Tag Archives: Field Trips

A homeschooling month in Spain part 1 – Roadtrip to Andalucia

A homeschooling month in Spain

When you homeschool, you have the flexibility to learn what you want, when you want – and where you want. So if you want to take off on a big adventure in the middle of a school term, you can. That’s exactly what we did this winter.

I began planning our 5-week-trip to southern Europe a year ago.  I wanted to give C(11) and J(9) the opportunity to learn a second language and experience a culture different from our own. I chose Spain, because I’d enjoyed an adventure of my own there when I was twenty-two.

We (the children and I) left England in January and returned in March. (Who wouldn’t want to swap England’s wintery skies and bleak landscape for the golden sunshine and vibrant orange trees of southern Spain?)

A homeschooling month in Spain
Car ready to go with all the essentials, like 2 guitars and a giant Lego brick

Pet passports and a Spanish house

Planning the logistics of the trip kept us busy throughout January.

We had to arrange Spanish classes and find accommodation, have our dogs vaccinated against rabies in order to obtain passports for them, plan our route, and buy funny little stickers to stop the headlights of our right-hand-drive car blinding drivers in Spain.

The children enjoyed helping with the preparations, like being taught by the vet how to scan our dogs’ microchips.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Setting off from home

Planning our route

First we had to decide how to cross to mainland Europe. Initially I’d planned to take the car on the the Eurotunnel train from Dover to Calais (the shortest distance between Britain and France) and then drive through France to Spain.

But then I compared the 22 hours’ driving that would involve with the 9 hours if we took a ferry all the way to northern Spain. The ferry won – I like audiobooks, but not that much.

Plus the ferry had a cute little cinema where we watched Night At The Museum 3 in seats that gently swayed as the ship rolled down the Bay of Biscay. It was a bit like being in a  4D theatre at DisneyWorld (a little too much, in fact, when we watched Exodus on the return trip and the ship lurched alarmingly as the Red Sea came thundering down on the Egyptians).

A homeschooling month in Spain
On the ferry to Spain

After two nights on board ship, our first glimpse of Spain was the snow-capped mountains of Santander set against the beautiful pink-grey light of dawn.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Disembarking in Spain – Santander at dawn

We made two overnight stops on our journey south, at Salamanca and Cáceres.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Our route to the other side of the continent

The weather in Salamanca wasn’t very different from the rain we’d left behind, but we knew we weren’t in England anymore when a fellow dog-walker commented on the ‘mal tiempo’. No one in England would bother commenting on damp, grey weather in January!

A homeschooling month in Spain
At the park in Salamanca
A homeschooling month in Spain
Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, which the children said reminded them of St Marks Square in Venice

Next day we drove over mountains and across plains to Cáceres, a beautiful city which still shows off its Roman roots.  We could tell we were further south by the milder air – I was gleefully shedding layers by the hour – and by the orange trees among which C(11), J(9) and the dogs played parkour, running off the energy they’d stored up sitting in the car.


{30 second video – free-running among the orange trees}

A homeschooling month in Spain
Exploring the old (Roman) quarter of Cáceres


As well as the gorgeous scenery, a couple of excellent audiobooks kept us entertained on our long drive.

One was a hilarious history of Britain which the kids listened to again repeatedly on their own devices for the next few weeks. It’s an adult book but if you’re interested in the title, let me know in a comment.

The second was Cosmic, an off-the-wall, laugh-out-loud family listen by Frank Cotterell-Boyce, who is probably our favourite author at the moment.

Are we there yet? Yes!

On Saturday evening – four days after we’d left England – we arrived in El Puerto de Santa María, and began to get acquainted with the house that was to be our home for the next month.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Our Spanish home. “Er, what are we doing now, then?”

The first thing we did was head straight to the beach to bask in the sunset.

A homeschooling month in Spain
El Puerto de Santa María at sunset

See also A Homeschooling Month in Spain – Part 2.

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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop 25

History & Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Us-Schooling Snippets

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You know how we homeschoolers are always looking for the best label to describe ourselves? I recently came across my favourite one yet at Ed Snap Shots: Us-Schoolers. I love her story of how she thought up the phrase.

Us-schooling perfectly describes our homeschooling style.

During November we visited Seville and El Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain. (El Puerto is the town near Cádiz where we’ll be spending February learning Spanish.)

