conservation · Plastic Free Living

Plastic Free Camping

We’ve just come back from camping in Cornwall and it was awesome! I just love it, especially in this beautiful weather we’re having. I really need to move there; the call to the sea seems to get stronger in me each year.

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Have you ever seen a more beautiful view?!

We camp on the Camel Estuary every year and so far we’ve not had to replace any of our camping gear. Looking at it all with critical eyes I realised how much of it is plastic, although our actual tent is second-hand and our tables, most of the rest of it was bought new and much of it has plastic elements to it. It doesn’t make sense to chuck your plastic stuff out though. The key is to use it, fix it and use it again and when the time comes to re-buy the item, dispose of it properly and then research non-plastic alternatives and buy better next time around.

Tents:

Modern tents are made almost entirely from man-made fibres most typically nylon or polyester which are thermo plastic polymers. Modern carbon fibre tent poles are a composite of plastic, and guy ropes are nylon. Often the only non-plastic part of the tent is the metal tent pegs. If you still prefer a modern tent you can get some great modern tents made from 100% recycled materials or you could buy second-hand.

The other obvious eco-friendly answer if you’re buying a new tent is to purchase canvas. You can get all sorts, such as tipi’s or bell tents, which may be heavier than your plastic tent but I’m told they have loads of great advantages too. They are often pretty easy to put up, they keep cooler inside in hot weather than nylon or polyester and they have a ‘glamping’ feel; an added touch of luxury to your camping experience!

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Dawn view from Mum’s bell tent = tent and pitch envy!

Sleeping:

For mattresses we have airbeds, which are definitely plastic but they are perfect for my bad back. Sometimes if you feel you have no alternative but to buy plastic I would suggest buying the best you can afford because at least you will get years of use out of it. You can get cheap airbeds for a fiver but they don’t last long, whereas my Colemans air bed for 25 quid has lasted 5 years and counting. As it happens 3 out of 4 of our airbeds finally bit the dust this year so I will be looking at what plastic free or longer lasting mattresses there are out there.  I do have one excellent self-inflating mattress that I’ve had since I went travelling over 20 years ago. I would struggle to sleep on that now, but it could be ideal for L&T.

If money’s not an issue or you are prepared to save for an eco-friendly option, try the ‘naturalmat’ from Camping with Soul. You can use these brilliant roll up mattresses on their own or in combination with a metal framed camp bed.

As for sleeping bags, for a little bit more of an investment you can buy one made from up to 100% recycled materials.

Cooking:

Most camping stores will have a good range of stainless steel/aluminium cooking pots, bowls and cups and with a quick online search you can easily find bamboo/corn cutlery and kitchenware ideal for camping. I found this site useful for thinking about the options.

There are loads of great eco camp stoves out there giving you freedom from fossil fuels. Here’s the Biolite  which has the added bonus of also being able to charge up your phone if you like to stay connected while camping.

Personally I like being able to switch off completely so for something similar but a bit cheaper and without phone charging ability, you could go for the classic Kelly Kettle. Again Camping with Soul do lots more eco stove options giving a variety of outdoor eating options to suit all needs.

Bring your plastic free bathroom bits with you!

I’m going to write a bathroom post for home or away all of it’s own, but the basics to take camping with you might be your bamboo toothbrush, some paper wrapped soap and a shampoo bar.

 Swimwear:

Here are two amazing companies using recycled plastic to make swimwear. Firstly Batoko who make swimwear from recycled plastic bottles, fishing nets and post consumer waste such as carpets and other fabrics. Their costumes are really fun and they also support the Marine Conservation Society by giving them a proportion of their profits every year. Finisterre also make recycled plastic swimwear as well as a range of outer clothing too, all using materials form sustainable sources. They give 10% of their profits to Surfers Against Sewage and I think their products are really well designed, if a tad expensive. If you wait for a shop sale you can snap up a really beautiful eco costume for a reasonable price.

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Some surfer dudes no-where near the sea!

Plan ahead!

Camp sites always have drinking water taps so make sure to pack your re-usable bottles, there is really no need to buy plastic bottles of water if you are organised. If you are a big tea drinker like me, you will also save lots of disposable cups out and about if you take your own travel mug. Most travel cafes on the coast are really used to people giving them their own cup and they even wash it out for you if you ask nicely!

