On 1st July 1838 British scientist Charles Darwin, biologist and explorer, presented a paper to the esteemed Linnean Society in London, on his theory of the evolution of both mankind and animal life. He followed this in 1859, after years of controversy from fellow scientists and the Church, with his book, On the Origin of Species. The fact that Darwin was claiming, with fossil and bone evidence to back him up, that life had evolved rather than been created by God, was highly controversial in the nineteenth century. Even with the catalogue of physical material supporting his theory of evolution and natural selection (often known as the survival of the fittest), it was still refuted by many. Today it is accepted as fact by most of us, but there do still remain those who will debate the truth of evolution and the way it challenges the story of creation found in the Bible.

For such religious reasons, despite the majority of the population believing that Darwin’s theory is fact, the subject of whether or not evolution should be taught in schools remains an emotive one for some. The struggle to teach evolution is at its most desperate in the USA, where in places even Biology teachers can be afraid to teach it. Indeed, A Penn State news report from 2014 even stated that, “despite 40 years of court cases ruling against teaching creationism in American public schools, the majority of high school Biology teachers are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary Biology.”

In Science (2011), political scientist M. Berkman said, “Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America’s classrooms… Only 28 percent of those teachers consistently introduce evidence that evolution occurred, and 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism.”

The situation in America in 2018 is no more enlightened. Some states of America, such as Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, have passed laws that permit public school teachers to teach alternatives to evolution. Yet this desire to teach Creationism rather than Evolution comes just as scientists are concreting Darwin’s theory more solidly year after year. An article in Live Science for example, says that, “Evolution by natural selection is one of the best substantiated theories in the history of science, supported by evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including palaeontology, geology, genetics and developmental biology.” Preeminent scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky goes further: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

While evolution is facing a lack of teaching in parts of the USA, it is taught in the vast majority of schools across the UK. In fact, in 2008, the Church of England issued an unexpected apology to Darwin himself. Reverend Dr. Malcolm Brown wrote, “Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still… But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet…”

The answer to this debate, which is clearly unlikely to be one hundred per cent agreed on in the near future, would surely be to teach both the theory of evolution and the story of creation to all school children across the world, no matter their religion or background. Only by laying out the evidence can people make up their own minds, rather than have their minds made up for them by the educational, religious or political situation in which they live.

It was on 4th July 1862 that a river outing on a sunny day in Oxford gave Charles L. Dodgson – better known as Lewis Carroll – the inspiration to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Travelling downriver with the Liddell family, from Folly Bridge to Godstow, Dodgson (Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and lecturer in Mathematics), made up a story along the way about a bored little girl called Alice (after Alice Liddell), who goes looking for an adventure. At Alice’s request, Dodgson agreed to write the story down. Although he began to work on it the very next day, it took him two and a half years to complete.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was eventually published in 1865. It was instantly loved by both children and adults; consequently the first print run of books ran out very quickly. So what was it that appealed to readers and made Alice such an instant and enduring hit? There is no question that the story is quirky, almost sinister, and it could be this quality that holds the greatest appeal. It is, after all, the story of a girl trapped in a dream world where people are executed simply for planting the wrong coloured roses for the Queen of Hearts, where food and drink can alter your body size and everyone seems just a little bit mad.

Both Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde can be counted amongst the books’ earliest readers, it has never been out of print in 153 years, and has been translated into over 178 languages. Perhaps its initial popularity can be put down to it being the first children’s book published which wasn’t written to teach a lesson. There is no moral tale here. It was just written with the enjoyment of the story itself in mind.

Along with the reading of the book itself, there are many film adaptations of Alice’s story. The most regularly viewed are the Walt Disney film, with its distinctive bright colours and accompanying music, and the contrasting darker version by Tim Burton, which gives more tense take on Alice.

