What is childhood?

Artist Raindropmemory from www.wallpaperswide.com

Artist Raindropmemory from http://www.wallpaperswide.com

Reading the comments below this blog post on extra-curricular activities for children has got me thinking – what is childhood?

Are those who say “let children be children” and “XXX is being robbed of his childhood” a bit disillusioned? It’s only in recent decades society has romanticised childhood. Before the war and for hundreds of years (and in many countries even today) children were/are expected to work in factories, not have an education and provide for their family doing laborious, and very dangerous, jobs.

Children now in the Western world have never had it better. Education, toys, technology and more all on their doorstep. No longer are they shoved up a chimney or whipped to fetch a pail of water. Most are privileged to have loving families, a school system to help them succeed and to participate in extra curricular activities, which more often than not, are fun.

A fair number of parents shake their heads disapprovingly at the latter. When a parent is prepared to pour their time and money (not to say it always requires money) into educating and bettering their children, how can that be a bad thing? I see and hear about parents who don’t read to their kids, aren’t fussed about homework and let them play on the streets until dark in the name of childhood. Letting their child fall out of education without a plan in place, because you know, little Timmy is still trying to work out the path he wants to take.

Children get stressed when they have too many choices. Choices should be arbitrary (“would you like a custard cream or a digestive?”) not about serious life decisions. No child will ever volunteer themselves for maths tuition (or anything else that requires effort quite frankly), but that doesn’t mean it’s cruel to enrol them. DS1 started Kumon workbooks I bought from Amazon from aged three and they were a game to him.

At aged five, DS1 has been enrolled onto the Kumon course for three months now. He gets home from school, has a snack, does his 20 page Kumon worksheet in approximately 15 minutes, practises reading with his daily book from school and then he is allowed free play. He understands the routine, there’s no fight, no shouting, no tears. The misconception that a strict routine entails negativity from the parent is wrong. He is praised for his efforts and excited for the sticker at the end. Kumon hasn’t only taught him sums – he’s learnt routine, concentration (even when the task in hand isn’t brightly coloured and flashing to get your attention like most activities – that’s another blog post for another time…), to work autonomously, self-correction, seeing things through to the end, pencil control among many others.

The key to success is to be relentless with everything you do. I try my best to instil good habits from an early age, so as they grow up my children are hungry to achieve for themselves.

Summer, Summer, Sun Come Shine..

Enough of CBeebies..

One of the hardest things about the summer holidays is finding cost-effective fun for the kids, and of course, yourself. As promised in my previous post, here are reviews of my top five outings in the past, in no particular order. Obviously check the prices on their individual websites before you get going, please do not take my every word as fact!

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle

Where is it? Bodiam, near Robertsbridge, East Sussex, TN32 5UA.

What is it? An extravagant castle with a moat that was built in 1385. The inside has been destroyed and is now filled with grass, however the stairs and the outskirts of the castle remains. It is situated in a quaint village with a stream running through the picturesque greenery; perfect for a picnic or a walk with the dogs.

Cheap? Adults £6.80, Child £3.40. It might work out a lot cheaper to purchase the annual membership if you plan on making a few trips to National Trust. Also, between 1st – 26th August, up to two children can get in free per paying adult/member. Don’t forget coins for parking if you are not a member.

Facilities? The only toilets available are in the car park, which is also home to the tea room and gift shop. Literally just outside the entrance of car park there is also the Castle Inn pub.

Anything else? This is one of the  most amazing castles I have ever seen. For those who want a little bit more, they also hold activities for kids; when we visited, they were firing bows and arrows at various targets for £2.50. I would also warn you, if you are talking small children, make sure you have some reins or a pram. I almost had an anxiety attack over DS attempting to run down the steep hills and charging towards the moat!

Shorne Country Park

Shorne Woods Country Park – DS trying to play with the older kids.

Where is it? Brewers Road, Gravesend, Kent, DA12 3HX.

What is it? An extensive park with beautiful gardens and wildlife. There is also a play area for children of all ages – an enclosed park for the younger kids and a large adventure play area for the big kids. DS loved the swings, but he preferred running around screaming with a football. They also have various events and activities for children to join in.

Cheap? Free entry, however there are parking charges (Monday – Friday £2.00, weekends and bank holidays £2.50).

Facilities? The eco-friendly visitor centre also has a cafe.

Anything else? There isn’t much shading, remember to bring a hat and sun-cream!

Farming World

Where is it? Nash Court, Canterbury Road, Faversham, Kent, ME13 9HY.

What is it? A farm with all sorts of animals, varying from pigs, sheep, horses, birds, llamas, goats and cows.There are also several children’s play areas for all ages and tractor rides for the bigger kids. There are lots of events you can go to, sometimes if you dress the kids in a particular theme then it is free entry.

Cheap? Adults £6, Children (3-15) £5. I took DS when he was 16 months and he loved it. He didn’t fully understand but it was a fun way to show him the drawings in the books exist in real life.

