Not Back To School Sports Day 2018

A few years ago, my family attended a Not Back To School Sports Day. It was a memorable day and, after a small nudge from an online comment on a home ed Facebook group, we decided we should host one of our own.

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At the older children’s meet the previous week, the young people had worked together to compile an impressive list of fun and inclusive races for the sports day. The event itself began with a circle for people to tell each other their names and for some stretches and warm up exercises, led mostly by children.

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Then the races began. The first was the Home Ed Triathlon, a cooperative take on the usual format. Teams of three took part, with each member of the teams taking on a different element of the race in relay. The swimmers had to don goggles, life jackets and swimming hats before ‘swimming’ across the tarpaulin pool where they tagged their team member who zoomed along on a balance bike to the final team member who ran back to the start line carrying a cup of water.

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This proved to be a popular race and was repeated with different combinations of children around a dozen times. Next came the track events, which were also repeated several times – the egg and spoon race,

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the sack race using coffee sacks kindly donated by one of the families attending, the wheelbarrow race and the three-legged race.

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Another team event followed – the cooperative water challenge. There were two teams each with a bucket of water at one end of the course and an empty bucket opposite. Each team had a number of holey vessels and lengths of guttering to transport their water from the full to the empty bucket. Much hilarity ensued along with deliberate spilling of water to cool the red-faced competitors.

Half time oranges felt essential by this point and adults drank tea and coffee, which had been provided by a particularly organised parent.

There were over 50 people at the sports day, many of whom were entirely new to home education and/or Glasgow so the break in proceedings allowed time for people to get to know each other, exchange stories and catch up with old friends.

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Refreshed and eager for one last activity, children patiently queued to have their turn on the obstacle course.

Once everyone had tired of the sports, races and games on offer, we started the big clear up operation. Even the little ones helped to gather up all the equipment.

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Tired but happy, people began to say goodbye and leave the park. Some went into the city centre, some went home and others drifted off to a nearby play park for a different kind of play.

All in all, we all felt the day had been a great success. My personal highlight had been how the children had entered into the races with such a wonderful sense of lightness and generosity. They were great sportspeople, every one of them.

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On returning home, one of the children wrote a newspaper article about their day. Here it is, our first review for our first Not Back To School Sports Day.

Home ED News Glasgow NO.1

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Rail and Sail

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This summer we have been trying to take advantage of both our Family and Friends Railcards and the good weather by striking out to adventure further afield than usual. We discovered we could buy ‘rail and sail’ tickets thus making considerable savings on ferry journeys as well as on the train. On one of the hottest days of the year, we packed up our buckets and spades and set off for Milport on the island of Cumbrae. We were a large party, totalling ten adults and over 20 children.

The train was as packed as it could be so we were scattered throughout the carriage. Some of the older passengers were vocal in their disapproval of children taking up seats while adults were standing so some of our children opted to sit on the floor, singing and laughing and tumbling over each other all the way to Largs.

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The ferry journey was brief but so exciting

with loud cheers of “land ahoy!” as we reached the island. We then squashed onto a bus for the final leg of our outward journey to Milport with more raucous singing and daft jokes to while away the time. Once in Milport, we piled off the bus thinking it might be nice to walk a little before setting down our bags but the children were so keen to get into the water that we ended up laying down picnic rugs right next to the bus stop.

Then followed hours of carefree play in the sea and sand – the water water warm enough to comfortably swim in for extended periods and the beach full of interest.

I exclaimed, more than once, at the sheer beauty of our surroundings and was never met with any disagreement. The time passed too quickly and all too soon we had to pack up to go home. Ice creams were consumed and a final farewell said to ‘the best beach day ever’.

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On reaching the mainland we were met with public transport mayhem. We were told the trains had all been cancelled, and then that perhaps they hadn’t. We hastily purchased many portions of chips and plopped ourselves onto a cool train in the hope of going somewhere in the general direction of home. The adults were starting to get fractious but the children took it all in their stride. When we were unexpectedly dropped off in Paisley instead of Glasgow, they took to the balmy streets as though on a Mediterranean holiday – playing football in the town square and mimicking statues, mannequins and each other.