We found on our camping trip last week that our biggest watch out is buying food on the go. If you’re not organised you can end up consuming a lot of single-use plastic in the shape of the dreaded meal deal. In ‘How To Live Plastic Free‘ written by The Marine Conservation Society (which I highly recommend if you want an easy and practical guide to going plastic free) they say:

Three pounds. That’s all it takes to kill the sea. Forget for a moment everything you’re read about beauty products, pollution, climate change and so on. If you want to find the true source of plastic excess you must venture to the shiny temple of our times: the supermarket. This ‘meal deal’ might look a ‘deal’ to you, but it is a true environmental disaster. All for under 3 pounds.’

A better option would be to find a deli where you can create your own sandwich wrapped in paper or grab a delicious pasty from a bakery or if you must use the supermarket (we did, it was just too convenient) then be prepared with your own Tupperware and buy from the fresh counters. Worst case scenario just make the best decision you can in the moment and resolve to be more prepared next time. We all get caught out, and personally I think this is our family’s biggest area to improve on as we are not brilliant at being organised!

2 Minute Beach clean:

Lots of us camp near a beach or visit one whilst camping. Make a new habit of doing a 2 minute beach clean every time you go. In 2017 #2minutebeachclean launched an APP that will help you to record your beach clean finds easily and quickly. It will also enable you to post directly to Instagram or Twitter and will tell you where your nearest beach clean station is.

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L skipping along a perfectly clean beach!

O’h and don’t forget your cloth bag for purchases and your bamboo straws! I don’t go anywhere without my bamboo straws, they are lovely to use and L will not drink out without one. We get ours from The Pure Blue and we love them.

If you have any amazing plastic free camping tips please let me know in the comments.

Happy Plastic Free Camping!

Plastic Free Living

It’s Plastic Free July!

I am joining in #GOplasticfree again this year with The Marine Conservation Society. All details for signing up are here.

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Last year I made a few changes which have become permanent, so I think the trick is to tackle plastic habits one at a time. I am going to be writing 4 blog posts with tips on reducing plastic in your bathroom, kitchen, for those with pets and for big events like festivals or camping.

In my posts I am going to focus on plastic free ideas that are cheap and practical. There are a lot of plastic free alternatives and swaps on the market that require you to spend more money, but I really want the ideas I include here to be accessible to everyone.

L&T will hopefully be making a film of their favourite plastic free life hacks. So watch this space!

Plastic is choking, starving and poisoning our oceans. Let’s unite in our effort to prevent an environmental disaster by each doing our bit to make simple changes to our plastic-overloaded lifestyle.

Here’s a poem I like by Hollie McNish taken from her book, ‘Plum’ which I thought you might enjoy because it illustrates so well how pointless a lot of plastic is.

PLASTIC BOTTLES

The production of water bottles uses 17 million barrels of oil a year and it takes three times the water to make the bottle as it does to fill it’ – a business insider

there’s not much

i find as pointless

as plastic bottles

filling shores

 

there’s not much

for me that sums up

why less

is often more

 

than fresh water

wrapped in plastic

making money

sold and branded

 

there’s not much

i find as pointless

as plastic bottles

filling shores

 

water packaged

then sold back to us

now polluting

its own source

 

By Hollie McNish

 

****UPDATE Sept 2018******

O’h dear, I am useless at recording these challenges! We have worked hard to reduce our plastic this summer, but somehow I just never found the time to write about it all. I will though, I promise, it’s just I have a head full of other urgent things that I need to write down too, and so the promised posts will come, I just can’t tell you exactly when!

 

conservation · Home Education · Plastic Free Living

30 Days Wild!

Yesterday was Day 1 of our 30 Days Wild challenge organised by The Wildlife Trust. It’s not too late to sign up online and download a pack if you want to get involved. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, although I’m not sure the kids think it’s that different to normal because by this time of year we tend to be outdoors a lot anyway.

This year we thought it would be fun to sprinkle in a few acts of random wildness that would make the challenge a little more memorable. During the course of this month I will be documenting our wild days here on the blog in weekly updates.

So yesterday, the 1st of June, L spent all day at her riding stables from 9-5pm, which is fast becoming a real passion for her, leaving myself and T to mark Day 1 together. We decided on one of our favourite walks with Legend around some nearby lakes; we call it our ‘cake walk’ because we start with a visit to the on-site café to refill my travel cup with tea (tea is essential to life y’know) and for T to find the biggest, most chocolaty piece of cake to fuel our walk.