Not only has Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, been made into a number of movies and television shows, it has also, since its copyright expired in 1907, come to life in comics, computer games, appeared on t-shirts, numerous illustrated works, and spawned a whole host of accompanying merchandise that increases in popularity year on year.
Something about Alice appeals to part of everyone’s imagination. It is silly yet serious, joyous yet disturbing, and ridiculous enough for you never to forget that, deep down, it’s all a dream.

From Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, to Liz Fenwick’s The Cornish House, Cornwall has provided the backdrop to some of the bestselling fiction of all time.

Inspired by the landscape around her, Du Maurier’s novels, which were largely written at her home, Menabilly, near Fowey, give an instantly recognisable image of Cornwall gone by. From the smugglers of Jamaica Inn to the tension of Frenchmen’s Creek, if you didn’t already know her books were set in Cornwall, the scenic descriptions alone would immediately give it away.

For many authors and readers, it is the landscape of Cornwall itself that provides the atmosphere for their story. Neither is it confined to suiting just one or two genres: From the romance of the sandy beach to the suspense and adventure of pirates and smugglers’ tales, to the chills of a deserted, haunted tin mine; even a dose of crisp Cornish sea air can tell a story.

Cornwall, originally Kernow, retains a sense of separation from the rest of Britain. A proud Celtic land defined by incredible geology and geography, surrounded by the sea, devoid of motorways, and set off against the bleak majesty of Bodmin Moor, it is a terrain that simply provokes imagination. Potters, artists and writers alike have honed in on its inspirational qualities for centuries. The narrow roads habitually marked with a distinctive strip of grass down the middle, and the abundance of cream teas (jam goes on the scone before the cream here), makes Britain’s most South-westerly county the perfect setting for romances and women’s fiction. Contemporary writers such as Jenny Kane, Karen King and Philippa Ashley take full advantage of its romantic appeal: the possibilities of getting lost along Cornwall’s hedge-lined lanes, only to be rescued by a handsome stranger, for example…

Television has taken Cornish-based fiction to its heart over the last fifty years. The current retelling of Winston Graham’s classic Poldark novels on television has led to a massive increase in tourism to the Charlestown area, where much of the action is filmed. The dramatic landscapes alone are a great pull for the screen audience, and it has also meant the Graham novels are selling at a rate they haven’t done since Poldark’s last televised adaptation in the 1980’s.

It not just British audiences who flock to Cornwall to visit the locations of its fiction, though. German readers are aware of a phenomenon known as “Pilcher mania.” This refers to the deep love the German reading community has for the work of bestselling novelist Rosamund Pilcher. Such are the numbers of German tourists visiting Cornwall to see the various locations of Pilcher’s novels that in 2013 The Guardian researched the issue. Although the novels were popular in their own right, it was only after The Day of the Storm was shown on German television in 1993- which was watched by 8 million viewers- that the Pilcher trail was set up. “The directors film it so well,” says Mark Pilcher (one of the author’s four children), “that it has moved on from people buying my mother’s books to Cornwall actually selling them.” Claus Beling, who came up with the idea of turning Pilcher’s work into film believed the success of the adaption was down to a general German fascination and nostalgic longing for a more traditional world, “…where a village is still a community in which everyone looks after one another.” This nostalgic feel that Cornwall evokes is certainly part of the appeal of Cornish fiction in general. We are reminded of childhood holidays, of carefree seaside moments and a freedom that everyday adult life denies us.

Cornwall is not the only place in the UK which inspires a profusion of fiction, of course. The Cotswolds, with its picture-postcard villages, and the striking scenery of both the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland, are all locations which guarantee an author sales, simply because so many people enjoy books set in those places.

Whether you are inspired by the sight of Tintagel and its association with the tales of King Arthur, the children’s classic, Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper, or you are beguiled by Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn, there is no doubt that Cornwall has a “certain something” that keeps readers coming back again and again for some ‘Cornish set’ fictional escapism.

In the Northern Hemisphere the longest day of the year falls on 21st June. This day is often referred to as the Summer Solstice or Midsummer’s Day. But why is this day so much longer than average?

