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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

A red and white train wooden reusable advent calendar with doors for each day.

A Green Christmas: Eco-Friendly Christmas ideas

Christmas is upon us already (how did that happen???). It seems like only yesterday I was writing the original version of this post, but a whole year has whizzed by. Now fully updated with new ideas for 2019, let me share a few of my family’s favourite eco-friendly Christmas tips to help you and your loved ones make it a green Christmas this year. 

Christmas is 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, sadly, a whole lot of over-indulgence! Let’s try to minimise the already huge impact of the holiday season on the planet by committing to less waste, less ‘stuff’ and more considered purchases.

Reusable advent calendars

Traditional chocolate calendars might be the easy option to just chuck in the trolley at the supermarket but they’re made of plastic, the chocolates often come individually wrapped in non-recyclable foil, and well, for reasons I won’t go into here, I don’t believe that supplying young children with chocolate every morning is the most productive way to countdown to Christmas or enjoy the festive period. I know, I know, bah Humbug! 

Before you go calling social services to report me for being a ‘mean mummy’, let me introduce you to the reusable advent calendar. Ours is a wooden train, with little doors for each day. Behind each one I place a little piece of paper with a Christmassy activity written on it for us to do that day. We spend the month of December doing all sorts of Christmas themed crafts, baking, outings and games, and it’s lovely. Of course, if you wanted to put chocolate behind each door, you could. 

I have also seen large wall-hanging style calendars with pockets, and little socks knitted and strung together by parents much craftier than me containing 24 books or small gifts. These ideas sound lovely too, but a nice activity for the day works well for us.

Eco-friendly Christmas game, Pin the Nose on Rudolph, could be part of your green Christmas
Pin the Nose on Rudolf! I include this simple family game in our advent calendar. It's sure to get laughs from everyone (even if they are just laughing at my Rudolf)!
A red and white train wooden reusable advent calendar with doors for each day.
A reusable advent calendar can kick start your eco-friendly Christmas on December 1st.

Eco-friendly 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!). In 2017, 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 and you can spread the cost out over the year. 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. Last year, I chose to tie my brown paper packages with green and red raffia and, since we’ve moved house and have ample brown paper used during the move, I will be doing the same 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! 

5

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.

Gifts wrapped in brown paper and tied with green and red raffia. Gift wrapping that can be recycled or composted.
Simple brown paper and raffia wrapping. Everything here can be recycled or composted, or saved and reused as wrapping or for craft activities.

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…

  • Why not donate the money you would ordinarily spend on cards and stamps to your favourite charity?
  • Or spend the money on a Christmas box for your local homeless shelter?
  • 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.

A homemade Christmas card and homemade decorations.
Last year's homemade Christmas card.

Zero-waste Christmas crackers

Homemade zero-waste Christmas crackers.
Last year's homemade crackers. Fun to make, fun for the family to pull and zero-waste.

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? My homemade Christmas crackers went down a treat last 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.

Sustainable gifts

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. Cherries are typically eaten at Christmas here so, in the run up to the big day, we have a family day out to a local ‘pick your own’ farm to buy all our Christmas cherries and berries. Not a typical Northern Hemisphere Christmas activity but one that we have enjoyed adopting!

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 food 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.

Eco-friendly Christmas tree

Once the tree is up, the whole house fills with the cosy smell of Christmas. This is a tough tradition to give up but, even though we were sourcing our tree from a sustainable tree farm, something about chopping down a tree just to have it sitting in my living room for a couple of weeks didn’t sit quite right with me. 

Nor do I want a plastic tree. Yes, they can be reused for many years, but I don’t want to contribute to the plastic economy and, call me snobby, but from an aesthetics perspective, I just don’t like them.  So, what to do about a tree? 

Alex has decided to take on the responsibility of making us a wooden tree from scrap timber that we can decorate, dismantle for storage and reuse for many years to come. Unknown to Theo, he will be getting a real tool set for his 4th birthday at the beginning of December, so he and Alex can bring this project to life together if he would like. I’ll be sure to post pictures of the finished product when it’s complete!

Homemade 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 had a great time in the run up to last Christmas getting creative, practicing his fine motor skills and building his hand muscles.

Eco-friendly Christmas decorations may include paper chains and salt dough.
Making your own decorations can be a fun activity for the kids to enjoy during Advent.
Two salt dough footprint Christmas decorations. One Rudolf footprint, one Christmas tree footprint.
Salt dough decorations can be put in the compost at the end of their life provided you use natural paint, making them ideal for a green Christmas. If the kids want to add anything else (like goggly eyes), just remove these first and put them back with your craft materials to be used again.

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.

Buttons stuck on green card and cut in the shape of a Christmas tree make a lovely eco-friendly Christmas decoration.
Unwanted household items like spare buttons can be repurposed into lovely eco-friendly Christmas decorations.

I hope you find these sustainable Christmas ideas helpful. Will your family be trying any of these this year? Do you have any other ideas to share? Let me know in the comments!

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!

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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

 

Landscape taken during a visit to Kakadu National Park with children

Visiting Kakadu National Park with children


Guest Post

Many thanks to Brian Gadsby from Gadsventure for writing such an informative post on visiting Kakadu National Park with children. All text and photographs supplied by Brian.