Spain collage
November in Seville and on the beaches of El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain

Two weeks later we we slid down rapids, biked through the forest, and zip-lined through tree tops at Center Parcs with my mum and nephew.

Tree top adventuring at CenterParcs

How is Us-Schooling going?

Since we got back I’ve managed to rein in any schoolish “We’ve got to get back into the swing of things!” tendencies (yay me). As a consequence we’ve had a really happy week, full of spontaneous learning. The best thing about having a routine rather than a schedule is that we have plenty of time to follow our interests.

1. Snowflake symmetry

I haven’t posted much about maths lately, mainly because our buddy maths routine is continuing to work so well.

The best thing about not following a curriculum is that we have plenty of time to do any other maths activities catch our interest. This week we were inspired by the An Ordinary Life‘s exploration of symmetry when they made snowflakes using isometric grid paper.

Instead of drawing straight onto our grid paper, I stapled clear binder covers on top. When we detached the paper, we were left with pretty Christmas decorations to put on the windows.

Mathematical snowflakes

We found that creating symmetrical designs requires a lot more concentration than we’d expected. (My spatial skills were certainly challenged!)

2. Skating at a 16th century house

On Monday we skated at Somerset House, a beautiful neoclassical building on the north bank of the River Thames. On the journey into London we learned some interesting facts about the history of the house:

– Somerset House was built in 1547 by Edward Seymour, who was the brother of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife, and mother of Edward VI).

– After Henry VIII’s death, Edward Seymour manoeuvred himself into the position of Lord Protector, ruling England during the reign of the boy king Edward VI. During this time Seymour bestowed on himself the title “Duke of Somerset”.

– Lord Somerset’s power was not to last, however. In 1549, before he could finish his magnificent house, he was overthrown by a coup d’état.

–  Somerset met a gruesome end in 1552 when he had his head chopped off at the Tower of London. Somerset House was then seized by the Crown. Its most famous resident was the future Queen Elizabeth I, who lived at Somerset House during the reign of her half-sister Mary I.

– During the English Civil War, Parliament tried to sell the house. Fortunately for us, they couldn’t find a buyer.

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Ice skating at Somerset House

3. Hands-on history at the Imperial War Museum

After skating at Somerset House we hopped on a double decker bus to the Imperial War Museum. The bus ride turned out to be the highlight of J(9)’s day (which is saying something, because he loved skating and the museum). Both children have requested that we now travel everywhere in London by bus, instead of by underground train.

The museum’s World War I exhibition was fascinating. The kids were shocked by the weight of the rifles soldiers had to carry, and they tried their hands at running a naval campaign.

My favourite part was the propaganda posters aimed at persuading men from Commonwealth countries like India and Australia to fight for Britain. How times have changed!

War museum collage
C(11) trying out a WWII Anderson Shelter at the Imperial War Museum (bottom right)

4. Watching a NASA rocket launch

We spent much of Thursday and Friday tuned to NASA, watching the launch, orbit and re-entry of deep space capsule Orion. When the launch window closed without take-off on Thursday, we hoped things would go smoothly the next day so we could catch the launch before our skating lesson.

Fortunately, both the weather and the technology co-operated, and Friday’s countdown ended in a very exciting lift-off.

NASA Orion
Watching NASA’s livestream

We were back in time to watch Orion’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and its smooth parachute descent towards splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

5. The Mystery of the Periodic Table

We learned about the inner transition elements in the last chapter of The Mystery of the Periodic Table. I can’t praise this book highly enough. It’s the perfect family science read-aloud – we all learned something from it. I now understand, in a way I never did in my school chemistry classes why the periodic table is structured the way it is.

J(9) may not retain everything he heard, but for him it was a solid introduction to chemistry, told in an exciting way through the eyes of famous scientists from history.


I’ve been searching for a similar living book about physics. We loved the Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest series, but I wanted something that covers concepts like optics and fluid mechanics.  Secrets of the Universe: Waves: Principles of Light, Electricity and Magnetism looks like a good start. If the children like it, I’m pleased to see there are several others by the same author.

I’ve also bought Touch This! Conceptual Physics for Everyone, which has lots of pictures and ideas for hands-on experiments. Leafing through just now, I noticed this, in the section on gravity and tides:

“If the moon were too near the earth, the moon would be pulled apart. This has been the fate of moons too close to other planets – Saturn’s rings being the best example.”

