The early potatoes are flowering and I can’t wait until they are ready to harvest. Boiled new potatoes with butter and chives accompany many of our meals at this time of year.
The herbs are now well established after an initial skirmish with slugs and snails. The lavender is starting to flower and I am looking forward to drying some and teaching Aaron and Tabitha how to sew simple lavender bags, just as my mum taught me when I was little.
The horseradish has grown loads and the rhubarb is thriving.
The children have sowed another row of beetroot, radishes and spring onions in their gardening competition bed, along with some flowers. Aaron harvested a few of the radishes that he planted at the beginning of May.
Over on the other plot, it looks like we will get a good crop of strawberries.
The various types of peas and beans haven’t grown much yet.
Aaron and Tabitha were very fond of this little green caterpillar we found.
It was exciting to gather our first little harvest of the year.
We’ve been doing a lot of crafting and making over the last few days. I put together a box of “junk” items from around the house, which Aaron has been using for all kinds of creations.
He also wanted to make a kite so we followed some instructions from a craft book to make the frame with poles and string. We haven’t had a chance to test it out yet, but Tabitha keeps checking the weather regularly!
We’ve been enjoying our new “Pop to the shops” game from Orchard Toys. As well as playing it properly, we’ve been using the pieces to make up our own maths games. In this one, Aaron and I started off with the same amount of money and tried to buy as many items as possible.
I challenged Aaron to add up all the cards of a particular colour. He preferred to do this in his head and generally came up with an answer that was correct or not far out. I demonstrated how to use and exchange the ten bars and hundred squares to check his work.
Another game we played was picking a card and then finding as many ways as possible to make that amount using the available coins. Today we needed to buy some butter for making lemon curd, so I gave my purse to Aaron to pick out some coins to pay with and work out how much change he would get at the checkout.
Yesterday we had a picnic up at the allotment. We weeded and prepared a bed for the runner beans, helped (or hindered in Aaron’s case) Grandpa put up some canes, and sowed some more mangetout seeds.
The vegetables are growing well, but so are the weeds! The plot next door to us is completely neglected and overgrown, which doesn’t help.
Tabitha recently declared that she wanted to learn to ride her bike without stabilisers, so we took her down to the park to practise. Colin was useless at holding onto her (I suppose there are some advantages to being short), so for once I was in front of the camera rather than behind it.
She did well and I was able to let go of her for short bursts, but she didn’t quite have the necessary coordination and confidence. She now wants to have the stabilizers back on for a bit longer.
She was a bit miffed that Aaron could ride around so easily, but he explained that the more he practised, the better he got.
Like many other children, Aaron is obsessed with Minecraft. Unfortunately too much screen time has been having a negative effect on his behaviour and emotions, so we’ve unplugged the computer and I’m trying to find other ways to encourage his interest. I printed off these brilliant Minecraft HAMA bead patterns from Minieco and left them on the table along with some beads for him to find.
I have the feeling this will keep him busy for a while as he wants to make swords for all of his friends!
He asked me for a piece of elastic and explained that he wanted to make a mask. It is by far the biggest project he’s ever made with HAMA beads and, although he didn’t quite have the patience to fill the entire square, I was impressed with his concentration (which has been very poor lately). He finished it just before bedtime and is really proud of it! He’s planning to make one for Tabitha too.
I’m currently in the middle of a mad rush to get all my essays and assignments handed in. The children are getting less attention than I would like, and as for the housework… ha! Colin finished his last Cert Ed assignment last week and I am very jealous of his ability to churn out thousands of words in a single evening. I’m a very slow writer, I agonise over every word until it is just right.
We went to the allotment this afternoon, so that Aaron and Tabitha could plant a row of spring onion seeds for the children’s gardening competition. The radishes they planted last week have germinated well and there are a few beetroot seedlings poking up.
We spotted some tiny gooseberries growing. Hopefully the birds won’t eat them all this year!
This tree was here when we took over the plot, but didn’t fruit last year. We think it’s either a plum, damson, greengage or cherry.
Tabitha was interested in fruits today, so we cut open one of the fallen mystery fruits to investigate.
On Saturday we went to a wildlife festival in the town square. There were lots of free activities for children and interesting things to see.
