Monday, June 5, 2017

Self guided - Family Tours

As a family when we travel, we typically don't join city tours unless its the only way to see a sight. Maybe we should more often, I am sure there is a lot to learn from them, but I guess we just really like to explore on our own. We are used to DIY for most parts of our lives and we are always trying to keep our budget as low as we can.

However, we recently experienced self guided -family tours in Prague where we live and it was really great! 

This is a new product available for families travelling or living in Prague, Paris, Barcelona, and Altmuhl/Gunzburg, Germany, Rome, Northern Brittany, France and Amsterdam. More cities are added all of the time around Europe and eventually beyond. This is the website to order and learn more about all the self-guided tour products they have to offer.  

We followed the 2 out of the 3 self guided tours in the Prague Family Kit, which can be ordered here. This is how it works... You order the kit - you can receive it immediately in a pdf if you want to see right away what to expect and want to plan, then you can receive the hard copy by mail or have it delivered for free to wherever you are staying in Prague. 

What we really liked about these guides is, the fact that the kids get the chance to lead and see the information and activities as they match to locations on the map.  Our kids are 5, 7, and 9 and they all enjoyed it. There is plenty of variety in the sites/stops and interesting quirky things to find that kids like. The parents are given a guide also that provides more information about the sites and Czech history so they can give it when the time is right and let kids just explore when that is what they are inclined to do. We have lived in Prague for several years and there was a lot  on these tours that we didn't know about. The travel guides also allow the kids to have something to keep to remember their experience by. 

The guides are packed with history and learning experiences geared for kids. Its fun and interesting and it will make your worldschooling experience in these cities enjoyable and memorable. These are just different than typical guidebooks... I found them just enough information to absorb without being too much and well worth the price.

Here are some pics to show what to expect from 2 of the tours in the Prague kit. We did The Castle to Kampa and Magical Old Town

On 22 tram from our house Savannah is planning our route

Walking to first stop Strahov Monastery
Guidebook asks them to find the Czech word for library and write it.
Viewpoint to Prague, what do they see?
Loreta Palace  - Can they find where to go next?

Why are these balls here? Can they guess?
Recommended stop for refreshments. Would  have never known about this place...
Entrance to what feels like a secret playground

Nice place to rest and catch up on filling out guidebooks

Fun task of hiding treasure
Savannah's choice for hiding treasure
Buried treasure waiting for a lucky person to find!
Can they find this and why is it there?
Which way do we go now? Did they find the next clue?
Lennon Wall - the kit comes with chalk for them to add their own message to the famous wall
What is this goblin doing here, never noticed it before!
David Cerny's famous babies, what is this all about?
Yellow penguins in the river, Prague is full of surprises
They loved filling in the books
Municipal House, walked my here many times, never looked up!
Can they find a hidden picture in the mosaic and fill in the answer?
They then get to make their own mosaic with materials provided
What is this? Another hidden surprise I never noticed before
Walked through the Old Town Square many times, never noticed this!
Can they find the clue here?

Another quirky surprise
The famous sweet shop, finally found it!
Kids are tired by now and once they have found the clues it gives them the answer to a special Czech treat in a traditional Czech sweet shop

I would definitely recommend adding these guide books to your next trip to Prague and likely to the other cities on available (though I haven't tried these). As a family who has traveled a lot and attempted to make it fun and educational, these make that job a lot easier. 

Message from Prague's famous Lennon Wall 

My favorite new message on the wall
Cheers, from the Barnes Family

Monday, May 16, 2016


We have tried a bit of this and a bit of that over the 7 years we've been parents and lived and traveled with our 3 kids.

I started out gung ho homeschooler, with lofty aspirations of speeding through curriculum and achieving all sorts of goals... Brooke was a pretty willing student most of the time, she learns quickly and likes to learn.

