Wembury rock pools – #CountryKids

Last week I wrote about our trip to Mothecombe beach in Devon when we were on holiday. That’s a mostly sandy beach on an estuary with lovely shallow water until quite a way out from the shore. Another day of our holiday we went just 5 minutes drive down the road from the edge of Plymouth to Wembury beach. Since the great storms that hit the south west coat last year, this has been a very rocky beach, and when it’s low tide, it’s perfect for a spot of rock pooling.

Andrew had spotted the old net in Grandma and Pop’s shed with the other beach toys earlier in the week and was desperate to have a go with it. So we’d promised him a morning at a rocky beach to try his hand at rock pooling. Unfortunately the net that was once Daddy’s had seen better days, so we treated him to a brand new one from the cafe on the beach, and it was very reasonably priced considering we were a captive audience.

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When we arrived it was pretty much bang on low tide and there were lots of fantastic pools. We all set out across the rocks, wearing sensible shoes (wellies for the boys) and carrying our net and buckets. Joel is a keen climber, so was also in his element, even though he wasn’t in the least bit bothered about looking for animals. Andrew wanted to use his net when we spotted a few things, but the kinds of creatures that we saw really needed an adult with a faster hand and a better eye for catching them as they were too quick for him. We didn’t actually catch much in the end – this shrimp was the highlight really, and we let him go back home after a few minutes.

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We did see lots of limpets clinging to the rocks, and barnacles, and anemones which I said looked like shiny cherries on the rocks. We saw lots of little crabs too, but they were too small to catch in our net.

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Joel was a bit of a handful really, and soon got tired so had a tantrum about not being able to go it alone across the rocks! It’s an activity that he’ll need another couple of years to appreciate fully. Andrew was keen to give it a go though, even if he couldn’t do lots himself. We’ll definitely be back here in future years. There is also a fantastic marine study centre just off the beach at Wembury, which is open to the public and you can have a look round at the exhibit telling you all about the sea plants and creatures of the area. Again, a bit lost on our boys for now, but give them a few years and I’m sure they will be very interested.

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Linking up with the fantastic Country Kids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Our choice of nursery (preschool age)

I can’t believe that Andrew has just had his first week at preschool. It does’t seem long ago that he was a baby and we were treading through this thing called parenthood, not totally sure what we were doing, but doing our best to get off to a good start. Now he’s a chatty, confident and active boy, who loves playing with other children his own age (or older, or sometimes his little brother, if in a good mood). He’s absolutely loved preschool this week, just as he did for his settling sessions – the staff were amazed at how happy and confident he was from the word go.

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We started looking at preschools not long after we moved to Coventry where we would live ‘temporarily’ for 7 months before moving into our new home in Birmingham. I started with Google, having no clue about preschools in the area, and wrote down about 5 that were nearest to where we intended to live. I had a look at their websites, and emailed about visiting. The two places that got back to me within the day were the two nurseries run as part of the University of Birmingham, and that’s Tom’s employer too. I arranged visits on days that I knew Granny could help out, so she could look after Joel while Andrew and I looked around. I also heard back from one other preschool by email a day or two later – that was the local ‘nursery school’ – so I arranged a visit there too.

When we looked around at each preschool, they all came across as quite different from each other. The two university ones were daycare nurseries that had different rooms for different ages, from babies to pre-schoolers; both had a room just for 3 and 4 year olds. The nursery school was essentially a school year below reception, so only taking children for the academic year before they would go to school, which is this September for Andrew.

The main thing that struck me about our visits to all three was the amount that the members of staff talked to me versus how much they talked to Andrew and down at his level. At the school, the head teacher showed us around, and basically only talked to me. The children were all wearing uniform, and the rooms were laid out very much like classrooms – it looked and felt like a school with 3-4 year olds there. Sure it looked like a fun school, but school nonetheless. Andrew stayed with me for most of the visit, except when he saw a rocket painted on the playground and went off to count the numbers on it.

The main campus university nursery was different. The deputy manager talked quite a bit to Andrew, but was still mainly talking to me as she showed us around. She was very keen to point out all the different facilities they had, how they monitored children’s progress, and the systems and policies that they had in place for various aspects of the nursery. It too looked fun, and definitely less ‘school-like’ than the nursery school. Andrew went off to play with some other children in one of the rooms, and otherwise stayed with me.

The smaller campus university nursery was even more different. The deputy manager showing us around talked in equal measure to me and Andrew, bending down to talk to him on his level. The building didn’t look as fancy as the other two, but it was still bright and cheery inside and definitely not like a school – there were far more toys and fewer tables and chairs. Pretty much as soon as we walked in, Andrew was off playing with other children and exploring what was on offer with no hesitation. I had the full tour with our guide, but he was free to do as he pleased and join in with the day’s activities. In fact at the end it was hard to drag him away. I knew there and then that this was where I wanted him to go, where I thought would be best for him.