Last week I attempted at nature journaling for the first time. I’ve never been much good at art so this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I think it’s important for the children to see me having a go. While we were at the park, they made friends with two other children and played in the bushes. They were out of my sight for most of the time and I was really pleased that they had bumped into children who were also allowed freedom. It’s much harder to let them free-range when there is another mum breathing down her children’s necks!
Aaron proudly showed me this list of some of his friends. We then worked on his spelling together and talked about using capital letters at the beginning of names, and he edited his list enthusiastically until it was perfect.
Both Aaron and Tabitha have shown an interest in learning French recently, so I bought a CD of songs and games for the car. My own language skills are sadly lacking as I only did one year of foreign languages at school. German always came much more naturally to me, but I probably remember more French thanks to exposure throughout my childhood (my mum has a degree in French and we had lots of family holidays in France). I’d really like the children to learn a foreign language well, so I’m going to have to put some work in too. Maybe I’ll enroll on a course once I’ve finished all these essays!
Apart from all that, the children have been listening to Roald Dahl audio books, building amazing structures out of Duplo, learning to hula hoop and creating a huge mess by getting loads of toys out at once! It feels like we are drowning in toys, so I’ve started a huge decluttering project and boxed up loads of stuff to take down to the charity shop.
Finally, I’m waiting very impatiently to hear from the letting agents about a lovely little cottage in the countryside with a huge garden that we have put our names down for. Apparently there were lots of people interested so we’re trying not to be too hopeful. (Edit: we didn’t get the cottage, so it obviously wasn’t meant to be.)
When we go out for the day, I often pack investigative tools such as binoculars, compasses and magnifying glassses. However, stopping every few minutes to get them out from a rucksack filled with coats and bottles of water can be frustrating, so I decided to put together some nature study bags for the children. I used Bagbase Mini Reporter bags because they are just the right size and the contents are easily accessible, and decorated them with iron-on patches.
Each bag contains the following items:
- thick and thin marker pens
- watercolour pan set
- A6 sketchbook
- clear tray with six magnifying pots
- bug pooter
- pocket microscope
- net for pond dipping or rockpooling.
We purchased many of our supplies from Wildforms, who sell a fantastic range of field equipment and educational products. Their customer service is great and they offer a 10% discount to home educators.
We try to carry field guides with us whenever possible. For younger children, the RSPB First Book set is lovely and simple for them to use, but doesn’t always have what we are looking for. We use Collins Complete British Wildlife as a general field guide, and I’ve started collecting the Collins Nature Guides series for more in-depth study. The Field Studies Council fold-out charts are also very useful.
These two aren’t field guides but I think they deserve a mention anyway.
I adore books by Mick Manning and Brita Granström, they really seem to understand how children think and what interests them. And the illustrations in Nature Adventures are just beautiful!
Keeping a Nature Journal is not a children’s book, but it’s inspiring and has a useful chapter on learning and teaching nature journaling. We’ve only just started our nature journals, so we have a lot to learn.
Finally, here are Aaron and Tabitha with their nature study bags at the allotment this afternoon.
We spent the whole of today at the allotment, working hard and enjoying the sunshine.
Tabitha did lots of watering and digging.
Then she came and sat next to me while I weeded the fruit bed, watching for worms.
Aaron and Grandpa rotavated the second plot.
Whenever the children found a ladybird, they took it across to their insect houses.
DDS organised a picnic lunch and then had a well-earned lie-down on the slide.
When my hands got sore from digging, I wandered around the two plots with my camera. This is the garlic that Dad planted out at the weekend.
He was recently given some horseradish by another plot holder, which is growing in the sunken dustbin. The rhubarb in the raised bed was planted a few weeks ago and seems to be doing well.
There was beautiful blossom everywhere I looked!
The loganberries have really shot up this year after failing to grow much last year.
The plants in the new strawberry bed are growing really well, which Aaron is very excited about.
Apple blossom is my absolute favourite. I love the combination of dark pink and pale pink against the blue sky and fresh green leaves.
The plots either side of ours are home to some beautiful weeds!
I noticed that there are still some colourful scraps of yarn in the nesting materials box from last year.
Time for a cuppa!
