Discover ten educational theories, their varied approaches to curriculum and what each education philosophy has to offer. Montessori vs Waldorf vs Charlotte Mason vs Unschooling and more.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!).
Make the wrapping part of the gift. Scarves, cotton to turn into beeswax wraps, tea towels, clothes or socks, muslins, sandwich bags…the possibilities are endless, and what fun having a present in a present!
When it comes to gift tags, you can incorporate this into your natural or homemade decoration. Write directly on to the salt dough or on to fallen leaves collected from the garden, or by stitching a name into your knitted decoration. You could also cut tags out of brown paper, or, if you get sent Christmas cards, before you throw them away at the end of the Christmas period, cut sections out of them to save for next year’s gift tags. Instead of sticky tape, try using recyclable paper tape, string or raffia.
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:
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?!).
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.
Send a traditional letter, nothing but pen and paper that can easily be recycled once it has been read.
Zero-waste Christmas crackers
A beloved tradition for many, but, like party bags for birthdays, they are wasteful, full of plastic tat that gets swept straight into the bin, and the card used to make them can’t be recycled thanks to plastic laminate and plastic decorations such as glitter and bows. So, what are the alternatives? 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.
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:
Give an experience: days out, event tickets, restaurant vouchers, lessons in something the individual has been wanting to try.
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!).
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?
Give an online gift: an online course, a kindle book, an e-book.
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
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!
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.
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.
Paper chains. Simple, effective and easily composted or recycled. They can be jazzed up with compostable crayons or paints.
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.
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.
Nature’s treasures. Pine cones, cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, and twigs crafted into snowflakes and stars all make for beautiful, rustic-looking decorations.
Bits and pieces from around the house that may otherwise be destined for landfill. This year we’ve used a stash of old buttons to make Christmas trees. You could use bottle tops, soda can rings, pieces of ribbon, jar lids; whatever you have lying around unused has the potential to be upcycled into a festive decoration.
I hope you find these 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!
New Zealand’s version of English (both spoken and written) can be a weird and confusing mix of British English, American English and home-grown ‘Kiwi English’, with a good dose of Te Reo Māori (New Zealand’s official language) thrown in as well. Deciphering the slang and the two-language melting pot can be puzzling (though much of Kiwi slang is shared with Australian, British and Irish slang).
I’ve also written A beginners guide to Te Reo Māori, with pronunciation and commonly used words. The two posts tell you everything you need to know to get started conversing with Kiwis!
No, there is no noun missing to complete this simile. I spent the first few months of our time here waiting on the rest of the sentence and finding it unbearably irritating that no one finished their comparison. Honey? Sugar? Sweet as what?!?!
It will be ok
Don’t ask me who ‘she’ is. I can only assume the cat’s mother. This phrase pretty much sums up the Kiwi approach to life, work and, well, everything. Laid back to the core, nothing here happens in a hurry or with stress. Business deadlines are frequently ignored, even in the cities there’s no rush on the streets, and when things go wrong, instead of frantic problem solving and hurried attempts to fix mishaps, you’ll instead hear the collective mumble of “she’ll be right”.
This isn’t an indecisive split second change of mine. The ‘yeah’ is totally redundant and unnecessary. Kiwis just like to add an extra syllable in sometimes. Speaking of which…
Used at the end of a sentence, sometimes to turn it into a question (but usually a rhetorical one that requires no answer), sometimes to add emphasis, sometimes to give or request confirmation for a statement. My theory is that it comes from the Te Reo Māori word for ‘yes’ (‘ae’). More often than not, it’s used for no reason at all. Like I said, just an extra syllable to fill a bit of silence.
Both women’s costumes/bikinis and men’s trunks.
Not that everyone uses them, mind; you’ll see many a Kiwi, adults as much as kids, walking around barefoot, and not just at the beach!
Wellington boots (wellies)
Convenience store / newsagents / corner shop
Hike / Hiking
How are you?