As the Earth rotates on its axis, parts of the world move closer to the sun, while the rest moves farther away. It is this tilt which brings it nearer to the Sun that is force behind the solstice. On 21st June the Earth’s axis tilts 23 degrees at the same time as the Sun reaches its highest point of altitude. The result is that, with the exception of the Polar Regions, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the longest period of daylight hours of the year on that day.

In the UK and Europe the longest day is usually 21st June, but due to the curvature of the Earth, the highest altitude of the Sun occurs on a different day in a few locations over the tropics. In areas where the sun is directly overhead (within both the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn) there are two different ‘longest’ days. This is because the Sun crosses directly once on the day before the solstice and once on the day after.

Occasionally the summer solstice falls on June 22nd in Europe; although it is very rare. The last time this happened was 1975 and the next time will be in 2203. This occasional variation of a day, or a few days as you get nearer the equator, is because the earth orbits the sun in an ellipse and not a circle (or sphere), and its orbital speed varies slightly during the year.
The Winter Solstice, or the shortest day, which occurs on the 21st December in the Northern hemisphere, works in the opposite way. The Earth is orbiting at its furthest point from the Sun, and so we experience long periods of dark skies and therefore a shorter day.

The longest day traditionally marks the first day of summer in the UK, just as the 21st December heralds the start of Winter. However, just because the Summer Solstice is the longest day, it does not guarantee that it will be the hottest, or even warm. Traditionally the Summer Solstice has been a time to celebrate the planting and harvesting of crops. This ancient idea is still celebrated by some to this day; most famously commemorated in England by the Druid communities who gather near Stonehenge to watch the sun rise over the Heel Stone.

When my son chose his GCSEs neither of us mentioned his dyslexia; there was no need. The moment we began talking about academic subjects and exams, he knew we had entered a realm in which he is automatically disadvantaged. It’s a realm that makes him visibly nervous and noticeably reduces his confidence. And he’s only too aware that it’s a realm his siblings have thrived in, easily outstripping him at every turn.

My dyslexic son has always had an uncomfortable relationship with reading and he dreads writing. Spelling is a total mystery to him. He is easily distracted from his studies as printed words and numbers inevitably fail to hold his attention if anything else, from a snoring cat to a buzzing fly, is in the vicinity. We both know his memory is terrible.

Over the years I’ve encountered “experts” who’ve implied dyslexia is a beast best subjugated through hard work and willpower. Armed with the hefty, clumsy weapons of extra work, support and tests, every dyslexic should, according to them, fight the good fight until they emerge victorious. If at first the dyslexic doesn’t succeed they must try, try, try again… until they’re the same as everyone else!

These experts do not understand dyslexia. If my son attended school then I have little doubt we would be pressured to obey this well-intentioned, results-driven but ultimately unrealistic model. Because the majority of children, teachers and examiners do not have dyslexia, non-dyslexics have precedence in our nation’s education system. Sadly, this leaves dyslexics misunderstood and struggling to keep up with their peers. The expert approach swallows up their free time with supplementary work and usually only serves to dent their self-esteem.

Home-schooling has, without a doubt, increased and improved my son’s options. He has more freedom to choose GCSE subjects he feels confident about passing, he can defer exams until he’s ready to sit them, isn’t obliged to study ten unrelated subjects per-week, and isn’t being compared to two dozen non-dyslexic classmates in every lesson. Whilst his results are important to us, we as his family view him holistically, not through the narrow lens of academic performance. His GCSE studies take up part of each day but do not dominate his time as a six hour school day followed by homework would; six subjects are studied rather than ten. This has given him more time to pursue his hobbies and interests, which are the things he loves doing  and excels in – the things his dyslexia doesn’t affect.

All this can lead to the questions, am I raising a snowflake; is he a lad so protected from the realities of life that he’ll melt at the first sign of hard work?