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We don’t rush so the walk around the lake takes us about 1.5 hours and the views are beautiful all the way around. Mostly we love this walk though because we get to have a good old chat, with lots of little stop-offs to sit and let time pass, whilst eating cake of course!

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Hmmm looks quite inviting!

We always meet lots of interesting people on our walks and yesterday was no exception. We met this lovely lady with her two rescue Lurchers whom we chatted to for a long while. T was asked the usual school question to which he quite happily stated that he’s home educated. At this point we usually face a rather strained conversation, which has most people politely moving on.

This lady was like a breath of fresh air! Her reply, after the tiniest pause, was: ‘Well of course not everything can be learned from a book, in fact I do believe nature is the greatest teacher of all’. I could see T kind of straighten himself up, tall and proud and I inwardly thanked the lady for understanding rather than subjecting my son to an awkward silence or questions about how he would ever get any GCSE’s (he’s 10………but incase you’re wondering yourself, home educators can still take any qualification they want, it’s just they have choice and freedom about what, when, how and even if they need them for what they want to pursue).

And so our conversation continued about nature and conservation. We talked about plastic and it’s use by big supermarket chains; we talked about getting involved in beach cleans. This lady said two things that struck me: she wondered whether my being involved in beach cleans really had any genuine impact; and she said, at age 71, she was too old to change the world. Aren’t these exactly the kind of negative things we all tell ourselves? That we cannot make a difference on our own? That we are too young, too old, too busy, too unknowledgeable, too unfit, too broke to make a difference? I know I have used many of those exact excuses myself. I know I don’t always walk the talk.

I told her that her time was right now. That she wasn’t too old to save the world. That her actions alone could make a difference. ‘Do you know what?’ she stated boldly. ‘I am going to talk to Sainsbury’s today about how they wrap single vegetables in plastic, it’s been bugging me for ages!’

One person, whoever you are, can make all the difference.

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I’ll just pretend I didn’t see that No Swimming sign.
conservation

3 Family Friendly Marine Conservation Projects

Marine Conservation Graphic

Here are 3 easy marine conservation projects to get involved in this summer, which require no previous training and are easy for children of any age to engage with:
1) Beach Babies Survey – Lots of animals are changing the time of year that they breed in response to warmer or cooler waters. ‘Capturing Our Coast’ are interested in how this varies around the UK. They have put together an activity pack that will help you spot a number of species and their signs of reproduction. You can find all the details here.
2) The Great Eggcase Hunt – With over 600 species of skate and ray worldwide, at least 16 species have been regularly recorded in UK coastal waters; most of these species reproduce by laying tough leathery eggcases on the seabed. Of more than 30 species of British sharks, only two species lay eggcases that are commonly found on our beaches; the Smallspotted Catshark and the Nursehound.
Each eggcase contains one embryo which will develop over several months into a miniature shark, skate or ray. Once empty, the eggcases often wash ashore and can be found among the strandline on beaches.
The Great Eggcase Hunt aims to get as many people as possible hunting for eggcases that have either been washed ashore, or are found by divers and snorkelers underwater. In recent decades, several species of shark, skate and ray around the British coast have dramatically declined in numbers. The empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) are an easily accessible source of information on the whereabouts of potential nursery grounds and will provide the Trust with a better understanding of species abundance and distribution.
3) Great British Beach Clean – The Great British Beach Clean is the Marine Conservation Society’s annual event on the 3rd weekend of September. It’s the biggest beach clean and survey in the UK and provides a valuable insight into the litter problems our seas and oceans are facing
MCSUK have been recording this information for over 25 years and lobbying governments to stop items getting there in the first place. With the publics help they’ve made great progress in helping to bring in a plastic bag charge, stopping microplastics in cosmetics being washed down the plug hole and getting the message out that wetwipes shouldn’t be flushed or contain plastic. Find out how to get involved in an existing beach clean, or how to organise your own, here.

Home Education

A World Class Education

The government has recently published new draft guidance for local authorities concerning Elective Home Education. Much of it is a total reinterpretation of current guidance and law regarding home education. Before I fill in the consultation at the end of June, I want to take the time to dissect and understand all of the issues properly.

The introductory paragraph of the draft guidance is as follows:

The government’s aim is to ensure all young people receive a world-class education which allows them to realise their full potential, regardless of background, in a safe environment.

