SPONSORED: Ways to have a go camping with kids

Posted June 29, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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The school holidays are coming. A great way to entertain kids – and teach them all sorts of life skills, as well as have fun, is to camp. But what if you don’t have any equipment, or a limited budget? A trip to the Isle of Wight helped inspire this post on ways to go camping… from glamping to champing; on a trampoline or under a washing line. There are more good ideas in Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird

During the 2013 holidays Nell and her friend were determined to camp so we brought our broken tent and let them put it up. They moved back inside when the rain started leaking in.

During the 2013 holidays my daughter Nell and her friend were determined to camp so we brought our broken tent to a hired cottage in Wales and let them put it up. The girls moved back inside when the rain started leaking through the sides. (c) Homemade kids/nicola baird

  • The Isle of Wight can be reached in about two hours from Waterloo station, then take an Wight Link ferry at Portsmouth to Ryde (with its long sandy beach) or Fishbourne. http://www.wightlink.co.uk/iow/
  • Park Resorts has 48 UK holiday parks including the Lake District, three on the Isle of Wight and also along the Essex and Norfolk coasts. www.park-resorts.com

Camping is lovely – the smell of the tent, the feel of dew-drenched early morning grassy fields and the murmured conversations in your cosy mini-world make fabulous memories. But I can’t remember when I last stayed a night in a tent. Um…not last summer. Nor the one before.

Nicola and Lola get into holiday mood on the Isle of Wight in the giant deck chair at Node's Point near Bembridge. This holiday resort even offers pony treks along the beach.

Nicola and Lola get into holiday mood on the Isle of Wight in the giant deck chair at Node’s Point near Bembridge. This holiday resort even offers pony treks along the beach. (c) Homemade Kids/nicola baird

I like camping, even if I don’t always get round to it, partly because it’s exhausting having to set camp, sleep on the ground, cook all your food in an old-fashioned way and then strike camp. But I love Swallows & Amazons, and the Enid Blyton stories when they camp out, so I want to make sure my kids (now 14 and 17) don’t miss out the camping experience too often. So here are some ideas to make sure you, or the kids, or everyone gets a taste of the camping life. They range from the “it’s going to be dry tonight, let’s sleep outside” to needing to plan so you can book yourself a safari tent and have a glamping experience.

OVERNIGHT ON A TRAMPOLINE – ideal for anyone with a trampline (or a friend with a trampoline) especially for young teenagers or sensible primary school kids. If the weather report is good (and correct) then two friends (or more if you’re not worried about how much sleep they get) can easily sleep well without even a roof over their heads. Instagram and Snapchat are full of records of nights spent under the stars/street lights. And if it rains in the night, or gets too cold, it’s easy for the kids to run indoors.

Signs of happy kids: swing, logs, wrecked grass, pets.

No space in your garden? Or no garden? If you can borrow an easy-to-put up tent then you can put it up in the park for two hours to shelter from rain (or provide shade) – perhaps for a birthday celebration. Park authorities do not like this kind of behaviour, so be sure to make it clear you will be going soon. (c) homemade kids/nicola baird

CAMP IN YOUR GARDEN
– my garden is small, lacks grass and is a bit too crowded, thanks to the swing and chicken shed. But if you’ve got a washing line you can create a basic tent.

It’s an old-fashioned camping method – just sling a large sheet or blanket over a lowish washing line and then make it into a triangular structure by weighting it down with large stones (or the laundry basket and other improvisations). Little kids love to do this. You may even get them to have their after lunch sleep al fresco.

13,10 and 3 - and each of them need a different book to read.

My daughters and a friend demonstrate the wrong way to use a hammock.

TRY A HAMMOCK – A hammock is how many South Americans spend their nights, and how many sailors used to. It’s more comfy to sleep on it if you don’t get in and put your head under the first tying point with your feet pointed towards the other tying point. Instead sit on the side in the centre point and then try to figure out how to life there. Use YouTube if it’s easier – this is good IQ training.

The shelter we put up... view from our fire! Learning skills at Conkers in the National Forest. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

The shelter we put up… view from our fire! Learning skills at Conkers in the National Forest. Sadly we couldn’t stay the night here. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

MAKE A DEN – set the kids the task of making a place they can sleep using a tapaulin and ground sheet. Piling up logs and then lining  it with bracken will waste hours, though it may still not be suitable to sleep in.

HIRE A POP UP TENT – lots of campsites have tents a family can move into. At the Isle of Wight’s Nodes Point Holiday Park, run by Park Resorts, you can book a tent with three bedrooms (sleeping six) plus a central space that it is easy to stand up in.

This is glamping. I love the hay bale seat but inside it is  amazing with real beds and proper running water - but still a canvas roof that makes you feel like you are camping.

This is glamping at Nodes’ Point. I love the hay bale seat and inside it is amazing with real beds and proper running water – but still a canvas roof that makes you feel like you are camping. (c) Park Resorts

FOR UNKEEN CAMPERS – I’m thinking of my Mum and my Husband (she hates the  inconvenience, he hates the lack of proper loos) there is an answer, glamping or even champing.