I hadn’t know that Saturn’s rings were what remained of some of its moons!

6. Christmas stories

In the car this week we listened to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. J(9) was pleased to be listening to the original, on which so many other stories he likes have been based.

C(11) loved Dickens’ language, which reminded her of her favourite book series, Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy.

Christmas books collage

We also listened to a lovely telling of The Nutcracker by Jenny Agutter.

Next week we’ll listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales read by its author Dylan Thomas, and then Lost Christmas. C(11) and I are also going to listen to The Christmas Doll.

At home we’re looking forward to re-reading some of our favourite Christmas stories, including The Sneezing Christmas Tree and The Legend of the Poinsettia, not forgetting of course The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and J(9)’s favourite Christmas book last year, Christmas According to Humphrey.

7. Chess

On Wednesday J(9) asked me to play chess with him. He hasn’t played for over 18 months, and before that only a handful of times.

He easily checkmated me, confirming my belief that computer games teach excellent strategy skills. (Not that I’m a great chess player, but I’ve played a few more times than him!)

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When we haven’t been busy following rocket launches or skating in historic houses, the kids have been making speed art videos, writing stories over afternoon tea and translating the next exciting instalment of Minimus Secundus: Moving on in Latin.

It’s been a great  us-schooling week.

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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners


Planning a Spanish Adventure

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure


My rucksack was heavy on my back as I knocked tentatively on the door of the Cappucinas hostel in Granada, Spain. I’d spoken with the proprietress on the telephone a few days earlier but my Spanish – self-taught from a BBC book over the preceding few months – wasn’t strong enough for me to be sure whether I’d actually booked a room for the night.

An elderly Señora wearing a white cotton nightgown greeted me with mild surprise. She ushered me in, showed me to a bedroom, and disappeared back to bed. I never did find out whether or not she’d been expecting me.

I was 22 years old. I had £300 saved from my summer job, and a piece of paper certifying that I could teach English as a foreign language. In exactly one year I was due to start work in London as a commercial lawyer. I didn’t know a single person in Spain, and I had no job lined up.

How intrepid we were back in those pre-internet days!


Fast forward 22 years and I’m planning another Spanish adventure. I know from experience that the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a country where it’s spoken, so I’d always planned to take my kids abroad for a few months during their homeschooling years.

In my half-formed imaginings, my children would be teenagers and we’d be spending a long summer in rural France.

But over the last year, as friends have started to talk about their teens sitting exams, it’s dawned on me that instead of waiting, now might be the perfect time to go. And when C(10) expressed an interest in learning Spanish, I realised how much sense it made for her to learn a language I already speak.

We’ll start by going away for a month. My husband (who has to stay home for his work) is very supportive, but I don’t want to abandon him for an entire season. Four weeks is more like an extended holiday – enough time to immerse ourselves in the local culture, and to find out what we might do differently if we ever go for longer.

As for when to go… When you’re homeschooling in the northern hemisphere, what better time to head off for an adventure in sunnier climes than … February?

More on the practicalities of our forthcoming trip below. But first, here’s a glimpse of our first family trip to Spain, earlier this year.

A taste of Spain

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
We watched flamenco dancers stamp out passionate rhythms as we dined on tapas of manchego cheese, serrano ham, olives and almonds.

The children visited the Moorish palace, Granada’s Alhambra {the “h” is silent}, for the first time.

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
View of the Alhambra from Granada’s old town, the Albaicin

Back in 1992, entrance to the Alhambra was free on Sundays.  I spend many happy days within its intricately decorated walls and wandering through the lush gardens of the Generalife.

Alhambra collage jpg
Inside the Alhambra


View from the Alhambra
Views of Granada from the Alhambra

Granada also has a very modern side, as we discovered when we visited its science park.

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure
Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias contains hundreds of indoor and outdoor hands-on exhibits. There’s even a tropical butterfly house.

Down on the Mediterranean coast, we enjoyed afternoon promenades along Nerja’s “balcony of Europe”.

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
El Balcón de Europa, Nerja

And visited the famous Caves of Nerja, which are home to the world’s largest stalagmite, a towering 32 metres high!

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
Las Cuevas de Nerja


Planning a month-long trip overseas – Practicalities

1. Where to go

Back in 1992 I chose to spend my gap year in Granada because a fifth of its population were university students. Granada is a beautiful city, but for my long trip with the children I want to go somewhere smaller, ideally on the coast.

