Two months with Delilah

So how’s life with our third baby so far? Ask me again tomorrow. It probably depends on the day.

Delilah turned eight weeks earlier this week and it never stops amazing me how much happens in such a short time with babies. I’m not even just talking about the stuff you expect with a new baby, like the high-speed growth or the suddenly meaningful smiles. Sure, she’s breaking out of her 0-3 month clothes and we’re enjoying more awake time. She’s moved well out of sleepy fetus mode and is now looking like her rather than every other newborn (actually, she looks a lot like Talitha except much chubbier). I look back on this past month and it’s impossible to reflect on time with her in isolation. Every week her presence changes life for our whole family.

The month started off with me being pretty stressed over her eczema. On reflection, she started developing the tell tale rash from week two but I thought it was just baby acne. Then suddenly, it was seriously intense, angry spots and red, rough patches everywhere. I took her to the doctor who gave me a cream. That didn’t help. It seems to be trial and error with eczema. Meanwhile, her poo was coming out in full cappuccino foam and it was hard to imagine that the two might not be linked.

This bothered me more than I’d expect. It seems a bit silly – it was a relatively small thing – but my newborn just didn’t look right. Her skin should be soft to the touch and it wasn’t. I was paranoid that everyone was looking at her wondering what was up. I worried that it would start making her uncomfortable as she got older, if it wasn’t already, since she was starting to pass her hands by her face a lot.

A visit to a kinesiologist threw up the suggestion that it was cow’s milk protein bothering her. In retrospect, she’d become completely covered the day after I’d binged on fancy cheeses. I’d already cut it out and it seemed to be getting better. I’d also started using colloidal oatmeal which was like a miracle cream.

After a few weeks of no cow’s dairy, her poo settled down and her skin was clear. A couple of times, I forgot and ate something with cheese or sour cream in it and later that day, the rough red patches returned, along with an uncomfortable baby. Then, earlier this week, I finished off the girls’ ice creams. Within hours the rash appeared and I spent the evening with a fussy baby whose poos were once again foamy and, for the next 24 hours, green. So, it’s safe to say I’m pretty convinced the cow’s milk is a no-no for the time being. Hopefully she outgrows it.

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Meanwhile, life has taken an interesting turn lately with Laurence working in Cornwall for half the working week. We’re both finding this something of an endurance test. For him, it means a lot of driving and staying in different places. For me, the days are long with a newborn, never mind with a two-and-a-half-year old and a five-year-old from wake up to bedtime. This might make some chuckle but I genuinely underestimated how stressful I’d find this. I think I actually forgot when making this arrangement while pregnant what newborns are like and what a juggling act it was making the adjustment from one child to two.

In truth, so far I’m not finding the jump from two to three much more difficult than that last leap. If I had to compare them all, I’d say that zero to one was the hardest in terms of being totally transformative, both because it’s an identity shift becoming a mother and because of Talitha’s specific breastfeeding problems. The jump from one to two meant accepting that not everyone’s needs could be met and that we just had to muddle through as best we could. Two to three really has been just a case of adding another.

That is immensely hard work but the necessary mental shifts have been made and the family framework is already there, if that makes sense. If anything, the difficult bit is psychologically adjusting to being back here again, holding and feeding a tiny baby and rousing at various points in the night.

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From a practical point of view, Ophelia still needs lots of holding and cuddling. She’s a much more physical toddler than Talitha was and it’s proving challenging trying to find other ways to meet that need at times when I just can’t put Delilah down or am feeding her. Having said that Ophelia seemed to be weaning, she still asks for a bedtime feed maybe two or three times a week though it generally lasts moments, sometimes more. She’s re-learned how to latch which was a big surprise and has made the whole thing a happier experience for us both. I’ve started offering again and she doesn’t always say yes but she seems to get a lot of comfort from knowing that it’s still available to her. I don’t feel like we’re tandem breastfeeding but I suppose we are.

She’s hit that stage where anything can become a control issue and I’m having to either learn when to let things go or to slow right down and try to understand where she’s coming from. My mantra at the moment is “Respond, don’t react.” Realistically, I’m finding that a struggle to put into practice, especially if they’re both crying at the same time. When that happens, something in my brain goes into panic mode, telling me to run away or throw a tantrum myself. I’m just grateful we haven’t yet had an episode of all three crying at once. I’d probably just join them if that ever did happen.