Nature Awaits

Kakadu is arguably Australia’s most famous National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Remember ‘Crocodile Dundee’ from the 1980s? Paul Hogan helped to open up Australia’s once flagging tourism industry by exposing the beauty and wilderness of Kakadu to the rest of the world. We were keen to experience it for ourselves, but is visiting Kakadu National Park with children possible?

We have lived our entire lives in Australia and only made it to Kakadu in our mid 30s, thanks mostly to its wonderful remoteness. It was during our 12-month trip around Australia with our three kids in our pop top camper that the highway loop took us towards the famous landmark with great anticipation and high hopes.

Kakadu is nature in its most untouched and incredible state. It is raw and majestic. It possesses an incredible sense of wonder and spirituality thanks to the indigenous history, intermingled with a feeling of awe for the beauty and the array of wildlife.

Camping here is getting back to nature and eco-tourism at its best!

 

Trip Planning

Kakadu National Park is accessed via Highway 1 and is about 170km (106 miles) or around 3 hours drive out of Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. The easiest way to get to there is by car from Darwin or Katherine and, unless you prefer to join a tour, you will need a vehicle to get around the park.

The absolute best, and I mean best way to see Kakadu is in your own 4-wheel drive car and camping at the various campgrounds around the park. This really allows you to immerse yourself in the magic of Kakadu.

IMG_9076 IMG_9076

 

You need about one week to experience everything and the road is a perfect loop route, which makes it easy to navigate.

Camping in National Parks is my favourite kind of holiday. You feel at one with nature as you get back to basics with campfire cooking and sleeping under the stars. Visiting Kakadu National Park with children is not only very manageable, but it is a fantastic place for the whole family to enjoy the scenery and the serenity. We took three young children aged 1, 3 and 5 and it was a perfect fun-filled family adventure.

 

When to go?

Although the entry fees are cheaper over the summer months between November to April, flooding does cause a number of attractions to be closed. The vivid green landscapes are yours to enjoy with fewer visitors though, and you have the chance to experience electrifying monsoonal afternoon storms.

Peak holiday season in Kakadu is May to October and the park is heaving with visitors. We visited in July and it was busy, but we were still able to find a spot to camp without booking ahead. If you planned to stay at hotel or resort accommodation, you would need to book well in advance for this period.

August to November is the best time to see large numbers of whopping great saltwater crocodiles; check with your ranger for details on what time of day the crocodiles will be the most accessible and when you are least likely to disturb them.

IMG_8961 IMG_8961

 

Of course, if possible, you may wish to consider what time of year your tourism will have the greatest negative impact on the environment. The world is becoming more aware of the effects of over-tourism and avoiding these periods should undoubtedly start to play a larger role in trip planning.

 

Where to Start

Your unique adventure begins in the town of Jabiru with a visit to the small supermarket to stock up on food, the National Park Headquarters and Bowali Visitor Centre.

Purchase your National Park Pass at the Visitor Centre to secure entry into everything the park has to offer. This entry fee of $40AUD per adult or $100 for a family of 4 includes guided ranger walks, talks and cultural activities. Pre-purchase your passes online here. There is no charge for Northern Territory residents, and the prices are reduced during Summer when some sections may be inaccessible due to monsoon rain events.

The Bowali visitor centre is a great place ask questions, plan your walks and activities, enjoy interactive exhibits, get your maps and information to equip you for the ultimate Kakadu experience. There is also a beautiful cafe and gallery on site. Your park entrance fees help with the maintenance and administration of the park and go towards assisting the traditional owners preserve its culture and heritage. There is another visitor centre and Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Yellow Water.

 

Where to Stay

The accommodation options range from remote bush camps, to peaceful managed campgrounds, all the way to 5-star luxury resort style lodging. For the family, we simply couldn’t beat the beautiful campgrounds. You can park your camper van or pitch your tent only footsteps away from stunning bush walks taking you to breathtaking waterfalls pitching into seemingly endless deep cool waterholes. Short and long walks abound and there are always opportunities to plunge into a refreshing stream along the way. On a 1 week trip to Kakadu we stayed in 3 different campgrounds, and enjoyed them all.

 

Dangers and Annoyances

As it is a wetlands area year round, visiting Kakadu National Park with children does require some forethought on staying safe.

There are more than a few mosquitoes, and they can be downright thick depending on the time of year. Please bring repellent, and cover up with clothing to avoid mosquito bites.

Be very wary of saltwater crocodiles and treat them with the utmost respect. They are fiercely territorial and as such, don’t go near the water’s edge or you are putting yourself at risk. Don’t let children touch or splash in water and obey all the warning signs regarding crocs; they are there for a reason! There are plenty of safe elevated platforms for secure crocodile watching.

Ensure to keep hydrated during any walks as it can get very humid, especially in Summer.

 

Things to See

Rock Art
IMG_9065 IMG_9065

 

Famous for the historically significant rock art throughout the park, visiting Kakadu National Park with children is a great opportunity for learning about historical art forms and Aboriginal culture. Easily accessible via wheelchair- and stroller/pram-friendly paths there are many opportunities to check out these impressive and well preserved examples of Aboriginal art that were painted on cave walls up to 20,000 years ago! These pictures show the symbiotic relationship that the Aboriginal people of the Bininj/Mungguy had with their country and the land. They are absolutely amazing and were enough to awe even the youngest kids!

