Outdoors in East London with a Toddler: Springfield Park

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Springfield Park is one of my favourite parks. Partly because it always seems to be sunny there (although I may be getting cause and effect the wrong way round) and partly because the walk there from our flat either takes us over the Marshes or along the river. So getting there is almost as lovely as the park itself.

The park really is beautiful. It has both cultivated gardens and open green spaces. There’s a kids play area, tennis courts, fountains, and a cricket pitch. Best of all, there are stunning views out over the river and the marshes beyond.

That stunning view does come at a cost – the park is very hilly, which can be an issue with the buggy. But it is worth it, not just for the view but for the lovely park cafe. There’s not loads of indoor tables, but a huge outdoor seating area. And since it’s always sunny there, who needs to be indoors? Plus they do yummy hot chocolate. And a range of light meal options, many of which are veggie friendly.

Tom and I met a friend there on Saturday and I remembered all over again why I love it so much. Hurray for our local green spaces!

Life Unexpected
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Weekly Report: W/c 28.12.2015

The last week of 2015 started with us still in Suffolk, where we had spent Christmas. After spending the morning alternating between packing and pottering in the garden, we headed back to London in the afternoon.

Both Mr Techno and I had Tuesday off. After a week in Suffolk and a week before that being ill, I was missing our familiar green spaces, so Tom and I started the day with a trip to the playground. I then left the boys to it in the afternoon, as my parents had offered to take my sister and I for a festive afternoon tea at Claridges. Which was delicious. And a bit ridiculous. But lovely all the same.

Wednesday started windy, as Storm Frank, the latest in a long list of winter storms, was hitting the UK. As usual, we seem to have gotten off extremely lightly in the South, whilst the North is taking yet another battering. My heart goes out to the people trying to cope with more flooding and disruption.

Since we had only strong winds, Tom and I headed out onto the Marshes for a morning walk, whilst Mr Techno, sadly, had to go back to work. Tom then took a very long nap, not waking up until almost 4 pm. By that point it was starting to get dark, so we settled for some painting with food dye at home instead.

Thursday was New Year’s Eve. Tom and I started the day with a short walk through the woods.

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After lunch, we headed out for a longer walk over the Marshes, with Tom in the sling. I’ve been struggling to get him into it whilst wearing a bulky winter coat, but have been taking advantage of the mild weather to get it out more often. I always notice that Tom is happier to play independently at home on days we use it a lot, which I guess must be down to it being more bonding than the buggy. Tom is very chatty in it as well, with constant exclamations of ‘hiya!’ and pointing at random trees.

Friday was the first day of 2016! We started well, with a trip to the park to try out Tom’s new wellies. He had a great time splashing around.

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When we got back to the flat I checked my pockets and realised the little wallet containing my oyster card, front door key, and five pounds was missing. We retraced our steps, but didn’t find them. Mr Techno was at work, but, after a slightly panicked phone call, popped his keys in a cab and sent them round to us. It took about half-an-hour for them to reach us, which we spent exploring the front garden.

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The space is normally occupied by our neighbour’s scooter, and is where we store the bins, so it’s unusual for us to spend any time there. Tom was occupied for a surprisingly long time, exploring the gravel and looking at the plants, so I suppose the silver lining of getting locked out is that our eyes were opened to the play potential of even the least promising spots. Fortunately the keys arrived just as Tom was beginning to lose interest and get hungry for his lunch. After the morning’s dramas, I didn’t feel much like meeting friends as I had planned to, and had to be in anyway to let Mr Techno in when he got back from work. We spent the afternoon playing with Tom’s trains and chasing each other round the flat instead. The friends were hungover understanding and happy to postpone to Sunday.

Saturday started a bit drizzly, but we headed to the park anyway in the hope someone might have found my keys and posted a note on the noticeboard. No such luck sadly so I guess it’ll be a call out to the locksmith when our landlords’ office reopens on Monday (we did call their emergency number when I realised the keys were gone, only to be met with a very unhelpful ‘nothing I can do’. Thank goodness it wasn’t both of us locked out!) Tom enjoyed some more puddles though, so it wasn’t a wasted trip.

After all the toing and froing with the keys, I was longing for a proper outing. So we headed out for a long walk over Hackney playing fields and along the river to Hackney Wick. Luckily the rain held off until we were almost home, but I still managed to get completely drenched. Tom, on the other hand, was warm and dry in the buggy.