While I was in Granada, a uni friend was teaching English 200 miles away in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, near Cádiz on the south-west coast of Spain. Granada is situated high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains – which makes for chilly winters. When I visited my friend, I basked in the warmth of El Puerto’s mild December air on my skin, and was entranced by the orange trees lining the pretty streets.

I’m hoping that El Puerto de Santa Maria will be the perfect setting for our February adventure. We’re visiting in a couple of weeks to check it out and to meet the staff at the local language school, a very well-organised outfit I’ve been emailing over the last few months.

3. Spanish and social life

As there won’t be many other non-Spanish children around in February, the language school have agreed to provide private Spanish classes for C(10) and J(9). And while they’re learning, I’ll be brushing up my own Spanish in adult group lessons.

The language school run a full social program which we’ll be welcome to participate in. And as the school also teach English, they’ll arrange for C(10) and J(9) to get together for intercambio with Spanish kids wanting to practise their English.

C(10) has been learning Spanish with me for several months. J(9) hasn’t shown much interest so far, but he’s looking forward to our trip.  Perhaps this kids’  phrasebook will inspire him to learn a few words of Spanish before we go.

Spanish phrase book

4. Homeschooling

The children will be learning heaps simply by being immersed in another culture for five weeks. But with our computers, whiteboards and Ed Zaccaro maths books we should also be able to continue learning in Spain as we do at home.

What we may lack in science and art supplies, I’m sure we’ll make up for in other learning opportunities!

5. How to get there

I know that for many people driving long distances is no big deal, but when you live in a country that’s 847 miles by road from one end to another, 1500 miles it’s a big road trip!

Financially, it would probably work out the same to fly. But when I balanced the cost and hassle of flying us all (including dogs) plus hiring a car for the month, against the convenience of taking our own car (filled to the roof rack, no doubt, with essential stuff, despite my best minimalist intentions), the road trip won.

Google Maps says it’s a 21.5 hour journey, which we’ll spread over 4 days. Here’s our route:

Our route to Spain

We’ll make two overnight stops in France, and one in Spain. And we’ll listen to lots of audiobooks in between!


The year I spent in Spain was one of the best of my life. I become fluent in Spanish, learned to dance Sevillanas (badly) and made friends from over a dozen different countries.

But more than that, creating a whole new life miles away from everyone I knew and loved helped me to grow in ways I could never have anticipated.

I came back so confident that after a few weeks working two jobs, I squeezed in another month travelling around Europe on my own before I began my law career. Perhaps I’ll write about that here one day.


I’m so grateful to my younger self for having that adventure. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be contemplating taking my tweens off to Spain now.

I know a month with their mother isn’t quite the same as a year on one’s own, but I’m hoping that the experience will give C(10) and J(9) a taste for adventure in other cultures.

J(9) wants to go to Japan and learn Japanese. That’s just slightly beyond my comfort zone right now, but never say never…!


Have you ever made a long road trip with kids?

Any tips for overnight stops in France or Spain?

Got any audiobook recommendations?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Finishing Strong #35 at Education Possible

The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop at Marie’s Pastiche

History and Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

7 Things We Learned Cruising the Mediterranean

 1. Venice really is at sea

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley described Venice as “Ocean’s nursling.” But who knew that an 86,000 ton cruise ship could sail quite this close to it?

Grand Canal
Venice’s Grand Canal from our cruise ship
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J(9) enjoying Venice by Vaporetto (water bus)
St Mark's Square
Views of St Mark’s Square from sea and land

2. The Ancient Greeks knew their geometry10045759763 bea99fb81f z

Picture the Parthenon, the ancient temple on Athens’ Acropolis. What shape is it? If you’d asked me three weeks ago, I’d have said cuboid. But no! The Parthenon contains no right angles and no perpendicular lines.

Because the Parthenon perches on a hilltop, if it were cuboid it would look like its columns protruded outwards from the ground up. To counter this – and to make it look cuboid – the Parthenon is actually pyramidical. Yes, if you extended those columns way up into the blue Athenian sky, they would eventually meet. Clever, eh?

The pyrimidical Parthenon

3. Earthquakes preserve cities

We’ve all heard of Pompeii, the Roman city buried (and preserved for posterity) by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It had never occurred to me that earthquakes can also preserve civilisations for future generations. (I know. Doh.)

