IMG_3361

The Pros and Cons of Worldschooling

If you’re considering worldschooling as an educational approach, your core family philosophy and way of life, you may have lots of questions about whether it really is going to be right for your family. Will your children thrive and learn all that they need to in order to live a productive and fulfilling life? What are the logistics of homeschooling on the road? Will your children have access to enriching social experiences outside of the family unit? What exactly are the pros and cons of worldschooling?

It’s a big decision to take on the responsibility of your child(ren)’s education and making the big wide world your classroom might feel daunting and overwhelming, as well as liberating and exciting (probably in equal measures!). Although you can of course try worldschooling for a short time (maybe 6 months or a year) to see how it works for you, it is best to first arm yourself with as much information as possible.

I have asked five experienced worldschooling families to give you all their pros and cons of worldschooling. Further down, we’ll be hearing from the parents, but first up, let’s hear from the kids! I hope you enjoy their comments as much as I did!

Pros of Worldschooling

On hearing the insightful views of this lovely group of worldly kids, there are some themes that become very apparent. It appears that they have a shared appreciation, across their ages, of:

Meeting new people

Making new friends, learning from locals and seeing the world through a different set of eyes is enjoyed and embraced. Difference and diversity is no barrier for these kids!

I absolutely love to meet ‘strangers’, to hear languages I don’t understand.

Witnessing cultures first hand

The ability to learn from real world experiences rather than textbooks and technology is valued. Seeing, doing and immersing oneself in a country’s language, history, infrastructure and natural environment are viewed as key to learning.

I like to know what something looks like instead of having to imagine it.

The food!

A bunch of kids after my own heart! Discovering new flavours and cuisines is just one of the many joys of travelling, and it’s not lost on even the youngest of these travellers!

I love to try different foods in each country.

Spending time with parents

Time spent as a family is appreciated and awaited with anticipation. Parents are viewed simultaneously as educational guides and as a source of fun.

I’m really looking forward to having fun with my family.

Flexibility of learning

Having a say in how, where, when and what they learn is empowering and motivating for these kids. Individual preferences can be considered and styles of learning can be adapted to suit current needs.

It is pretty hard, but I keep trying because I want to be able to read stories.

Travelling lets you do more fun stuff, which helps you to learn, instead of just sitting in a boring classroom watching videos. It means you are actually doing it in real life and it is really really fun so you will remember better and learn more. In grade 3 at school, we learnt some things about Indonesia by printing out pictures of their food, and watching some YouTube videos. But technically, that is all fake compared to actually going there and tasting the food for yourself and talking to real Indonesian people. Soon we are going on a big trip which means worldschooling for the next 2 years. I’m really looking forward to having fun with my family, trying different foods, meeting people from different countries and going to places that I have seen on TV and seeing them in real life. I don’t really like maths that much, so if there is a way that my mum and dad can make maths fun in the real world, I would be ok with that. At homeschool, maths has been ok, but still not that fun because we have just been doing the books that we did at school. I like doing Maths Online because I like working on the computer.

Jasper, age 9

School can be a bit annoying because when you are trying to learn something and people try to talk to you, it is hard to concentrate. I like homeschool because you don’t have to drive to school and you get to stay at home and can be in your pyjamas if you want. My Mum or Dad is a good teacher. At our house there are some sandflies, which bite me and can distract me, but Mum made us do a project on the sandflies and learn more about them so we can understand them. We did the same thing about a Rainbow Lorikeet too. At homeschool we learnt about the human body because Mum is a nurse and I liked learning about how I work on the inside. I like knowing what things are called and we made a human sized body and drew all his organs and bones inside. We called him Mr. Bones. I am looking forward to going to Bali soon mainly because of the awesome waterpark but also because I want to learn about Bali and learn some Indonesian. ‘Selemat Datang’ – that means ‘welcome’. You can learn Indonesian on the Babble App. We have been using it already. Mum says we have to learn how to count to 10 in every country we visit. I can already do it in Japanese and Spanish.

Dash, age 7

I like being together as a family, and getting to learn what I want, when I want to. I like seeing different things and places.

Dante, age 8

I love it [being worldschooled]! I love Mum being my teacher and I think she is a really good teacher. Mum is teaching me how to read. It is pretty hard, but I keep trying because I want to be able to read stories. I can’t wait to go to Bali again! The people are nice and they have spring rolls. We spent a few nights in a beautiful big villa last time. We are travelling for a long time this trip ‘cause we are a travelling family. We are staying in Bali for 28 days. They have elephants in Bali, we can see them and learn about them. Maybe there will be baby elephants. I like learning all about different animals and seeing them in real life.

Daisy, age 5

I love seeing the stars and animals, like butterflies. I love playgrounds! And I loved riding [on a bicycle] around Uluru with my mum.

Allegra, age 4

I love to try different foods in each country. I like making new friends, going to schools and camps, and playing football all over the world. I like that it’s all a big adventure.

LJ, age 8

LJ recently spent 6 weeks attending an outdoor international school that accepts travelling kids in South Goa, India, and the plan is to enroll her in a similar alternative school for a month in Southeast Asia. She has also trained with local football clubs in Europe, Tanzania and India.

LJ’s walk to school in Goa, India

We think it [worldschooling] is very fun, especially in Holland with Almerik [a friend made while travelling]. I like travelling because I like looking at new things and you get to see other places. I like learning about money because I like learning about what types of money they have. I like some architecture. I like learning about other vehicles [like the suspended railway at Wuppertal]. It’s easier to learn about things by being there. We’d rather travel to learn about Roman history because it’s funner [more fun].

David, age 9

I like to see palaces and things we don’t have here. I like to try different foods, especially pancakes in Holland. I like trams and trains and monorails and big [sightseeing ferris] wheels.

Rilla, age 6

I like going on big aeroplanes. You get to see playgrounds and interesting stuff that you can’t find here. We like learning about languages. I like to know what something looks like instead of having to imagine it. I like the hotels. We like making friends in new countries.

Lennard, age 9

There is nothing like being able to see the world from different eyes. I absolutely love to meet ‘strangers’, to hear languages I don’t understand, to discover amazing food, and to be open to many opportunities in life. I love to travel and have had some amazing experiences, but just this past year my family and I made the decision to travel during the ‘usual’ travel time of the year because I would like to go to college and have started dual enrollment classes in Florida. Last semester, I did two online courses in order to continue travelling, but this semester I am taking a campus class so we will be travelling in May and through the summer.

Kiran, age 16

Cons of Worldschooling

It’s very telling that everyone spoke at greater length about the pros of worldschooling compared to the cons. Missing friends and family certainly seems to be the prominent downside of worldschooling when considered from a young person’s perspective, but other struggles included minimalist living, foregoing enjoyed activities and managing typical travel nuisances, such as jetlag, sun exposure and turbulence.

Missing loved ones

Be it friends or family, loved ones are certainly missed by these young travellers. Although the world has been made smaller by technology and it is undoubtedly easier than ever to stay in touch across land and oceans, there is still a sense that, for these kids, it’s not the same as connection in person. However, this must be weighed against their self-stated pros of witnessing cultures first hand and meeting new people from all over the world; a difficult balancing act for any parent!

I don’t like missing my friends and…that’s all I don’t like.

Minimalist living

Confining your possessions to a suitcase, rucksack or a small mobile living space might prove challenging for children and adults alike. It is entirely understandable that a young person would miss the familiarity of their much loved toys, books and home environment, but these kids demonstrate that, while this might be the case, enjoyment is found in novel experiences and resources.

 [It is annoying] not having enough room to store all the food I like [in a caravan].

Forgoing activities

Whether it be dance, sport, music or artistic pursuits, saying ‘goodbye’, even if only temporarily, to the classes, groups and lessons that are loved is going to be understandably difficult. Two of these kids, however, demonstrate that talents and passions are not left behind when travelling and that, with a bit of research, activities can often be continued wherever in the world you happen to be.

We will find a ballet class when we get to England so I can dance.

Travel nuisances

I think we can all agree that jet lag and sunburn are a nuisance! Although these cons of worldschooling are briefly mentioned, they are not dwelled on and they don’t seem to be a key factor in determining a child’s enjoyment of and benefit from a worldschooling lifestyle. Temporary hassles such as disrupted sleep, long travel times, insect bites, turbulence and sun exposure seem to be of little lasting importance.

When we go on a plane I don’t like the plane tilting.

I miss dancing class. Mum says we will find a ballet class when we get to England so I can dance.

Daisy, age 5

Two things that are annoying are, one, not having enough room to store all the food I like [as we are travelling in a small caravan at present] and two, not being able to see my friends. It’s not the same over the phone as playing with them. It’s nice to meet new friends along the way, but then we have to leave them soon after!

Dante, age 8

I miss home! I miss my Nanna and Nonna.

Allegra, age 4

As a teenager I feel it is nice to have a home base in order to see my friends and just hang out.

Kiran, age 16

I don’t like missing my friends and…that’s all I don’t like. When I have kids, we’re going to be travellers too and go on a long trip to all my favourite places in the world. I think it’s good for kids to do this. Sometimes it’s hard but you learn a lot.

LJ, age 8

I miss playing with my friends at school but I can meet new friends when we are travelling and I have cousins to play with too.

Dash, age 7

I don’t like jet lag. When we go on a plane I don’t like the plane tilting.

Lennard, age 9

I don’t like heat stroke.

David, age 9

So there you have it: the lowdown on all the pros and cons of worldschooling, as told by the kids. Did anything surprise you? Do your kids agree/disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Still wondering what worldschooling actually looks like in practice? You may also enjoy reading about the rhythms and routines of a worldschooling family and our home education plan for homeschooling a 3 year old within a worldschooling context.

Next up, we’ll hear all about the pros and cons of worldschooling from the parents’ perspectives.

Contributor Bios

Many thanks to all these wonderful young people for taking part and sharing their thoughts with us. Here’s a little bit more about them and their families:

Small Footprints Big Adventures
Fellow eco-conscious family, Dante and Allegra, Mum, Emma, and Dad, Anthony, are striving to find the right balance between travel and time spent at home with loved ones in Victoria, Australia. When at home, they are involved in promoting change within their local community to help others work towards a greener lifestyle. Follow them on facebook and instagram.

Gadsventure
The Gadsby family (Jasper, Dash, Daisy, Mabel and Mum and Dad, Kris and Brian) have just left their home in Queensland, Australia on their second family gap year. First stop Bali! Follow them on facebook and instagram.

Homes Away From Home
Canadian family of 3, known online as K, L and LJ, are currently on their year-long adventure around the world. 3 continents and 14 countries down, and they still have 5 months to go! Follow them on instagram.

The Burlings are a Kiwi family of five: twins, Lennard and David, younger sister, Rilla, and Mum and Dad, Kylie and Fraser. As older parents, Kylie and Fraser made a conscious choice to home educate their children, and take every opportunity to spend quality time with them, forming beautiful memories both in New Zealand and across the globe. They enjoy sharing with their children the things they love most in the world.

Kiran is in the process of setting up his own blog (once he has, I’ll include the link here so that you can follow him). He is currently taking an online US History course as well as following his passion of writing by taking a campus-based ‘Freshman Composition’ course (for any non-Americans reading, I also had to look up what that is!). He commented that he has found the transition from homeschooling to traditional education to be ‘no big deal’ since he’s outgoing, enjoys classroom discussions, and makes friends quickly. I love that his family have been able to adapt their approach to education to suit Kiran’s needs at different points in his childhood!

Homeschooling a 3 year old includes practical life skills and time outdoors, like building a campfire.

The Rhythms and Routines of a Worldschooling Family

What does life look like for a worldschooling family? What are the daily and weekly rhythms and routines of a world schooling family? Can children possibly thrive away from the over-scheduled norms of Western culture? (Spoiler alert: yes!)

I recommend reading this post alongside my home education plan for the year ahead (age 3-4). They support one another and it will give more insight into what worldschooling looks like for our family.

 

Let me say straight away that we are not a routine-driven family at all. Some children need routine (particularly those on the autistic spectrum) and some parents need routine to help them reduce stress and anxiety, and to help them plan and feel prepared for what might come. Both of these are very valid reasons, and if it works for your family, that’s great, carry on. It doesn’t work well for us though. Here’s why:

 

1

I don’t think an overly structured sleep/eat routine is very child-led and we want Theo to learn to respond to his own body cues as this is ultimately a skill that will contribute to good health later in life. So, he eats when he’s hungry (and always has access to healthy snacks and water), sleeps when he’s tired, and wakes when he’s rested (no specific nap time or bedtime). Similarly with activities, we have a couple of things in the diary, but I ensure that there’s plenty of time to do whatever Theo fancies on that particular day. It’s through free time and free play that I can really observe and respond to Theo’s current learning patterns and interests.

