Tag Archives: kids

favourite moments from the Harry Potter Studio Tour

harry-potter-entranceLast week we went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour. It was an amazing experience! We left our youngest son (aged three) with my parents and took our two older boys (aged seven and nine) down to Watford – a fair old drive from Northumberland – staying two nights in a Premier Inn so that we could spend a whole day at the studios. It was well worth it. We arrived at 10.30 in the morning and didn’t leave ’till 4pm. We could have stayed longer – there was certainly more than enough to keep us interested – but we kind of ran out of steam in the end. It was a very busy day and I reached saturation point with input!

Favourite moments

There’s so much (too much!) I could tell you about the experience but, in the interests of brevity, I thought I’d just share my highlights. Maybe I can whet your appetite and persuade you to go along and experience it yourself!

The Great Hall

There’s a particularly exciting way that this set piece is introduced, which for me made it one of the highlights. It’s also right at the start of the tour so you’re all, “Eeek, We’re actually here! It’s like being in a film! Look at that fireplace! OMG did Alan Rickman really wear that costume*?! It’s the Griffindor dining table! CAN I EAT THAT CAKE?!!”** ‘etc. etc. (Well, I was – you may be calmer). My phone was packed with photos before we even left the hall.the-great-hall

*Yes he really did.

**No you can’t – it’s plastic.

Dumbledore’s Office

I’m not even sure what was so exciting about this set piece except that OH YES I DO – IT’S DUMBLEDORE’S OFFICE! Perhaps it’s just because I liked this room in the film, and perhaps it’s because you can actually go into part of it (you look at other sets from the outside) but for me it was magical.dumbledores-office
I also loved the potions lab (it even had spoons that ‘magically’ turned in cauldrons), The Burrow where the Weasely family lived (complete with knitting that knits itself, knives that chop and irons that iron – and all responsive to your waving hand. Fun.) and the Griffindor common room and bedroom. Oh and the Ministry of Magic… and all the other set pieces really because they are the actual sets from the actual films and Julie Walters and Jason Isaacs and Maggie Smith and Gary Oldman etc. were actually in them. See that stool? ALAN RICKMAN SAT ON IT! OH YES HE DID!

harry-potter-sets
L – R from the top: Potions lab, The Burrow, Griffindor Common Room, Griffindor boys bedroom, Professor Umbridge’s Office, The Hogwarts clock.

The Hogwarts Express!

I’m not usually excited by trains but I made an exception for this one. The photo below is of the actual train that was used for external shots in the film. You can go inside it too, where each carriage has been ‘dressed’ to represent a different year at Hogwarts. There’s also the opportunity to sit in a different, open-sided train carriage (the one used for filming internal shots) which jiggles around and has images flashing by the windows. You can do a bit of acting – “There’s a dementor at the window – look terrified!”– and have your photos taken in it which is pretty fun too. Oh, and you can pretend to push a trolley through platform 9 3/4 of coursehogwarts-express

The Creature Workshop.

This was just so cool. I saw John Cleese’s fake, ‘Nearly-headless Nick’ head, Fawkes the Phoenix (I always loved Fawkes), Buckbeak the hippogriff and a tiny shrivelled Voldemort that my husband swears looks like he feels first thing in the morning. Also thestrels, Aragog the giant spider and life sized models of cast members. All awesome.creature-workshop

Diagon Alley

I loved this street, it was so cool to see all the shops – I wanted to rush into Ollivanders for a wand or Flourish & Blotts for a book. And I REALLY wanted to go into Weasleys Wizzarding Wheezes for some tricks! Unfortunately you can’t actually enter any of the shops but still, being on the street is pretty exciting!diagon-alley

Cardboard versions of the sets

These were just gorgeous – perfect miniature replicas of the sets in white cardboard. Or perhaps ‘replicas’ is the wrong word since they were made before the actual sets. They are little works of art in their own right and really made me realise the artistry that goes into set design. I wish I could have taken better photos but the models were, understandably, all behind glass (and the glass had got rather finger-printy by later in the day!).