  • Glamping is staying in such a posh tent you almost feel as if you are in a home. It’s developed from safari tourism.
  • Champing is a much newer concept; using a term borrowed from glamping to encourage churches to let people stay in them in a bid to raise money for local congregations.
Glamping in a safari tent at Nodes Point holiday park on the Isle of Wight (c) Park Resorts

Glamping in a safari tent at Nodes Point holiday park on the Isle of Wight (c) Park Resorts

TRY GLAMPING –  the sort of posh camping that you used to only experience on an African safari. Most glamping is in a tent, but with luxuries. There might be a wood burner in a central tepee, and real beds. There might be a hot tub just by the door or a VIP route to Glastonbury main stage…

Glamping makes you feel like you are camping without the hardship. No lugging equipment around. No putting up tents. No warm beer/lemonade… But you’ve still got the canvas roof (so cosy when it rains) and the delicious smells of outside – freshly mown grass or even the sea…

At the Isle of Wight’s Nodes Point Holiday Park, above the rock-poolable beach at St Helen’s, the new glamping area is giving families a chance to enjoy a different sort of holiday. As the manager said “If the kids are happy, then mum’s happy.” Staying in a tent is going to make the kids happy that’s certain. In fact my 17yo daughter was very keen to stay in one after being tantalisingly shown a new Safari Tent on a whistle-stop visit around the Isle of Wight to two of Park Resort’s holiday centres.

The kitchen in a safari tent - glamping removes the hardships from camping! (c) Park Resorts

The kitchen in a safari tent – glamping removes the hardships from camping! (c) Park Resorts

The Safari Tents look fab. They have a wooden-floored veranda with rattan chairs around a table which looks a lovely place for the family to linger after a day on the beach or exploring the island’s cycle paths in a bid to find the red squirrels. There are fairy lights for when it gets dark (and inside electric light).

It may have a veranda with table and rattan chairs, but the front door has to be unzipped – making that evocative zzzzip sound – and then inside was a kitchen area with a wooden kitchen counter, sink and running water from a tap. Plus there’s a fridge. Opposite this camping survival area is a big sofa – and behind the kitchen bar were the bedrooms. It’s a tent but this one also has sweet bedside lights on a three-drawer bedside table so you won’t need to trip over your unpacked luggage unless you want to. One room had a double bed, and the other two singles. It was sweet and I wanted to move in at once.

Glamping means you can camp - but not need to worry that you've forgotten your torch. (c) Park Reorts

Glamping means you can camp – but not need to worry that you’ve forgotten your torch. (c) Park Resorts

So where’s the loo? Well this is glamping and at Nodes Point holiday resort there’s a wash block with showers and toilets a short walk away. It’s a brilliant way to go camping, without quite camping. It’s also good value. For a three night holiday (fri-mon) it costs £142-£474 (six people max, sharing two bedrooms with an option to use the sofa in the lobby/kitchen space).

Nicola, Sparky & Lola. Sparky helps entertain at some of the 48 Park Resorts which run Sparky Krew activities for up to 12 year olds.

It’s Sparky who helps entertain at some of the 48 Park Resorts during Sparky Krew activities for up to 12 year olds. (c) Homemade Kids

Another advantage of going to a holiday park – rather than a camp site where you’d have to put your holiday home up – is there’s a restaurant on site, plus evening entertainment, much of it suitable for younger children run as the Sparky Krew, and an indoor swimming pool if the weather is too bad for the beach. There’s also a roomful of arcade games including 2p shove

But it was Sparky who won me and Lola over – he’s a very cute rabbit (see photo right).

CHAMPING – church camping, a new use for old churches. An over night stay in a church might sound spooky and a bit cold, or filled with spectres. But if you are prosaically-minded and have thick sleeping bags/duvets and are happy to sleep by a nave lit by candles then staying at a church could be a life-long family talking point. Imagine cosying up in a pew on a camp bed or a bean bag, or watching the early morning light blast through a stained glass window – and breakfast is brought to the church. Don’t think about ghosts! Although maybe the bedtime stories could be the best part of the experience?

Find out more about champing and what’s on offer in Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Kent at http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/champing  Also see this video,

The Isle of Wight's fish is famously good. And so's the garlic, there's even a garlic festival.

The Isle of Wight’s fish is famously good. And so’s the garlic, there’s even a garlic festival.

FORGET CAMPING AND BOOK A LODGE ON A HOLIDAY PARK – Even if the famous adventurer Bear Grylls grew up on the Isle of Wight, where he learnt how to survive anywhere… during the summer holidays roughing it in a tent (even glamping) isn’t for all of us.

At Lower Hyde, in the island’s famous holiday town of Shanklin there are loads of lodges (sleeping six, many with two en suite bedrooms) spread around the woodland.

This is definitely not camping: the lodges have heating, hot water and proper flush loos. But it could be an economical way to get several families – cousins, grandparents, friends – together for a few days or even a fortnight without having to put up tents all over your lawn back home. There’s lots of child-friendly activities plus an outdoor pool with a huge slide and the chance to go to the adjacent holiday resort’s even bigger indoor pool.

Londoners can get to the Isle of Wight in two hours! Amazing to do a day trip. But camping or staying over night would mean you'd see a lot more of the island.

Londoners can get to the Isle of Wight in two hours! Amazing to do a day trip. But camping or staying over night would mean you’d see a lot more of the island.

At some lodges there’s even the option to have your own outdoor tub on the veranda – a holiday treat that seems to particularly attract families with a toddler and/or baby

OVER TO YOU – The summer holidays may be short but they are long enough to have a go doing something a bit different. Let me know what you think your family would enjoy, or any good tips.