 

2

I don’t believe worldschooling and a lifestyle that involves travel fits well with strict routines (although I’m sure some families achieve this because they make it a priority for their family). Every day looks different for us when we travel, we jump time zones, take long journeys and we inevitably do a whole host of things that are only available at certain times and wouldn’t necessarily fit around an existing routine (from flights to tourist attractions to restaurant opening times to one-off events). 

Theo has never demonstrated a need for routine and he’s currently very adaptable so this works well for us. Of course, if our younger son, due next month, needs more structure, we will have a rethink and find a balance that works for everyone. 

 

3

Too much structure makes Alex and I feel pressured, stressed and bored. Flexibility is important to us both, and the freedom for plans to change and the ability to take the day as it comes feels most relaxing to us. Interestingly, this has become more pronounced, particularly in me, since Theo was born. 

Most parents know it can take an eternity to get kids out of the house (Alex and I laugh and reminisce about a time when we would decide we wanted to leave the house …and so we just left; now we have to pack snacks and changes of clothes and make sure weather-appropriate clothing is, if not worn, at least taken, and ensure teeth are brushed and shoes are on etc etc etc, and sometimes you have to do these things multiple times!), so I try not to plan anything with a fixed arrival time for the morning as it feels too stressful for me, which then impacts Theo. 

 

Of course, while we’re at a home base, some things do have to be done at a fixed time so we’ve ended up with a weekly rhythm that has lots of flexibility built in. 

 

Our weekly rhythm

Alex currently works Monday-Friday, so Theo typically spends the working week with me, and looks forward to time with Alex at the weekend. We usually spend most of the weekend together as a family, but Alex and Theo may also have some quality time for a few hours, allowing me to play netball, get on with some work or run errands by myself. 

With the exception of breaks for both short- and long-term travel, Theo has attended swimming lessons since he was 5 weeks old. He loves it and it’s a real highlight of his week. His lesson is currently the only weekly activity with a fixed start and end time, after which we swim together. 

We attend ‘Playcentre’ twice weekly. Although it starts in the morning, it runs for 3 hours, during which families can arrive and leave at whatever time suits. Playcentre is an early education service in New Zealand for 0-5s that’s ideal for home schoolers (and world schoolers passing through for however long, like us). Nothing like it exists in the U.K. but when I read about it prior to our arrival in New Zealand, I knew it would be a good fit for us. 

Playcentre operates with the central philosophy is that parents (or other primary caregivers) are a child’s best educator. The approach to education is entirely child-led. It is a parent’s responsibility to observe their child’s play, take note of how and what their child is learning, and respond by providing opportunities to further develop this learning. Each session, I document what I’ve observed Theo to be learning and enjoying, I take and print out photographs to illustrate this, and I consider what opportunities I can provide to assist him in developing his interests further should he choose to. The service is entirely led by parents and other caregivers so we all have an opportunity to make decisions about how our centre is managed, how funds are spent, and what resources we would like to have available.


 

Some example pages from Theo’s Playcentre journal



Outside of these weekly activities, time is spent doing whatever Theo has been showing an interest in. We do a lot of mountain biking, swimming, gymnastics (our council runs daily drop-in gymnastics sessions for under 5s, which you can pay for in bulk and use whenever you want so we do this when the day allows for it and when Theo wants to), walking and hiking (forests make him particularly happy) and visiting one of Christchurch’s many playgrounds. 

Aside from gross motor activities, Theo also enjoys baking and helping me cook family meals (and eating the ingredients as we go!), going to the supermarket, helping me clean, garden and do laundry, listening to music, and free play at home (role-playing doctors and shops, and creating scenarios with his vehicles are the preferred areas of play at present). 

He occasionally goes for a bit of painting and craft but this so far hasn’t been a big interest so we don’t do a huge amount of it. The resources are available to him should he wish to access them, however. Ditto with musical instruments; they are there when he wants them, but he so far prefers to enjoy music through dance and singing. 

With regards to reading, he seems to go through phases. Books are always available and he’ll have periods where all he wants to do is read endless stories until your mouth is dry, followed by periods of not showing much interest in books over his toys. We try to encourage daily reading by regularly offering books, but we don’t force it. Typically we work reading into our every day activities as well (menus, road signs, mail, recipes etc), so his literacy learning doesn’t solely come from reading books.

 

Daily constants

There are, of course, a few daily constants. When in the day they happen might vary, but you can be assured that they definitely happen at some point. 

1

We get outside every single day, without fail. Fresh air and exercise are really important to all of us, and lack of them noticeably affect our moods. Theo and I are very similar in this respect. 

 

2

We are also similar in that we need to eat breakfast immediately upon waking. Alex can happily wait an hour or two, have a leisurely coffee on an empty stomach, and then eat more of a brunch…by which time I’m a cranky, lightheaded, shaking mess. So, the first priority at whatever time we wake in the morning is breakfast for me and Theo. After we’ve finished, we then get dressed and ready for the day.

 

3

Theo and I always eat all of our meals together; he never eats by himself. Of course Alex misses the meals we have when he’s at work (or rushing out the door in the morning), but we all eat together at the weekend, for weekday dinners when Alex’s schedule allows, and of course for every meal when we’re travelling.

When we’re at home, we always eat at the dining table (or garden table if the weather’s nice). When he was little he had a highchair that attached to the table, he then moved on to a booster seat strapped to one of our chairs (both of these were great to travel with!), and once he was tall enough he started just using an ordinary chair. We think it’s important for him to enjoy meals as part of a family social gathering.

 

4

Teeth get brushed twice a day every day in the morning and evening. Although Theo is given the freedom to make choices for himself (for example, with regards to what he wears, when he eats, what he eats from the items I make available, when he sleeps, what he wants to do etc) attending adequately to personal hygiene is non-negotiable.

 

5

Theo still benefits from a short nap. Although he doesn’t choose to take one every day, they happen most days. He has always napped anywhere: in a sling, on me, in the car, on the sofa etc. Sometimes they’re 10 minutes, sometimes they’re an hour or two.

 

How does this differ when we’re away from our home base?

The daily constants remain the same regardless of where in the world we are. Of course, our current weekly rhythm and the activities available to us only apply to where we are now. When we travel, we inevitably have less rhythm to our week because Alex isn’t going into an office so there is no distinction between weekdays and weekend.

Daily activities are dictated by our location and our limited personal resources (we travel with a few books, a few small toys for flights/car journeys/restaurants, and some colouring pencils and paper), but practical life tasks are always available wherever we are, there will always be some form of gross motor activity on offer, and we seek out learning experiences specific to the area that we know will be of interest to the whole family.



 

Helping to sort laundry and clean in Airbnbs


We tend to take each day as it comes, working around the constants of breakfast on waking, attending to personal hygiene, giving Theo an opportunity to nap in a sling or in the car if he wants, and getting outside for whatever adventures are to be had that day wherever we are.

Our home education plan for engineering and design includes creative, open ended play with toys such as Lego.

Home education plan: Home schooling a 3 year old

Here in New Zealand, the academic year runs in line with the calendar year, with the long school summer break occurring over Christmas. Since Theo’s birthday is also in December, shortly before both the academic and calendar years come to a close, it makes sense that the end of the year marks a time for reflection on his previous year of learning and a time to consider the year ahead. If you’re wondering what home schooling a 3 year old might look like, this is our home education plan for 2019.

 

Our educational philosophy

Our approach to education is integrative. We are certainly ‘worldschoolers’ but within this ‘unschoolers’ who take the bits that resonate with us from different philosophies and approaches, and we don’t follow the bits that don’t fit with our family values, beliefs and goals for our children and family as a whole.

Neither the plan itself nor our educational approach are necessarily the ‘right’ way to do it, nor what would work best for you. You must choose what resonates with you. Consider this as you read the rest of this post, along with the fact that all children have different interests, passions, strengths and weaknesses, and this plan has obviously been put together with Theo in mind.

In addition, I have obviously developed this home education plan with our family circumstances in mind. I recognise the fact that we are privileged to be able to buy books and other resources, to be able to afford swimming lessons and days out, and of course to be able to travel. We also make use of many wonderful free resources, such as outdoor areas, museums and the library, and I hope that you are able to find services and resources in your area to suit both the needs of your children and your family budget.

We’re very child-led in our approach to everything regarding Theo’s development and how we parent, and we try to foster independence and choice within the limits of some boundaries regarding personal hygiene, safety of himself and others, and the law.

In terms of education, we see it as our responsibility to provide the opportunity for a broad spectrum of experiences and to introduce a range of learning areas, but we’re not going to force a curriculum down his throat. He can decide what interests him at any given time, what skills he’d like to work on, and what topics he would like to acquire deeper knowledge in.

Children want to learn; I have no concerns that he’ll just not want to do anything (as is often feared by those unfamiliar with an ‘unschooling’ approach). I don’t believe this to be possible in any case; children are always learning. It might not be how or what an adult wants or expects them to learn, the adult may not even realise it’s happening, but by observing our children at play, we can identify huge amounts of learning occurring naturally all the time.

 

Why have I written a plan?

Three reasons really.

1

To assist in jumping the hoops.

In order to home educate in New Zealand once Theo reaches compulsory school age (kids here start after their 5th birthday, joining their class at different times of year, and must be in formal education by their 6th birthday), I will have to apply to the Ministry of Education for a ‘Certificate of Exemption from Enrolment at a Registered School’. This process involves proving that ‘your child will be taught at least as regularly and as well as they would be in a registered school’.

This homeschooling plan, combined with an end of year evaluation and proof of learning (through photographs and videos, logs that I’ve written and any pieces of work that can and have been kept, such as artwork), will be invaluable in that process and ‘proving’ our capability in offering Theo a level of education that the Ministry deems acceptable.

Of course this isn’t necessary in all countries so if you’re considering home education, check what the requirements are in your country (it is also necessary to check if you’re world schooling and staying anywhere on a visa that is longer than a visitor/holiday visa). In England for example, children start school during the September after their 4th birthday but you don’t have to inform anyone or provide evidence of learning if you choose to home educate; you just get on with it.

2

For my own and Theo’s records.

As well as having to apply for the initial certificate of exemption, families in New Zealand then have to sign bi-annual declarations for the Ministry of Education confirming that they are continuing to provide home education. Although this isn’t typically a rigerous check, putting a broad plan for the year ahead in writing can’t hurt and will get me in good habits.

Having a written annual record may also prove useful if we find ourselves in a country that requires more thorough evidence of home learning, so may be something that other world schooling families would like to consider doing. It will give me something to go back to when I reflect on the year passed each December, and will help me organise my thoughts for evaluating our home educating journey.

Similarly, keeping regular logs of learning and what I have observed in Theo as the year progresses will act as a memory aid to all we have done and help me identify changes and achievements. Combined, they will be a useful tool for my records.

I was taught to get into the practice of keeping diaries and journals from an early age and I’m very grateful for these snapshots into my childhood. I kept a scrapbook and short diary each day when we were abroad, and my parents kept projects and workbooks from school (I was mainstream educated). Keeping a diary is a wonderful opportunity for learning and developing skills (writing, drawing, scrapbooking etc) but also a tool for processing emotions and organising thoughts and feelings about the day.

Theo is of course not yet at the age where he is keeping his own journals but I have tried to start this for him (and we talk about his thoughts and feelings at the end of the day as an alternative method of processing them). If he takes an interest as he gets older, he can continue it. Like me, he may also appreciate having a window into his childhood when he’s older.

3

To help others.

Finally, I thought it might be of help to others who are also starting this journey and trying to figure out what home schooling might look like for their families. Of course, there are countless ways to ‘do’ home education and it will look different for every family. This is just what made sense to me, but I expect this to change and evolve as Theo gets older, as I get wiser and we all find our groove as a home educating family.

 

Our Home Education Plan age 3-4 years

This ‘plan’ for the year ahead is very loose and is not intended as a strict curriculum or as a benchmarking checklist of ‘can do’, ‘can’t do’ items. Areas of learning will arise naturally from everyday experiences, and if they don’t, that’s fine. Not everything has to be ticked off by the end of the year.