Having been here before means I know that this won’t last forever. We will all adapt and I will learn how to relate to Ophelia. That doesn’t mean it will suddenly click and all run smoothly, and it won’t be about instant fixes and perfect formulas. It never is. It will be long, slow, gradual and messy. But it’s all about getting to know each other and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

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As for Talitha, it’s been tricky finding the time and energy to do the things she wants and needs to do. It’s been a lot of trial and error. Maybe more error than I’m ready to admit to myself. She’s been surprisingly patient but I have needed a lot of the time to just get on with it and stick a crying baby in the car where I might have spent time at home calming her down first. Mostly, we’ve found ways to work around the situation by taking what we’re doing on to the floor, reading while Delilah breastfeeds or naps and making the most of a sling.

It’s not perfect. I do find the millions of questions difficult to deal with in the middle of nappy changes but then I’d struggle with them anyway. There have also been days when they’ve watched more TV than I’d like or I’ve been asked “What can I do?” more times than my sanity can take or when hardly anything gets ticked off our to-do list.

In the scheme of things, though, life is ebb and flow and this time is short. Meanwhile, they’re learning important lessons about waiting for one another, creatively entertaining themselves and spending valuable time together as siblings.


Mini adventures in Dyrham Park and the South West Outdoor Festival

On the way to a workshop in Bath recently, a friend who was giving me a lift asked whether we’d taken the girls to Dyrham Park, a nearby National Trust property. Her children now grown, she fondly remembered the days they’d spent there when they were little.

When we recently made the most of a last snatch of summer by heading to Dyrham Park for the day, this was very much on my mind. These little outdoor adventures with the children, these are our memories.

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With lots of wide open space, the girls found the perfect spot to fly their kite. There was the gentlest bit of wind but their optimism wasn’t misplaced. They took it in turns to fly it, thrilled with this small, brilliant thing: a kite in the sky.

We became National Trust members a couple of years ago because we wanted to inspire our kids’ love of the outdoors while feeding our own. It occurs to me that for that to really happen, we need to slow down so we can stop, notice and enjoy what they do.

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While an adventure in our books might involve kayaking down a river or throwing an axe, for them, searching for mini beasts, balancing on a branch or even just stopping for a picnic is hugely exciting right now. In a way, that’s a relief because we’re restricted in how much we can reasonably cope with as a family with a newborn baby.

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We managed to make the time for all of those things and more mini adventures, Talitha rolling down a hillside while her little sister found tree hollows to dip in and out of. They managed tick a few more things off their 50 things lists.

All in all, it was a day worth capturing on film below and I’m glad we did. It’s an uber short video. Take a look and let me know what you think.

We’re conscious that as the kids get older, we’re going to want to up our game and push out further in what we do as a family. We’ve done a lot of camping and hope to keep that going. I’m still learning to ride a bicycle but I’m hoping that we’ll one day all cycle together. Basically, we’re saying yes to more wild swimming, more foraging, more time having fun in nature and more seeking genuine microadventures.

The National Trust’s South West Outdoor Festival promises to be a great starting point for inspiration and information for anyone looking to push out further into new outdoor challenges. It’s a new festival in stunning Heddon Valley in Devon with activities for all ages ranging from stargazing to kayaking to bushcraft.

Alongside a cracking lineup of speakers and workshops ready to whet your appetite for the wilderness, there’ll be storytelling, local bands, film viewings, an outdoor bar and the chance to hang out around a campfire in desperately beautiful Exmoor.

The festival is set for Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th September, which could be a brilliant way to shoot into the Autumn when many of us, especially those with kids, could be tempted to go into hibernation mode instead of continuing to pursue life outdoors. It could be just the time to learn to raft as a family or sneak in that last camp out before the seasons properly change.

Weekend camping tickets are £60 for adults and £25 for children. You can check it all out on the South West Outdoor Festival website.

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This post was brought to you by the National Trust


What I learned from our first year of home education

Talitha would be starting Year 1 today if she were in school. This is significant to her because she has friends in school and because it gets mentioned in her church group. We don’t follow the national curriculum so it doesn’t mean much to me other than we’ve talked about it because it matters to her. I am, however, keenly aware of her age. She turned five in June which means that we are now legally home educating. This doesn’t particularly change anything that we’re doing but it’s another big step, you know? Yes, we’re really doing this.

