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May Newsletter: The One With All the Bluebells

Updated: Jul 10



Hello, and welcome to my monthly newsletter!


So, we've gone from the coldest April on record, to the wettest May, but what a turnaround at the end! Here's hoping that June continues to be warm. It's been a bit of a struggle to get this newsletter written this month, as I haven't been all that well, but I'm coming out the other side and have been tapping away at it for the past few days. It's still May though right?! Just.


Wales Mini break

The month of May started off with a bang for us, with a mini break to Wales. I grew up in Carmarthenshire, not far from the market town of Llandeilo. My Mum still lives at my childhood home, and pre-pandemic we would try to get home to visit every 4-6 weeks. We've missed our regular dose of tranquil, countryside living this past year.


We're very fortunate in that my Mum has a completely self-contained cabin at the bottom of her garden, so for the May Bank Holiday weekend we were able to have some friends join us. It was so lovely to have a change of scene, and having visited with these friends many times over the years, our children are now so independent playing in the garden that it feels like a proper break.


We mostly stayed at home, but these photographs were taken on our walk to Dinefwr Park and Castle, which is beautiful year round, but especially during the bluebell season. You can visit the castle and woodland without National Trust membership by walking from the town centre via Llandyfeisant Church.



Childminding Highlights

We've had three lovely sessions with my sweet little mindee, who has been back to join us weekly in person. For her first session in May we were also joined by one of her big sisters, which was a real highlight for Bean especially. These photographs are of our morning invitation to play with Grapat loose parts. I love open ended toys such as these as they are appealing for all ages. It's lovely to see how they are used differently by a 4 year old and 9 year old.



After lunch the children helped me to move our new guinea pig enclosure into its final position, and to set up the inside for their first short taster session on the grass. Our guinea pigs live indoors, so we're having to introduce them very gradually to their outdoor run. Everybody got to have a cuddle.



The following week we headed out on a day trip to meet friends at Bowood Woodland Gardens in Wiltshire. This place is such a special seasonal treat. It's only open mid-April to mid-June, to coincide with the flowering season, and the grounds boast a spectacular show of rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and bluebells. We took a picnic lunch, but nothing else by way of entertainment. The children spent hours exploring the grounds, gathering fallen petals and nature finds, climbing trees and adventuring about.



Then this last Friday we had a quiet, gentle day at home as I'm still recovering from illness. Here the girls are enjoying a process art invitation with oil pastels and watercolour paints. I love how unique and wonderful children's art work can be when presented with simple, quality art materials. These children had access to the exact same materials, but their outcomes are so different.


I've been working hard over the past few weeks on curating a comprehensive digital guide to open ended art materials, which I hope to release this June. The guide will form part of The Fundamentals of Play program, but I'm planning to release this one as a stand alone guide.

After lunch we had a building session with the Connetix tiles, followed by a few hours of water play in the garden. It was such a beautiful, calm and productive afternoon of play that I got so distracted clearing out our toy shed in the glorious sunshine that I nearly forgot to take the little one home!




Courage Project

We don't have much to report with our Courage Project. We're still reading our stack of books whenever we get the opportunity. Who are Refugees and Migrants? is proving to be an excellent read, prompting lots of discussion, whereas our first impression of Big Ideas For Young Thinkers (which we have on loan from the library) is


Creative Writing Project and Language Arts

This month Bean has been working on a Story Map for our Creative Writing Project (one of the prompts from the book Show Me a Story, which you can read a review of here). It's a work in progress, as she's been adding to it over three or four sessions, and it isn't yet finished. During our first session she came up with a list of all the features she wanted to include, so each time we sit down to work on it, I remind her of her list. While she works on her map, she narrates and I write down everything she is telling me. A complex world is evolving.



Our new Language Arts curriculum has stalled this past week due to my illness. The break has given us a chance to reflect on what is working for us, and more importantly what is not. Bean enjoys the word play element, but not so much the copywork, dictation or narration. We also agreed that Alice in Wonderland was not really gripping enough, so we decided to skip on to the next book, The Phantom Tollbooth. It's been a useful reminder that we don't have to 'push on through' projects that we are not enjoying.



