Thursday, 3 May 2018

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."


I'm going to start this post off on a negative note, which I don't usually do as I always keep all of my posts happy and upbeat but stay with me. For as long as I can remember I have been 'Anti Zoo's'. I never liked the idea of animals being out of their natural habitat and trapped in enclosures, the whole idea of it weirded me out a little and because of this we had never taken the boys to the zoo. When I think about it now my view on this could seem quite odd as I have taken them to aquariums before... clearly I feel completely different about sea life. 

After being asked to visit Twycross Zoo my initial thought was to politely decline, but before doing so I went online and did a little research on the zoo and this is where I realised that my thoughts and feelings about zoo's especially in Twycoss' case was very wrong. After reading about their conservation projects and research into animal behaviour, breeding programmes and sustainability, I closed my laptop feeling very different about the views I had previously had. So we decided to visit Twycross so that we could really see what the zoo was all about.
If there is one very important thing that I have learned since starting this amazing home-schooling adventure with Opeie, it is that no day sat in a class room, having information thrown at you is ever going to trump a day out learning through experience and that really is what home-schooling is all about for us. Add another home-schooling family into the mix and your educational fun is magnified as the children bounce their thoughts, feelings and ideas off of each other. 


We picked probably the best day of the year so far to visit the zoo as the sun was out and there looked like there was no chance of anything changing, which for a day in April is good going. The kids were excited and us parents had our own favourite animals that we couldn't wait to see. What I loved from the get go was how immaculate the zoo was and how welcoming and friendly the staff were which will always put you in good stead for a great visit anywhere. 

With maps in their hands we left the kids to show us around (a great home-schooling lesson in itself).


First on their list of places of interest on the map was Lorikeet landing, I don't think I'd ever seen a Lorikeet before and I think its safe to say that we were all really impressed by the bright and vibrant colours on these beautiful birds. I was great to be able to walk into the enclosure and have them landing right next to you as you made your way through. I love the way that there was no shortage of information about each of the animals there, having the educational side of things made easy for us home-schooling parents.


Being the little punk enthusiast that Opeie is these days, he was in awe of the black and white zebra mohicans. It was interesting to learn that the zebras stripes can be used as camouflage but also that their monochrome pattern can confuse and deter flies. 


one of the most appealing things about the zoo for me was the shear size of it, you could easily spend the whole day there wandering about, especially on the glorious day that we visited. with something different everywhere you turn, even if you were not interested in reading the information about the animals the visit would be a stimulating visual experience. Being able to see animals that you would never get to see unless visiting their natural habitats, really is very special.

Ive always been a huge fan of the giraffe and as we approached the enclosure we realised we had arrived at exactly the right time, to see them up close while they were feeding. For me personally this really made the visit.


One of the things that really surprised me about the visit was the the way I felt about animals that I'd not really thought about before. We're always watching nature documentaries and although its fascinating to learn about animals, to actually see them is a real experience. I'd never really given Gorillas a second thought, when we reached the enclosure though I could have sat there watching them all afternoon and it was clear that we all felt the same.


At lunch time we found a spot of grass to have our picnic. When we looked behind us we were shocked to see two enormous tortiose happily munching on some grass. (like I said 'everywhere you look there is something interesting). 


Tummys full, it was time for our little map reading tour guides to take us to the next place of interest, the Lemurs...


It was at this point that one of our party members started to get very VERY excited... and it wasn't one of the children. When arranging the trip I had been concentrating so much on the kids having a great time I hadn't thought for one second about our friend Helen having the time of her life. It turns out she loves Lemurs and having them walking along right next to her was clearly making her very happy indeed. 


With so many amazing animals to see  we were fully entertained for the day and the kids had so much to talk about on the way home. As a home educating parent these are the sorts of days out that really have the most impact and the visit has already spurred on many activities and interesting talks about habitats and interesting facts about each of the animals we saw.


If you are planning on a visit soon the new Chimpanzee Eden has just opened. Check out the link HERE!