Nicola and Lola were guests of Park Resorts for a day trip to the Isle of Wight visiting Node’s Point and Lower Hyde holiday resorts. We crossed from Portsmouth on Wight Link ferry.

How to introduce the great outdoors to kids

Posted June 15, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do you ever find yourself thinking how to entertain young kids and teenagers at the same time? And what sort of things can you do with teens that parents might also enjoy? How about getting out into the woods with some marshmallows? Here’s how Nell, 14, and me (her mum) managed on a trip to Conkers in Derbyshire… There are more good ideas in Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird

CAPTION Conkers used to be a coal mine. At one stage kids were working there without any shoes. Now they come in wellies with some parents terrified of letting them explore and get muddy. I managed to forget our coats and ended up plastered in mud – it was so freeing, and all thanks to the gentle survival courses you can do with the wardens.

Conkers near Ashby de la Zouch, Derbyshire used to be a coal mine. At one stage kids were working there without any shoes. Now they may come in wellies but some parents need encouragement to let their children explore and get muddy. That’s where the activity courses work so well – here’s Nell learning how to make a fire. Photo taken from the shelter Nell had just put up in the woods. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

It’s so tempting to ignore the outside world. Children can be kept very occupied with screens, and love them. But if you want to let your kids have a taste of the great outdoors, but don’t know much about it yourself it can be daunting.

That’s why places like the National Trust –with their rather cool list of 50 things you must do before you are 11 and three-quarters can be helpful. Back in dinosaur times my primary school had a nature table, but nowadays playing in the woods is occasionally part of the curriculum, see the forest schools.

But if your home is in a town or city it gets tricky to give children these opportunities. There are parks, but no one is allowed to light fires or set up a tent in them, meaning children don’t really have a chance to do the things that they have always done.

Sometimes we are a bit too safety aware. I grew up learning the Sooty song to “never, ever play with matches”. But when my eldest was 12 I realised she still couldn’t get a match alight. So we spent an afternoon striking matches (we used nine boxes) defying wind and weather. It was quite fun, and a useful skill was learnt.

So how to take it one step further and build a fire, safely?

A recent trip to Conkers with my younger daughter, Nell, who is 14, was a wonderful experience. Conkers is an adventure hub at the centre of the newly planted National Forest in the Midlands. It’s about eight miles from Burton on Trent station – roughly midway between (and north a bit) of Birmingham and Leicester.

Despite uncharacteristic June rain falling all day Nell and I spent the whole day outside in the woods. We learnt how to make our own shelter and light a fire and then toasted smores (marshmallows sandwiched by chocolate digestives) on our own fire. How happy we felt.

Of course adventure supremo Bear Grylls knows this place – he was apparently at Conkers only a fortnight before us.

Conkers ranger John (in the hat) shows us how to use cotton wool to create a great fire. Nell looks a bit suspicious... but it all turns out OK.

Conkers ranger John (in the hat) shows us how to use cotton wool to create a great fire. Nell looks a bit suspicious… but it all turns out OK.

How to light a fire

  • We sing when we set up camp... "We didn't start the fire," (King Charles) went down well. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

    We sing when we set up camp and try to get a spark off the flint… “We didn’t start the fire,” (King Charles) went down well. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

    First find a safe place to do this. If you are in your garden, don’t do it on bricks as they can explode. Maybe have a bucket of water ready to douse the flames.

  • Clear a rectangle for your fire. You could remove a sod of earth and then replace it later on. Or you could put down 4 bigger logs to mark your fire area, then lay some thinner sticks along vertically to help air get under.
  • Fluff up a large chunk of cotton wool so the air can get in and help the burning along.
  • Search for some small, thin, dry sticks that you will be very slowly piling up in a pyramid shape
  • Get your flint and strike (available for less than a fiver on ebay – a generous party bag gift).
  • Watch as the cotton wool blazes, then slowly make a triangle of sticks over the flame and see if they catch.
  • Nell and I had to repeat this process twice – but it was raining.
  • Bend your head down and blow to add a bit of oomph to your burning.
  • Now slowly add more sticks.
  • Bits of wood off-cuts (and pine branches lopped off your old xmas tree) will help your fire gain some heat.
  • If this has worked then you are ready to cook marshmallows or make smores.

Nell and I were at Conkers learning how to create a den and make our own fire with about eight other families – most with young children. The great thing about being outdoors is it is a huge leveller. Mums, Dads or whoever is the adult in charge can be safety monitors, but you can also send quite small kids off to look for sticks, help locate the perfect place to set up camp, find a stick suitable for toasting marshmallows on or just keep them occupied looking at the flames.

Teenagers love to do this stuff too
If you can find an activity centre that teaches a few survival skills then take your teen and go and learn (or even host a birthday party for them to share these skills).

Despite being the oldest in our group, 14-year-old Nell really enjoyed making a camp and she thought toasting marshmallows was brilliant. While we were in the woods she hardly looked at her phone (although I was taking quite a few photos on mine). It felt like it was giving her a real break from the usual humdrum of eyes-on-instagram or playing Crossy Road. Instead she was getting her instant gratification from flames and food.

