Apple day at Burwash Manor – #CountryKids

A few weeks ago we saw an advert for an Apple Day at Burwash Manor near Cambridge that was happening last weekend. We’ve not been to an apple day before, but Tom googled it and found that it’s quite a common tradition for places to put one on. The posters said that there would be various things on there throughout the day, including mini steam train rides and tractor rides, as well as apple related things like stalls selling apples, cider and watching apples be juiced. We knew that the non-apple stuff that was mentioned would be appealing to Andrew, and the entrance fee seemed reasonable for a family, so we headed off to be there for when it opened.

We parked in a muddy field – when I realised that this really wasn’t the weekend to be without our toddler sling that was away to be repaired, and we had to get the buggy out. It wasn’t so muddy when we got to the main field though, and then there was a path too around the toy/craft/food shops bit. The first thing that Andrew saw was the tractors, which were having a ‘ploughing contest’ first thing in the morning. He and Daddy nipped up the field to have a closer look, whilst I waited at the car for Joel to wake up from his nap.

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As we walked up the field towards the entrance, Andrew spotted the next amazing treat in store: the mini steam train that was chugging up the field on its own little track. So he ran off in front of us and, although we called him back, the ladies on the gate had to stop him from running right in without us! We explained that we needed to pay them, and he was happy when he got a sticker to show that we’d paid. Of course he had to have a go on the train before we did anything else. This was in fact the same train that he had been on at another country fair a few months ago – it’s a local enthusiast who has his own portable mini steam railway who goes to event like this and charges a not unreasonable amount for rides.

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There were a few other fairground type rides, but at double the cost of a train ride, we persuaded him that after we’d looked around some other things he could have another train ride. So we headed off to the other parts of the event. The next thing that Andrew spotted was a playground with swings, slides and climbing frames. Of course we then spent a good amount of time there, although it had been raining so the boys got quite wet – they didn’t seem to mind though, and I always carry spare clothes for these kind of situations.

After we’d exhausted the playground, we headed off towards the courtyard where there are little craft, toy and food shops, and on the day there were also food and drink stalls selling fancy cups of coffee and up-market burgers and sausages etc. We had a browse of a few shops, and spent quite a bit of time in the toy shop because they rather handily had some toys on display that you can play with, including a train set!

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When we came out of that shop, we saw that a steel band was about to start playing in the courtyard. They played some classic songs and the music sounded very happy. Quite  a crowd gathered, and there were several young children standing at the front, and most of them joined in with some dancing that a few of them started off. Andrew danced a bit, though he seemed too concentrated on being fascinated with the music to want to dance that much.

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We then headed back towards the field near the entrance, where they were now in full swing juicing apples at one of the stands. This was fun to watch, and Andrew was again fascinated by the machine that took apples in at one end and out came juice at the other. We watched that for quite a while! Opposite this stand were some stalls selling apples and local honey. We tried a few different varieties of apple and then decided to buy some to take home with us. When asked which apple he liked best to take home, Andrew replied with “pear”! So he got a few pears to take home – to be fair, he loves pears, and although he eats apples, pears are a definite favourite at the moment.

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As he had been a good boy, we allowed Andrew his second train ride as promised, and after this we headed out back to the car, passing the tractors on our way, which were still ploughing for the competition. We’d hoped that we could have a tractor ride, but it seemed that these must have been scheduled for later in the afternoon, and we felt as though we’d done what there was for young children and they were getting tired.

It was a fun morning out and we’re glad that we got to experience an apple day for the first time.

Linking up with the fab #CountryKids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog 🙂

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The beginnings of reading

It’s Children’s Book Week this week, which I’ve become aware of mainly through twitter and other parenting blogs. I’ve been thinking about writing a post about Andrew’s reading anyway, so I thought this would be good timing to join in with the fun.