Even with less than 20 percent of the site excavated so far, the ancient (and earthquake-prone) city of Ephesus on the west coast of Turkey is the biggest Roman settlement uncovered in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Great Theatre, Ephesus
The Great Theatre, Ephesus

The photo above shows the  25,000 person theatre in which Paul is said to have talked to the Ephesians about Christ. He was so persuasive that the local silversmith, who made his living selling idols of the Greek goddess Artemis, turned the city against Paul.

After Paul was exiled, he continued writing to the church at Ephesus; his Epistle to the Ephesians is recorded in the New Testament.

Great Theatre, Ephesus
C(10) and J(9) re-enacting a gladiator battle in the Great Theatre

4. What not to wear in a mosque

It was real hands feet-on learning for C(10) and J(9) as they took off their shoes to enter Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. C(10) also had to cover her shoulders, and adult women covered our heads.

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The 500-year-old Blue Mosque, still in popular use, gets its name from the thousands of hand-crafted blue mosaics adorning its interior
Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in the world with six minarets (towers)
Blue Mosque
Chains hanging from the entryway to the Blue Mosque prevent anyone on horseback from entering

6. Hagia Sophia is now a museum

This version of the Hagia Sophia cathedral was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537 AD. Together with its two predecessors on the site, Hagia Sophia stood as the crowning jewel of the Eastern Orthodox Church for over a thousand years.

Hagia Sophia - Istanbul
Hagia Sophia

When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, they were so impressed by Hagia Sophia that instead of destroying it, they added minarets and other Islamic features, and turned the church into a mosque.

In 1935 Kemal Ataturk – the founder of modern, secular Turkey – uncovered many of the church’s Christian decorations and converted the building into a museum.

Me – excited to see the church we’ve read about so often in The Story of the World, with J(9) – a little weary after queuing in the heat to visit the Blue Mosque!

7. The Ionian Sea is very clear

Okay, this one is an even more shameless excuse than the rest of this post to flaunt a few holiday snaps. But can you blame me? The Greek Islands are rather gorgeous, don’t you think?

C(10) and our cruise ship at Santorini
Crystal clear sea at Kefalonia

Have you visited any new places recently?  What did you learn?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

The Home Ed Link Up  #15 – Adventures in Homeschool

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop – Marie’s Pastiche

History and Geography Meme#134 – All Things Beautiful

Cruising Norway With Kids – Stavanger

cruising norway with kids - stavanger children's museum

When I planned to take my my children (aged 8 and 9) on a cruise to Norway, I knew they’d have fun on the ship, but I wasn’t sure how much they’d find to entertain them at the ports. I needn’t have worried – Norway is very child-friendly with plenty to interest the younger crowd.

Our next stop after Oslo and Kristiansand was Stavanger, the third largest city in Norway, with a population of 126,500. It is is a wealthy city, and is widely referred to as the Oil Capital of Norway.

For us, the highlight of Stavanger was the Norwegian Children’s Museum.

At the front of the museum is a historical play park featuring games from times past.  The games ranged from the familiar, like this version of skittles with a ball on a rope…

Cruising norway with kids stavanger museum

…and sjoelbak, which we also played on the (Dutch) cruise ship…

Cruising norway with kids outdoor games at stavanger museum

…to the hilarious…

Boot throwing game at stavanger museum
Boot throwing

…and just plain silly!

Sko blakken at stavanger museum
“Sko blakken belongs to a group of games which often end in disaster. The point is to act stupidly and get people to laugh.”

The equipment for each game is neatly stored in wooden drawers with laminated instructions in both Norwegian and English. We had the place to ourselves so we had plenty of time to play!

The inside of the museum is small but there’s plenty to see, learn, and play on.

Stavanger museum with kids


Princess and the pea at Stavanger museum
Definitely a princess!


Stavanger museum  cruising norway with kids  clockwork toys
Making their own clockwork toys

Back outside, the children (and, for a nanosecond, I) had a go on stilts.

Cruising norway with kids stavanger museum  stilts

A pretty ten minute walk past the lake and the cathedral…

Stavanger cathedral  cruising norway with kids

…led us back to the harbour, where the kids went on an enormous ferris wheel…

cruising norway with kids - stavanger

…and re-boarded the ship for yet more games!

