her enjoy picture books for now. I think, if she had been home educated from the start, she probably wouldn’t be reading yet. Home educated children tend to read later (obviously there are exceptions) but with much more enthusiasm. There is a good article about autonomous reading here.

If anyone would like to try the Burt reading test, I found it here.

Print out two copies. One for you, one for the reader. Read in rows from left to right. Subtly circle any word on your sheet that they get wrong, and once you have circled 10 words you stop. Then add up all the words they have read correctly and check against the chart.

I’m not a fan of this kind of testing in school, because the school simply do not have the resources to know when the child has made a developmental leap, and the results of these tests can vary depending on the child’s mood or what they had for lunch, or if they are simply an anxious child who can sense they are being tested. And they often use these results for ability streaming which I am strongly against.  But informally at home I think it’s a useful tool.


Exploring Senses Autonomously

Last week Skylar has an appointment at Alder Hey children’s hospital, to do a ‘smell test’. Skylar is anosmic (she has no sense of smell) and she recently had an MRI scan done and I’d been told on an answer phone message the results were normal. So I thought the (very postponed-should have been before the MRI) appointment would be a bit of a waste of time, given she has no sense of smell and not a weak sense of smell. But we went along anyway. It turns out that her MRI scan was sent off to an anosmia specialist in America, who said that her olfactory nerve endings didn’t develop properly, so it is definite that the anosmia is congenital, she was born with it, she hasn’t lost it at some point through a trauma or a virus. Though that is what I suspected I never thought we would find that out, and I’ve always racked my brains trying to think of what could have happened and if it was my fault. (There is a photo of her as a toddler with a bruised nose, but I couldn’t remember how it happened).  I wish I could take these results to the first doctor I saw at a different hospital, who told me that she was almost definitely lying, (but I should try giving her a months worth of harmful steroids, just in case). The sad news is, there is nothing that can be done about it. She will never smell.  She is very sad about this,but I just keep telling her how lucky she is not to smell public toilets, Tiggy’s nappies, farts on the bus etc

We were put in a separate room to do the smell test (a pile of scratch and sniff booklets). I was told just to get her to choose any answer if she couldn’t smell (which we knew she couldn’t). After getting her to uselessly sniff next to these (bizarre, very american smells-pizza, skunk, gasoline, peanut butter, root beer, dill pickles, candy) panels, I gave up asking her because I could see she was getting increasingly upset that she couldn’t do it. So I did it for her, scratched them, sniffed them, and circled the wrong answer. At first I pretended they were all really disgusting to make her feel better, but by the end they all really did smell disgusting. The cinnamon, the onion, the musk, the ammonia made me retch!




She also had a hearing test. I have to be honest and admit I was a little disappointed when they told me her hearing was perfect. I guess that just means she’s naturally loud.



As I explained on the ‘Why I decided to home educate’ page, (I’ve actually had lots of interested messages from people after my first post, asking why I decided to take Skylar out of school-it goes into more detail than anyone needs so I can only assume it’s been missed!) Skylar has in the past been flagged for ADHD. I declined going down the route of diagnosis. She’s certainly mellowed out a bit in the last year, but she tends to easily get over excited and very loud, but I think that is typical of her age. I now strongly suspect that rather than ADHD, it is a sensory processing issue and she isn’t getting enough sensory input due to missing a sense. (Sensory processing issues and ADHD very strongly overlap). My plan at the moment is to make sure she has lots of sensory activities, and lots of trips to the park so she has an opportunity to climb/swing/spin etc as I’ve been told this is extremely effective at calming down children with sensory difficulties.

I’ve posted about this because I think it shows how we are learning autonomously. We did a lot of waiting in the hospital, and took some time to look at the posters.

Image  Image

Afterwards we went to the library and looked at some books about the senses, and specifically,why she couldn’t smell.

Image  Image

Skylar doesn’t often show any interest in factual books, but she has since been choosing books about the human body,and asking for them instead of a bedtime story. This afternoon she was keen to have a go at a senses themed lapbook.


This article briefly explains what lapbooking entails:

And here’s a few other things we’ve been doing since I last posted. It’s been the perfect weather for several beach trips and walks. Image



Planting wildflower and cress seeds. Pressing and classifying wild flowers.


A home-ed group at the museum of Liverpool on the history of toys.



Various maths and word games. Image

As well as swimming, cinema, home-ed drama, and various other trips I didn’t photograph. It’s spring break for the schools at the moment so we’ve been catching up with friends and family, and the weather has been amazing! So excited to spend even more time outdoors over the next few months.