Toasting smores - see how below. (c)homemadekids/nicola baird

Toasting smores – see how below. (c)homemadekids/nicola baird

How to make smores

  • Be prepared – you need a bag of marshmallows and a packet of chocolate digestives. At Conkers the record is allegedly 25 smores for one person, but the under 8s seemed to only manage one. Nell ate three. I ate two…
  • Get your fire going (see above)
  • Find a thin stick about the length of a ruler and sterilise by burning the pointy end in the flames
  • Put a marshmallow on to the stick and cook until brown and bubbly
  • Either bite off the toasted skin of your marshmallow & then re-brown over the fire
  • Or squelch the marshmallow between your digestives, chocolate side inwards.
  • Savour in front of the flames.

The rangers then showed us how to put the fire out safely. You just rake it apart – so simple. Do be careful if everything is very dry as fires can spread. I set my privet hedge alight once by putting a disposable BBQ too close to it…

I managed to forget my own and my 14 year old's coats and ended up plastered in mud – but it was so fun, and all thanks to the gentle survival courses you can do with the wardens at Conkers in the National Forest.

Off with the shoes for the barefoot safari. I ended up plastered in mud – but it was so fun, and all thanks to the gentle survival skills you learn with the wardens at Conkers in the National Forest. “You’d like to work here, wouldn’t you?” added Nell when she saw my toes. I think she meant this in a good way. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Now let’s go barefoot
Running around barefoot used to be a child’s birthright. Of course it’s all different now, but you can try a short barefoot walk in real safety at Conkers.

Even when it is cold and wet if you take your shoes off and move, your feet are forced to do extra work, which stops them feeling too cold.

In fact by the end of the barefoot walk which took us through water, gravel-bottomed streams, slippy clay, coal paths and peat-silted streams your feet are tingling and warm.

Conkers is where Rawdon Pit, in South Derbyshire, used to operate. It’s also not far from Moira where the owner of Rawdon Hall in the early 19th century tried to set up a spa with special calcified spring water in the hopes of rivalling Bath. In the end it was re-located to Ashby de la Zouch with limited success. But there’s a spa history to this spot so it’s a sweet way of re-connecting visitors with the local history.

At Conkers in the National Forest, getting ready for the barefoot challenge is very simple - off with your shoes and socks. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

At Conkers in the National Forest, getting ready for the barefoot challenge is very simple – off with your shoes and socks. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

“We’ve made the barefoot challenge in three sections,” explained the friendly ranger, Tom. The first is through water and mud, like a spa experience – although he admitted it wasn’t perhaps quite as luxurious as the spas of today. The next is a nod to the kids who worked bare feet in the mines. Walking over coal is not comfortable, but to imagine walking over coal in the dark as a child, leading a horse helps make you realise how lucky you are. And the third section seemed to be more about mud and peat – so referencing ecology. But as I’m no fan of worms I tried not to think about this. In fact the peat and mud-bottomed streams were much the warmest to walk through. Your toes seem to develop extra-sensory perception.

Lots of the smaller children were nervous about going into a water-filled ditch without shoes and socks. And of course they could have kept their socks on (though none did), or were reassured by holding a mum or dad’s hand.

But Nell and I believed the ranger when he said this barefoot experience was like a spa, so we were instantly won over. Admittedly I hobbled around like someone with tender soles, but Nell found it fun and waltzed around. This is something teens and their friends would love to try – maybe you could set a mini version up in your garden with a bit of space, and imagination.

Nell couldn't scale the wall, but she could nip up the rigging to the top of this obsctacle. I was on camera duty. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Nell couldn’t scale the wall on the left of this Conkers obstacle, but she could nip up the rigging to the top. I was on camera duty. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Get the teens outdoors
The families with little kids have to keep a good watch on them at Conkers as there are lots of ponds – and lovely coots, geese and goslings too. Fortunately there are several places beyond the ponds which offer fun water-free challenges including a sensory walk, a labrynth (originally designed to help you meditate into the zone) and a maze. Or climb up high into the story-telling hut or the look out post to get new vantage points for a picnic.

To make it as fun for bigger kids and teenagers there’s an assualt course which challenges the over 10s to think how to get over  an assortment of 12+ tricky obstacles – the daunting looking sort I’m sure the army train over – that can be done as an individual challenge, as a race or team race.

At first I couldn’t get up the rigging or over the 2 metre+ wooden sleeper barriers, but gradually I learnt to put my feet in the right place and drag my resisting body over the top. It was really good fun… and no surprise that when Nell and I got back late that evening to the Hilton Hotel, Leicester l where we’d been booked in by the PR who sponsored this tirp (because it’s on the M1 so easy for families with cars and taxis) I used the steam bath and had a swim to ease out the aches; fortunately it worked.

Visiting indoor activities designed for kids is often so frenetic and noisy (and Conkers has this – with its Enchanted Forest Adventure) that it doesn’t always encourage fractious families to make repeat visits.

But outside in the 120 acres the noise and friction disappears – it’s all bird song and laughter, once you’ve got the pesky fire lit. Nell and I had such a happy day, and learnt so much.

The shelter we put up... view from our fire! Learning skills at Conkers in the National Forest. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

The shelter we put up… view from our fire! Learning skills at Conkers in the National Forest. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Visiting
If I lived anywhere between Leicester, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham I’d definitely buy an annual pass for £62.95 (for two adults and two children) and visit at least four times to enjoy the seasons as well as guided nature walks or spontaneous picnics. Under 3s are free, and 3-15 year olds cost about £7. It’s buggy and wheelchair friendly – and you can also use the mini train any amount of times to get between the waterside centre and the activity centre. Parking is free.