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It may not have been the one with the ‘outstanding’ Ofsted report, or the lovely old building, or the biggest number of educational ‘gadgets’, or the most recent decoration, but it was the one where Andrew clearly felt immediately at home and able to leave my side. For us it is important that he goes somewhere with an emphasis on play and not on formal education. Of course they all follow the EYFS, but how they interpret that in their style of ‘teaching’ versus ‘play’ seemed quite different from what we saw. And we made a positive decision to go for the most play-based one.

In this country we already start formal education much earlier than in other countries in western Europe, and there is good evidence that starting school as early as 4 years old does not make kids cleverer, in fact it could result in poorer academic performance (a brief summary of this evidence by an academic at a reputable university – I used to work in his faculty too 😉 – can be found here http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence).

Andrew seems to be doing well in his learning already, even without having gone to any nursery until now. He picks things up from us and from his play. He likes letters and numbers, and is starting to read and write basic words. He asks how things work, and why things happen. He likes to look at maps and books with both fictional stories and factual writing in. This has just happened over time, we haven’t forced it on him, but have been lead by his keenness to learn from everyday life. So we don’t see why being in a school-like environment would change this for the better.

If there’s no need for a change in environment to make him learn more, why go to preschool at all? Well he’s going mainly because he loves being around other children his age – he’s much happier at the park, for example, if there are others his age to play with rather than just little brother. As we haven’t built up a network of friends here in Birmingham yet, nursery is a great way for him to start building these friendships, some of which may continue into school age. It gives him some time completely separate from little brother, and I get to spend time one-to-one with Joel, just like I did with Andrew before he was born. It also gives me chance to work more, and get things done while Joel is napping that would bore Andrew. I’m sure we will continue to do lots of learning together in our everyday lives outside of the 15 hours that he goes to preschool in the week, and I fully accept that as a parent this is my role; I don’t want to palm off all learning to the teachers in the formal education setting – they already have far too much to deal with in large classes.

I’ve written this account of my thoughts towards preschool partly for us, to have a record to look back on of why we chose the nursery that we did and why it was important to us, and partly to share our experience, for anyone else who might be considering nurseries and preschools and would like to read our perspective, though I know all children are different and what suits one may not suit another. I hope it has been useful if that’s the case for you.

Mothecombe beach – #CountryKids

The weather forecast for the week that we were on holiday in Devon wasn’t as amazing as it had been earlier in the summer, so we decided to go to the beach on our second day there, the best looking day of the forecast, just in case we didn’t get another chance.

Grandma and Pop had recently invested in a new blow up dinghy, since the one that Daddy and his siblings used to uses kids finally bit the dust last year when we were on holiday. One of the best beaches for small children that we’ve been to near their house is Mothecombe – the beach on the Erme estuary is fantastic, because it’s so shallow, you have to go out a long way before you can’t stand up any more as an adult, and at low tide, you can walk across the estuary so it’s not even deep enough to swim in. This makes it ideal for a row in a dinghy with little ones.

We got there quite early and were the first ones on the beach. Not surprising given that it was spitting slightly with rain, though was fairly warm still. We found a good spot and got our various bits of entertainment out – buckets and spades, bats and balls, football, kites, sand castle flags, and of course the boat with pump and oars. Pop and Daddy set to and blew up the boat, while the rest of us played in the sand and paddled in the sea – it was high tide so there wasn’t as much beach then as there was later in the day.

Once the boat was in working order, the boys both went out a few metres from the shore with Pop rowing, They absolutely loved it, and wanted to keep doing it several times for the rest of our time on the beach that day. Most of us adults had a turn to be in the driver’s / rower’s seat with either one or two boys with us.

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We had lots of fun doing all sorts of activities on the sand and in the water. Joel was quite happy to sit and play with the sand, putting it into buckets with his hands and throwing it about. It’s the longest I’ve seen him sit doing something for a while. Of course he did get up and play too, and also destroy Andrew’s sand castles, as is typical behaviour for each of them.

We had the obligatory British picnic lunch on the beach too, although at that point it was clouding over and just after we’d eaten we had a short and light rain shower, similar to a few that we’d had earlier in the morning, but it was the kind of shower that by the time you’d got a coat on, it was over and sunny again. The boat came in useful as a shelter for the boys though, with an adult at each end holding it up!

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Joel was getting tired after lunch, but we’d decided to see if he would have a nap in the buggy as everyone else was having a lot of fun. And he actually did fall asleep during a short push in the buggy. That gave the rest of us a chance to have a rest too, except those who were taking it in turns to row Andrew in the boat.