hogwarts-card-model

The Huge Hogwarts Model

This was, without a doubt, my favourite moment of the tour and it came right at the very end. I walked round the corner and literally gasped when I saw it. It’s a 1:24 scale model of the entire Hogwarts estate and is both miniature yet huge (50 feet in diameter!). The model was used to film the aerial shots of Hogwarts so it’s totally realistic. Close-up shots were filmed not only on set, but also on location in various parts of the UK, and when you look at the model you can see that it was designed with these locations in mind. For example, some was filmed in Durham and you can see a section of the model that’s like Durham cathedral. It’s intricate and clever and just plain old stunning. It takes up a whole room and they change the lighting over it so sometimes it’s day light and other times night time. All the windows are lit so it’s like the most gigantic, beautiful, twinkling Christmas decoration ever. If I’m completely honest, I felt a bit emotional looking at it.hogwartsYou can probably tell that we had a brilliant day. My nine-year-old who is a massive Harry Potter fan was enraptured all the way round, and he was so excited to see all the places Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint had been – I’ve probably shown my age with my choice of actors to be thrilled about! (but c’mon – Alan Rickman!).

Bottom line – we all loved it and we loved it all!

 

looking back, looking forward

autumn-walkSo, half term approaches!

I’m not sure how I feel about that really, it’s been a funny old six weeks since the kids went back to school. It’s been busy, really busy – one of those times when all the different aspects of my life need attention – and I’ve been floundering a bit trying to keep on top of everything. A feeling of mild bafflement and a low level sense of ‘WTAF is going on?’ have been my stalwart companions.

I was saying to a friend on the school run this morning that I’m only just starting to feel like I’ve got a handle on what our new daily routine is and knowing which books need signing, which homework requires parental comments and who and what needs to be where, when and why. Of course, only seconds after making this announcement I realised my son had left his P.E kit at home… then, when I went back to fetch it, I realised he must in fact have left it at school last week (all damp and muddy and festering… ) because it isn’t anywhere here. So I guess we haven’t *quite* reached a stage where we’re sailing perfectly along. I’m still prone to getting caught off guard by a gust of wind and having the boom crack me round the back of the head.

But progress has definitely been made. I mean, I made it to the school harvest festival on time (despite a dash home for a forgotten swimming kit, and a disgusting dog poo emergency), I’ve finally met my son’s teacher (middle school is so much more ‘hands off’ than first school!), I’ve written copious comments in various reading journals and even spent a very happy couple of hours yesterday helping my eldest create some 3D art for some ‘enrichment homework’ that we thought was optional but turned out not to be quite as optional as we thought!

On this basis I’m sure that after half term we’ll have all our rigging in order* and just sail seraphically along until Christmas. Because I’ve got this school thing nailed now. Oh yes. No more capsizing for me.

So I now have three more days (mornings) to try and do all the things that I can’t do while the boys are around. Then it’s a week off from the school run (yay!) during which we’re off to Harry Potter Studios! But shhhhh don’t tell the boys – it’s a surprise!

My plan is to tidy the entire house (clearing out all the junk that’s been building up for years), complete another module of my illustration course, research agents and send my picture books off to another batch, submit some work (that I haven’t written yet) to a competition that’s caught my eye, return to my novel and write another ten thousand words, write some more limericks and… oh, ok, probably none of that.

I have three mornings. I’m going to have coffee with some friends. I’m going to do some hoovering. I’m going to draw some pictures. It’s enough, I think.

I’ll leave you with a drawing I did last week as part of my course, the next module of which is on illustrating poems. One thing I really struggle with is speed – I’m an over-thinking slow coach – so I decided to have a go at illustrating a poem without any planning at all, just to dive in. This is one of my favourite poems. It’s by Elizabeth Jennings. I (re)read it then drew a picture. This is what appeared on the paper:a-child-in-the-night-poem-illustration

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*I don’t know why I’m sticking with the sailing metaphor… I don’t even know why I’m using it at all, I know NOTHING about boats!

 

my week in rhyme – #WhatImWriting

storysphere-2

A Story sphere I drew to represent all the different thoughts bouncing around in my head!

It’s Monday night – the time has flown, my weekly post is due,
I’ve not got much to write about…

No, wait, that’s not quite true.

I’ll tell you how I’m feeling now the new school term has started
– in truth I’ve been a mixture of elated and downhearted,
as my eldest son has taken to his new school like a pro
though my middle son has told me that he misses his big bro,
while my youngest took his first four days completely in his stride
but on the fifth day, he said “What? again?!” and clutched my leg and cried.*

What else?

Oh yes, my writing… well, last weekend was a blast,
so awesomely inspiring – my ‘to do list’ now is vast!
I’m determined to take action and submit, submit, submit
I know I’ll get rejections, but the key is not to quit.