Gardening Project

May has been so wet that it's been a challenge to work in our garden, and what with illness and other distractions, it hasn't been very near the top of our priority list. All of the little seedlings that had come through in our main bed (carrots, broccoli and various salad leaves) got munched up by slugs and snails. The bed has now been completely taken over by self seeded nasturtiums (why don't the slugs and snails eat them?!) which I've been gradually trying to relocate.


One dry afternoon I managed to get our second planter built and into position. I ordered the wrong size aggregate which made it more difficult to get it level, and I didn't order nearly enough top soil to fill it, so I've emptied our second compost bin into the bottom of it (it's not quite as composted as the first) and will top it up with some ready made compost. Just today I have started planting some of our seedlings out into it.



Things that are going well:

Our patio potatoes look great. I just chucked in a few sprouting Maris Piper potatoes from the supermarket, so I've no idea if they'll actually produce a good crop, but they look healthy and promising. It'll be a good experiment. Also, our flowering weigela is absolutely magnificent at this time of year. It has survived our brutal ivy and fence work this time last year which I feared would finish it off.



We've also got lots of exciting action going on in our pond, with lots and lots of busy, fat tadpoles, the occasional froglet and great big frog. Yesterday we counted three frogs in there. It's amazing what the tiniest little pond in an urban garden can accomodate.



Day Trips

We've had two lovely day trips this past month. The first to Bowood Woodland Gardens as mentioned above. This is really worth a visit if you're local and can squeeze one in within the next couple of weeks. It'd make a lovely half term day trip.


And the second to Chew Valley Animal Park to celebrate my brother's 40th birthday. We didn't have great weather, but managed a happy hour in the sunshine before our picnic lunch and the imminent rain. We always have such a great time whenever we visit this place. It's a beautiful location, with views over the rolling hills of the Chew Valley. You can buy animal feed to hand feed the sheep, goats and chickens. It's definitely a warm, dry weather trip though, as it is entirely outdoors with nowhere to shelter from the wind and rain.




Other Highlights

The Green Parent Magazine

This month I was invited to contribute to a feature on self-directed learning in The Green Parent Magazine. It was such an honour to be featured alongside some of my favourite Instagrammers. I'm new to The Green Parent Magazine (I read Juno as a new mother) but it's a lovely magazine. Well worth a read.




Celebrating Choccie and Brownie’s Adoption Day

We've now had our rescue guinea pigs, Choccie and Brownie, for a year! To celebrate, I ordered them a new enclosure for the garden. It was a mission to build, but now that I know how to do it, I think it'll be easy enough to pack away for the winter and rebuild in the spring. It's lovely to have the space to be in the enclosure with them, and also to feel confident that they are safe while we are in and out of the house. I did a LOT of research, and this enclosure was a big investment, but it has been built to last and will retain it's value for selling on when our guinea pig season is over. The brand we went for is Omlet.



Our Building Plans

Progress is being made here for our potential building project this autumn. The architect came and listened carefully to all my ideas. Getting the plans from him proved to be a bit of a challenge, but they finally arrived yesterday evening. Meanwhile, I've been slowly but diligently tapping away at the decluttering in our utility room and covered outdoor area, as these will need to be completely cleared for the work to take place. You can see more details and follow the progress on my Instagram story highlight on the grid.


These are the before and after plans. The extension will offer us a large, open plan dining room space, with doors leading out into the garden.




The Simple Art of Toy Rotation SELF-DIRECTED Course

Did you know that I have a SELF-DIRECTED version of my signature course, The Simple Art of Toy Rotation? The content is exactly the same as the supported version, with the same PDF guides and videos. The only difference is that you work through this course on your own, without my support or the support of the Facebook community. It's a really fun, practical course with the potential to transform play experiences in your home or childcare setting. The next live course will run this coming September.



You can download a few taster pages of the course for FREE here.



Books

May has been a productive month for book purchases. I blame my two separate visits to TKMaxx where I inevitably come out with books. I'll be having a zero spend June to make up for such a big spend this month. This was my first haul (I actually picked out twice this number, but was sensible and put half of them back)...