This is used more as a greeting and doesn’t require a response about how you are (I made that mistake a few times when we first arrived, politely responding with “I’m well, thank you. How are you?” only to be met with confused expressions).
Pronounced like ‘veggies’ and ‘veg’, but spelled differently.
Can be used to refer to a person, animal or inanimate object (car, phone, etc).
Drunk / broken beyond repair
Payment by card
Short for Electronic Fund Transfer at Point of Sale. You’ll then get options for paying from by cheque, savings or credit. Which brings me to my next point…
Current / debit account
Sweet / candy
Refers to all sweets / candies, not just the ones on a stick! A lolly shop is a sweet / candy shop.
Ice lolly / popsicle
Kindergarten / nursery school / preschool
It refers to all schools for under 5s, not a particular chain. (Playcentre is different – it’s not considered a Kindy, as the philosophy, financing and level of parental involvement is wildly different to other early years education providers.)
In the middle of nowhere
This one will likely be known to Brits and Irish, but it may be new to those not so familiar with Scottish slang.
Again, familiar to the Brits and Irish, but perhaps not to others.
This one will be familiar to the Americans. As in American English, ‘pants’ refers to ‘trousers’ and underwear is ‘undies’ not ‘pants’. ‘Trousers’ is only used to refer to old-man-style trousers.
With two British parents, Theo has learnt that his underwear are pants and his trousers are trousers, but this has admittedly caused some confusion when others have commented on his ‘nice pants’!
Crisps or fries / french fries
Just to confuse you, again not the Americans, Kiwis call both crisps and fries ‘chips’. The former are often ‘potato chips’ to help distinguish the two (as if that really helps…they’re all potatoes!) but they do also use ‘crisps’, and the latter can be ‘hot chips’.
Weirdly, as you can see above, Kiwi’s have picked the American word for some things and the British word for others, but they typically (but not always!) spell like Brits (there’s a ‘u’ in colour and neighbour, for example).
Be aware that Kiwis use the British words ‘nappy’ not ‘diaper’, ‘flat’ not ‘apartment’, ‘rubbish’ not ‘trash’, ‘dustbin lorry’ not ‘garbage truck’, ‘petrol’ not ‘gas’, ‘fire engine’ not ‘fire truck’, ‘post code’ not ‘zip code’.
Your head hurting yet?
If the Kiwi slang wasn’t enough to get your head round, Te Reo Māori is very present in everyday language. You’ll notice it instantly in place names and the names of native birds and plants, but certain words and phrases are also used interchangeably with English by all New Zealanders.
You’ll want to familiarise yourself with the basics before a trip to New Zealand! Check out this post for A beginners guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words.
Te Reo Māori is New Zealand’s official language, although in practice it’s secondary to English and few non-Māori New Zealanders speak it fluently. The country is a bi-cultural society and Te Reo words are often used interchangeably with English in everyday language by everyone. This beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words will arm you with all the basics.
I’ve also written A guide to Kiwi slang on the home-grown ‘Kiwi English’, a local mishmash of British English, American English, Kiwi slang and Te Reo. The two posts tell you everything you need to know to get started conversing with Kiwis!
A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori - pronunciation
Te Reo Māori has 15 distinct sounds, including 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u), 8 consonants (h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w) and 2 digraphs (two letters that combine to form one sound; ng, wh).
The vowels can be a short sound or a long sound and they can also be combined (into diphthongs). A long sound is denoted with a macron (a line above the letter). You have to be careful to get this right as the length of the vowel can change the meaning of the word.
The consonants not listed below are pronounced the same as in English.
(as in aloud)
(as in are)
(as in eye, said with a rising intonation)
(said with a falling intonation)
(as in crowd)
(as in ‘oh dear’)
(as in entry)
(as in there)
(said with a rising intonation on the ‘oh’)
(said with a falling intonation on the ‘oh’)
(as in eat)
(as in three)
Pronounced like the ng in ‘singer’.