It is intended as a guide and tool for myself, not for Theo. I can introduce the ideas written here as they arise naturally but if they do not spark an interest in Theo, we won’t do them; we can come back to them.

I have structured my homeschooling plan according to core subjects and learning skills. I don’t expect learning to take place according to these categories, and activities and conversations can of course tick more than one box, but laying it out in this way helped me organise my thoughts.

Baking, for example, ticks the Maths box (measuring out ingredients), the English box (reading a recipe), the Science box (baking of course involves a series of physical and chemical changes to particles when ingredients are combined and heated), a number of cognitive skills (working memory, inhibitory control, planning), and of course the practical life skills box (learning to cook is an essential life skill!).

 

I recommend reading this home education plan alongside my post on our current rhythms and routines, as they support one another. This will also give you an insight into the daily and weekly rhythms of a worldschooling family.

 

*

Maths and Numeracy

 

  • Basic counting and arithmetic using real life situations and incorporating multiple senses. We do number work all the time as we play, eat and just go about our day. Here are a couple of examples, but you can count anything!
    • Counting pushes on the swings.
    • Asking him how many grapes (or whatever food!) he wants on his plate and then counting them out. … ‘You ate one, so now you have x’.
    • Asking him about numbers as he plays. ‘How many mechanics do we need to fix your car? … Two, ok. One, two. … This person has gone on their lunch break so now there is one mechanic.’
    • We watch the birds eating on our lawn while we have breakfast and count them, adding and subtracting as they fly away/back.

 

  • Number recognition and identification in real life situations. Again, this crops up naturally all the time and we don’t have any specific toys or learning materials with numbers. Here are a few examples.
    • He identifies house numbers on mailboxes as we walk down the street and traces the number with his fingers. He also points out numbers in shops, on speed limit signs, on buses etc.
    • Asking him to press the correct button in lifts (elevators), at ATMs, on chip and pin card machines (and anywhere else numbers appear).
    • Although technology has somewhat eradicated the need for a family calendar displayed in the kitchen (as was the norm when I was a kid!), having seen how much Theo enjoyed finding the correct door on his wooden train advent calendar during December, behind which was a Christmassy activity for us to do that day, and how this enabled him to practise his number recognition, I will now be displaying a calendar and asking Theo if he would like to identify the correct day, date, month each morning. Depending on your preferences, this could be done on a traditional paper calendar or with a Waldorf-inspired perpetual calendar. Either of these options will visually introduce and reinforce the idea of natural rhythms according to seasons, months and weeks.

 

  • Clocks and time keeping. Obviously clocks (both digital and analogue) can be used as tools for counting, arithmetic and number recognition. When it comes up, we do just this. In addition, over the next year, I would like to facilitate Theo’s understanding of passing time. He is still a bit young to understand that other events are occurring simultaneously outside of his world, so getting his head around the idea that if we allow time to pass, we may miss the things he enjoys may well be something to work on next year. However, developing an understanding of ‘if you want to go to gymnastics, we need to leave when the clock says x’, ‘Mummy will be back when the clock says y’ is much more achievable. I have recently begun introducing this, and he has been demonstrating that this is a helpful strategy for him, particularly around managing separation when I need to go out.

 

  • Basic understanding of money. Of course, like time keeping, using money provides a real world opportunity to practise counting, arithmetic and number recognition. Developing a working model of how to navigate the exchange of money and goods, as well as an appreciation for the money we have, gratitude for the life it buys us, and an understanding that money and the items it purchases are to be valued, can be explored through:
    • Involvement in handling money in shops and supermarket checkouts.
    • Role play.
    • Conversations about where our money comes from, what we use it for, and those that are less fortunate.
    • Donating both unwanted items and money to charity.

 

*

English Language and Literacy

 

  • Reading. 
    • We provide access to a wide range of fiction, both modern and classic, non-fiction, and poetry aimed at both adults and children.

 

  • Phonics. We haven’t taught Theo the alphabet, nor will we for the time being. He will instead, in his own time, learn to read and write by first mastering phonics (the sound a letter or combination of letters make. e.g. ‘fff as in flower’ as opposed to ‘ef’, as is taught in the alphabet). He will then learn to correlate these sounds with their alphabetic symbol. Here are a few examples of how we are introducing this to him.
    • Following words with my finger as I read helps Theo make links between what he’s hearing and what he’s seeing.
    • We also take the time to identify specific sounds and their symbols when we read, and highlight any commonalities between words e.g. “This is ‘bh’ as in bug, and bus, and book. All these words start with the same sound, ‘bh’.” (while pointing to the ‘b’ at the start of each word). Poetry is particularly good for recognising patterns in language as rhymes rely on the use of the same sounds.
    • We play sound games like ‘I spy’ but use the phonetic sound rather than the alphabet letter. e.g. “I spy with my little eye, something on the table beginning with ‘ssss’ (not ‘es’)”…”spoon!” We have made this game more complex in stages. I started by presenting one obvious object so Theo just named the object when given the sound. Then, I presented two objects so he had to make a choice depending on how he interpreted the sound. Then more objects, each with different sounds. We have just started the next stage, which involves using a sound that corresponds to multiple presented objects. When Theo has given one example, I encourage him to find further examples. I will then progress this further by giving digraphs as well as single letter sounds, by choosing larger areas in which to search (a whole room, an outdoor space, an image), by introducing ending sounds as well starting sounds, and finally by introducing all of the sounds in the word.
    • I plan to also try rhyming variations of the sound games. e.g. “I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with …”, and “rug starts with a ‘r’ sound and ends with a ‘g’ sound – can you think of any words that rhyme with ‘rug’?”.
    • We will try sorting games as an introduction to matching written letters to phonetic sound. For example, encouraging Theo to place all the objects that start with a particular sound next to their corresponding written symbol.

 

  • Vocabulary. Vocabulary expands very naturally through two key methods.
    • Conversation. We have always spoken to Theo like he is an adult, choosing not to ‘dumb down’ our language or use ‘baby talk’. We use adult words for things, although through his friends and other influences he has also picked up the child terms, e.g. penis vs willy, stomach vs tummy, excavator vs digger. We narrate play (without imposing our interpretations or ideas on him) and the world around us, we converse while we eat, we discuss our day and we make up stories, songs and rhymes.
    • Reading. Reading is obviously hugely important for developing vocabulary, and this is part of the reason why we try to offer a wide range of reading materials (another is that we want Theo to be able to choose what interests him; I didn’t really discover a love of reading until I left school and was no longer forced to read set texts that I had no interest in). Poetry is often broader in its vocabulary than stories, as it requires specific language in order to conform to patterns in rhythm and rhyme.

 

  • Pen holding. This is a skill that Theo will master as he develops stronger muscle tone and control in his hands and fingers. Alongside providing activities to help strengthen these muscles, I will model how to hold a pen, and ask if he would like my help to adjust his grip. Some example activities to build hand and finger strength include:
    • Modelling clay.
    • Play dough.
    • Kneading bread.
    • Threading work.
    • Using scissors.
    • Tasks that require a pincer grip and fine motor control. Peeling onions and eggs are a good starting point.

 

*

Science, Ecosystems and the Planet

 

  • Provide answers to questions and further learning for topics of interest by:
    • Discussing topics as they arise (plants, animals, the body, space, weather, tectonics etc).
    • Visiting museums at home and while away. We have a number of great museums here in Christchurch, including the Canterbury Museum, the International Antarctic Centre, Quake City and the Airforce Museum. We recently stumbled across the Southland Fire Service Museum in Invercargill while camping on the South coast. Needless to say, Theo loved it!
    • Providing opportunities to ethically view and learn about wildlife. For example, we recently visited the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, located in the wildlife reserve on Pukekura Taiaroa Head. From an observatory, we were able to view wild albatrosses sitting on their eggs, as well as a number of other bird species. Our guide gave us a great deal of insight into the life and struggle of these birds, the history of the headland, and the research and conservation efforts occurring at the Centre. 
    • Reading books, looking at photographs and visiting the library to fill gaps in knowledge and resources available at home.
    • Conducting ‘experiments’ through play and the provision of sensory experiences (e.g. water play, sand play, baking, gardening etc)
    • Utilising our large world map, presented at eye level for Theo, to visualise and discuss topics such as habitats, climates, geography etc.

 

  • Model a positive and care-taking relationship with the planet by:
    • Practising recycling, composting, and litter-picking.
    • Finding joy in nature.
    • Discussing conservation, threats to species and how we can help.
    • Discouraging wastefulness with regards to food, water and electricity.
    • Making positive choices with regards to fuel use, sustainable product use, meat consumption and waste reduction.

 

*

Engineering, Design and Technology

 

  • Support his interest in vehicles and mechanics by:
    • Making toys and books available that allow him to explore this (Tegu magnetic blocks, road networks and toy vehicles, wooden nuts and bolts, Usborne ‘Look Inside Cars/Trains/Things That Go’).
    • Visiting the car garage and enabling him to observe mechanics at work.
    • Visiting the library’s ‘Imagination Station’ Lego and Duplo area.
    • Attending relevant museums and exhibitions.
    • Allowing him to help fix our bikes, pump up tyres, fill the car with petrol, clean the car etc.

 

  • Provide opportunities for construction, woodwork and sculpture by:
    • Making toys and books available that allow him to explore this (Haba shape and tack board, building blocks, wooden nuts and bolts).
    • Making modelling clay and play dough regularly available. This will also benefit his muscle tone development required to correctly hold and manipulate a pen or pencil.
    • Using real tools at home to make home improvements and fix broken items.
    • Assembling furniture.
    • Providing opportunities for large scale construction with soft play equipment or sofa cushions.
    • Visiting the library’s ‘Imagination Station’ Lego and Duplo area.
    • Attending relevant museums and exhibitions.

 

*

Art and Drama

 

  • Appreciation of the arts. 
    • Visit art galleries.
    • Attend theatre productions (these might be musicals, dance, acrobatics, stage drama, pantomime or street theatre). Theo’s first theatre production was ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway when he was 19 months. He loved it! He sat glued to the stage, dancing and clapping his way through the entire performance. In the last year, we have taken him to see Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and a local theatre group production of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’. Over the next three weeks, Christchurch is hosting the World Buskers Festival. We attended today and caught several wonderful shows. Theo then spent the rest of the afternoon climbing, jumping and hanging upside down from whatever apparatus he could find; the trapeze artists were clearly a favourite!
    • Introduce famous artworks and provide opportunities to copy and comment on them. This will enable regular discussions on shape, form, angles and the whole vs details, which will pave the way for the development of visuospacial skills and the ability to reproduce what he sees. 

 

  • Opportunities for artistic and dramatic self-expression.
    • Provide opportunities for both guided and free-expression craft using a range of materials, mediums and equipment (paint, watercolour, pencils, crayons, collage). We display his work at home to promote a sense of accomplishment, pride and self-worth. 
    • Dress up, role playing and imaginative play. During play, Theo often assumes a particular role both with and without the use of props. He has access to some dressing up clothes at home (we avoid characters so these tend to be more open ended, but he can access set costumes at Playcentre* should he wish) and some role playing toys (he has a particular interest in doctors at the moment so we got him the Plan Toys doctor’s set for his birthday). If he doesn’t have the props he needs, he’ll make it out of paper, play dough or whatever open ended materials he has available to him at that time. He’ll also often narrate roles during his play without the use of props. 
    • Support photography. Theo has long shown an interest in my camera and has been able to use it on occassion (under careful supervision!). He was kindly bought a children’s camera for Christmas and has been loving snapping away at whatever catches his interest. I would like to support this by displaying a selection of his photographs and helping him to create scrapbooks of specific days out and events. 

 

*

Sport and Movement

 

  • Support his love of gross motor activities.
    • Swimming lessons. Theo started swimming lessons at 5 weeks old. He has had breaks from formal lessons for both short- and long-term travel but we have enrolled in lessons whenever we have a home base. These have continually been a highlight of his week so we will continue them for as long as he enjoys them. We also swim regularly together to ensure that he is confident in the water, he has opportunities to practise his skills, and to have fun. 
    • Gymnastics. Our council runs drop-in gymnastics sessions every day. Theo loves attending so we go whenever our day allows and Theo says he wants to. He is currently working on perfecting his somersaults and completing the balance beams without the need for support. 

