I recently asked my Facebook and Instagram community what burning questions they had about our experiences travelling around Europe with our three kids, and what follows are the answers to those questions!
When Brian was offered the opportunity to work in Mount Isa, neither of us were sure whether that was a town we wanted to spend even a short time living in. However, we had been asking the universe for a means to allow us the financial freedom to travel around Australia and this seemed like a possibility. We had no idea what was in store.
You will have nightmares about the flight, bring too many activities, and definitely forget something. But the children – or at least one child – will prove you wrong and be complete flight angels. You will be family travel superstars!
Note: Said ‘one child’ is unlikely to be the toddler.
This is the second post in a series, detailing our preparations for travelling to Europe with our three kids.
As I mentioned in my last post, Hannah and Blake have been very interested in learning about the world they live in for over 18 months now. Having this trip to look forward to has served to increase their knowledge and fascination through real-life practical explorations. Today, I thought I would share some of the resources we use in our unschooling journey that have really helped extend this interest and generate lots of fun learning about all things geography related.
A map of the world is a necessity in any home and so is a globe. Seeing how far Australia is to Croatia on the world map really solidified for Hannah and Blake why we would need to use an airplane to get there. However, maps are one-dimensional and looking at a globe allowed the children to understand how the Earth is shaped. They were fascinated by the realisation that the masses of land on the top and bottom of the Earth had freezing temperatures while the middle, along the Equator, was incredibly hot. Antarctica for some reason also became the second continent – after Australia – that both of them committed to memory.
Flags have been captivating for over a year now and this flag activity has been played with many, many times. It doesn’t include all the flags for all the countries of the world but it is enough to satisfy a child’s interest (ours has about 30 flags). As Hannah is a visual learner, she very quickly remembered quite a few of the flags and was able to relate them to real life experiences such as noticing the Swedish flag while on a shopping trip in IKEA and that our maple syrup must have been bottled in Canada as the Canadian flag contains a maple leaf. These sorts of connections never fail to surprise me and it’s also been a great divergent lesson in marketing and advertising!
And although she isn’t a proficient reader yet, Hannah is able to use this activity on her own by matching all the letters on the flag with a country. As she gets older she will be able to read the short facts about the country on the back of the flag which will lead into other interests I’m sure, so I love that this activity will evolve with the children as they grow. This is definitely one of my favourite resources and one I am asked about each time I post a photo with it in it on Instagram, so I am excited to be able to offer a link to all those who have asked me for one!
As a lead on from flags, I found an activity pack like this at our local op-shop/thrift store and it includes stickers of flags, a mini passport, information about different countries and even postcards to ‘send’, so this created lots of space for imaginary play. It was especially fun once we received our real passports and they were able to use the play one to stamp and pretend to fly to far of places with.
We have all enjoyed putting together the world map puzzle that we own several times over the last six months. Although it has 500 pieces I really love how much time it takes and that it requires us all to interact to complete a goal. Because there are a lot of tricky blue pieces, we were able to spend quite a bit of time discussing the different oceans and the smaller islands and countries that are often unheard of. Lots of patience is required with this puzzle of-course, but it is easy to find puzzles with far fewer pieces which are especially great for smaller children.
Of course books have featured prominently in our discovery of the world and this book in particular we have spent many hours poring over. I wish they would make more books like this, it is so fantastic for children to easily see how other children in the world live. Hannah was shocked that the girl from Brazil often wears no shoes or a shirt and occasionally eats Alligator meat. I then reminded her that in Australia you can purchase Crocodile to eat in some areas and Kangaroo is sold in shops too! A movie I would recommend for highlighting more cultural differences is the documentary Babies.
When I noticed the children drawing maps constantly – initially sparked by a pirate movie – I asked my parents to buy a special book for the children for Christmas which is incidentally named Maps! I explained to Hannah and Blake how the maps they are drawing to get from one place to another can also be interpreted a different way as a map of a country. I particularly loved that the book includes Croatia since it’s such a small country it doesn’t always get mentioned. There is so much detail in this book and it is again another resource that will grow and evolve with the children as they do.
And this book is one we borrowed from the library recently and we were able to use with our Around the World models to match some of the famous sights Isabella sees on her adventures. The book also includes detail about each sight, for example the Eiffel Tower and The Statue of Liberty, at the end of the book which was a pleasant extension.