Apart from that…

My art – I’ve nearly finished my assignment!
two pieces are completed while the third just needs refinement
(that’s really not exciting as I’m rather far behind
though thankfully my understanding tutor doesn’t mind.)

So onwards!

With my mega-plan (I’ve made an epic list)
to knuckle down and focus now on all the things I’ve missed
And that means lots of time for friends and chats and cups of tea
for drawing and for writing, because f**king FINALLY
after nine whole years of parenthood I have some time for me!

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Prose for Thought

*I sat with him and built some blocks. He recovered (probably faster than I did).

a new chapter

boys at the lakeside

My three boys in the lake district this summer – already feels like a lifetime ago!

Today was the first day of the new school term – the day my eldest son started middle school, my youngest started school nursery and my middle son went back to cheekily sauntering his way through the education system. It was the day for jumping out of ‘summer mode’ and back into routine. It was always going to be a big day for a nostalgic sap like me and, as expected, I felt all the feels:

Amazed pleasure – when my eldest two boys got up and were halfway through breakfast by the time I staggered downstairs (bleary-eyed after a fitful night dreaming about a daddy-long-legs attack… don’t ask), and then went and got themselves ready for school without any prompting at all. :)

Pride – when my eldest walked off with his best mate towards his new school with nothing more than a grin of excitement, a fond wave and ‘see you later’! in my direction. No nerves whatsoever!

Sudden desire to slap myself in the head – when I realised I’d failed to mention any sort of plan for picking him up. “I realised you didn’t tell me where to meet you after school!” he said later (totally unfazed) “But I saw Alex’s mum and asked her and she said you were coming to meet me at the phone box.” Good old Alex’s mum.

Frustration – at having ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ by ABBA on repeat in my head for most of the day. “Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture… ” Seriously, those lyrics, I know they’re about a daughter rather than a son but apart from that. Ouch.

Excitement – at starting my #WhatImWriting linky up again after a summer break and seeing people’s posts pop into my inbox and feeling that sense of anticipation about writing and blogging and, best of all, having my writing gang back together again!

Jitters – all morning I had this weird nervous energy. Couldn’t settle. Kept making cups of tea and not drinking them, or boiling the kettle and not pouring the water, or pouring the water into the mug without boiling the kettle first. I needed to go back to tea-making 101 clearly.

Nostalgia – at being back in the school nursery for the third (and final) time. It’s been six years since I first walked through those doors with my first son. It feels exactly the same and totally different.

Actually thinking I might cry – in the reception of the first school where I saw my eldest’s smiling photo on a noticeboard for the school council. The noticeboard is out of date of course – he’s left the school but seeing him there wearing his old school uniform… and then realising he wasn’t at the school any more and would never wear that uniform again… *sob*

Happiness – at seeing my fellow-school-parent-friends and then getting messages from other friends asking me how I was feeling and sending me photos of their kids in new uniform and all of us sharing all the, “this is it! A new stage!” excited emotion.

High-as-a-kite thrilledness – when we were all suddenly planning coffees and nights out and catch ups after the summer. I’ve missed everyone and I love, love LOVE knowing people are going to be around more and that we’re actually going to be able to meet during the day sometimes without kids!

Bliss – on a sunny afternoon walk through the forest with my youngest after his nursery session. He’s always been a brilliant little companion. We strolled along slowly examining bark and twigs and sunlight through the trees and when we got back he said “That was a lovely walk together, Mummy” and my heart melted.

Relief – because all the boys had a good first day. We had ice lollies in the garden and they told me all about it. My eldest was so happy and has already made new friends.

Happy excitement with a hint of disbelief – at realising this is the start of a new chapter where I have more time to myself to write and draw (and clean the house which shouldn’t excite me as much as it does) and to catch up with friends and just be myself by myself more than I’ve had a chance to in nearly a decade!

And now with a glass of wine and three boys upstairs asleep and some of my favourite blogs to read, I think I might have hit… contentment.

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the deep breath before the plunge

fell and waterThere’s a scene in LOTR Return Of The King where, on the eve of a huge battle, Gandalf and Pippin stand on a balcony of Minas Tirith looking out across the plains towards Mordor. Mount Doom glowers ominously in the distance and a brooding darkness is engulfing the land. “It’s so quiet” says Pippin, awestruck. “It’s the deep breath before the plunge” Gandalf responds.