 

    • Mountain biking. We are very lucky to live right by a forest filled with mountain bike trails and jump/push tracks. Theo was given a balance bike for his 2nd birthday, after which he requested to go mountain biking most days. He has gradually built up his confidence and his strength to enable him to try bigger hills and more daring drops. He was given his first pedal bike with no stabilisers for his 3rd birthday so over the next year he will be given the opportunity to use whichever bike he chooses so he can continue to enjoy biking and gain the skills and confidence to use pedals.

 

    • Family hiking. We all really enjoy hiking so this is in no danger of falling by the wayside! Read some of my top tips for hiking with children here. I also talk about how Theo’s engagement with hiking has changed over time.

 

    • Skiing. We are lucky to potentially have the opportunity to move to Queenstown in March, where we will have several ski fields right on our doorstep. Alex and I are very excited about the upcoming ski season and we’re looking forward to giving Theo the opportunity to try it out to see if he enjoys it.

 

  • Explore dancing and body movement.
    • Songs with actions. ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ is a long-time favourite!
    • Play music from different genres to allow free expression with and without props (play silks, ribbons etc).
    • Introduce games like musical statues/bumps. These also enable a number of cognitive skills to be practised (e.g. inhibitory control and attention).

 

*

People and Cultures

 

  • Attend cultural festivals.
    • Christchurch hosts a number of cultural festivals through the year, including a Chinese Lantern festival, a Polynesian music and dance festival, and several parades that celebrate the diverse population. 

 

  • Eat and help prepare a wide range of cuisine.
    • We enjoy food, both at home and in restaurants, from all over the world. When we travel, we always eat the local cuisine, and have been lucky to pick up tips, ideas and recipes from all the places we have been. We practised Baby Led Weaning from the age of 6 months, so Theo has always eaten what we are eating. So far, we haven’t identified anything he doesn’t like.
    • Our meals can be accompanied by a discussion of where this particular food is eaten and how it is prepared.

 

  • Discuss previous travels. Theo certainly remembers some of our travels, as far back as 2017, but has understandably forgotten lots too. We remind him of his experiences and what we learned through conversation and photographs.

 

  • Languages.
    • Introduce foreign language books, audiobooks and songs.
    • Alex and I know bits (little bits!) of French and German, but we have also discussed introducing Spanish and/or Mandarin as these are more widely spoken. We will see what sparks Theo’s interest and enjoy learning languages alongside him.
    • Theo is picking up bits of Te Reo Māori just by living here. He hears individual words, verses and songs regularly, and has access to books written in Te Reo Māori. Take a look at  my beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori here.

 

  • Learn about England and visit places of interest in London. This is obviously partly tied to our hope to return to the U.K. for a visit this year. Regardless of whether or not we do make it back, we inevitably talk about England a lot since Alex and I both grew up in London, and Theo was born in and spent his first 18 months living in North-West England. Our family and friends are there, some of whom have been able to visit this past year. They have then obviously returned back to England, so Theo is aware that these loved ones live there. 

 

  • Māori learning. As we are living in New Zealand, it is of great importance to us that we all learn about Māori history and culture. We do this by:
    • Visiting cultural sites and museums.
    • Viewing Māori art and sculpture.
    • Talking to Māori people about their traditions, family structure, celebrations and traditional food.
    • Ensuring that we all respect Māori customs. Some examples relevant to Theo include that it is considered disrespectful and unhygenic to sit on tables. In the U.K., it is commonplace to see people sitting on picnic tables in parks or perched on the corner of other food tables. Essentially, don’t put your bum where you eat! Food is not to be played with, so you won’t get kids making photo frames or jewellery out of pasta. Heads are considered sacred, so anything that touches them (hats, pillows etc) also need to be treated with respect. We don’t put hats on tables or sit on pillows.

 

*

Life Skills

 

  • Theo helps with and takes responsibility for specific tasks within the following practical life areas. Over the next year, he will continue to build on these skills, working towards doing more complex tasks independently. I will ensure that he is provided with the equipment and materials he needs to be able to carry out these tasks (e.g. size-appropriate equipment).
    • Cooking.
    • Gardening.
    • Laundry.
    • Cleaning, hoovering and tidying.
    • Loading/unloading the dishwasher and doing the washing up.
    • Grocery shopping.
    • Personal hygiene, self-care and self-dressing.
    • Caring for a sibling. Theo will soon become a big brother and I plan to involve him in his younger brother’s care as much as he chooses. I suspect he will enjoy taking a leadership role and assuming additional responsibilities (at first, simple tasks such as helping me fetch nappies and muslins, and later, helping to teach his brother new skills).

 

*

Music

 

  • Music appreciation.
    • Listen to a variety of music genres/radio at breakfast and throughout the day when Theo chooses.
    • Attend live music performances.

 

  • Musical self-expression.
    • Provide opportunities to explore instruments and the use of his voice.
    • Teach him well-known rhymes and songs.

 

 

*

Cognitive skills

 

The following cognitive skills will be mostly practised naturally through self-directed play, games that involve matching/sorting/memory, and by simply sitting back and allowing Theo to come up against difficulties, make errors, and figure out solutions.

I also have a few professional tricks up my sleeve; games, exercises and mindfulness-based strategies that I use clinically with children and adults to either assess or practise these skills.

Many of the activities we already set aside time for also involve the use of a number of these skills. In reading the following short descriptions, perhaps you can identify where these skills might be useful in every day life for a 3 year old.

Cooking, for example, requires planning (to ensure you have all the ingredients), working memory (to hold steps of a recipe in mind), response inhibition (if you become distracted, you risk spoiling your efforts), sustained and multiple simultaneous attention (sustained attention to complete individual steps and the dish as a whole, and multiple simultaneous attention when attending to different items on the hob/in the oven etc at one time), and problem-solving (when things go wrong!).

 

  • Category formation. The ability to organise information into categories. Mammal vs. bird, food vs. non-food, fruit vs vegetable. Being able to categorise information in this way facilitates our ability to think about it, process it, and remember it.

 

  • Pattern recognition. Successfully identifying patterns enables us to logically predict what will happen next. This is known as inductive reasoning.

 

  • Working memory. This refers to the short-term temporary storage of information while it is still needed to complete a task (like a mental post-it note). It’s important in decision making, following instructions, holding multiple steps in mind in order to solve a problem or complete a task, and responding in conversations. 

 

  • Sustained attention. This is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to attend to, look at, listen to, think about something for a prolonged period. 

 

  • Multiple simultaneous attention. The ability to repeatedly shift attention, thus enabling successful multitasking.

 

  • Cognitive flexibility and control. This refers to the ability to shift between thinking about two different concepts. In other words, being able to adapt to a changing environment. 

 

  • Speed of information processing. Again, exactly what it sounds like: how quickly new information is processed and understood. This is necessary in being able to follow conversations or multiple step instructions.

 

  • Response inhibition. This is the ability to refrain from responding to distractions and is important for successfully staying on task when faced with a noisy or otherwise stimulating environment. 

 

  • Planning and strategy formation. This is simply the ability to think about the future and mentally anticipate the necessary actions to successfully reach a goal.

 

  • Problem solving. Closely linked to planning and strategy formation, this is the ability to predict the outcomes of a variety of strategies, choose an appropriate solution, and then analyse and evaluate the outcome.

 

*

Social-emotional skills

 

  • Theo has recently started to enjoy board games and loves hide and seek. We will continue to play games (even if not entirely following the rules at this stage!) that encourage turn taking.

 

  • Continue to attend Playcentre* and organise play dates. Although Theo obviously meets children at other activities and while out and about, Playcentre* and organised play dates are the best way for him to develop sustained relationships with other children and to have meaningful social experiences with them (due to the number of children that often attend gymnastics, social engagement can often be fleeting, and despite there only being one other child in his class, there’s only so much socialising you can do during a swimming lesson!). 

 

  • Label and validate emotions, and introduce regulation strategies. As a clinical psychologist, this (I hope!) comes very naturally to me; teaching people emotional regulation skills is a large part of my job. Children do not yet have the ability to do this by themselves since the part of the brain that deals with emotion regulation doesn’t fully develop until their early 20s. Instead, they look to their parents or other primary caregivers for clues and help with this. So, with both positive and negative emotions we do the following:
    • Help Theo to identify his emotions by labelling them.
    • Pinpoint the trigger and thought process behind the emotion.
    • Help him problem solve the most helpful way to manage his emotions. 
    • Label our own emotions, both positive and negative, model to him that it is acceptable and natural to experience negative emotions, and show him how we manage our own anger/frustration/sadness etc in a helpful way.

 

  • Talk about the day and any emotions, both positive and negative, that arose over dinner. Several months ago, Theo started waking in the night visibly upset (but easy to settle with a cuddle and breastfeed) and muttering about things that occurred during the day. He’s always been a bit of a sleep talker but this was a step up and I suspected mild nightmares related to processing the events of the day. In laymen’s terms, memory processing, which happens largely at night during R.E.M., can get a bit stuck in the case of difficult memories. Since my clinical speciality is trauma, I am well aware of the negative impact on sleep poor processing of difficult memories can have, and often some daytime processing is also required. Now, obviously we’re not talking about traumatic memories here, but big emotions and confusing events that seem trivial to us can feel traumatic to a toddler. So, I introduced a daily conversation at the end of the day (but not right before bed) to help him process his memories of the day. Typically, Theo rarely volunteers negative emotions or experiences when asked about the best and worst parts of his day, so I may probe: “I noticed it made you sad when your friend took the toy you were playing with / angry when I said we had to leave the playground / frightened when your friend chased you but you didn’t want them to. Was that difficult for you?”

 

  • Support to prepare for, and then adapt to having, a new sibling (we’re expecting a second son next month). We’ve had many conversations about pregnancy, child birth and what having a baby in the house will be like, and we have a few books that we’ve enjoyed reading together. So far, Theo has been excited, tender, and all for sharing his possessions (and more importantly, milk supply!), but I don’t doubt that the reality will still be a shock for him and he will need ongoing support to manage the influx of emotions that having a new sibling will bring. 

 

We will be living in New Zealand for at least another year (with trips, we hope, to further explore parts of the country we have not yet seen, back to England to see friends and family, and potentially some of the Pacific Islands) so this year’s plan has been written with this in mind. After that, we don’t know where we’re going to be so it might be that next year’s plan takes account for longer term travel and time spent in other countries with differing services and resources (obviously we can only attend Playcentre*, swimming lessons, gymnastics sessions etc where these things are available). 

 

I hope seeing an example of a home education plan has been of help to you and offers some insight into what home schooling a 3 year old means and looks like to us. Just remember it will be different for everyone! I’d love to hear what does and doesn’t resonate with your family in the comments; it’s always interesting to hear how other families are doing it (and there might be some ideas worth pinching!).


* Playcentre is an early education service in New Zealand for 0-5s. It is led and managed by parents, with a central philosophy that parents (or other primary caregivers) are a child’s best educator. The approach to education is entirely child-led. It is a parent’s responsibility to observe their child’s play, note how and what their child is learning at any given time, and then respond by providing opportunities to further develop this learning.

Eco friendly Christmas game, Pin the Nose on Rudolph, could be part of your green Christmas

A Green Christmas: Eco-Friendly Christmas ideas

Christmas is upon us already (how did that happen???); a time for family and friends, terrible music (that I secretly love), kindness to others (hopefully we do this year round but this time of year certainly brings out the Christmas cheer between strangers), and a whole lot of over-indulgence!

In order to minimise the already huge impact of the holiday season on the planet, I thought I’d share a few of my eco-friendly Christmas tips to help you and your loved ones make it a green Christmas this year.

 


Wrapping and gift tags

Many people are surprised to learn that most wrapping papers cannot be recycled. Those that are dyed, laminated, metallic and/or decorated in glitter, foil and plastics are headed straight for landfill (that’s most of them!).

Last year it was reported that the U.K. alone would throw away 108 million rolls of wrapping paper and 40 million rolls of sticky tape!

This year, you could try one of these alternatives to help keep all that waste out of landfill.

 

1

Reuse gift bags and paper that have been given to you. You can also hang on to any packaging paper you get sent through the year and if you still buy print newspapers, you can reuse these.