In summer 2016 we plan to holiday in the Midlands and I’m definitely going back to Conkers to give my teenagers – and perhaps their friends – the chance to do the fire-making sessions, but also see if they want to try challenges like mountain biking along forest trails, kayaking or spend time on the high and low ropes adventure course due to open in July 2015. Ideally we’ll time it with the many tribute bands that play on summer weekends at the National Forest – think Abba, Elton John, ‘80s greats – and then maybe stay at the nearby eco-friendly hostel run by the YHA. See you there!

 

 

 

 

 

You treat this house like a hotel! A bug hotel.

Posted May 24, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Do you ever find yourself acting like your mum, maybe even repeating the exact same phrases she used to use? I know I do, but that one about “treating the house like a hotel” I haven’t uttered yet. Inspired by a visit to Chelsea Flower Show 2015 here’s how to let the little ones make their own bug hotel. More good ideas in Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird. Feedback welcome!

Garden sculpture made from driftwood and found wood - this lovely mother and foal had a £33,000 price tag at Chelsea RHS flower show. The use of sticks inspired me...

Garden sculpture made from driftwood and found wood – this lovely mother and foal had a £33,000 price tag at Chelsea RHS flower show. The use of sticks inspired me…

“You treat this house like a hotel!” was something my parents often said to me. And it must have felt like that for them – I was the eldest of their three children, away at boarding school from 11 years, out of the country for half a year out, and then away at university. All that time they kept a bedroom for me, with all my stuff in it, and then I’d come home for the half term or holidays and be exhausted and no doubt teenager sulky.

My own teenagers don’t treat their home like a hotel, but they do keep increasingly odd hours… The 16-year-old was back at 7am this morning and will no doubt need to sleep into the afternoon. The 14-year-old, worn out by hobby tests and a half term of increasing school pressure, was exceedingly hard to coax out of her bed before noon. As an early riser I find this particularly difficult to plan around, and so I’m trying to learn to ignore the smell of breakfast toast when I’m ready for lunch, or even tea.

Stuck this morning with no child to entertain I decided to sort out other projects to make my home a better place to be. Last week I spent a couple of hours helping out on the FSC-UK stall at Chelsea Flower Show, designed by the super-talented Kirsti Davies. This was a lovely forest garden, in a tiny space, complete with gazebo where us stall operators had the occasional restorative sit-down.

20150524_130201FSC – the Forest Stewardship Council – is an amazing organisation that helps to take care of forests and th people and wildlife who call them home.

Executive Director of FSC-UK, Rosie Teasdale, at the show. The strange foreleaf is in fact from a whitebeam tree (perspective here makes it look a bit like a banana). The bug hotel was to the left of the impressive FSC display board.

Executive Director of FSC-UK, Rosie Teasdale, at the show. The strange foreleaf is in fact from a whitebeam tree (perspective here makes it look a bit like a banana). The bug hotel was to the left of the impressive FSC display board.

FSC’s Chelsea garden won a silver medal – amazing. But it was also utterly of the moment, a very natural looking space that when you enter, immediately makes you calm, and of course it is extremely wildlife friendly and sustainable. All the wood products on display – from the plant labels to the posh triangular bug hotel – were certified as coming from FSC-certified timber. In our home the FSC logo is as well known a brand for the kids as Kit-Kat, Peppa Pig (actually my girls are the Teletubby generation) and Tesco, but that’s because if I can talk about trees, then I will.

With the girls still asleep I decided to complete the building of my bug hotel. They could have done it with me (had they been awake) but there’s lots of things we can do together. Had my children been smaller and needing entertainment then making a bug hotel would have been fun – and we could have discussed the differences between living at home, and living in a hotel…

Here’s what to do:

Let the little creatures treat your home like a hotel, in their purpose made bug hotel.

Let the little creatures treat your home like a hotel, in their purpose made bug hotel.

Make your own bug hotel

  • Bug hunting in the woods.

    Bug hunting in the woods. Now it can be done in the garden too.

  • Find a wooden or plastic window box that is past its best. Or make your own frame. Mine had been found in a skip – it is riddled with wood worm so I don’t want it inside, or anywhere near my window sills.
  • Tip it on to its side so you now have a roof.
  • Make a bug bedroom. Cut pieces of thin wood (about the size of your finger). Bundle them up into manageable piles (about the width of a small plant pot), then sling a rubber hand over them to keep the pile tight before tying securely with a piece of string or garden twine.
  • Make a bug ballroom. Vary the arrangement by adding different sized bundles of sticks.
  • Make a bug cocktail lounge. I also filled a plant pot with autumn leaves and another with very tightly rolled toilet-paper inners (all FSC-certified).
  • Now for the grand opening. Tuck your bug hotel into a dry corner in readiness for the new guests. You can expect woodlice (super cute!) but should also get all sorts of insects and their larvae/eggs over-wintering.

 Over to you
Did you parents tell you off like this? Do you have kids who treat your home like a hotel? or do you have advice how to prevent such a thing happening? And on a rather different note – if you’ve got a bug hotel what interesting insects have you discovered using it?

It’s all about emotional resilience

Posted May 7, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , ,

How do you teach kids that failing and making mistakes are a key part of learning? Here’s an attempt to start this debate from Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird. Feedback welcome!