My answer is no. I’m helping my dyslexic son to pick his battles wisely. Amongst the GCSEs he’s chosen are Maths and English Language. He will have to work harder than most to pass these difficult, core subjects even though he is studying less overall than he would do in school – the six subjects instead of ten. Because his progress will be much slower and more laborious than other children’s this is a more realistic and fairer goal.

Dyslexia is not a monster that can be fought and defeated. It cannot be slain by gritty determination and hard work alone. However, I believe it is possible to accommodate the limitations faced by dyslexic children. For my son, this has been helped by our decision to home-educate.

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original TV series that has been heavily criticised. Season 1 of the series followed the story of Hannah Baker and why she committed suicide. Hannah made 13 videotapes, each one about a person who caused her suicide. They were watched by her friend Clay.

In series 2, Hannah’s ghost follows Clay around. Series 1 was controversial as it raised issues around suicide and male to female rape, but series 2 has led to far more controversy. The series raised a number of painful and controversial issues – male to male rape, physical violence, bullying, mental health issues, suicide and more. Many felt that it promoted bullying and violence. The violence has been described by critics as disgusting and unnecessary. The target audience of the show is teenagers, even though it is rated 18. Many have expressed their upset at watching scenes that have happened in the show, particularly the physical and sexual assault in the male to male rape scene. However, the show’s creator, Brian Yorkey, says, “it doesn’t even come close to the pain experienced by the people who actually go through these things.” A correct response, but perhaps not enough to satisfy the detractors.

The second series has been heavily criticised, but it has also been praised. TV has a big impact on people and the way young people think about things. The media can raise important issues and awareness. For example, Mental Health Awareness Week raises issues for all of us about the people who are suffering mental health issues. Ford UK placed a video on their website and produced adverts about the elephant in the van – that we are afraid to talk about mental health issues and encouraging men to talk to each other. On the other hand, you have to remember that the press and any media has an agenda setting function. It decides what is important and what we should know. This means that we do not always get an unbiased view of what we are learning about through the media and films.

Do TV series like 13 Reasons Why inform us and then encourage us to share our experiences with others who can help? Netflix commissioned the Institutional Review Board of Northwestern University to find out and found that the majority of 5,000 parents and adolescents interviewed who watched the show found it beneficial. Some of the relevant statistics can be seen below.

• 75% said they had experienced similar issues.
• 69% said that they thought the show was helpful for people of their age.
• 56% of parents said that the show had encouraged their children to open up and talk about the issues in the show.

This research, which of course was carried out on behalf of Netflix, suggests that the show is beneficial and helpful in encouraging people to talk about the issues raised. Others still criticise the show saying it encourages suicides, violence, teen shootings, vigilante behaviour and exposes teenagers to violence. The Independent also raised the point that it could even result in suicide contagion or copycat suicides. There has, some other statistics say, also been an increase in suicides after the graphic descriptions of suicide in the show. How such a  result is found can be something open to debate, however. Can it really be put down to a television programme? Not everyone who commits suicide will have watched 13 Reasons why, and if the numbers considered only include those who have, that may provide some rather unreliable findings. Questions or calculations can be somewhat loaded to ensure the “right” answers are found. And there is another thing we also have to consider when people call for programmes like this to be banned: freedom of the press and media censorship. Should we ban programmes? There is no real answer to the question.

If there is one thing I would say about the controversy, it is this: we have to encourage programme makers to seriously consider WHY they are making these programmes and what they aim to achieve. A more substantial response than “it’s not as bad as the real thing” to its critics would be a start, and could put out a lot of the fires raging around it.

On June 215, 803 years ago, King John famously signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede, near Windsor. This document was to become one of the most important manuscripts in history. The King only agreed to sign this ‘Great Character’ after the barons who opposed his total rule of the country and England’s lands overseas, captured London in May 1215. This act of violence, with threats of more to come, left John with little choice but to agree to sign the charter, and thus create peace between the Crown and the rebel barons.