Andrew has always been interested in books, right from flicking though board books with us as a baby to sitting down on his own and talking through what he can see on the page of his ‘big boys’ books’ (to differentiate from Joel’s baby books). He doesn’t sit down and ‘read’ for hours on end at a time – his general philosophy to playing is spend a bit of time here, a bit of time there, getting as many toys, books and puzzles out as possible and not committing himself to any activity for more than 5 minutes but often coming back full circle to what he started with after going round them all. But he does enjoy sitting and reading, both with us and on his own.

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Over the past month or so he has consolidated his knowledge of the letters of the alphabet that he’s been interested in ever since we started reading the Ladybrird Cosy Cat alphabet book to him over a year ago. He knows all the letters and can tell you what they are both randomly pointed at in words and going through from A to Z in context. This is the beginnings of him learning to read. Now he has the foundation of single letters, he can build on this and learn how letters join together to make written words.

As well as reading books, he is very keen on watching the ‘Alphablocks’ on DVD – this CBeebies programme is all about learning to read, with little blocks that each have a letter of the alphabet and their own character, who get up to all sorts of adventures and make words along the way by holding hands and saying their individual sounds out loud. It’s quite ingenious in my opinion, and Andrew adores it! We try not to let him watch too much on screen, but when it’s something like this, I really don’t mind him watching it in sensible quantities. He also has an Alphablocks magazine that Granny bought him, which has various activities in, and this is encouraging him to understand how we write letters as well as read them.

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As with other aspects of parenting, we have been very child-led in this part of his development – he has shown interest in reading and we have followed his lead and also encouraged him that it is a good thing to do. When we had his 2.5 year check (a little late) with the health visitor recently, she said he was doing very well to know all the letters at his age, which is good to know, as I didn’t really have much clue about time scales for children’s literacy. Hopefully this will stand him in good stead for starting pre-school next year.

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With this background of finding out that Andrew is doing well for his age, I was particularly shocked to read some stats on the disparity in attainment between infant school age kids from poorer and better off backgrounds which were published in the Too Young to Fail report by Save the Children earlier this week:

• Fewer than one in six children from low-income families who have fallen behind by the age of seven will go on to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths.
• Better off children who are behind are more likely to go on to achieve well – but even they only have a one in four chance of getting five good GCSEs, including English and maths.
• If a child from a poor family is already behind with their reading at the age of seven, they have just over a one in five chance of going on to achieve a C in English at GCSE.

Basically if children are achieving at the lower end of the range already at the end of Key Stage 1 (up to 7 years), then they are highly likely to go on to fail when it comes to GCSEs and not get the qualifications they need to enter many forms of employment. Children from poorer backgrounds are at more of a disadvantage in this, and in these stats the problem is particularly highlighted for reading ability.

This made me think about how we have encouraged Andrew with reading. We take it for granted that we have lots of children’s books, most of which have been given to us by family and friends as presents. Just having these around from the beginning of his life has shown him that reading is normal, fun and something we do every day. I can imagine that this is not the case in families that struggle to pay the bills, get food on the table and clothe their children, so books would be much lower on their priority list and the children would not get such an introduction to the concept of reading at a very early age. Also, we take it for granted that our own parents read to us as children, and this means it’s something we have just automatically done with our own children, because we know how much we enjoyed it and how it helped us learn (even if we can’t remember the very beginnings of reading with our parents). I can imagine that parents who themselves struggle to read, maybe because they too had little opportunity to read from an early age, would be less likely to sit down and read with their children, and so it would become a vicious circle from generation to generation. And none of this is fair on the children (who then become adults) involved.

There are people out there trying to help in this situation though, and I have been reading about Save the Children’s Born to Read initiative in partnership with Beanstalk. The aim is to provide many more reading helpers in schools in deprived areas, as well as support parents to help their children’s reading skills develop at home. When I think that there may well be children the same age as Andrew who live just a few streets away who are getting such a different start in life in terms of reading and literacy, it really hits home just how real a problem this is and just how important this kind of work is. I will be following their progress and trying to stay aware of this issue as much as I can.