As you can tell, we don’t shy away from technology and an app we have used to extend our geographical knowledge is called Map the World which Hannah and Blake both enjoy playing. It’s a simple puzzle app where the user has to put the countries in the correct places on the continent and a voice calls out the names of the countries. This is a really great way to get to know all those smaller countries in different regions and Hannah can now easily find many countries on a map or atlas.
At the end of my last post I received a question about languages and whether or not we were teaching the children Croatian (I am bi-lingual as I grew up in Croatia). As with all new things, we are guided by the children’s interest and motivation because coming from that perspective means we know the learning will be meaningful to the children. Hannah and Blake are aware that I know Croatian and we speak to my grandmother in Croatia at least monthly via Skype. We also often say Good Night in Croatian to my parents when we leave their house so they’ve picked up on a few phrases here and there just from those sorts of interactions.
After learning that we were going to visit my grandma for a couple of weeks on our holiday, Hannah asked me how she would speak with her since she doesn’t know much English. I explained to Hannah that she could learn some Croatian if she wanted and she then spent several weeks asking me all sorts of Croatian phrases. She then realised that the chef on a cooking show we often watch is French, and decided that she would like to know the words he is using so that she can know some French. In the last month she hasn’t been interested in learning any more of any language but I am not concerned. She will be immersed in other languages on our trip and it is up to her, and each of my other children, to decide for themselves which languages they naturally gravitate too.
So although that wasn’t an exhaustive list, it is a good overview of how preparing for this trip has helped accentuate and bring together the passions Hannah and Blake have already shown us. It shows how quality resources support unschooling, but it also doesn’t need to be complicated either. There are more things we have done in regards to learning about the world we live in and even more that we will do in the future as travel becomes a major focus of our lives.
This post contains affiliate links that I recommend and have used myself in most cases.
This is the first post in a series, detailing our preparations for travelling to Europe with our three kids.
In just 3 months time we will be checking and double-checking our luggage and not sleeping with anticipation because on the 29th May we will be boarding a plane bound for Paris! We’ll be travelling through Europe with our 3 kids for 6 weeks and we couldn’t be more excited.
Maybe it’s because I was born in Croatia, but I have always felt a pull to see more of the world and we’ve been to Europe twice now – once as a couple, and another time when Hannah was a toddler. We were bitten by the travelling bug and this has always been something we planned to do more of as a family. Travel was a factor in our decision making process to unschool and something we spend a lot of time saving for and discussing together. And this time it’s been amazing to involve Hannah and Blake in the whole process.
We booked our tickets last year in October, so we’re excited that the trip finally feels like it’s getting closer and closer. My grandma, uncle and aunty and cousins still live in Croatia so the majority of our 6 week trip will be spent visiting them but we’re also planning to indulge in quite a bit of country-hopping around Europe. Part of the reason for flying into Paris, instead of Croatia itself, is because we can hire a car in Paris and drive to Croatia while seeing a few more countries along the way.
Currently our plan is to stay a few nights in Paris, head to Amsterdam, then the Rhine Valley in Germany, over to Austria and then my grandparents place in Croatia. We’ll be spending a couple of weeks with my grandma and about a week on the Croatian coast so there will be a lot to see and do, but a lot of down time too. On the way back to Paris we plan to see Verona (and hopefully squeeze in Venice though we’ve been there before) and then a few days in the Provence area of France.
We chose the kids Christmas presents with this overseas trip in mind and Hannah and Blake received a new backpack full of things they will need for the plane and travelling in general. This was a hit, as we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how much travelling we’ll be doing in the plane and car overseas. Both Hannah and Blake have been in planes before but Blake’s last trip was before he was 2 so we’re making sure to discuss the technicalities of it as much as possible to create familiarity. They are so thrilled about it, I think they’ll love the whole experience.
And we do so much car travel and regular road-trips here anyway so I think the journeying in the car will just be something they’re already used to for all 3 of them. We’re realistic about it, we know there will be tough, hard and downright shit moments but they’re only moments and the joy will outweigh it all I’m sure!