Wildlife
DSC_1769 DSC_1769

 

Kakadu has been voted Australia’s number one birdwatching destination by Australian Geographic. It is home to a phenomenal one third of all Australia’s bird species. It is an absolute paradise for bird lovers and nature lovers alike.

Regardless of whether you’re visiting Kakadu National Park with children or not, I recommend downloading the Kakadu Birds app for iPhone here or on Android here. The app is a great educational tool to find out about 50 of the most popular bird species, hear their calls and discover the best places to find them. This app was so fun to use! We all enjoyed spotting the birds and then trying to identify them!

There are about 10,000 saltwater crocodiles in Kakadu! Some even over 5 meters long! Watch from the safety of a platform as they slide over the causeway at Cahill’s Crossing while fisherman dip their lines for barramundi just upstream.

Weave through hundreds of wallabies if you venture out after dark and spot the now elusive water buffalo if you are lucky.

The wildlife viewing opportunities here are exciting for all ages!

Forking out for a Yellow Water cruise is definitely worth it for an excellent up close wildlife viewing experience. Seeing those huge crocs gliding alongside your little boat as you chug along through the wetlands is absolutely fascinating. Colourful flowers floating on the clear reflective waters gives you a feeling of absolute tranquility. We were even lucky enough to come face to face with a water buffalo!

yellow-water-billabong-2417869_1280 yellow-water-billabong-2417869_1280

 

Crocodile Dundee was great for tourism here, but not so good for crocodile conservation. He was the guy that hunted and killed the huge creatures and then made himself hats and belts out of their hide. But what he, and the movie, did was create awareness of Kakadu worldwide which drove hundreds of thousands of international tourists to the region, which created the money and conservation that this World Heritage listed National Park needed to survive and prosper.

 

Highlights

Ubir

Home to incredibly fascinating rock art that you can get close to, Ubir is the place to climb to the top of the rock for the best sunset in Kakadu.

Nourlangie

Another site for epic Aboriginal rock art. Stroll around the well trodden paths at the base of the imposing Nourlangie Rock escarpment and take in the atmosphere of this breathtakingly spiritual place.

Gunlom

Camp at the base of the hill and hike up for a refreshing swim in nature’s infinity pool!

DSC_1777 DSC_1777
Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls

4-wheel drive enthusiasts will love the drive in to this impressive waterhole. You will need a snorkel on your vehicle to get all the way into Twin Falls but these are worth the long drive into Kakadu’s heartland.

Maguk

A beautiful walk to a wide pool with a gorgeous cascade at the top.

Cahill’s Crossing

This causeway crosses over to Arnhem Land, which is an untouched Indigenous homeland open only to the traditional owners. As the tide ebbs and flows, the giant crocodiles slide over the causeway delighting onlookers.

 

Get going!

Kakadu is on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its outstanding natural and cultural values. It is easy to see why. A trip to Kakadu is a step into another time and places you deep into the roots of ancient art and ways of life. The natural scenery is stunning and absolutely awe-inspiring. There is beauty every which way you turn, and short walks will lead you to the most rewarding vistas imaginable.

Visiting Kakadu National park with children is a wonderful way to get them into nature, and opportunities for play and learning are in abundance. Kids will love exploring the winding pathways and diving into the crystal cascades and waterholes. Leave the iPads behind and instead gaze at the ancient Aboriginal rock paintings as you try to decipher their meanings. Take them to educational ranger talks and go wildlife spotting. Camp under the stars with a campfire and get back to basics with minimal impact on your environment, remembering to leave only footprints.

It is the best experience!


Author Bio


The fun-loving family of six behind Gadsventure are out to travel the world and seek adventure in the four corners of the globe.  Fresh from a big year of travelling around Australia, they are ready to take on South East Asia and Europe next.  Kris, Brian, Jasper, Dash, Daisy and Mabel invite you to follow them on their international family gap year for 2019. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pintrest

Gadsventure Family Gadsventure Family

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
Nairobi-National-Park-mum-and-baby-white-rhino

6 things to do during a stopover in Nairobi

Do you have a stopover in Nairobi coming up? Don’t waste it sitting in the airport (trust me, there’s not much there!). Instead, go and enjoy the city with my top 6 things to do on a Transit VISA in Kenya’s capital! All these suggestions are family-friendly and fun for all ages.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is East Africa’s busiest airport, serving more than 7 million passengers annually. There are currently 5 commercial terminals, with direct connections to countries across Africa, Europe and Asia, and plans for an additional terminal to facilitate direct flights to North America.

You may very well find that your intercontinental flight has a stopover in Nairobi and you need to transfer, perhaps to another airline, to reach your final destination in Kenya or other African nations.

So, what do you do while you wait for your next flight? Instead of trying to keep the kids entertained in the airport, try one of these:

 

 

1

Nairobi National Park

 

Located a short drive from the airport, Nairobi National Park is one of the smallest in Africa but is known for having one of the highest concentrations of black rhinos, as well as other abundant wildlife (see zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, buffalo, hyenas, hippos, ostrich, baboons, vultures, crocodiles and various species of antelope).

 

 

This is my favourite thing to do whenever I have stopover in Nairobi! We have had some of our most memorable animal sightings here and observing them on wide open grass plains against the backdrop of city skyscrapers makes for a truly unique setting.