Now to be honest I find this entire paragraph very troubling, almost every word bugs me. It starts by asserting the government’s aims for our children’s education. The law actually states that education is the responsibility of the parent, not the government.
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(2) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

It then goes on to say that the government wants to ensure all young people receive a world-class education (bit pushy I think…..provide access to a world-class education would be better wording). How they will do this with home educated children makes up the rest of the guidance, or at least sets the tone, which is why I think a careful scrutiny of the wording and the meaning behind it is important.

I wanted to find out exactly what they mean by ‘world-class‘ and in reading through the DfE’s Strategy 2015-2020 the picture became predictably clear.

Here are the headlines:

‘Supporting all children to reach their potential brings economic prosperity for individuals and the whole country. Those with five or more good GCSEs (including English and maths) or a Level 3 apprenticeship earn more than their counterparts with lower level qualifications. And, the better-educated a society, the more productive, dynamic and innovative it can be.’

‘As well as mastering the fundamentals – literacy and numeracy – and studying an academic core, all young people also need the skills and character to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society.’

‘There will always be core knowledge and skills our young people need to have mastered to get on in life. But the workplaces they are entering continue to change rapidly. Whilst globalisation offers vast opportunity for those positioned to grasp it, it’s threatening for those without the education to compete effectively in an ever-hungrier global market. Automation and consequent shifts in the labour market mean the number of routine, middle-skilled jobs is likely to decline. Every young Briton unable to compete with their international peers represents a huge waste of potential, on both a personal and national level.’

‘Education should prepare children for adult life, giving them the skills and character traits they need to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society. There is a strong correlation between character traits like self-control and social skills, and a wide range of positive life outcomes, including higher wages.’

Very clearly what the government means by ‘world-class education which allows (children) to reach their full potential’, is primarily education which is academic in nature and which considers the potential usefulness of the future adult in supporting British economic growth.

Of course I understand that money is what makes the world go round, and we all need a portion of it to live happy and free lives. I also passionately believe in making contributions to the communities in which we live. No man is an island after all and supporting our fellow humans to make all of our lives better is a positive way to live.

However I don’t subscribe to equating a child’s full potential with their academic success. If of course they want to strive for academic excellence then that should be possible, and their social-economic background should never preclude them from reaching their personal ambitions. But to me, full potential has to do with so much more than academia and a bunch of GCSE’s or even a degree. Reaching one’s full potential is about humanity itself. Reaching the heights of creativity. Striving for healthy emotional and mental health. And what about spiritual full potential? Very few of us ever reach a spiritual nirvana……….but of course, sitting around meditating isn’t going to support Britain’s economic growth; it’s not going to make you or your country rich.

I know exactly which children get left out of the governments ambitions for world-class education though. The neuro-diverse children. The one’s who most likely make up the percentage of every classroom who suffer with mental illness due to a system which does not accommodate their needs, nor play to their strengths.

Ironically it’s likely that these children will have the kind of creative problem solving skills that Britain will need in the future, so let’s not allow the government to tarnish home education with these narrow views of what a child’s full potential is.

Unschooling, which would be particularly threatened by this new government guidance, is the kind of education most suited to neuro-diverse children, who through delving deep into their interests can find their niche in the world and thus make the positive contribution that the DfE keeps talking about in its strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Education

Why you don’t need to worry if your home educated child isn’t reading yet

It’s a familiar concern of a parent of a child 5 years plus, that their child isn’t reading yet. In the unschooled community, reading at 5 would be mostly unheard of. Those parents have made a commitment to go at their child’s pace, but it is hard. Their friends children are all learning to read at school and family and friends are often starting to make negative comments.

Firstly it’s important to understand that mainstream UK schools did not pick age 5 for any reasons relating to a child’s actual development.

Professor Lilian Katz, Professor of Education, University of Illinois who was addressing an international conference on foundation-stage learning at the University of Oxford, said there was a danger that the British model could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready.

She said: “The evidence we have so far is that if you start formal teaching of reading very early the children do well in tests but when you follow them up to the age of 11 or 12 they don’t do better than those who have had a more informal approach.”

The evidence also suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.”

During my teaching days I saw many more boys than girls damaged by early formal reading instruction. These boys suffer huge dents to their self-esteem, and often behaviour difficulties follow. They decide early on that reading, then writing is just not for them and it impacts on all future learning.