I’ve always loved that line – it captures so well that feeling of anticipating something inevitable, particularly if you’re viewing it with some trepidation. There’s nothing you can do to stop the passage of time: the thing – whatever it is – is going to happen. So you take that deep breath, and you wait.

I’m feeling a teeny bit like that now. Only a very teeny bit – thankfully I’m not facing the ‘great battle of our time’ or anything even close. There is no growing shadow, menacing volcano, or hoards of Orks about to descend. But change is coming. Summer has rolled on past and is nearing its its destination. Next week school term begins and with it an end to the lazy days and a lurching jump back into the morning routine.

This September also brings with it two changes for our family – my eldest begins middle school and my youngest is starting school nursery five mornings a week. In actual fact, these changes are good. I’m pretty sure both my boys are ready for them, as is my middle son who’s going to find himself the ‘big brother’ rather than the ‘little brother’ in school for the first time. But still, they’re changes and I’ve never been one for change – it brings the unknown which is well… unknown. Anything could happen! Give me the comforting blanket of familiarity any time.

There’s another reason for my deep breath too though. I’m not looking at encroaching darkness, I’m actually looking at a beautiful sunrise. Because with the new school term comes time to pursue my creative goals – the most time I’ve had in years (and years!). Five mornings of child-free time a week! Ok, some of that will be taken up by work, and yes I’ll also need to get on top of all sorts of household stuff that I’ve let slide, and I’ve promised myself I’ll get fit, but still… all that time. I can’t help but be excited!

Right now my creativity is champing at the bit. I’ve been fitting drawing and writing into little bits of time I’ve had over the summer and am finally close to submitting my first assignment for my illustration course. Woo hoo! It’s taken me ages to get to this point so I’m hoping to be able to up the pace a bit once we get settled into the new school year.

I’ve also signed up to go to the Festival of Writing in early September where I have two one-on-one meetings with agents arranged. Eeek. I’ve been editing picture book manuscripts on and off all summer to submit to them and finally got two sent off yesterday! I’m hoping to get useful feedback from the sessions. It feels like a good time to talk to some professionals, go to some seminars (I went to some great ones at the Festival last year) and generally get my head back into my writing again.

I’m also going to get back to more regular blogging and my weekly #WhatImWriting linky after a summer off. Hopefully my productivity in all areas will improve but, at this point it’s hard to tell quite how things will pan out. Will my mornings pass in a blur of ironing and attempts to get to the bottom of my email pile? Will ‘getting fit’ steal from creativity or encourage it? Will all my boys settle into their new routines without a hitch? Will I?

Yes, change is definitely on the way and with a week of summer holidays to go, I’m standing on the balcony of my citadel (ok, sitting on the sofa in my living room) watching it approach. Chances of an eerie silence falling to herald it? In this house?! Zero. But I’ll be taking that deep breath.

And then… the plunge.

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standing up for what you believe in

So, tomorrow’s the big day! #KidsStrike3rdMay, and mine and Sophie’s parallel campaign, #THISislearning (which you don’t have to be striking to join in with!).

How am I feeling? Excited, nervous and frazzled. I have all of the feels at the moment. Sometimes I think my heart might burst out of my chest. I’m like some hopeless romantic or desperate optimist or frightened radical or, I don’t know… it’s exhausting. clouds

The last few weeks have been manic. Actually, ever since I published my ‘No Mr Cameron, No.’ blog post back in March (which ten thousand people read in a week – a number so hugely vast, in terms of this blog, that I still haven’t got my head round it!) things have been feeling slightly out of control. There’s nothing quite like writing a passionate, heartfelt post and having people respond to it in an equally passionate, heartfelt way. To be a bit navel-gazy and pretentious for a moment, I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a journey. I’ve been inspired and enthused, I’ve learned masses and I’ve ended up way out of my comfort zone launching a whole campaign of my own. When people responded the way they did, I couldn’t ignore it. I had to act.

