Monday, 20 October 2014

Planning for the half term holiday

This is our first proper half term holiday now that C is at school.  We've had holidays from pre-school before, but somehow a proper half-term holiday is different.

As always, while I don't want too much planned and structured activity.  I do like to have a rough plan to prevent chaos, boredom and arguments.  Here's how I worked out my plan.

First we chatted about some ideas.  I wanted a list of "active activities" - ones that involve running around or using lots of energy, including some wet weather alternatives (it is October in Britain!), and a list of "other activities".  I wrote them down on small stickies in two different colours.  I checked the leisure centre website and our collection of attraction leaflets for some additional ideas.

Next I made a plan of the week, noting when Hubby was going to be around and when working, and when we were expecting my sister and her children to come and visit.

I put one active activity, and one other activity in each day.  Because we've done them on stickies, they are flexible.  We can switch to a wet-weather activity if it's raining, we can do an at-home activity if we don't feel like going out so much.  If one activity overruns from morning into the afternoon, we can switch in a shorter activity for the rest of the day.  I definitely want them to do something active every day - use up some energy, keep them fit, have lots of fun, preferably outdoors, rarely involves any arguments... it really is a win-win. 

Most importantly the children have had a say in what the activities are.  C is desperate to try his new scooter out at a skate-park, and we've not tried the local skate-parks yet.  Bug has seen where there's a soft-play in Hereford, so that's on her list of "must-do" activities.  We just spent a great morning yesterday building dens at National Trust Berrington Hall, and C had an awesome time, so that's on his list too, and he wants to build a den with his cousin this time. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Forest School - an outdoor education

You may have heard of Forest School, it's an inspired idea.
Forest School isn't about an occasional visit to the outdoors, to "learn about nature" though that's better than nothing.  Through Forest School, children have the opportunity to spend time outdoors regularly, building an awareness of the changing seasons, and developing a relationship between themselves and the natural environment.

In Forest School, while you may be following a programme of activities, you'll be responding to the children, who will be responding to the environment around them.  What could be better than stopping your activities to marvel at the spider weaving his web?

The primary curriculum in the UK allows plenty of scope for outdoor learning, learning through doing, and a focus on sustainability and the environment.  Many primary school have therefore embraced Forest School as the vehicle to deliver wide-ranging benefits to their children, as part of the school curriculum.  They may take the children regularly to an established Forest School setting, or may train their own teachers in Forest School practices, setting up their own Forest School area in their school grounds.

In Forest School the children experience the outdoor environment, undertake creative and exploratory activities and drive their own learning.

A Forest School area will usually be fenced off from the main school play areas, it will have trees, shrubs, long grass areas, hopefully some form of water feature, log seating, perhaps a fire pit.  Ideally it should be large enough to allow small groups to disperse and explore, for wildlife to shelter and for the children to move around and play.

Activities that children might engage in are playing hide-and-seek, building dens, searching for wildlife, identifying flora and fauna, creating wildlife habitats, collecting and sorting natural items, investigating weather, creating wildlife art and mud sculptures, making and using natural paints, telling stories, lighting fires, singing songs and using tools.

First sessions in Forest School establish boundaries and lay out ground rules required to keep the children safe.  Within these boundaries though, children are encouraged to try new things, and extend their own limits, assessing their own abilities and risk to keep themselves safe.

C loves Forest School.  They have two Forest School areas.  The first is an outdoor classroom on an elevated spot, with wooden benches laid out, some outdoor musical instruments, and fruit and vegetable areas.  The second is more wooded, with wooden bridges, a fire circle and many more places to hide.  Each class has one afternoon each week set aside for Forest School.  They need to take warm, comfortable clothing (suitable for getting messy), full waterproofs and wellies.  He's been doing Forest School for four weeks now, and has made a spider web from sticks, talked about safety, been out for a local walk searching for signs of autumn, and been searching for mini-beasts.  I'm itching to get involved but am restraining myself at the moment, as I've so much else to do!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Making life easier - menu plan and shopping list

Love food - hate waste?
Love shopping - hate spending?

I really hate throwing food away, and try to do it as little as possible.  I genuinely believe that if you plan your menu and make a shopping list, there should be very little need to throw anything out because it's gone past date.

Planning your menu and doing a shopping list doesn't need to be complicated.  Mine for this week is shown below, it's a piece of A4 scrap paper, folded in half, one half is the meals for the week and will be pinned up in the kitchen, the other half is the shopping list.  

For your menu you can draw out a table with a box for each meal if you like, but I prefer a simple list (at the moment!).  Up until lately I've only really planned the dinner menu, and lunches have been adhoc whatever is hanging around in the fridge.  Now that three members of the family are having packed lunches though, I thought I should think and shop more thoughtfully for them, and make sure that they know what's available for lunch, but I've just done a list for the week rather than specifying days.  For breakfast we usually have cereal or toast during the week and something different on the weekend.  I made a breakfast column so that I didn't forget to account for it in the shopping list.  Dinners I tend to stick to a similar pattern of meals each day, but not slavishly. 

My week is usually:
Monday - stir fry
Tuesday - something with potato
Wednesday - curry
Thursday - something with pasta
Friday - something with chips
Saturday - Hubby cooks, so whatever I think he might like
Sunday - roast or casserole

Always start by checking out the current contents of fridge, freezer and cupboards.  What have you got in there and what meals could you make with it?

This week I found: a joint of pork in the freezer that didn't get cooked last weekend - roast pork this weekend; some frozen chilli con carne that I made about a month ago - we'll have that tonight with nachos; some frozen casserole that I made a few weeks ago - we'll have that with mash on Monday instead of stir-fry.  I also brought back an armful of carrots from my garden in Scotland this weekend, so I'll make up a big batch of carrot and coriander soup.  There's some ready-made puff pastry in the fridge waiting for me to make some divine cheese straws too, so that's a lunch option sorted.

Next, fill in your gaps based on your loose plan for the week.  Ask the family for their input, especially if you want them to get involved with the cooking and eating.  If you need to, get out the recipe books for inspiration.  Roast pork was C's suggestion last week, as long as there's crackling.

Now make your shopping list.  I divide mine into categories of: fruit and veg, fridge, freezer, bakery, store cupboard and general household, to make it easier when I'm walking around a supermarket or smaller shops or markets.  Check your recipes and add anything which you don't already have in the store cupboard or fridge to the recipe.  I also have a list on the whiteboard in the kitchen.  Everybody knows that if we are running low on a store cupboard staple such as cereal, coffee or ketchup it should go on the list and I'll add it to my shopping list.  To be honest I do still check the cereal boxes, the tea and coffee, toothpaste, loo roll and shower gel, because Hubby very rarely remembers to add them to the list until they've actually run out - and then they are too urgent to wait until the next weekly shop!

Seriously though, if you make your shopping list based on what you are actually going to eat, and only buy what is actually on your shopping list, you'll save quite a lot of money, and will waste a lot less food.  I do still buy bargains, special offers and treats when I'm shopping, but only if they will fit into the menu or will keep or can be frozen for the future.