(as in ordinary)
(as in pork)
(as in oil)
Pronounced as a rolled r, which can sound a bit like a d. For example Kauri sounds very like Cody and is a popular boys name, as well as the name of a large indigenous tree.
At the beginning of a word, it sounds like a normal English ‘t’ sound but after vowels it’s much softer. After ‘a’, ‘e’ or ‘o’ it has no sibilant emphasis, almost like a ‘d’, and after ‘i’ and ‘u’ it only has a slight sibilant sound (tip: just bring your tongue further back on the roof of your mouth further from your teeth).
(as in two)
(as in loot)
(as in forest)
A beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori - words and phrases
Tip: When reading Te Reo, break the word into each syllable ending after every vowel (or diphthong).
Literally ‘land of the long white cloud’.
Note that the Māori definition of family may be more extended than you are accustomed to; it may include anyone of importance including non-blood relatives, close friends and neighbours. Pronounced ‘faar-noh’.
Traditional style of Māori cooking in an earth oven
Large native tree species
One of the largest and longest-living trees in the world. Pronounced ‘ko-rrree’ with a rolled ‘r’.
I hope this guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words is of use during your time in New Zealand.
This may not be the only hurdle you encounter while conversing with Kiwis though! Some of the slang is just as puzzling if you’re unfamiliar with it, so check out A guide to Kiwi slang before a trip to New Zealand.
When we’re travelling for extended periods, I tend to pack a picnic lunch for us most days (eating out every day gets expensive but we don’t want to have to come back to wherever we’re staying to prepare lunch, so taking food to have while out makes sense).
Likewise when we’re hiking or likely to be far from amenities for a good portion of the day, I always come prepared with plenty of food and drink (it’s one of my top tips for hiking with children; check out this post for my other suggestions).
So what do I store everything in to make sure it stays fresh, the right temperature, and doesn’t leak everywhere?
These are my zero waste food storage essentials. I would recommend them to anyone, not just families, looking to move towards a less wasteful, less plastic-filled lifestyle.
We use these every single day, not just when packing for picnics. Theo’s snack bags get filled with everything from rice/corn cakes, to nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables, and homemade sweet and savoury treats. These are a great zero waste food storage solution for any age (I use them for my snacks too!) that remove any need to use cling film or plastic sandwich bags.
We love Planet Wise; made to last (ours are still going strong with no wear and tear after more than 2 years of daily use), no leaks, the perfect size, and they come in a lovely range of patterns. I wash them at the end of the day in the kitchen sink, but they can also be put in the washing machine if you prefer.
My go-to picnic lunch for us all are sandwiches; energy-boosting, tummy-filling, easy to prepare in travel accommodation, and can be packed full of goodness. Sandwich wraps are therefore a staple when it comes to packing for picnics.
A piece of cloth with an easy wipe-clean lining, they fold around your sandwich and seal with Velcro, keeping it fresh and secure. When unwrapped, they act as perfect plate.
We use two brands: Keep Leaf and Planet Wise. Keep Leaf are circular and more flexible, which equates to more forgiving when trying to pack thick sandwiches (or two on top of each other), whereas Planet Wise are square and less prone to staining; pick your priorities!
Both are great for zero waste food storage either at home for work lunches, or while travelling and out and about, it’s really a matter of personal preference.
The Planet Wise tint range has the added bonus of forgoing the cloth lining, meaning both sides can be wiped dry after cleaning. While not as pretty as the cloth patterns, this has proved very useful when camping or when we have limited time or ability to hang items to dry.
Insulated stainless steel bottle
If you don’t currently carry a reusable bottle, where have you been??? Stop buying disposable plastic bottles and invest in a good quality reusable one. My preference for material is stainless steel, and I particularly love Klean Kanteen’s vacuum insulated versions.
For me, it’s all about keeping my water cold, but they’re just as effective at keeping hot drinks hot if that’s what you’re after. Many coffee shops and smoothie bars even do discounts if you provide your own bottle or cup so it’s worth asking! When I’m packing for picnics, particularly if the excursion involves some strenuous exercise and the weather is warm, cold water is essential and I can rely on our insulated Klean Kanteen bottles to keep us refreshed and rehydrated all day.
