Tag Archives: animals

Arthur’s imaginary menagerie

The unschooling diaries: week thirty

We seem to have acquired, over the past week or so, two cats, two dogs, and a fish. Oh, and an Orca whale. They’re very small, and not entirely visible, but to Arthur they are very real indeed.


The first of these creatures appeared one day as we were settling down for a morning snuggle. Arthur was about to climb into my bed when he proclaimed that he had forgotten his cat. When I asked him to tell me a bit more about it, he said the cat had been on the shelf in my study and he had reached up and taken him down. But he had accidentally left him in the bath.

Curious, and not recalling a cat on my bookshelves, I went downstairs and checked the bathroom. I saw nothing, but Arthur follow me, peered around my legs, and reached in to retrieve his pet.

She came everywhere with us, and there were regularly brief moments of panic when he was worried he had lost her. He introduced her to his friend when we went out for the day, and explained that his cat was brown with purple eyes.

The second cat appeared when we were sat in another friend’s garden. We were chatting about this first pet, and how she had miraculously come into our lives, when Arthur suddenly exclaimed “Oh, there’s another one!”. He had come down from the clouds, apparently, and was brown too – but with yellow eyes.

We were heading off from there straight to a festival, so put both of the cats into Arthur’s rucksack and went on our way.

Over the course of the weekend he acquired two dogs, and a fish has appeared at some point in the past couple of days.

(I think he got that one from Daddy, who invented his own invisible fish to keep Arthur company.)

Daddy has tried to explain too that the wonderful thing about these particular pets is that they are always there, inside your heart, even if you think that you can’t see them. And that’s been important, because since Arthur’s imagination created his animals it seems to have had trouble keeping hold of them. Especially at night, when he has woken crying, afraid that they are lost.

In the light of day they are easier to conjure – he will often point to the place in the room where they are, or tell me that they are licking my feet. At night, though, I wonder whether they point to an underlying anxiety.

He called me into his room as I was writing this, panicked that he couldn’t see his cats and dogs and fish and asking to have the light on. I pondered for a moment, and suggested that they had perhaps gone off exploring, as animals often do.

Arthur seemed happy to accept that they were in his garden, and as he snuggled down beneath his covers added that he had a whale now too. An Orca, apparently, who was sat beside him on the pillow.

Such a wonderful menagerie; such a wonderful imagination.

Never lose that, little one.


Astronauts and alligators

The unschooling diaries: week twenty

One of the most awesome things about travelling with Arthur is the way it opens my eyes to new experiences – both seeing the familiar in a brand new light, and encouraging me to explore places I might not otherwise have ventured into.

We managed to squeeze a surprising amount of adventures into our recent whistlestop tour to Florida – we were only there for three full days, and one of those was a wedding. But in between cooling off in various pools and making lots of lovely new friends we managed to make the most of where we were with two very different excursions.

The first was to the Kennedy Space Center. Now I love space as much as the next person, but honestly if it hadn’t been for Arthur being as fascinated as he is about all things interstellar I very much doubt my husband would have persuaded me to go. But we did, and it was brilliant!


Arthur was almost climbing out of his carseat with excitement as we approached, the models of various Saturn spacecrafts towering into the sky. Everything was familiar to him from the books we’ve read and the documentaries he’s watched with his daddy, and as we got closer he began pointing out to me the different parts of the rockets and explaining how they flew.


He got to sit inside command modules, try his hand at moon landing simulations, experience a re-enactment of the Saturn V launch (actually possibly the best bit of multi-media theatre I’ve seen) and walk beneath the Saturn V itself, his all-time favourite spaceship.




He was fascinated as we trawled round the various displays, looking at old photographs and actual rocks from the actual moon. Being there just put into context everything he’s been exploring at home, making it so much more real – and so much more exciting.


We even almost got to see a rocket launch, but it was cancelled at the last minute. Even that Arthur took in his stride, though he was clearly disappointed. It wasn’t quite the same watching the video one of our friends took when they caught the rescheduled launch the following night, though that was still kinda cool!


In total contrast to this, the next day we went to Gatorland. Now again, this was not the sort of place I would have rushed to if it weren’t for the talk of alligators piquing Arthur’s interest – and again we had an awesome, and enlightening, few hours of exploration.


There were literally thousands of alligators and crocodiles, some so close that you could almost touch them, spread around an awesomely retro site where egrets, herons and storks swooped and squawked. There was a balance of wide open spaces and smaller displays, and we had some really interesting talks about habitat and animal behaviour as we explored the park.




Arthur was also fascinated (and a little bit scared) by the snakes, peering in through the glass. Less scary (though a little bit random) was the petting zoo, where he sneaked in a cuddle with a kid before we continued on our way.


The other unexpected highlight – and one that was particularly helpful as the mercury topped thirty degrees – was the kids’ splash park. We dipped in there twice during our visit. The first time Arthur hung back, nervous in the company of raucous older children. On our return, though, he threw himself in with confidence – proud with himself for having overcome his fears and rewarded by being drenched in deliciously cool water.


For a holiday that I thought would revolve mainly around socialising, albeit on the other side of the world, I was amazed by how much we managed to pack in. It reminded me, though, of the wonderful thing about travelling with children: it might add another layer of complication to the journey, but when you begin to see the possibilities the world presents through their wide eyes it can’t help but bring a whole new dimension to the adventure.