As we come to the end of what would have been her Reception year, our first year of officially home educating, I’ve taken a moment to reflect, not on what she’s learned but on what I have.

Stop comparing
Home educating, like all things parenting, is vulnerable to the beast that is comparison. It’s too easy to compare myself to other parents. I wish I were as organised, creative or relaxed as they are. Or worse, I could compare what my kid is doing to what others are, whether they’re schooled or not. Should she know that by now? Would she be if she were in school? Has she done that too soon? Have I pushed her without meaning to? Is this the right approach? Maybe they’ve got it right and I haven’t. It can go on and on.

At some point in the last year, I decided not to pay too much mind to what anyone else was doing. We just have to do what works for us and no one else is going to be able to work out what that is. As for what the kids are doing, they really are all different so that’s another reason to keep my eyes on what’s in front of me.

Respond positively to criticism
I’ve been surprised by how sensitive I can be to perceived criticism. I’m putting this down partly to this having been a stressful year with being pregnant and hideously tired and Laurence’s job situation changing all the time, often taking him away. I think it’s also to do with there being no concrete measure of success to what I’m doing and I don’t cope so well with that. No one is coming along with a red ink pen to tick my life decisions. The fact that I even want that hugely exposes the lasting impact of my own schooling.

I am trying to remember that what looks like criticism is often curiosity or a well-intended suggestion. I’m also trying to invest less in what others think of me and to avoid getting in too deep with people who leave me feeling negative.

Don’t buy everything
One of the amazing things about home educating today is the sheer number of resources available. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy enough to find something for everything – and possibly get ridiculously overwhelmed. I confess I have a habit of shopping around – Ooh, that looks good – but realistically, my five-year-old doesn’t need that much. A lot of the time we can make do with what we have or there’s something free online or at the library. So, I’m trying to be more disciplined about using what we’ve got and only looking for something else if the need arises. Mostly, I’m the one who needs to do more reading and thinking – for my own benefit!

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It’s all learning

I knew this before but I’m even more aware of it now. Whether she’s in the garden, playing dress up with her little sister or drawing alongside friends – it’s all learning. Education isn’t something that starts when I say – in fact, most learning happens when she says. She’s often doing her thing and working things out quietly while she plays, stops to ask a big question all of a sudden or debates something with a friend.

Learning happens regardless
This has been such a lightbulb. This year has ended up being a lot less structured than I planned, mostly because I was exhausted with the pregnancy and then, more recently, busy with a newborn. I felt awful about the fact that I was often having to say “not now” to things Talitha wanted to do together and I am looking forward to being able to make more plans with her now that I’m feeling loads better.

But learning has happened regardless. Periods when we hadn’t done anything to do with maths or reading for weeks, we’d come back to it and she’d got there on her own, either by looking at books quietly or just things clicking as she played. She can read enough to do a lot of things independently now and though she may have got there faster if she were in school or if I’d spent more time on it with her (she showed all the signs of reading early) I’m happy that she’s got to where she’s got in a way that hasn’t been stressful for either of us and that she can really take ownership of the process.

This is about all of us
More than ever, I’m convinced that home education for us is a family-led pursuit. It’s not just about my agenda or theirs, it’s about figuring out what works for all of us as a family. We are all happier when we have some plans in place but we must not be inflexibly ruled by them. Sometimes one child’s needs must be attended more urgently. And in the excitement of trying the latest thing with the eldest child, the younger ones must not be neglected. My own needs, too, matter. Having a childcare day once a week massively helps with that.

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We don’t have to go out all the time
The final thing I’ve learned is that we don’t have to have a routine packed with groups, workshops, outings and even play dates. We can mix it up. Sometimes we thrive on being out loads. Sometimes none of us want to leave the house for a while. Most weeks are a happy mix of both. This is a relief for me, especially with a new baby who needs quiet time at home. I’m sure it would be different if my children didn’t have each other but even though they do fight, they get so much from playing together. It’s alleviated Talitha’s manic need to have somewhere we were going and someone we were seeing every day back when she was three.