Stainless steel canisters
Maybe sandwiches aren’t your thing and you’d rather have salad, soup or yesterday’s leftovers. As plastic Tupperware is prone to leaking and breakages (even the expensive stuff!), it’s far from ideal when packing for picnics and doesn’t make the cut for zero waste food storage! Stainless steel canisters are a great alternative and if you opt for the vacuum insulated ones, you can even enjoy a hot meal followed by still-frozen ice cream!
Like their bottles, Klean Kanteen’s range is reliably leak-proof, made to last, and consistent with marketing promises regarding the length of time food will remain hot or cold.
I am not suggesting you throw out all your plastic Tupperware to replace it with these (or glass alternatives to keep in the freezer). Keep using what you have until it’s not longer fit for purpose, but instead of buying more plastic ones when you do need to replace them, you might like to consider these instead.
So, where do you put all your sandwiches, snacks and hot food once they’ve been prepared and stored?
You could of course just stuff it all in your day bag (and when we’re only taking out snack bags, this is exactly what i do) but when I’m packing for picnics, I prefer to store all the food together so I know where it is, nothing gets squashed at the bottom of my rucksack and I have somewhere to put all the empty wraps (and leftover crumbs that would otherwise be destined to spend eternity squished into the seams of my bag) once we’ve eaten.
Although the idea of them is romantic and incredibly quaint, let’s face it, picnic hampers aren’t all that practical! Unless you fancy lugging your woven wicker basket up mountains or even just to the office every day, you may want to invest in a lunch bag.
The size you opt for will depend on your meal preferences; for us, we have a small, box-shaped one with a zip lid that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s big enough for about 5 sandwiches plus fruit and a snack for each of us. This works for us (for now…we’ll likely need something bigger as the boys get older!), but there are lots of ethical brands out there making lunch bags in all shapes and sizes and in a range of sustainable materials. Fresk and Fluf are two brands with great ethics that are worth checking out to see if any in their ranges would suit you.
Stainless steel straws
I always have some reusable straws in my bag, not just when I’m packing for picnics, so I’m always prepared to decline any plastic ones. We like stainless steel ones as they’re incredibly durable and easy to clean.
We have tried two brands: U-Konserve and Klean Kanteen. My slight preference is for the U-Konserve ones simply because they’re straight and only made from steel, but Theo likes the Klean Kanteen ones as they have a colourful silicone bendy tip which detaches from the metal straw.
If you don’t like metal in your mouth or you want to allocate a different colour to each member of the family, Klean Kanteen are the ones for you. I also imagine that the soft, curved tip would be better for some people with disabilities. Personally, I don’t like the silicone tips; they’re unnecessary dust magnets whether they live in my bag or in the kitchen draw.
Klean Kanteen straws come in a pack of four with a little brush for cleaning but I find it gets stuck very easily and is more hassle than it’s worth. The U-Konserve straws can be purchased in a two-pack or as a single with a brush (we don’t have a U-Konserve brush so I can’t comment on this).
The final zero waste food storage essential on my list for packing for picnics are beeswax wraps. Eliminate the need for cling film by getting (or making) some of these wraps in a range of sizes.
There are a growing number of brands on the market and I’m sure they are tough to differentiate. We have tried Abeego and Honeywrap and love them both.
Our Abeego wraps have been heavily used for about 2 years and are still going strong. The Honeywraps, which we’ve only had for about a year, seem a bit more durable so I expect to last for even longer.
We use the extra large ones to keep bread fresh, the large for covering plates or wrapping sandwiches, and the medium and small are ideal sizes for chopped fruit and veg (perfect for corn on the cob, which is one of Theo’s favourites!) and covering bowls.