So a month ago I decided to keep my boys off school for the Kids Strike. I wrote a personal letter to their school explaining how happy they have been at their school and that the action isn’t against the school or teachers (who are fab) but against educational policy which NEEDS to change for the sake of all our kids. Some headteachers across the country are marking absences for the strike as ‘educational’ in recognition of that – how wonderful, eh? Totally in the spirit of parents and teachers working together! Still, it’s officially against the law so little goody-two-shoes, rule-abiding me is having to take a deep breath over it all…

… A deep breath while also shouting “Upon St Cripsin’s day!” a la Kenneth Branagh in Henry V (quietly to myself, I’m not THAT weird) and marching onwards.#THISislearning badge final

As for #THISislearning – our parallel campaign to spread positive images, messages and stories about real learning across social media on May 3rd – well, there’s been so much good stuff come from that already. People sharing stories, doing fabulous drawings and really wanting to make it clear to our government that current educational policy is wrong, not just by striking (although hooray for that!) but also by sharing examples of what real learning looks like. That’s what tomorrow is all about for me –  real learning and positive action. Together, a friend and I have all sorts of activities planned, albeit with enough flexibility to follow our kids’ lead. We want the day to be fun, we want them to learn and we want them to see that when it’s important, you have to stand up for what you believe in.

I would love lots of people to join in with #THISislearning. I hope they do. It means so much to me.

Ooh and by the way, another reason April was full-on:

campnano 16 winner banner

Yep. I wrote enough words last month to win CampNanoWriMo.

Phew.

Today nerves, tomorrow the world, after that a nice long nap.

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And then the fun began...
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explosive experiments

My boys love experimenting with different liquids – making potions and lotions and explosions of all colours and kinds. This is no surprise to me as I loved doing it as a child too! I seem to recall my brothers and me making our mum some rank smelling perfume out of rose petals which we’d squelched underfoot and then squished into a bottle which we topped up with water and glitter. She must have been… thrilled?

Anyway, over the past few years, whenever a rainy weekend hits, the likelihood is, one of my boys will say “Let’s do an experiment!”. Once, they even decreed it “Harry Potter Day” and spent most of the afternoon making potions. When we first started experimenting, we tried a few we got out of a book but along the way we’ve often gone more free-style and have made all sorts of weird and wonderful concoctions, some of which I thought I’d share with you now. Make sure these are done under adult supervision!

Experiment one – the lava lamp

You will need: Vegetable oil, water, Alka-seltzer, food colouring, drinking glass, plate.

Experiment: Put the glass on a plate (you’ll see why later) pour vegetable oil into it until it is just under a half full. Add a similar amount of  vegetable oil. Wait for the oil and water to separate. Add some (maybe ten) drops of food colouring and wait for it to fall to the bottom. Then add an Alka-seltzer and watch the results! The coloured water rises up through the oil in bubbles and the colours swirl.

oil and water

Ok, so I couldn’t find a photo with food colouring in…not at this stage anyway…

The Science:

Stage 1 – Water is denser than oil so it sinks to the bottom and the oil sits on the top. Food colouring is also denser so it falls through the oil and into the water.

Stage 2 – when you add the Alka-seltzer it fizzes when it meet the water. This releases carbon dioxide which reduces the density of the water causing it to rise up and through the oil. When it reaches the top of the oil the carbon dioxide is released and the water sinks again.

Added bit of fun:

Remember the plate? you’ll need it if you follow the next bit which is my boys’ favourite bit of all – they add more and more Alka-seltzer and food colouring and the whole things bubbles up and runs down the side of the glass. It’s pretty impressive!

I don't normally show my boys faces on my blog but this is well over two years old so, meh.

“WE WANT IT TO EXPLODE!” (I don’t normally show my boys faces on my blog but this is well over two years old and they all look different now!) I love the expression on my youngest’s face!

Experiment two – the volcano

You will need: Plastic volcano (we got one with a kit) or a glass, bicarb of soda, vinegar, food colouring, that trusty plate again.

Experiment: Put the volcano or glass onto your trusty plate. Put the food colouring and bicarb of soda into the volcano (or glass). Are you ready? Pour on the vinegar! It froths and foams up and over and down the sides in a very impressive display!volcano experiment

The science:

Vinegar is a weak solution of acetic acid. Bicarb of soda is a base or alkali. When the two are mixed, a neutralisation reaction occurs which releases carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide takes up more space than the bicarb of soda and vinegar hence the bubbling, fizzing, expanding potion!

Experiment three – fireworks

You will need: a large clear plastic (or glass) bowl, beaker, water, tablespoon of vegetable oil, food colouring, water, white paper.