Then reality hit with faced with doing this in a respectful, inspiring way with kids with their own opinions and paces of life, so I started to learn about child led learning. I had, as people say... a major "Aha moment." I could feel a switch in my head while I was reading a certain book, I believe it was "How Kids Learn." that now looked at learning as proactive discovery rather than passive acceptance of information.  So I started to feel that if I could just keep the right materials and opportunities in front of them and certain distractions out of the way, they would find their learning path...

We decided to move abroad with them when they were 4, 2, and newborn and our focus became finding classes for them to meet people and have somewhere to go regularly, and provide enough time exploring outdoors, providing creative materials to explore with, and plenty of good literature in between...

Then we stumbled upon Reggio Method/project based learning, and spent time in Reggio Emilia Italy learning about it, and evolved into a project based, inquiry based learning style...

Along the way there have been plenty of curves in the road, good days and bad, doubts, and successes, but when I reflect on it all, I feel what we are really doing and inspired to do, is WORLDSCHOOLING!

Every so often and honestly more often than I really would prefer, we reflect, regroup and route plan for the next phase. Sometimes its exhausting, because when you open yourself to learning from the world, the options are endless and while there isn't a right or wrong answer, there can be good and better choices. We think about each new phase trying to take into account each of our interests, needs, and desires, and not get too attached to any certain place or situation, knowing that we can stay as long as we want, but there are new learning experiences and discoveries in our path if we choose to move to a new city or country.

So, what is worldschooling? A wise young, traveler coined the term and I so identify with it now that I forget most people haven't heard of it, (It's when one actively experiences and learns from the world around them: the home, family, friends, strangers of all backgrounds, libraries, parks, sports, forests, schools, towns, and of course the world and the world wide web. It also emphasizes that there is always more to learn from this wonderful, complex world regardless of whether one has a high school degree, is a doctor, or is solely self-educated.

As time has passed and we've lived and traveled our way around Europe, we've come to believe that it means making the most of our location in the best way we can taking into account the needs and interests of each individual. So, this can mean school, it can mean classes, it can mean, taking weeks or month off to travel, relax, whatever we decide at the time. This mindset is important to me because when you start roaming off the well trodden path, you need something to keep you focused and people to identify with. I've realized I don't completely identify with unschooling, or schooling indefinitely, or strict homeschooling either and I don't want to limit ourselves to anything. So we are always free to change our minds completely based on what we feel is best for the individual kids at that time. So, meaning we do some homeschooling, some unschooling, some worldschooling, and some school, hoping to learn in a natural way from people we encounter along the way. 

Classes and Activities in Prague

Class Acts is an organization started by parents who are mostly Czech/English bilingual kids in Czech schools who want to keep up their English skills with classes and activities for each grade level. (We have taken one morning a week Kindy class, creative writing, and reader's club with this program.) They also organize fun activities like Easter Egg Hunt and Story Writing contest. During the summer they have a Publishing Camp for kids to work together to write a newspaper.
Kiddum is a Lego Education program with many classes for different ages and interests. We have taken Lego Robotics and Lego Inventor classes. Great teachers and relaxed environment.
Muddum is a art workshop where various programs for kids are held, we have attended a monthly art club that focuses on different artists and techniques and sometimes visits museums as a group. The also have Art in Spanish, drawing/painting class and Art Around the World among others.
Draw Planet offers art classes for kids and adults in Czech and English. Haven't tried this yet.
Renata Lundgren at Goldlife organizes sports classes and summer camps among other services in English. Our daughter is taking gymnastics through this program and loves it.
Rosa's Dance Studio, which is located in Malastrana, a very beautiful area of Prague, offers several types of dance classes for different age groups. Our daughter took two terms of ballet with her.
Other ballet studio's in Prague, haven't tried them yet.