We got the first early potatoes in this afternoon. Aaron helped to scatter chicken manure pellets at the bottom of the trench.
Tabitha helped to plant “Arran Pilot” and “Foremost”.
It was hot and thirsty work, we all felt exhausted by the end of the day!
One of the nearby plot holders called over and told me to help myself to one of his cauliflowers, which we did before heading home.
Tabitha had her 4th birthday at the end of March. It fell on a Sunday this year and also happened to be sandwiched between two very busy weeks, so we didn’t have a proper party. My parents came round after church for a birthday meal of her favourite foods (random things like tomato soup, chicken, pizza, sausages, scotch eggs, veg sticks, cheese and grapes). A few days before her birthday, Colin and I took her to Halfords to choose a “blue or purple bike with one big wheel at the front and one big wheel and two small wheels at the back”. We met up with some cousins and friends in the park, and she rode around again and again on her bike!
Last week passed in a blur of exhaustion. I did two days of supply work at Two Rivers and enjoyed being outside in the sunshine. On our way home on Tuesday afternoon we called at the allotment, but I was too tired to manage much more than sitting around and even the children seemed worn out! Wednesday was the HGK Easter party, complete with a huge bouncy castle in the sports hall!
Friday morning started off with a “race to 100” game using the Cuisenaire rods, then some friends arrived. My lovely friend Ali moved to a cottage in the countryside this week, so her three children came to play while she packed. We will miss having them just around the corner! It seemed like we were all in need of some quiet, calming activities, so I made a batch of playdough and got out an old favourite, bicarbonate of soda and coloured vinegar on the light panel.
By Friday evening I had gone down with a horrible cold. I think I’ve mentioned before how much I hate colds, for such a mild illness they make me feel terrible! On Tuesday we went with my parents to visit my granny in Yeovil, which was lovely even though I wasn’t feeling well. Aaron insisted on taking Monopoly with us and did really well with the money maths. Tabitha played for the first time and impressed everyone with her concentration. Yesterday we did lots of reading and today I’m almost back to normal, so we went for a short walk to see if we could spot any frogspawn or tadpoles. The children asked to watch some Youtube videos of chicks hatching from eggs and then later I discovered Aaron singing this little song he’d made up, at least he seems to have a good grasp of life cycles and reproduction!
Unfortunately, all the busyness and illness means that I am now about a week behind on my essay writing schedule. We’re going away to Plymouth at the weekend to see Colin’s aunt and family, so I’ll really have to put my nose to the grindstone next week!
Also, I haven’t forgotten about the giveaway I promised, but I’ve mislaid the item I was going to give away! Well it’s not really lost, as I know roughly where it is… somewhere in a big pile of things that need sorting! It may have to wait a bit longer until I’m back on track with the essays.
At the allotment yesterday, my mum commented “this is just what children should be doing, it’s a shame that so many don’t have the chance.” Allotment gardening offers wonderful opportunities for free play, movement, discovery, tinkering, dealing with risk and experiencing the world through all of our senses. Any kind of outdoor play is great for kids, but gardening seems to be particularly rich with potential learning experiences.
Later, I mentioned that I was looking forward to the summer and joked “forget about school work, we’ll just spend all our time up here”. (I should probably mention that at this point we do very little formal learning anyway.) But it got me thinking about whether allotment gardening could be used to teach more traditional academic subjects.
We know that children learn best when they are engaged in hands-on learning with real-life relevance. Opportunities that develop children’s natural talents for enquiry and investigation often result in deeper learning. With that in mind, I began to mindmap some of the educational links and possibilities, concentrating on English, Maths, Science and Geography. Of course, allotment gardening could also be used to cover many other subjects and skills.
I’m not planning to change our mostly child-led, unstructured approach, but I found it quite a useful exercise to better appreciate the learning potential of the time we spend at the allotment. I may well refer back to this mindmap as inspiration to suggest challenges, investigations and activities for the children to do.
Please feel free to click on the image and zoom in to see it better. Below I’ve also listed some useful resources for learning through gardening.
The School Vegetable Patch website has a section about embedding gardening into the wider primary school curriculum.
The GreenHearted Curriculum Map suggests age-related themes and activities for a holistic education based around environmental and sustainability issues.