7 days of deschooling…

So I’ve explained why we’re home educating, but the main reason for this blog is to keep a loose track of what we’ve been out seeing and exploring, an informal journal.

When a child has been in a formal education setting, and they are not planning on immediately returning, it is often advised that they go through a process referred to as deschooling. Deschooling is recommended for about a month for every year the child has been in school. You treat it like a school holiday, do not attempt to implement any formal work, and be as lax as possible about how your child spends their time. Let them get television and computer games out of their system if that is what they choose. (I struggle with that one, and have insisted she turn the computer off plenty of times). Don’t follow a timetable, a curriculum, live like it’s the weekend. The idea is that recreating a school setting at home is not considered to be the most successful method of homeschooling, that the parents as educators need a chance to see what their child can learn without forced teaching. Often children that leave school have been bullied or have very low self-esteem so they really need a time to recover, but if this is not the case it is still really beneficial. I think after this period, most parents choose to follow an unschooling type of living, rather than lots of formal structure. What I’ve learned, (after lots and lots of reading on all the different ‘methods’) is that I’m not prepared to label what we do or adhere to any rules to match a particular style. I’m learning on the job, and I may change my mind often. It’s just probably not going to look much like school.

So in our three months of not schooling, and mostly unplanned learning, I think we’ve covered enough ground to keep going how we are for now. Some days it feels like we haven’t achieved anything, but then I remember that we are deschooling, so it doesn’t matter, and when I have started to jot down what we’ve actually covered in this period I completely get it. She has learned a lot. We’ve had opportunities for days out she never would have had otherwise. We’ve been to Center Parcs, forest school, museum groups, a ballet, various home-ed meet ups, parks, beaches, picnics, drama lessons, we’ve done science experiments, an ocean project, learned about electricity, myths and fairy tales, maths games, crafts. There has been a lot of time she’s been obsessed with the computer but she has taught herself a lot of skills such as saving and editing images, using different google search options, and getting really proficient on the keyboard. (pretty impressive considering nearly all the key labels have worn away). She’s keeping a journal. I constantly remind myself that she is only six. Some countries don’t start formal schooling until they are seven, and she already has the basics. She’s wasted a lot of play time in school and I want her to get that back. We’ve met a wide range of really interesting home-ed families I’m really excited to get to know more over the next few years. I love that there are all sorts of different reasons that people are home educating, with different belief systems and ways of doing things, yet everyone gets on  well, perhaps because they are a minority, but mostly because they have the same end goal in mind.

So here is a week in pictures. Last Friday we went to a key stage 1 home-ed session on the Titanic, at the Maritime museum. We got into town really early and walked around St Georges hall, and spent half an hour in Central library, then we headed to the museum session on the Albert Docks. After we had lunch with some other families, walked round the titanic exhibition and had a quick play on the very windy pier. After Skylar and I went to the Tate for a walk round, and to see the new exhibition in the family room. It was a lot of cardboard boxes and plastic tubes. What kid doesn’t love cardboard boxes and plastic tubes?

1002                   1014


1023   1035





1043      1055


1057         1063



On Monday, we went to an unschool meet in Hoylake, the first half in a community hall, the second half on the beach outside. Tiggy had her first taste of sand. Quite literally of course.

1070  1066

1085  1076


On Tuesday we went to the park to feed the ducks, and to see the Girl Guiding exhibition in the parks visitors centre, which was an interesting history lesson for Skylar who had her second time at Rainbows on Monday. It was raining and we watched a bird pulling worms out of the soil for a good 20 minutes, Skylar thought it was hilarious and along with buying duck food from the visitors center instead of giving them bread that makes them ill, and discussing what they usually eat, and what the squirrels eat, and the mice and foxes and even the park rangers, I thought it was a much more interesting lesson than colouring in a life cycles worksheet.






On Wednesday we went to the local community shop, a few of Skylar’s old classmates were in there because of the school strikes so she caught up with them. We were out for the evening till late on a family visit. On Thursday we had the library and then Woodcraft in the evening, and today she has done some arts and crafts and worked on her journal before heading off to her dad’s for the weekend.

So we are coming to the end of deschooling, but as you can see we have covered many traditional topics in our day to day lives in one week. Literacy, art, biology, history, physics, PE… and not a single moment was wasted taking registration or standing in single file.