Inside the Creative Cauldron – The Barefoot Books UK Ambassador Conference 2012

The Barefoot Books Studio, Oxford

Where do I start with this amazing weekend?  I just love the Barefoot Books Ambassador Conference.  It’s one of the highlights of my year when our small but ever growing Barefoot Books community of artists, storytellers and entrepreneurs get together to share stories and inspiration.  We had 2 days of workshops, presentations and good old chinwags over a cup of coffee and biscuits. We took a peek inside the creative cauldron and learned some of the stories behind the stories from Tessa Strickland, the Editor-In-Chief.  Nancy Traversy, our CEO, nearly brought a tear to my eye as she shared the story of her own personal Barefoot journey with all of its highs and lows.

Storyteller Daniel Morden had me on the edge of my seat as told us some of The Adventures of Achilles. I was already pretty excited about this book which is due to be released in the autumn and now I literally can’t wait! When I finally get to read it I will be hearing the words in his captivating Welsh accent and I am so looking forward to being able to share these ancient stories with my girls.  Getting the opportunity to look at the entire creative process from rough drafts to the completed, beautifully bound, hardback book is a real privilege and I feel so fortunate to be able to participate.

The Adventures of Odysseus

Naturally I also took advantage of the chance to get my much loved copy of The Adventures of Odysseus signed and learned some great tips about storytelling from a master of the art which I will certainly be putting into practise in my own  work.   I make no apologies for my gushing enthusiasm about the whole weekend – I love beautiful artwork and I love gorgeous stories.  Needless to say I was in seventh heaven!

This year I was even asked to share some of my own expertise and present a workshop on how to hold successful home shopping events.  I received some great feedback and I’m really looking forward to doing it again and helping more Barefoot Books Ambassadors to achieve success through home parties.

Friday night was devoted to an amazing Djembe workshop where we learnt some traditional African rhythms.  I think it was a perfect illustration of the magic that can happen when you all work together and to a greater or lesser extent, that’s what being a Barefoot Books Ambassador is all about.  We’re part of an inspiring community of women (and men) who are committed to bringing beautiful stories and fantastic illustrations into the lives of children everywhere.

Playing the giant sized Children of the World memory game

But what were my children doing while I was busy enjoying myself?  One of the best things about being a Barefoot Books Ambassador is their total commitment to making sure that the kids have a great time too.  The whole family were invited to a delicious dinner at The Perch on Saturday night where we were entertained by the Barefoot Busker, John Ruddock, who performed a great selection of Barefoot Singalongs and other music.  The girls spent Friday and Saturday exploring Oxfords many museums with their dad (The Pitt Rivers Museum is an absolute must see) as well as popping in and out of the studio throughout the day.

In the Storytellers Chair!

On Sunday we spent the whole morning together in the Studio where they had their faces painted, listened to stories, played games and enjoyed a lovely organic meal from the Storytellers Cafe before we made the journey home.  You really couldn’t ask for more.

To top it all off I actually won the most beautiful Donkey puppet in the prize draw!  I ADORE puppets and he is just perfect (not to mention the fact that I never usually win anything, ever!)  This puppet must be magic because he can talk my youngest into doing whatever I can’t get her to do.  He is a very welcome addition to the family!  All the Ambassadors also received a goody bag packed full of the latest book releases, marketing materials and even some lovely foot treatments to make our (bare) feet scrummy.  I feel totally spoiled and totally inspired!  Thank you Tessa, Nancy and the whole of the Barefoot Books team for giving us such a fantastic weekend.

The Genius of Leonardo

I thought it was about time I wrote a little something about our first Barefoot Book Club, especially as I’d promised a tutorial for our craft activity quite some time ago.

For those of you that don’t know I have started running Barefoot Book Clubs with our little home ed group here in Plymouth.  I find that out of all the subjects we cover in our unschooling “curriculum”, literacy is one of the hardest to explore without being part of a group.  I believe that understanding and exploring stories is a largely a collaborative process, and that discussion can play an integral part in getting the most out of a really good book.

Does that all sound a bit formal?  It probably does, but actually our Barefoot Book Clubs are a very informal space where a group of children can gather together to hear a story, discuss the text and create a little something to take away with them.  Oh and there’s plenty of cake and biscuits too!