By about 3pm, the tide was about half way out and there was much more beach, not that we had to share it with many people because it wasn’t very busy at all. Andrew and I went on a walk along the estuary shore, and got to the bit where you can walk across at low tide. We could have walked across then, because there was only a shallow bit of water to walk through, but we knew there wasn’t too much time left on the beach because we had to get back home for 4.30pm. So we walked back across the beck, following the footprints that we’d made on the way. Except when we were not quite back, we saw a sand bank higher than the water level out to sea slightly. So we waded through the shallow water, and came to our very own ‘island’ that had no footprints on yet. Then it was just a short walk back through the water to the part of the beach where the others were sat.

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Gradually we packed up all our stuff and set off up the hill to the car park. Joel stayed asleep until we got to the car, and Andrew fell asleep in the car! It’s the sign of a good day when Andrew naps these days. I’d definitely recommend Mothecombe beach for little ones. It’s so quiet, not many people seem to know about it, or would rather not have the walk down (and up) the hill to (and from) the beach, but we think it’s worth it.

Linking up with the fab Country Kids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog
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Pennywell farm – #CountryKids

When the boys’ Grandma asked people with small children where are some good places to go with little ones in the area local to them, most people said Pennywell Farm near Buckfastleigh in Devon. It’s been going for 25 years, but they hadn’t been as a family when Daddy and his brother and sister were little, so we decided that we had to try it out. And it turned out to be an amazing day out. We went on a day that we knew didn’t have a fantastic weather forecast because although lots of it is outdoors, there is quite a bit of indoor stuff too.

The first area that we came to once we’d paid our entrance fee was the guinea pig pens. There were some benches where you could sit down, put a blanket over your knees, and have a hold and stroke of a guinea pig. Andrew was keen to have a hold, so did so with some help. The guanine pigs were very tame and happy to sit and be stroked. Joel was less keen!

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Then we walked around the main yard in the centre of the farm, and saw various animals in their pens, like sheep, alpacas, shire horses, goats and more. The boys were happy to be able to see them all through the fences and the animals were obviously used to kids poking about. Soon we heard a bell ringing and a lady announcing that lamb feeding was about to begin in the main barn, so we headed over and got a seat on some of the hay bales in the tiered seating in the barn. It was a great view of the feeing pens. She explained that these lambs couldn’t be fed by their mummies because a ewe can only care properly for 2 lambs, so if she has more, then the littlest/weakest/daftest ones get kicked out the way and don’t always survive. So these were those types of lamb, and were being bottle fed on a mixture of goat’s milk from the farm goats and sheep formula milk. I was very interested in this lactation information! Andrew got to hold one of the bottles, though Daddy had to help because the lamb was very strong and pulled hard on the teat when sucking.

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Just past the main barn was a smaller barn where the Pennywell miniature pigs were. Apparently these were bred at Pennywell for their small and cuddly size. And you could see that they liked nothing more than getting lots of cuddles from the guests. We sat down on a bench and got to hold a pig between Andrew and me, and he loved being stroked, nearly falling asleep on my lap. Joel wasn’t that bothered, but was happy to run around looking at other animals.

We’d seen some children having donkey and pony rides, so we headed over to where the animals were standing and saw that we had to book a slot, so we booked one in for after lunch so that Andrew could have a go. We carried on and came to a covered area that had lots of ride-on tractors to play with. There were various sizes, right from little Joel-friendly ones with no pedals that he could sit on and push with his legs, to big Andrew-friendly ones that he was keen to pedal and steer (mostly avoiding obstacles/other kids on tractors/helping adults). Both boys absolutely loved this bit, so we ended up staying for a while and as there were picnic tables right next to it under the covered area, we decided to eat our lunch there too. Next to the tractors were also some toy ride-on ponies, and Andrew figured out that to make them go you had to bounce up and down on them with your fit in the stirrups and they ‘trotted’ – ingenious idea for a ride-on I thought!

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After we managed to drag them away from the tractors and ponies, we headed across to the other side of the farm, where there was a tall tower with a fabulous view over the moor to the north, and a playground. We also heard the ‘choo chop’ of a train and then spotted the sign for the ‘Rainbow Railway’. This train was just the right size for a ride with toddlers and preschoolers, and Andrew was very happy that he got to be the driver and the rest of our family sat in the carriages.

On our way back from the railway, we stopped and looked around the ‘funky foul’ area where there were all sorts of chickens and the like – some with very funky hair dos! By that time, it was nearly time for Andrew’s pony ride, so we headed back to the main yard. There was an owl display going on just near the pony park, so we managed to see some of that while waiting for the pony. The man was explaining all about how owls fly, hunt and eat their prey.

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Finally came the time for the pony ride, and Andrew took to it very well. The pony’s name was Yarter and she was 17 years old. He had a ride around the main yard and up towards the tractor rides and back round again near the owl display.