Torstens matteblogg is written in Swedish but contains lots of interesting ideas for teaching maths and science outside using gardening.
The RHS shop sells some lovely books about gardening with children. We have the Kid’s First Gardening Book which is packed full of fun projects. We also have an old copy of How Nature Works, which contains lots of detailed information and experiments to do.
Spring has arrived since my last post in February and it feels especially good after such a wet winter. We’ve been making a conscious effort to go out somewhere as a family every Saturday. After viewing a house in Torrington, we decided to explore the Torrington Commons as we’d never really done that before.
We spent another Saturday with Colin’s parents, who live in a village above Peppercombe beach. The light was beautiful and I spent the afternoon snapping photos as the children roamed freely.
Last Saturday we drove out to Wistlandpound reservoir on Exmoor. When we go out, I often pack investigative tools such as a map, compass, binoculars, magnifying glass, pocket microscope, identification guide and walkie talkies.
We spent this morning at the allotment, digging over a new rhubarb bed. Tabitha played with worms and was delighted to find a group of ladybirds on an upturned chair. I’m looking forward to spending lots of time here over the next few months.
We’ve been busy indoors too. The Duplo was very popular for a couple of weeks and Minecraft has made its way back into our lives. Aaron’s enthusiasm for reading has really taken off since I bought a set of Biff Chip and Kipper books for him, and Tabitha has started to sound out CVC words with help. I’ve done loads of decluttering and the house, with the exception of our bedroom, is now back to normal. It makes such a difference not having bags and boxes of stuff everywhere!
Now there are tokens of spring beginning to appear, bringing fresh energy and renewed motivation with them. Tiny lambs in the fields, bulb shoots growing up through the earth and budding blossom on the trees. It’s time to make plans and start putting them into action.
This afternoon we enjoyed a brief but glorious spell of sunshine as we caught the bus over to Bideford with our friends to visit the Burton Art Gallery.
And there it was, their own work displayed for all to see! The children had forgotten all about it the moment they walked into the room and found themselves surrounded by so much fantastic art, but eventually one of them spotted it and let out a squeal of excitement!
We were recently given £50 from MoneySupermarket to throw a fantastic summer barbecue, so Colin and I took the opportunity to invite both sets of parents for a family get-together at the allotment. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great and Colin’s parents couldn’t come for health reasons, so we phoned around a few friends at the last minute!
The children and I spent this afternoon making a pompom garland to decorate the shed. I’ve never used a pompom maker before (my mum taught me the old fashioned way using circles of cardboard) but the children found them pretty easy to use. The only slight frustration was that the loose end of the yarn kept getting in the way or tangled with the working yarn.
Colin and I purchased our first ever reusable barbecue a few weeks ago from Maplin for the bargain price of £2.99. A large bag of charcoal cost £5.50 and we also bought a £2 disposable barbecue for extra cooking space, which turned out to be useless. It barely warmed the vegetable kebabs and certainly wouldn’t have cooked any meat! The ingredients for the vegetable kebabs (cherry tomatoes, courgettes, mushrooms, peppers and red onions) came to £5.54, but I only used about half of the veg. Tabitha really enjoyed helping to thread the chopped veg onto the skewers.
There was lots of time to relax and chat whilst we were waiting for the food to cook. Aaron and Tabitha helped to pick runner beans and blackberries, Uncle DJ tried out the children’s tiny slide and we enjoyed occasional moments of sunshine.
I paid £8.10 at the butchers for 18 burgers (he kindly threw in half a dozen for free as they had run out of our favourite lamb and mint ones) and 8 sausages. The burgers were lovely, the sausages were not. Colin thought they would be nicer than supermarket ones, but from now on I’ll be sticking with my favourite 97% meat or even Tesco Finest. I am definitely a sausage snob! 4 packs of various bread rolls came to £2 and we used my dad’s little gas stove to fry up some onions with a pinch of sugar and some balsamic vinegar.
For pudding we cooked foil parcels of fruit on the barbecue, costing £10.30. I adapted the recipe from my Marks & Spencer “Easy Summer Food” book, which I’ve been wanting to try it for years. It’s very simple, just chop up peaches, nectarines, blueberries and raspberries with the juice of 1 orange and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon. We served it with natural yogurt.