International Music School offers lesson in your home, piano, flute, guitar or violin. Haven't yet tried, but plan to...
Swim Classes with Nemo Swim. Our kids are taking this swim class now and enjoy it.
Prague Sharks - Swim team program. Plan to join this next year.
Prague English Football Club - Football Classes, our son has join this a few months ago and enjoys it.
Prague Scouts British Scouts program that does many scouting acitivites around the city. We have actually joined a smaller girl scout/brownie group nearer us

Camomile is a healthy eating and cooking workshop program. Hoping to join one of these soon.
Ethnomir - International cultural learning programs for kids. Haven't yet tried this but sounds great!
Shin Karate - karate class for kids, haven't tried yet. 
Prague Youth Theatre

English Books in Prague

Amadito & Friends bookstore. International books is several languages. Holds activities and events for French, English and German speakers.
Brown Box Books is a used kids bookstore. Also holds events for kids and families.
Oxford Bookshop offers English books and academic curriculum as well.
Shakespeare and Sons - English bookstore and cafe, offers nice selection of books and storytime on weekends while parents relax.
Prague public libraries have small English sections thanks to English speaking expats who have donated books over the years, we visit them regularly. 

Language learning programs. 

For French, Okey School

Czech Learning Program for kids Smart Beavers -

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brooke Turns 6

Our oldest, Brooke Ashley Barnes just turned six years old. She is growing into such a beautiful and sweet girl. We love our adventurous, creative, practical, helpful, girl who never runs out of energy and wants to do it all. 
We spent the day at the pool, happy girl!

What does a travelling girl get for her 6th birthday? A coin purse, a fishing net, a travel journal, a floatie for the pool, and a travel backgammon game. 

She painted the happy birthday banner and although Jeff bought one, hers was much better. 
Ice cream cake, given by the lady who owns the building, so nice of her to give, and much prettier than our typical homemade cakes.


I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on her life and think about plans for the next year. How is she adapting to this life on the go and how does she feel about it? Difficult to answer I suppose, there are pros and cons of course... But, I think it is very telling in that her current aspiration is;

"I want to visit every country in the world and then go back and live in America and be a chef and teach people about food around the world." Pretty cool if you ask me! She does have really good taste and isn't afraid of trying new foods. I really love cooking with her. 
So, Brooke how do you feel about travelling and moving around like we do?
"Well... I like travelling because I learn a lot and learning a lot is fun. Like... if someone brought you something from another country you can learn about that country and those people."
 Brooke, how do you feel about homeschool instead of school?
"I like homeschool because I get to choose when I do things and what order. In school, you have to only do what the teacher says." Following an attendance of The Nutcracker Ballet. She says... going to school would be like going to a performance every day, that would be boring!"
She attended a reading class in Prague that was interesting to see how she adapted to a real school like setting. She says... "well, I didn't like when we had to sit in a circle in the beginning and end. I don't like sitting cross legged."  She's never really liked participating in circle time, even as a baby at mommy and me class. "And, we had to finish the writing part before we could color the picture" 
She also wants to read every book she can. No subject or length or difficulty is discouraging to her. We are currently reading Robinson Crusoe and many of the Beverly Cleary books, which I remember dearly from my childhood. I just have to try to find the best books to suggest and commit enough time to reading. We read at least an hour every night, its one of my favorite times of the day.

She is genuinely curious about most things she encounters. She doesn't typically want to know all the facts or details about a discovery, she wants to make it, create it, capture it, etc. She is definitely a hands on learner and I am glad I don't feel the pressure to suppress this tendency.

What about her education? Well, we have a variety of homeschool resources we  keep available for them to use when they are in the mood. Reading and math workbooks are considered activity books that are fun because I never require them to use them or enforce a schedule. She is really quickly learning to read and her  understanding of math quite astounds me. Everything I've read is proving to be true. Making learning natural and letting them set the pace, actually works!

True, if I only had one child we'd probably be more advanced academically. But, she is learning other things every day that I am starting to value much more. Good moral character and the ability to get along with her siblings. This is an ongoing challenge every single day, but there is clear progress. She is often saying lately, "I feel good when I'm nice to people!" What a revelation!