By the time the pony fun was over, Joel was getting very tired, having walked around most of the farm himself. Even though we hadn’t done everything on the farm, we decided that that was enough for one day. It’s such a great day out for little ones, and even slightly older children. I think for what you get, the entrance fee is very reasonable, and we need to go back again to see what we couldn’t see in one trip. It’s definitely something I’d recommend if you’re in the area.

Linking up for the first time in a while to the fantastic #CountryKids linky
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Southwold – #CountryKids

At the weekend we had a very special occasion – the boys’ uncle and aunt (Daddy’s brother) got married in a lovely village in rural Suffolk where the bride is from. We had a fantastic day, the boys did very well in their roles – the 2 little ones as page boys and Daddy as best man – and it was a really lovely opportunity to catch up with family whom we know and meet those whom we didn’t know already.

The wedding itself was on the Saturday, and then on the Sunday we decided to head to the coast, only 10 miles away, to Southwold. Most of our immediate family were either heading back on a long journey straight away, or going to the church service, but as the boys had already sat brilliantly through one service the day before, we thought that a trip to the beach would be better for them. We too didn’t have masses of time before the journey home, but enough to have a paddle and a walk along the pier.

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When we got there just before 10am, there were hardly any cars in the car park and the place seemed quite empty. We parked right behind the row of beach huts, the iconic feature of this region of English sea side. As we walked to the end of the row, we saw the steps to get down onto the beach, not that there was a slot of beach at that point because it was high tide, but there were only a few other people there so we still had lots of space to ourselves. We took off shoes and had a little paddle. The water was cold but it was such a nice warm day that we didn’t mind. The boys enjoyed letting the waves chase them up the beach as they crashed in, though Joel was less sure about getting wet than Andrew was.

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Both boys were most interested in throwing pebbles into the water, or sometimes more like big rocks compared to their size! Both have a pretty good throw on them, better than mine I’d say. It was lovely to be able to run about on the sand, an experience that they don’t get very often living nowhere near the seaside. Daddy doesn’t get as excited about visiting the beach as I do, because he grew up with a sea view from his bedroom window, and I think the boys will be like me in this respect.

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After we’d finished having fun on the beach, we headed over to the pier and walked along the length of it. The whole town and especially the pier had a very classy and not at all tacky appearance, which is what I tend to associate with piers and traditional British seaside resorts. The pier was very tastefully done, with a cafe and a couple of shops along the length. There was a weird clock halfway along it, which was once a temporary exhibit somewhere but now lives here permanently. It’s driven by water and does a little ‘performance’ on the half hour and hour. Andrew thought this was hilarious. We stopped and had a drink at the cafe, and sat on an ingeniously designed bench that acted as a wind break from the fairly strong wind that was blowing across the pier.

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After our refreshment break, we walked back along the pier and crossed the road to the park. Unfortunately the playground equipment there was a little old for our boys, so we just walked on a bit further and watched the boats on the boating lake for a little while. That was about as much time as we could spend as we had to head back home which was a good 3-4 hour drive with a stop. We very much enjoyed our little trip to the seaside, and were so pleased that the weather was lovely enough to have a good walk and play on the beach.

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

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Brockhole Visitor Centre, Lake District – #CountryKids

I know I seem to be stringing out posts from our holiday in the Lake District just before Easter, but we had so much outdoor fun, that I really want to share it all and give each place a post of its own. Today I’m writing about Brockhole Visitor Centre near Ambleside on the shores of Windermere. We’ve been there every year whilst holidaying in the Lakes since we’ve had kids, because it’s a fantastic place for families. This year was the busiest I’ve seen it, probably because it was just before the Easter bank holiday weekend, and usually we don’t go during the North England school holidays. But there was still plenty of space and it didn’t feel ‘too’ busy, just more people than we’re used to when visiting.

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This year was the first that Andrew was really keen to go on all parts of the playground. It’s not far from the entrance, and as soon as he saw it, he rode his bike straight over there, ditched the bike, and ran up onto the boat climbing frame, which looks like one of the steamers that go out on Windermere. Once Joel was down from my back, he too followed and climbed up onto the boat using the stairs. In the playground there are the usual swings and slides, plus various climbing frames and other equipment, suitable for all ages. Being his usual daring self, Andrew all of a sudden shot up the big kids’ climbing frame and was swinging across rope bridges in the tree tops (all with safety nets, he couldn’t actually go anywhere downwards), then he came down the tube slide, which he was very proud of because he’d previously been put off one that was too fast for him.

