Science Alive!

Despite the trek to Harlow, the children all very much enjoy the half-termly sessions at Science Alive, including J who begs to come along whenever he can and claims he would happily miss school for them. Hmmm.

On Tuesday 16th July the topic was The Body. Friends had been on the Monday and said it was good so although we were sad to have missed them we were looking forward to it, and it didn’t disappoint. The only issue we had was that the Tuesdays seem to attract slightly younger children, which meant J and K were both older than anyone else there (on the Monday they wouldn’t have been) but fortunately there are now enough children attending that the groups get split by age for activities so it wasn’t as much of a problem as it might have been if the leaders had been trying to hold together the full age range at once.

They started with a presentation on bodily solids, liquids and gases, in which K, L and A all got to help at various points. This made them very happy πŸ™‚ Time for a bit of exploring (and some new exhibits to play with – more maths than last time I was there) and then A went off to her first workshop, making snot/slime while J, K, 6 and L extracted their own DNA and put it into little tiny bottles to hang on necklaces. The second workshop was DNA bracelets for the older ones (making a DNA-type code from their names and translating it into beads on a bracelet) and cardboard skeleton assembly for the younger, while in the third session A drew her organs onto a t-shirt while the older ones made a working model of a lung in a rib cage, using plastic bottles and balloons (J said he’d done that at school already so went off to look at more exhibits; he doesn’t get to go as often as the others so I guess that’s fair enough) and an articulated hand using drinking straws and string – very cool.

I left them to it for some of the time and walked over to investigate the shopping centre nearby and to find out about the big Water Gardens sign we see from the roundabout – on such a hot day it sounded hopeful πŸ˜‰ Sadly, it proved to be just another shopping centre – disappointing πŸ™

Science done for the day, we all went swimming. A was worried as she couldn’t put her feet on the bottom in the main pool and the small pool was busy with lessons, but she gained confidence as we went along. Next time I must remember to put her floatjacket in the car so that she has that as an option too.

Brilliant Britten

Many months ago I was looking at holiday music courses and came across one at Gresham’s school, which I only really looked at because my uncle used to be a housemaster there and I have happy memories of playing hide and seek in what felt like an enormous house during holiday visits to spend time with my cousins πŸ™‚ It appeared to have a very strong emphasis on choral work, when what I’d had in mind was something more orchestral, but L and K both thought it sounded great and were interested. Nevertheless we kept looking, as it was very early to be making decisions and there was a minimum standard of grade 4 on first instrument, which at that point we thought might preclude L as she was only grade 3. Before we had booked anything Bob lost his job, so we said nothing would be booked until he had a job. This took rather longer than we’d hoped, but while we were at Kentwell he finally started work again. Meanwhile L’s violin teacher had started to talk about missing grade 4 and going straight to grade 5, so that barrier was no longer such a worry. At the same time J came home from school saying that his music teacher had suggested he should do some singing as a way of extending his music a little more. Lots of things pointed to the course being the right thing to do, if only there were still places left, but since it was now less than a week before the start that was by no means certain.

On our return from Kentwell, therefore, we phoned to see if there were any spaces left and were told that they could squeeze three more in, especially as J was a trombonist and K and L were strong singers. By now there were only a couple of days to sort out and pack what they needed and on Thursday we set off for the North Norfolk coast, arriving at Gresham’s in time for lunch and then bidding J, K and L a fond farewell while 6, A and I went on to Sheringham for a brief walk on the beach (I paddled, 6 dodged about near the water’s edge and A stood firmly on the dry bits telling us to hurry up) and an ice cream. We couldn’t stay very long, as 6 and A had a guiding party to get to in the evening, so all too soon we had to head back homewards. We’d taken their uniforms with us, to save a little time, so they quickly changed in the car and then went off together to spend time learning about Switzerland, eating party food, playing games and tasting chocolate. Much fun had by all, I understand πŸ˜‰

We spent Friday doing normals and then on Saturday Bob had a work-related meeting so we dropped him off and went on to the last music school of the term, picking him up afterwards to find that he hadn’t had a meeting after all (the other person hadn’t turned up) so we could have gone with plan A of going to stay with my aunt the night before. Ho hum. At least this way 6 and A got their last sessions of singing and theory.