Explore the park in an open jeep with a park guide, who will always know the best spots to find wildlife and will take you off the beaten track in search of the encounters you are most hoping for.

 

The ivory burning site, one of the most important landmarks in conservation, is also located inside the park. Here, presidents Daniel arap Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta oversaw the burning of large stocks of seized ivory in 1989 and 2016 respectively. In 1989, 11 tonnes of ivory were burned, sending a powerful message to poachers. This act was widely credited with sparking a reduction in poaching in Kenya at a time when the elephant population across East Africa was being decimated. In 2016, 100 tonnes were burned, the equivalent of tusks from 6000 elephants!

 

2

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

 

Located within Nairobi National Park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is home to orphaned black rhinos and elephants, who socialise with wild herds in the park every day, but are raised here until it is safe to release them.

You can watch the animals being fed and observe as the elephants enjoy a mud bath, splashing and sliding about like a scene from ‘Dumbo’; keep your wits about you though incase one decides to aim a trunkful of mud your way!

While the elephants play, you’ll learn each of their individual stories and what brought them here. Most of these rescued young animals have either been abandoned by their herds, typically as a result of drought, or orphaned as a result of poaching. You’ll also hear from the keepers about the pioneering conservation work of the late David and Daphne Sheldrick, the wider work of the Trust and opportunities to foster one of the animals.

 

 

3

The Animal Orphanage

 

The Animal Orphanage houses a wide range of species including a number of big cats, hyenas, monkeys and a variety of birds. These animals have also been rescued with the aim of rehabilitating them and reintroducing them to the wild. The guides and keepers are incredibly knowledgeable and their positive relationships with the animals they care for is clear. You can learn about each animal while observing them at close range.

 

Of course, we would much rather see all these animals living in the wild, but their time both at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Animal Orphanage is typically only temporary and is with the best interests of the animal in mind.

 

 

4

The Giraffe Centre

 

Established to protect the endangered Rothschild’s Giraffe, this is a conservation success story. Habitat loss in western Kenya saw this subspecies of giraffe pushed to the brink of extinction. Today, numbers are up (although there is still a long way to go!) and the centre has successfully released breeding populations into a number of Kenya’s national parks.

At the centre, you can observe, hand-feed and interact with these curious and gentle giants; a wonderful experience for all ages!

 

5

A city tour

 

Nairobi is a bustling, cosmopolitan city that is in stark contrast to the natural beauty found in Kenya’s national parks, but it has much to offer beyond the sound of blaring car horns, the street sellers that tap at your car window to get your attention, the political propaganda that fills every available nook and cranny, and the churned up red dust that envelops the city.

It’s a city that’s so full of life, both during daylight hours and at night, and I find the contrast between the buzz of the city and the laid back nature of Nairobians utterly captivating. Unlike other economic hubs across the world (think London, Paris, New York, Beijing), people here aren’t always in a rush.

Depending on how long you have, the city can be explored by car or by foot, and you may wish to make stops at the following locations:

Kenyatta International Conference Centre: Take in a 360 degree view of Nairobi and its surrounding countryside from the 28th floor. On a clear day you can even spot Mount Kenya!

Kenyatta market: Probably not where you want to come to buy souvenirs and artwork, but a fun way to pass your stopover in Nairobi! A mélange of hair braiders, who try to entice you into their salon; tailors, who sit at sewing machines surrounded by vibrant patterned fabrics; cobblers, with displays of brightly coloured shoes that rival those sold in Marrakech’s souks; and food stalls that fill the air with the smokey scent of ‘nyama choma’ (barbecued meat). Meander your way through the market, passing by the second-hand sellers and soaking up joyful hubbub, and be sure to haggle respectfully.

Uhuru Park: Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Nairobi in this oasis of calm right next to the city centre. Take a pedalo out on the lake, walk around the various monuments, picnic in the shade, and watch skateboarders compete in competitions.

Karura Forest: An urban indigenous forest with plenty of family-friendly walking, running and biking trails, perfect for some light exercise and a breath of fresh air in between flights. Spend your stopover in Nairobi visiting waterfalls, bird watching, butterfly spotting or exploring caves.

Nairobi National Museum, Botanical Gardens and Snake Park: All in one location, this is a great way to spend a few hours. The museum brings to life Kenya’s rich heritage, and permanent collections showcase both cultural and natural history.

The botanical gardens will ensure some welcome fresh air before you board your flight; follow the nature trail through the gardens, showcasing the diversity of Kenya’s fauna, and past a number of art installations.

The Snake Park is particularly fun for younger travellers, who will be given the opportunity to hold one if they wish. Snakes and other reptiles are housed both in open air enclosures and behind glass. The Park is primarily a research facility but gives visitors an opportunity to view Kenya’s reptiles that are more elusive in the wild.

Nairobi Gallery: Built in 1913, this is a national monument located right in the city centre. Nicknamed the ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ building due to its historical use as a registry office, it now houses temporary art exhibitions.

Karen Blixen’s House and Museum: Visit the farmhouse and gardens where author, Karen Blixen, lived from 1914-1931, and made famous with the release of ‘Out of Africa, an Oscar-winning film based on Blixen’s autobiography of the same title.

Nairobi is energetic, colourful, unpretentious and will give you a wonderful glimpse at African urban life; it would be a shame to spend your stopover in Nairobi confined to the airport and miss out on all that the city has to offer!