Speaking at the time of the Magna Carta’s 800th birthday, historian Justin Fisher said, “Magna Carta is a cornerstone of the individual liberties that we enjoy, and it presents an ongoing challenge to arbitrary rule. But over time, while not envisaged at the time of its drafting, Magna Carta has for many been seen not only as a foundation of liberty, but also one of democracy.”

At a basic level, the Magna Carta stated that everyone in the country was subject to the law, even the king (a clause that King John was particularly opposed to). In all, there were 63 clauses to the charter. Only three of those remain on the statute books today. The first of these concerns the defence of the liberties and rights of the English Church. The second agrees to the liberties and customs of London and other towns across England. The third (originally clause 39) is possibly the most important of all when thought of in context to all the periods of history between the thirteenth century and now. It gave all English subjects the right to justice and a fair trial. This clause says, “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

Despite these fine words, few men and women in England were actually free in the thirteenth century. The country was run under the feudal system, which gave everyone a strict class within which to live. However, the bill did establish a principle of fairness – that no one should be imprisoned or wronged outside of the legal system.

Although little of the original clauses in the Magna Carta remain as laws today, what has remained is what the document between the Crown and the State symbolise. As Justin Fisher explains, “From this principle of the rule of law and equality before the law comes the inspiration for declarations of human rights.” The Bill of Rights of 1689 in Britain, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789 in France, and the Bill of Rights in the United States in 1791 all grew from this first principle established by the rebel barons who opposed King John. From those later laws the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948, and ultimately, so too was the British Human Rights Act of 1998 developed.

Back in the thirteenth century, King John hated the limits the document forced upon him. He was so determined to get revenge upon his barons that he wrote to the Pope, who agreed to destroy the charter. He annulled the document, calling it, “Illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people… null and void of all validity forever.”
Despite this, the Magna Carta has been reinterpreted by every generation since it was first signed, with a view to make a fairer legal system- and even develop a democratic country. Although the concept of democracy was but a dream in the thirteenth century, by the seventeenth it was beginning to be debated and linked to the idea of all men being equal in the eyes of the law- just as stated in the Magna Carta.

While the Magna Carta may not be obviously relevant to our own daily lives, 800 years since its conception it has come to stand for things we broadly take for granted: democracy, social equality and a fair legal system – as important today as they always have been, and perhaps even more so.

You only need to walk around any library or book shop to see the vast array of literature available to read or buy. Fiction, non-fiction, comics, magazine, newspapers – not to mention the millions of stories and factual works stored on the ever-growing Internet – is readily available everywhere.

The choice of genres is also growing. Gone are the days when you simply read crime or romance, horror, fantasy or science fiction. Every genre now has a myriad of sub genres of their own. There are ghost stories, steampunk, cyberpunk, high fantasy, dark fantasy, romantic comedy, chick lit, westerns, thrillers, manga, fan fiction and much more. But why are we inclined to read one genre over another?

It is often the cover that makes you pick up a book for an initial flick through. However, even when a book attracts you visually, if on closer inspection you find the book is horror or dark suspense, and you don’t like being scared, of course you’ll never read it. Literature isn’t only about pictures after all. Though the sub-genre (or mainstream genre?) of the graphic novel could argue otherwise. Such discussion on what can be classified as what is perhaps most acutely highlighted here, and could form an entire blog on its own!

When it comes to crime and mysteries, readers often enjoy the intellectual challenge that goes alongside the reading process. To be able to solve the ‘Whodunit?’ with, or before, the detective can be very satisfying. Crime fiction is largely consumed by people who enjoy word or logical puzzles. A mystery draws you in and keeps you hanging until the end. It is hard to put such stories down because you need to know how the story ends.