The thing that really made this visit special is that it made me realise that although it is good to have strong feelings about various things in life, they are not always right and sometimes you can be proved wrong. Twycross and the amazing work that they do to learn about each of their animals while educating along the way really is something special and we hope to visit there again very soon. 




Saturday, 14 April 2018

"Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick."


As much as I adore LEGO, I wasn't 100% sold on the Brickheadz range when they first came out. They seemed too static and lack playability which really put me off. That was though until a couple of days back when Opeie decided that he wanted to spend some of his birthday money on the new Brickheadz Go brick me kit. He got home tore open the box, had a quick flick through the instructions and built himself and his doting dad. The instruction book is awesome, giving you all sorts of plans for various facial features and accessories. I was blown away with the characters that he built and I think he really did us both justice.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/steve_jobs_416858?src=t_brickres and accessories. I was absolutely blown away by what he built and I think he really did us both justice.

Opeie's creations have completely changed my view on these fun builds and I'm now hooked. we've ordered the parts we need to build lots more so watch this space.



Wednesday, 11 April 2018

"There's a bright spot in every dark cloud."



We used to be a really crafty family, always with the glue and the colourful card out making various things. Recently though the only time we seem to craft is when Opeie is creating awesome cards for his Pen pals. As the boys and I sat glue gunning for an hour this afternoon fixing one of our favourite creations, I realised that I had never actually written about it. 


Early last year one of my friends posted a video online of an amazing cloud lamp that lit up like a storm cloud. after seeing it in action I was hooked but the $3300 price tag wasn't at all appealing. It was one of those things though that I just couldn't get out of my head and I knew there must be a way of making a cheaper alternative that didn't break the bank. I did a little research and went shopping for supplies.

All I needed was some sphere paper lamp shades in various sizes, a bag of wadding, a glue gun, clear wire, a hook and LED strip lights, simple.



The light ended up being so simple to make and it was something that the boys could get involved in making too. Once the lamp shades were up we started hot gluing long pieces of the wadding to them, working around each one in a circular motion. once the three paper shades were covered we put the LED strip lights in each one. We then tied clear wire to each shade and hung them from a hook in the ceiling so it looked like the cloud was floating above the bed. It ended up being much more effective than i expected and only cost us around £15 (so a little cheaper than the one I spotted online😁).




To finish off the magic of the light we played the storm sound from the white noise app, turning the boys room in to a relaxing and magical place for reading.



Tuesday, 10 April 2018

"Problems are hidden opportunities, and constraints can actually boost creativity."


When it comes to home-schooling, the learning never stops, but over the school holidays we definitely kick back and relax a little. The boys have had so much fun so far over the Easter period and it'll be sad when Seth goes back to school after this week. Ive been trying to get Opeie into a little coding recently and have borrowed books from the library and a BBC Micro:bit but he just hasn't shown any interest. I think part of it is because I want to have a go and learn with him but I didn't want to push it as thats the quickest way to put any child off an project.


Yesterdays activity, which I assumed would only last for a couple of hours ended up filling our whole day and in Opeie's words was 'One of the best Daddy-School days he's ever had'. Back in November we bought Seth a LEGO Boost kit for his birthday (Ok, so I was trying to get them both into coding) and with his obvious love of LEGO, it seemed like the perfect gift for Seth and something that Opeie may have been interested in at a later date. Seth sat and built it after his Birthday and had a little play but it ended up on a shelf untouched. So yesterday as the weather was awful and it was clear that we were not going anywhere, Opeie and I decided to have a play.


After learning the basics and working out what each of the commands does we began building a track out of LEGO so that we could work out the commands to get Vernie the robot to the finish line. For dramatic effect we used Opeie's Creator 3 in 1 robot (Which looks like it could be Vernie's child) and placed it at the end of the course. So Vernie had lost his child and needed to be programmed to get to them safely. One of the many thing I love about the boost is being able to key in the turning Degrees. We hadn't covered that yet so we drew a circle and I spent some time explaining Degrees and how the number we entered, would affect the robots movement. Seeing the actions in motion rather than just being on paper meant that this sank straight in with Opeie


It wasn't all movement that we needed to code though which made the activity even more fun. I placed the traffic cones (that come with the kit) across the track and Opeie stopped the robot at that point, recorded himself saying "Oh no! traffic comes, please can I have some help?" and also added that into the chain of commands followed by a 360° spin and flashing disco lights on the chest once they were moved.