 

6

Carnivore restaurant

 

Carnivore is a meat-eaters paradise (but there are loads of scrummy vegetarian options as well). Try Kenya’s most famous selection of ‘nyama choma’ in a fun, family-friendly, open-air restaurant.
Skewered on traditional Masai swords, food is grilled on a visually mesmerising charcoal pit, which dominates the entrance.

Start with the soup of the day and then enjoy the all you can eat main course until you surrender your flag! Waiters carve and serve everything from beef, chicken, lamb and pork, to ostrich, crocodile and camel, at your table. This is accompanied by a selection of salads, vegetable dishes and sauces (your waiter will tell you which sauce is intended for which meat, or you can opt for a lucky dip!).

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Children aged 5-12 eat for half price and there is also a playground in the adjoining Simba Saloon.

You won’t find much to eat at the airport so if you have a stopover in Nairobi, I suggest you eat here!


How do I organise my trip?

I highly recommend booking with Robert from Sojourn Safaris (you can find him on facebook @sojourn.safaris).

We have met Robert on four different occasions and every time has been a pleasure. He will discuss your options with you via email or WhatsApp and work out your ideal bespoke itinerary for your budget and the time that you have. He has always planned a hugely memorable stopover in Nairobi for us, both when we’ve only had a few hours to spare and when we’ve had a full day. He’s punctual, knowledgeable, and we’ve always felt like no request is too great.

His tours come with:
Pick up and drop off at the airport
Comfortable transport
Bottled water
Park guide and open safari car for trips into the National Park
Guides for all other attractions

Please note that the fees do not include tips. Tips should be given for good service, as you feel appropriate, but as a guideline, 1000-2000 Shillings (equivalent of roughly $10-20 USD) is considered typical and is what we have previously given to all guides, safari drivers, and Robert himself.


What else do I need to know?

Check your VISA requirements. If you need a VISA, you can get a transit VISA on arrival for $20 USD, which is valid for 72 hours. You can also get it online, but it is easy to do at the airport so it isn’t necessary to do it in advance.

Please be aware that Kenya is at risk of Yellow Fever so a vaccination is recommended if you plan to exit the airport (please speak with your doctor to confirm your requirements). Border control will let you into Kenya without having had the vaccination but, when you land in your next destination, they will require all passengers who have exited the airport in Kenya to show their Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate. If you don’t have it, you risk being refused entry or quarantined and vaccinated in the airport.

Ditch the plastic! In 2017, Kenya banned the use, sale and production of plastic bags, and ignoring these rules will leave you liable for hefty fines and even a prison sentence, so don’t keep any in your hand luggage! Well done Kenya on implementing the ‘world’s toughest plastic bag ban‘!

 

Have a wonderful stopover in Nairobi! It’s an inspiring city and I have no doubt that your brief time there will convince you to return!

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.

 

A vintage red tram takes tourists through the streets of Christchurch.

Discover post-quake Christchurch

“I get butterflies just thinking about it” a friend shares with me. Her eyes blink back the tears that threaten to escape, her face loses colour and she takes a deep breath to compose herself.

On the 4th September 2010, an earthquake with magnitude 7.1 struck New Zealand and was felt throughout the South Island and in the lower third of the North Island.

The epicentre was in Darfield, just 47km (29mi) from Christchurch, and caused widespread damage across the city. A state of emergency was declared and this, for the next few months at least, was referred to by locals as ‘the big one’.

Powerful aftershocks occurred repeatedly over the following years (the city continues to experience aftershocks now and has had 20,000 to date!), the most devastating of which hit on 22nd February 2011.

With its epicentre near Lyttelton, a suburb just 10km (6.2mi) to the southeast of the city centre, the 6.3 magnitude earthquake violently shook the ground beneath Christchurch. 185 people died, thousands more were injured, and a cloud of dust rose above the collapsed buildings of the Central Business District (CBD).

With the city centre reduced to a pile of rubble, Christchurch sadly found itself bumped from bucket lists – even locals admit they wanted to stay away – but 2018 is the time to visit!

The rebuild process is lengthy and is still very much underway. At first glance, Christchurch is still full of roadworks, shipping containers continue to be a prominent feature, and buildings in various states of demolition, repair or rebuild are numerous, but take a closer look and you will find somewhere very worthy of bucket list status.

 

The garden city


Nicknamed ‘the garden city’, Christchurch boasts over 740 parks and gardens, and is centred around Hagley Park. The park is a haven for runners, bikers and dog walkers, and is also home to Hagley Golf Club and used by sports clubs at the weekend.

On the east side of the park, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is the perfect venue for a quiet stroll, a picnic and even a run around in the sprinklers if the kids need to let off steam (there’s also a playground and paddling pool). It’s free to enter and is popular at lunch hour during the week among those escaping the office for some fresh air.  



The outdoors lifestyle in Christchurch isn’t limited to Hagley Park. Riccarton Bush is an opportunity to block out the city’s buzz and feel totally immersed in native bush including kahikatea trees of up to 600 years old. The smell of the forest and the sound of birdsong instantly transports you out of the city.

The Port Hills are worth exploring by foot or bike and offer impressive views over Pegasus Bay to the north and Lyttelton Harbour to the south. Mount Pleasant is the highest peak in the Port Hills at 499m (1,637ft).