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Joel was happy with the little kids’ stuff – swings and small slides as well as generally pottering about and watching the older kids play. We stayed there at the adventure playground for nearly an hour. Grandma and Pop were due to meet us at Brockhole a bit later than we’d got there because they were dropping the boys’ aunt at the station to go home, so it was handy to wait in the playground near the entrance until they turned up nearly an hour later in the end. Opposite the playground, we’d noticed that there was a small, temporary bmx bike track set up for kids to have a go on, and there were some older children having a go on the bikes provided. I wandered over to ask if Andrew, at 3 years old, could have a go using his own bike, and they said of course he could. So when we managed to drag him away fro the playground, we headed over to the bike track. It was on the grass, so quite hard for him to pedal, but with Daddy’s help, he completed the course no problem, and the guys running it were amazed how well he was doing without stabilisers for a 3 year old.

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After the fun of the bike course, we carried on with Andrew riding his bike, and took the path that leads round by the shore of the lake. It’s always hard to keep up with him these days, but Daddy just about managed it with a jog whilst the rest of us trailed a little further behind. The weather wasn’t quite so nice as it had been that day, so the lake was very choppy and high winds were blowing on shore making it quite chilly on the lakeside. This didn’t perturb the boys though, who as soon as they saw the crazy golf course, wanted to have a go. There weren’t many other people playing (not surprising given the weather), so we said that we’d go and get a couple of clubs and balls from the centre and they could ‘play’. And by ‘play’ I mean not score or do it properly, but just whack the ball with the stick wherever you can, sometimes picking up with your hands if that’s easier to get around obstacles! Crazy golf really is cray when our boys are playing it! It was great fun though, and Andrew didn’t want to leave it when we said that we should carry on because we were all getting tired and hungry for lunch.

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Despite the wind down by the lake, we found that up by the visitor centre building itself was much calmer weather-wise, and behind the building was even more sheltered. There we found a ‘picnic’ area with a few logs to sit on, which was a perfect place to eat our lunch. We decided after this to head back to the house, because we had packing to do for the journey home the next day, and the boys were both tired, so much so that they both napped on the way home – it hardly happens for Andrew these days.

In previous years we have gone into the centre and looked around the child-friendly exhibition all about the Lake District history and geography, and also had a drink in the lovely cafe there. But it was much busier this year and the boys were perfectly happy to spend all the time we had there outside. We’ll definitely be back in future years, it’s a great place to keep going back to.

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

A walk around Rydal Water – #CountryKids

One thing that we were amazed about when we were on holiday in the Lake District recently was just how much Andrew was willing to walk. He can be a bit fussy when we’re at home, walking some of the way to places but not reliable enough for me not to take his sling to hop him up on my back if he gets tired. One day in the week away we decided to do a walk around Rydal water, up above the lake on Loughrigg terrace for most of the way, except at both ends when we came down to the waterside to cross the river. On the map this is about 3 miles, plus some climbs. Although we took his sling, Andrew walked pretty much the whole way, only being carried for a couple of 5 minute periods. He was our little mountain goat 🙂 I think his bargain walking boots for 99p off eBay might have helped spur him on, and the odd go-faster snack.

The walk was relatively easy, but with stunning views on the way round. We found all sorts of nature to look at and pick up. Andrew took a liking to a stick that was just the right size to be a walking stick for him, and Pop got out his pen knife to carve him a handle by stripping the bark off it at the top. At one point we spotted a tree with a hollow trunk, so Andrew hopped up inside it and thought this was hilarious. Joel was on my back for the first part of the walk until we stopped for a picnic lunch half way round, and then did some walking himself. High up on the terrace we got some amazing views down to Rydal Water on our way around.

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At the far end of the lake we came back down to the water level and had our picnic by the river that runs between Grasmere (lake) and Rydal Water. We then walked along this river towards Grasmere, and crossed over a bridge that was fantastic for Pooh sticks, just before the lake itself. We stopped on the shore of Grasmere for a little while, so the boys could have a play. Andrew was keen to try and learn stone skimming techniques from Grandad and Pop, and Joel was fascinated with a rather large rock that he could sit on and jump off! The weather was quite warm by this point, so we were happy to stand around for a bit. The view across Grasmere towards the village of the same name was lovely.

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As we carried on, we walked up again onto the terrace on the other side of Rydal Water, to continue our circular route around it. The views back across the lake were still fantastic, with fewer trees in the way on this side. Both boys were walking on this side for a while, until Joel got tired again and went back on my back, though as I said, Andrew was keen to carry on walking himself. As we neared the end of the lake, towards the car park where we had left the cars, the path came back down near the lake shore again. This was another great excuse to try some stone skimming, and Joel even went for a little paddle in his boots. Both of them clearly found this a lot of fun!

The walk was just the right length for a day out with toddlers, and we all enjoyed it with the views and the weather being particularly good to us.

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

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Are we there yet?