And of course no barbecue would be complete without marshmallows to toast!
I spent £14.19 on various extras such as drinks, crisps, salad (my verdict is don’t bother as nobody seems to eat salad at a barbecue!), salad dressing, coleslaw, potato salad and pickled onions, bringing the total cost of our barbecue to £50.62. It was a wonderful evening with friends, family and far too much food! We’re looking forward to using our bargain barbecue again, hopefully with Colin’s parents next time.
On Saturday we spent the day with my mum at the Devon Country Fayre, held in the beautiful grounds of the Castle Hill estate. An old lady who lived with us for a while when I was a child grew up on the estate in the early 1900s. Her father worked for the Fortescue family, so it was interesting to imagine (with a little bit of inspiration from Downton Abbey) what her life must have been like.
As well as stalls, arena events and a funny but very interesting Sheep Show, we also had the opportunity to watch the English National Sheep Dog Trials. Colin’s dad used to be a sheep dog trainer and the children have long been fans of Mist: Sheepdog Tales, produced by a local farmer, so they enjoyed seeing the dogs in action.
Aaron and Tabitha queued very patiently in a stuffy marquee to have their faces painted.
The highlight of the day was watching the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony display team perform their wild west routine. Tabitha seems to have inherited the pony bug from her mother and grandmother, as she begged me afterwards to “go to Tesco and buy me a horse”! She has been talking about horses ever since and I’ve got my old pony books out of the loft for her to look at.
On Monday I spotted a slide being sold cheaply nearby, so the children and I drove round to collect it. We then spent the rest of the morning at my parents’ house and the local tyre garage sorting out a puncture on the car, before taking the slide up to its new home at the allotment. It’s only small, but it will be perfect for my little mindees and the children soon put it to good use!
We spotted quite a few ladybirds around, hopefully helping to keep the aphids and blackfly on the runner beans under control.
Dad and I filled up his old lorry tyre with earth and compost to turn it into a herb bed. While we were working, I suddenly spotted a huge frog just a foot or so away from us cooling down in a bucket of rainwater. After watching him hop off behind the shed, we decided to sink the bucket down into the earth and create a little nature area. This evening Dad sent me a text message to say that he has seen froggy back in the bucket, so he obviously approves.
Today we went to Home Grown Kids for possibly the first time this year, as I can’t remember if we attended any of the January meets or not. I’ve been working pretty much every Wednesday ever since but am now off for a few weeks. The group breaks up this week for the summer holidays, but it was great to go today and see some old friends, as well as lots of new people! There was a magic show with a Punch and Judy show, which had Aaron roaring with laughter. Tabitha mostly stayed close by my side, although it was lovely to hear her chatting with a little friend who is the same age. They have known each other through home-ed group since they were about 10 months old and I was struck by how “grown up” their conversations sound now!
The rain has finally arrived here this evening, so I am hoping for a cooler day tomorrow. The children get tired and crabby in the heat and I have fallen a long way behind with the housework!
We have been enjoying some sunny evenings up at the allotment once it starts to cool down a bit. Tabitha harvested her first beetroot yesterday. Aaron and I have been snacking on mangetout straight from the plant. Blackcurrants and loganberries quickly disappear from the bushes, leaving purple stains on hot grubby faces as evidence. But there is nothing quite as magical for the children as harvesting potatoes. Each time the fork turns over the earth, they squeal with delight and scrabble to collect the pale tubers.
This morning we went to Rosemoor Gardens again with the Christian home-ed group and did a workshop on minibeasts at their fantastic education centre. The children loved pond dipping and hunting for invertebrates in the woods. After a picnic lunch, we spent most of the afternoon enjoying the shade of the Brash and the Copse. I’m not really sure what Aaron was doing as I hardly saw him, but Tabitha enjoyed a game of hide and seek amongst the trees with two other little ones.
I’m thankful that we can be outside enjoying nature any day of the year, term-time or not. This real-life, experiential learning is so much richer than being stuck indoors, completing worksheets about the life cycles of potatoes and dragonflies!