 

2

Furoshiki (aka fabric wrapping). This takes a little investment because obviously you need to have a supply of fabric, but it doesn’t have to be super expensive. I recommend spreading the cost out over the year (which is what I will be doing over 2019 having realised our December budget couldn’t stretch to enough fabric to wrap this year’s gifts!). Charity shop scarves and clothes work a treat, but if you want something more Christmassy, fabric and craft shops often stock organic cotton in a range of lovely, vibrant prints.

 

3

Use compostable or recyclable alternatives (ordinary brown paper is perfect for this) and add a festive touch. I’ve chosen to tie my brown paper packages with green and red raffia this year. You could also try adding pine cones, rosemary or fir as natural decorations. If you or the kids are feeling crafty, you might like to make a decoration that can then be used on the recipient’s tree (I’m no good at knitting or crochet, but I can make a mean salt dough!).

 

 

4

Make the wrapping part of the gift. Scarves, cotton to turn into beeswax wraps, tea towels, clothes or socks, muslins, sandwich bags…the possibilities are endless, and what fun having a present in a present!

 

When it comes to gift tags, you can incorporate this into your natural or homemade decoration. Write directly on to the salt dough or on to fallen leaves collected from the garden, or by stitching a name into your knitted decoration. You could also cut tags out of brown paper, or, if you get sent Christmas cards, before you throw them away at the end of the Christmas period, cut sections out of them to save for next year’s gift tags.

 

Instead of sticky tape, try using recyclable paper tape, string or raffia.

 

Cards

As a child, I remember my parents being sent enough cards to decorate the bannisters and hang as bunting all around the living room. Now, Alex and I get sent maybe three or four cards each year. It seems that with the rise of the internet and world-wide communication being easier (and cheaper) than ever, my generation will likely be the last to see this tradition, and thank goodness!

They’re costly, the emissions used to transport them all over the globe has an obvious environmental impact, I dread to think how many trees are destined to end up as cards each year, and most cards can’t even be recycled.

Instead…

1

Why not donate the money you would ordinarily spend on cards and stamps to your favourite charity?

 

 

2

Or spend the money on a Christmas box for your local homeless shelter?

 

 

3

Or on food to donate to a local food bank?

 

 

Of course, the tradition of catching up with friends and relatives, and letting people know that you’re thinking of them during the festive season, is a nice one and I don’t think it should be neglected.

Perhaps there are individuals on your Christmas card list that don’t use the internet so snail mail and a good old fashioned phone call is the only way to stay in touch. Perhaps you know that receiving a card will be of significant importance to some people. Whatever the reason, if you don’t feel able to forgo cards altogether, here are a couple of alternative suggestions for the select few you may still wish to send something to:

 

1

Send an e-card to those who use email. Yes, they’re pretty cheesy, but if the aim is to connect with people and let them know you’re thinking of them, job done! This is also a great option for people travelling who aren’t at a fixed address, and for kids (what child doesn’t love an animated card set to music?!).

 

2

Make your own cards that can be composted or at least recycled. This is what we do for the handful of people we know would appreciate a card in the post, particularly since we have spent the last two years away from our relatives and friends in the U.K..

 

Theo picks out a festive design from a quick online search, (while little, this has usually been hand/foot-print related, but as he gets older and his artistic skills expand beyond scribbles, he’ll have more creative freedom to do as he chooses for cards) and we use compostable paint and paper to recreate it. Remember that if you decorate with ordinary paint and crayons, glitter, stickers etc, it cannot be recycled or composted.

 

3

Send a traditional letter, nothing but pen and paper that can easily be recycled once it has been read.

 

 

Crackers

A beloved tradition for many, but, like party bags for birthdays, they are wasteful, full of plastic tat that gets swept straight into the bin, and the card used to make them can’t be recycled thanks to plastic laminate and plastic decorations such as glitter and bows. So, what are the alternatives?

I’ve made my own this year. They’re very simple to make, they’re (almost, with the exception of the centre of the snap) waste-free, and although they may not look as fancy as shop bought ones, they have everything you need for a good Christmas cracker: a bang, a joke, a hat and a present that won’t get chucked!

 

I made hats out of tissue paper, wrote out some suitably awful jokes on little pieces of paper, and bought everyone a small, personal gift that I knew they would use and appreciate. I put all that inside an empty toilet roll and threaded a cracker snap through. I then wrapped the whole lot in tissue paper, used a tiny piece of paper tape to secure the middle and tied the ends with raffia. Ta Dah! Homemade zero waste crackers!

You can also buy reusable crackers and low waste ones but I haven’t tried any of these so I can’t vouch for them.

 

Presents

Yes, it is lovely to both give and receive gifts, but it’s pointless if the gift isn’t well thought out for the person that’s receiving it. Don’t be the giver of a gift that sits unused at the back of the cupboard.

Instead of braving the overcrowded shopping malls in the run up to Christmas, why not instead try to think of zero waste gifts this year. You could:

 

1

Give an experience: days out, event tickets, restaurant vouchers, lessons in something the individual has been wanting to try.

 

 

2

Give a membership or subscription: perhaps a museum or gallery membership, membership to a sports centre or other hobby club, a subscription to an online or print magazine (if you go for print, try to select one that both ticks the right boxes for the individual so that it actually gets read, and has environmentally friendly production methods – look for those printed on recycled paper, with low carbon manufacturing, and that absolutely do not send their magazines out covered in plastic!).

 

3

Give something homemade: craft, bake, upcycle furniture. If you’re not that way inclined, perhaps you have other skills you could share as a gift? Painting and decorating? Hairdressing? Make-up and nails? Photography?

 

4

Give an online gift: an online course, a kindle book, an e-book.

 

 

5

If you want to buy something material, consider whether it can be bought second hand, and if not, purchase ethically. You might like to consider the following questions:

How has the item been manufactured? Has the manufacturing process upheld the highest standards of both environmental and social ethics? What materials have been used to make it? Are the materials sustainable and will they pollute the environment? Have animals or humans suffered at all so that you can purchase this item? Can you buy this item locally from an independent retailer?

 

The Christmas Meal

Food shopping:

Buy local, buy seasonal, buy sustainably farmed and only buy what you need.

Since moving to New Zealand, our Christmas meal has changed drastically! Sprouts aren’t in season, so we don’t have them. Chestnuts are imported and hard to find, so we don’t have them. Turkeys aren’t locally farmed, so we don’t have it. I use as much fresh produce from my garden as I can, and anything I don’t have, I buy from local farmers.

Unfortunately, Canterbury has had rubbish weather so far this summer (it feels more like a British Christmas!) and the unusual amount of rain has had an impact on fruit farmers. Cherries are typically eaten at Christmas here and we would ordinarily visit a local ‘pick your own’ farm to buy all our Christmas cherries and berries. Sadly they don’t have enough crop this year for ‘pick your own’ but we’re hoping to be able to do this in the new year if the weather improves.

 

Tableware:

First things first, please don’t use disposable tableware. If you don’t have enough for all your guests, ask someone to bring a few extra plates and cutlery, or find some bargains in a charity shop that can then be reused each Christmas and whenever else during the year that you have a large party.

Every year for as long as I can remember, my parents have hosted a large party in the Spring that coincides with a local sporting event (not that anyone cares much about that; it’s just a good excuse to get a lot of friends together!). My grandmother, when she was alive, would do the catering, and over a number of years built up quite a collection of charity shop plates. My family have all been very grateful for these plates over the years; they’ve been passed around and brought out at birthday celebrations, Christmases, Summer barbeques and a number of other events.

If you insist on disposable plates and cutlery, please opt for compostable ones as opposed to plastic. 100 million plastic utensils are used by Americans every day. Plastic cutlery is one of the largest ocean polluters and if you remain unconvinced, I guarantee you will feel differently once you’ve watched this horrendous video of a poor sea turtle having a plastic fork removed from its nose. I warn you, the video is distressing, but the turtle survives and it certainly hammers home the point.

 

Centerpieces and candles:

Go natural! Pine cones, branches, berries (cranberries are lovely and bright!), fir and other evergreens, and logs all make for lovely table decorations. Or even a simple house plant!

Normal paraffin candles are a petroleum by-product so instead seek out beeswax or soy wax alternatives.

 

Food waste:

The amount of food wasted each year at Christmas is quite staggering. In the U.K. alone, 54 million platefuls of food are thrown away at Christmas.

Cook only what you need and store any leftovers so that it will keep. Ask guests to bring a container so they can take some leftovers with them, and if you’re being hosted for Christmas, take a container with you (have you seen this post on zero waste for storage? The Klean Kanteen canisters are perfect for this!)

You can also reduce your food waste by keeping vegetable scraps and meat bones to make stock.

 

Tree Decorations

Obviously if you already own tinsel, plastic baubles and a wonderful, much-loved array of tacky decorations, please don’t just throw them away, but please don’t buy new ones either. You can keep reusing what you have (I’m pretty sure that my parents are still using many of the same decorations they had 25 years ago, and they have lots of life left in them yet!), or you can donate them to a charity shop/care home/shelter so that they can continue to be enjoyed by someone else.

When it is time to consider some new decorations, you could either make your own or buy handmade items that have been lovingly created using sustainable materials. We’ve done a mixture of the two.

Here are some ideas for your own homemade decorations. Theo’s had a great time in the run up to Christmas getting creative, practicing his fine motor skills and building his hand muscles.

1

Paper chains. Simple, effective and easily composted or recycled. They can be jazzed up with compostable crayons or paints.

 

 

 

2

Salt dough and natural paint. Kneading and rolling dough is a great activity for strengthening little hands. You can make lovely keepsakes using handprints or footprints to give as gifts, and with the leftovers you can sculpt, cut out and decorate whatever Christmassy creations you fancy. Provided you only decorate with natural paint, these can be composted at the end of their life.

 

3

Natural fibre felt. Felt can be bought in both natural and synthetic fibres so ensure you’re buying a natural fibre one. Stitch pieces together to create your masterpiece.

 

4

Nature’s treasures. Pine cones, cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, and twigs crafted into snowflakes and stars all make for beautiful, rustic-looking decorations.

 

5

Bits and pieces from around the house that may otherwise be destined for landfill. This year we’ve used a stash of old buttons to make Christmas trees. You could use bottle tops, soda can rings, pieces of ribbon, jar lids; whatever you have lying around unused has the potential to be upcycled into a festive decoration.

 


I hope you find these eco-friendly Christmas ideas helpful. If you’re looking for some new year’s resolution ideas, check out this post on eco-friendly swaps for home and travel.

Wishing you and yours a very merry green Christmas! 

A father hiking with children through the forest

7 Tips for hiking with children

Hiking with children is one of those things that people often assume is too hard, not worth the effort, or simply isn’t possible. Alex and I did a lot of hiking before Theo was born, but this hasn’t changed just because we now have a little person, soon to be two little people, in tow.

Thankfully Theo is also an outdoors person and he enjoys being in fresh air and surrounded by nature as much as we do. Sure, some kids just don’t enjoy this kind of activity so a rethink may be required. If your kid(s) fall into this category but you’d love them to share in your passion and enjoyment, I suggest trying these 7 tips for hiking with children before giving up all together. Ensuring that it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone can require a bit of forethought, patience and creativity, so here are our top tips.

 

1

Know everyone’s limits

If you intend to go hiking with children, the route you plan for will depend on your children’s ages and development. It pays to have an accurate idea of what everyone can manage without getting tired and grumpy.

Theo was introduced to hiking at 4 days old. Of course at this age, he was in a sling for the entirety of our outing and as long as he could still feed on demand, he was happy.

As we got past the newborn stage, we’d get him out of the sling for stints so he could crawl around, explore and eventually toddle about. By 16 months he had scaled England’s highest peak as well as many of the Lake District’s other fells. By the age of about 18 months, he was a very confident walker and was happy to go on hikes of approximately 10 miles (16 km). Of course this still included stints in the sling either to rest his legs or to have a nap.

Over the following year, he managed longer and longer stretches of walking by himself and was happily doing over 6 mile (10 km) hikes up mountains by the age of 2 and a bit without the need for breaks in the sling. The steeper and more technical the terrain, the more fun he had !

 

We’ve found that the age of 2.5 to 3 has been most challenging so far in terms of planning long hikes, and have needed to drastically cut back our expectations. I suspect it’s partly that he’s out of practise (it’s been winter here so we’ve been hiking less over these past 6 months), partly that his current learning is based on role play rather than exploration of the physical world, and partly that he’s at a stage where he wants to exert his independence and make his opinions heard. That’s fine, we encourage this, and we see it as our responsibility to tailor activities so that they cater for his current learning, preferences and needs rather than drag him on things he has no interest in just because it’s what we want to do. So, our recent hikes have been shorter and slower. I go into a bit more detail below in point 6 about how we’ve adapted our outings to suit his current learning.

