Tag Archives: home-schooling

Vertical Rocks and Waterfalls

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These mountains are ancient. It’s a pretty abstract concept of mountains being “born” hundreds of millions of years ago and it’s hard to imagine really isn’t it? Well step into the Smoke Hole Caverns in West Virginia, walk on a third of a mile into the depth of these ancient mountains and you can step back in time to the moment it happened. You can witness with your own mortal eyes the incredible power of the Earths crust and it’s ability to create mountains.

We had noticed the curved, rainbow shaped rocks outside our cabin (pictured above) but didn’t understand just what we were looking at. Inside the caves, two miles from the cabin you see vertical rocks which once laid flat. Pushed up by the collision of plates which united America with Africa they are awe spelling and memorising. Walking on through the active caves we find the room of a million stalactites and the worlds longest (known) ribbon stalactite as well as a rare cave coral.

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largest ribbon stalactite

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Gigantic column

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Beautiful wall of columns

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Rare cave coral, more commonly found in underwater caves in New Zealand

The caves history includes interesting tales of Senca Indians smoking their meats, a gruesome hospital ward for Civil War injuries and an ingenious site for moonshining and white lightening production.

We also got a great view of a couple of bats hanging upside down in the, surprisingly warm, cave. (I’m so sorry I forgot my camera so the pictures are from Alfie’s camera which I commandeered!). The lady who guided us through the caves was so enthusiastic, knowledgeable and engaging and the kids really enjoyed it. Absolute pitch black was a first time experience for the boys and we spotted a frog in one of the streams.

After the caves we drove on to the Blackwater Falls National Park to see the waterfalls there and I did take my camera this time. It was a nice short walk to the viewing platform and we identified some animal tracks along the way – Patrick’s favourite being his own!

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Blackwater Falls

In other news, we also had our first snowy campfire of the trip and cooked some yummy creamy chicken in a dutch oven. We also finally dropped off the travel bug we picked up back in Wales into a geocache here in the Mountains so it can explore America and clock up some miles. It’s been difficult to do sooner due to the heavy snow hiding all the caches we’ve attempted!

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First snowy campfire of the trip

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A fishing lure retrieved from the geocache we dropped Mr Frogglesworth off at

Windsor Castle

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My 94 year old great aunt Lorna resides in Windsor so we took a trip there to see her before we head off. While in Windsor we decided to visited the Castle, which despite having grown up just a few miles away I only have vague memories of and only visited once or twice before. So we headed to the Queens house for a nosey about…

Well we were impressed, what a fantastic day out and an amazing history lesson for the kids! The bad first… It’s expensive (unless you live local, then it’s free). It cost us £48 pounds as a family ticket, at that price Rob was hoping for roller coasters. You have to go through security like at the airport so don’t accidentally leave your pen knife in your pocket or nail scissors in your purse.

Once you are through the payment and security barriers though it’s pretty much all good. The weather was great but if it wasn’t then you would need waterproofs as there is a lot of outdoors before the indoors. We whizzed around the dolls house as that wasn’t so up our street but the State Apartments are “Epic” as Alf said repeatedly.

Mega swords, daggers, guns, cannons, bayonets, suits of amour and every sort of historic war weapons adorn the rooms. Huge banquet tables and the queens throne impress the children and in every room you really must look up… Kids love cool ceilings! The history of the 1,000 year old castle is just wonderful, images of knights and dragons abound and capture your imagination. Wars fought, lives lost, dramas and mysteries involving kings, conquerors, princesses, politicians, peasants and all the other people who have lived and died within these impenetrable walls. In some places they are 4 metres thick and there is a secret passage too.

The staff around the Castle were really nice and helpful and there is a free cloak room for your pushchair and coats. You have to check in your pushchair but they lend you a sling or hip seat for free… A much appreciated service.

Warning: the banisters are very polished so if sliding down them you can really pick up some speed… Fun as that may be watch for metal poles at the bottom which can result in tears, bruising and a cool story.

We headed out into the sunshine to nurse the banister sliding injuries and watched the guards changing posts (not the full changing of the guards sadly as that’s alternate days in winter). They are a little scary, the guards, with their clicky shoes and guns with daggers on. But they are appealing to watch marching around and surprisingly young (or perhaps I’m getting kind of old?).

St George’s Chapel is a beautiful church within the grounds which houses the various remains of historical figures. One in particular captures my imagination – King Henry VIII. The whole Tudor period really does it for me and I love learning about it to enrich my imagination of the time and lives of the medieval people. So when the chap there offers to show us the seat the Queen sits in and let’s us have a sit on it… Then announces that they all sat there, even Henry VIII, well oh my giddy aunt (not aunty Lorna, she’s not very giddy)… I was pretty chuffed to be sitting on a seat which had been sat on by Henry VIII with my very own rump – I’d say that was worth the £48 alone!

A visit in the winter months is well worth the effort as it was relatively quiet. I should imagine in Summer and school holidays it must be heaving. We bought the children’s book which is well written and interesting and I’m feeling like I can put a nice big tick next to history for Alfie’s homeschooling this week.

I’m sorry to say that after my fantastic photography lesson yesterday I actually forgot to take my camera out today so the pictures are all from my phone. It is very photogenic though and I’d be keen to return just to photograph it more, the angles and shapes are just fantastic. I also can’t seem to disperse pictures throughout the post from my iPad so they are all below.