For our first Book Club, The Genius of Leonardo seemed like the perfect place to start.  It is the story of Leonardo da Vinci’s life as seen through the eyes of his 10 year old apprentice, Giacomo.  The book has some beautiful illustrations by Bimba Landmann and features many original quotes from Leonardo’s own sketchbooks such as “Giacomo has come to live with me.  He is 10 years old.  He is a liar, a thief and a greedy brute.  He eats as much as two boys and causes as much trouble as four”!  Do you know any kids like that?  Quite a few of our book club participants do, or so they say!

Of course, the story of Leonardo is one that’s particularly relevant to home educating families such as ours.  For him there was no difference between art, science and maths, they were all integral to helping him understand how the world works and he had a great deal of reverence for the natural world too.  Not only that, but Leonardo didn’t go to school himself.  As a child born out of wedlock, traditional schooling was not an option for this great man.  Instead he did much of his learning as an apprentice to the sculptor and painter, Andrea del Verrochio.  Until he surpassed his master, that is, and went on to become the genius he is remembered as today.  So I guess Leonardo could be the original example of how far unschooling can open the imagination and lead to great things?

I was a bit worried about having a group of 12 kids in my house for a two hour session of story, discussion and crafts but all the kids who came were fantastic.  We had some great conversations about Leonardo’s approach and had a look at some of his original sketches.  They did an amazing job of answering questions about the story and all of them made their own sketchbooks to take home with them and record their own discoveries and ideas.  With an age range of 3 – 10 years old it could have been bedlam, but they all did brilliantly and are almost all coming back for our next Book Club session, with the exception of a couple who can’t make it due to other commitments on that day.

If you want to know how to make your own sketchbook then check out this tutorial. I got all of our materials from our local scrapstore at Plymouth Play Association.  We used wallpaper for the covers and adjusted the design slightly by doubling up some of the paper and using hole protectors to make the sketchbooks more durable – I’m a great believer in making things that will actually last!  All the resources such as wordsearches and crosswords for the kids to take home with them are available to you as a Barefoot Books Ambassador, as are the discussion questions for the book if the thought of coming up with your own fills you with dread!

Running a Barefoot Book Club is such a great way for me to earn money as a Barefoot Books Ambassador and to provide a fun learning experience for my kids and their friends at the same time!  I absolutely love it and the girls and I are really looking forward to our next get together which is almost fully booked already.  The kids have chosen The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales so I am scurrying around looking for craft activities and materials to help them make the most of their club.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Birthdays the Frugal Way

Wow it’s been a really busy couple of weeks at the My Borrowed Planet house and the icing (literally) on the cake was both my girls having their birthdays this week.  Quite a few people have expressed their surprise (OMG!) at the fact there is only one day between each of their special days.  Yes family planning was not my strong point, but one thing I know is that birthdays don’t have to be expensive.

I guess I am lucky in a lot of ways.  My girls don’t expect a lot in the way of gifts – even my eldest who I must admit received far more presents in the 6 years before her little sister came along than she ever has since.  In fact, my 10 year old is now soo anti-corporate it makes me smile. She can often be heard exclaiming “How much? What a waste of money for a load of plastic rubbish!” when she sees adverts for the latest must-have toy on the telly.  My youngest is just happy, pretty much all the time.

I have what I consider to be a reasonably large budget for their birthdays of around £40 each.  Their gifts tend to be a mixture of new and second hand and naturally include a lot of the home school resources we will use over the coming 6 months such as games, puzzles and books.  By that time its Christmas of course so having their birthdays so close together actually works out pretty well.  Our extended family and friends also tend to give gifts that will enhance our play based learning curriculum so I’m really grateful to them too.  Crystal growing kits, flower presses and art materials are the perfect gifts and the girls are looking forward to a trip out to a rare breed’s centre where they will get to feed wallabies with their granddad as an extra special birthday treat.

The only downside to having two birthdays so close together is the slight overload of cake, but to be completely honest it’s not really a hardship.  Their dad made some amazing creations this year (he’s gotten so into baking since he’s been unable to work) and made the TARDIS console for my eldest and a pink Dalek for the littley.  They cost less than £3 each and tasted awesome (I must post some pics).

Of course, we should really be getting back into our normal homeschool curriculum today, but to be honest we’re all suffering with festival flu and are absolutely exhausted.  The weather outside is rubbish too so I thought I’d catch up with some blogging and let them spend the day playing.  After all, isn’t that what play-based learning is all about?  I will go and join them in a minute, just as soon as I finish this post.

