Over the Summer Jenson had been curious about how the landscape might have looked millions of years ago. It had planted a little seed in my head and inspired last week's trip to Dorset.
The scope for learning has been HUGE! We've covered 250 million years of history in just three days. I didn't realise just how much we had crammed in until I got chatting with some of my school Mum friends. The children are off to the Black Country Museum in the next couple of days and it made me realise that they probably only go on about one trip per term if that. Jenson meanwhile had three trips to three different museum and visitor centres in just three days. Not only that but we were the only people in these places, which meant he had all the exhibits to himself.
The trip didn't get off to the best of starts. Jenson and Wren's Grandma arrived to look after Wren which made Jenson feel like he was missing out. I practically had to carry Jenson out to the car such was his refusal to walk. He remained in this mood for the whole two hour journey. The only highlight was when he randomly started to count. First of all in units of 1 to 100 and then in units of 10 to 100, then units of 100 to 1000 and finally units of 1000 to 10,000. I have since learned that his classmates are only just starting to count in units of 10, which gave myself and my school Mum friends a giggle!
I had booked a Shepherd's hut for us to stay in and we arrived early on Tuesday morning. It was in the most idyllic spot - overlooking lush fields with horses grazing and not a soul to be seen.
The interior was equally as quaint - small but perfectly formed!
I unloaded the car but couldn't unpack Jenson, who laid sprawled out on the back seat like some sulky teenager. I got going with breakfast. He did eventually pull himself from his LEGO to enjoy 'camping eggs' as they became known as and a mug of hot chocolate. Breakfast turned out to be rather enjoyable, Jenson was super company.
I had booked us onto a guided fossil walk at 2pm in nearby Charmouth so we headed over for 12 and enjoyed a few hours exploring the beach and heritage centre.
Turns out Jenson loved the heritage centre and in particular the sand table, where fossils were buried for children to excavate. You can imagine that in the school holidays this place is packed with families but today it was just the two of us and quite a few ageing American tourists! It really does make such a difference to ones experience when you don't have to feel like you're fighting for your child just to have a five minute turn. Without the pressure of any other parents or children Jenson must have spent a good hour and a half sat at this table sweeping sand off various different types of fossils including an ammonite, belemnite, ichthyosaur and sea lily, which as the warden below pointed out, is in fact an animal - a distant cousin of the star fish. You can tell this by the fact that when you look at a cross section of its stem or leg it is star shaped.
Our walk got under way with a twenty minute talk taking us through the different types of fossils we could expect to find on the beach and the types of rocks to look out for - some lend themselves to fossils more than others. The most common fossils we would find would be ammonites, belemnites and crinoids or in laymen's terms - spiral, bullet and star shapes! I was impressed with how well Jenson listened to the warden and he even put his hand up a few times too!
We were so busy looking for fossils that I hardly took any photos. I did catch this moment though of Jenson with one of the wardens. Right at the start of the walk I had told Jenson to stick close to the wardens as they were likely to find the best fossils and if he was lucky they might give him one. They did but he found plenty of his own too and often I would look up to see him running away along the beach clutching a stone to show the nearest warden hoping with all his heart that it was actually a fossil and not just another rock. His confidence and enthusiasm was wonderful to see.
The weather hadn't been kind to us all day but back at the house the rain really started to come down. I persevered with the BBQ nonetheless while Jenson looked on at the toils of his mother from the snuggly interior of the hut!
Despite the less than idyllic BBQ conditions I still managed to cook the fish fingers to within an inch of their life and we still managed to enjoy a super supper tucked around the back of the hut sheltering from the rain. Really special memories for us both to treasure.
Not even the rain could stop toasted marshmallows!
The drizzle turned into a downpour and we retreated inside. It was only 7pm but we snuggled down top to toe in bed and we went through the fossils we had found. I read Jenson various stories from the past, in particular one about Mary Anning - a very famous fossil hunter, and I talked him through the different geological eras and explained that the fossils we had found were from Jurassic rocks.
LEGO always features strongly in anything we do and chatting eventually gave way to LEGO building while I read up on Lyme Regis - our trip for Wednesday.
We started Wednesday morning how we ended Tuesday evening - snuggled up in bed building LEGO and reading fossil facts. The rain was lashing on the window pains so I made us a couple of bowls of cereal each and we ate them in bed. The talking continued and we covered more geological time periods, in particular the Mesozoic era that encapsulates the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. We also read more about the Mary Anning story. Jenson had lots of questions, which was great. He asked about how the dinosaurs had died so we went through various extinction theories, the two main ones being asteroid impact and flood basalt eruptions.
Our first stop in Lyme Regis was St Michael's Church where Mary Anning's grave is. The view distracted us initially so staggering was it, but we eventually got down to the business of trying to find her head stone. It was fairly apparent which hers was given the number of fossils that people had laid around it. Jenson seemed quite reflective as he knelt beside the grave and looked at the fossils. I helped him to read the words on the headstone.