 

On the other side of Lyttelton Harbour is Banks Peninsula, the most striking and prominent volcanic feature of the South Island. Mount Herbert is its highest point at 919m (3,015ft), but you don’t have to get to this altitude to experience the breathtaking landscape and views over Pegasus Bay and the Canterbury Bight.

The coast consists of coves, harbours and beaches, and the water is calm and waveless on the north side of the peninsular, making this a popular spot for kayaking, paddle boarding, kite surfing, sailing and jet skiing.

Hiking in this area reminds us of the Lake District in the U.K.; trodden paths meander through native bush, over pastures and along streams, with views over mountains, valleys and glistening blue water. The elevation is also similar; the highest point in the Lakes is Scarfell Pike at 978m (3,209ft).


Orton Bradley Park in Diamond Harbour is a great starting point for a number of beautiful hikes and bike trails. It’s a privately owned working farm so there is a small entrance fee and dogs aren’t allowed on the tracks (but they provide kennels). A small museum showcasing farm machinery through the ages, a playground and a lovely cafe make this a perfect family day out (I was really impressed that the cafe uses stainless steel straws so I didn’t need to request no straw!).

We recently did the hike up to Gully Falls, where we cooled off in the second of the two picturesque waterfalls. We went up on the Valley Track and joined the Waterfall Gully Track, and then looped round to descend on the Faulkner Memorial Track and the Magnificent Gully Track. This was a good half-day walk, which Theo managed easily.



Although not quite as impressive as the Southern Alps, the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula are excellent options if you have limited time to escape the city but still want to do some hiking or biking with photo-worthy views.

We are lucky to live beside Bottle Lake Forest Park, with its winding biking trails and walking paths that lead you through the pine trees, and Waimairi Beach, with its decent surf and views out towards New Brighton Pier and the Port Hills.

If you fancy surfing, Taylor’s Mistake has the best surf in Christchurch, along with Magnet Bay and Te Oka Bay on the south side of Banks Peninsula. New Brighton and Sumner beaches are also popular for both swimming and surfing (there’s a highly regarded surf school at Sumner, perfect for beginners of all ages), and there are countless coves and small beaches all along the coast.

 

The old city

The iconic Heritage Tram is one of Christchurch’s most famous attractions and a symbol of the city. The Tramway first opened in 1880 but was closed in 1954 following the expansion of the bus network (which, by the way, is extensive and reliable!). The city circuit was reopened to offer tourists guided tours in 1995 and has since grown to also offer restaurant trams. Following the earthquake, the tram was closed for repair but has long since been reopened and expanded into a longer network.

 

Riccarton House and Bush is a 12 hectare heritage site containing two historic buildings, parkland, attractive gardens and native bush. Deans Cottage, built in 1843 for pioneering Scottish brothers, William and John Deans, is the oldest building on the Canterbury Plains. Jane Deans, wife of then deceased John Deans, and her son moved into Riccarton House in 1856 following the first stage of completion. Additions were made in 1874 and 1900. The beautiful Victorian/Edwardian building has been fully restored and furnished in appropriate period decor. The gardens, Cottage and Bush are free to explore at your leisure but Riccarton House can only be viewed either by enjoying a meal in the restaurant or on a guided tour of the whole property.

 

The Canterbury Museum, situated next to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, is the best preserved example of Christchurch’s pre-earthquake architecture, and is certainly worth visiting. Thankfully, the neo-gothic 1880s building sustained only minor damage in the earthquake and an estimated 95% of its collections were unharmed.

With 16 rooms dedicated to permanent exhibitions featuring everything from early settlers and their hunting of the now extinct giant Moa birds to dinosaurs, birds, decorative arts and costume, the Antarctic, and Victorian era furniture, there really is something for everyone.

Temporary exhibitions are located in three rooms. I recently went to see the ‘50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic’ exhibition, which is on display until 25th February 2018. An inspirational collection of work (particularly for an aspiring NatGeo photographer like myself!) and a fascinating opportunity to learn about each photograph from the words of the photojournalist who captured it. Included are both iconic and never-seen-before works by celebrated photographers such as Steve McCurry, Nick Nichols, Paul Nicklen and Gerd Ludwig.

Also on display until 1st April 2018 is the Bristlecone Project exhibition: a collection of black and white portraits and stories of 24 male survivors of sexual abuse. As a Clinical Psychologist, particularly since I work predominantly with trauma, this was of obvious interest to me.

The stories may ignite feelings of shock, sadness, and rage in visitors, but they are so important. The personal anecdotes are bravely shared honestly and openly so that others suffering similar trauma may know that they are not alone, that their voice can be heard and that they deserve to escape the hold of their suffering. They offer a message of hope and celebrate the resilience of these men and many others who have suffered similarly.

There is also a large children’s room suitable for all ages. Learn through play, discovery and sensory exploration in this fun-filled educational room.

All exhibits are free to enter, with a suggested total donation of $5. There is a $2 charge for the children’s discovery room.

The Christchurch Cathedral, built between 1864 and 1904, survived the 2010 earthquake but was not so fortunate in 2011. Prior to the earthquake, the impressive building was the heart of the CBD and the focal point of Cathedral Square. After much deliberation over whether to rebuild, demolish entirely or preserve the remains as they are, it has recently been decided that the cathedral will be rebuilt.