Games on norwegian cruise ship with kids

This post is part of a three part series about taking children cruising around Norway.  On our final cruising day we sailed up the the world’s third largest fjord, the beautiful Hardangerfjord, stopping in at the pretty town of Ulvik – I’ll tell you about that next time.

I’m linking up with Field Trip Friday at Home to 4 Kiddos.

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop


History and Geography Meme button

Taking the Kids to Norway

Cruising Norway with kids

We had a wonderful time in Norway!  Here are some highlights, to give you a flavour of our trip. And I’ve added a few more detailed tips for anyone who might be thinking of actually taking their children on a Norwegian cruise – it’s great value if you live in the UK.

I’ll write today about our time in Oslo and Kristiansand – I’ll save Stavanger, Hardangerfjord and Ulvik for next time.

Pre-Trip Preparation

norway cruise with kids

Places are always more interesting to visit if you know a bit about them beforehand. I helped C(9) and J(8) get familiar with the names and sights of Norway by making a memory pairs game using Google Images. It was very cool hearing them say “Oh! This is Stavanger!” as they caught sight of a row of pretty houses they recognised from a photo, and seeing them compare the little picture with the real life scene. (See the preparation we did for our Norway trip.)

I’d also shared with the children our cruise itinerary so they knew which days they were free to splash around in the ship’s pool all day and which days they’d have the chance to find their fun on dry land. Expectation management always helps!


Our first port was Oslo. Norway is a very (oil) rich nation and this is reflected in its clean, modern capital. The city is small enough to see most of on a ninety minute hop-on/hop-off bus tour.  Here are my recommendations for how best to spend a day in Oslo with children.

Start out by buying a multi-museum ticket from the tourist office right next to the ship, then hop on a bus to begin your tour. Stop at any museums that take your fancy – definitely try the Viking Ship Museum, the Norwegian Folk Museum, and the Kon-Tiki Museum (all fairly close to each other in Oslo Old Town).

If you have time, stop off and wander through the Vigeland Sculpture Park, the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist.

Vigeland Sculpture Park - Oslo with kids
Click image for source

Alternatively (or as well, if your kids have more touring stamina than mine), get off the bus near the Holmelkollen Ski Jump – the world’s most modern ski jump. The site also houses a ski museum with a ski simulator. We saw Holmelkollen from afar – it’s an impressive structure that makes for a super-easy to spot landmark. If we ever go back to Oslo we’ll definitely make the trip to see it up close.

Oslo with kids
1. One of Oslo’s beautiful fountains 2. C(9) spotted this sign 🙂 3. Aboard the hop-on, hop-off bus beside the cruise ship 4.Writing a postcard to Daddy

Bonus Tips for Travellers

* A multi-museum ticket is the best value if you plan to visit more than one museum. I recommend buying one so you can wander in and out of each museum depending on everyone’s interest level and don’t feel obliged to waste time somewhere just because you’ve paid £15 to get in.

* Don’t buy a bus ticket from the first ticket-seller you see – the route varies slightly between the different bus companies. Check the map before handing over your credit card.

* Take your own headphones (if you have them) to listen to the tour commentary. Cheap headphones are provided, but these aren’t always a great fit for kids.


The next morning we woke up in Kristiansand (I love that about cruising). This beautiful city was our family’s favourite port.

We picked up a map as we got off the ship and walked along the coastline parallel with Østre Strandgate. This is a delightful water’s edge stroll, with green lawns, fountains and little sandy beaches strewn with the most intricately decorated sandcastles we’d ever seen. Locals sunbathed and picnicked alongside us.

Cruising norway with kids
1. White sandy beach 2. I was there too 🙂 3. Rock-spotting: gneiss! 4.Swans in the sea

The whole bay is strewn with play equipment, from toddler swings to adult outdoor gym machines, and everything in between. My 8 and 9 year olds were in heaven!

Kids in kristiansand

We saw lots of ducks, ducklings, swans and cygnets, which sparked a discussion about how we don’t usually find these birds in the sea because they prefer fresh water. I’ll share what we later discovered is special about fjords that makes this possible when I talk about our time in Hardangerfjord, next time.

Bonus Tips for Travellers

At the end of the stretch of promenade is a headland (with the biggest rope climbing frame we’ve ever seen). Turn around here and walk back along the shoreline until you get to Markens gate, and follow Markens gate up to Dronningens gate. Revitalise with free wifi at McDonalds* and then make your way along Dronningens gate, popping into as many pretty beach-themed home decor shops as your kids can tolerate before you head back to the pool on the ship.