We’ve been treating this last week as our family holiday. The weather has been scorching hot, Colin’s sister and fiance have been visiting and Colin had the week off work, so we’ve been making the most of it.
We spent a day out at Croyde beach. The children went bodyboarding for the first time, which brought back memories of the first time my parents took me bodyboarding on the uncovered polystyrene board my mum used as a child.
Working on the allotment has been hot and sticky work, so Aaron watered the plants and himself to cool down!
I love these colourful marigolds against the blue shed.
Aaron helped Grandpa do some painting.
Another day was spent rockpooling at Westward Ho! Tabitha was thrilled to drive the children’s karts for the first time, whilst Aaron came on the big go-karts with the grown ups.
For dinner we ate fish and chips overlooking the sea and then finished off the day with ice creams. I think these two photos really sum up the children’s different characters. Aaron is often serious and concentrates intently on whatever he is doing, whereas Tabitha is cheeky and mischievous.
We live very close to the Tarka trail, which is a coastal cycle path using the old railway routes. We hired bikes and spent another day cycling about 18 miles to Bideford and back. The scenery was wonderful but we were all feeling very saddle sore by the end!
We weren’t sure if Aaron would be able to keep up on his own bike, so he rode on a tag-along on the back of Colin’s bike.
Tabitha rode in a trailer on the back of my bike. She felt sick at first and wanted to go home, but after a while she got used to it and chilled out with some snacks.
Three messy cousins!
Some of the time we were just too hot to venture outdoors, so we’ve also done plenty of indoor activities. The children loved building ball runs with a 2 m length of guttering sawed into three pieces.
Dribbling balls through a slalom of upturned bowls kept hot and crabby children amused.
They also enjoyed this miniature “treasure island” sensory small world created with sand, pebbles, shells, mini bucket and spade and a treasure chest full of colourful gems.
Today we finally got round to making a scarecrow for the allotment. I stuffed a pillowcase with plastic bags which I’ve been saving for months and the children painted the face with acrylic paint.
Grandpa fixed a wooden stake and crosspiece into the ground. For the body we filled a sack with more plastic bags and scrunched up newspaper, tied it around the stakes and then dressed it.
We stuffed the arms with rolled up sacks. By the time we added gloves, wool hair and a cap the scarecrow was looking pretty good, despite missing facial features at the moment because the paint was still slightly wet!
It’s been a wonderful week and I’m very thankful for spending time with my family, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful area we live in.
This post could otherwise be entitled “why I love having a car”. We don’t often go out in the evenings, because by the time Colin gets home from work we are all feeling too tired to go far. But today we jumped into the car and drove across to the allotment.
Here is the view down the allotment from the shed. My dad has put in a lot of hard work to get it looking so good.
And this is the view back up the allotment towards the shed, which is painted forget-me-not blue and will eventually have a rainbow mural painted on the back!
Once all the watering and hoeing was done, we headed off to our favourite fish and chip shop for some well-earned dinner. We very rarely go there, because it is the other side of town and previously the food would have been stone cold before we walked home. But today we drove down to the quay and ate by the waterside, watching cormorants catching fish and a family of swans. Afterwards the children spent ages throwing stones into the water. It was a beautiful evening and a real treat to spend time out together as a family during the week.
A few weeks ago we spent a freezing cold Saturday putting up my dad’s new shed on the allotment. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s starting to feel very homely inside! We’ve got lots of plans for it and Dad even wants to paint a mural on the back in the autumn.
Grandpa gave Tabitha this insect house for her birthday and today we hung it up on low branch so that she will be able to peep inside.
We also hung up her nesting materials for the birds.
We worked hard digging one plot while Dad rotivated the other. It won’t be long before we can start planting. I think Tabitha needs a smaller fork though! (Which reminds me, if anyone has any Sainsbury’s Active Kids vouchers that they don’t need, we would be really grateful for them. I’m registered to use them as a childminder and hopefully we will be able to collect enough for a set of children’s gardening tools, as well as other resources.)
It was lovely to sit on the decking in the sunshine and enjoy a picnic lunch. I’m looking forward to lots of long summer days spent at the allotment!
A lady from another allotment brought a visitor across to see the children.
It seemed huge compared to our tiny froglets!