I plan to write 2 more posts about our trip in more detail at the end of March and April as we countdown to this big adventure! If you have any specific questions jot them down in the comments and I’ll try to answer them in upcoming posts!
The end of one year and the beginning of another are always busy for our family not only because of Christmas and New Years but because mine and Brian’s birthdays are so very close to those big days! My birthday is 28 December and Brian is 3 January so there were lots of celebrations, adventures and memories made in the last few weeks!
We started off December buy deciding to jump into our desires and we bought a Jacyo Swan campervan!! We had been talking about doing this all year in preparation for our trip around Australia in 2016 (more info to come in another post) and we decided to bite the bullet and just do it!
I’m not in the photo but believe me, I was just as happy as Brian!
On the weekend before Christmas, we hitched our camper up and set off toward Brian’s parents house which is 8 hours north from ours. We planned to stay overnight at a free rest area halfway up to break the trip up and try Joy out for the first time.
Our overnight stop was simple and just off the highway at a popular traveller rest area but were there in golden hour which made everything glow with light.
The next day we drove to 1770, a tiny town in Queensland close to Agnes Waters on the coast. Brian had been camping there with his parents as a child and had many great memories so we were excited to check it out. We tried to find a space at a free camp but it was full so we moved to a local caravan park for 2 nights. The afternoon was spent enjoying the calm inlet at 1770.
We spent a lot of time studying the patterns the crabs left in the sand and then it was time to gather our towels and head back to our camper. The sky gave us a lovely cloud formation as we said goodnight.
The next day we decided to be explorers looking for adventures as we drove through the small towns. We followed a sandy track that we noticed and we wondered what we would find at the end. We hoped for a beach and when we stepped out of the car we were excited to see this sign. Immediately we set off down the many stairs in search of the sea.
We desperately wanted to stay longer and enjoy the natural beauty and peace that we found at this special, hidden beach but more adventures were waiting… on the LARC!
The LARC Tours at 1770 are one of only a few tourist activities you can book in the area and we decided it would be fun to experience it as a family. As the vehicle made it’s way through the shallow waters of the inlet and over the ridge to the sand flats created by the low tide, we were able to see what the ocean floor looks like and it was mighty bumpy! Daisy didn’t mind though, she fell asleep immediately!
The tour guide was fantastic and asked us some quiz questions about some of the wildlife we were able to see from the LARC. We learned that crabs ‘scuttle’ and create those little balls of sand through their mouth as they eat the micro-nutrients found in the sand.
We also spotted some Pied Oystercatchers which were fascinating birds to learn about, and we especially liked that they mate for life (so that is a male and female pair in the photo) and are territorial, ‘owning’ their own section of beach. The guide mentioned there were two other pairs on the same beach but they all kept to their own areas.
As we turned around the tour guide asked if any children would like to drive the LARC! We were on board with only one other family who had a teenager and a younger son so he was first to drive. Hannah and Blake both had a go too and it was so fun seeing them steer the vehicle and try to follow the lines the guide had created on the way up the beach. Hannah was basically a pro and looked very comfortable with that big steering wheel (the guide controlled the brake/accelerator).
It was such a fun experience to do with the kids and very family friendly. Daisy slept through almost all of it and was so relaxed at the end, she didn’t even want to get off! We would definitely recommend a LARC tour if you’re ever in the area 🙂
But our adventures didn’t stop there! We drove to the point (about 2 minutes drive!) and discovered something very special. Brian vaguely remembered an anchor during his camping trip here with his parents and suddenly we had found one! Brian wasn’t sure if this was it but we decided to take a photo anyway and ask Brian’s mum once we arrived at their place for Christmas (it turns out this was definitely it! And Brian had been here as a 4 year old boy – the same age Blake is!!!)
We could see the sea and walked past the anchor to gaze at the view. I even managed to set up the self-timer so we could capture a family snap of what was a magical family day full of fun and adventure!
The next day we arrived at Brian’s familys house and the kids quickly discovered a few water guns and the wading pool. Queensland summers are hot, hot, hot so there is always some sort of water play for the kids every Christmas.
On Christmas Eve we spend the day preparing for the annual party Brian’s mum and step-dad always host. We baked some cupcakes together and Hannah kindly insisted on washing up almost every pile of dishes over the 4 days that we stayed!