I’ve recently handed over my role as Editor of The Voice, quarterly magazine of the Cambridge branch of the NCT. I very much enjoyed volunteering for the charity in this way, but it was time to move on being as we no longer live in Cambridge and I would like to take on other things (mainly Sewn Down Purple Lane). During my time as Editor, I wrote quite a few articles, some of which I think are relevant beyond just Cambridge, so I thought I’d share some on this blog. First up is an article I wrote recently about our experience of long distance car travel with little ones. I hope you find it useful if you’re planning a long journey with young children soon.

The location of our boys’ grandparents’ (holiday) homes – Devon, West Midlands and Lake District – means that we’ve done our fair share of middle-to-long distance car journeys with them at various ages. Before kids, we used to catch the train down to Devon, but as the route means two (overground) trains as well as hopping on the tube across London, we haven’t fancied that with a baby, toddler, or baby and toddler, plus all the paraphernalia that travels with them for a week away. Cross-country (i.e. not through London) train services to the Midlands aren’t something we enjoyed even without kids. And for the Lakes, it’s handy to have our own car for getting around once we’re up there

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Planning ahead

The first time we attempted the Midlands trip – which takes about 1 hour 45 minutes in good traffic – with each baby, they were 2-3 months old. As they were still quite unpredictable with feeding and sleeping, we couldn’t really tell when was the best time of day to travel from their point of view, so we just went for it and ended up stopping for a feeding break or two, even though we’d normally do this distance in one run.

For about the first 6 months or so, neither of them liked being in a car seat for very long awake, so we took it in turns to sit in the back and try to keep them calm and reassure them. Joel didn’t seem as distressed as Andrew did at the same age, probably because he had his big brother in the back with him too, pulling silly faces and chucking toys at him! If you have to drive alone with a rear-facing baby in the back, a mirror attached to the back seat’s headrest means they can see your face reflected in your rear-view mirror.

As they got older, we would usually time our journey for when they would normally nap or sleep (early afternoon or evening), since they both started to sleep well in the car, though Andrew is less likely to drop off now that he’s just turned 3. But neither of them have slept for the entire journey to Devon or the Lakes – about 6-7 hours with a couple of breaks in good traffic.

Entertainment central

Cumming car 2So what to do during awake time? As babies, toys attached to the car seat were handy, so when they inevitably got thrown out, whoever was sitting in the back could easily retrieve them. It’s also amazing how long games like ‘peekaboo’ and ‘pulling silly faces’ can entertain a bored baby in a car.

One of our best buys since having kids has been our in-car DVD player for long journeys from around the age of 1. It attaches to the back of the driver’s/front passenger’s headrest for back passengers to view, or on the back seat’s headrest if baby/toddler is still rear facing. I have also heard of iPads/tablets (which we don’t have) and a car headrest holder (available to buy online) serving the same purpose. The novelty of a new (to us) DVD or one not watched for a while has worked wonders at entertaining them in the car. Of course music CDs go down well too.

So far Andrew seems to be fine at reading on the go (something which makes me car sick), so a new magazine does the trick of amusing him for a good hour or so. We’ve also just got into playing the simple game of ‘spot the [insert colour] car [or other common/rare vehicle]’, particularly in slower moving traffic, and this encourages him to look out of the window and take in our surroundings. As much as we don’t like being stuck in traffic, watching out for emergency vehicles if there has been an accident is very exciting for a vehicle-obsessed toddler.

As they get older, I’m looking forward to playing more games, some of which we used to play as children on long car journeys, for example ‘I spy’ or making words with the letters on registration plates, and some of which I have discovered from friends or the book Are we there yet? by Jo Pink. One friend of my parents, who has two girls a few years older than Andrew, takes an Argos catalogue for each daughter on long car journeys: she sets the girls ‘tasks’ from the catalogue, for example they have to find the cheapest set of saucepans or the most expensive television, or they have to plan their dream bedroom or toy collection and add up how much it would all cost (if they were ever lucky enough to get it!) Apparently this keeps them amused for hours, and it’s totally free!

Expect the unexpected

Cumming car 3Apart from thinking about entertainment, it’s important to plan food, drink and other supplies when driving with little ones. We always take more than we think we’ll need, in case of hold ups, and a substantial packed lunch and other snacks mean we can eat and drink if stationary rather than having to wait to pull in at the next services. When travelling in winter we pack coats and sturdy shoes so they are easy to get at if we need to stop or were to break down. And in (warm) summer we take plenty of drinks. On that note, the potty is also handy to have close at hand

I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed every single moment of car journeys with the boys, but we’ve certainly learned how to make the most of them and try to avoid pitfalls.

From balance to pedal bike – #CountryKids

A while ago I blogged about how Andrew loved his balance bike and was very good at riding it. Well he still does and still is, but for Christmas he was very kindly given a big boys’ pedal bike by Granny and Grandad. We’d noticed that he was getting quite big for his balance bike – the Early Rider lite – which he’s been riding for over a year, since just before his 2nd birthday. The saddle is on the highest position and his feet are well and truly touching the ground. At about the same time, he’d been noticing the big girls and boys of Cambridge riding on their pedal bikes, and decided that he too wanted to have a go. So we suggested to him that he wait for Christmas and see what surprises might come his way.

