Posted tagged ‘homeschooling’

Is it worth going to Bletchley Park?

October 6, 2016

A friend took her primary school aged kids round Bletchley Park, a place I’ve been meaning to visit since reading The Secret Life of Bletchley Park in my book group and then watching The Imitation Game with my teenagers. But will it make a good day out?  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

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage.

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage. Notice the number of useful spy kit items, including dark glasses and moustaches.

Either everyone wants to be a spy, or Bletchley Park has a way of appealing to every generation. When I asked a lovely lady in the café which is housed just by the Mansion, in Number 4 hut, why Bletchley Park was so busy despite it being a wet Saturday her look of astonishment almost made me laugh. “This isn’t busy. You should see what it is like in the summer!” was her follow-up.

“But why is it so busy?” says me, still at a bit of a loss as to why people seem so interested in an old requisitioned house, a load of sheds and a very big computer, Colossus. “It’s the film isn’t?” was her response. “Ever since the Imitation Game there’s been a lot of people here – and loads of Americans!”

So is it Benedict Cumberbatch who’s made Bletchley Park a must visit? Or is it the extraordinary story of Alan Turing’s cracking of the Engima code? Are all these people here today mathematicians, linguists and engineers? Or did they have relatives who worked here? Or is it the fact that this place has the best audio visual tour I’ve ever seen – great quality, short snapy info and super simple to use?

Without getting hold of an exit survey I’m not going to be able to answer those questions… but a trip to Bletchley Park is brilliant with a teenager. And you could easily bring along younger children, who are so often up for anything, as well as an older relative who might remember WW2.

There’s so much about WW2 that I hadn’t realised. For starters Bletchley Park is where many women got the chance to do exciting – and secretive – work. They had to sign the Official Secrets Act, and as we now know this meant for years no one knew what had been going on in this corner of Buckinghamshire, conveniently located opposite Bletchley train station.

In July 2011 the Queen made a speech at Bletchley Park praising the workforce. In 1939 there were 200 people, but by 1944 there were 10,000 working at Bletchley – of which two-thirds were women. Clearly women got the chance to escape – often controlling – families, use their brains, feel needed, be part of the war effort and enjoy romance.

Hut 8 is where Alan Turing and his team cracked the Enigma code. Nell and I especially enjoyed seeing the desk where he would have worked, complete with an old-fashioned typewriter with a note in it saying he’d gone to lunch. The film makes it seem like so few individuals cracked Enigma, but going round Bletchley it’s clear that the combination of superbrains was what made cracking an almost impossible cypher was how it was done – and without Polish input it would have been much slower.

I was also rather taken by the use of pigeon post during WW2. In one hut there was a parachute for a pigeon. At the time there were 400 pigeon handlers in the army working 20,000 pigeons. Pigeon racing is far less popular now but a display at Bletchley Park suggested that there are around 30,000 racing pigeons in modern racing lofts.

  • Cost: Expensive (£16+) but if you plan to come by train download a 2 for1 entrance and show this with your train ticket to get half price entry. Tickets are valid for a year so if you live in nearby Herts or Bucks or plan to visit a few times then it’s much better value.
  • Getting there: We took an off peak train from London Euston. There are three or four trains an hour and the station is a well signposted 4 minute walk from the entrance to Bletchley Park.
  • In the gift shop: clever prezzies for clever people (eg, mugs emblazoned with the message ‘Weapons of Maths Destruction’).
  • Follow up reading: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclar McKay

Over to you?
Where else have you found that works well for entertaining all ages?


What makes you happy?

March 17, 2013

I always felt that singing “we’re a happy family” was tempting fate. But stumbled across the Simple Woman’s Daybook  – loads of posts where mums focus on the calms and pleasures of life and felt it might be another way to approach what my hopefully ok week will be like. I recommend having a go to anyone who loves blogging but sometimes feels they’d like a change of pace, especially if you’ve been busy with family (we spent saturday on a protest march to try and keep the local hospital open – it rained for most of this event). Service will be resumed as normal in the next post, ie, thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children at Post by nicola baird.

Singing in the rain room (an art installation where you get to control the flow, can't do that outside).

Singing in the rain room (an art installation where you get to control the flow, can’t do that outside).