We got home many hours later than expected but, on reflection, it still stands out as the best meet we’ve ever had.

Fast forward a month and the weather had cooled a little. This time we were a smaller group and our island of choice was Arran. The customary singing on the train kept the children entertained and our rail and sail tickets meant we could hop directly off the train and onto the ferry.

It was a longer ferry ride and a bigger vessel than the one to Cumbrae so the scope for fun on the journey also grew exponentially. The older children darted about playing games and exploring, though the wind was so strong they had to hide from it and take shelter at times.

Once in Brodick, we slowly picked our way around the coastline, stopping to look at whatever caught our eyes –

shells, stones, shipwrecks, crabs…

The path took us through a golf course and over marsh land

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till we got a beach whereupon more treasure was sought out and arranged, stones skimmed and some brave characters paddled in the icy water.

Clusters of children happily pottered about for hours and occasionally we would end up in a large group discussion about matters as broad as whether AI robots should have the same rights and responsibilities as humans and the merits of thin biscuits over conventional ones.

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Once again, the time passed too quickly and before we knew it we were racing back to the harbour, our ferry in sight, all digits crossed we would get to it in time.

On the way back to the mainland, some children set up an illicit stall selling decorated stones. Their lack of custom saved them from getting into hot water with the staff on board.

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We all lamented the brevity of our time on Arran

so plans are afoot to book out the youth hostel for a few nights in the spring so we can more properly explore the island.

Back at my family home, shells are everywhere.

They have been studied and catalogued and some made into a mobile to gift a friend.

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The summer feels like it is drawing to a close but we’re realised we can take on more adventurous journeys as a group and still thoroughly enjoy them. It’s exciting to be heading towards a new season with an emboldened sense of what we can achieve.

Dumbarton Rock

A few weeks ago, as the heatwave was reaching it’s peak, I took a group of older home ed children to climb Dumbarton Rock, one of the few peaks within reach by public transport. Our journey there was filled the usual hilarity and nonsense.

The children humoured me in posing for an album cover style photo for the start of our ascent

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then some attempted to climb the rock in a slightly unorthodox fashion.

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We soon found the stairs but, after just a short while, we were all exhausted. The heat of the day was intense and the steps plentiful so we paused in the shade for a snack and to catch our breath.

The majority voted to eat our packed lunches at the summit so, once rested, we galloped up the remaining stairs to admire the view and, most importantly, to fire into our food.

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Our decent was more leisurely. We allowed ourselves time to pause and wonder,

play and explore.

The staff at Dumbarton Castle kindly gave us each an educational pack on our way out, including a certificate for climbing all 500 steps – congratulations we all felt we heartily deserved. It also outlined the history of the castle and surrounding area – something we had hitherto neglected to read about in our hurry to get to the top of White Tower Crag by lunchtime.

From the top of the rock, we had spotted a sandy cove at the coast and were eager to dip our hot feet in the water. We had a little time to kill before catching our train so made a beeline for it. One of my children came home with a collection of crabs to study and draw.

Our time in Dumbarton ended with cooling ice lollies,

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the usual hanging about on the subway

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and indulging me one last time with a posed, group photo.

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A wonderful day with a gregarious gang.

One Year On

Somehow, a whole year has already passed since we set up our monthly meet for older children. In that time we have been roller skating together, been swimming, watched a movie, volunteered at a local community garden, cooked over an open fire in the woods, worked on an allotment, cooked pizzas from scratch, carved pumpkins, rowed a boat on the canal and done our fair share of hanging about on public transport among other things.

We asked the children how they’d like to mark this anniversary and they requested to go back to the wonderful Glasgow Autonomous Space for another bout of food prep and cooking.

Some children made sushi and stir fry while others giggled and guffawed their way through a cake recipe, with the rest of us hoping the end result tasting would as good as the time they had making it.

We laid a table with masses of food, sat down to eat and to reflect on what we had enjoyed most over the last year. Plans were also hatched for the next few months of meets.

The cake didn’t disappoint

and we approached the big clean up job feeling almost too stuffed to move.

 

Love and Community

At Easter time one of the families that regularly attends the group had a baby. The birth was traumatic and the baby spent some days in intensive care. We were all desperate to show our support and sending meals for the rest of the family wasn’t enough so we set to creating a visual representation of a group hug via the medium of pavement chalk.