 

2

Bring loads of snacks (and water!)

Most parents don’t leave the house without ample snacks so I’m sure you’d probably think to do this anyway. The difference though is that when on a hike, if you run out of food, you risk having a hungry child on your hands for potentially miles of walking and then perhaps also a drive back home or to the nearest shop. A ‘hangry’ child is a very good way to instantly ruin your peaceful hike through a beautiful setting, so try to avoid this at all costs! 

Bringing water on a hike is hopefully obvious. Stay hydrated by stopping for short water breaks regularly, particularly in hot weather. A bottle of water is also handy to wet cloth wipes on the go, for post-snack sticky hands and faces, nappy changes/unfortunate accidents/stops behind a tree, and to mop up muddy and scraped knees and hands.

 

3

Bring a sling

This is obviously most relevant for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, but may also apply to some older children, particularly those with disabilities or medical conditions.

Likelihood is you won’t forget a sling for your baby because they’ll need to be carried the whole time, but once they are walking confidently it’s an easy item to overlook. Little legs get tired though and having a sling or carrier of some kind will save your back and arms! If your child still has a daytime nap, a sling is the perfect place for this and having this option will mean you can also plan for longer hikes as you’ll cover a lot of ground while they sleep.

 

The type of sling or carrier you choose will depend on the age of your child, the length and difficulty of your hike, and what you and your child both find most comfortable to use. A stretchy or woven wrap may be ok for younger babies and for shorter hikes, but a buckle carrier may feel more secure on longer or more technical hikes and for heavier children. I recommend the Ergo 360 Cool Air Mesh, and the Connecta Solar, both of which are lightweight and breathable, and can be worn to front or back carry. If you prefer a heavy duty backpack style carrier, or you’re embarking on a very lengthy hike and envisage carrying your child for longer periods, I recommend the Osprey Poco AG Premium. It’s very breathable, has useful storage space, and has a maximum weight of 22 kg (48.5 lbs), meaning it may also be suitable for older children with disabilities.

 

4

Plan for double the time you think the hike should take

When you look at the trail map and it gives an estimated time for a particular route, ignore this and double it!

 

Older children and teenagers will of course be better able to keep up with this predicted pace (perhaps even storm ahead of you!) but younger children have shorter legs, they may be liable to run off back the way you’ve just come, and regular stops to explore their surroundings are to be expected.

The exact deviation from the predicted time will of course depend on your kids’ ages, their personalities, everyone’s fitness and hiking experience, and how often you stop for rests/food/photographs/learning etc, but the point remains: everything with children takes a bit longer (even leaving the house!) and hiking with children is no exception.

If your kids need to be back by a specific time for food or sleep, I recommend planning accordingly and leaving more time than you think you could possibly need!

 

5

Be flexible – sometimes you have to back out

I’m sure you’re used to this as parents but flexibility is key. Sometimes plans have to change last minute and it can be annoying, but personally, I’d rather back out or take a shorter route than endure the frustration of hiking with children who just don’t want to be there. It’s ok if your child’s just not feeling it today, adult’s have days like that too; hopefully you’ll have another opportunity to try again another day.

 

6

An opportunity for learning and play

Hiking is not just about getting from A to B. It presents a wonderful opportunity for children to learn a wide range of skills and knowledge while being outside and enjoying the natural world (as well as getting some exercise, fresh air and vitamin D). So, like in everything else we do, we play and we learn while we do it.

For the littlest of hikers, a simple blade of grass can be a fascinating. For infants, opportunities to use their senses are in abundance. Explore the texture of grass, bark, different leaves, mud and water (if you come to any); take the time to smell flowers and point out the sounds of birds and branches waving in the wind; name objects and their colours as you come across them.

 

Between their first and second birthdays, your toddler is likely to enjoy working on their gross motor skills so you may find that games revolve around walking, running and climbing. At this age, Theo loved finding objects (sticks, pine cones etc) for us to throw further up the path and then he’d run off to find it (yes, just like playing ‘fetch’!). We also liked this game because he kept him heading in the right direction rather than going back on himself all the time! Hide and seek also has this positive effect providing that whomever is hiding does so further up the path!

 

Climb fallen trees, practise jumping off rocks, kick and jump in fallen Autumn leaves; burn all that toddler energy!

Theo was also curious about flowers and insects at this age, so it was the ideal time to practise being gentle with fragile living organisms, and learn to observe and appreciate them without causing harm. He enjoyed taking photographs of the things that interested him along the way. Although not all of these images were in focus or even included his intended subject, they’re a wonderful documentation of a particular hike through the eyes of a one-year-old. I printed them and together we stuck them in a scrapbook and talked about where they were taken. I write captions about where we were, what we were doing and what he was finding interesting, but as he gets older, I’ll instead encourage him to write about his memories.

 

After their second birthday, you will likely find that your toddler’s speech really erupts and, although they may have been talking for a while, they may suddenly be able to engage with more complex conversations. As certain topics cropped up on our walks (often as a result of a ‘why?’ question!), we started introducing concepts such as the life cycle of plants and animals, the water cycle, and we talked in more detail about the insects we saw while hiking.

Theo still loves exploring the outside world and working on his gross motor skills, but as we approach his third birthday, he is really engaged in role playing. While he still collects sticks, looks at flowers and marvels at bugs, our more recent hikes have also included time pretending to be a lion hunting in the grass, collecting stones to use as money in exchange for ‘goods’ (also collected along the route) in whatever shop he has created, and rescuing vehicles or people that have got stuck in the mud/water/steep or rocky terrain. He loves ‘fixing things’ at the moment so a stick becomes a screw driver and he finds trees with holes to fix.

 

As his play and learning interests continue to change and develop, so will our hikes.

 

7

Pack light but don’t forget the essentials

You don’t want to have to lug around everything except the kitchen sink, particularly if you’re likely to also be carrying a child at some point during your hike, but forgetting sun cream, hats, bug spray or spare supplies for children in nappies or those who are not yet reliably toilet-trained, is a recipe for a potentially unpleasant hiking experience. Children (and adults!) with sunburn, bites or soiled clothes are going to be pretty miserable!

I made the mistake of forgetting a spare set of clothes for Theo once when he was about 2 months old. Halfway up a mountain in the British Lake District, I changed his nappy and had to improvise some trousers using my fleece, one leg in each arm! I was cold, but at least he was warm. Suffice to say, I didn’t forget spare clothes for him again!

 

Hiking with children really is a pleasure; it’s a joy to see the world through their eyes. It will almost certainly be slower than an all-adult excursion, but don’t let that put you off! With these tips, I hope your family can enjoying hiking together as much as we do.

7-tips-hiking-with-children 7-tips-hiking-with-children

 

Mother and son kayak together on Grand Lake, Colorado. The boy is wearing a Frugi sun hat.

Eco-Friendly Sun Protection

With the school summer holidays fast approaching in the Northern Hemisphere and sunny days with high UV exposure continuing year-round in the Southern Hemisphere, I thought it a good opportunity to write a short post on staying safe in the sun and choosing eco-friendly sun cream, hats and swimwear for the whole family.

 


Eco-Friendly Sun Cream…               Sunscreen…Suntan Lotion…Sunblock…

Since Theo was 3 months and experienced his first strong sun (he was born in the winter in the U.K. so he had to wait a few months!), we have been big fans of Green People’s Organic Children Sun Lotion SPF30.

Made from natural ingredients and containing ‘no nasties’, this eco-friendly sun cream has been gentle on his allergy-induced eczema-prone skin, and is safe for corals and marine life. He has never suffered with redness or burn so it seems to offer good protection (it’s advertised as offering high protection against UVA and UVB rays, with 97% UVB protection). Despite being thick, it isn’t greasy and it’s easier to apply and rub in than many of the other baby sun cream brands.

I recently came across this article, written in 2014, and contacted Green People for a response; I haven’t heard back! I believe they have changed any misleading advertising since this was printed. We’ve certainly not had any problems with it!

We really like the Organic Children Aloe Vera Lotion and After Sun as well.

 

Eco-Friendly Sun Hats

I have two requirements when choosing a sun hat for Theo: it must shade his face adequately and it must secure under his chin (because keeping a hat on a baby/toddler without a chin strap is a battle I can do without!). I have found two ethical brands that meet these specifications and have become firm favourites.

Frugi is a British children’s clothing company founded on the highest environmental and social standards. They use GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic cotton, as well as recycled plastic bottles and natural rubber for their rainwear. No chemicals, no hazardous pollutants, a fair wage and safe working environment for all their factory workers, and they work with factories to ensure water and energy consumption are kept to a minimum. They also donate 1% of their annual turnover to charity, including one children’s charity, one community charity and one environmental charity.

We have a lots of Frugi clothing and I love their Little Dexter hat with velcro tie, available in sizes newborn-4 years. We used last year’s Little Dexter hat every day during the summer so I immediately bought the next size up when they released this year’s collection (remembering that our seasons are opposite so I size up ready for later in the year)! The velcro’s really soft so didn’t bother or scratch Theo at all but I also found it to be very secure, even in Canterbury’s high winds!

We also use Frugi’s Little Swim Legionnaires hat at the beach. It has a large, soft brim and a great neck cover, and has a UPF 50+ rating, making it a great eco-friendly sun hat. While it doesn’t have a chin tie, it is elasticated for a good fit so it stays put!

If you’re looking for something with an even wider brim, Sunday Afternoons, an American family-run company, make a range of great eco-friendly sun hats with a focus on the highest sun protection. We really like the Clear Creek Boonie, which has an adjustable under-chin strap, UPF 50+ rating and a soft structured brim. What I really like about this company is that they donate to environmental and social causes that protect the landscape and support a love of the outdoors among the next generation.

 

Eco-friendly Sun and Swimwear

Theo’s last two swimming costumes have been Frugi. Even when subjected to regular sun, salt water and chlorine, I’ve been really impressed with how long they last. They offer good coverage and, like the hats, have a UPF 50+ rating. They zip at the back, come in lovely fun designs, and don’t have poppers on the inside legs. This obviously means harder nappy access but can be better once babies are mobile; I found that once Theo started crawling poppers always came undone anyway and were more hassle than they were worth. When he’s toilet trained, we may have to rethink as he wouldn’t be able to use the toilet without our help undressing.

When Theo was a newborn (he started swimming a minimum of weekly from 5 weeks) until about 6 months, he got cold in the water very quickly so I chose swimwear that offered a bit more warmth. Close Pop-In do a range with fleece lining: the baby cosy suit, and the toddler snug suit. Both have poppers at the crotch for easy nappy changes or toileting, the cosy suit opens fully at the front with Velcro and has a built in swimming nappy, and the snug suit has a zip at the back. Word of warning, these are sized quite small so size up if you’re unsure!

We have used both Pop-Ins and Tots Bots swimming nappies. In my opinion, Pop-Ins are better for babies, Tots Bots are better for toddlers. Pop-Ins are a tighter fit around the thighs so are harder to get on a wriggly toddler but offer a bit more of a barrier against those pre-weaning explosions!

For adult swimwear, there are lots of eco brands on the market but personally I find a lot of them quite drab looking. I like Jets, an Australian company whose products are all certified by Ethical Clothing Australia, ensuring that workers’ rights are protected throughout the supply chain. Sustainable manufacturing and the use of recycled materials in their fabric is central to the brand.

 


Enjoy the sunshine but remember to stay safe and look after our oceans! For some other suggestions on how to have an eco-friendly family holiday, check out this post on 20 ways to travel sustainably.

 

Eco-sun-protection Eco-sun-protection
A child's hand plays with a red wood toy Bajo aeroplane airplane

The Complete Guide to Flying with Kids

The thought of flying with kids is enough to keep many parents awake at night! Instead of feeling excited about your upcoming journey, are you worrying about how you’re going to keep your children happy, entertained, well slept, well fed, and clean for the duration of the flight, plus achieve all of this without annoying every other passenger on the plane?!

Don’t panic, it really will be ok. I can honestly say that every one of the 25 mostly long-haul flights Theo has been on to date has been a breeze, but we have learnt a few things along the way.

