Edventuring in Greece

Edventuring in Greece

We’ve recently returned from the April 2016 Worldschoolers Spring Edventure at the Porto Grana Hub for home educators in Plitra, Laconia, Greece.

So much of our experience was about the sights, smells, tastes and sounds we encountered. How can I capture in words the scent of orange blossom or the pungent smell of olive oil production? Or find a way to translate onto screen the sensory stories of my taste buds? At least the visual element is more easily shared through the many images I collected.

With this in mind, I’ve compiled a photo journal of the highlights of our trip. I’ve included commentary to give you some insight into the week’s learning journey, seasoned with links to find out more where you may wish to.

Enjoy!

Orange-picking

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One of FreeToBeP’s favourite activities of the week

This was such a simple yet memorable activity. The sights, scents and tastes of the orchard as the sun beat down on us was so evocative – if paradise has an aroma, orange-blossom would be it! As if I didn’t already bemoan the quality of oranges in England, now that I’ve eaten one freshly plucked from a Peloponnese tree, I fear the bar has been raised even more.

One intriguing feature of the orchard was an orange-lemon tree – a tree that bears both types of fruit as the result of a successful graft.

FreeToBeP loved being amongst the trees and his orange harvest ensured a week’s very sufficient vitamin C intake for the whole family.

An interesting fact is that the intensive cultivation of oranges in the region dates only from the mid-20th century – prior to that, the delta of the Evrotas river and its tributaries was used as rice fields (a small percentage of EU-grown rice is still grown in Greece).

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Culture & Tradition

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Preparations for the flower festival in Papadianika

We joined local school children in the nearby village of Papadianika as they decorated candles to be lit at the traditional Γιορτη Λουλουδιών (flower festival) on April 30th. Many May Day festivities take place in Greece, of which this festival is one example.

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Greek Orthodox chapel next to Diros Caves

Religious tradition is very evident in Greece – chapels are built in all sorts of places, and the above picture was taken just along from the Diros caves [a boat trip through the caves was part of the itinerary for the week which I was unable to do due to the wants/needs of my children, yet I have it on good authority that it’s worth the €12 per adult / €7 per child].

Wherever you go, you will see numerous prayer boxes along the side of the road, known as kandylakia. I sadly neglected to photograph any. These are shaped like miniature chapels and often include icons of saints, and incense or candles to burn. As well as traditionally being spots where travellers can stop to pray, they are increasingly used to commemorate lives, particularly of those lost upon the road – there is a joke that roadside kandylakia can be seen as unofficial ‘drive with caution’ signs!

Plitra Beach

beachrunWhat a treat to have the local beaches all to ourselves in 25+ degree heat! The beach was a short walk from both the home education hub and our accommodation. Just like our seaside home in the UK, the bay at Plitra is calm, featuring sandbanks and a very gradual decline into deeper waters – a perfect beach upon which families can relax, play and paddle.

As the boys went scouring the rockpools, our host scoured the same area for food – the seashore forage finds were an impressive array of herbs and spring greens that well illustrated how ‘frugal food’ is often about the richness and abundance of Mother Nature.

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Sun + sand + sea = happy children!
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Sun + sand + sea = happy me!

Monemvasia Old Town

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FreeToBeZ enjoying the sun and the sights in Monemvasia
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Restored lighthouse – and a levitating FreeToBeP, apparently

A truly fascinating place for both children and adults, the old town of Monemvasia is an ancient fortified town (now largely restored in keeping with its original style) and it’s worth spending a full day exploring. Our trip wasn’t as lengthy as planned as, unfortunately, the castle and grounds atop the summit were closed to the public due to renovation works. However, there was still plenty to see . . .

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monem1There was a wonderful vibe of history coming alive upon the peninsula of the old town, complete with quaint little shops and cafés that complemented the town’s heritage. Both architectural antiquities and local flora were prevalent here, and I also appreciated the local bee colonies through the purchase of a very sweet honey wine – indeed, Malvasia wine is historically from the town.

The nooks and crannies of the narrow cobbled streets were a delight to explore and the views were divine. A must-see if you’re in the region!