Next we visited the Lyme Regis Museum. Again, we had the place to ourselves so were able to enjoy the exhibitions to their full. This massive shoulder blade is from a whale and I took a photo of it because Jenson was easily able to recognise what it was without being told - this is off the back of our fox reconstruction where he came across a very similar looking shoulder blade, all be it a lot, lot smaller! A brilliant insight for him into animal skeletons and the differences in bone sizes.
He was most impressed by this LEGO model of an ichthyosaur! LEGO models pop up in the most surprising of places and this one was no exception.
Apart from the whale shoulder blade and LEGO ichthyosaur there had been nothing that had really seized Jenson's imagination throughout the entire museum. It was when we reached the education room at the end that he came to life - the interactive nature of the room lent itself to his hands on approach to learning.
The video microscope provided him with a fascinating close up into various fossils including ichthyosaur poo!!
It was this puppet theatre that perhaps proved the biggest hit though. Such a clever way to engage children and bring the past to life. Jenson absolutely loved talking to Mary Anning and her family, playing with her dog, Tray, and listening to her story. She was quite the clever girl as it turns out - quizzing him on various things such as what the very first fossil was that she found, (ichthyosaur), how old she was when she found it, (11) and who had been with her when she found it, (her brother, Joseph.) She also asked him what geological era her fossils were from, (Jurassic) and what other fossils she is famous for finding, (plesiosaur and pterodactyl). She told him that when she was a baby she had been struck by lightening and explained how her father had died when she was very young. She continued to hunt for fossils after he died to support her family who were very poor. She told Jenson that her best friend was called Elizabeth Philpot and she would borrow books off her to teach herself about fossils as she didn't have enough money to buy her own.
The story held Jenson's attention. He was engaged, alert and totally absorbed in what we were doing. It was a brilliant teaching tool.
We took a break for lunch and then enjoyed an ice cream on the famous cob before walking round to Monmouth beach in search of the ammonite graveyard. It's a very famous limestone ledge where the fossils of thousands of ammonites are revelaed at low tide.
We quite literally walked over millions of years of history and did some rubbings using crayons too.
We spent over four hours fossil hunting and playing on the beach. Below is a picture of what we found.
We didn't arrive back to the campsite until quite late but it was a beautiful evening and so I lit the BBQ and we enjoyed another wonderful evening together.
The customary marshmallows followed and what Jenson made next blew my mind. He ran into the hut and came back outside clutching various LEGO pieces. He told me to sit back, relax and watch. A few moments later he had created a marshmallow holder!
He even made a stand for it which had a handle for him and another smaller handle for bunny...
...there was also a small compartment for crumbs.
This surge of creativity continued late into the night.
This took us round to Thursday morning when we tried our hand at making some nettle tea over breakfast. We then loaded the car and headed home.
On our way back we stopped at Seaton-Jurassic - a brilliant interactive educational centre for children. We were the only ones there so received plenty of attention from a very helpful member of staff who was dressed up as a Victorian time traveller.
Jenson received his Time Traveller Pass - a little book filled with thirteen questions that you had to find the answers to as you moved around the different zones. It's a good idea and a great way to engage the children in what they are learning about.
It was a pity he was so tired really. His first encounter with the legendary Charles Darwin was one to remember - they both look about as miserable as each other!
Jenson's mood improved dramatically when he entered the time travellers ship. It is a brilliant interactive piece where children can take the helm of the ship and sail in search of Jurassic sea creatures. They were all computer generated but the experience it gave was just fabulous. We saw ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, sharks and ammonites.
This is the time travelling ship.
Next we ventured into a giant life size rock pool where we learned about why we have low and high tides and that it's all to do with the moon's gravity pulling the seawater towards it and vice versa. Jenson dressed up as a jellyfish and took on the cuttlefish challenge which was all about camouflage.
The trail took us outside and onto the subject of sustainable fishing, and what a brilliant interactive piece it was. Using the fishing rods Jenson had to try and catch the magnetic boards and reel them in. On each board was a different fish or sea creature such as a crab, lobster or muscle. There were certain instructions too. Too small and it had to be put back, too big and it could be kept and thrown into the ice box. Lobsters carrying eggs must always be thrown back. Different sized fish had different requirements with some needing to be bigger than others in order to be kept. There was a measuring scale inside the boat where Jenson could measure his catch and work out if it was big enough to be kept. It was a fantastic way to hit home about conservation, sustainability and marine management.
To conclude, our geology week has been a huge success. The educational experience it has given Jenson and the vast learning opportunities it has provided has been unbelievable. Getting Jenson outside, walking over millions of years of fossils in nothing but his bare feet surpasses anything that a classroom environment could ever teach. He returned home on Thursday eager to regale the stories I had told him about Mary Anning and had remembered many of the facts remarkably well. I was amazed. For the most part I had thought he wasn't listening but it clearly had all sank in. It was wonderful to hear him talk so enthusiastically about it all and I can't wait to explore this part of the coast with him again really soon.