Animal magic

The unschooling diaries: week fifteen

Sometimes you plan for learning: gather resources, anticipate interests, provide inspiration. And sometimes, when you’re least expecting it, it just happens. I guess, fundamentally, that’s the beauty of unschooling – especially because going on adventures (small or large) is a particularly good way of throwing up those unexpected learning opportunities.

I like adventures.

We went on one last weekend, to the countryside near London where some friends are about to embark on the ginormous adventure of building a house. I love living by the sea, but there is something quite wonderful about being somewhere properly rural too: seeing bunnies hop across the fields and horses trotting along the lanes.

There were horses living in the field next door to our friends and one of them, Tommy, was particularly friendly himself. Arthur was transfixed.


He’s not really met horses before, not close up. Tommy is a very small horse – a pony really – but to Arthur I imagine he seemed huge. We went to see him first in his stable, just to say hello, and he was incredibly tolerant of all of these people invading his space – especially the curious little ones.


Arthur just loved being next to him, and giggled when he nibbled at his hair. It does, admittedly, look an awful lot like straw.

The next day Tommy came out of his stable, and again Arthur delighted in having him close. He rested his hand against his flank and then, getting braver, rested the other hand on him too and went in for a kiss.



He took the opportunity to get involved in grooming very seriously, gently brushing Tommy’s coat. Arthur has a tendency to get a bit overexcited around animals, but he visibly calmed in the presence of the horse. I was so lovely to watch – a glimpse of a more centred place for my little man.


It didn’t entirely last: the offer of a ride on Tommy’s back seemed to freak him out completely. He swung between wanting to and not wanting to at all, and in the end we just followed down the road on foot as his friend enjoyed a ride herself.

I’m not really surprised he was overwhelmed. The proximity to this animal was already an awful lot for him to digest, and the experience was clearly an important one for him. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what he learnt – there were practical things, like the way his behaviour shifted and an awareness of the dangers of standing behind a horse – but the deeper learning is less tangible. He was absorbing so much from just being there, making whole his perception of an animal he had only previously seen from a distance or in books.

It was a reminder of the magic animals hold for children, and how important it is to include them in their experience of the world. I don’t think we’ll be getting a pet just yet (the tadpoles are plenty for the moment), but I am looking forward to seeking out opportunities over the months to come for Arthur to feel that magic again.




Fuelled by his books and his soft toys and his developing penchant for David Attenborough, Arthur is becoming increasingly interested in animals. So with a couple of hours to spare yesterday afternoon we thought we’d wrap up warm and take him to the zoo.


I’ve written about how much we love Paignton zoo before, but this was the first time we suggested a trip and Arthur became excited just with the anticipation of it. And his excitement grew and grew once we were inside.

We saw snakes, just like in The Gruffalo.



We saw tortoises (that Arthur insisted were turtles) having their lunch.


And a crocodile (that Arthur insisted was a dinosaur) having a nap.


We saw lots of different types of monkeys, doing all sorts of monkey-type things. The monkeys are Arthur’s current favourite of Attenborough’s topics, and the one he asks to watch most often.




But best of all was a very patient goat, who Arthur was thrilled to get up close to and who very kindly let Arthur give him a hug.




All in all it made a small boy very happy, and I will definitely be taking him back again to see the animals very soon.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Trains, goats and autumn leaves

This weekend, we managed to tick something else off our South Devon bucket list. We’ve been past the Rare Breeds Farm in Totnes countless times on the train to London, the vintage-style platform of the South Devon Railway looking like a gateway to another world. Having finally made it there on foot I can confirm that those first impressions really are quite accurate.

From the first steps beyond the station car park into the woodland path you feel like you’re onto something special, a sensation made even stronger once the bridge across the river comes into view.


I think Arthur could happily have stayed right there, watching the mainline trains speed past mere metres away, but little did he know the other treats in store.


To get to the farm you have to walk along the steam railway platform. Everything is beautifully maintained, and we were lucky enough to arrive just as a special service was pulling in. Arthur was captivated by the comings and goings, eagerly ‘choo choo’ing as Leigh explained the mechanics of the steam engine to him. Once again we could have ended our trip right there and they both would have been very happy.




We managed to tear ourselves away, and headed over the tracks to the little farm itself. After picking up some feed in the cafe we went through the gates – and immediately came face to face with a row of owls.


I’m not sure Arthur believed they were real at first, but then we found a very little owl called Flitwick just waiting to be stroked.


After a gentle stroke of Flitwick’s feathers we continued further on, coming across some very lively red squirrels. I’m not sure Arthur knew quite what to make of them!


And then we found the goats. I don’t think Arthur’s met goats before, and these ones were very friendly. One of my favourite moments of the afternoon was him giggling ‘Fingers! Fingers!’ as they greeted him enthusiastically through the fence. He even had a go at feeding them, and when we ventured inside was quick to make himself at home.




There were some beautiful sheep too, though Arthur was happy to let Daddy take the lead on feeding those.


After meeting all the larger animals we came across the guinea pigs, and Arthur sat himself down for a little cuddle. He thought it was a ‘baby dog’ at first, and got very confused when we said it was a sort of pig…



All in all it is a very special place, and we will most definitely be back. It’s just a shame we discovered it so late in the season! Though that did give us the excuse for a bit of frolicking in the autumn leaves – the perfect end to a perfect afternoon.


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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