We all need order
I’ve never been very good at the whole tidying thing but this has been the year we’ve started to crack it. We still have a way to go but high usage items now vaguely have their place and the kids (and I) are getting better at putting things away before moving on to the next thing. Investing time and energy into this means that I am much happier and they are able to play more creatively because they know where to find things and remember what’s available.

Watch the child

I’ve been reminded again and again that one of the reasons we’re home educating is to give our children the opportunity to learn at their own pace. Sometimes we’ve hit pause on something (like an online maths game) because it just wasn’t clicking and then Talitha’s suddenly wanted to give it a go at a later date and suddenly found she’s able to do it.

I’ve also realised that she and her little sister are very different people. Talitha was writing her name before the age of two and knew all her alphabet sounds. Ophelia isn’t doing any of that but she could count accurately earlier than her big sister could, understanding the correlation between objects and numbers. One drew earlier and the other built earlier. And none of this is any predictor of their future abilities, education or career paths – just as the earlier walker isn’t necessarily the one pegged for athletic prowess. Being home educated simply means that they can progress to wherever they’re going just as they’re meant to.

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Do you home educate? Please do consider linking up any post about something you’ve been up to below. All approaches welcome! x

Other posts in this series:

July
June
What I loved about our first “term” of home educating
This Homeschooling Life – the very beginning

Every month, I’ll give a little update on what we’ve been up to as part of This Homeschooling Life, a new linky I’m hosting with blogger friends Jess, Polly and Laura. If you blog, consider linking up.

This Homeschooling Life is a linky sharing a week, a day or even just a moment from your life as a homeschooling family. We are hoping it will be a great way to discover new blogs and learn how we all do things differently.

The linky will open at 8am on the first Monday of every month and, throughout the rest of the month, the hosts will share your posts on their social media channels.

The Hosts:

Adele who blogs at Beautiful Tribe
Polly who blogs at Enchanted Pixie
FACEBOOK / TWITTER / PINTEREST / INSTAGRAM

The Rules:

1. Link back to one of the hosts. You will find the code for the badge at the bottom or if you prefer you can use a text link.

2. Link up a post from your month, no more than 3.

3. Link directly to a specific post, not your main blog.

4. Follow the hosts on at least one of their social media platforms.

5. Visit and comment on some of the other blogs linking up.

6. If you share on social media then you can use the #thishomeschoolinglife so we can all find each other.

This Homeschooling Life

An InLinkz Link-up



Hoo Haa! Festival and easing in to life with three

My mum left two days ago to go back to Trinidad and Tobago after a few weeks of staying with us. Between Laurence’s paternity leave and her stay, I’ve only had a handful of days on my own with three children. I’d probably done solo bedtime just three, maybe four times in those six weeks and I’d certainly fallen well out of the habit of taking Ophelia to the toilet!

It’s been a real blessing not least because Laurence has started a new job which is taking him away for one full night and two bedtimes/wakeups a week. In a way, it’s good that he was working in London a fair bit while I was pregnant because two nights with three kids feels much less daunting that five with two.

At any rate, I’m really grateful that my mum was here to help me ease into life with three children, not least because I doubt I would have managed so many days out with them on my own this summer. Or I would’ve taken them but been a sweaty, shouty, stressy mess.

One of those outings was to Hoo Haa! Festival at Colston Hall in Bristol. It’s an innovative music festival aimed at children and their grown ups. We enjoyed it so much last year, we couldn’t miss this one. Most of it was free with film screenings, community art projects and lots of musical acts in the foyer but there were also ticketed gigs throughout in the theatre spaces.

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My mum bought the older girls tickets to go see Wild Things the first day. They left Delilah and I behind and returned much delighted with their interactive musical journey, brandishing crowns they’d made as part of the show.

The second day, I’d bought tickets to go see the Vervain Folk Band with Lilliput Family Concerts since their cello concert was such a hit with my girls a few months ago. Talitha opted to continue at the church holiday club she’d been going to all week instead, which was nice in a way because we could give Ophelia more attention. My brother also joined us so it was actually the opposite of me being outnumbered by children!

The theatre was stripped of chairs and we all sat on the floor. Children were free to dance, which many did, and the players took time between songs to introduce their instruments. Afterwards, the kids could go up and try some of the instruments, which Ophelia did. The concert was as much for me as for her as I relished listening to traditional folk favourites.