Bike Collage 1 jpg

And he wasn’t disappointed. Well, not until he got on it, tried to pedal off and fell off! I think he thought he’d just be able to do it as amazingly as he’d been doing his balance bike. That put him off a little, so we encouraged him to get on it step by step, doing just a few minutes on the drive with it each day and using his balance bike for longer trips out. We’d heard a tip that not putting the pedals on straight away helps kids get used to the new, heavier, bigger bike, whilst still acting like they’re riding a balance bike. It was also just a tad too big for him at first. But without pedals he was happy to sit on the cross bar and push himself around with his feet, just like he’s used to.

Bike collage 2 jpg

Then one day a couple of weeks ago, when out riding (i.e. pushing) in the cul-de-sac with Daddy, he asked to have the pedals on. So they were quickly whipped on before he had chance to change his mind, and off he went, with Daddy holding the back of the saddle as he pedalled. He did really well, and over the next week, with more practice, he got even better at pedalling. So much so that when I took him out with his new bike one afternoon this week, all I had to do was lightly hold his coat at the shoulders – he was providing all the balance himself and I could easily have let go, but he liked the security of feeling my hands on him, even if just a little, because when I took them off for a second he screeched at me to put them back! And he didn’t fall off in that time.

I’m now trying to convince him that he really doesn’t need us to help at all, we’re not doing anything vital, but I think it’ll take a little more confidence. I’m sure one day soon though, I’ll just let go and he won’t notice, then he’ll pedal off into the distance. I’m already finding it hard to keep up with him on his balance bike – jogging after a 3 year old on a bike with a 15 month old on my back in the sling is a great workout – but once he’s off on his pedal bike, I think his speed with only be rivalled by me on my bike (which, incidentally, is in storage since we moved – there’s less need for it in Coventry than in Cambridge).

Despite the temporary lack of confidence, overall I think the skill of balance that his first bike has taught him has been key in him learning to ride a pedal bike so young. We’d heard that a balance bike was a good idea in this respect, but now we’re seeing for ourselves that it really is true. I remember learning to ride a bike without stabilisers, and I was quite a bit older than he is now. He will never even have been through the stabiliser stage, going straight from balance to pedal bike. I would definitely recommend this if you’re keen to get kids riding young.

Now we’ve just got to get Joel on the balance bike and we’ll be off on family bike rides before we know it!

As usual, I’m linking up our outdoor fun with the fantastic #CountryKids linky over at the Coombe Milll blog

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Conkers: a fun family day out – #CountryKids

For his birthday, Tom was given a family ticket to the Conkers centre near Ashby de la Zouch. My Grandma had seen an offer online and decided to buy this for Tom for us all to enjoy. We had to use the ticket within 30 days of its purchase, so despite the slightly dodgy looking weather forecast, we decided to go for it this weekend, because there was no guarantee it would be any better next week when we had to use it by. But actually I think we picked a good time of year to go – it was very quiet, there were hardly any cars in the car park when we arrived and left, and this meant we had lots of parts to ourselves or with very few others around; I can imagine it gets packed on a warm sunny day and we’d have had to queue for the train ride, for example.

Conkers Collage 1

We started off by walking out of the main entrance building – the Discovery Centre – and around the edge of the lake that’s just in front of it. As we neared the train station, a train was just pulling up, and as there was no queue, just one family on the platform getting on board, we decided to hop on it there and then – once Andrew has seen a train, it’s very hard to drag him away again anyway. It was a lovely little ride, and the boys enjoyed looking out at the trees, tracks, tunnels and other bits of the park that we could see. This took us to the other side of the park, to the Waterside Centre.

Conkers Collage 4

Right next to this station is a huge adventure playground, with equipment for all ages from toddlers to pre-teens. The boys were off there as soon as they dashed off the train, trying to climb up the tall towers first before coming back down to the climbing frame and swings that were more their size. Andrew likes watching older kids on aerial runways, so although he felt he was too small for the long one here, he was happy to watch me have a go and cheer me on! We stayed here for a good half hour or so, with a few intermittent spots of rain, and other people coming and going during that time.

Conkers Collage 2

Next we went into the Waterside Centre, mainly to use the toilets and nappy change facilities, which were all very quiet too. We spotted a table with a craft activity going on downstairs, so we took a look – they were indeed providing the materials to make your own Gruffalo mask! As Andrew is a big fun of the Gruffalo (I thought there was no such thing?!), we had to stop and make our own, which was just right for his age, with some help from me to read the instructions and direct him with the glue. We also spotted a table next to the craft which had all the culinary dishes mentioned in the Gruffalo book – roasted fox, scrambled snake and Gruffalo crumble – made out of junk modelling stuff and papier mache. They were brilliant, just how you could imagine a Gruffalo meal looking.