Some home educators also follow curriculums and encourage early reading, though they have the luxury of teaching one child at a time. This is often a more gentle child-centred approach, but can still result in abnormal development of brain pathways. If your child is not actively consenting to your help, it is very likely they are not ready either developmentally or motivationally. Either way, your encouragement and support will most probably backfire.

According to Jane Healy, a well-respected educational psychologist:

Early childhood programs that implement a directed academic curriculum often replace essential, hands-on learning activities with skill-based performance and rote-learning tasks. In doing so, they risk the developmental growth necessary for children’s future academic success. Experts believe that when rote-learning tasks are used extensively in an early childhood classroom or other setting, normal growth and development of the brain can become distorted.”

(Healy, J.M. 2004. Your child’s growing mind. New York: Broadway Books)

If you are trying to formally teach your young child (under age 7) to read, you need to consider what they could be doing instead! Playing! Playing is vital to brain growth and future learning. By investing time teaching them to do things they are not ready to do, you are actually depriving them of time spent doing exactly what they need to be doing.

Anecdotally I can tell you that when my daughter learned to read at 8, she swapped play for books overnight. I am glad she did not learn earlier and thus stop hours of imaginative play earlier. She could also suddenly read everything everywhere, every headline, every billboard, every protest banner, things I am glad she could not read at 5 quite frankly! Literature is everywhere, but our society can be pretty inappropriate for 5 year olds and trying to explain our world to an 8 year old was tricky enough.

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Lego makes a great case for play-based learning up to age 8. Of course, they have Lego to sell, but the actual research they base their theories on comes from the most esteemed universities in the world. You can read Lego’s research and theories here.

You can also read my own personal thoughts and experience with play here.

Many more home educators do in fact take a much more unstructured and relaxed approach to reading. However, many of those parents, who have been schooled themselves, do find they worry about their child’s apparent lateness to reading.

Let’s define late. Most people are reasonably comfortable with their child not being able to read up to 7 years old. Pretty much everyone understands that in many European countries children are not taught to read until 7.

Beyond 7 however, the fear factor really starts to ramp up, but in actual fact, most home educated children learn to read somewhere between 4 and 14. Many I know personally learned between the ages of 8 and 12. I don’t adhere to the concept of ‘lateness’ to reading. A child will learn the skill when they are ready and motivated to do so.

Many parents I have spoken to want to know how best to support their home educated child’s ability to learn to read when the time is right for them.

Dr Katz suggests the following:

For children’s brains to become highly developed for learning, repeated experiences are essential. Connections become stronger and more efficient through repeated use. Reading to children every day, for example, helps strengthen essential connections. Connections are also made stronger when children have daily opportunities to develop both large- and small-muscle skills, have the chance to practice developing social skills, and interact directly with their environment. It is vital to incorporate rich language into all of these activities, since exposure to rich language creates the foundation for a child’s use and understanding of words, and increases the likelihood of reading success at a later age.

In short, your child simply needs access to books and people to model the skill, plus a variety of people to talk to and extend their language with.

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I would also be wary of young children appearing to want to learn to read. Often they have simply soaked up society’s expectations, or maybe even your expectations. Development is never really linear either; a child might make some progress with reading and then want to leave it for a while, or progress might happen very suddenly and all in one go. Always be respectful of your own child’s learning journey; there are no rules!

This is a good link with more ideas and information from the unschooling advocate, Dr Peter Gray: ‘Children Teach Themselves to Read’.

You can read about my own children’s unschooled reading journey here. For us, you will notice that technology did not play much of a part in my children learning to read because for many of their formative years we lived in Ireland and it just wasn’t a big part of everyone’s daily lives. There was certainly no broadband on their grandparents farm and access to technology was not something I deliberately went out of my way to provide for them. I didn’t believe it was needed and they certainly weren’t asking. It was more cows than computers in that period of our lives!

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Although technology wasn’t a resource we used in our children’s early reading journey, it has become an important element in their learning more recently. Most unschoolers I know where we now live in England use technology and find it can be an excellent tool for supporting literacy skills (I intend to write a lot more about this soon!)

Whatever path your child takes on their learning journey, I hope it’s enjoyable and that they love books regardless of the age they learn the skill. At the end of the day you can quash your fears with unschooling articles and blog posts, but the real guide should always be your own child.

Children know exactly what support they need and when they need it.