Fun at Wimpole Home Farm – #CountryKids

We love the fact that we live so near to the National Trust’s Wimpole Home Farm near Cambridge. We’ve been several times since we’ve had kids (and a couple of times before!) and we never get bored of it. The Wimpole Estate is a large area of land with a mansion house and a working farm with animals that are reared for milk, meat, eggs and wool. There are also extensive grounds that you can wander around and picnic in.

The last time we went was the August bank holiday Monday, which was a lovely warm day and we had a wonderful family morning out before Daddy had to go to work in the afternoon. We arrived early and ours was one of the first cars in the car park, so we bought our tickets and wandered around a bit by the entrance to the farm until it opened. As National Trust members we still have to pay to get into the farm, but is is much cheaper than the standard ticket and well worth the price for a good value family day out.

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An excited Andrew was looking forward to seeing the animals, so as soon as the gate opened he steamed ahead on the path down to the farm. As we approached, we stopped to see the donkeys and goats in the first field by the reception. The first thing that Andrew spotted once we were actually inside was a tractor that you can sit on and pretend to drive, so he and Joel had a turn on that together. We also stopped to watch a baby cow having its milk from mummy, and then Andrew had a go at ‘milking’ using a milking simulator – a couple of cow sized teats hanging off a bucket of water!

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Next we went over to say hello to the shire horses, which were inside the stables at that point, but they also come out to do cart rides that visitors can hop on to. There were some turkeys in the stable too, next to the horses, which Andrew found very amusing, maybe because they were down at his level and he could wave to them. I think too that he hasn’t made the connection between turkeys like this and the turkey that we eat sometimes. Joel enjoyed looking at the rabbits that were across the courtyard on our way over towards the pigs.

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Soon it was time to watch the pigs being fed, so we headed over to the pig sties and stood there while other visitors congregated in anticipation of the feeding session and the pigs got very excited. But nobody official turned up with the food for a while, and Andrew needed the toilet, so while he and Daddy went off, Joel and I waited and eventually saw the pigs being fed. There was a range of ages of pig, right from little piglets to teenage pigs to mummy pigs pregnant with litters more babies!

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The next thing on Andrew’s radar was the small playground (shaped like a combine harvester) and the toy tractor maze – ride on tractors that you can drive around a small maze of hay bales. We spent quite a while there, and Joel enjoyed being pushed around on a tractor too. Then we headed to the bigger adventure playground that is tucked away in a wooded bit. It was still very empty at that time, so the boys had a good go on it without the busyness that I’m sure it would have had later on in the afternoon once more people had got that far.

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Having expended a lot of energy climbing, sliding, swinging, running and more, Andrew in particular was getting very tired and we knew that Daddy had to be in work fairly soon, so we started to head back to the car, stopping by some more paddocks of animals (mainly sheep and chickens) on our way, waving to the inhabitants as we passed.

As always when we visit Wimpole, we had a fun family morning out, and we’ll be back again another time to do it all again. I can definitely recommend this as a great way to let babies and toddlers experience farm animals in a family-friendly setting. It’s also good for slightly older children to learn where certain foods come from, rather than just ‘the supermarket’!

 

Linking up with the lovely Country Kids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

 

 

Devon holiday – part 2: Fun on the beach

Last week I wrote about the fun we had at some National Trust properties when we were on holiday in Devon with both sets of the boys’ grandparents. This week I’ll tell the tales of our beach days on holiday.

Our first day at the beach was the Tuesday, and the destination was Looe in Cornwall. Of course we had all the inevitable jokes about needing the loo and so on, much to Tom’s annoyance! The sky was quite overcast, but it was fairly warm and there was no rain forecast, so we’d decided that a beach day was worth a try, and this location was good for the other family members that we were going to meet there.

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It wasn’t too far a drive, and when we got there it wasn’t too busy, with plenty of space to find a good spot to put down all the paraphernalia that between us we’d lugged from the car park through the town and onto the beach. Andrew was keen to get playing straight away, and wanted to put his little swim/wet suit on, which was definitely worth having so that he could flit between the sea and the sand without getting his normal clothes wet or getting chilly from having just trunks on.