Outside my window…it’s 9.30pm and dark so I can’t see anything, but I can hear St Patrick’s day festivities and Irish music at the local pub.
I am thinking…about how different it is after the rain – puddles are muddy, birds sing louder and the world looks better, but inside the house smells of wet dog – even if you don’t have a dog. And the floor space shrinks because it is taken over by drying umbrellas/shoes/wellies.
I am thankful...that my kids don’t go to boarding school! I’d miss them so much.
In the kitchen...lots of washing up after some experiments with cheeseless pizza and hot cross buns done with my daughters. Today i found out baking was simple and you can do it without any special equipment.I am wearing...the usual super-warm winter weather uniform – including the ethnic, cosy waistcoat that I bizarrely wore on my first date with my now husband Pete. He didn’t much like it then. 20 years on he’s grown to love it, not.I am creating…a quilt (using big pieces of material which i sew together on the hand-turn singer machine my great granny gave to my mum for her 21st). Hope to finish it ready for a visitor on thursday.I am a zillion barbed-wire diary work-play events this week. School governor duty on Monday, blogging treat on tuesday, Quasimodo on wednesday, riding teaching on thursday – clearly it’s going to be a crash out friday.
I am wondering...about why I didn’t give any money to Comic Relief. Such a good collection of projects.I am reading...between books but can recommend The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Have been trying to read books from all around the world, see this most recent review of novels from the Pacific edge here.I am hoping...i can find a good Somali contact for interviewing on http://islingtonfacesblog.comI am looking forward birthday on Saturday. Love the number 23 (date, not age).I am learning...that this might be something i should work on.Around the house…spring light reveals far too much dust. anyone else noticed more cobwebs than usual?I am pondering…if giving up sugar, meat and gluten leaves you anything to eat? I haven’t done this yet but live in fear that someone medical will one day insist i cease eating bread. Aghhhhhh.A favorite quote for today…”Always look on the bright side.”One of my favorite things…home – strange seeing as I like travelling just about as much too, just I do less of it.A few plans for the rest of the week...Seeing my oldest sing on tuesday and my youngest skate next Sunday. If there is time to watch MadMen from a borrowed box set how happy would I be.

A peek into my day… probably shrank as outside for a lot of it in the rain – went on a history walk at the local nature park  with my 14 year old and took the dog for a walk. Nell, 12 went with Pete to see the movie Lincoln. Excellent way to do some history homeschooling.

Over to you
Have a go doing this yourself – just copy the headings and paste the url to

Do schools matter (video)?

December 8, 2011

How kids learn by Sir Ken Robinson, RSA

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post asks if we are giving our kids the right education (rather than asking what school they are going to). For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here. Read on, or just click the cartoon video link above (it’s 11 minutes).

Do schools matter? Well, yes, yes, yes they do and not just for your child. You need good tracking of every child’s progress, good teaching, good staff management – and good results. Or do you? That’s what the  astute (and funny) 11 minute film attached by clever Sir Ken (see link above) looks at via words and cartoon.

Students are meant to be safe at school (and when they are young it really is childcare).

They are also meant to make progress in every single lesson, an impressive challenge for anyone with a large class of students, especially on a Friday afternoon. Oh yes, and get certificates and higher grades each year, and go to uni and get a job. Hang on, is that possible? Is it 21st century reality?

I’ve been constantly surprised by the ways people react to knowing that I took my girls out of school last summer so we could homeschool as we travelled. People are shocked. But the girls (then 12 and 10) learnt so much – a new language, and the size of the world. They stayed on a volcano, swum in a sea full of things that were quite interested in eating them (a new twist to the food chain), they met loads of people and learnt to talk and listen to a range of views. Instead of music practice they learnt to cook fish, build stone ovens and keep the right end of a kangaroo. I’m convinced they could have had a similarly challenging and creative time had we just stayed home but not used school bells for eductation… But they’re back in school now, and they like it.

I guess the problem is that lots of adults still think education is done at desks. Robinson in the video above is far blunter: he says we’re using an old style of education and treating our growing children as if they were in a factory, batched up in birth year groups.

Given that most of us are either not blessed with teaching skills (find out more about how to facilitate good learning at education otherwise which helps people homeschooling), or patience, or the time to home educate, the answer has been to give our children the best education we can find. It is just such a shame that so many families still think it’s worth buying education at Britain’s fiendishly expensive private schools. Surely every child deserves the best education, which is why what the state offers has to be fabulous.

Read all about it
If you are interested in some of the UK top tales about education there are some fascinating books that help parents understand more about the big picture – rather than just what school will suit Pollyanna (or Lola or Nell for that matter). Try:

Melissa Benn’s School Wars: the battle for Britain’s education (Verso, £10.99). She’s so committed to comprehensive education that she set up Local Schools Network to support local schools and counter media misinformation.

The funniest novel has to be May Contain Nuts by John O’Farrell where a pushy south London mum takes her family on a rollercoaster educational journey. Consider yourself gently mocked by O’Farrell!

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 I also like the undercover journalism from 1 out of 10 by tony blair’s education advisor, Peter Hyman who became a huge fan of the academy model. A rather more Daily Mail version was seen on C4’s Dispatches when former teacher Alex Dolan secretly filmed her disruptive students. And the new tweak on that is by Katharine Birbalsingh, a deputy head who spoke at the Tory conference. I’m putting her book (found for 10p at the school winter fair) into my own stocking – it’s To Miss With Love.

Now blog readers, get on with that reading list, the test is next week… And no peaking at the answer(s) in the back of the book.

Over to you
Is there anything that made you think differently about what you want your children to get out of school? If so, please share.