Really, Really Big Questions About Faith - This one will fit in nicely with our current Courage Project in which we're exploring a lot of life's big questions and topics, but we're also planning a year of learning about cultural and religious celebrations from September onwards, so this will form part of the reading for that too.


Travels With My Sketchbook - This book is more for me than for Bean really. I love a travel sketchbook, and an initial flick through made me feel so nostalgic for my days of travel. This will be a lovely book to dip and out of for any of our continent projects.


Why Do Cats Meow? - Bean and I are big cat fans. We have a lot of books about cats, and this one is great. We read it from cover to cover the day I bought it, and I'd recommend for any other cat lovers out there.


Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII - I couldn't resist this one for a potential WWII project, to highlight the important role women played. We don't have any plans to learn about the war, so perhaps we'll read it as a stand alone book instead.



Jelly, Garbage and Toys - I almost put this one back because I didn't find the cover very appealing, but I'm so glad that I took the time to look inside. Vik Muniz is a Brazilian artist with an interesting story. I think Bean will be inspired by his work, and I'm anticipating a lot of fun trying out some of his unconventional methods.


Greta Thunberg - This one has been on my wish list for some time, and at £3.99 it was a no brainer.


Voices of the Future - We love a good collection of stories, and these have been written by children between the ages of 8 and 12 years from all around the world. Inspiration for our Creative Writing Project, but also lovely to dip in and out of for our continent projects too.


I also placed a fairly substantial order of second hand books from various sellers on Amazon...



Minecraft Lab For Kids - Bean loves Minecraft. I know very little about it, but would love to know more and would love to be able to connect with Bean over one of her big interests. I've read the first chapter, and am still feeling a bit out of my depth. One to revisit when I'm feeling back to full health I think.


The Care and Keeping of You - We've been working our way through a variety of books about growing up, puberty, breasts etc. Bean resists showers and baths (unless she can get in with me) so this book will be an important read for her.


Craft Lab For Kids - This series of books are really excellent. We both love crafting, but the draw of this book is that it features tutorials for crafts that we can actually make use of. No more difficult decision about what to do with all the box creations.


Staying Safe Online - I've been searching for a book about online safety for a while. Bean has requested it, and I'm keen to tackle the subject before she gets her own phone or tablet, which is likely to happen in the next year or two. She's spending more and more time online, unsupervised, and I want her to have all the information she needs to keep herself safe. Good old Usborne to the rescue.



Audio Books Bean has been listening to a variety of stories on our way to and from Farm School. Her favourites are the Barefoot Books series, which I shared in this blog post. She's also been watching episodes of Brainchild, downloaded from Netflix onto our iPad which are excellent.


I've been listening to My Wild and Sleepless Nights on Borrowbox, which has been moving, funny, heartbreaking and very relatable in equal doses. A beautiful reflection on motherhood.


Viewing highlights this month have been My Neighbor Totoro, which was a bit of an impulsive choice one evening during my illness, but we really loved it. I also indulged in the Friends Reunion which I love, love, loved! I was late to the party with Friends, binge watching it in my early 20's, and like many of my generation, it was a big deal. I laughed and cried my little heart out.


Here are the blog posts I've shared this month, just in case you might have missed them.



Show Me a Story Book Review

Open-Ended Potion Play

Our Favourite Audio CDs for Children


If you have enjoyed reading this monthly newsletter, and don't want to miss another one, perhaps you might like to subscribe? I can promise not to flood your inbox with spam (but I can't promise that I'll remember to send newsletter reminders either!) Scroll down to the bottom to subscribe. Also, if you have a specific request for the blog, please drop me a message at contact@invitationstoplay.org


Next month, I'll be sharing Bean's 10th Birthday highlights as well as some photos from our holiday! There will also be the usual project updates, book recommendations, childminding highlights and garden progress. I'm anticipating a gradual slide into a summer of unschooling, so I hope to have more to share about how that works for us in practice.



With love,

Rowan x


This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.



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