Being able to control a horse and enjoy riding tends to push away all other problems.

Happy: So many people in the UK used to be in contact with horses even one century ago. Being able to control a horse and enjoy riding tends to push away all other problems. And riding, however much you love it, doesn’t always give you a 10 out of 10 experience. This teaches you that some days are better than others (and that’s normal), especially as a good rider should never blame the horse.

Over the past two days when I haven’t been talking about politics, conversations have centred around how to build emotional resilience in our kids. There’s a lot of blame:

  • The teachers spoon feed the students…
  • Kids don’t have enough freedom…
  • Everyone uses their phones too much…
  • Parents do too much for their children (especially helicopter parenting advocates)…
  • Older teenagers aren’t tough enough…

May and June are exam seasons, so this can be a tense time. Anyone who is used to getting top marks, and doesn’t; or anyone who can no longer face the stress of trying to do their best but then getting a result that disappoints (maybe not them, but families or teachers) is under considerable strain.

A look-and-see trip to GQ magazine with my class of university students in January 2011.

A look-and-see trip to GQ magazine with my class of first year university students in January 2011 (so all graduated by now).This is a real treat part of the course and of course the attendance is invariably high. Recently I’ve noticed how some students only turn up to the treat events and simply don’t do the graft in class – is this because they are lazy or frightened of doing it wrong?

As for universities, they struggle with why their new intakes of students seem so unable to cope with independent learning. And many students struggle back: finding that “messy” learning where there are no set answers, creativity rules and research has to be found by you (not following a set list) is not for them. Many don’t like unlearning how to do “school” when they turn up at university. So for teenagers this is another high risk period of discontent culminating in a feeling of being let down, which may lead to the student dropping out.

Of course students now have to pay £9,000 for their tuition. And few get paid internships when they then try and get experience of the real world and work. It’s so hard, and the results are predictably unsettling – misery, drop outs, disengagement, even death. Even so the figures are shocking:

One in ten children between the ages of one and 15 has a mental health disorder. (The Office for National Statistics Mental health in children and young people in Great Britain, 2005) http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

In inner city areas, over 43% of children have considered suicide and one in six children under the age of 11 have attempted suicide. Common causes cited include bullying, abuse, poverty, homelessness, and alcohol abuse. http://www.bullyonline.org/ (figures not from 2015, they are older)

Kids used to enjoy so much more freedom - out all day learning how to occupy themselves, forage and cope with boredom/weather etc. Even this delightful picnic had three adults at it. Who covets a supervised life? Not me, but that's what I gave my own kids.

Kids used to enjoy so much more freedom – out all day learning how to occupy themselves, forage and cope with boredom/weather etc. Even this delightful picnic had three adults at it. Who covets a supervised life? Not me, but that’s what I gave my own kids.

I’ve always thought teens onwards need to have an extra interest – away from school – ideally something that can totally absorb you, such as supporting a football team, bird watching (how old fashioned that sounds) or some kind of “healthy” obsession (eg, music, art) which helps teenagers survive all the emotional and neurological changes they are having to deal with.

Some teens find their interests as they find themselves, the luckiest build on the passions they  began as primary school aged children. I’m not sure that taking selfies really counts as an obsession.

For me it’s always been horses.

I grew up in the countryside and was lucky to have my own pony from the age of eight years old. I don’t have one now – they are hideously expensive and I live in London – but I do still teach riding one day a week. Even if I didn’t occasionally ride during the hacks I take out to the woods, I would be content on the ground. I love the way horses are beautiful, and happy to sniff you. I like caring for them and I adore riding them. Even when I’m not riding a horse I enjoy watching other people doing it really well (it’s Badminton Horse Trials week at the moment) and I’m even extra content if I stop to watch a police horse clopping down the street.

Modern times means there are no milkmen’s horses to run out and treat with sugar lumps (or carrots sliced length wise). You can’t feed strangers’ dogs snacks either or buy sweets for little ones, or even yourself if you have braces on your teeth. All these nice things to do help your brain forget about the serial injustices of being you with the wrong parents/teachers/fill in the gap – but you can’t do them.

For those of us bringing up teenagers (especially the challenging, difficult and miserable ones) days can be incredibly hard. A lot of it seems to be about being more adult than we adults ever want to be. Sometimes this means turning blind eyes (to rudeness say – after all teens have had to be polite all day at school/college – and ideally producing enough food.  Rudeness is never nice, but when it comes to a hungry, over-tired, exam-stressed teen it’s fine to ignore. Pick your fights and give as much space as you can.

If you have friends or a partner find out what they think works and if it’s good advice try it out. An angry teen is at least communicating. It’s far more frightening when they are so shellshocked by choices, revision and the way things are that they retreat into silence and suffering.

What do you do that helps make the teenage years (for your child, for you, for your family) peaceful rather than a battleground?