And finally it was Christmas!!! (I took a lot of video with my camera of the present opening and the rest of the morning so there is no other photos. )We tried to capture a nice family photo but this was the best we could get!
Lunch was at Brian’s Nanna’s house. She is now 94 and still lives in the house she has lived in all her married life (Brian’s grandad passed away a few years ago aged 91). Most of Brian’s childhood memories were made here, especially Christmas ones, and he remembers often playing on the slip and slide after Christmas lunch. So we made sure it happened and it was special to see how much happiness it gave Brian and his Nanna 🙂
And just like that it was time to head home. I didn’t really document the trip home even though we free-camped again over night, it just felt like it dragged and we had a lot of rain too. But we made it home safely and spent the next day celebrating Christmas with my family and going out to lunch for my birthday.
Brian then went away for work for a few days and when he came home we celebrated his 30th birthday! Since it’s summer and we have a pool we went with a Hawaiian themed party and it was so much fun! My dad used his special traditional Croatian BBQ to cook the meat and that added a really unique touch! Everyone dressed up and we gave away a prize for best-dressed and then we did a ’30 questions about Brian’ quiz which was so funny! I would love to go to more themed parties they really feel like a celebration!
During my pregnancy with Blake I became increasingly desperate for a community of like-minded families to surround ours in support and friendship. I tried a few different groups and then finally struck gold when Blake was a few months old. These mamas were exactly what I was looking for and our connections have meant so much to me and my family over the last 4 years.
Something we began doing as a group a couple of years ago was camping! Brian and I had already been camping with the kids a few times before and this was exactly how we enjoyed our holidays, so to do it with our friends was a bonus.
We began camping two to three times a year and increasingly our locations turned bush, which lead to Brian and I really falling in love with basic, bush camping. This time we went to a farm-stay which has more amenities than we normally have, but with three small kids, it’s always welcomed!
We had such a great time. We drove down interstate to the camping location the day before everyone else did, and the kids lit a small campfire and toasted a few marshmallows to celebrate.
The site we had booked as a group was quite sunny, so the children were able to witness a lot of discussion and negotiation as we all worked out how to set up our ‘living areas’ (lots of gazebos pushed together to create our kitchen, eating and lounging zones).
The kids were always around, helping in their own little ways 😉
The dam was incredible and we spent quite a bit of time there. Hannah loved the kayaks and enjoyed paddling them with or without me or Brian joining her. Blake was slightly more hesitant, but with the dam water being so murky I couldn’t really blame him. It was so calming just being there among the water-lillies and the dragonflies. I love being in new environments, and for the children it always sparks their creativity and imaginations.
One of the plans us mamas had while camping as a group, was to indulge in some yoga, chanting and meditation together. Many of us have been on a journey of self-discovery and self-love this year, and yoga and meditation were some activities that quite a few of us had enjoyed before, so we wanted to share that as a group. It was beautiful to connect in this way, whilst also nourishing ourselves as people first.
The children were free to join in as they pleased and most of the older kids got right into it, especially with some of the more up-beat chanting music that we had available. A friend and I had been to a Kundalini yoga retreat a month prior and most of that music is very uplifting and positive. Even Daisy tried out a few yoga poses! On the last day, all our partners sat and supported us by watching us and the kids, and it was lovely to have their encouraging presence around us while we took time to care for ourselves. So beautifully nourishing and revitalising.
Of-course being a farmstay, there were quite a few animals to feed and pat and cuddle so the kids spent many hours enjoying those experiences. Hannah and Blake predictably adored the bunnies and were devastated that we couldn’t take a couple home (they’re considered a pest in our state).
We even discovered a Mulberry tree on the property and the kids were excited to climb the trees and taste as many Mulberry’s as they liked.
Apart from the animals, the campfire every night was a sacred, much-anticipated event for the kids and the adults alike. The first camping trip we went on where we were able to light a big campfire, we set up a rope around the perimeter and explained to the children to stay on the outside of it. So many people had expressed their surprise at doing a big fire with small children around, but like with everything a lot of trust and a little adult supervision means the children have always been free to enjoy it as the amazing experience that it is.
Five days, eleven families, and over twenty children under the age of 6 enjoying nature, time together, exploring and learning… well, I call that a successful holiday!!!