The fate of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, also known as the Christchurch Basilica, is as yet undecided. The two bell towers collapsed during the 2011 earthquake, also bringing down much of the front façade, and the dome was badly dislodged and cracked. Sadly, the entire rear of the building had to be demolished. Great efforts were made during the clean-up to recover all significant artefacts and put them into storage. Both the dome and bells were safely removed and stored prior to demolition.

Along with the Canterbury Museum, the Christchurch Arts Centre is a beautiful example of neo-gothic architecture. The listed buildings were badly damaged in the earthquake but you wouldn’t guess it to look at them now. Repaired and reopened in 2016, the Arts Centre is once again home to a weekend market, shops, businesses and many of the city’s festivals and special occasions.

 

The modern city

The Arts Centre should not be confused with the Christchurch Art Gallery. This modern building, opened in 2003, has a large sculpture in the forecourt and houses both a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of both international and Kiwi artists. The sculpture, ‘Reason for Voyaging’, is the result of a collaboration between sculptor, Graham Bennett, and architect, David Cole. It’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and the bookshop is also worth exploring, particularly for their children’s section.

 

Quake City is Christchurch’s newest museum. Dedicated to the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the exhibits bring them to life for anyone who wasn’t here at the time.

I must admit, the CCTV footage filmed in the CBD as the 2011 earthquake struck, along with video interviews with some local residents each telling their story of that day made me quite teary. I gave Theo several big hugs as we walked around!

The exhibition is an informative and interactive experience showcasing recovered artefacts, including the cathedral’s spire and the basilica’s bell, and information is displayed in photographs, videos, and touch-screen learning points as well as witten details that appeal to both adults and children.

Learn about how and why earthquakes happen, the impact on Christchurch both under- and over-ground, and the individuals involved in the rescue and rebuild operations. The exhibition even features a lego station so that children (and adults!) can have a go at rebuilding the city.

The CBD, to the east of Hagley Park, has changed and flourished even in the short time we have been here.

New offices, bars, cafes, and shops are popping up all over the city, and gradually the gaps where buildings collapsed or have been demolished are being filled.

 

The Re:START Container Mall, set up following the earthquake to house shops and restaurants, and to restore life to the city centre, has just closed last week as businesses have moved to permanent residences.

The new lanes around Cashel Street are now full of designer chains and independent shops, whereas high street brands and department stores are mostly found on the main roads. The shops here are, as you would expect in a city centre, generally quite expensive. Papanui Road is also good for independent retailers but equally pricey!

Large malls can be found everywhere! Why a small city with a relatively tiny population needs so many malls is beyond me, but since Amazon doesn’t exist here and online shopping isn’t as popular as it is in the U.K. and the U.S., people do still shop in store and the malls continue to be hubs for each district. They house not just a full range of retailers, but also supermarkets, large food courts, indoor playgrounds, cinemas and salons.

Christchurch has a number of markets, both farmers’ markets and artisan markets. The largest is Riccarton Market, held at the Riccarton Park Racecource every Sunday. This has a car boot/garage sale feel to it but there are some stalls selling high quality, locally made goods, and if you’re willing to search through the tat, there are certainly bargains to be had. Get everything from fresh produce, to clothes, jewellery, homeware, books and more. I recently bought some locally made and totally eco-friendly shampoo bars that I’m really pleased with. Live music entertainment and a bouncy castle make this a fun family morning.

The Christchurch Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday at Riccarton House and Bush. Buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and baked goods, and locally made jams, chutneys and juices. The selection and quality is far superior to that found in supermarkets, not to mention cheaper, and it’s a pleasure to support local farmers!

 

Christchurch has a great food scene and new restaurants, bars and cafes are continually opening, and those that have been making do using containers or other temporary residences are moving into new buildings. For a country so isolated from the rest of the world, we have been really pleased to discover that the range of cuisine on offer is diverse and authentic.

The city feels full of life and there is an air of excitement among the locals as their city is gradually restored to its former glory.

 

What’s on for kids?

There are 289 City Council owned playgrounds in Christchurch, and this of course doesn’t include those in shopping centres, schools (unlike in the U.K., school playgrounds are accessible for anyone out of school hours), cafes and other private land accessible to the public, so one is never far away! The most impressive of these is the Margaret Mahy Family Playground in the CBD (corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets), which opened in 2015 and is the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere.

Although I’m not a fan of zoos, I gave the staff at Orana Wildlife Park a pretty good grilling on where their animals have come from. They assured me that they they do not accept animals from the wild (although the chain if you keep following it back isn’t always traceable), and that animals here have typically been born in captivity, either here or at other zoos, and therefore cannot be released. They do a lot of work on conservation and I was pleased to see that the animals all live in large enclosures (this obviously doesn’t compare to the wild but, if an animal has to live in captivity to ensure its survival, it seems like Orana Wildlife Park would be a nice place to live).

Theo was able to feed the giraffes himself, which he loved, and watch the lions and rhinos being fed.

 

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is more like a petting zoo, and you can purchase both animal and bird feed at reception. Farm animals and wallabies are eager to be fed and extremely tolerant of being petted, and visitors can see a number of native birds, including Kiwis, in the large bird section.