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Sunday was a day of unrelenting rain. We actually went shopping in the morning – to buy me some new walking boots which was my Xmas present from Mr Techno (much better bought in the January sales!) Can’t wait to try them out. I then headed to Soho in the afternoon to see the friends I had cancelled on on Friday. Meanwhile, Tom and Mr Techno built a blanket fort.
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Next week we are back to nursery/work and our normal routines. I’m going to miss all this time off!

Forest Kindergarten Open Day

I was very excited on Saturday to be going to an open day for Hackney’s new outdoor nursery, Free Range Urban Kids (FRUK). The group was founded by two local mums about a year ago, but has just now got all the right registrations in place to start offering full nursery days, rather than just the two-hour sessions they ran previously. They are accepting children from the age of three, which means Tom is still too young, but are also offering 2 hour ‘stay and play’ sessions twice a week for 0-3 year-olds and their parents. They are opening officially in January, so we were pleased to have a chance to go along to see what will be on offer.

Outdoor nurseries or forest kindergartens are relatively new to the UK and still pretty rare. The name is pretty self-explanatory – they are childcare settings where sessions take place pretty much exclusively outdoors, no matter what the weather (in a year of running their sessions, FRUK say they have never had to resort to their back-up indoor option). It is a movement that started in Scandinavia, but is beginning to spread to other parts of the world, in part due to the growing anxiety about the lack of time children now spend outdoors.

The philosophy of FRUK and forest kindergartens in general is very close to our parenting approach. Sessions are very much child-led and focus on free play  in nature. The staff at the open day talked a lot about the importance of teaching children to assess risk themselves, rather than removing them from it. So while they scour the play area before sessions start to remove any needles, used condoms or other unsanitary items often found in parks first thing in the morning, mushrooms, rose bushes and other plants are left in place. The children are taught not to lick or taste anything, and to identify plants that might be harmful, so they know not to touch them. They are encouraged to climb trees, swing in hammocks, and get muddy. They are taught to use tools, such as small hack saws and peelers for whittling wood. There will be a fire for warmth and cooking, so children will learn to respect both the uses and dangers that fire represents. Principles taken from the Montessori and Reggio approaches are brought into session planning and setting up the space.

I couldn’t get any pictures, as obviously there were lots of other kids wandering around and the nursery have a no phone policy, but the set up was impressive. Sessions are held in an enclosed area of Millfields Park, which has both a wooded area and an open space. A log circle was set up in the woods, with a tarp to keep people dry (thankfully not needed). Various toys, rope swings, and messy play stations were set up amongst the trees. They have a little tented toilet for the kids, and another tent for quiet time, reading and rest. Out in the open area, there was a wormery set up and a mud kitchen. There are various fallen trees and logs that the nursery have asked the park rangers to leave for climbing and imaginative play. It’s worth a visit to the nursery’s Facebook page to see pics of the site.

We had a great time at the open day – we toured the site, looking at the various play options and, in Tom’s case, trying to eat them (he sampled chalk, a lot of leaves and some clay. Enforcing the no licking rule may be a challenge with him!). It was especially nice to meet some other parents who are as mad about the outdoors as we are – sometimes I feel like a bit of the odd one out at Tom’s lovely, but very mainstream, nursery.

The only minor drawback is that the 0-3 year-old sessions will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are both work days for me. However, I have spoken to Mr Techno, and he seems up for taking Tom on Tuesdays, so I’ll be signing them up (pending confirmation of fees). Roll on January!



Monkey and Mouse

 

Family Visit to NT Sutton House

It’s rare for Mr Techno to have a day off at the weekend (perils of restaurant work) and there was no way we were going to waste the opportunity sitting at home. However, the torrential rain this Saturday was a bit much, even for us, so we decided that it might be a good time for a more indoor visit!

I’m ashamed to say we hadn’t yet been to our local National Trust place, despite the fact that we are members and both Mr Techno and I used to work for the National Trust (at the beautiful Greys Court near Reading). Add to that the fact that I work for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and you will see just how shocking this is! Clearly, something had to be done to remedy the situation.

There are comparatively few National Trust places in London, but we are lucky to have one not far away. Sutton House in Hackney is a Tudor house, originally built for Ralph Sadleir, who was a member of Henry VIII’s court. The house is brick built, which is unusual for the period, and deceptively large, with rooms spread over three storeys.