Opeie's next obstruction was a Nexo Knights robot who was blocking his path. Opeie programmed his robot to stop and say hello and then recorded voice commands so that they could have a short conversation before high fiving and continuing along the route. Desperate to make use of the rocket launcher on his shoulder, Opeie built a LEGO target before adding in some coding to make Vernie stop and shoot it down. When the command for 360° spin didn't quite go around all the way (probably due to being on carpet), Opeie worked out how many more degrees he needed to turn and then added that into the line of coding too, which straightened up Vernie, keeping him on his path.


When Vernie finally made it to Vern Jr, Opeie had recorded an excited reunion piece to finish off our afternoon of LEGO fun. These are the sort of homeschooling activities that really reinforce our decision to teach Opeie ourselves and this is also another huge win for those amazing bricks, turning a dull and rainy day into a colourful learning adventure. 


Thursday, 5 April 2018

Not settling for anything but the best!


I think I've raised a couple of LEGO snobs! Its important to have standards!



"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough."


I love the build up to the boys birthdays, I get so excited about all the prepping. When I asked Opeie what he wanted to do for his birthday this year, that little beetle lover of mine wanted nothing more than to take his friends to the butterfly farm in Stratford-upon-avon, after a very exciting visit last year. Our previous visit was one of those days out that will stay with him for a long long time and that was all down to the interesting and very well educated staff. So it was no surprise really that he would want to go again and share the magic with his friends.


Our previous visit was a dreary and wet day but this time the sun was out and it was amazing to see the difference in the butterflies as they seemed so much more active with the sun shining through the roof. One of the things I love most about the butterfly farm is that the excitement begins as soon as you walk through the doors to the butterfly area. Within a minute each of the kids had a new friend land on them and that was pretty much all they needed to kick start an amazing visit.


One thing that always sticks out when visiting is the interesting and friendly staff that work there.  These guys are so full of amazing informative information and from a home education point of view this is priceless. Mark took us through all of the stages of a butterflies life cycle, pointed out lots of different types of butterflies and answered every question we could throw at him. This visit was a little more exciting too as the kids were able to handle the giant stick insects, millipede's and other fun creatures from the Mini beasts area.

I could spend hours at the butterfly farm, happily sat on a bench with a sketch book, doodling as people walk around in awe of all the beautiful butterflies fluttering by. Being able to bring Opeie's friends along too was a lovely experience for him as many of our visits to various places has just been the 2 of us, so it was nice to share the fun that we have with other Home-Ed children. If you are out for a day trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon then we cant recommend the Butterfly farm enough. I'm sure it wont be long before Opeie wants to visit again. Another truly amazing visit to a place that's full of magic.



Saturday, 31 March 2018

"I'll stop wearing black when they make a darker color"


7 years feels like it has gone by in the blink of an eye. One minute I'm watching that amazing boy of mine make his dramatic entrance in to the world, the next I'm celebrating his 7th birthday. As quickly as it has gone though, that time has been packed full of amazing experiences that have made him the most amazing human being. I have never been more connected to another person and knowing that I have taught him how to read and write etc through his homeschooling is such an amazing feeling, he has taught me so much about myself though too.

You always hope as a parent that you can introduce your little ones to the things that you love yourself, and these things become an interest to them. Sometimes though they take the things that you love and then take that passion one step further. Music has always been a huge thing for me, for as far back as I can remember and I'd say Ive got a pretty eclectic taste. This passion for music has become a big thing with Opeie too, In fact I'd say big chunks of his days revolve around it. If he's not listening to it he's singing to himself, and has now started drumming lessons so that he can play like the artists that he looks up to like Andy Hurley or Travis barker.