Other people like a more relaxed read. A good romance or work of ‘chick lit’ will provide a satisfying read whilst giving an ending you will be happy and comfortable with. In a world where workday stresses are on the increase, there has been a rise in the number of people both reading and writing this sort of ‘feel good’ fiction. It is the journey that is important in these books – the process of two people meeting and getting together- often in ways which the reader can relate to. And it is this reliability that makes such novels so popular.

Personal preferences of genre not only differ from person to person, but are also dependent on mood. If we are having a stressful time, it is more likely we’ll read a book we’ve read before than a new one, for instance; something where we can simply enjoy the immersion of reading without having to worry about the ending. When life is going well, then we are more likely to read something more challenging.

In a Market Match survey in America in 2012 it was found that men are more likely to read non-fiction than women. The same survey saw that 55% of the women questioned read fiction regularly. Young adults were more likely to read fiction; whereas those aged 75 or older read nonfiction the most. Gender differences in reading habits have been noted in the UK as well. In 2016 The Guardian followed up on national research showing that boys, of every age, no matter the nature of the literature before them, read fewer books than girls, and that they read less thoroughly than girls. “They take less time to process the words, lazily skipping parts with abandon. And they choose books that are too easy for them, meaning they fail to move on to tougher material, it is claimed.”

The genre you read  is most likely the one you feel you can relate to most. There are so many books and so many authors because we all have varying tastes and geographical and educational backgrounds; We will all  have different views on what is or isn’t romantic, what frightens us and what makes us laugh. This is entirely a good thing, too, as we need a variety of literary genres because, as a worldwide reading community we are as wonderfully diverse as the literature available to us.

With the forthcoming wedding of Prince Harry and Miss Meghan Markle on 19th May it is easy to forget that another royal celebration is not far away. On 2nd June this year, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 65 years since her coronation; her Sapphire jubilee.

The Queen was crowned in 1953, in Westminster Abbey, aged just 27. The ceremony took place just over a year after she came to the throne in February 1952. This long gap between her ascension and her coronation was due to the fact she considered it improper to hold a coronation during her period of mourning. Unlike the anniversary of her ascension to the throne, which the Queen sees primarily as a personal occasion remembering her father, the anniversary of her coronation is cause for celebration. That said, when talking to The Telegraph newspaper in 2015, on the occasion of becoming the UK’s longest reigning monarch, the Queen said of her record that it was “not one to which I have ever aspired.”

Such was the enthusiasm for the Queen’s coronation that millions across the country managed to watch it live, even at a time when such viewing figures were unheard of and television was still relatively new. In London, people lined the streets to watch see the Queen and Prince Philip go by in their carriage. Street parties were held in celebration across the UK and the Commonwealth, and commemorative coins and medals were issued.

Some travelled from abroad to be there. Many Canadians came to see the coronation, for instance, while for those back home, on the very same day pilots from RAF Canberra flew BBC film of the ceremony across the ocean so it could be broadcast by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. In fact, this was the first non-stop  transatlantic flight between the United Kingdom and the Canadian mainland. In all, 750 commentators across the world broadcast the ceremony, with it being translated into 39 languages. Consequently, more than twenty million people worldwide watched the coverage of the Queen receiving the Crown Jewels and taking her place on the throne.

For the 65th (Sapphire) anniversary special coins will again be issued, including a brand new 50 pence piece which has the final words of the Coronation oath, that Queen Elizabeth spoke during her coronation speech: “The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.” Other coins have also been released for collectors, including an unusual £4 coin and a star shaped silver coin worth £149. (See here for more information- https://www.bnt.org.uk/events-themes/the-queen/65th-anniversary-of-queens-coronation)

So, only a few weeks after Prince Harry and Meghan start their married life together, the bunting will be up again to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s II outstanding lifetime of devotion to her country.

Are you thinking of home educating abroad – in Spain, for example? In Part 3 of our “Spanish Adventures” blog series – written with packing boxes piled around me as we approach the end of our 6 months here – I’m going to share my top 5 hints and tips for a successful long term stay in the Spanish Costas.

