Our Not Back to School Week – Camping in North Devon

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Happy Not Back to School week! Instead of uniforms, classrooms, school runs and assemblies, we decided to spend the week camping at Croyde Bay, on the North Devon coast. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to just continue living our lives and fall into Autumn learning gently, together, as just another part of life.

Aeryn and Zephyr kick over sandcastles at Croyde Bay. The sky is grey and moody, Aeryn's arms are outstretched and she's mid movement. Both children are wearing wellies.

It’s been quite a while since we last went camping with the kids. Zephyr was definitely a baby not a toddler last time and couldn’t remember it at all. Aeryn definitely remembered, though, and was so excited!

Preparation is key!

Perhaps our best decision in the lead up to camping was a trial run of pitching our tent in the garden. We’re very lucky that Ben’s parent’s garden (where we’re currently staying due to our huge flat renovation project) is large enough to do this, I know not everyone could. But if you’re going camping and you can, I highly recommend it. We got to check all the poles and pegs were still in the bag and re-memorise how to actually assemble it. This made is so much faster when we arrived at Croyde, which after the best part of five hours travel was certainly important! The kids also knew what to expect and were genuinely really helpful assembling poles and placing pegs!

Zephyr slots together sections of tent pole on our camping trip to Croyde Bay. He is wearing a burgundy top and rainbow striped wellies. He's concentrating really hard!

We actually slept the night out in the garden. It helped Ben and I figure out the logistics of camping bedtime with the kids in the same room. It rarely happens at home due to our co-sleeping set up – I’m with Zeph and Ben is usually with Aeryn still (until we move house, as she’s requested bunk beds!).

Holiday Time!
Aeryn and Zephyr standing in front of the sign for Ocean Pitch Campsite

We decided to camp at Ocean Pitch, which is about three minutes walk from the beach at Croyde. There are only around 20 pitches and three glamping pods on the whole site. We chose it so we didn’t have to drive constantly to do things once we arrived. It was really easy to walk to the beach, nip back for more clothes or food and head back again.

The beach itself was beautiful. The land forms a near perfect horseshoe around the bay, with sand dunes at the inland end. It’s not remote, but it also didn’t feel crowded. Being early September, it was much quieter than the August school holidays, but still warm enough (mostly!) to feel summery. I definitely appreciated the freedom of being able to stay during term time.

A view of Croyde Bay looking from the sand dunes towards the ocean. The sky is blue with fluffy clouds and the sand dunes are littered with tough, swaying grass.
Settling in

The first night was manic, as expected. Both children napped on the journey; neither usually nap anymore. It was also very windy when we arrived. I’m not sure what it is about kids and wind, but they literally couldn’t stand still for about three hours. We arrived just as I would normally start prepping dinner at home, but of course had to pitch the tent first. The kids were great and so excited, but it did take a while in the wind with Zephyr insisting on placing every peg!

It also took a long time to cook on our little one ring burner afterwards, so they snacked on all sorts, didn’t want dinner and couldn’t sleep. I think Zephyr passed out around 9.30pm in the end, and Aeryn around 11pm. We don’t have set bedtimes at home, but they do have a natural rhythm of sleep and wake that is much earlier. They were up before 6am, which is far too early for both of them (and us! Zzzzzzzzzz).

Zephyr enjoying a sleepy cereal breakfast in the tent. The photo is bathed in blue as the light shines through the canvas. His eyes are closed while he takes a bite (with his fingers, spoon redundant in the other hand)
Connecting can be Challenging

It all had a huge knock on effect the next day. Aeryn was extremely tired, angry and emotional and ended up having a complete meltdown. That collapse and release was actually really good for her in a way, she needed to get her feelings out.

I try to parent in a way that lets feelings be – I’m here to help and comfort as needed, but not to quiet. But I caught myself for a moment feeling like a much looked forward to and desperately needed break was actually the opposite. I felt annoyed that Aeryn was being unreasonable and unkind for most of the day. It really wasn’t her fault in any way, of course. We all just needed more sleep and it was all new and exciting and overwhelming.

Sometimes, connected parenting and empathy can be really, really hard. I think that it’s not mentioned enough just how difficult it can be and how much it takes out of you, constantly being emotionally available. It’s okay to find it hard.

I think platforms like Instagram can make us forget that actually, human beings are complicated and emotions are messy and fiery and no one’s children are constantly emotionally balanced just because we parent with connection in mind. We just don’t all snap photos when our kids are struggling. Everyone has challenging days – adults and kids alike.

(Perhaps camping wasn’t the smartest choice for a relaxing break, too!)

The Upward Spiral

Thing calmed a little after lunch. We took a short trip around the rock pools and beach to familiarise ourselves with the space. There was a brief excursion to a garden centre, too, for forgotten cereal bowls. But mostly, we stayed close to home. Zephyr didn’t seem phased by his lack of sleep, somehow, so just happily romped about and got on with things. But Aeryn spent most of the day on a knife edge of ecstatically happy to be on holiday and extremely overwhelmed and impossible to please.