Experiment: Put the plastic bowl on a table with the white paper behind it (a white backdrop makes it easier to see the ‘fireworks’ when they happen). Fill the bowl with water. Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a beaker and mix in a few drops of food colouring. Pour the mixture from the beaker into the bowl of water and watch the effects! The droplets of oil and food colouring float to the surface of the water. Once they reach the surface they explode and sink down like a firework display.

fireworks in a bowl

View from above – personally I liked this view best!

fireworks in a bowl 2

View from the side

The science:

Water is more dense than oil, so the oil and water floats to the surface. When it reaches the surface it bursts and the colouring floats back down, dissolving in the water and causing the colour effects.

Experiment four – floating egg FREESTYLE!

As I wrote at the start, my boys love to experiment, so this was one my six-year-old made up as he went along!

You will need: a drinking glass, an egg, lots of salt, vegetable oil, water, Alka-seltzer, possibly a grape, perhaps a chunk of apple, imagination

Experiment: Pour water and oil into a glass add 2 alkaseltzer, a bite of apple, a grape, washing up liquid and an enormous quantity of salt. Finally gently drop in a whole, unbroken egg. The egg floats and everything looks quite pretty!random potion
The science:

Because this was free-style I’m not entirely sure how the effect was achieved but, having done some research with my son, we think the Alka-seltzer and washing up liquid caused the pretty oil effect at the top. Most interesting though, was the floating egg. It turns out that when salt dissolves in water, it makes it denser. In our experiment, my son added enough salt for the water to become denser than the egg which is why the egg floated! You could actually experiment with this by adding different amounts of salt to water and testing to see what objects could float in different solutions.

If you try any of these experiments, I hope you have fun! There are many more to try and I suspect we’ll be experimenting further on 3rd May so watch out for the results on the #THISislearning hashtag!

If you have any experiments or fun learning activities for kids then I’d love you to share them on our #THISislearning linky – more information here!

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Little Hearts, Big Love

what a week!

wave in the sunYou know when you’re paddling in the sea with your trousers rolled up to your knees and then you see a huge wave approaching so you turn and run the other way but it starts to catch you up and slaps your legs with a huge wet spray that’s kind of exhilarating except you don’t really want to get any wetter so you keep running and kind of jumping and laughing and probably going ”argh!” a bit and the wave keeps chasing you so you just keep going till it runs out of energy and you land on a heap in the sand?

Phew!

That was me last week. It was a really busy, exciting, exhausting week that I saw coming but still didn’t really prepare myself for – I just ran and jumped went with it. I landed on Sunday evening very soggy and with a definite sense of ‘phew’ mixed with ‘yay!’

Why? Well Monday was the first day after the Easter holidays so I was in full-on ‘catch up with everything I’ve let slip for the past two weeks!’ mode which included housework and blogging and trying to write something for CampNaNo. There were also emails flying back and forth between Sophie and me as we were planning our #THISislearning campaign. At one point I was drying my hair and designing a blog badge on my laptop while simultaneously pretending to be a ‘mummy lion’ to my three-year-old. It was that sort of day. I also had to pack for…

Tuesday when I set off to my parents’ house in Yorkshire with my three-year-old (leaving his big brothers at home with my husband). I visited my grandparents and did more campaign planning while also trying to organise everything for…

Wednesday when I set off for London leaving my three-year-old with my parents. Unfortunately, at the station (and with no time to turn round) I realised I’d left my phone at my parent’s house. TWO DAYS IN LONDON WITH NO PHONE! But it was ok because I’d brought my laptop… although OH NO – I’D FORGOTTEN THE CHARGER! An inauspicious start but it was ok, I got there (campaign planning all the way on the train) and found my way to the business conference I was going to. Thank goodness my mum had given me her London street map despite my saying ‘oh it’s fine, I can just use google maps’ … not without your smart phone you can’t you fool! It was a really good event and very networky which was great in many ways but networking completely exhausts me!

alice filling glassLuckily, a tonic was on the way in the form of the very lovely Alice from The Filling Glass who I went out for a meal with in the evening. Alice and I have never met before although we’ve been following each other’s blogs since last summer. I had a hunch we would get on well, and we really did. We had lots in common, even our matching blue ‘mummy coats’! I’m hoping we manage another meet up – maybe a whole #WhatImWriting meet up – later in the year.