(* I’m torn between wanting to look good (me?wholesome homeschooling mum, take my kids to McDonalds?!) and giving you, who might one day visit Kristiansand, the benefit of being able to check your email and refresh your blog reader in the middle of a week-long offline stint. I opted for altruism – please take that into account in my defence. ;-))

Kristiansand with kids2

Next Ports of Call

Our next stop on the cruise, Stavanger, was very different from Kristiansand and Oslo, and our final port, a tiny town at the top of the world’s third largest fjord, was one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. I’ll be back to tell you about these soon.

And if you’re considering a Norwegian cruise but aren’t sure how you’ll entertain the kids in port – go for it. I’m glad we did!


Field Trip to Butser Ancient Celtic Farm

Butser Ancient Celtic Farm - navigating by joy homeschoolers

What better way to round off our study of the Celts than to visit a “real” (reconstructed) Celtic village?  I love the way learning leads the way to new experiences – I didn’t even know Butser Ancient Celtic Farm existed until recently, and there it was just 40 minutes’ drive away, waiting for us to spend a very pleasant Sunday exploring.

Everything at the Farm has been constructed using authentic Celtic/Iron Age materials. The houses looked just like our model Celtic Roundhouse (not! :-D)

The Farm was having a Celtic weekend when we visited, which meant there were lots of hands-on activities to try.

C ground grain into flour (rather coarse flour – apparently Celts’ teeth were very worn down!).

Butser Ancient Celtic Farm - navigating by joy homeschoolers

She mixed flour, yeast, oats and water to make a kind of bread which she baked on a Celtic stove.

Butser Ancient Celtic Farm - navigating by joy homeschoolers

She also made yarn out of sheep’s wool.

Butser Ancient Celtic Farm - navigating by joy homeschoolers

We crushed chalk, used for building roundhouses and levelling their floors.

Butser Ancient Celtic Farm - navigating by joy homeschoolers

There was even a mock archaeological “dig”!

The site also houses a reconstructed Roman villa …

Butser Ancient Celtic Farm - navigating by joy homeschooling

…complete with underfloor heating.

Butser Ancient Celtic Farm - Navigating by joy homeschooling

There was an opportunity to make mosaics in the Roman house.

mosaic making at butser ancient farm - navigating by joy homeschoolers

While C was baking, spinning and grinding,  J was hunting around the village for the answers to a scavenger-hunt-style quiz on Celtic kings and Roman emperors.

Our field trip was a perfect complement to our study of the Celts and a great introduction to the Romans. 🙂

The Joy Of Home Education # 32

I am SO in love with home educating right now!  Not only are we cruising through maths, English and our other subjects, but we are REALLY making the most of the flexibility our lifestyle brings.

I love being able to take holidays when it’s cheap and uncrowded.

(Still waiting to be tall enough...)

Like last week  at Centerparcs where we swam, biked, climbed, bowled, crazy-golfed, pampered ourselves at the spa (the big ones) and attended wizard training academy (the little ones).

C and J Potter, wizards

I love that Sunday evenings are not over-shadowed by back-to-school pressures.

Last Sunday after C’s rugby and my lovely nephew’s Christening …

C scrubbed up well after rugby!

we were still able to celebrate Big J’s birthday as a family…

by going to see our local ice hockey team play, without having to worry about getting up early for school in the morning 🙂

And … I love that when temperatures hit an unseasonal 27 degrees (80 F) in the last week of September we can close our books for the day and spend the day playing at an open air swimming pool – YAY!


Sometime over the last 29 years I forgot how to tell the difference between a moorhen and a coot.    A fact which has mildly bothered me every time the children and I have seen one (or the other), and I’ve found myself exclaiming “Ooh look! A coot! … Or is it a moorhen? … I can’t quite remember which…”

Just as I learned almost all the trees I can name on one walk when I was eleven, so I acquired my entire waterfowl-naming repertoire on a school trip to Slimbridge Wetlands Centre around the same time.  (Evidently my nature study career peaked in 1982, A grade biology “O” level  notwithstanding.)

So, inspired by my recent intention to heighten my enJOYment of nature, I was excited to set off today for Arundel Wetlands & Wetlands Trust.  A lovely lady at the entrance booth spent a good five minutes talking us through the free map she gave us, which enhanced our visit enormously.