What about socialization then? People probably wonder... what about friends their own age? Well, I admit this is one of the cons of a life on the move. I would love to have more kids around to play with more often. We recently spent some time with some Australian kids that they really enjoyed. But, we also had a playdate last month with an English girl aged 7 that seems nice enough and after awhile of playing with her, Brooke says, I think I want to play with my sister now... Every day they get a little better at playing with each other because they have to.

Socialization come in different forms. At the moment, we have a new friend here in Croatia. She had been quite friendly to us despite language barriers. Brooke made her a card, I love how she does this... and the woman knocked on the door on Brooke's birthday with a beautiful plate covered in flowers, with a chocolate bar and a necklace. What a good life lesson, the kindness of strangers...

Brooke will undoubtedly help us lead the way as the first child blazing her own path through life and learning. We are very lucky to be along for the ride. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Getting Settled

After a long winter with (albeit some slices of beautiful sunshine in Italy) otherwise lots of rain and cold... the weather when we arrived was perfect. The first thing the kids did when we unloaded the bags was put on their swimsuits and ask to go to the beach. The clear blue water of the Adriatic Sea and the inviting palm frond covered tables right on the sand were just what we were hoping for. 

But, the apartment we'd rented for the month, was much smaller than we'd expected. Sometimes they have creative ways of estimating the size of places... One bedroom was open to the walkway where another apartment's guests would walk right by the door (where Collin was to sleep). The other bedroom was connected to the patio so if Jeff tried to work there, the kids would be under feet every time we came in or out. It did have a beautiful view of the sea and the owner greeted us with fresh greens from the garden, and, this beach was across the highway from it. But, we'd decided to change apartments if possible. Fortunately, the lady we'd rented from had some other apartments for rent so when we told her this just wouldn't work for us, we could hopefully rent her other place.

Despite her very limited English and us understanding only a little of her Croatian/mixed with German, we got this point across and she took us to see another place that morning. It was down the coast in a town called Omis, which was supposed to have some of the best kid friendly beaches on the coast.

This apartment didn't seem ideal at first, only one actual bedroom and the girls would be sleeping in the kitchen/living area, but it was much bigger and somehow, after we got settled in, it worked amazingly well for us. 

We said we'd take it for 5 weeks which was the max time she had available. Finally it was all settled, this Croatian lady was as nice as could be but we didn't think she would EVER stop talking. She didn't seem to care that we understood very, very little of what she was saying.

So, we headed to check out the beaches and get some lunch. Had imagined a waterfront pizzaria/grill for our first meal in Croatia, but this cafe with a playground won the vote.

Giant pizza with shrimp and chicken salad, first meal out in Croatia. Yum!

Five Weeks in Omis - The City of Pirates

After a week or so and I got used to to getting around with the kids here, I really started to love Omis and thought it turned out to be a perfect place for us to spend some time. It has two very kid friendly beaches, beautiful scenery (mountains, river, sea), a lovely shaded main street with a plentiful produce and fish market, several decent grocery stores, and a beautiful old town; all within walking distance of our apartment. 

Brooke already rode her scooter most places we went, but Savannah was in need of a new scooter. We also realized that we can never go back to drip coffee after getting used to espresso, and the kids needed summer shoes, so we drove up to the big mall in Split and bought these few things. 

The mall in Split by the way, has a huge indoor play area for kids that is FREE for two hours. Drop the kids off and shop or relax, just make sure they have socks. Awesomeness!! Europe has it figured out when it comes to family friendly. So many cafes and bars have attached play areas, its a shame the states doesn't have more of this, too many laws I guess. 

Cafe with playground attached very close to our apartment,
spent a fair amount of time here drinking a coffee or wine while the kids played. 

Beach with toys and slide with sand toys. Next to a bar.
Why I love Europe, a restaurant with a play area does not mean McDonalds!

Dinner in Old Town Omis. My favorite night out in Croatia. Big platter of grilled meats and  veggies, liter of wine...  Collin chased cats around, the girls rose their scooters up and down the cobblestone walkways. It was perfect.