Aeryn crouching down picking up a shell from a rockpool. She's wearing a long sleeve rainbow top and fox wellies. Her hair is long and curly and is falling around her face as she peers into the water

We found that ordinary, mundane tasks like washing up have a lot of grounding power when everything is off-kilter, even if the setting is more exciting than usual. And stories especially are amazing for reconnecting. We spent a lot of time reading that day. By the evening, we’d found a new equilibrium and they went to bed really early by choice. They both slept like logs, despite the wind (which didn’t let up the whole week!). We were all much better for that quiet day.

I suppose you could say that our first two days of home education didn’t involve all that much education. But in truth, I think we all learnt an awful lot. We relearned how to go camping as a family now we have older (but still quite small) children. How to navigate really huge, difficult feelings. How to give each other a little bit of grace to muddle through and figure it all out (the kids were very forgiving that making them hot chocolate in the high wind took the best part of 30 minutes!).

Ben reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl to Aeryn in our tent. She's sat on his right leg while he sits on a folding camping chair. She's wearing a red fleece and staring intently at the book. Her bare feet are dirty and curled together.

We did some more “academic” stuff later in the week, but I think it’s important to take stock of the times when nothing much of anything seems to be achieved and really think about what we actually managed to do. Sometimes, the least quantifiable things are the most important.

And up and up…

Wednesday was vastly better for everyone, which was fortuitous as it was also my birthday! Ben bought me a surfing lesson with Surf South West, so for two glorious hours I got to enjoy something just for me that I’ve wanted to do for over five years, since my last attempt in August 2014. I even managed to fully stand and catch a few waves, which was amazing for basically starting from scratch (Andy was an amazing instructor)!

The kids woke up in a lovely mood and Ben had baked me a banana bread birthday cake. We couldn’t light the candles in the wind so we all pretended! From then on, the whole holiday was honestly amazing. We had so much fun.

Home(school) away from Home(school)

We especially enjoyed the rock pools and sand dunes at Croyde. We took our buckets down an managed to find a tiny crab and several shrimp in the pools, along with anemones and loads of cockles which we left stuck to their rocks. Zephyr was SO proud of his shrimp, he carried his bucket around and kept showing us “my creature!” over and over. It’s been such a joy to come away with him now he’s out of the baby stage and really getting involved with our activities for himself.

It was seed week in Exploring Nature with Children, so we continued our exploration of seed dispersal while we were camping. I talked about it quite a lot on my Instagram, but we went for a nature walk on the Sunday before our trip, in case we didn’t get the chance at Croyde. We learned loads and Aeryn loved journalling about it after (she drew a picture of me made of seeds blowing a dandelion clock in her journal – it was so cool!) Ever since then, Aeryn has been spotting seeds without any suggestion that we look! We were actually on the dunes to look for snakes (but didn’t spot any). I guess seeds have really captured her interest!

Aeryn standing on the sand dunes at Croyde Bay.

We talked about how the grasses had colonised the dunes and gave them stability. We hypothesised why some sections of dune had lots of plants and others had none. Aeryn suspected people walking or steepness, which I’m seriously impressed with as plausible ideas! She decided to bury some berries she found to help them grow. We had a think about “on purpose” seed dispersal. She drew the comparison of planting at our allotment and I mentioned larger scale agriculture and ornamental planting. We talked about plant adaptation and why these plants are suited to the windy coast. I even mentioned aquaponics, as she was interested that not all plants need soil to grow. That blew her mind a little (and is apparently hilarious!)

Play takes priority

From such a small prompt in ENWC, we have covered tonnes of things this week. We’ve also opened so many doors into other areas. But in truth, we spent the vast majority of our camping holiday racing up and down the dunes and playing on the beach. At one point, Aeryn fell full body into the waves and got soaked, so ran around the bay in her pants instead, gleefully singing to herself. The kids drew pictures in the sand with sticks and collected shells. We even took a trip to Tunnels Beaches in Ilfracombe, where Ben and I got married, to show the kids and explore. It was awesome as it’s a very different kind of beach (lots of coves, rocks and natural tidal swimming pools!).

Aeryn standing in the surf crouched and grinning as she anticipates the next wave. She's wearing a teal t-shirt and bright yellow shorts, with no shoes.

All of those things are just as valid and important as investigating seed dispersal. One thing I love about home ed is that Aeryn doesn’t see any sort of hierarchy of activities or knowledge. Maths and art are equally important. Playing Pooh sticks is just as worthwhile as learning about bridge construction. How the waves make her feel is just as important as the fact the moon causes the tide. Learning is a holistic, whole life process. Play isn’t something you do BETWEEN learning. Play IS learning.

I can’t wait for our next camping trip! But, for now, I’m looking forward to finding out what our ordinary looks like as we move through the day to day of learning without school.

xXx

The Lesser Freckled Jen. Twenty-something lover of books, the ocean and all things wild. Can usually be found sipping coffee, itching to travel more and home educating two awesome, free-range kids. Great believer in caffeinated creativity. Currently living in Nottingham, UK (about as depressingly far from the ocean as you can get in England!)

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