Bur more importantly how do you build in emotional resilience so that teens can cope with mistakes, an unexpected mark and are able to adapt to the different ways colleges and universities teach? Life isn’t fair – that may be why you dropped out. Unfortunately bad things arrive without even scheduling so you need to be robust enough to cope. Having the emotional strength to cope is essential. The debate is out on how to teach this. I’m pretty certain that you need to let kids learn from their mistakes so they have the courage to try again, know that hard work pays off and are willing to put a lot of effort into Plan B, even Plan C and D if that’s necessary. As Russell Brand puts it no one grows up wanting be a barrista, though they may fancy their chances as a barrister. His latest film, The Emperor’s New Clothes, might be interesting to watch, here’s the trailer.

https://youtu.be/U4Geq8dM13k

At least there are a growing number of emotional resilience type courses. I won’t be going to the event below – but it’s an example of what’s on offer. Maybe it’s something you’d be interested in going to?

Practitioners Seminar: Relational Ways of Working with Teenagers – 18th May 13.30-16.30

Adolescence is a time of significant neurological, emotional, social and intellectual change. Join The Centre on 18th May to understand how professionals can help adolescents through this volatile and complex key developmental period.

Bert Powell will look at how the Circle of Security© Parenting approach works with teenagers. He will focus on how we can enable parents to support and nurture their teenagers in ways that strengthen both their relationship and the child’s emotional well-being 

Dr Gates and Dr Hohnen will draw from their clinical experience of teenagers and families and up to date research on brain development. They will consider how we can foster emotional resilience in adolescents. It is designed to help and inform the practice of anyone working closely with this exciting and challenging age group.

To book click here or to reserve a place email info@thecentrelondon.com 

There's such a small difference between being on a roll or rolling out of control.

There’s such a small difference between being on a roll or rolling out of control.

Over to you
How we all wish we could pin down what’s wrong, or what’s got to change. But until then (!) please do share this post or comment. I know loads of you have experience of both being a teen and raising a teen. And it would be good to hear from anyone who teaches  or employs teens too. Wherever you are in this story, good luck.

Useful contacts

British Horse Society – to find affiliated riding schools which treat horses and riders well.

8 things I’ve learnt about raising children

Posted March 9, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , ,

Any ideas for more useful tips about how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way? First eight from Homemade Kids author Nicola Baird who also blogs at http://islingtonfacesblog.com (about people who live or work in Islington, UK).

I learnt all this up my Granny's apple tree. Years later my own kids reminded me.

I learnt all this up my Granny’s apple tree. Years later my own kids reminded me.

1 All crusts are evil. No child will eat them. Tweens and teens with braces can’t. What’s more it doesn’t help if you say eating crusts will make your hair curl.
Save the crusts and either eat them yourself or stick in the freezer to breadcrumb another time.

2 Are we nearly there yet? Yes, because a good walk starts when it starts: that could be just outside the door or before you leave a car park.
A good walk is never rushed and doesn’t involve a route march A-B. Split the party so the walkers walk and the explorers track ants, lift up logs, find sticks, climb trees, play hide and seek. Get out your flask and have a cup of zen tea.

3 Snacks are essential (fed often, even just before tea). Most mums carry snacks because they literally cannot afford not to. All praise to rice cakes, bread sticks and toddlers’ nectar – the banana. Babycinnos are a gift to syntax, but a purse curse.

4 Really tired toddlers can fall asleep anywhere – even if their mouth is full of spaghetti. Get them tired and then there’s no need to paste notes to your doorbell/knocker saying “please don’t use as I’m trying to get baby to sleep”.

5 Even clean bagged up outgrown clothes will start to smell. Air them on an outdoor washing line before you resort to yet more laundry chores.

6 Nits love us all. They love nursery- and primary school-aged children the best. But they don’t mind joining teenagers for their lessons, or even Mum in the office. Plaits, hats and a super-fine comb help keep embarrassment at bay.
However right-on your office colleagues, never fess up to having nits because they won’t understand. However up-tight your childs’ friends’ parents always talk nits.

7  The minutes drag but the years fly. Take photos, keep drawings – or scan and save. Date what you can. In a few years time you will struggle to know which child is even in the picture. And your child is going to mind, a LOT.

8 Treat car boot sales like expensive department stores – if your child wants something tell them “yes, next time”. If you bend on this, your home will soon be a stockpile of stuff you can’t find when your little one grows into it. And you’ll have to step over boxes and suitcases to get into your bed. Or is that only me?

Over to you?
Bet homemadekids.wordpress.com readers can think of at least two more good tips! Thanks.

 

Do you love your child or partner more?

Posted February 6, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

If you’ve got to choose who you love the most, could you? Thinking about a recent terrible choice for a NZ dad who had to pick son or wife, here’s my own family tale about the time my Dad was parted from his mum. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

This beautiful box has a collection of my grandfather's letters from the time he was stationed in Hong Kong in 1937. Some of those letters are dynamite.

This beautiful box has a collection of my grandfather’s letters from the time he was stationed in Hong Kong in 1937. Some of those letters are dynamite.

As it’s close to Valentine’s day is it OK to ask ‘who do you love the most’?

This isn’t a fairy tale asking you to decide which child you favour.

No this is the big love question – do you love your partner more than the children or vice versa?  For most of us there doesn’t have to be a choice but just recently a New Zealand man was told by his Armenian wife that if he wanted to keep their newborn Downs syndrome baby she would divorce him. He chose the baby, Leo. And she filed for divorce.

The full story is (Daily Mailified) here.

You have to think good for the Dad, making the right choice – however hideous. And how terrible for a new mum to be under such family pressure that her only choice was to set up a contest between husband and baby. Whatever the result, it would be sad for her.