I recently had the pleasure of writing a guest post for my favourite ethical retailer, Babipur, detailing my 12 top tips to ensure your journey is as stress-free as possible.

 

View the post here for suggestions on:

  • Trip planning, booking the right flight and choosing the best seats.
  • Making the most of your checked luggage allowance and free baby items. If you are planning to take a car seat and buggy/stroller with you in the hold, I suggest protecting them. We use this padded car seat bag along with these Gate Check Pro bags (one for the car seat, which goes over the padded bag, and one for a buggy/stroller) and have found that they have all survived remarkably well for the price tag; well worth the investment!
  • Must-haves for your hand luggage.
  • Time management.
  • Getting through the chaos of airport and security. Hint: a sling helps massively!
  • Dealing with nappy changes in the airport and on flight. In this post, I go into more detail about using cloth nappies while travelling so you may also want to check that out.
  • Snacks and drinks, plus of course our favourite reusable bottles, bags and containers to carry them in. We wouldn’t be without our Klean Kanteens (a Kid Kanteen for Theo, an insulated one for water, which gets filled after we’ve gone through security, and a wide neck insulated one for coffee, which can be filled before departing and then refilled during your flight), Klean Kanteen canisters ( ideal if you need to take a meal on board; not too bulky, leak-proof and I recommend the insulated ones for any hot food), and our Planet Wise sandwich bags and wraps (check out the whole Planet Wise range as they have heaps of options in different sizes and prints to suit your style).
  • Helping little ones to equalise their ears.
  • Providing entertainment that lasts the whole flight. Click here for a few of our favourite (and very much tried and tested!) eco-friendly toys for travelling.

Flying with kids doesn’t have to be stressful! Have a safe flight and a wonderful trip making memories to cherish!

The link again to the whole post is here.

 

Flying-with-kids Flying-with-kids

 


This post contains affiliate links and will either take you the brand’s website or to the relevant amazon listing. I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information, so please consider making any purchases through these links.

 

Cheakamus-Lake-Whistler-Canada-breastfeeding

Parenting on the road for happy family travels

D

o you long to travel as a family with your infant or toddler but find yourself hesitating because you fear how the sudden change in environment and lack of routine will impact them? What does parenting on the road look like?

The perceived stress of travelling with young children, the fear of disrupting a routine, and uncertainty around parenting away from the home environment are common barriers to taking that much dreamed of trip.

Parenting is all about adapting and responding to the needs of your child, and this is no different when you’re travelling.

For most children, the only requirement for optimal cognitive, psychological and physical development is a caregiver who is available to consistently meet their physiological and psychological needs.

If you are able to provide for your child and offer a safe environment and relationship from which they can develop the independence to explore the world, you are the only constant they need to travel happily.


Theo is now well accustomed to life on the road, long flights and car journeys lasting multiple days. He has seen more of the world than the average toddler and has had experiences that many adults are still waiting to tick off their bucket list.

Although he has demonstrated himself to be a natural traveller and he takes it all in his stride, like all children, he can get grumpy when he’s tired, overstimulated, bored or hungry. Parenting is all about adapting and responding to the needs of your child, and this is no different when you’re travelling.



 

We remain flexible, our plans change, and we choose activities that we will all enjoy. While we’re travelling, every day is different, we regularly jump time zones, we rarely stay in one place for longer than a week, and we have absolutely no routine with regards to eating, sleeping or anything else for that matter.

This lifestyle works for all of us and we all adapt easily, but I have no doubt that three elements of our parenting approach assist Theo in adjusting to the chaos of travel, and help him feel safe and secure in an ever-changing environment: breastfeeding, babywearing, and bed sharing.

This is what works for us. Remember that not every child is the same and this won’t necessarily be right for all families; follow medical advice relevant to you, listen to your own child’s cues and be their constant source of comfort and support, however works best for them.


Breastfeeding

I am still feeding Theo on demand, anywhere and everywhere. He feeds multiple times a day and if he’s unwell, teething or just a bit out of sorts, it can feel like I’m doing nothing but feeding him, all day long and then all night.

 

Although sometimes exhausting, this is exactly why I do it; he obviously feels he needs it more during these times and, as a parent, I am there to support him through life’s ups and downs.

As he gets older, his problem-solving capabilities and strategies for regulating his emotions will obviously become more sophisticated, but at this moment, breastfeeding helps him deal with the emotional turmoil of toddlerhood.

I include travel in this sentiment; every day he is taking in a whole host of new information, some sensory, some emotional and some hypothesis-driven. This can be a lot to process for such a little person, and some time to connect with Mum and feel safe in arms is often just what the doctor ordered.

 

Breast milk is amazing. It not only contains exactly the right balance of nutrients, antibodies and hormones for the child for whom it is intended, but it also changes according to circadian rhythms and over the length of an entire breastfeeding journey in order to meet the child’s individual needs at different times of day and at different stages of development.

Breast milk can soothe pain, fight illness and induce sleep so it makes sense that Theo increases his breast milk consumption when he feels under the weather, particularly if he doesn’t feel up to eating much solid food, and I can rest assured that he is getting everything he needs until he feels better.

Breastfeeding is not just about the physical need for milk though. No, Theo no longer needs breast milk to support his physical development, but this doesn’t mean it is the right time to stop as he clearly still benefits from all that breast milk offers him and feels comforted by the act of breastfeeding.

 

I am a firm advocate of child-led practices, whether it be play, eating meals, separating from primary caregivers to sleep or to be left with an alternate caregiver, selecting one’s clothes, or indeed weaning from the breast. Every child is different and it is important to follow their lead. Theo will let me know when he is ready to wean by refusing an offered feed and/or failing to ask for milk.

Weaning should be done without tears or distress, and it shouldn’t be received as a punishment. Certainly, refusing Theo milk now would cause him great upset and I’m sure would leave him wondering what he had done to be denied. When he is ready, he won’t bat an eye at a missed feed.


Babywearing


I have a variety of slings, wraps and carriers that get used daily (we have used a pram/stroller maybe a dozen times since Theo was born).

As a newborn and until Theo was about 4 months, a stretchy wrap was ideal for everything apart from hiking so I used a buckle carrier as well (the Ergobaby 360 Performance).

I then moved on to woven wraps, ring slings and a mei-tai (I love Little Frog’s woven wraps and ring slings).

Since the age of about 18 months, my preference has been buckle carriers (we’ve got a lot of use out of our Connecta and Connecta Solar). For longer, harder treks, we also have a sturdy backpack-style carrier (an Osprey Poco AG Premium).



 

Being carried in a sling has always been Theo’s favourite place to snuggle for a nap, and this remains unchanged. When the world is buzzing around you, a sling offers the peace of a rhythmic heartbeat drowning out the chaos, the warmth of being held in a tight embrace, and the comforting smell of a caregiver.

 

I tend to carry Theo on my front facing me as I prefer that we are able to socially engage with eye contact, smiles, conversation and by pointing out elements of our surroundings to one another, but we do also back-carry and forward-face on occasion.

When he is not napping, being carried in a sling is still a time to connect with me, not just physically, but also by being engaged in social interaction that helps him figure out his changing environment.

 

If you choose to carry your child, remember to always follow the TICKS rules for safe babywearing.


Bed sharing

We have bed shared with Theo since birth, following safe co-sleeping recommendations.

Although it wasn’t our intention to bed share before he was born, it was clear that he was much happier being close to us, it was easier to soothe him through the pain of multiple allergies and silent reflux, and it has undoubtedly supported our breastfeeding journey.

When he was really little, we found using a Sleepyhead pillow in our bed gave us peace of mind and we were easily able to stuff it in a suitcase. Along with our stretchy wrap, it was one of our best buys for those early months! He outgrew this at about 6 months (around the same time you might ditch a Moses basket/bassinet) and since then he has just slept directly in our bed.

 

Whenever he decides that he’s ready to sleep on his own, there will be a room waiting for him, but for now, we all get a better night’s sleep when we’re cuddled up together so it works for our family.

It has also made travelling a lot easier, not to mention cheaper. There’s no need to lug a travel cot around, we avoid any potential excess baggage fees, and we can book cheaper accommodation with only one bed.

For Theo, it doesn’t matter where we’re sleeping or that he doesn’t recognise the room; he knows that I’m right next to him. If he wakes in the night, there’s no need to cry out for me, or sleepily wander unfamiliar corridors in search of us; he just reaches over for a cuddle.


All children are different and although the practices of breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing are wonderful for us and help Theo feel safe wherever we are, they may not be the right choice, or indeed a choice that is available, for every family. Follow your child.

Some children will find a lack of routine, an unexpected change in environment and periods of transition difficult regardless of how you try to comfort and reassure them.

If this is the case for your child, I recommend creating a storybook appropriate for the age and development of your child, and reading this frequently in the run up to your trip. Include pictures and simple words to depict your family packing your belongings, waving goodbye to your home, details of your journey and chosen method of transport, your destination and what you will do there, and when you will return. If possible, print images of wherever you’ll be staying so you can talk about the area and even the room they will be sleeping in, but make sure that whatever you include in the story, you are able to stick to!

I wish you happy travels with happy little ones!


Where can I buy the items mentioned in this post?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on Amazon. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information.

When choosing a baby carrier, I recommend finding a sling library near you so that you can try out different options and figure out what you find most comfortable and will work best for your needs.


I am a Clinical Psychologist and wrote this article from both a professional and personal perspective. I am, as always, happy to hear from readers so don’t hesitate to send me a message with any questions. However, if you have any concerns about your child(ren) with regards to anything mentioned in this article, please speak to your doctor.
This article was written for and first published by The Natural Parent Magazine
Reusable washable cloth nappies diapers nappy diaper. Collection of TotsBots EasyFit Star, Close Pop In, TotsBots Bamboozle and PeeNut Wrap, Baba+Boo Pocket Nappies and Milovia Pocket Nappies

10 Tips for using cloth nappies (diapers) while travelling

D

o you love your cloth nappies/diapers but feel yourself reaching for disposables whenever you’re away from home? Maybe you feel a pang of guilt about the extra landfill waste but don’t quite know how to manage reusable products when you’re away from your trusty washing machine…and how on earth do you get them dry???

I was adamant that we would not be ditching the fluff every time we went away, but everyone I spoke to seemed to think it was impossible to use cloth nappies away from home and advised that we may as well pack some disposables. Even Alex had his doubts.

But, guess what?! It’s just as easy as at home! Here are a few tips so that you too can carry on using your cloth nappies wherever you are in the world!

1

Work out how many nappies you’re going to need so you don’t waste valuable packing space. I like to wash mine every 2-3 days, I allow 1 day of drying time, and I take 1 day’s worth of spares (which has come in handy but I’m an ‘overpacker’ so you may not think this is necessary!), so I pack 4-5 days worth. Obviously your total number will vary depending on the age of your child (newborns need more than toddlers!). Don’t forget any extra inserts or boosters you use.

 

2

Similarly, work out how many cloth wipes you need using the same formula as above! We also use cloth wipes for sticky hands and faces at meal times and as make-up remover pads, so I also pack extra for these purposes.

 

3

Remember to pack liners. We use TotsBots fleece liners. They can be washed with the nappies and wipes, help keep your nappies stain-free, and ensure that your baby’s bum stays dry, thus preventing any itchy rashes. I pack one for each day-use nappy and two for each night-use nappy (we use TotsBots Bamboozles at night because of their excellent absorbency. However, because the whole nappy gets wet (unlike inserts), I like to use an extra liner to ensure the line around Theo’s waist also stays dry.

 

4

At home, you may use a bucket or pail to store dirty nappies (I use a TotsBots bucket and mesh liners), but on the road, you’re going to need wet bags! I love Planet Wise wet bags as they contain smells and hold in the moisture. I use the medium size for out and about, and the large size for storing at wherever we’re calling ‘home’. I find that taking two of each size is enough for longer trips. They’re all machine washable so I stick any used bags in with each load of nappies and wipes.

 

5

Choose nappies that are space efficient but will also meet all of your needs while you’re away. Your night nappies might be a bit bulkier, for example, but I consider this necessary bulk as I’d rather avoid changing pyjamas and bed sheets in the middle of the night!). It is also helpful to have some that dry quickly. Ultimately though, your nappy choices will probably depend on what you already own and what works best for your little one; they’re all different shapes and sizes so what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. We use a selection of the following: TotsBots EasyFit Stars, TotsBots Bamboozles with PeeNut Wraps, Milovia pocket nappies, Close Pop Ins, and Baba+Boo pocket nappies.