We started out feeding the ducklings.

Then moved onto some pond-dipping.

We ate our sandwiches in one of the two play areas.

Then strolled around the boardwalk through the reeds and bulrushes. (Well, two of us “strolled”, anyway.)

En route we came across a camera obscura, which excited Big J very much.  C and J loved being in a dark den, though the science was a bit lost on them (but is, I’m sure, one of those experiences they’ll recall one day in the future).

Next we glided through the bulrushes on a silent boat, where we spotted baby grebes among other things.

We rounded off the day with tea and cakes and a play in the “Pond Skater” playground.

And I learned – for the second time –  that a coot has a white beak, and a moorhen has a more colourful red beak.

A Tuscan Adventure

We’re just back from Italy!  And I’m reeling with joy, not just because of the fantastic experiences we’ve had over the last four days, but also with the sheer delight of having witnessed a desire manifest so exquisitely!

The trip was so good I’m in danger of letting the old perfectionism get in the way of writing about it …  so, while my memories are still fresh, I’ll list a few of the highlights of our Tuscan experience:

  • The best thing of all, and the one that’s hardest to put into words, was how C totally “got” the joy of Italy: chic Italians eating ice creams as they go about La Passeggiata; narrow streets winding their way between beautiful old buildings;   the legacy of centuries of magnificent art strewn liberally around the city; golden sunlight on the Ponte Vecchio in the early evening…

  • The view from our Florence hotel room

  • The children’s excitement at spotting things on the “treasure hunt” I “put together”.  (I use both terms loosely; I am really good at launching ideas and less good at following through – what started out in my head as something involving laminated photos and a treasure map ended up as post-it notes flagging pages in our guidebook.  The kids didn’t mind a bit though.)
  • We’ve been lucky enough to take the children abroad many times, but mostly on package holidays to the beach or ski slopes, so this felt like their first real experience of another culture, close-up.  They were thrilled, as I still am, by simple experiences like taking Italian trains, window-shopping and enjoying the early morning sunshine at pavement cafes, savouring super-sweet croissants while locals at the bar chatted noisily over their breakfast cappuccinos.  J admired the taxi which took us back to Pisa airport: “it looks like a racing car!” (earning him an appreciative grin from our suave young driver), while C remarked, excitedly, “I’ve never been in a foreign taxi before!”

  • C’s delight in the miniature statue of Michelangelo’s David she begged me to buy for 4 Euros from a Florence souvenir stall.  I cherish her innocence of any cynical grown-up notions of tackiness!
  • Climbing the narrow, windy steps (and ladders!) to the very top of the Duomo (dome) of Florence Cathedral.  This really was the perfect culmination of a desire which began with our reading of “Pippo The Fool”, the story of how Filippo Brunelleschi designed the dome.

  • Our afternoon wandering around Boboli Gardens, the grand, sweeping gardens just south of the river Arno, laid out nearly five hundred years ago by the Medici family.  My consistent inability to orient us on the map made for wonderful meanderings through parts of the gardens we never would have seen had I had more of a clue where we were at any point!  We spent about an hour indulging our senses on this smooth, cool piece of marble nestled in a dappled glade.

The children spent another hour happily messing around with the trickle of water flowing down here…

While  I took  photos.

And of course there was ice cream at the end of our travels.

  • Pisa: basking in the sunshine with C in the Field Of Miracles (while a few feet away J added “in the shadow of the leaning tower of Pisa” to his list of “places I have played my Nintendo DS”!); playing “I Spy” in the botanical gardens; J’s photos!

One of my favourite things to do when I’m on holiday is fantasize about the next one. (I used to worry that this was detracting from enjoying the moment; but when I checked in with myself I realised that, for me, it enhances it!)  I’d like to continue the Southern European theme and make our next destination the Spanish city of Granada, where I spent a wonderful year when I was in my twenties.  In my planning I’ll take on board one of the things we learned in Italy – that, as introverts, we need to balance time spent in the exciting hustle and bustle of a city, with green open spaces and, in warm weather, cooling water to play in .  Granada, home of the magnificent Moorish palace, the Alhambra, with its delightful Generalife gardens, is perfectly situated right next to the beautiful Alpujarra mountains and within easy reach of the beaches of the Costa Tropical.  I’m getting excited already!

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