Then Thursday was a big day – my first experience of the London Book Fair! This is an amazing event where loads of publishers, book sellers, authors, distributors, wholesalers, agents and, well, anyone who’s interested in books in any way, all gathers under one roof. There was so much to take in! You’ll have to forgive the poor quality of the photo below – remember how I said I’d forgotten my phone? I spent much of my London trip really missing the ability to take photos (Alice took the one above) then shortly before I left the Book Fair I thought, ‘ooh hang on, my laptop has a camera… I mean, it doesn’t have a viewing window or anything, but I could use ‘photo booth’ in selfie mode…’ so I stood on the balcony, placed my laptop on a rail, pointed it away from me (looked a like a weirdo) and TA DA!

london book fair photoProof I was there! I have to admit, after talking non-stop on Wednesday I spent Thursday just absorbing information and not networking at all. This was possibly a missed opportunity but there was only so much I could do. I went to lots of writing seminars and wandered round looking at lots of books and feeling a mixture of contentment and overwhelm. I’ll write more about what I learned in a separate post soon.

I also continued the campaign planning with Sophie in the gaps between seminars, although by this time my laptop battery was seriously depleted. I took the train back to my parents’ house on Thursday night and on the way, with 1% of battery remaining (and surrounded by business men, laptops and sandwiches on a hugely crowded train), I finally finished and hit ‘publish’ on my #THISislearning launch post. Another ‘phew’ moment.

On Friday morning I was happily reunited with my son (who’d had an awesome time with my parents) and we made our way back up north and home just in time to pick my older boys up from school. I then solo-parented my way through the weekend as my husband had gone away shortly before I got back! By yesterday night I was ready to collapse in a heap, so spent the evening with a glass of wine and my laptop catching up with blog commenting.

So that was my wave-dodging week – my feet are soggy and sandy but I’m drying them and dusting them off for the week ahead. I can see more waves coming my way!

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THIS is learning, Mr Cameron.

#THISislearning kidsA couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about education called ‘No, Mr Cameron, No‘. It was my reaction to the growing feeling amongst parents, teachers and education experts that governmental educational policy is WRONG. That our kids are put under too much pressure, expectations are too high and they are tested too young, in a way that is making it harder and harder for our teachers to teach the way they know is best. The fun and the joy is being stripped out of learning and the long-term negative consequences of this could be vast.

I wanted to support our schools and our fabulous teachers and suggested we use our power as parents and not send our kids into school on SATs day in favour of a ‘learning is fun’ day where we would collectively show the government what real learning looks like.

The response the post received was amazing. Support flooded in from teachers and parents alike. It was amazing and moving and just, WOW!

“Yes!” I thought “Let’s do this! Let’s start a revolution!”

A couple of days later a new campaign was launched by a group of concerned Year Two parents, called ‘Let Our Kids Be Kids‘. They are proposing a kids strike on May 3rd (which is not a test day) in favour of a day of fun learning to show the government that parents want an end to year 2 SATs and the current educational pressures.

“Yes!” I thought “the revolution has begun!”

So I got my thinking cap on and I had conversations with other online friends. We all felt there was more we could do as bloggers to help the ‘Let Our Kids Be Kids’ campaign and to really make a difference.

Now, I’ll admit, I had a wobble. As a naturally non-revolutionary, law-abiding type who doesn’t like to draw much attention to myself, I wondered if I could really do it. Could I break the rules, keep my kids off school and encourage others to do so? Could I really? Really?

One (self-inflicted) big kick in the rear later and the answer is YES, ARE YOU KIDDING?! OF COURSE I CAN!

More importantly of course WE can!

So, having chatted to Let Our Kids Be Kids, my friend and fellow blogger Sophie and I have decided to launch a parallel campaign to support theirs. It’s called #THISislearning and is focussed not just on keeping our kids off school on 3rd May but on doing something on that day to show the government what great learning looks like.

We also want to widen the focus beyond Year 2 SATs and make it about over-assessment in schools in general (we know plenty of people feel that Year 6 SATs too, are appalling!). We really want to send a powerful, positive message that we hope our government will listen to, and the more of you who join in (parents of school kids or pre-schoolers, homeschoolers, teachers, bloggers, non-bloggers, social media gurus or newbies, anyone who works with kids in fact, anyone at all who supports our aim!) the louder our voice will be!

Here, in brief, is the plan (more details to follow soon!):

On Tuesday 3rd May we will be keeping our kids off school. For me this means not only my six-year-old (whom the Year 2 SATs directly affect,) but also my eight-year-old. I’ll be downloading letters from the Let Our Kids Be Kids website which I will use to let my boys’ school know our plans and so they know this is action against governmental policy and not them or my sons’ great teachers!

