Beeston Castle – our diary of learning

I was thinking of how valuable trips and visits can be at the same time as having a mini panic about how/when/why to keep a record of J’s learning; I think I’m a bit stuck in “school” thinking – Where’s the evidence?  Where’s the evidence?  I’m (really!) hoping that ultimately, I will calm down a bit and settle into just enjoying our journey, but I had a thought.  It would be nice to have a record of trips and visits, even if it’s just to remember the interesting/funny things J said when he’s older.  So I have decided that each time we go somewhere, I’ll write a diary entry of our visit with a little note about any skills J has developed that day and some questions I asked him about the day at the beginning.

Hopefully, when he’s older, he may want to keep a record himself.  If not, then I’ll just keep on with it.

So, here goes.  Our first home ed diary entry:

Beeston Castle – 20.08.13

What was your favourite bit?

The little windows.

Looking for the signs.

These were the windows in the tower around the outer wall and the clues for the nature trail.

Was there anything you didn’t like?

–          The caves were scary because they had bats and frogs in them.  Why couldn’t we go in them?

–          They were made of very soft stone called sandstone and it might have fallen on us.  It was dangerous.

–          What will happen?

–          What do you think could have happened?

–          We’d get broken

Who lived in the castle?

Knights and Kings

What were the towers and the gatehouse for?

So the baddies can’t get in.  And the drawbridge, but it had been knocked down because it was old.

-Why can’t the new one go up Mummy?

– Because no one lives in the castle anymore.  It’s just to let visitors get into the ruins.

Is there anything else you want me to write down about the castle?

No thank you.

(I wrote the diary entry with some input from J.  As I was typing, I asked him questions about what he remembered.  I did this while he was eating his tea as I had finished mine!)

When we arrived at the castle, we parked in the car park and ate our lunch.  We had sandwiches, hula hoops and a drink.  After that, we looked at the English Heritage map of the UK to see which direction we had driven in; we discovered it was South and slightly West of Manchester.  We also looked at where Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland were on the map.


We showed the man in the ticket office our membership card and he gave J a map of the estate and some clues to help him follow the nature trail.  We stood with the gatehouse behind us and looked on the map to follow the paths.  We started walking up one path towards the castle, but J wanted to go to the caves so we turned around, again following the map.  When we got there, J wanted to know why bats always live in caves.  I explained that they like dark, damp places so caves are a good place for them to live.  I asked him if he could think of anywhere else dark that they could live – he suggested tunnels.


J and I used the map together as we walked around the circular woodland walk.  We talked about how we could tell where we were from the shape of the map and by keeping the wall on our left because it was on the left of the path on the map.

On the way, we saw lots of ferns, redcurrants and funghi.  We talked about why it can be dangerous to eat woodland plants even if they look like things in the kitchen at home.  We thought we saw some ivy climbing up the walls.  J also found “some oats that made porridge.” We briefly talked about how after these are picked, they need to be processed before they can be made into cereals.


We saw that some trees had been cut down; J thought this might have been because they were blocking the path.  I said this was a good point and also that the trees might have been rotten and needed to be cut down before they fell and hurt someone.  We looked at the clean, smooth lines made by an axe.  Later, we compared them to a fallen tree.  We could see all the roots where they had come out of the ground; we could tell that this tree had fallen because the roots were all jagged and broken. We also discussed why trees have roots and how they keep a tree anchored into the ground in addition to drawing up water from the soil.


We counted all the steps as we climbed up the hill (there were 35 and J counted with me to 20).  J knew that castles are often at the top of hills because it gives a good vantage point to see the baddies trying to approach.  J wanted to know who lived in the castle.  We discussed the fact that the Castle was built during Henry III’s time but that Richard II must also have visited because he was supposed to have hidden some treasure in the well.  J was excited to search for the treasure and couldn’t wait to get to the castle.  He asked me why nobody lives in the castle anymore.  We talked about how castles were often built to keep “important” people safe and for protection and that England in the Middle Ages was a dangerous place to be.  After the Civil War, England became a lot safer and so people didn’t need to live in castles anymore and so lots of them are now ruins.  J thought this was sad.

As we walked, we found more clues for the nature trail (we had already found some by the caves and near the ticket office); each time we found some, we counted the dots, wings or whatever it was that we were supposed to count and filled in J’s clue sheet.

By the time we reached the outer gatehouse, we needed a rest.  Well, I needed a rest.  J didn’t although he did agree to have a drink.  While he drank, I read him the “story” of the castle.  We talked about how this castle was different to Warkworth castle which we visited last week; this one doesn’t have a keep but has 2 gatehouses.  J was excited to look inside the remains of the gatehouse “like a knight” and to peer out of all the windows in the towers along the wall.  J found lots of rabbit holes and “loads of rabbit poo” so we came to the conclusion that lots of rabbits must live in the area.  I suggested that they probably ran around at night when there were no visitors – wild rabbits tend to sleep in the day.


J was interested in why there were so many rocks on the way up to the bridge.  We thought that there probably used to be buildings in the open space that have now been destroyed by the weather so they could be remains of those.  J also thought they could have been part of a path.