Lovely relaxed time with my aunt for the rest of the day, then we headed to Gresham’s in the evening for the first concert of the course (in fact, our first but K, L and J’s second), where all three played in the orchestra, J was part of a trio, K played in a three hands piano set and L was in a folk band and also did a solo. It was all very good πŸ™‚

On Sunday we had another relaxed and relaxing day, which ended in a trip to King’s Lynn. We’d decided that the concert was both rather long and rather expensive for 6 and A to sit through, so Bob took them to the cinema to see Monsters University while I got a lovely evening of The Best of British (Handel counts, apparently, because he lived in London and the music is used for British state occasions πŸ˜‰ ). It was truly excellent and the children did a section by themselves as well as singing with the Festival Chorus. Really, really good – and so nice to see J enjoying singing too πŸ˜€ They’re all very keen to go again next year; J is hoping they’ll raise the age limit so he can go too!

While we were relaxing and pottering, the three we’d left were kept very busy – I’m hoping I can get one of them to write about it, but in the meantime the programme was more or less this, with a few minor tweaks as they went along:

Thursday 11th July
12pm Arrival, greeted outside Music School
12.20pm To Kenwyn lawn or dining hall for buffet lunch with all parents, course attendees/staff
12.50pm Course introduction for parents & students. All staff to be present.
1pm Bags to dormitories, parents depart
1.30pm Choral Workshop 1 with Tom Appleton (TA) in Music School
2pm Loughborough Choir arrive at Prep – to Crossways
2.30pm Loughborough Choir to Auden Theatre to rehearse
2.45pm Workshop break
2.55pm Choral Workshop 2 with TA
4pm Initial instrument session
5pm BBQ Supper on Kenwyn lawn (weather permitting!)
5.30pm Change into BMC uniform & walk to Auden Theatre
6pm Concert 1 in Auden Theatre
7pm Concert finishes and return to Prep School for evening activities
8pm To Boarding Houses

Friday 12th July
8am Breakfast
8.45am Choral Workshop 3 with TA in Music Room
9am Loughborough Choir depart.
10.15am Break
10.30am Choral Workshop 4 with TA in Music Room
11.25am Break
11.30am Choral Workshop 5 with TA in Music Room
12.15pm Lunch
1pm Afternoon games/activity
4pm Wind/String/Vocal Ensembles/Individual workshops
6pm Pizza & Film night
9pm Staff Dinner
Saturday 13th July
8am Breakfast
8.45am Choral Workshop 6
10.45am Break
11am Choral Workshop 7
12pm Lunch
12.45pm Afternoon games/activity
3.30pm Instrumental Rehearsals in Chapel/tuition
5pm Supper
5.30pm Change into smart casuals for concert, walk to Chapel
6.30pm Concert 2 in School Chapel
8pm Return to Prep School and dormitories

Sunday 14th July
8am Snack breakfast
8.20am Packing, load minibuses
9am Choral Workshop 8
11.25am Brunch
12pm Board minibus King’s Lynn
1pm On-stage rehearsal (BMC)
2pm Rehearse with KLFC
2.30pm Leave for Oasis Sports & Leisure Centre and beach Hunstanton
PM Afternoon spent in Hunstanton
Packed tea in Hunstanton and get changed into concert uniform
6.15pm Leave Hunstanton
6.45pm Arrive King’s Lynn and warm up
7.30pm Concert 3 in King’s Lynn Corn Exchange
9.30pm Meet parents in upstairs bar of Corn Exchange, collect bags and sign out

Brownies and Big Bang!

I need to post about Kentwell but it’s in draft form on the laptop and we’re getting behind so I’m going to catch up on what’s been happening since then and add a long Kentwell post in when I get the chance.

We got back from Kentwell on 7th July, late, so having to rouse everyone in time to go and look after S on Monday was not much fun. However, Bob was at work (yay!) so it had to be done. We all came home and did nothing much in the afternoon!

Tuesday was another very gentle day, with lots of sleep and just as much washing, plus some music practice to get them all back in the swing of things, then Brownies for 6 and L, including 6’s induction πŸ˜€ The session was at the local country park, so they had to wear smart uniform for the induction and then take a change of clothes ready for den building and getting soaked when the dens were tested for waterproofness. Brown Owl was very impressed with 6, who was word perfect for her promise and recited the Brownie law flawlessly and clearly πŸ˜€ She is now a fully-fledged Brownie, with the badge to prove it πŸ™‚

On Wednesday we set off early to Duxford for the Big Bang Fair, which was excellent. We started with a talk about String Theory, interpreted through the medium of rock guitar by Dr Mark Lewney then went on to the Science Sleuths show, where the children solved a crime by using clues and forensic methods to work out who had broken into the Science Made Simple office. We had hoped to squeeze in a talk by Johnny Ball too, but the sleuthing finished too late and a higher priority for us was the Steve Allman Best of Science show – the highlight of the day and so good that we’re now trying to work out how we could possibly get enough people together to make his special Christmas show manageable (Β£650 for three shows).

In between shows we looked around the stalls, made balloon-powered racing cars, found out how particles can be removed from exhaust fumes, met a milk snake, a stick insect and a giant African snail, found out about special effects in films and much more – and had fun with Em and her children πŸ™‚

We had to leave Duxford fairly promptly to get back and collect instruments ready for an extra rehearsal before the Music School Family concert. K and L were both singing solos in Adiemus but had missed lots of classes thanks to Kentwell, so this was a chance to polish what they were singing. J, despite having missed the whole term, was playing trombone in the orchestra too – all good sightreading practice πŸ˜‰ The concert followed and was really very good. I think this will be the last music school think for K and L (assuming we find something for them to move on to) which is sad, really; they’ve got so much out of it over the years and it’s been lovely to see it grow around them. Hopefully A will still go, though, so it’s not really goodbye yet.

Science at Duxford

Wednesday was a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) team day at Duxford, which we managed to book on as a very small group πŸ™‚
We’d been given places on workshops as two twos, so I decided to keep A and 6 together, partly so that I could be with both of them, and K and L together. This fitted with the activities they each wanted to do, so it worked out nicely. The day started with a talk/show presenting the topic of air and the same speaker then went on to do a Science Show session, which L and K had chosen and said was very good. Meanwhile 6, A and I were designing and building bridges from K’Nex, investigating which shapes were strongest and how to incorporate them into a design.
After a short break we all switched groups, K and L to do work with wind tunnels and aerodynamic structures, while 6 and A experimented with acids, alkalis and indicator paper, then made molecules from sweets and cocktail sticks.
We had lunch outside, including sweet molecular structures πŸ™‚ and then walked to the Historic Duxford hut, which we had spent a short time investigating when 6 was first here, but wanted to see properly. It was good and we stayed there for a long time, then meandered back via the hangar where working/flying planes are maintained and finally the gift shop. We’ll be back again in July for a Big Bang session πŸ˜€
Thence we went to choir, where Bob joined us to collect A and take her home for Rainbows. 6 and L worked while K sang, then K worked while they sang.

Midsummer Night’s Dream

We were very lucky this week to be offered four groundling tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe. My initial plan had been to take K, L and 6 with me, but then we realised that K and L needed to be elsewhere (last music school before exams and a choir concert) and that we would have Fortune with us, so plans evolved a little. Accordingly, Saturday morning found Fortune, 6, A and me getting into our Tudor clothes and catching the train to London, where we met up with MDJ and C, the latter also in Tudor garb (MDJ chickened out πŸ˜‰ ). Sadly, M had decided she had too much to do, so had not come πŸ™ The silver lining, however, was that this meant there was a spare ticket for Fortune’s friend, who had only come to say hello and then found herself coming in to see the play too πŸ™‚
It was fab! I had been worried about such a long time standing, but in fact it was part of the experience. A could not see without being held up so I spent most of the performance with her on my hip (Fortune and her friend helped with child carrying too, but I guess I’ve had the most practice πŸ˜‰ ) and I could certainly feel the after-effects of that later and even more so the next day, but she enjoyed it so much that it was worth every ache πŸ˜€ We had read a children’s version of the story on the train, making sure 6 and A knew what was going on, and the production was very lively and visual, which helped, I think, so both 6 and A were able to enjoy the action and the humour without worrying about the difficulty of some of the dialogue. The occasional rather blue joke or action went, fortunately, sailing over their heads πŸ˜‰ We were well and truly ready for the interval though, and relieved to sit for a while!
After the play we sat and picnicked on the steps outside for a while, discussing what else we could do. MDJ suggested walking back via Postman’s Park, a little church yard he thought we might appreciate, where there is a memorial to heroic self-sacrifice. To get there we crossed the Millennium Bridge (windy!), skirted St Paul’s Cathedral (good place for a pause chocolat) and crossed Paternoster Square (watching people put their small children onto the backs of the sheep for photos – very odd!). We fielded a few questions and comments about our unusual attire, wished we had Kentwell leaflets and gave the website address to a couple of interested people.
Postman’s Park was lovely, a real oasis of calm. We looked at the tablets first, read several out loud and discussed possible circumstances, drollery or sadness, then sat on the grass for a restorative drink and cereal bar. MDJ mentioned that he had found a geocache there once, so the girls were keen to look for it and excited when they did, but it proved to have nothing of much interest so they just wrote in the book and put it back, richer by a two rupee coin donated by Fortune πŸ˜‰
A little rested we walked on, skirting round a rather cool penny farthing race (and collecting some neat souvenirs on the way) to Farringdon, caught the tube and returned to the station, where MDJ and C were able to catch a slightly earlier train than we were, leaving us just enough time to buy takeaway (noodles and spring rolls) before our train left too.
Lovely day – thank you to Em for tickets and to MDJ, C and Fortune’s friend for company πŸ˜€

Sewing Wednesday, Sporty Thursday, Farewell Friday

On Wednesday we went to the Beans’ with lots of sewing. Fortune made a partlet, HH and I hemmed, the children played, chatted and did music theory. It was a lovely relaxed day. A had chosen not to come with us, as she wanted to get to Rainbows easily, so she stayed with Bob (dual parental availability is one big advantage of not working – there has to be a silver lining somewhere, I guess!) and did jobs at home.
We suddenly realised how late it was, so dashed off to choir, dropped K off then made a detour to the music shop to get L’s flute repaired again. I’m a little disappointed with this flute, I must admit. It’s lovely and light, easy to use, sounds good and is reassuringly sturdy – but we’ve been back three times now to get it mended, each time a minor issue and quickly sorted, but nevertheless it is starting to feel as though each time L has a flute lesson she is told to take the flute back for another fix. If it happens again I think we will need to be pushy about asking for a replacement rather than a repair :/ We got back with enough time for a short work session while K’s choir went on, then sent a while in the library before tea.
Girls’ choir was in yet another new venue: St Columba’s this time.

Thursday was E and S and Multisport. It was lovely and sunny, so the class was in the park and those of us waiting decided to sit in a shady corner of the garden and picnic. We played Sherlock – I’d forgotten how good it is; interesting enough to keep adults playing but simple enough for S and A to join in very happily, and great for language learning. We’ve played it several times since, to help 6 learn new words in a fun way πŸ™‚

On Friday J went off to school with a suitcase, for two lessons and then a flight to France. He’s doing a French exchange, but his exchange partner won’t be staying with us; he has a host family rather closer to school. It feels a little odd to be doing something like this with no reciprocity, but a relief too, as it means a whole week with no school runs πŸ˜‰

We had plans…

On Monday we were meant to be going to a museum for a workshop on Egyptians, but we decided that we would be too tired after our circus trip, performance and then a birthday party ceilidh on the way home. We were right! The day was spent sleeping, recuperating and doing loads of washing.
On Tuesday we had planned to take J in to the station and then go to Gina’s for music lessons, but nobody had the energy or inclination to get up other than those who had to, so Bob took J in and the rest of us went to Gina’s once we’d surfaced and woken up. Piano for K, L and 6, flute for L and a bit of music theory round the edges filled the morning up and then we set off to ‘cello, via the Park and Ride where Fortune was soon to arrive on the bus from Oxford. Unfortunately the bus was a little late, which made for a rushed and slightly short ‘cello lesson for A before we had to leave K there and go on to violin. 6 had her lesson first and is doing really well. Christina says she should definitely carry on, as she is progressing very quickly already – so this is advance warning to you, RΓ©my and Guillemette, that she will need a next-size-up violin very soon (half size should do the trick) πŸ˜‰ Then L had her lesson, which she loved as much as always – the worst thing about Kentwell for her is missing three weeks of violin lessons for it!
Brownies and gym in the evening, while A played with her beloved Fortune, and we were all well and truly ready for bed!

Running away with the circus!

Sky Skills was for children aged 8 and over, so A was unable to come. Instead she swapped places with C and got a head start on our next adventure, while I took C to Sky Skills Studios.
Bob and M (and A) went over to Reymerston to set up tents and get established at the Circus Camp we were to attend there. When we eventually arrived (London traffic not great at rush hour!) Bob took J home and the rest of us settled down for a night under canvas. He and J spent the next few days getting J’s room sorted and tidy ready for his exchange student’s arrival next week and making sure homework was all caught up, including missed work from the band weekend. Fortuitously this meant that J’s ticket was available for 6, so she was able to come and do circus skills with K and L. A had opted to be a 3 – 6 and just have fun in the littlies area.
We’d missed the first session, but so had several others, so the second session was more or less a repeat: first of all a demonstration and then a chance to try a few different skills before deciding what specialism to take on. In the end 6 and C went for unicycling, while K and L opted for trapeze (with Em’s E too), all of them on the basis that these were things that would be harder to do elsewhere than juggling, diabolo, poi and so forth. Other possibilities included clowning, tightrope walking, hula hooping, stilts and slackrope walking (which they did in the evenings anyway). Specialisms chosen, they were then expected to focus on getting together a performance for the show on the final day. This meant working fairly solidly for two sessions a day – a total of five hours or more. You can imagine how tired they were by the end of each day! I was particularly impressed with C and 6’s dedication. Unicycling is hard! Lots of falling off, lots of bruises and lots of getting up and trying again. Eventually C decided she had too many bruises and needed to stop, which actually worked out well since Em’s R needed a poi partner, but meant that 6 was now on her own – and still picking herself up and carrying determinedly on. By the time of the performance she was able to travel a few metres by herself and about twice as far with a shoulder to lean on, which may not sound much but is an impressive achievement indeed. Several of the circus performers maintained that they had taken at least a week to get anywhere much on unicycle and the only way to get results is to do as 6 did and just keep trying. I’m told www.unicycles.com is the place to look…
In the evenings there were shorter sessions for the adults. On Thursday Em and I tried hula hooping and both earned ourselves some impressive bruises between thumb and fingers, then on Saturday M and I braved the trapeze, which was hard but fun. It’s now several days later and I can still feel the effects on my arm muscles and have bruises on the backs of my knees! It gave us some appreciation of what the children were doing πŸ™‚
It seemed silly to be so close to where my aunt lives and not visit, so once I’d recovered from dangling upside down on a trapeze we set off, to find that my cousin, his partner and their children were there too, so we had a lovely family time together – dashing back just in time for A to take part in the talent show as part of a (very small) human pyramid.
Sunday, the last day, was spent by the children practising final routines, by A playing with friends and by me striking camp. It all (just!) fitted into one car, which meant Bob didn’t need to come and help πŸ™‚ Much as he’d have liked to have seen the performance, it would have been a long way to come just for that and a few bits of tent!
After lunch was the big moment: the show. It was great! So much effort had gone into each act and nothing went unrewarded. Obviously with only a few days of practice many of the acts were far from impressive, objectively speaking, but each performer was applauded for what they had achieved and those who dropped more balls than they juggled got no less enthusiasm than those who had clearly spent their time taking skills they already had to a higher level. We all loved all of it πŸ™‚
We’re looking forward to next year already!

Sky Skills Studios

Some time ago I found a list of free trips for schools, one of which was to Sky Skills Studios. I asked a few friends if they thought it sounded interesting (they did) and then emailed to ask if the sessions were open to HEors as well as to schools. The response I got was very positive – not only were they happy to welcome HE groups but they’d be very grateful to have the word put out that this was the case πŸ™‚
We ended up with a group of 28 children, mostly HE but a few ex-HE or friends/family of HE, which was just about the right number and gave us a nice balanced 7 in each group (oh! the pain of making groups! I agonised for hours to make sure everyone knew someone and each group had people who’d chosen different skills and… it all seemed to work in the end, anyway πŸ™‚ ). We’d been told that 6 adults could go in too, but in the end all the adults who had come were invited to go on the tour and then given a token for tea or coffee and the choice of using the token or staying with the children for the studios part. HH and I decided we’d better stay, while everyone else went off to enjoy some corporate hospitality (and didn’t even bring us a cup of tea – sob!).
It was fab! The tour was interesting – and our group got to brush past Parkinson in the corridor! Sadly I was so busy counting heads and checking we had everyone that I didn’t realise until too late that it was him, but I’m told it definitely was πŸ˜‰ We saw where programmes are made, including weird spongy rocks, designed to be able to be rolled up and carried from place to place for instant studio dressing, admired a Β£300k camera, peeked into rooms where editors were busy doing their thing and other rooms where people get to watch sport all day, checking for transmission quality. The highlight of the trip, though, was the work the children did in the studios. We’d chosen Natural Disasters as the topic, so the aim was to produce a report which the groups would write, present, film and edit in four sections. These would then be put together to make one report, a copy of which would be put onto USB drive wristbands for each child to take home and keep. The first group had the task of introducing the topic, the second did a slightly wider report, the third had on-the-spot reporting and interviews with eye-witnesses and the fourth wrapped it up with a discussion of what could be done in future. They were all fab and it was really interesting to see how the different groups worked together and the results they had according to the different approaches the tutors took with them and the dynamics of the groups. Definitely something worth doing again, perhaps in a year or so and with a different topic πŸ™‚

A quiet beginning…

Monday was quiet – lots of catching up on sleep, some catching up on jobs, a fair bit of music practice, quite a lot of unpacking and a small amount of repacking. J was returned to us at about 10 in the evening (thank you, Michelle), ravenously hungry (this seems to be a fairly permanent state just now!) so was fed and sent to bed forthwith.
Tuesday was much the same, but with a little added gym for 6 – the waiting list for normal lessons was too long, but holiday sessions are easier to arrange. Fortunately L’s spare leotard, on the big side for her, proved a good fit. I’m sure 6 has grown since she arrived; there is more of a height difference between them now than there was.