We occupied an area of tarmac in a local park, sketched out a massive circle and spread out some chalk. The baby’s name was writ large in the centre with her siblings and parents names close in around her’s. The remaining space within the circle was filled in with doodles, drawings and so many love hearts, while all around the outside of the circle were the names of all the chalkers.

It was touching to see everybody working together, finding ways of complimenting each other’s work to produce a beautiful whole.

It turned out to be a busy, fun day with a positive outcome. The family enjoyed seeing the photos of what we had made, felt loved and, most importantly of all, baby is now at home and doing so well!

The following week we had use of our fantastic, winter venue again for some dancing. A teenager in the group worked closely with one of the other adults, who is trained in dance, to deliver a most impressive workshop.

They choreographed some of the song “A Thousand Years” and also facilitated the group in devising dance sequences for other sections of the song. We used makaton signing during the chorus and other repeated phrases, inspired by the video of 50 mothers of children  with down syndrome had made for Down Syndrome Awareness Day this year. One of the mother-and-child-pairings in the video is part of our group so we took great pride in collectively acknowledging their contribution to the video.

Once again, the adults were all wowed by how considerate the children were towards each other throughout the creative process. There were many poignant moments between children and we all came away with a sense of euphoria from having worked together so closely on something that held such potent meaning for us as a community.

Baltic Street Adventure Playground

This week we braved the weather and headed out to Dalmarnock to visit Baltic Street Adventure Playground.

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We had been wanting to go there as a group for some time but their opening hours during term time don’t suit us. We were delighted to be able to take advantage of their extended holiday hours and were determined not to be put off by rain, sleet or cold.

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The playground was designed by Assemble, an award winning art/design/architecture collective and was set up after the 2012 Commonwealth Games. The playground is a democratic space with a big emphasis on loose parts play, risk taking and equality.

Almost immediately, on arrival, a group of children started building a slide using the materials they had to hand.

The mud greatly aided them in creating a slippery surface slide down but also meant they had to think carefully about making steps or foot-holds to get themselves back up again

 

There was a tree house in one of the taller trees with fabulous bridges leading up to it

Underneath the treehouse were three crash mats. Alan, the site manager has been keen to get the mats out as soon as we arrived which puzzled us slightly.

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However, the children soon worked it out.

Almost all the children had a (or many) turns at throwing themselves out of the treehouse and onto the mats. It looked like great fun. Alan later told us that the children who live locally had made up the rule that there had to be three mats – two side-by-side and one on top of them, cover the join. Their reasoning was that when you jump onto two mats they come apart and your landing is not so soft. So the third mat on the join became mandatory as ordered by the children. We were told that most of the rules in the playground were put in place by children who use the space often, an idea that greatly resonated with us home educators.

The various, big rope swings were tested out and we found a smaller swing in one corner along with a small ‘cottage’ and a few other little dens.

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Meanwhile some of the parents were sheltering from the rain in a small, indoor base which houses toilets, a kitchen and a store room. We were offered cups of tea and were told about the food that would be served up. It came as a welcome surprise to be served hot food on such a cold day. Baltic St Adventure Playground are part of the Fair Share scheme, an initiative which aims to tackle both food poverty and food waste. We talked for some time to a kindly man called Alistair who manages and cooks all the food at the playground. He receives deliveries of food rejected by supermarkets because of, for example, upside-down barcodes, over-ordering, mis-labelling, and cooks this food up into tasty and nutritious meals. He never knows what his ingredients will be so has to be creative to pull together dishes to please the players. Everyone is invited to eat for free regardless of income or need. This nourishes the children and adults alike, galvanises a sense of community and, more often than not, provides food for families that might otherwise had not had any. Alistair told us of families that were spared the stigma that can come with a foodbank referral because they had had a decent meal at the playground most days.

The food we were given was lentil soup, vegetable casserole, cheese toasties, plums and fruity yoghurt. We were delighted with this and got stuck in straight away despite our muddiness.