The girls ride these scooters everywhere!
The natural beauty of Croatia is really quite amazing. I haven't seen water this clean and clear many places in the world that is anywhere civilization. 

The clear, clean water of the Adriatic Sea. One of my favorite things about Croatia.

These mountains are spectacular. 
Old Town Omis

There is a fort on the top of one of these mountain ranges that Jeff and Brooke hiked to. It doesn't look possible from a distance, I was quite impressed that Brooke did it. Of course, she fared much better than Jeff, who's knees were killing him on the way back down. I think Brooke was really proud and she came home excited to take the rest of us on a tour of the fort (another one at the bottom of the hill). So, she led the way from the apartment through town. 

This way!

Fort  in Omis - built to defend the city from pirates

We read as many pirate stories as we could find while in Omis - the city of pirates so it was fun to pretend we were watching out for pirates from the outlooks.

Fish Market in Omis. She says, "These were caught fresh this morning by my brother." 
Love getting really fresh fish. Everything we tried was great. 

The produce market  was daily and quite plentiful, but I did have to be careful choosing as a few times I spent quite a lot, not realizing what was a deal and what wasn't. Best deal by far, cherries! 

We grilled a lot at our apartment, which we all really loved.

Day Trip to Trogir

Trogir is a beautiful town on the coast. We enjoyed our morning there, walking and scooting the old town walking streets, eating lunch on the water, and perusing boats in the marina.
Beautiful handmade spring towys

Trying to keep up with my scooting girls...

Natural sea sponge, a popular souvenir

Hmm, which way now...
Lunch - Salad, chicken strips, and pizza

Which gelato to have today??

The boys

We'd been seriously scheming when and how we can move on a boat again. We'd hoped to charter or get aboard one here, but it didn't work out.

Dino Park Omis

This small Dino Park in Omis, made for quite a fun afternoon. Not totally cheap, but worth it for one time. The girls were in heaven and we learned a bit more about dinosaurs...

Aquazorbing - I'll have to try this one of these days

What, it doesn't go all the way around?? The daredevil girls were slightly disappointed...

T rex, complete with movements and sounds


Collin was not a fan, he couldn't get out of that dino park faster. Huge moving scary creatures, not his thing. But, since then, he is very interested in dinosaurs.

Lucky girls
So happy!

This slide was fun as I experienced having to climb up and help Collin

Up the River from Omis

The river and mountains in from Omis were quite spectacular and we drove up a few times. We'd considered taking a boat trip up, but decided it would be too hard with the kids.

No need for extra concrete reinforcements in here, solid rock.

Beer garden restaurant on the river, quite beautiful

Nice spot for my Mother's Day lunch
Beautiful clear water, watched rafts float by, caught tadpoles, lots of fun...


We were really impressed with Old Town Split and spent a great day there. Like many other parts of Croatia, its not undiscovered. There are lots of tourists, but also lots of things tourists enjoy... restaurants, ruins, beautiful architecture. It was market day as well and quite busy, we almost gave up trying to find a place to park near here, but glad we didn't.

Along the waterfront in Split

Best and Worst things about Croatia 

The best things about Croatia overall in our opinion:

-The beautiful clear water, which is mostly all public land and easy to find places to enjoy it. There is something like 3500 miles of coastline in Croatia if you count all the islands.
-The availability of fresh seafood. The fish markets have actual fresh seafood that was all delicious and if you like the little ones like anchovies (which were delicious on the grill) its pretty affordable. 
-The old towns are so impressive and lovely to walk through.
-The people are quite friendly and many speak very good English

The worst things about Croatia:

-The food in grocery stores isn't cheap. We find it to be about the same cost as the US, which is more expensive than Czech Republic and Italy, where we have been recently.
-Its not as easy to find accommodation as some other places
-Those locals that don't speak English, speak sort of a combination of Croatian and German that the translator doesn't decipher