Tag Archives: space

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.



A space to learn

The unschooling diaries: week fourteen

It may be taking up rather a lot of time and headspace, but one major benefit of the #THISislearning campaign for me has been the renewed focus I have found on the way Arthur learns, and how I can best facilitate it. I’ve been reading lots of articles about what does – and doesn’t – inspire effective learning and I in turn am feeling very much inspired.

One of the key concerns parents and teachers have about the SATs is the space they take up – both in terms of time and the room they occupy in peoples’ heads – meaning that other learning, proper learning, is squeezed out as a result. With Arthur learning at home (and out and about) with me, I don’t need to worry about his learning time (and quality) being reduced by assessment or administration. I do, however, want to make sure that his learning does not get lost in the focus on the everyday.

This is a bit of an oxymoron when it comes to unschooling. After all, everyday life IS learning – everything we do, enhanced by talk and questions, is teaching Arthur about a different aspect of the way the world works. But all of that is fairly ordinary, and I want to make sure he is inspired by the extraordinary too – that he has the chance to explore familiar (and less familiar) objects and materials in his own way, and in doing so learn things that might challenge his perceptions and everyday experiences.

Part of that means making sure he has the time in the day to play, and to immerse himself in that extra-ordinary learning. And part of it means dedicating physical space for him to do it – space that inspires curiosity and exploration, space that is his.

He actually has various little places around the house for this – his room, obviously, and a corner of my study. The area we’ve been working on this week, though, is in the kitchen. It started off just over a year ago as Arthur’s art corner, but as the months have passed it has evolved: he has acquired an increasing amount of resources for building and creating and experimenting, and the more things we’ve had to try to cram in to his corner the harder it’s been to actually access them.

I dream of Montessori-style open shelves, with carefully curated learning materials rotated on a regular basis. But then I have to get realistic, and remember just how quickly the space around me can descend into chaos if I’m not careful. So we’ve gone for clear drawers instead – I trawled the internet to find ones which would fit on our Ikea unit and finally found the perfect ones. I’m still waiting for another column of shelving to arrive which should (hopefully) fit perfectly into the corner by the window, and then there will be space for books and boxes of miscellaneous bits and pieces.


The idea with the drawers is that each of them has one type of resource. The way I’ve grouped them has varied, but there is a logic to it all. I’m hoping each one contains something that will inspire Arthur towards creative play: very few of the resources have a ‘right’ application, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he interprets their potential.

My favourite at the moment is definitely the seaside drawer, with shells and stones and sand collected from local beaches and our travels all over the world. I have so many ideas of what we might be able to do with them, but I’m trying to hold back at the moment to see what Arthur comes up with first.


As for Arthur, he seems especially intrigued by the ‘small worlds’ drawer, and I can’t blame him. We have yet to collect all of the weird and wonderful creatures he has secreted around the house and introduce them to their new home, but the ones that are there are already inspiring some interesting play – I particularly liked this morning’s conversation between the bear and the octopus.


On the subject of creatures, this learning space is also home to Arthur’s first pets – four tadpoles collected from the pond at my parents’ place. We are both fascinated by their habits and their creeping metamorphosis – in the last forty eight hours they have just begun to grow legs. They have inspired so many fascinating conversations already – I can’t wait to see Arthur’s wonder when their transformation is complete!


There is generally something incredibly powerful about focusing Arthur’s creative and conceptual energies around this space. He tends to oscillate round it as we go through our day, picking up new things to explore or pausing to investigate something further. It has certainly become the place he gravitates towards first thing in the morning. With things being accessible and clearly laid out he has proved more likely to just leap straight in – like yesterday, when I came downstairs to find him drawing on his easel (welly boots on of course ready to escape into the garden the second I opened the door).


The more I learn about learning the more I realise I have yet to learn – which is exactly as it should be. I am just very grateful to be spending my days with such a good little teacher, and will continue to do all I can to make the adventures we have together as inspiring and enlightening as possible.


Building blocks

The unschooling diaries: week five

One of Arthur’s favourite activities at the moment is building things with Duplo. He was given a set for his second birthday, but it took a little while for him to see the appeal (beyond eating or throwing the bricks anyway). This year, with the addition of a fire station and Batman set, he is well and truly away.

He is sometimes quite happy to build on his own, but he especially loves to direct: sitting down with me or Leigh and getting us to help him create the structures in his mind. We had a great session this week, straight after breakfast one morning.


I’d cleared my writing goals before he’d woken up so I was free to play without worrying about my to do list. And as we played, I was fascinated to see where the building blocks of his inspiration came from: not just the plastic bricks themselves, but the characters and narratives he was drawing from the stories he loves and the world around him to weave into the little world he was creating.

It started with a hospital – the red cross emerging from the pile of bricks and Arthur making connections about what it symbolised, and where his Daddy was working. He decided batman had an ouchy, and put him to bed to be made better by the doctor/fireman. Then he wanted a fire station next to the hospital. And then he decided maybe the hospital was on fire.

As the drama unfolded, more characters were drafted in. One of his favourite films at the moment is Toy Story, and he soon asked for Woody and Buzz Lightyear to come and play too.


They were roughly approximated from duplo bricks, but even just the suggestion of his much-loved characters was enough to enhance his play.


Sending Buzz flying through the air ‘to infinity and beyond’ got Arthur thinking about space and rockets, one of his other current obsessions (not that you’d ever have guessed form his outfit). The fire station/hospital was soon dismantled, and in its place we built a ‘Saturn V’. With some creative use of windows we managed to include some space for passengers, and that fired his imagination even further.


He was quite particular with his directions for building the rocket itself. The books he’s read and the videos he’s watched have given him a clear idea of the parts needed to make up a spacecraft – he is already much more knowledgeable than me!


We both had so much fun putting together those multi-coloured bricks, and with them cementing learning and weaving new stories. Once I’d helped him lay the foundations Arthur was happy to sit and play for ages whilst I watched, utterly engrossed in the imaginary world he was continuing to create from the building blocks around him.





“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

The box started out as a robot costume, and soon became a spaceship.

Arthur loves all things space at the moment: he dreams of flying to the moon and floating amongst the stars.

And on his way he loves to listen to his stories.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project.