They’re a great addition to your kitchen cupboard and your travelling kitchen kit, but consider what you’ll use them for. They’re certainly not as long lasting as the sandwich wraps so if this is all you envisage using them for, your money is probably better spent on an extra couple of those.
If, however, you end up with a lot of chopped avocado halves, half eaten apples and pears (I believe this is symptomatic of a household with young children!) and you’re looking for a zero waste food storage solution for purchasing bakery items, beeswax wraps will be ideal for you!
An additional use for travellers is that they can be used to store soap or shampoo bars. The wax sticks to itself, keeping in even wet, sudsy soap!
Remember to wash with cool water only (otherwise the wax will melt) and with a mild soap or dish soap.
So, next time you’re packing for picnics, whether they be for a family hike or a mid-week office/school packed lunch, be sure to try out some of these zero waste food storage items to reduce your family’s footprint and make eating on the go a fun, mess- and waste-free affair.
Churchill travel information: Everything you need to know to plan your trip to Churchill, Canada!
How to get there
Currently, the only way to get to get to Churchill is to fly, as the railway is closed as a result of storms last year. Calm Air operate flights to Churchill from Winnipeg and Thompson.
Murals around the town, like this one on ‘Miss. Piggy’, tell the story of climate change and its impact on both humans and wildlife.
Where to stay
Lazy Bear Lodge is popular and it’s easy to see why.
Staffed by seasonal workers, they were all professional, knowledgeable and hardworking, but, more importantly, they exuded passion and a love for what they were doing, particularly the excursion guides.
The lodge is cosy, warm and comfortable, with a nice dining area.
The only thing I hated was the use of dead animals as decor; I want to see polar bears and grizzlies out in the wild, not with their skins pinned across the walls. I hate to think that I was inadvertently supporting trophy hunting.
What to eat
There aren’t many options for dining in the town but we found it to be plenty for the length of our stay.
We enjoyed the food served at Lazy Bear Lodge. They have an extensive menu with plenty of veggie options, and dinner specials, which change every evening, included Canadian elk, buffalo and Arctic char. Service will of course vary as most staff are seasonal, but those who were there during our stay were friendly, polite and a great help in entertaining Theo while we finished our food!
Gypsies is a great place to pick up a picnic lunch or a no-frills meal, and is famous for their donuts. Managed by the charismatic Fred, highflying corporate Montrealian turned small town friend to everyone, his sense of humour and generosity make every visit here memorable. He rented us his beaten up, barely-working pickup to get out of town in search of polar bears. We found bears, but had to ditch the ride; sorry, Fred! Read the story here.
How to get around
A vehicle isn’t essential here, but I recommend having one, at least for part of your trip (or make friends with someone who does!).
We went off by ourselves in search of bears twice and I’m so pleased we did! We didn’t disturb them at all because we weren’t in a huge tundra buggy, there was no fighting for the best view with dozens of other tourists, and we were able to take our time and observe these magnificent creatures just doing their thing on our watch rather than having to stick to a schedule.
If you’re lucky to have the right conditions to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis, you’re going to want to get off the main strip in town. We hitched a ride with some new friends to the beach, away from the light of the town, and my goodness it was worth it!
Climate and best time to travel
The best time to travel will really depend on what you want to see and do during your visit. October is prime polar bear season because they travel through Churchill on their way back out onto the ice. During the Summer months, Belugas come into the shallow waters to breed. It is possible (but by no means guaranteed) to see bears, belugas and the Aurora Borealis in one trip; this is why we travelled in August.
Other useful info
All excursions can be booked through an operator (I recommend Lazy Bear Expeditions). This includes cultural tours of the town and Cape Merry, guided tours to the Prince of Wales Fort, dog sledding, wildlife watching (polar bears, elk, arctic foxes, arctic hares, sea birds, seals and more), beluga whale watching from a zodiac, kayaking with belugas and snorkeling with belugas.
Please note all excursions are season and weather dependent.
Lazy Bear Lodge also operates an Aurora alert system, allowing guests to opt in to receive a call to their room if the Aurora is visible overnight.