Facilities? They have a cafe that is pretty busy. We bought a pack lunch and sat in one of their many benches scattered around the farm.

Anything else? Bring the antibacterial gel and lots of wipes.

Camber Sands

Where is it? It is situated in Rye, East Sussex. A useful postcode for the Sat Nav would be TN31 7RB.

What is it? It is a lovely sandy beach with dunes. I have a vague memory of a fun trip to Camber Sands when I was a child, and on that small dose of nostalgia, we set out on our adventure.

Cheap? Of course, no entry fee! You may want to research the local car parks or whether there is residential road without parking restrictions you could sneakily leave your car at. On our outing, the local farm were charging £5 all day for cars to park in their open area, which was much cheaper than the standard car parks run by the council.

Facilities? There should be toilet facilities, and there are usually small shops and cafes around. We had fish and chips for lunch, however it is very busy during lunch time (obviously!) so expect to wait a while. DS and I were wondering whether Daddy had done a runner as he had been gone an hour and a half to get lunch! You may want to go prepared with a pack lunch or take down the post code for the nearest Tesco.

Anything else? Lots of sun cream, nappies, wipes, water, cheap sandals, a hat and an all-in-one swim suit. We found a UV sun tent helpful, as we could store our belongings and it gave us a shaded area. Do not wheel the pram over the sand, as it will probably break. We overpacked for DS and completely forgot about ourselves, which left DH looking like a lobster… For a more in-depth beach survival guide, this is a good website.

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle

Where is it? Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN3 8JN.

What is it? Scotney Castle is made up of two houses, separated by a large hill and a beautiful garden. It has a lovely picturesque moat and the ruins of an old castle.

Cheap? Garden: Adults £8.10, Child £4.95, Family £22.50. House and garden: Adults £12.60, Child £6.30, Family £31.50. Similarly to Bodiam Castle (above), it would be cheaper to purchase the annual membership from the National Trust. You can also gain free entry for kids between 1st – 26th August, up to two children can get in free per paying adult/member.

Facilities? There is a tea room, baby changing facilities and a gift shop.

Anything else? Standard sun-cream and maybe bright clothing; there is a lot to explore and you might find your little one playing hide and seek. Be wary of the moat, there is not a barrier and is very dangerous for young children.

So I guess all you need to do now is get dressed, get the kids dressed, pack their bags, pack yours, make the sandwiches, load up the car, grab the camera and the Sat Nav, lock the door… Have I forgotten something?!

School’s Out.

The six week break from school has officially commenced. Last week it was hardly believable, but now as we tumble into Tuesday after a long weekend, the tiredness is settling in and  parents nationwide are trying desperately to make fun-filled days. Obviously DS does not attend school at his age and I am not a pro-rata worker, but I do sense a slight comradeship with parents who do fit into the above categories. As I said farewell to Canterbury last week and have embraced motherhood once again, I somehow feel that this is only a temporary adjustment and in the next six weeks, normality will resume.

In the spirit of summer holidays and celebrating our newfound time together as a family, we have been on various days out. We ventured to Bodiam Castle on Sunday, which was an hour drive away. The scenery was stunning and the castle was extravagant to say the least. We have a ‘young persons’ (13-25 year olds) annual membership each with the National Trust, which works out cheaper than individual or ‘joint’ memberships. We have a vague interest in history and the stories that follow, but we mainly signed up for the memories we would make. Magnificent buildings and the extensive open space pose great potential for good photos. DS loves running freely in the open space, swinging his arms side by side as he toddles along.

My boys watching the ducks at Bodiam Castle.

It is worth looking into annual memberships for the National Trust and English Heritage, as it brings variance to your trips and spurs you on to actually get up and go. On both websites, you can locate on a map where your nearest National Trust/English Heritage sites are; it is important to research this before committing to a membership to ensure they are within a distance drivable from your home, otherwise it may be a bit of an effort to get your money’s worth. It is a great way to get kids interested in history, architecture and keep their minds stimulated.

I have been researching into various play centres and fun days out for DS, but it is difficult at this time of year as the activities are mainly aimed at older kids. Another issue I have come across is trying to find cost-effective outings, as businesses often use school holidays as an opportunity to squeeze parents dry. I did discover A Whale of a Time, which advertises ‘£1 Mondays’ on their website, however upon arriving yesterday I found out this is only valid during term time. Disgusted at the 500% increase to £5, I decided against this and took DS to Bluewater‘s outdoor play area instead which I did not have to pay for. This change of heart would have been impossible if DS was any older, but oblivious to the world at 19 months, he did not care too much about walking away. £5 is an extortionate rate for under 4’s, especially charging a baby who would rather chase a ball. Do not be afraid to walk away for any reason, you should not have to compromise yourself.

I will review various attractions I have visited in my next post, giving my overall rating on service, level of enjoyment and cost. I will also comprise a list of places I wish to take DS in the coming weeks. Watch this space.