I’d be interested to know, however, what you think of our low cost birthdays.  How much do you spend on birthdays and what do you get up to?  Do you think I’m an old meanie for keeping things simple or is it a refreshing change in today’s increasingly hectic (and expensive) lifestyle?  Please leave your comments below! x

Read Alouds – The Homeschooling Glue

I absolutely love this post from Practical Pages about the importance of reading aloud with your kids 🙂

Practical Pages

Jan van Eyck 059

It is the last week of our winter break and we have enjoyed time off the school schedule, but we have kept reading our read aloud each evening.

Our story is just too exciting to put down and my kids groan if I stop for bedtime.

Read Aloud books are like glue that holds our learning and journey together.  Even older siblings join the younger children to hear the story again – it is a treasured family time.

We pack read alouds for  travels.  When we travelled for over a year, I fitted all my homeschool essentials in one on-board travel case.  Most the space was taken up with books and a few other odds and ends.  Our stories were constant thread amidst the changing and uncertain scenery of our lives.  And despite  the lack of regular schedules, the read alouds kept us growing and learning…

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Success with Barefoot Books – The power of story and why we NEED more story tellers today!

Story Telling at Plymouth Volksfest 2012We had a fantastic weekend storytelling at Plymouth Volksfest 2012.  Four days of sitting in a field listening to some great local bands while my kids got to enjoy unlimited bouncy castles, face painting and craft workshops for free.  How did we get such a great opportunity?  Because mummy is a storyteller!

I’ve been story telling with Barefoot Books for over a year but this was our biggest event to date.  It literally came about after a chance conversation with one of Plymouths play leaders a couple of weeks before.  I’d mentioned that I had dropped some of my writing clients in order to concentrate on Living Barefoot and found out that a story teller was needed for Plymouth Volksfest. A quick phone call and we were booked for the weekend, and what a fab weekend it was.  I would say it was one of the most successful events I have done with Barefoot Books so far.

So what kind of stories did I tell?  As a Barefoot Books Ambassador I  have a fantastic selection of stories from around the world so I picked a few of my favourite anthologies and away we went.  Top stories for the weekend came from The Barefoot Book of Monsters (sadly out of print right now but available as a collection of early reader chapter books), Tales of Mystery and Magic and The Barefoot Book of Princesses, but there were a few surprises too!

For example, only one child had heard the story of The Princess and the Pea before! I couldn’t believe it.  It was one of my favourite stories as a child and one that I always used to play act when getting out of the bath (she was so wet that you couldn’t tell where her hair ended and the rain began).  Well we soon rectified that one and many more kids will be wondering about the royal museum where the pea is still on display.

Another shocker for me was that although the vast majority of children had heard the story of The Gigantic Turnip at school – not one of them knew the moral of the tale!  When asked why it was the hungry little mouse who got the turnip out of the ground every single one of them thought that it was because he was super strong.  Oh no, dear children, the mouse wasn’t that strong.  The reason the gigantic turnip came flying out of the ground when he joined in was because it doesn’t matter how small you are you are big enough to make a difference – and if you all work together you can do ANYTHING you want!

So goodness knows how they tell stories in schools (I’m soo glad we home ed) but it seems to me that whoever told them that story totally missed the point.  Stories are there to help us learn about the great concepts in life, to explore universal themes that transcend culture or religion and to help us to realise that no matter where we come from, as human beings we share a commonality that has lasted throughout the generations.

One thing I learnt this weekend was that the work I do is as important and relevant today as it has ever been throughout history.  Telling stories is how we connect as human beings.  Sharing them with others creates a special kind of life and energy that cannot be recreated through the commercialisation of childhood which is sadly so omnipresent in our society today.  The closeness and the intimacy of gathering a group together to share a good tale is something totally unique.   Despite all our modern technology and the ability to share information at the click of a button, nothing comes close to the experience of sharing a story.

Storytelling at Plymouth Volksfest allowed my whole family to have such a fantastic weekend.  I can’t wait until tomorrow when we’ll be doing it all again and taking the story tent to Freedom Fields Community Festival too.  We really need more story tellers throughout the UK, though, so if you’d like to become part of the Barefoot Community then why not join us as an Ambassador?  The starter kit is just £59.99 until the end of June which means you can be all ready with everything you need to make story time an integral part of your family’s life too.  Love Living Barefoot ♥!

Just some of the stories we told at Plymouth Volksfest 2012

The Story Tent before the festival opened

Sharing a story with mum after a whole lot of bouncing!

Find out more about becoming a Barefoot Books Ambassador!

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