He was really excited by the time we got to the “drawbridge”.  I explained that this was a new bridge across to the castle; he noted that if it couldn’t come up, it couldn’t keep out baddies.  We looked at the drop over the side of the bridge.  “That’s the moat.” J said.  I explained that not all moats contained water.  Sometimes the drop and the steep climb up to the castle was enough to keep out enemies.  “Yes,” he replied.  “The knight would shoot their arrows and throw things at them.”

He looked through the windows again from the inner gatehouse and was really excited to be able to see “another castle.” We looked on the map again, talked about how to tell which direction we were facing and deduced that it must be Pinkerton Castle.

J ran towards the last clue for the treasure trail before I had even spotted it; he then remembered that we were near the well and charged across towards it, desperate to find the treasure.  He was a little upset that he couldn’t climb down inside it to hunt – we talked about the fact that the well is very deep and used to be used to collect water to drink.  The treasure has never been found – maybe it isn’t even there at all!


We got the map out again then and tried to work out what we could see in each direction.  J had been really excited to do this earlier in the day but was getting tired and wasn’t that interested by this point.  I didn’t push it and we set off down the hill again.

We explored the woodland again on the way down; J wasn’t sure what the word ‘treetops’ meant so I explained.  “Yes Mummy, you’re right!” He said.

When we returned to the ticket office, J was given a certificate to say he had completed the nature trail – he was really proud of this.  He also liked the English Heritage stamp he was given on his hand.  He asked what “heritage” was so I explained that English Heritage look after lots of old buildings like castles so that people can go to look at them to see what the country used to be like.  It’s good to know what places used to be like so we can see how they became how they are today.


J was exhausted and slept all the way home!  He was keen for me to write his “diary” of the day and said “When I’m older, I will write it.”  I asked him if he would like me to read it as I was writing – he said “No, when you’ve finished.” So I typed it and just asked him some questions as I went along.



Map reading – finding where we are on a map of the UK and following paths marked on local maps

Directional language – South/West

Counting – to 20

History – how people lived, why castles were needed, what the country used to be like

Nature – types of plants, woodland creatures, why bats live in caves

Science – why trees and plants need roots; to anchor plant/tree in ground and to draw in water

Weather – how the weather can damage/destroy buildings if they are not protected

Language and literacy – discussion of everything as we walked around, appropriate responses to questions and appropriate questions asked.

Balance – climbing onto trees, over roots, up stairs, hill walking






Grow your own…

J used to be a great eater when he was little but about 6 months ago, he decided to become a fussy eater.  I say decided because it certainly seemed to be a conscious decision one morning.  We went along with it, mainly because we had no intention of letting meal times become a huge battle while we tried to force vegetables down his throat.  In the long run, we were sure that was going to do him a lot more harm than just not eating his carrots.  At the same time though, we were worried.  Well, I was.  DH quite sensibly decided this was just a phase.

At the same time, I was teaching a topic about the life cycle of plants in school and I swear, it was the most deathly dull topic I have taught in my life.  Animations of bees and powerpoints of flowers opening are not fun.  Especially when you have a field full of insects and live plants outside.  I digress….

Nevertheless, this gave me an idea.  What if we grew our own plants, our own vegetables, thought about the environment around us and really explored what happened.  Perhaps then J would eat his veg.  And if not, he’d certainly learn all about pollination and the responsibility of keeping plants alive and nurturing them.

The first morning, we headed to the garden centre for seeds.  We looked at different seeds, talked about the seeds and J was really interested to know why some looked so similar to those he had seen scattered around Nana’s garden where the birds had dropped them.  He enjoyed the garden centre so much that he decided he’d like to make his toy shop into one.  So we wondered about, looked at all the things for sale and decided what to buy.  We ended up with a few plant pots as J thought we had everything else we needed at home.

We’d already collected compost and enough seeds so armed with our purchases, off we went.  It was still freezing so we decided to plant in the conservatory instead of straight outside even though the packet said we could.  This sparked a great discussion about the weather and the snow and ice and climate change.  I couldn’t believe the conversation I was getting from a 3 year old – just because he was excited.  At the same time, I was sad though – thinking about the kids at school who had zero interest in the same topic.  If only I could do this with them.

Everything was eventually planted and I headed off to the kitchen for a brew; when I came back, J had lined up all his plant pots on the floor of his garden centre and had filled them with his left over seeds.  “1,2,3,4,5…” he counted sunflower seeds into one pot. “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10” He counted strawberry seeds into another pot.  “You have to put lots in mummy because they won’t all grow.  Or the birds might eat them you know.” I couldn’t believe it

counting     growth

He then decided he had better tidy up or “the dog might eat them like the birds” and went off to write a shopping list of more seeds we might need just like he had seen the lady in the garden centre doing when she told a customer she would order some exotic plants in.

Now, this was all months ago but the excitement of it has come back to me again – first last week as we harvested the first courgettes and then again today when his sunflowers opened for the first time.  J gave his grandma very clear (and very polite) instructions for how to keep his plants alive when we were on holiday and she followed these to the letter.  He asked her not to cut the courgettes down even though they were getting big as he wanted to do it himself when he was back.  And who wouldn’t?  He had, at the tender age of 3, waited patiently for months for them to grow.


So last week, we harvested them.  Now they were more like marrows by this point but boy, did they make delicious soup.  And J ate every single bit of it!