Some of what you find at Sutton House is what you would expect from a National Trust site; Georgian wood panelling (cleverly hinged to reveal the Tudor brickwork behind), some good insights into the conservation work done at the house, and a lovely little shop. But this is not your average historic home. Sutton House was squatted during the 1980s, and the Trust uses some of the rooms to show this fascinating stage in the house’s history. So while some rooms are more ‘typical’ and focus on the Tudor history, one is dressed as a squatter’s bedroom, complete with pairs of jeans thrown over the furniture, slogans against empty housing and a graffiti wall. Events at the property echo this past – in fact the cafe was being set up for a punk gig that evening, which was a bit of a shame because we missed out on the requisite National Trust scone and tea combo. (I’ve just read that last sentence back. I am officially old.)

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Although it was a wet weekend day, we shared the house with only one other family and a handful of other visitors, giving us the chance to wander freely. We parked our sopping wet buggy up by the cafe – buggy parking space might have been an issue had there been more families visiting, but as it was the volunteers were happy for us to leave it there. The other family had a toddler roughly the same age as Tom, so the two of them enjoyed little spurts of play as we crossed over on our meanderings.

Most of the rooms were surprisingly toddler-safe, with very few breakable objects to be threatened. In fact, the whole house was very child-friendly – there were toys stashed away in some of the chests downstairs and upstairs we found tents set up in two of the rooms. One was allegedly an example of a recuperation tent from the Crimean War, complete with dress up kit and notes on herbal remedies, whilst the other had no explanation that I could see (I think it was part of an artist’s residency that is being set up currently, but couldn’t swear to it). Either way, they were perfect for little ones to explore. There was also some kind of feeling game set up in the kitchen – of the put-hand-in-box-and-guess-contents kind – bit old for Tom yet but good for older kids.

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The thing we did miss out on is Breaker’s Yard – the outdoor space around the house which has been transformed from unused space into an urban garden (one of Boris Johnson’s ‘Pocket Parks’). It seemed to have been closed up for the winter – or at least for the rainy day – which is a shame as I very much want to see the caravan which has been done up as a stately home. They had some great-looking events in the space over the summer, but somehow we never quite made it to any of them. Next year maybe.

Though we did miss out on Breaker’s Yard (and cake!) we had a great afternoon at Sutton House and will definitely be going back.

MummyTravels



Babyfoote

Weekly Report – w/c 09/11/2015

The weather this week was less than fantastic. We’ve still been getting out (almost) every day, but not for as long as we normally would, and we are sticking a bit closer to home so we have easy access to changes of clothes if we get caught in a downpour.

Having been at my parents’ house last weekend, Tom and I woke up there on Monday. I had an appointment locally, so Tom and my mum explored the garden, chatted to the hens, and splashed about in some puddles. You can read more about our visit here. We drove back to London in the afternoon, but didn’t have time to head back out again before it got dark.

Wednesday, we headed into town first thing for a second attempt at banking some cheques. Fortunately, I remembered my purse this time around. Banking achieved, we popped into a charity shop (scoring a new book and jumper for me and a couple of toys for Tom, all for under a tenner). Chores out of the way, we had the afternoon free for play. We headed out onto the Marshes, where I let Tom out of the buggy and gave him control of our route. As usual, this meant we were off in a completely different direction to what I had expected. And had to stop regularly to investigate sticks.

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Thursday, we walked to nursery as usual. On the way home that evening, Tom was walking back through the park with me when he discovered his shadow. I wish this photo was better because he was so cute trying to work out what it was. He also thought the shadows of the hanging baskets were puddles and was very confused when his feet didn’t get wet.

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Friday, again walk in to nursery as usual. We had some pretty extreme rain and a bit of hail during the day. Though it had cleared by the time I picked Tom up, I had forgotten his rain footies, so he had to stay in the buggy on our way home. He was probably relieved – it was pretty windy but he was kept sheltered and warm snuggled in his footmuff.

Saturday, the rain settled in for the long haul, so we headed to Sutton House for a drier, indoor visit. Thumbs down on outdoor play, but there was no way I was tempting Mr Techno out in that weather.

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Sunday, the rain had stopped, so we headed the park first thing. We didn’t bother with the buggy, as it is so close, but that did mean it took so long to walk there that we only had 10 minutes to actually play. Tom met a little 19 month old girl, who sweetly took his hand and helped him walk up and down the slopes in the play area (whilst her mum and I stood nearby going ‘ahhhh, cute!’ to each other). Unfortunately, the wind was pretty fierce, so they kept getting knocked over by it! Wind was the theme of our afternoon – we headed out onto the Marshes with some props for windy day play. Post to follow.

Verdict: not bad, considering the weather