 

6

Don’t forget about detergent. If you have a preferred detergent that you want to bring with you, measure out how much you’ll need based on how many washes you’ll want to do. Of course, you can buy detergent while you’re away but be aware that if, for example, you prefer non-bio, this isn’t easy to buy everywhere, and likewise for powders vs. liquids. Ecological brands are also not readily available in supermarkets all over the world. We managed to take an open box of detergent as hand luggage all over North America. We were a little surprised given stringent airport security in the States, but no one seemed too bothered about our box of mysterious white powder!

 

7

Right, you’ve packed everything you need, but where are you going wash them?

We often choose to stay in an Airbnb (where you can enter ‘washer’ and ‘dryer’ as search filters) but have also stayed at hotels, motels, guesthouses and campsites/RV parks that have laundry facilities on site. These are typically coin operated machines that you can stick on and come back to later. I’ve been offered free wash cycles as a ‘thank you for using cloth’ at a number of campsites and motels!

Those that don’t have facilities for guests, may still allow you to use their housekeeping machines. Only at one hotel have they not allowed me to use their washing machines (but their housekeeping staff snuck a load on for me anyway when their manager wasn’t around!).

If there are no laundry facilities on site, there may be a local laundrette (we have used many!), or they can be hand-washed.

Of course, if you’re only away for a long weekend, there may not be any need to do any washing at all; just bring your nappies back dirty and do it at home.

 

8

What about drying them? The sun is your best friend when it comes to simultaneously drying nappies and removing any stains. If possible, get them outside. If this isn’t an option (or it’s not sunny), I’ve hung nappies on every hangable object in our room/apartment. It doesn’t make for the best decor, but needs must!

 

9

Don’t forget to pack a swim nappy or two! We love TotsBots swim nappies and find that having two is ideal for any length of trip. They can be added to your usual nappy wash or hand washed with swim wear, and they dry incredibly quickly. Perfect for the beach, pool, and any other water-based fun, you don’t need to use disposable swimming nappies while you’re away at all! We’ve left Theo is his ordinary cloth nappies when we have an impromptu swim in a waterfall, stream or fountain and have failed to pack swimming gear, but they do get a bit heavy, so I recommend carrying a swim nappy with you just in case!

 

1

0

Finally, if you don’t fancy washing and stuffing nappies on your break, remind yourself that the manufacturing of disposable nappies puts a huge strain on our planet and that a disposable nappy will sit in landfill for approximately 500 years. If this isn’t motivation enough, can your nappy-wearer help you? Theo loves helping me put wipes in piles and placing fleece liners in his nappies. It can easily be turned into a fun game with loads of opportunities for learning; naming colours and objects on the prints, counting, sorting, and stacking.

I hope these pointers have been helpful. I promise that using cloth nappies while travelling is no different to at home!


Where can I buy cloth nappies, wipes, wet bags and ecological detergent?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on Amazon. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information. However, I prefer to use independent ethical retailers. I always recommend www.babipur.co.uk as a great place to buy eco friendly toys, clothes, reusable nappies/diapers and sanitary products, slings, household items and toiletries. They are a trusted ethical retailer and you can rest assured that they’ve done their research into the best eco brands and products on the market; everything they stock is made from sustainable materials and the manufacturing processes are both socially and environmentally ethical. Their customer service is second to none and their online presence is friendly, personal and transparent. I have always received purchases in double quick time and everything arrives in recycled or reused packaging. Spend over £40 for free UK postage, and international postage is very reasonable. Top marks all round!

Plan Toys dino cars

Screen-free travel: Choosing eco-friendly toys to take on long journeys

D

o you have a long journey coming up but feel worried about keeping your little one entertained for the duration? Whether you’re travelling by car, plane, train or boat, the thought of a confined child for a prolonged period, attracting glances riddled with judgement and silent loathing from fellow travellers if your child so much as makes a peep, is enough to make many parents wonder whether the journey is even worth it. We started doing long journeys with Theo when he was 10 days old (this first journey was the 327 mile drive from the Lake District to London for Christmas, which took 7 hours with a newborn) and he’s been on 24 flights to date, countless multi-day-long car journeys, and several long boat and train trips. We choose not to use screens to entertain him, so have no child-friendly apps and he doesn’t watch any children’s tv or films. That’s not to say that he won’t enjoy an in-flight movie when he’s older, and certainly no judgement if you do use screens, do whatever works for your family, but, if you want to travel screen-free, let me reassure you that it is possible. I’ve compiled a list of our favourite toys to travel with, all of which have been invaluable not just during long journeys but also to stick in a bag for when we’re out and about. Of course, you don’t need all of these; consider the length of your trip, the length of your journey, the age and development of your child or children, and your luggage allowances. It’s also worth remembering that children will play with anything and will find ways to entertain themselves that us adults won’t have even considered. Theo will happily run up and down the plane aisles, read the in-flight magazine and play with the tray table or remote control, but it’s useful to have a few toys on hand too. These are just our personal favourites and all of them are sustainable and ethically made. 


1

Tegu magnetic blocks are a firm favourite, both with Theo and with Alex. For toddler and engineer, the possibilities are endless! We have an 8-piece and a 6-piece set, plus a set of 4 wheels. These are small and light enough to make them practical for travel, but diverse enough in terms of colour and shape to provide options for imaginative building projects. Theo is really into vehicles so the wheels are an essential component of our set and worth forking out the extra cash for. The sets come in convenient felt pouches so individual blocks don’t end up buried and hidden at the bottom of rucksacks. Their internal magnets, as well as providing Theo with a sense of magical wonder when they click together, also reduce the potential for loss, and make it easy for little hands to manipulate individual blocks to form structures limited only by the imagination. Great for creativity and fine motor control, these blocks have no minimum or maximum age limit.


2

The Grimm’s mini rainbow is a 6-piece wooden stacker, cut from a single piece of sustainable lime wood and naturally stained using non-toxic water-based colour. This allows the grain of the wood to show through the bright colours. A tiny and much cheaper version of the popular 12-piece rainbow tunnel and the larger 6-piece rainbow, the mini is a pocket-sized open-ended toy for all ages. ‘What is it?’ is a silly question posed only by adults. It’s a tunnel, a bridge, a car ramp, a boat, a rocking chair, a tower…it’s whatever your child wants it to be.


3

Our four Plan Toys dino cars have been taken on countless adventures! Plan Toys are made from beautiful, smooth rubberwood and come in dappled, appealing colours. These Dinos are the perfect size and shape for little hands to push up and down plane aisles, or along restaurant tables while waiting for your meal. Ours have also been out for competitive races along tree trunks and are taken to graze on park lawns. All Plan Toys products are made using either rubber trees that no longer produce latex, or Planwood, a material made by compressing the sawdust produced in the Plan Toys factory, ensuring that nothing goes to waste. The whole process is carbon-neutral and non-formaldehyde glue, organic colour pigments and water-based dyes are used to finish and construct the toys.



4

Also by Plan Toys, we love the nuts and bolts. I bought this for Theo while travelling. He had developed a determined fascination with our Klean Kanteen bottle tops, insisting on twisting the lids on and off himself, and these seemed the perfect solution to potential spills and toddler frustrations at the lid being too tight. Screwing and unscrewing the large pieces on the bolts allows him to practise this skill without getting soaking wet, and can be played with anywhere. They are also designed in a way to allow imaginative play. We’ve built people and flowers with ours, and Theo finds it hilarious to wear them as funny noses!



5

If your child likes threading toys, I highly recommend the Haba number threading dragon and the Bajo lacing fox. The dragon features ten chunky beech wood pieces, each numbered and painted with natural paint in rainbow colours, making it suitable for both younger travellers and those developing their counting skills. The fox, with smaller holes and two shoelaces to thread and tie, is more fiddly and therefore better for slightly older toddlers, preschoolers and primary-age children. Theo will concentrate on them both with such intensity and undivided attention, practising them until he’s mastered it. They’re both fabulous toys for developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor control.


6

Lanka Kade make beautiful chunky rubberwood puzzles that range from just two or three pieces to large numbered and alphabet sets. We are currently playing with the three-piece elephant and four-piece train, which are compact, lightweight and ideal for Theo at the moment. I have a ten-piece numbered gorilla stashed for the future (he currently only knows numbers 1 to 3 and wouldn’t be able to identify these in written form yet), which I’m looking forward to watching him play with and will still be small enough for travel. I feel very proud watching him turn the pieces over, trying different orientations and celebrating with a big grin when he figures it out.


7

We are big fans of Holztiger and Ostheimer wooden figures but, unless your child has one that’s a particular favourite, they are a bit too heavy to be practical for travel. We love Green Rubber Toys as a much lighter alternative. Their realistic animals are suitable from birth, made from durable natural rubber and non-toxic paints, and, with no holes to collect mould, they can also be used as bath toys.



8

If your child enjoys peg puzzles, I can recommend Hape puzzles. The boards are smaller than some other brands and can easily be slotted down the back of a rucksack. I store the pieces separately in a little drawstring bag, which Theo can access as and when he wants it. Puzzles like these don’t seem like the ideal travelling toy, but can be broken down to make storage easier. They are ideal for those practising their fine motor control and problem solving.



9

Plan Toys tins are great for older toddlers, preschoolers and primary age children. There are six different tins available; we have only tried the mini balancing cactus (here is the larger version). Theo loves trying to build the cactus by carefully slotting each piece into the last. It retains his focus and concentration, but the base moves easily on smooth surfaces so it can also be frustrating for him. It will topple less as he learns to apply his strength appropriately for different tasks, but for now knocking it down on purpose is a great game! In the coming months and years, I expect he will start to enjoy playing this as a game with other people: who can add or take away a piece without tumbling the rest?


1

0

ÖkoNorm do a full range of crayons, colour pencils, paints and modelling clay, all made with non-toxic, renewable materials. They even have vegan options as an alternative to their beeswax crayons. Colouring is a constant hit while travelling, and it’s a joy to see Theo be creative, explore mark-making and develop his pencil control. The clay does get in fingernails, so have some cloth wipes handy, but it’s a great artistic outlet that’s practical for confined spaces, and can be stored and reused.



1

1

I have gone back and forth on whether or not to include the Plan Toys first shape sorter on this list so I’ll pop it in here as a sneaky eleventh item. We like it, but we don’t love it. While it is a wonderfully compact toy that is great for developing skills in shape sorting and colour matching, it can also be quite frustrating.

The string that links the three coloured shapes together and connects them to the base, is too short in my opinion. It can be tricky for Theo to manipulate with ease and he finds it confusing that the string can block him from pushing the shape through, even when he has it in the correct orientation. Without the string, it would be like any other shape sorter and would be disastrous for travelling; I have visions of bruised individuals, angrily shouting that they’ve had a wooden cube chucked their way yet again. With the string, however, it is very restrictive, but has nonetheless helped Theo practise shape and colour identification.

 


So there is my list of our favourite eco-friendly toys to travel with. Of course, all children are different and you may have other tried and tested suggestions that work for your family. I’m always keen to hear new ideas so please feel free to add to this list by commenting. Books, stickers and snacks (lots of them!) also go down well here! If you’re new to travelling with young children, don’t let the thought scare you. People are generally very understanding that children cannot sit still in the same seat for hours at a time (nor can this adult!) and that, when travelling by plane, their ears will pop (I tend to breastfeed during takeoff and landing to minimise this). You will likely find that at least a few fellow passengers and airline staff want to help you entertain your child and will happily play peekaboo over the seats. You never know, even the most sleep-hating child may drift off to the hum of the engine, and if not, I hope you see something on here that you think your kids will enjoy!

 


Where can I buy these toys?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on www.amazon.co.uk. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information. However, I prefer to use independent ethical retailers. I always recommend www.babipur.co.uk as a great place to buy eco friendly toys, clothes, reusable nappies/diapers and sanitary products, slings, household items and toiletries. They are a trusted ethical retailer and you can rest assured that they’ve done their research into the best eco brands and products on the market; everything they stock is made from sustainable materials and the manufacturing processes are both socially and environmentally ethical. Their customer service is second to none and their online presence is friendly, personal and transparent. I have always received purchases in double quick time and everything arrives in recycled or reused packaging. Spend over £40 for free UK postage, and international postage is very reasonable. Top marks all round!