It was inevitable that we would eventually get to the point where I could introduce him to one of the things that I loved to do most growing up. Any chance I could get to go to a gig, I was there and over the years I have seen so many amazing bands from all sorts of music genres. As we use Spotify to play all of our music, we are always receiving emails letting us know when our favourite artists are playing locally. When an email came through letting us know that Fall out boy were playing in Birmingham we were so excited. Although I was a little apprehensive about taking a 6-year-old  to a rock gig, they were playing the evening before his birthday, it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. 


There was so much excitement during the days building up to the gig but on the day that excitement turned to anxiety and Opeie was really worried about being in an arena with so many people (he's never been great in places with lots of people). We headed up to Birmingham a couple of hours early though and pottered about, hitting coffee shops and places of interest along the way. Before we knew it it was go time and the excitement was back. 


Arriving when the doors opened meant that we could get to our seats and watch the arena fill up slowly which definitely worked out better for my little rock enthusiast. The only other issue was always going to be the late night. Come 7:30 any night of the week, Opeie will start to say "I'm tired" and this night was no exception. During the second support act he fell asleep... Bummer! I thought for sure that I was going to have to take him home but I held on and as soon as Fall out boy hit the stage Opeie was up and headbanging all over the place. Ive been to some amazing gigs in my time but this one was unbelievable, maybe it was being there with Opeie, maybe the music? all I know is it was a very special night.


They belted out all of Opeie's favourite songs, which was great because that kept him awake. As we started getting to the end of the evening though it was clear that all the excitement and great music was too much and he looked exhausted so we ducked out a couple of songs before the end. The cold air outside quickly woke him up and the walk along the canal back to the car was filled with singing and talking about what an amazing night we had had. I'm not sure I'd book anymore tickets just yet but what amazing experience for that little rock enthusiast of mine.

Happy 7th birthday Opeie, you are my world. 💖



Tuesday, 13 March 2018

"I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never, ever possibly destroy us. Mr. Stay Puft."


I'm quite sure many of us have got that one friend that no matter how much effort they put into life they just cant seem to catch a break. Mines called Steve! After meeting him one afternoon in our local toy store we got chatting and our friendship blossomed from there over a love of LEGO, Movies, Games and many other geeky things that we have in common. Steve is the kind of guy that will just continue to graft in his work life despite what is thrown at him, and it has seemed like over the last few years, the obstacles that have been placed in his way have become a lot more frequent. Whenever I go an see him though he always has a smile on his face.

The last few months for him have been a little harder than usual with being away from his family due to work commitments and I like to think that as a friend I've always been there to help him out when he (and his family) have needed it. I really wanted to do something special to put a huge smile on his face though, so in my classic brick lovin' style I hit the LEGO.

Steve is usually the first person outside of the house to see anything that we have created with those magical bricks, and has been a huge fan of the custom Death star's that we have created over the years. If you remember a few years back, he was the chap that created the LEGO arcade with me, housing the first Death star that the boys and I had built. Well in all fairness he built the entire thing and took care of all the electrics etc (I just threw some Lego on it), He's such a smart guy, it just always seems like the world is stacked against him.

For years Steve has been making off the cuff comments about me building him a Death star, Id always loved the idea he had had for one and knew that I would inevitably build it. Recent events though gave me all the motivation I needed to get going.

Steve's idea: A retro Death star using all of the great characters released in the dimensions range.

Luckily they were all TV shows and movies from my childhood so I was excited to get stuck in. It gave me a great excuse to watch them all over again too (because what else was I going to do with my evenings?). As I said before, I knew that I would eventually start this, so for the last few months I had been picking up the Dimensions kits that I needed in preparation.

As soon as I had built all the floors for each section of the build (which is by far the most boring part) I was ready to let my creative juices flow . The boys sat and watched all the movies with me (apart from Beetlejuice) and came up with some amazing ideas. The bottom floor of the Death star build can be a little wasted, as unless you have it up high you cant really see whats going on, I really wanted to make the most of it though, So for the first room I created the scene from Ghostbusters, the part when they have dug up the street and are lowering Ray into the sewers and he finds the river of pink slime. This was great as I could make the bottom level look like a sewer. As soon as I had built it Opeie said 'Dad, didn't you watch ninja turtles before school when you were little?, you could put them in the sewer!' Which I thought was a great idea. So I added in an upper sewer tunnel with Michelangelo skateboarding out, which fit into the build perfectly.