Conkers Collage 3

Then it was time to go back outdoors for a bit, and walk along the trails on this side of the park. We walked around another small lake, then into the woods. It looked like a great place to build dens and play hide and seek, particularly in the summer when the trees would have leaves on and cover the area with foliage more than on this winter’s day. The path was suitable for a buggy, though we used the buggy for transporting our bags rather than the boys – they both walked some of the distance, and then one by one they got up onto our backs/shoulders as they got tired. It was just the right length of walk for us with kids whose legs are on the smaller side, though there are many more paths to explore on the other side of the park near the Discovery Centre, which is bigger than this side.

Conkers Collage 6

We came to an opening with a covered outdoor amphitheatre. This is where we had planned to eat our picnic lunch, after I’d tweeted the centre the day before and asked if they had anywhere sheltered to have a picnic. This was a good recommendation – it kept us sheltered from the wind and kept Andrew amused with all the steps up and down that he insisted on doing whilst eating his sandwiches! There was of course plenty of space to sit down; nobody even walked through the amphitheatre whilst we were sat eating, looking terribly British with our outdoor picnic in winter.

Conkers Collage 5

Having done a fair amount of what was on offer over this way, we headed back to the train which took us back to the other side of the park. Again there was just one other family and us on the ride. The rain became more set in as we got off the train and walked around the lake where we had started off the day, but it didn’t really bother us – we were all togged up, and Andrew had a whale of a time jumping in some awesome puddles that came to the top of his wellies in places. One place we could shelter for a bit was a covered viewing tower with a view across the park. The boys enjoyed going up the stairs, and we could hardly drag Andrew away, as he insisted that he wanted to keep going up and down them over and over again.

Conkers Collage 7

We looked on the map that we’d been given at the entrance, and noticed that there was a labyrinth a little further round, which was enough to entice Andrew away from the fascinating steps of the viewing tower. He had done a lot of walking though, and at this point he got into the buggy for a ride around the labyrinth. There was a ‘spot the fairy’ activity as we went round, and Andrew was put in charge of counting up the fairies pinned to the walls. It was quite a long maze; at each turn we wondered how far it would be until the end, but eventually we came to the middle – a fairy house.

Conkers Collage 9

As everyone was getting tired, we headed back to the Discovery Centre for some indoor fun. There is a lot to see and do in there! We learned all about different aspects of the environment in the fantastic hands-on exhibition. The giant model of a leaf was particularly popular with the boys, as we got to stand inside it and look at the cells and press buttons to see the various parts that air, water and sugar pass through – this took me back to A-level biology, this would have been a great place to go to get to grips with plant cell functions. I can imagine that this gets used for school trips in the week, it’s an interesting place to learn and all done very thoughtfully. Of course our boys didn’t learn as much detail as older kids would, but it was accessible on many levels, and they just loved looking at all the interactive displays and getting the sensory experiences.

Conkers Collage 8

In amongst the educational bits, there is an ‘enchanted forest’ soft play area, up above some of the displays in a dimly lit (but in a good, mystical way) environment. It was only suitable for preschoolers upwards, so Andrew went up (with a bit of help from me to begin with to suss it out before he knew it was fine on his own), and Joel stayed down with Daddy, running around the fun exhibits, and finding the toddler play-tree in the cafe. Again, the soft play was all really well thought out, with lots of enclosed rope bridges and bits to climb over as if he was in the tree tops. Considering he had been flagging outside, he managed to regain a fair amount of energy to run off in the soft play – he always has a reserve of energy for soft play it seems.

There was also a Pirate entertainer hanging around in the big foyer, but unfortunately we weren’t there at quite the right time for his shows, though Andrew did get very excited about the balloon sword that he got from the Pirate’s stall. As Joel hadn’t napped all day, we knew that he was getting exhausted with all the running around, and decided to slowly head back to the car. It was hard to drag Andrew away, but the encouragement of a drink and a biscuit was a help, and he’d earned it with all his running around too. There was just enough time to call in at the gift shop and buy the inevitable bouncy ball – the boys’ favourite kind of toy souvenir.

All in all it was a fab day out, with activities indoors and outdoors for children of all ages. It’s well worth the entrance fee (which we of course received as a present). If you live near enough, there is even a yearly members’ ticket, which I think would be worth it if you could go more often than us. We will definitely be back again, and when the boys are a bit older, there will be different things for them to enjoy and get out of it.

Disclaimer: I received no incentive to write this post, and the views expressed are my honest opinions of our day out.