The big excitement of the day was seeing CBeebies’ Andy Day (think Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures) perform. In fact, when he did his free “dino raps” in the foyer, Ophelia even abandoned her chips to go sit on my brother’s shoulders to see Andy. He found it amusing when I explained that the mop-haired guy on stage was a bit of a celebrity, amongst the five and unders, anyway.

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Afterwards, my mum and brother took Ophelia to meet him. She bought the girls his CD, which he signed and got a snap of her with Andy for Talitha’s sake. Talitha was thrilled to know Ophelia had met him (and Ophelia was pleased too though she looks like she’s wondering what on earth is going on). They’ve been playing his CD over and over ever since. Even Laurence and I have to admit it’s a welcome addition to the car repertoire.

We finished the day on a high by going to see Andy Day again in a musical take on We’re Going on a Bear Hunt which were sent tickets for in exchange for coverage. The performance came complete with full orchestra and someone dressed up as a bear. With actions, singing and a chance at the end for some children to form their own orchestra on stage, we all got to participate in that well-loved bedtime classic. In fact, we’re still singing the story whenever we read it now!

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Hoo Haa! has become a Bristol summer staple for our family. I really recommend checking it out next year if you’re around or keeping your eye open for other children’s gigs on at Colston Hall. We’ve yet to be disappointed.


Making and using an umbilical cord tie

One of the birth choices I made this time that I really rate was to make and use an umbilical cord tie. Up until the week before Delilah was born I’d intended to just go ahead with the standard hospital clamp that the midwives provide. As the due date approached, I started to remember why I didn’t like them. With Talitha I felt like it got in the way. It seemed a hard, ugly object between us.

I knew I didn’t want to do another umbilical cord burning like we had with Ophelia. It took too long (which is kind of the point because it’s a slow, ceremonial separation between baby and placenta) which wasn’t a great idea since she was a bit cold. It also smelled while healing which is apparently normal with burning.

For us, it just wasn’t something we fancied trying again. I had intended to make an umbilical cord tie with her, braiding embroidery threads, but I was disorganised, not expecting her to arrive at just 40+3 when her big sister had arrived at 40+13. The idea came to mind again with Delilah.

After asking other home birthers how they’d made theirs, I crocheted three ties using double knitting, so that we’d have spares just in case. They started with shapes: a heart, a flower and a star. There are so many instructions for these shapes out there and it’s totally the kind of project a beginner could do. When I finished each one off, I carried on stitching a 30cm length for the actual tie. The process was such a joyful way to get ready for Delilah. The girls were involved in helping me choose the shapes and were intrigued to see what I was doing.

Then I boiled them, put them in a sterile breast milk storage bag and kept it in the freezer. Sterilising is apparently unnecessary but I didn’t want to get into a debate with a midwife who might already feel uncomfortable with using a homemade tie.

As it turned out, our midwife was uncertain but in the end she was willing to give it a go, warning that she needed to be able to get it tight enough. I’d taken them out of the freezer as soon as labour started so they were defrosted. The wetness helped to pull the tie tighter. In the end, we were all satisfied with the end result.

It was easy to keep out of the way of the nappies (we did eco disposables the first two days and cloth after that) and healed quickly. I eventually got a bit fed up of the bit at the end so I cut it off after a while. Even cut, it looked so pretty whenever we changed her nappy and she was mostly in a nappy her first week because it was the hottest week of the year!

What can I say? It was such a little thing – frivolous maybe – but it brought me such joy to see this pretty tie. If we ever had another baby, I’d do it again.

To read more, check out Delilah’s home birth story, Ophelia’s home birth story or my ideas for preparing kids for a new baby.

To keep up with Beautiful Tribe, join me on Instagram or Facebook.


The Children’s Garden by Matthew Appleby

A while ago, I was sent The Children’s Garden a book filled with inspiration for things to make and do with children the garden. It’s written by Matthew Appleby, a former primary school teacher and author of The Allotment Planner. An aesthetically pleasing hardback, full of beautiful and helpfully instructive images, it’s a real pleasure to own and lovely book for the kids to flick through to see if anything appeals if they’re at a loose end.