Not long after, Alan started a fire to help us all get warm. Children occasionally stopped by the fire to warm their hands before running back to their endeavours and the adult conversation turned to inclusion, diversity, the history of adventure playgrounds and other such interesting topics.

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Nearby a group of adults and children with spades, shovels and pickaxes were digging the foundations for some new play structures that will be built over the next week or so.

After three hours of extremely wet and muddy play we started to make moves to leave. Alistair quickly pushed an Easter egg into the hands of each child, making their muddy faces light up with joyful astonishment. We squelched out of the gate with shouts of ‘thank you!’ and promised to go back again as soon as we could.

 

Comrie Croft 2018

It’s just over a year since we last visited Comrie Croft as group. So much has changed since then, both for us as a group and at the place itself.

We arrived on a Sunday evening and, after getting settled into our rooms

and eating a big meal together, most of the children and a few intrepid adults went out to explore the woods in the dusk. It was a beautiful evening, the sky ablaze with colour and we were pleased to wake the next day to find the old adage to be true about ‘red skies at night bringing shepherds delight’. There were a few home ed families staying with us from outwith Glasgow – people we had never met before – but the children quickly tumbled in with existing gangs of friends and conversation between adults was friendly and easy. It was so nice to make new friends on holiday.

 

Monday was mostly spent outdoors, making the most of the sunshine. We played circle games,

and busied ourselves with bushcraft and nature-themed activities.

Some children hired bikes to take on the mountain bike trails

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while others took part in a session of ‘Chaos Yoga’ – a game devised by one of the children in group and facilitated, brilliantly, by his mum –

and a whole fantasy world formed around a gazebo aka “The Cowboy Hut”

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Some adults went for a brisk walk up a nearby hill to the Devil’s Cauldron while others basked in the bright, spring sun watching a game of group volley ball.

In amongst all the organised activities, there was still plenty of time for free play and hanging about. The woodland rope swings were well used, many trips were made to the waterfall and woods and, of course, so much chatting and catching up

In preparing food for the evening on Monday, some of the smaller children were given the task of finding the biggest potatoes to bake. They emptied a 25kg sack of spuds onto the floor and worked collaboratively to hunt out the finest specimens. Numerous, brilliant games to get the remaining tatties back in the sack then ensued, involving rolling, throwing, carrying dustpans, spoons, tongs, you name it. The ingenuity and hilarity found with those potatoes was one of the highlights of the holiday for me.

 

The evening was largely spent around the fire, baking potatoes and dampers, toasting marshmallows and exchanging tales of fun and adventure. We befriended the family staying the in farmhouse on site so they, too, joined us round the fire, adding to the collection of marshmallows and stories.

 

The weather on Tuesday was a little wetter and greyer but most people still managed a jaunt outdoors. A craft table was set up in the kitchen for those that wanted to stay in

but many of the children spent a good chunk of the afternoon preparing for the Kids’ Kitchen event that was due to take place that evening.

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Each family had contributed some vegetables for the paella and fruit for the crumble so we split into small groups to get them all peeled, chopped and ready to cook.

Once the food was cooking, everyone busily set to making menus, table decorations and umbrellas for the mocktails.

By the time the food was ready, the ‘customers’ (all the adults and any children who hadn’t wanted to cook) had already started arriving so the pressure was on to get everyone seated, orders taken and food served. The pace and level of activity was so intense I wasn’t able to get any photos of the meal itself but the children working at the Kids’ Kitchen did an excellent job of facilitating for and feeding the whole group. They organised themselves so that those who could read and write took down the food and drink orders while the pre-literate took the food to the tables, ensuring everyone felt useful and appreciated. High praise came from the diners and Kids’ Kitchen crew congratulated themselves with a round of mocktails and much clinking of glasses. They were excused from doing dishes after all their hard work and went instead to watch a movie together while adults and children who hadn’t cooked cleared up.

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Wednesday was our final day so everyone felt it important to visit all our special and favourite places to say goodbye. There was an emotional farewell trip to see the Shetland ponies in the field behind the hostel as well as one last walk to the waterfall and one final turn on the rope-swing.

We were sad to leave and have our holiday end but so happy that we had had such a great time together.

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It was an exhausting but wonderful few days

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and I, for one, am already looking forward to our next trip away.