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The first activity of choice was building sand castles with the substantial range of buckets and spades that Grandma and Pop have – some left over from the 1980s-90s and some more recent acquisitions. We even had little sandcastle flags to complete the works of art. Joel also joined in, though probably destroyed more castles than he helped make, and he loved the texture of the sand, playing with it in his hands and feet. It came as quite a shock to him that he couldn’t eat it!

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After a little while, Andrew wanted to go in the sea, so down he headed with Pop and his little dinghy. Andrew absolutely loved the sea, which was good to see because last year he wasn’t so interested in it. He was happy to ride in the little boat and then get out and splash in the waves which were just the right height for him. There weren’t too many other people braving the sea, which wasn’t surprising given that it wasn’t amazingly sunny to dry off and warm up when they got out. Joel had a little dip too, and was more keen on it than Andrew had been in previous years.

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Other activities that we got up to during the day included eating a picnic and playing frisbee. Andrew was quite skilled at throwing the frisbee….backwards behind him! That caused a few near-miss incidents with the people located near us – thank goodness for the Great British windbreak! At about 4pm we headed home and the two boys fell asleep almost instantly as we got on the road.

 

Nearer the end of our week away, on Friday, we had another beach day out. The weather forecast said overcast in the morning but brightening up later in the day, so we thought we’d believe it and head to the beach. This time we chose a more local beach called Mothecombe, just along the coast from Plymouth heading eastwards. The main reason we went there is that it’s perfect for little ones because it’s on the estuary of a river (The Erne) and is therefore very shallow and sandy. Even at high tide, you have to walk out quite a way before you can swim properly as an adult, so it’s just the right depth of water for little legs to paddle in or get a dinghy in.

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We arrived at about 11am, and the tide was coming in and almost at its highest. So there wasn’t much beach at that point, but we were the only ones there, so we picked a nice spot and put all our paraphernalia down. The same kinds of activities as at Looe were requested by Andrew and suggested by the adults. This time we’d also brought the body board, another throw back from yester-decade. The waves were just right for giving Andrew a bit of a go on it. At one point he got carried along by a bigger wave than he expected and he came off, but when he resurfaced he was laughing, which was good to see. Joel had a bit of a dip again, and enjoyed sitting in the dinghy, though not so much being sprayed with water by Andrew.

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Joel’s favourite activity was trying to eat the sand, and he got annoyed whenever a well-meaning adult, who was put in charge of watching him, stopped him! We all also enjoyed flying or looking at the kite, which again had stood the test of time from Daddy’s youth. I even had a dip in the sea, though had to walk out quite far before I could swim properly. I’m not a big fan of swimming in the sea, despite loving swimming in a pool, mainly because I don’t like to think about what’s in it – jellyfish are a particular worry.

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The tide started to go out from about lunchtime, and gradually the beach got much bigger. At the same time, the clouds started to part and the sun came out in force. We walked over the sand to where the river was much narrower than it had been – at low tide it’s actually possible to walk to the other side as the river is so shallow and narrow. There were some rock pools, and the grandfathers had managed to find a net in the beach shop when they went to get a coffee for everyone after lunch, so Andrew had a go at finding some treasures – a sea snail was his best find, and it lived in a bucket until we went home and it got put back in the sea.

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When the time came to head home because the tiredness signs were coming thick and fast from the boys, Andrew wasn’t impressed and screamed all the way back up the hill to the car that he wanted to go back down to the beach. We tried to convince him with various reasons why we were going home and that we’d come back another day, but in the end the promise of an ice cream from the grandparents as he’d been such a good boy all day won him over. Again they fell fast asleep almost instantly on the way home – the sign of a great day out!

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Linking up with the fab Country Kids, as always!
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Trip to Coombe Mill – #CountryKids

Ever since I came across the Coombe Mill blog through the Country Kids linky that Fiona runs every week, I thought that it would be lovely to visit one day, either by staying there or by popping in when we’re down that way. As we go on holiday to Tom’s parents every summer, I thought it would be a possibility to have a day trip there this year, as it’s only just over an hour’s drive in good traffic. I was so glad that we managed to make it, just before Fiona and family set off on their family holiday.