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The book presents 52 family projects, themed and ordered by season, ranging from dead-easy, (nighttime snail watch with a torch, anyone?) to reasonably challenging (why not keep some chickens?). Everything is given careful step by steps, not assuming knowledge. There are even follow up ideas to take activities further and deepen your family’s outdoor experience. Some projects even take you beyond the confines of your own garden.

Looking ahead to Autumn, I’ve nabbed a few ideas from The Children’s Garden for our bucket list. We’ll hopefully be picking apples and blackberries and making crumble, crafting temporary collages with collected Autumn items, carving pumpkins and toasting marshmallows over a bonfire in our garden.

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We don’t need too much beckoning to get outdoors generally but I imagine once the weather gets colder, I’ll be glad of easy inspiration when my hands are full with the baby and my older two. I can particularly see this book helping those who don’t spend that much time in their gardens but would like to.


Eight reasons we’re looking forward to The Good Life Experience

Laurence was the first to spot The Good Life Experience. “If there’s any festival I want to go to, it’s that,” he mused, “but we probably can’t this year because of the baby.” I looked at the calendar. The 16th-18th September would make Delilah almost nine weeks when we went. Could we really do a festival with a baby that young?

Then again, Talitha was six weeks when we took her to a festival. We just didn’t camp. The most stressful part of that experience was that I wasn’t used to breastfeeding in public – not an issue now. We did camp with Ophelia at four months. Maybe, maybe, oh why not? Worse comes to worst, we’d just ditch the camping bit and sleep somewhere local.

So we were delighted when The Good Life Experience offered us tickets. Here’s why we’re excited about going.

1. It’s a festival with real zest for the outdoors
The Good Life Experience plugs into the yearning many of us have developed for reconnecting with nature, rewilding and pursuing simpler experiences in the outdoors. From axe throwing to wild running, foraging to adventuring, abseiling to yoga, there’ll be lots of wilderness inspiration with a great lineup of people who are genuinely out there living their passions and are excited about getting others involved.

Eight reasons we're looking forward to The Good Life Experience

2. It’s about so much more than the music
This is a festival that’s as much about books, craft and The Great Outdoors as it is about the bands. There are masterclasses in henna decoration, pumpkin carving, mosaics, woodcarving and more. The Meek Family who’ve written about their many outdoor adventures and their experiences worldschooling will be there as will a pop up library, a mobile bookstore, author and adventurer Ben Fogle, and Mark Shayler of the Do Lectures.

3. But also, it’s about the music
There are a few familiar names in the lineup like Mercury Rev, Cerys Matthews and Gilles Peterson but we’re also looking forward discovering music. We’re particularly looking forward to taking in some rootsy folk and gypsy groove. It could be fun to check out the brass band too. We’ll definitely have to pack ear defenders for the kids.

4. We like that it’s a smaller festival
So many festivals have blown up over the years and become grimly overcrowded. We’re hoping there’ll be a bit more breathing space at The Good Life Experience.

5. There’ll definitely be the chance to learn something new
Apart from the crafts and books I’ve already mentioned, the festival is teeming with opportunities to leave having picked up something new, whether it’s an insight into bee keeping, a Welsh phrase or some swing moves.

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6. We love its commitment to small business
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that a couple of the organisers are also behind Pedlars vintage shop, the festival’s bias is towards smaller businesses that display careful and creative craftsmanship, sustainably making beautiful things that last.

7. We’re looking forward to eating real food
There’s also a strong lineup when it comes to food. There’ll be campfire cooking sessions, authentic southern style barbecue, The Independent on Sunday’s weekly food correspondent Bill Grainger, food writer and television presenter Thomasina Miers, craft beer and a farm shop, to name a few.

8. The festival is equally aimed at children and adults

The Good Life Experience claims to aim everything at children and adults alike. We’re really hoping this is true. Certainly I can imagine making flower headdresses in the WI tent with my girls, checking out a children’s author or joining in a campfire singalong. Less segregation between ages, more experiences together, please.

To find out more about the festival, check out them out on their website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Adult tickets start at £69 for a non-camping weekend ticket and whether camping or not, kids 11 and under go free.

Thanks to the Good Life Experience for having us as guests!

Photographs 1 and 3 by James Fibonacci, Photograph 2 by Nenad Obradovic