Back to reality

September 1, 2011

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This blog is temporarily about travel and homeschooling.

Years ago – the sort of time scale (20 years?) that I left between leaving the Solomons and revisiting them – Soul2Soul was the most listened to dance band in London. It’s not island reggae, but I quickly began to enjoy their music, and especially “Back to life, back to reality…” It’s an anthem with meaning!

Today the travelling ended. The passports are locked up. There are no plane tickets or plans or reservation vouchers to guard.

In short, we are back home with milk bottles on the doorstep and a lawn to mow. Everyone is beaming – even now with jet lag when it’s 6pm but feels like 11pm. Actually I’m not beaming, I’d have been v happy to stay in the Solomons for months, no years, longer. I miss staying with ML and her lovely family, the beautiful food and those blue skies.

London at 5.26am when we landed was grey and a tad cold.

Back home I’ve tackled the jobs that build up after three months away – the mountain of post especially. I’ve also done the family washing (suds’ law), mended the wooden dugong and helped Nell sand her carved dolphin (woodwork), buried poor Snowflake our pet mouse who, once dead, was placed in the freezer and fortunately didn’t get defrosted in the new microwave. The microwave is not technically new – it’s from a neighbour who gave it to our housesitter Christina, and I guess we should play with it to see how useful it is, or not. I’ve also picked up the dog from kennels where he ended up for the final week of his staycation and amply reapplied red mite barrier to the hen house in a bid to tackle these horrible pests before the hens arrive home. Then, in case the pesky critters had crawled on to me I removed all my clothing and did another load of laundry…

So busy at home, though upsettingly I’ve found out that my uni teaching hours have been halved.

Reality is like London weather (I’m thinking it never rains, but it pours). What I have to do is ignore all the inconveniences and find some good tricks to recall all the happinesses and lessons learnt over the past three months travelling. In short: smile more, listen more, do more and realise how lucky it is to be born with a British passport, in Britain.

Back to the here and now
Here’s what the girls are feeling as they settle back to breakfasts of butter, granary grains and lashings of marmite!

NELL: “I don’t want to tell you what I learnt because you’ll think I was really stupid. But… I can now picture the globe and all the countries and think about their different climates and realities. I learnt that in the Solomons the sky is much clearer, that might either be because of less pollution or where it is positioned.

“I found that it is a lot easier to breathe in a hotter place if you have asthma which is incredibly annoying as I do not like hot climates – they are too hot. In fact I spent about half an hour in a cool house in Singapore which had fake rain. I loved it, I could have stayed there for one whole day. I learnt that the countries all around the world have different currencies that can be more or less than English pounds, so if you visit a different country it is quite hard to know what you are paying – whether it is a rip off or not – unless you have taken time to learn about the exchange rates. I also found out that England is one of the well-off countries compared to the Solomons and other small Pacific islands because there they still have houses made of leaves, without proper windows (but that’s because of the climate). No one complained about being poor. People make their own houses which is extremely impressive. And I think a TV would be very expensive, and not everybody has one. But in England if you don’t have a TV or computer it would seem quite weird.

“I was really excited when we got on the plane to London, even though it took 13 hours from Singapore. But it actually seemed pretty quick because about 10 hours of it I was asleep! When the plane arrived at Heathrow airport I was really excited. It seemed really strange seeing all the lights of London compared to Honiara, which is about the same size as a tiny town in England which hardly anybody knows about. Anyone from there who has come to London would probably think it is one of the biggest cities they’d ever seen, and they’d be right. the UK has 60 million citizens, whereas Australia which could cover most of Europe only holds 20 million people. It’s really strange because you’d think they could fit a lot more people in. I think I know why – it’s because most of Australia is uninhabitable, for example we spent three days crossing the Nullabor Plain on a train which is incredible. We boarded in Perth, I felt like we should have got on the train in China or Russia or somewhere just from the amount of time it took.”

LOLA: “Going around the world I’ve learnt so many things. Like people are so kind and I’ve learnt a different language. I’ve learnt about different animals, and volcanoes. It’s hard not to when you see one. I’ve seen many things on my travels but I’ve come to realise that none of them hold the same place in my heart as my home. That sounds really cheesy! I think it will change me for good, I think I’m more relaxed but I think I’d like to put more effort into the things that I do, because I see now I’m so lucky to live in England and get these experiences and opportunities in things like music, riding. The classrooms in my school are so different to the Solomons. In the Solomon schools everything is bare. There are no posters, no carpets, no proper desks. Half the kids didn’t seem to even have books. And the books in the library at one of the schools I visited had all been eaten by white ants! People say state schools aren’t nearly as good as private schools, but I think state schools in London have so much more stuff, like computers and posters and paint on the walls, than the private school we went to in the Solomons. However the kids there really concentrate and learn so much better because they know it’s the only chance they will get. In England you have to keep going to school until you are 16, but in the Solomons you can get failed from school at 11; 13; 14; 15 and 16. To have a chance in life it helps to stay at school until 16!”

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