Rewind to 1937
I’ve just spent a sunny winter afternoon at my kitchen table reading the letters my grandfather received when he was based in Hong Kong in 1937. The experience is amazing – though I do wish everyone’s handwriting was easier to read.  Because Grandpa was a solider there are a lot of letters from soldier friends talking about their posts in Nigeria and Somalia. There’s gossip about bad weather and poor fishing in Newbury; the make over of London’s Leicester Square – “the Alhambara and Prince of Wales Theatre have gone” and a lot about illnesses – cholera, infant death, scarlet fever and the humble cold.

At first I thought my Grandmother – writing from her father’s home in Wiltshire – was expecting twins. Gradually I realised she was trying to organise a bargain priced twin-bed cabin for a sea passage to Japan, where she hoped he would meet her and then they could go on to Hong Kong.  She is desperately missing him.

She’d already been in Hong Kong – just her and her soldier husband – but and had come home because their children, a little girl and her younger brother, my father, were being raised in Wiltshire.

I cried when I saw her write that their three-year-old son had asked the nanny where is “That lady from China we call Mummy?”

“We did laugh,” writes my Grandmother (I think bravely) “it’s good enough for Punch“.

How attitudes have changed in the UK. Few women admit to being willing to park their children for six months in another country, just so they can be with their husband. When Ayelet Waldman confessed “I love my husband more than my children” in a national newspaper back in 2009, she was pilloried.

And in 2015 Armenia it’s clear disability is shameful to some: in NZ it’s not.

Perhaps in the 21st century UK we do let our children take centre stage too much. But it feels like that’s the right way to err. My poor dad. My poor, brave Grandmother – “that lady from China we call Mummy”.

In the end the little boy did know his mother very well. It was his father he barely knew – first busy as a solider in Hong Kong and then once World War Two kicked off incarcerated in a prison camp until 1945.

What do you think?
Would you swan off to Hong Kong leaving the kids in the UK for the next six months? And how much do you think it would affect you and those motherless/fatherless babes?

 

 

How to hold a fun birthday party for a five year old

Posted January 19, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , ,

When it comes to organising kids’ birthday parties keep it simple, and short. And have confidence that you and your child can be the host either at home or the nearest park. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Blue icing on the cake.

Here the birthday girl is nine…with a homemade cake.  A wise friend suggested having one more (or one less) guest than the new age of your child, This is good advice until they get to be teens.

Have you heard about the Cornish mum who sent a £16 invoice to the parents of a reception aged child (ie, five years old) who she thought was going to her child’s birthday party (on a ski slope) and then failed to turn up – without bothering to let the host family know? Here’s the link on BBC News.

Everyone has an opinion about what the mum’s done (rude) and what the recipient child’s family have said they plan to do to her (ruder).

Imagine how awkward it would be to be at their school. And that’s the point: children’s birthday parties are not to fall out over.

With two daughters now aged 16 and 13 I’ve helped organise a lot of birthday parties (although the girls have had to do plenty too). At first it stunned me at primary school how people simply don’t respond to RSVP. This would be fine if you were just giving a little tea party for a few friends with some cake. But it becomes a nightmare of organisation if you are having to pay for a venue or plan to offer party bags. So cut this stress by not organising something too grand or expensive…

One party I painted wooden name tags for kids to put on their door or bed and ended up with a few to hand out at school the next week for the unexpected no-shows. I think the kids who’d missed the party quite liked having a little memory – and if they didn’t does it matter?

I was stunned by how generous some families are – handing over £10 gifts, or more even, just to a little child. Even recently a mum asked if her daughter and friends could club together to give my soon to be 14yo a camera (I said no, that’s just way over budget, but what a lovely, generous, thoughtful offer).

Many people who have very little money are willing to pool it to make the best possible party they can for their birthday child. This is a generous thing to do, but it just adds to the birthday party stress. If you are willing to rethink birthdays then here’s the way to do it in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way.

xx

Get the kids outside, whatever the weather. Or just invite less if your home can’t fit a classroom of children – and not many people have that amount of space.

1 Ideally hold the party in an outside space – make sure the kids are dressed so they stay warm and dry. You can then hold a picnic, do activities, try a treasure hunt or just let them run around making as much noise as they want.

Make your own quills! Is this a suitable gift?

Make your own quills! Is this a suitable gift as a party bag offering?

2 Avoid the party bag full of breakable rubbish. You can always give a small going home gift – but just make it one, practical object (felt tip? drinking mug? homemade tote bag?) or something whimsical that you’ve made without too much sweat (eg, a fairy basket made from hazel nut shells glued together).

3 Or get the kids at the party to make their own going home gift. Bath bombs are fun and not as messy as you might imagine. Or they could hunt for an amazing pebble and then pop some eyes and a mouth on it (or just hand out a stick/log). Or decorate a horse shoe (that’s going to take some organisation finding!). A bit easier might be to plant up a bulb or robust flower, depending on the season.

Trampoline party over, next excitement is half-term...

If you’re organising a party activity – like a trampoline party – can you share the cost (and birthday) with other families?

4 If you decide to book a treat like rock climbing, theatre or some other expensive activity remind yourself that this is something you want the birthday child and the others to enjoy. It’ll be an experience for whoever turns up. If someone doesn’t turn up, just remember that life is complicated and invitations with the host child’s family contact numbers get mislaid. Move on with a smile, not a bill.

Good luck with your parties.


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