Tomorrow we lose the hire care and head to London. On Monday we will visit the science museum to learn about the moon.

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Fitting in the Appalachians

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The USA is vast. Just getting across it will take so much of our time. We only get 3 months on a standard visa.

I’ve been listening to an audio book by Bill Bryson in which he describes the Appalachian Mountain range and an email this morning from a fellow blogger who lives in those parts has left me thinking perhaps we should cut out the south and explore the central mountain region between Virginia and Kentucky more. The history of the region is fascinating, shrouded in mystery and intrigue and has played a key role in American history as a barrier to East to West travel. In 1999 a BBC correspondent Richard Lister talks about his journey to Sneedsville and the history of the Melungeon people of the region… I wonder if much has changed in the last 14 years – if the town is any easier to reach and if the knowledge of the first settlers to America is any further forward, perhaps having empowered the people as he suggests? I’m intrigued! The idea of such independent people living self sufficiently in the mountains commands huge respect. Yet their reasons for developing such self reliance is down to persecution and prejudice.

During our journey I am hoping to learn far more about the history of racial clashes from both long ago to present day and it’s something we hope to teach our children about. Knowledge and understanding of conflict from both sides are the tools we need to arm our children with so as to prevent perpetuating the ignorance which is the ultimate cause of most prejudice. But this can’t be done through education alone… diversity must be experienced.

Living in ethnically diverse England, albeit in one of the least ethnically diverse and more racially prejudice regions (possibly the only thing I don’t like about Cornwall), I am somewhat sheltered from the racism in the rest of the world and our children are thoroughly under exposed to alternative live styles and cultures (except perhaps of the hippy variety). Yet to move forward as a united race of people we must teach our children to respect and indeed welcome diversity and allow them to experience as many races and cultures as possible in a positive and enjoyable way.

The geology of the mountain range is fascinating too, having been born 480 million years ago, they were then almost entirely eroded to flat plains before being up lifted again. The second uplift rejuvenated the springs which had caused the erosion and are now, again, following ancient folds and faults or carving out new canyons through layers of hard ancient rock, exposing the layers and features.

In addition to a rich human history and stunning geological features it is also an area rich in diverse wildlife. The southern stretch of the Appalachian Mountains was never touched by glaciers and therefore is home to a range of “slow growing” species such as salamanders and interesting snails. The Ice Age induced extinctions in the north of the mountain range didn’t occur in the south and therefore the rivers in the region are rich with crayfish and mussels. There is also incredible bird life there from bald eagles to the scarlet tanager. And as for mammals… well, as the boys keep reminding me… “mummy, you’re scared of bears!”

So the question is… do we cut out Memphis and the Mississippi in lieu of the mountain trails, wildlife and people of the Appalachian Mountains – Or do we wizz through them to reach to south, to the culture, music and cuisine, to join poor boys and pilgrims with families, down the highway, through the cradle of the civil war, to bounce on in to Graceland?

Make hay while the sun shines!

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We are being asked a lot about our motivation for heading off around the world with three such small children and although I gave a brief explanation in my initial post I though I would take the time to give a bit more detail.

Rob and I didn’t really travel much in our youth. Although I had been on some amazing family holidays, the idea of back packing never really appealed. I didn’t have specific interests enough to have gone to particular places, it would have been aimless and wasted in hindsight. Our early twenties were spend studying for our degrees – Rob’s in Environmental Conservation and Countryside Management and mine in Nursing. After that we got married and had kids. Due to a pregnancy related condition I suffered with, the 6 years it took to have our 3 children resulted in a total of 27 months of bed bound misery for me and a housebound prison for Rob, my nursemaid and in pregnancies #2 and #3 a single dad.

Now that our youngest is walking and nearly talking and we certainly aren’t having any more, the world seems our oyster! Getting out and going places with three kids is positively easy when you’ve had 27 months of barely getting down the stairs or out of the front door.

As is the natural way of getting older and growing up, the last few years has seen us honing our interests and hobbies. Luckily for our marriage our interests have grown and developed together and so our aims for what we want to get out of our travelling experience are mutual.

Although we have long been into bird and nature watching we have both become fascinated by geology and natural history in just the last couple of years, along with a developing passion for science and astronomy. Britain is lucky enough to be host to an incredible array of birds and wildlife but lets get real… to really experience the natural world we need to pack up and move on.

But what about the children? Why don’t you wait until they are older and can remember it?

Well, what if we wait a few years until Orla is old enough to remember it and something happens and we can’t do it? Not wanting to sound morbid but who knows what is around the corner – from cancer to car crashes, childhood illnesses and mental breakdowns. Right now we have our health, we can afford to do it so why wait! Yes I know Orla won’t remember much of it, but it will help to shape who she is and you know what… when she is my age and has a family of her own she could take off and see the world with them and learn about the things that interest her.

The kids are young enough for me to home school them – it’s just a bit of reading and writing and their maths will soon sharpen up with a bit of pocket money. They aren’t overly fussed about friendships, their own space, fashionable clothes and so on. They eat what they’re given and don’t require vast amounts… They’re pretty portable really!

And so there you have it. That, in a nutshell, is it. When asked why? my answer is why not? The sun is shining right now… so lets make out hay now and it will feed us for the winters ahead.