Fruit picking is a fun day out for the whole family. We enjoy Tram Road Fruit Farm, a family run orchard where you can pick (depending on the season) raspberries, blueberries, strawberries,  cherries, plums, greengages and nectarines. The fruit is absolutely delicious (the best cherries I’ve ever had!) and much cheaper than the supermarket.


Enjoy a relaxing tour of the city and Botanic Gardens along the Avon. Punters dressed in Edwardian attire skillfully glide tourists past leafy banks in handcrafted boats. This is a family sightseeing trip that the kids won’t want to end!

I also recommend keeping an eye out for events that are on during the time of your visit. We’ve discovered amateur theatre productions, pantomimes, parades and music festivals all geared at children. It seems that there’s always something fun going on!

 

Exploring Canterbury

As you drive out of the city, the Canterbury Plains eventually give way to the imposing and rugged Southern Alps. Canterbury is stunning and offers unrivalled opportunities for hiking, biking, skiing and climbing, all within an easy drive from the city. Christchurch is one of the world’s only locations where it is possible to ski and surf in the same day!

To explore north west Canterbury, Hanmer Springs is a good base. There are lots of options for accommodation and food, and loads to do whether it’s rain or shine. We really enjoyed camping at Hanmer Springs Forest Camp (there are rooms and RV sites as well as tent sites). They have a large playground, loads of space for kids to ride bikes, and several walking and biking trails that go directly from the campsite and are of good lengths for families.

 

If you’re game for something a bit lengthier, hiking up to the impressive 41m Dog Stream Waterfall is local and well signed, but gets you off the busier trails. Take Waterfall Track up through the twisted beech forest, where no tree grows in a straight line. Lichen gives the forest an erie silvery appearance, like a dusty attic.

 

With an ascent of roughly 300m, there are a few steep sections, but Theo bounded up the track and delighted in scrambling over rocks on the approach to the waterfall. Descend via Spur Track for views over the valley and a slightly longer walk. The final descent can be taken through a commercial forestry ground and is steep in places, so watch your footing!

 

From Hanmer Springs, you can also explore Lewis Pass. Although others disagree, I think Lewis Pass rivals Arthur’s Pass in terms of a scenic drive!

The Lewis Tops is a great 8-10km (5-6.2mi) walk, depending on how many of the tops you want to do! The track initially follows the curve of the road but after about 15 minutes the hum of passing cars is replaced by intermittent bird song and the welcome silence of wilderness. Theo enjoyed hopping over streams and running up the steep sections. At 400m above the road, the path suddenly emerges from the bush and the rolling ridge of the tops becomes visible. Follow the path marked with poles to see the valley from all angles. It’s a further 280m climb to the summit and if you’re feeling adventurous and have come prepared, you can camp on the tarns but this will at least double the length of your walk from the car park to bushline.

 

Central Canterbury is all about Arthur’s Pass. The mountains here are more rugged than Lewis Pass and the bush doesn’t start at the roadside, but, with the exception of winter when white fills the landscape, the colours are incredible. It’s all four seasons painted on to one canvas. Pick any one of the walks along the route and you’ll be in for a treat.

 

The Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall track is one of the most popular walks along Arthur’s Pass, with good reason. The Otira Valley track is particularly beautiful in Spring and Summer when alpine flowers are in bloom but the surrounding peaks remain dusted in snow. Both these tracks are easily accessible from Christchurch and ideal for families.

En route to Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch, you will pass Castle Hill, a collection of limestone formations, reminiscent of Henry Moore’s semi-abstract sculptures. The area is rich in Maori history and is popular with climbers. If free climbing isn’t your thing, fear not, there’s a path that will take you round the impressive rocks.

 

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the highlight of south east Canterbury for many, along with the clear blue waters of Lake Tekapo. With 19 peaks over 3000m in the National Park alone, including the continent’s highest mountain, hikers and skiers are spoiled for choice. Glaciers, including New Zealand’s largest glacier, Tasman Glacier, cover 40% of the park and ensure a thrilling skiing experience.

Also in this region is Mount Sunday, perhaps better known as Edoras to any Lord of the Rings fans. This a wonderful short hike through tussock grassland with views over the expansive countryside from the summit. It can get windy (but if you’ve been in Christchurch, you’ll likely be used to this by now!)

 

The still blue water of Lake Tekapo, reflecting the mountains that frame it as clearly as a mirror, is a photographer’s paradise, but for the road less travelled (and photographed), head to Lake Alexandrina or Lake Pukaki.

With little to no light pollution, the skies over this area, known as the Mackenzie region, are recognised as one of the world’s best stargazing spots and has been named the International Dark Sky Reserve.

 

An afterthought

Before our arrival here, we were told a number of times that Christchurch was ‘the most British’ of New Zealand’s cities. For any Brits reading, clearly these people had never been to the U.K.! It’s not at all British! The culture is probably most comparable to Canadian (in our opinion – I’m sure Canadians would probably disagree!). Whether this is something that’s changed post-earthquake, I’m not sure.

 

What next?

The lives of Christchurch’s residents may have changed; loved ones have been lost, kitchen cupboards are now permanently stocked with emergency supplies just in case, valuable possessions are secured to their surface, and it’s not advised to sleep naked in case you find yourself unexpectedly out in the open, but the city has come together to ensure it remains the vibrant hub of the South Island and the door to all that Canterbury has to offer.

So, put Christchurch on your bucket list for 2018 (and come say hi!) before everyone else catches on!