Language

We’ve spent the past months enjoying the winter sunshine of the Costa Tropical on the south coast of Spain – the third time we’ve spent an extended period here when the cold and dark days in the UK get too much for us all. When we first decided to come, we were told that we’d all just “absorb” the language by being in amongst it, which I mentioned in my first blog (link: https://www.oxfordhomeschooling.co.uk/blog/home-schooling-adventures-spain-part-1/ ), but it turns out that this just isn’t the case. We’re effectively immersed in English just by being together as a family, and it takes a lot more work that we’d expected to be able to learn Spanish. There is nothing better than talking to a native speaker to be able to improve your spoken Spanish, as well as getting your ear in to understanding it. Many Spanish people want to improve their English and there will be no shortage of people happy to meet for a coffee and share some learning, and you’ll make new friends at the same time. The friendliness of the locals has been extraordinary, and their openness to supporting our Spanish learning has been wonderful.

Siestas and Fiestas – being prepared!

Opening hours in Spain are somewhat unusual to the English shopper, to say the least! Most shops will open at 8, or 9, or 10. Usually they close at 2, and open again at 4.30 or 5, until about 8pm and almost everything is closed on a Sunday. They may display their opening times at the shop entrance, but these are unlikely to be hugely reliable! This can be frustrating to home educating families who do “school” in the morning and then decide to head out after lunch – only to find that everything is shut for the next few hours. Watch out also for the shops that close at 2 on a Saturday and then don’t open again until Monday! Siestas are one thing but Fiestas such as the Fiesta Nacional being celebrated in the picture above (or even the more local ones) are a much bigger thing. If there’s one thing that the Spanish love, it’s a fiesta. Almost everywhere is closed on a big fiesta day, including some restaurants and bars, and as some fiesta days (and many bank holidays) are on Mondays you can be stuck without access even to a supermarket for several days at a time. Be prepared!

Winter rents

Coastal towns in Spain are packed with empty apartments and villas over the winter, closed up and ready for the busy summer season. Long term winter-only rentals can be found for a fraction of the cost of summer periods, especially for stays of a month or longer, frequently a quarter or a fifth of high season rates. Estate Agents, however, are often unhelpful, and can charge up to a month’s rent in commission, so my top tip here is to ask around rather than relying on them to find your winter home. Post on local Facebook groups, ask in shops, talk to people in the playground. Word of mouth is your friend here.

Town life starts at 9…pm!

Go for a meal in a restaurant in Spain, arrive before 8 in the evening, and you’ll most likely be dining alone. Many families don’t even think about eating before then and not until 9 is it that you’ll see tables start to fill. Playgrounds are frequently packed with small and medium-sized children until past my own bedtime, and the town plazas (squares) will be lively twilight spaces, filled with socialising adults and scootering children. It is common for music festivals to start at 1a.m. and go on until 5a.m., when bag-eyed adults stagger home for a couple of hours of sleep before heading in to work the next day. Despite spending so much time here, I still have no idea how they do it – it exhausts me just watching them!

Churros and Chocolate caliante

My final top, unmissable tip is churros and chocolate caliante. Churros are sticks of deep fried batter, similar to a donut but with a slightly lighter consistency. Served warm and freshly cooked with lashings of sugar, then dipped into thick, syrupy hot chocolate, churros are a love/hate treat best enjoyed as a family breakfast. Many towns have pop-up churrerias which appear on Sunday mornings, and sometimes they’re available in chiringuitos – restaurants and cafes which line the beach, or town restaurants. There is much to be loved about Spanish cuisine, and whilst it’s fair to say that churros and chocolate caliente isn’t the height of gastronomy, it’s still a not-to-be-missed experience of life in Spain.

We’ll shortly be leaving this amazing place and returning to the rain of England, but Spain will continue to hold precious memories and wonderful times, and invaluable, life-long learning experiences for our children, and also for ourselves. Spain is a wonderful country, and I would highly recommend it to home educating families.

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