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We started off on the journey down into Cornwall and made good time, so arrived in the later part of the morning. The first thing that Andrew spotted as we drew up in the car was one of the play areas, so he insisted that we get him out right away and he ran across to it, climbing up on the ship-shaped climbing frame, steering with the wheel and playing with the canon. He also liked the look of the trampoline, so had a go with some adult supervision from the other side of the netting.

Meanwhile I went across to reception and introduced myself in person to Fiona – it’s so nice to meet people in real life having tweeted with them and read their blogs. She was busy sorting things out to go away, and I felt very privileged that she was so welcoming and willing to spend time with us even though it was a big deal to get things done in order to leave the family business and go away for a week. Whilst she finished off a few things, I went back over and joined the others; my parents and parents in law were looking after Andrew on the playground. Very kindly, Fiona then came back over and invited us to their house for a cup of tea and cake, which was lovely, and we chatted for a while whilst three of her children came to join us, mainly for the cake!

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Then it was time for a farm tour, courtesy of Felix and Clio. Our guides did a great job of showing us all the animals. We saw peacocks, chickens, pigs, donkeys, deer, goats and rabbits. Andrew was very impressed, and was keen to stroke and feed animals where appropriate, as shown by the older kids. Joel also liked looking at the furry moving things, though he was getting a bit whingey by that point, maybe teeth, maybe hunger, maybe tiredness, who knows! We were all particularly impressed by the deer, who did a run by in front of us as Clio ran into the field behind them.

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Once the farm tour was over, and we managed to prize Andrew away from the other play areas that he had seen on the way back to the start, we sat down and had a picnic on one of the benches dotted amongst the lodges. I knew that Joel would like some milk before a nap, so I slipped into the BBQ hut to feed him – this is a fantastic hut that seats 15 people with a barbecue in the middle and a chimney that lets the smoke out, or is perfect for feeding a very distractible 9 month old away from all the sights and sounds of a family day out.

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After some milk he soon went off for a nap, so I went and joined Andrew on the play area where he was playing with Granny and Grandma. Fiona came and joined us for a bit too, and Andrew found her son Jed playing with the swing ball so tried to join in.

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After a while we headed back to the toddler-specific play area, which is full of ride-on cars. trikes and tractors, so right up Andrew’s street. He also spotted the soft play hut, and had another go on there (apparently he’d already been in when I was feeding Joel). Not that it was raining that day, but having an indoor play area is perfect for the British weather, because even though we often get togged up and go out in the rain anyway, sometimes it’s nice to have a dry place for him to burn off some energy, so I can imagine that if we stay there it would prove invaluable.

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We would have loved to stay and see the miniature railway running at 5pm, but Andrew was flagging and it was clear that he would need his nap in the car on the way home sooner than that. So we started to make a move towards the car. Once we got going, it didn’t take long for both boys to drop off (Joel had woken up from his nap as we transferred him but went back off again), and by the time we had driven through the winding lanes and reached the main road, they were both sound asleep. A sign on a great day out!

The whole family was very impressed by what we saw at Coombe Mill, and we will certainly be recommending it to other families who might be looking to holiday down in Cornwall. There is so much for young children to see and do, including helping out on the farm for feed runs which we didn’t get to experience, and it’s a great spot to go off and explore Cornwall too, from beaches to hills to towns. All the accommodation is well equipped for families with babies and toddlers, so it feels like a home from home. We are blessed with this ourselves in Devon, and at the moment I expect we’ll continue to stay with Grandma and Pop, but when the boys are a bit older we would love to go and stay at Coombe Mill for a holiday. It would be a lovely place to go with another family or two with children a similar age to ours.

So for this week’s Country Kids linky, Andrew and Joel got to be country kids at the place where Country Kids was born, and they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall