Newsletters as a “home ed project”

Finding therapeutic parenting strategies that work is so imperative to life with adopted children, not least because they need to not feel like they are “bad” or “naughty”; you’ll likely find that most adopted children have at some point felt like they are inherently “bad” and that it’s their fault that they can’t live with their birth parents. And that certainly is the case in our house!

Logan in particular struggles to see the good in himself, I mean, Caitlin does struggle with it but she does have rational moments where she can see her try self. Logan is barely able to see anything good about himself at all. And if you can’t see the good in yourself, you surely cannot value the good of other people. And if you cannot value the good of other people, you cannot feel the love given to you and accept that good things happen to you at the hands of other people.

This causes us no end of battles, we do lots of positive things with Logan and Caitlin. And so we have (read “I”) have been thinking of ways to reiterate the positives with him. And as we don’t see the Grandparents often and the children love having pen pals, we decided to make it so that the children write a newsletter of the things they have been up to each month to the Grandparents.

They have to look through the photos of what they have been up to in a month, and then select their favourites and provide a caption for each one. The selection process really forces him to be faced with a concentrated whack of “Wow! Mumma sure has arranged a lot of fun stuff for us this month…” and it’s hoped that the reiteration if that message in his brain will allow him to remember that positives are occurring from outside sources. They then write a “paragraph” in the cover letter (literally a sentence or two) on the laptop so are getting familiar with the keyboard. And if we have done something special in the month (Halloween being the last one) we do a “special” on it together.

On top of this, the grandparents send the kids a challenge each month. It could be something academic (like a book review), something craft-based (making a dream catcher), something physical (going for a walk), something nature based (counting bugs/birds), research based (finding out who the Wombles are). Anything, in short.

And everyone wins. The kids get a lot of therapeutic feedback, and reminders of how good things are now. Despite the stress of actually getting the task done, I get a lot of positive back from the children and I inadvertently get to see how they are coming along (caption creativity, spelling, memor). And the Grandparents, who see us infrequently get some insight as to what we are up to.

Below are some examples of challenges they have had to get up to.

Review: Seaquarium Weston-Super-Mare

As Granadad and Nanny were in Burnham-on-Sea having a holiday, we decided, it’s really not all that far and we haven’t seen them in a while so we should go visit them. The plan was for a beach day, but we chose to go down on a day when the weather was drab. Though for us that’d normally mean “yay waterproofs”, Nanny and Grandad were on holiday with Ariella’s step brother Jamie. Jamie is on the ASD spectrum and doesn’t do much outdoors, and definitely not much that involves rain.

After much searching around for a plan, Jamie agreed that he’d be happy to go to Weston-Super-Mare and visit the Seaquarium. Again my inner (ethical) conflict came to the surface, but still we went. And I will try and review this without letting that come to the surface.

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The Seaquarium was well thought out, utilising different angles of the same tank as viewing space in order to maximise the size of the main tank (with tunnel). The tanks all looked clean and in good order and there didn’t seem to be overcrowding in any of the tanks. There was a good variety of sea life on offer and the aquarium offered up lots of opportunity for learning, not just of the view-able sea life on offer, but also about ecological and environmental stability.

As the ticket is valid for re-entry all day, we went around a second time. But the second time we did the treasure trail that we didn’t know was on until we got inside the first time. It was quite good, clues related to the sections of the aquarium. Each section had a board for them to go to so they could stamp it with a punch. And at the end they had a pirate related prize.

Situated on a pier of its own on the sea front between the Grand Pier and the old Tropicana pool, it is in a prime location. There is nearby roadside parking which is quite expensive (if memory serves, £10 for the day), but the nearby shopping mall was slightly cheaper so we parked there, which was a reasonable walk. It was by no means a cheap attraction, but was on par with other attractions of its type (£9.50/adult and £7.50/child). Discounts offered for carers and also (we found out) to West Midlands Safari Park pass holders (as they are operated by the same group).

Please note, this is a review based on our personal experience and opinion. The Seaquarium didn’t know we were going to write this review. 

Review: National Trust The Firs (Elgar Birthplace Museum)

The property is situated just outside of Worcester about a 10-15 minute drive from another National Trust property we visited on the same day (Brockhampton Estate). It is set just back off the road and is a relatively small property and has a relatively small car park and overflow.

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The entrance to the property itself is via the visitor centre where you can find a lot of information about Elgar, book your time slot to visit the cottage itself (they have to control the numbers in the cottage due to its size) and find out what’s happening on site that day. I shall not reproduce information about the property, details of it can be found here. I have to say, I really wasn’t expecting much out of this trip, but actually I was pleasantly surprise by how much was on offer, in terms of to see, learn and do.

 

 

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Like many other National Trust properties there are summer activities here for children. They had storytelling in the garden (free) and also puppet making in the foyer (£1.50/puppet). The lady, I forgot her name, running both of these on the day was lovely. Logan was really struggling with boundaries that day (as in restrictions on what he should/shouldn’t do and personal space), and she was very patient with him.

 

 

We also had quite some hunger after our little jaunt at… so I got me a pea soup and the children shared a cheese sandwich, between us we shared 2 slices of Victoria sponge and the children had a juice each whilst I had a Sicilian lemonade. The bill came to just over £21, 1 sandwich, 1 soup, 2 slices of cake and 3 drinks. I felt the prices for the drinks were on par with high end prices elsewhere, and the price of the soup/sandwich was reasonable. But the cake, at £3.25/slice; I was expecting more than just a dry sponge with a thin layer of jam. It really was quite stale.

However, was too tired to argue it and face the wrath of the children after the promise of cake. It was dry enough for me to need to go and get a glass of tap water, which is on offer in a dispenser. However, it was empty so I approached the counter to be met with an expression of displeasure and inconvenience. I had already paid for drinks, but nonetheless the feeling I got when I approached for tap water was very uncomfortable.

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It’s definitely worth a visit.

This is a genuine review and all opinions are based on my own experiences during the visit. The National Trust are not funding my visits, we have a year annual pass that was gifted by a family member as a Christmas present, hence our numerous National Trust visits. 

Review: National Trust Brockhampton Estate

The property is entered directly from the A44 between Bromyard and Worcester. About a 10-15 minute drive from another National Trust property we visited the same day (The Elgar Birthplace Museum – The Firs). The long, high wall on the outer of the property gives an indication of a vast estate, but it doesn’t prepare you for what you encounter.

After driving a few minutes down a single track road, surrounded by open countryside and grazing sheep you get to a lay-by and a little hut where you are expected to pull over. A National Trust member of staff comes to greet you and ask what your plans are for the day (so they can give you directions). It’s here that we found out we weren’t actually “here” yet… the actual house and gardens are a further 1.5 miles drive through the estate down this single track. The beauty cannot be escaped though – even the children were making sounds of awe as we turned the corner downhill towards the Lower Brockhampton estate. And then again as the road became tree lined. And then cheers of excietment when they realised we were at the car park and the much anticipated end of journey was nigh.

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The medieval manor house (entered by a cute little gatehouse) takes you through much history and is very well presented and provides a lot of information. This is a house with no roped off areas, so you can really get up close to the displays and furnishings. And in one of the upstairs rooms there’s a chance for dress up; though the children didn’t actually dress up on this visit, the house is a bit dark which added an eerie feel, they didn’t want to stick around too long upstairs. With short films available in a room at the back taking you through how the house was opened, archaeology days and the like.

 

 

 

 

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There is a lot more information to be found on various signs around the gardens and also in the courtyard by the Granary shop and kiosk (which we didn’t use on our visit, as we didn’t have need to). You can find a lot of information about the history and uses of the estate and some of the history of the chapel, as well as some information about agriculture.

 

 

 

 

The chapel is in ruins, but still has 4 walls and and is in good enough a state to get some kind of feel for space and layout. And previous archaeological digs have found remnants that give an indication of how it would have looked, so there are pictures of that too. The children thought it was very cool to see the font in position in the chapel. More history about the property and the site can be found at their website here.

 

 

 

 

The grounds are vast and as such we didn’t cover much of them, there are many walks but we didn’t come prepared for off-roading with Caitlin (we had the standard town-friendly wheelchair, and no carrier). We did try, but after rolling through a lot of sheep poop, and flicking it everywhere as the wheels spun, we decided to call it quits and hope that we may be able to get back there on another day for a walk (perhaps with Bruce, so he can share the carrying duties hehehe).

 

 

 

Whilst we were there, they were running the “Make do and mend” trail, where the children got to hunt for different things whilst learning about how people used to make do and mend. They found it both interesting and fun and were excited to chose their prizes at the end. It was an additional cost of £2.50.

This is a genuine review and all opinions are based on my own experiences during the visit. The National Trust are not funding my visits, we have a year annual pass that was gifted by a family member as a Christmas present, hence our numerous National Trust visits. 

Review: DIY Tribe – workshop and sewing kits

We were recently at the Green Gathering festival where The DIY Tribe came and gave some sewing workshops.

Jo was friendly and engaging, the children taking part in our camping group were aged between 5 and 10 and all came with us. Though there were adults and teens at the same session not in our group also enjoying themselves. The session was well prepped in terms of plan, supply of equipment and materials and back ups. If anyone was struggling Jo was attentive and encouraging in the way she approached helping them. She was also flexible to the members of the group who wanted to go in their own artistic direction (and come up with their own designs).

If I had an event where a workshop of this nature was suitable/required, I would not hesitate in asking for The DIY Tribe. More information about the workshops here.

The children were very excited to bring home their makes. They absolutely loved that it was “real sewing, stabby needles and all” instead of the “babyish needle sewing” they have in kits from friends and family. In fact, when I told them we had kits at home, from The DIY Tribe that I had previously got, they were very excited.

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The kits at home

The excitement from the workshop didn’t disappear when we got home. In fact, even though they have now completed their kits at home they are still very fired up in terms of creativity.

The kits came in very cute and neatly packaged little boxes, with the loose materials tied inside the main piece of fabric and then a good quality embroidery hoop, real needle and some paper instructions complete with templates. The kits are designed so that the children have a more real world experience of a sewing project; aside from having collect the materials (it’s all provided) they have to do everything from cutting templates right through to pinning the cut outs to the fabric to sew. All of the preparation is done by them. The only thing you need to add to the kit is a pair of scissors.

The kits are aged at 8+. Aged a little above and a little below that age with motor difficulties a little guidance was required (mostly help with knots) and they both pricked themselves (and me) a ton… but it’s all part of the development and learning process and left us all in giggles. No tears were shed. It was definitely suitable to both of their needs, they just both needed differing levels of support to complete it.

They loved watching their kits slowly evolving into their own little masterpiece and you could see the sense of pride and achievement grow with each stage. It also helped Logan, who’s very much a “I want it finished yesterday” kind of boy in understanding somewhat that sometimes it takes time to achieve what you want to achieve. But the level of difficulty in this kit means the end goal is attainable, though still has an element of challenge (in a positive-learning experience kind of way). And the different materials and stitches required meant that it wasn’t all just the same old technique which made it more fun.

 

In all it took about 1 hour to complete their projects (around 10 minutes prep, 40 minutes making time and 10 minutes clear up). The children are very proud of what they have achieved and cannot wait to frame their projects ready to present them to their grandparents for Christmas (yes, we are collecting our projects through the year to give to the grandparents for Christmas – so Grandparents, we hope you are not reading this).

More information about the kits can be found here.

NB. This is a genuine review. At the time of writing Jo and The DIY Tribe have no idea that this blog even exists (to my knowledge) let alone that they’d be reviewed.

 

Review: Green Gathering

Set among the beautiful scenery of Piercefield Park in Chepstow (adjacent to the racecourse) the festival is in an easily reachable location (easy access to M4, A48 and A40/A449). Only a short distance from the town centre of Chepstow itself and with views across the Severn (and the old bridge).

The children have never been to a festival before. Camping yes, but not at an event. So this was going to be their first taste; we knew we may not get the full festival experience (due to their issues), but none the less I grabbed the camping gear, and packed the essentials (and the essential essential oils – for use on cotton pads to disperse the likely moods giving us the best chance of staying). We packed all we’d need, and managed to get all of it (and ourselves) into the car with some success. Now just to get it all there and get pitched.

When I got to the car park, it was about 45 minutes ahead of gate opening. There were 2 attendants in the car park, directing cars, but very little information about “what next”. There were 2 areas of fencing, with a box office hut next to one. We assumed we needed to queue near the one for wristband exchange (we did) and that the other area of fencing was the bus queue (it was) but it was all guess work. So we dumped our bags in what us early arrivals had mutually decided must be a queue of sorts for the buses and headed over to queue for the wristbands at the booking office hut. Some clearer signage or a steward overseeing this would have helped, but it did all work out (though must mention here also – we were on the first bus – the bus drivers had no clue where they were going/if they’d fit etc. some extra communication to them may have been helpful).

Queuing, getting to the bus etc. actually helped ease my stress levels – suddenly I was able to see the warmth, kindness and character of the people I would be sharing the camp with for the next few days. And I was at ease. So many different types of people, yet the phrase going around in my head was “Community of strangers” (note the emphasis on unity). Everyone so friendly and ready to help everyone else.

This continued over into my access to the camp; pushing a wheelchair, carrying bags and supervising 2 children – I had help all the way. And then when pitching the tent (with friends) a teen boy approached asking if anyone needed help – known to the friends I was pitching with. He was very helpful indeed and was rightfully rewarded in snacks (despite his suggestions that offerings were unnecessary).

 

The camping facilities were ample. That is to say, they were festival-like; festival camping isn’t about the facilities, sure you have the basics a supply of water, a field and somewhere to toilet (in fact there were even some showers – which we didn’t use). Fire pits and barbecues are normally allowed but due to the heatwave the last minute decision was taken to ban any on site (for the safety of everyone). Thank you precious one ring stove… you saved us (not that we’d have gone hungry with the amount of food on site).

This is the bit where the toilets are discussed, cause let’s face it – it’s important… people of sensitive disposition should just skip right over this paragraph and onto the pictures below. Now, having been a seasoned festival-er (back in the day) I have seen many things toilet-wise, from cesspits with cubicled benches over, where you quite literally can see your neighbour’s poop dropping into the stinking concoction of blue chemical, poop, vomit and urine; or she-wees handed out for women to use urinals (and walking in to find people taking a poop in it)… I was ready for anything. But sightly worried about the reactions of my daughter who’s got sensory issues like mad. However, this was much more civil. Cubicled rooms, with a wheelie bin for waste and compost collection. And to be honest, if people are following the “1 poop, 1 scoop” rule, it doesn’t actually smell either. Regular cleaning and restocking of toilet rolls too.

 

 

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Though we didn’t really have much opportunity to get involved with the music performances, we did experience some of  the music and the atmosphere as we did our nightly walks, or from afar in the day; there was, for sure, much talent to be heard and the atmosphere was vibrant, happy and safe. The children really struggle where it is obvious there are drunk people; whilst people may have been drinking there weren’t any obviously drunk people, or anything to leave them feeling unsafe and vulnerable. So their comfort levels are an obvious indicator to me as to the safe environment created. There was a campaigns field, many talks and short films, music, crafts field, healing field a faerie glade (lit up beautifully at night time in a magical way).

The bit where we really got involved was with the wealth of activities for the children to be engaged in: drama workshops, story yoga, circus skills, puppet shows, bubble shows, aerial hoop/silks displays, play areas, story areas… mostly free. Things such as the bunjee trampoline cost a little extra but not a lot – £1.50/go. Stories and bunnies in the faerie glade. And just some free-range play (well as close as we can get to that with the issues these two have – but in general they needed far less supervision than is normally required on them because they felt safe enough to not be destructive, or overly anxious) and socialisation with other children.

The children really loved the story yoga (they did the story of Goldilocks alongside yoga – with movements representing the story). And they also loved the DIY Tribe sewing workshop (which they had kits of anyhow, so a separate review for that is available here). The drama workshop was fantastic – the children both have real issues with self regulation and staying engaged in activities that get them worked up – they often have to walk away and come back, the guys running the workshop paid no mind to this and just went about there way including them on their return but not acknowledging or drawing attention to them wandering.

 

 

With the ban of fires, our cooking plans (a fire wok) were slightly scuppered. However, a backup single cooking ring allowed somewhat of a “back on track” solution for this (even if we had to cook in shifts). There were plenty of eateries available. Food that’s vegetarian or vegan (and due to intolerance reactions, vegan food means I am a happy camper).

I was particularly excited (especially so considering the heat) to find the ice cream van stocking cashew based ice cream – THEY EVEN HAD MINT CHOC CHIP. I swear I could have eaten the whole tub she was scooping out of. It was amazing – the best dairy free ice cream I have eaten (and believe me, I have experimented with a load). And at £2 for a child’s ice cream, £2.50 for an adults, £3.50 for a 2 scoop – I was happy to keep going back.

And the falafel, I find it hard to enjoy because it’s always either dry or like sloppy stuffing. Here it was crisp on the outside and moist in the middle. Just great. I had both a pitta and a platter during the course of the time there, with the pitta coming in at £7 and platter at £9, I’d say if you are doing it pay the extra £2 and get significantly more.

So… to conclude.

A festival with an Spring Advance ticket cost of £100 per adult, £25 for car (and nothing for children under 11) is a bargain summer weekend away with the kids, even if 2 adults are going. (Earlybird tickets are on offer now for next year so it’d be even cheaper at just £90!!!) There are lots of things (mostly free) for children to do and play with, lots of beautiful scenery as well as campaigns, music, healing, crafts, campaigns and an air of magic to feed your soul. A safe atmosphere means it’s easy to relax as a parent, even as a parent of special needs children. And of course, plentiful supply of yummy vegan, or vegetarian, food. With the ability to dip in and out of as much as you want, the ability to self cater or completely rely on the food and drink supplies available and the freedom for the children it’s really a no-brainer for a stay-cation with an awesome twist.

NB. This is a genuine review of my opinions and experience. At the time of writing, and publishing The Green Gathering festival organisers and ticket sellers have no idea that my blog exists. 

“When are you sending them back to school?”

  • “You’re getting more settled into a permanent home, the kids are more confident than they have ever been, they are actually learning now and thriving in the life you have given them… when are you sending them back to school?”
  • “How are they gonna do their SATs?”
  • “Well, what are you going to do at GCSE time?”
  • “How can you be sure you aren’t going to ruin their futures by refusing to send them to school?”

Common themes of conversations now that we are in our permanent space and settling.

Well let me put it this way, I can’t actually know for certain what they will achieve in their futures, but I can say with conviction that right now it is the best (and only) option. Their therapists have put it in black and white that with their combined issues “neither child can be in a classroom at present”. Not from my pushing, but from their personal assessment, observations and findings. A school institution cannot have a positive affect on their development, health and well being right now. But guess what? Home life does.

Right now they are trees with broken roots, replanted into healthy soil, being nurtured and encouraged to grow and develop. They need time for the roots to establish themselves and grow. Then they can flourish. And who knows, at some point in the future that may involve school. But if we put them into school right at this moment, they’d be unhealthy trees, overshadowed by taller, more established trees, unable to get enough sunlight through the healthy canopy towering above them, but healthy enough to not just topple and die. Existing, but never truly flourishing.

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I have days where I find it hard, but I am never ever in doubt that this is in the best interest of the children. Bruce is the same, he has days where he doubts whether this is the best thing for me (given that I never get a break), but there’s never any doubt about the children’s best interests. School is not in the vision. But our lives, as ever changing as they are with the children’s needs, are ever changing.

Review: Creatimber wobble board

Having been thinking about a wobble board for a long long time, I was confused as to whether one would be big enough, last long enough, be useful, be strong enough, help or hinder the developmental weaknesses experienced here. I am never worried about spending money on something if I know it’s going to get used and would have a purpose or have the potential to help. I just don’t want to waste money, or even space, by buying lots of stuff we don’t need.

After a family member had one of the Wobbel branded ones, I realised that size and use wouldn’t be an issue. But still unsure of whether it’d get much use, I was reluctant to spend out the prices. I am not at all put off by the quality of their products, I have seen them and they have a good finish, I just don’t want to spend that much and then the children not use it. And then a friend said something about their Creatimber.  Which was lower in price enough for me to think “ok we’ll try one”. We opted to have one with no felt backing as we are carpeted throughout, so it should be fine.

 

 

So, our experience. Well, its quality means it is both heavy and solid (so dropping it on your toe is not advisable – it will hurt, there will be tears). But the usage. No question. The children were encouraged to use it “however they saw fit” and the uses we have had so far:

  • wobbling side to side from
    • standing
    • seated
    • crouched/crawling position
  • as a boat
  • as a bridge to walk over (upturned)
  • a tunnel to crawl under (upturned)
  • a stage (upturned)
  • a role play shop display (upturned)
  • walking lentghways from one end to the other as it curves around
  • a very unsuccessful, but highly humorous see saw (big gaps in weight difference, hasn’t worked out yet, but some spectacular dismounts)
  • as a hill (upturned)
  • as an object to bounce bouncy balls off
  • as an obstacle in a course both ways

And this doesn’t even begin to consider the variations of each of those listed (the extra toys they have brought into it, the games they have made out of it. It is definitely worth the investment, it’ll definitely get used here, and we’d definitely recommend to others. The wobble board was shipped from Budapest, and I received order updates and shipping information relatively quickly. The product arrived within a week.

NB – this review brings me no profit, I have not been asked to review this product by Creatimber for a discount on my goods. 

Review: Spielgaben

Despite the children being a little more interested in worksheets recently, I know they learn best through what they perceive to be fun: nature walks, playing on apps (on the rare occasion they are allowed screen time), magazines, story time… and playing. So after hearing about the Spielgaben I was quite excited. Then I found out the price. At around £400 once posted, it’s not a cheap investment. So, I had to be certain I wanted it, that it’d get used. That it would help. I researched all I could about it and couldn’t find any reasons not to. So we made the purchase.

I didn’t hear anything for a few days except my initial order confirmation, but then I received shipping and tracking information and the shipment was here within 2 days after that – well the first part was, the curriculum pack. The second package was damaged by the time it reached the sorting depot. However, it arrived after a few days – the box had been repaired enough to stop further damage and this prevented damage to the actual Spielgaben itself, which arrived unscathed.

The packages contained an extensive paper curriculum (including a Kindergarten pack, play guide, inspiration pack, math guide and planar figures pack), the chest of drawers (with removable top squares board,, and a peg board that can be used both upright for pegs, and upside down for dots) and all of the bits and bobs that make up each Spielgaben set – I could list, but there are pictures above and further info on their website here.

It is surprisingly small, yet shockingly extensive and quite heavy, very well packed and nicely finished. The quality can be seen and felt. It will last for sure. The website says it is suitable for ages 3-12. There’s no question that younger children will be drawn to it “things… lots of things… yay!” But so far we have tested it on age ranges 5-10 (3 children). The 10 (almost 11) year old was the one who spent the longest with it, so actually, yes it does appeal to the 10-12 bracket too.  He sat for over an hour making picture after picture using the inspiration cards, and they weren’t all just easy for him – there were some that posed a challenge.

 

So far we have only used inspiration cards, being summer holidays we are not into a full standard routine it’s just too busy everywhere so things are at a much slower pace (and therefore less activities) than in term time. Plus, this humidity and heat we have been having have slowed things immeasurably. However, I have look through all of the curriculum. It is printed on quality paper or card depending on which booklet it is.

I can see that we will be able to get a lot out of this set. Especially for improving hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, which actually is where we have some issues developmentally. Academics will be possible too – being able to discuss the things we are creating, in terms of math or science, building stories and developing language skills. The beauty of the kit is that it will be limited only by the imagination of the user. So I have no doubt, that now that the children have begun to use it, it will get a lot of use, and that it won’t be used the same way every day. These two have quite the imagination, and it’s only likely to grow with stimulus such as this. If I knew what I know now, we would have purchased this a year ago.

I would also add, for those with siblings, we have used this kit with 3 children simultaneously – you have to think a bit about what you are going to have them doing if you are doing separate tasks, but it’s feasible. Otherwise working together “engineer (picture reader), supplier (fetching materials) and builder (performing task of actually constructing picture)” and switching helps the teamwork and communication between the children too.

 

NB I have not been paid for this review, this review is based on my personal experience and observations of the kit I have paid for in full.

 

 

 

Review: West Midlands Safari Park

First I have to say, I am always very conflicted about places such as zoos, aquariums and safari parks. Like, I understand that many can do great work with conservation projects and endangered species, or even rehabilitation efforts with rescue animals that have been hurt, kept illegally or abused to the point of not being able to return to the wild. But there are also many that are terrible, keeping animals in poor, cramped conditions; caring more about profit than animal welfare. But after a debate in a recent Eco Kids magazine about the positives and negatives of zoos and the like. And actually I decided if I want the children to make an informed choice they’ll need to experience it themselves and draw their own conclusions.

With that in mind, the following will ignore my underlying moral and ethical conflict to the extent that I would consider “fair”; that is to say, if I comment on what I feel is not ethical, it’s above and beyond the “normal” level of conflict within me.

So West Midlands Safari Park happened.  The  safari itself is well thought out, with many animals experiencing a relatively “wild like” atmosphere. I am not keen on the fact that you can feed some of the animals, it takes away from the “wild” for the animal, and is purely indulgent for the humans involved. And can end in reactions that can scare or hurt the animals. That said, on the safari drive itself, although they don’t have the masses of land they’d perhaps have in the wild, the animals all do seem to have a fair amount of space, shelter food and care. But in general the overall experience of the safari itself is quite good, the animals look happy and healthy on the most part.

The walk through area contains: Penguin Cove, Sea Lion Theatre, Lorikeet Landing, Reptile World, Creepy Crawlies, Seaquarium and Twilight Cave.

The Penguin Cove does have a medium sized pool, a “beach” area and some caves. The penguins are seemingly able to retreat from spectators, the area looks well maintained and the penguins seem happy and healthy. They have balls etc. in the water to play with. The keepers to timed penguin feeds for spectators to watch, we never attended so I cannot comment on this.

The Twilight Cave, Creepy Crawlies and Seaquarium are all housed within the same building, in a “route through” style. You can skip the Twilightcave if you do not wish to go through (it is dark, damp and has bats flying around, so if bats flying or dark, damp, strong smelling rooms are an issue – for Caitlin they are – you can by pass this). It is a large room, with freedom of movement for the bats and plastic flaps that prevent the bats from escaping. It’s not possible to see much in it, but we have been there as the room’s cleaning is just finishing – so they do ensure the place is cleaned. The Seaquarium is setup with fish tanks containing the usual suspects you’d find (nothing like an Octupus in a cramped tank or anything) and Creepy Crawlies contain usual suspects of spiders, snails, ants, stick insects etc. All of the tanks looked well maintained and clean and filled with fresh supplies of relevant food and water sources.

Similarly the Reptile World seemed adequate, clean and well supplied. I struggle personally with the size of the crocodile enclosures, and perhaps some of the larger snakes (but I don’t have sufficient training and professional background to criticise the adequacy of it all – so please do just understand that is just my personal struggle).  We have not visited Lorikeet Landing.

In all of the areas you will find masses of information about all of the animals, also access to hand cleaning facilities if you have come into contact with animals etc.

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The Sea Lion Theatre provides “shows”, which are described as part of the sea lions’ enrichment program. It is packed with educational information regarding sea lions. I cannot comment further on this, as shows are an area I do not morally agree with beyond being conflicted.

Near to the Sea Lion Theatre is the entrance to the Ice Age exhibit. This is a large area of models, information and animatronics applicable to, and representative of, the Ice Age. The children absolutely loved it (Caitlin in a slightly conflicted way, as she’s still at that young-naive, “it’s alive” kind of stage). You get to walk through the smoking volcano on your way in, and there are cracks with Lava under your feet (along with rumbling sound affects). And then an adventure through the Ice Age area, complete with little finger-trail Identification games. Then at the end you walk through an Ice cave under the volcano, which is complete with its own little “secret tunnel” which the children loved going through. Even a small child’s wheelchair could fit through.

But one of the things that got them very silly and laughing we signs like the below. “No smoking. Only the volcano has permission” and “Keep to the paths. If not, the mammoth may tread on you and that might make their feet sore.” There were many others too.

 

The Land of the Living Dinosaurs had similar signs too. And was equally enjoyable. Similar to the Ice Age exhibit it is filled with models, animatronics, information and finger trail identity games. Unlike the Ice Age area though, it has a large sand pit for fossil discovery, a themed shop and a geyser sure to attract some attention. Again the children absolutely loved it (even with Caitlins slight fear that the raptors would eat her). It’s definitely a well thought out area, and fun for all ages.

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What was also fun was noticing the evolving foot prints on the floor, on the way in and way back out… see below gallery.

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Once you are through this area you cross a small, private road (with zebra stripes on the zebra crossing) which takes you over to the theme park, the Boj Giggly Park (for the little ones), the Hippo Lakes and the African village. Despite more than one visit (you get a free return included in your ticket) we didn’t have time to do everything. We did see the meerkats briefly, and breeze past the hippos and park, but didn’t really take time there. The children, were naturally, drawn to the rides, and that’s where we spent much of our remaining time.

You can purchase ride wristbands to get unlimited rides, and really, if you plan on going on rides this is the advisable thing to do. You just show your wristband and on you get. They have quite a selection of rides you can go on, from carousel-based rides and a kiddy coaster for the littlies, to flying hippos, rhino-coaster and snake helter skelter for the slightly more adrenalin filled littlies to wild water rapids,  twister-coaster and even bigger rides for the even more adrenalin fuelled theme park go-er.

There is clear signage and height checkers around this area so you’ll know what each guest can go on (whether independently or accompanied) including by the wristband exchange area where you’d purchase the wristbands from (so you’ll know if the guests can do what you expect/want them to do). The staff are very efficient at trying to get everyone through and filling up the rides etc. And were all friendly and welcoming; trust me, I know how boring it is to repeat the same safety stuff over and over, and I have been multiple places where actually they kind of show hatred towards guests who mishear/misunderstand/ask questions etc. We did not experience this here.

Then the important bit – food of course…

We only used the Dino Diner. I mean – it has a Jurassic Park feel to it and I have 2 dino mad children. Of course we ate there. The whole restaurant is decorated to have a dinosaur feel, with various dino creatures featuring around the place. The most amazing part of the decoration though was the light shades which are themed as hatched dino eggs. The children honestly wanted to take some home with them. They can not be purchased though – the talents of team they have on park created them. I think the children would lay an egg apiece if I got them a light shade like that each.

But the food. You could argue it’s over priced if you are used to your chip shop, Spoons or McDonals prices, but actually as seasoned day trippers the menu is on par, at the lower end of the scale, of attraction prices (especially when you factor in portion sizes). The first visit saw the adults with “Chip-izza” (a plate of chips covered in pizza topping) – completely by accident, I forgot what was meant to be ordered when I got to the till and end up ordering that – which was enjoyed. And the children ordering their usual “can we get away with it today Mumma?” chicken goujons and chips. The second trip saw us order a platter of sizzling chicken fajitas for 4. Including drinks, dining for 4 was around £30-35. but you can see the prices in the above gallery.

The food wasn’t fast, but it was busy, and still came out within a reasonable time frame (the kids had started moaning they were hungry but weren’t on the verge of meltdown both times, this usually happens within 20 minutes in a busy restaurant so reasonable). The food was ok, good portions as stated before. Not of excellent quality or flavour, but also not bad. For example, the chicken in the fajitas was not bad, but it was tough. But the overall flavour was good.

You can also purchase a guidebook packed full of information about the animals found at the park. I also have to point out that I am aware that safari parks and zoos such as this do important work towards conservation, research and endangered species.

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To summarise. 

Safari park and the walk through discovery trail are mostly good (well maintained, clean and the animals are clearly cared for), it just depends on your moral position on certain aspects. But the Ice Age and Land of the Living Dinosaur exhibits are unquestionably good. Theme park is good, with attentive and friendly staffing, clear signage and ability to purchase unlimited ride wristbands. The food isn’t cheap and isn’t amazing, but it’s on par with other attractions prices and a good portion and isn’t bad either.

*** As an aside. The site is wheelchair friendly (if not hilly in places). And if anyone is visiting with adults/children who have issues with busy places (but feel safe in the comfort of their car) I would say, on arrival head straight to the car park. You can do the Ice Age and Land of the Living Dinosaurs before the Discovery Trail opens, then do the Discovery Trail before the theme park opens and then get that done before people start really coming in and queuing and making it feel busy. The safari itself can be done multiple times if you want and at any point in your day. ***