We will be spending the day with our kids (and perhaps other friends with kids too), learning lots about the world in a fun way and sharing it on social media with the hashtag #THISislearning. I haven’t decided quite what I’m going to do yet but watch this space because:

Over the next (nearly) three weeks I will be sharing various ideas with you for fun learning activities. They might be anything – messing with mud, experimenting with liquids, creating, constructing, exploring… the options are endless.

Sophie and I will be setting up a linky (UPDATE: it’s now live!) across both our blogs for people to link up posts about their thoughts and feelings on education and/or about any plans they have for May 3rd – it would be great if it could become a resource for fun learning activities so that we’re all full of inspiration by the day!

Then, on May 3rd we want set social media feeds abuzz with photos, tweets, messages and stories (from as many of you as possible) about children learning in a way that is fun. No formality, no stuffiness, no tests or unreachable targets or overwhelming pressure. We want to shower the government – no, deluge them – with examples of learning that is creative and engaging, learning which sparks childrens’ imaginations and which sets them up for a lifetime of curiosity and passion. Because that’s what education should be about.

Because THIS is learning, Mr Cameron.

#THISislearning

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Come and join us!

We have set up a facebook group for people to share thoughts, plans and support. Anyone who wants to support #THISislearning in any way is welcome to come and join it!

We also have a badge which we’d love you to display on your blog (if you have one). Just copy and past the code below. Thank you!

Together, we CAN!

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I’m linking this post with The Prompt at Mum Turned Mom. This week the word is ‘jump’ which seems apt since this campaign feels like a leap both into the unknown and out of my comfort zone!

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And then the fun began...

 

the things they say #8 – unnameable pouches

easter collageIt’s been a really full-on couple of weeks what with it being the easter holidays and the fact that I’ve still been trying to work (ok, only one day but still… ), and write and blog and do my illustration course… and then of course there was the post that went huge and got me into many an inspiring Twitter conversation about education.

But the boys are back to school tomorrow and my blog hits have settled down again so, back to business! This feels like a gear change from recent posts but I do love recording the random things my toddler says, so here’s this month’s edition of silliness from my (just turned) three year old:

  • He loves to draw and currently produces about ten pictures a day – on a slow day! He usually draws with great intensity, taking more and more pens out of the case as he goes. Lids fly everywhere, scribbles adorn the table and ink gets all over his hands. The other day I pointed out he had brown ink all the way up his arms. “Wow!” he said gleefully “It look like a crusty bum!” I blanched, I mean… I suppose.. but thankfully he continued “Yes, a hot crusty bum!” at which point *PING* I realised that some of the marks were in a kind of cross shape and the whole thing was reminiscent of a hot cross bun. Of course. What else could he possibly have meant?
    • He’s noticed that ‘time’ is a thing for us (mostly, it has to be admitted, in the context of “Argh, no, is that the…?!?” rather than, “Oh, no rush, there’s plenty of…”) and has come up with an answer to the inevitable question. If you ask “What’s the time?” in his presence he always pipes up with “Seven pasty nine.” No matter if it’s morning, noon or night, whether he’s racing around outside in the sunshine or being tucked up in bed in the dark, it’s always and only “Seven pasty nine.” Sounds quite a tasty time of day though so I have no complaints!
    • Child of the Eighties? Remember Thundercats?  A few months ago it was available on Amazon Prime (yes, the original version!), and all three boys loved watching it together. They still play Thundercats games together now where they race around acting out the characters. My three-year-old likes to play their huge-haired, muscly leader, “Lion-o”. Except he calls him “Lion-mauve”. I rather like it – makes me think of Lion-o in a hand-knitted cardi. And what’s not to like about that?!
    • I opened the blinds the other day to a sea of mist. “Yay!” said the toddler “It’s froggy outside!”
  • We have parking meters in our town that give you a ticket for a FREE half hour of parking. It’s lucky you can get them for free as the toddler thinks the parking metres are “Minions” and loves to go and say hello and ask them for a ticket. They’re very obliging! You’re probably imagining we have lovely yellow parking meters – that would make sense, right?
     
    minion 2parking meter

    Minion or parking meter? Spot the difference!

  • And finally – one from my eight-year-old. During an average lunchtime conversation recently he made reference to “the pouch that no one dares name…”. He looked at us as if we would know what he was talking about, but we didn’t. After a little encouragement it was revealed he was talking about a scrotum, or scrotums in general. I’ll never view them in the same light again.*snort*
    Little Hearts, Big Love