The A-team was one of the highlights of my Saturday afternoon when I was younger and With Mr. T being released for Dimensions, I had to build the other 4 characters and somehow add the iconic truck into the build. It was at this point where I really started getting into the creation .


I had originally wanted to make the classroom scene from ET as one of the things that stuck out most for me was the little girls face with the frogs around her, but as that scene didn't include ET it was clear that I needed to go for the spaceship scene where ET finally 'goes home'. I didn't want to leave the frogs out though so I had the girl standing in the section surrounded by frogs anyway.


With the way this build comes together, building each quarter at a time and then working upwards is quite exciting when you get to the next level as it all starts taking shape and you realise how big the finished build is going to be. The Goonies was the section that I was looking forward to building the most as it was (and still is) my favourite film growing up. I was a little disappointed that LEGO had only released Sloth with the Dimensions pack but I still managed to build the Goonies despite their outfits not being spot on. The boys were playing and they were using LEGO dynamite and I had a eureka moment for what I was going to build for the section.


Steve is massively into retro gaming and all things arcade so I wanted to include an arcade into the build which I also thought would be a great spot to put a minifigure of himself in. The boys decided that I should be in there too as I was building it so they made a LEGO Steve and a 'daddy figure' to live in the arcade.


I was really looking forward to building a Back to the future section but it ended up being such a stress and I wasted a whole day building. I had originally planned to build the Delorean which the boys said not too as I had added the A-Team van in and they thought I should do something different. So I decided to try and create the scene when Marty gets to Hill valley after going back in time (You know the part "Mr Sandman......"). The section wasn't high enough to add the clock tower in though and it didn't seem right without it, so after a few hours building I broke the section up and attempted the enchantment under the sea dance. That didn't work either and by this point I was feeling pretty frustrated. Then, Opeie said 'You should build the big speaker from the start of the movie with Marty playing his guitar!"... the kids a genius! Within an hour it was looking amazing.


I knew that the final quarter of the larger section was going to be for the Gremlins but I had no Idea how I was going to create the idea I had so I made some make shift walls so that I could put the next level in and start working on the top layer. With all of the previous Death Star builds the top level had been split up into 4 sections but I had an idea and wanted to do something a little different. Before I started the build I knew that I wanted to build the closing scene from Ghostbusters with the Staypuft. It seemed like the perfect idea for high up on top. I was concerned though that the size of the Staypuft minifigure would look silly compared to the giant one in the movie but once I'd added the terror dog statues and the Ghostbusters it all looked pretty cute. 


I was talking to a friend of mine on one of the LEGO FB pages about the build and I told her that I was struggling for an idea for the Beetlejuice section. She said that I should make the graveyard scene, I couldn't remember it so that night I watched the movie again. She was right, it was the perfect idea and when the advert comes on with a country looking Beetlejuice riding a cow I knew I needed to include that too, along with his coffin and sign pointing to his grave. The double section was too big to be all graveyard so I added a sandy area and put the sandworm in their too. All I needed now was to come up with something for that Gremlins section. 


I knew what I wanted to do but I just wasn't sure how I was going to make it look how I wanted it too. The kitchen scene was one of my favourites when I was younger, I mean whats not fun about seeing a woman Microwave and blend up a Gremlin? Building a kitchen was the easy part but I needed chopped up gremlins in pools of gremlin slime. It wasn't until I had built Billy's knife wielding mom that it started to come together. I somehow had to add Gizmo in there too so I had him casually cruising in his remote control car.


It's so satisfying to complete a build like this, but this one was even better as it was a gift for Steve, a top bloke that deserves to have good things happen in his life. Lets hope that good things come in 3's and this has just kick-started it. Either way hes got a new toy to play with, I know that always makes me smile.



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