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castlegate

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Gytheio 

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Dimitrios shipwreck

We stopped for refreshments upon Mavrovouni, the longest beach in the region, near to the charming port town of Gytheio. Volunteers observe and protect this beach over the spring to summer months as it is the nesting ground for sea turtles, yet also a busy tourist spot during the height of the season.

As we left the Gytheio area we also spotted the Dimitrios shipwreck on Valtaki beach, where the poor vessel has lain abandoned for 35 years.

Gerakas Port

gerakas2The entrance to Gerakas Port is well hidden, historically making this a safe enclave away from looting pirates. A glorious mountain drive took us up and over the headland to this hidden beauty, where the environments of wetlands and sea merge via a fjord-like approach from the sea. I sense this little gem is best appreciated by boat!

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Cyclingpbike

liambikeWe arrived in Greece with two eight-year-old boys who couldn’t cycle and left with two eight-year-old boys who could! You’ll be relieved to hear they weren’t swapped for different children, but gained new skills whilst having free bike hire at the hub and Plitra seafront all to themselves throughout our stay. Three-year-old FreeToBeZ was rather pleased with her attempts too.

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Olive-picking

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FreeToBeP harvesting late olives

Although the olive-picking season was officially over, there were plenty of olives left on trees in public spaces – the children made the most of climbing them whilst the late olives were collected from both branch and ground (and are now being salt-cured on my kitchen worktop).

Sixteen-month-old FreeToBeL loved the fresh yet bitter fruits, her young palate open to new flavours in a way our modern sweet and salty diet has scuppered for many of us.

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FreeToBeL enjoyed eating the bitter offerings fresh from the tree!
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Wild olives collected, cured and preserved (and shared with us!) by the owner of our accomodation (Pansion Amarylia)

Ancient Asopos

asopos1asopos4asopos3asopos5Wow! What finds we made here. The ancient Roman port town of Asopos was destroyed by an earthquake in around 365BC and much of it now remains hidden under the sea.

Much of the ‘beach’ here is made up of broken brick and tile, the remains of buildings which last stood over 2000 years ago. A bathhouse, port and temple are some notable remnants along the shore and a number of large storage urns remain partly intact. Sections of pavements and mosaics are preserved, with areas being revealed or masked as the tides strip back or deposit covers of rubble and sand.

There are so many historical ruins in Greece that not all have been excavated and this was very evident here – on one section of beach we found numerous remnants of ancient Grecian pottery, which really quickened the pulse of the archaeologist in me.

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Roman bricks and tiles aplenty here
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Ancient handle – just one of our many finds

Cookery & Food

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Authentic Greek salad in Sparta
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Preparing a traditional spinach pie with vegetables from our host’s garden

FreeToBeP has recently developed a real passion for cooking and has been lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with people who have a true love for good food.

Our host showed us how to make vegan varieties of local dishes (many of which are traditionally made just with vegetables anyway) and the children had opportunity to help out, picking fresh ingredients from the garden and appreciating the food in a new way thanks to doing this.

As much as possible, the food eaten at the Porto Grana Hub is organic, vegan and grown locally or foraged – whilst the hub’s philosophy encompasses both frugality and ethics, we always ate satisfying and delicious meals thanks to our host’s cooking skills and knowledge of local edible plants.

We were surprised with the vast array of foodstuffs that can be foraged for within just a few minutes’ walk of the hub, quite apart from the abundance of olive, orange and lemon trees – wild mountain thyme and edible seaside plants were some of the notable examples, particularly the very tasty kritamo (better known here as rock samphire and something I hope I will, quite literally, stumble over again along the Dorset coast).

And finally . . .

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our busy week in Laconia and heartily recommend a visit to the Porto Grana Hub to other home educating and worldschooling families!

Springtime was the perfect time to go, the country blooming with greenery yet the temperature already reaching 30 degrees during our stay.

Greece is definitely on our list of places to return to – the history, language, fauna and geology captivated us all, and what we managed to explore in our one week was just a small taste of what the country has to offer.

To learn more about our base in Greece – the Porto Grana Hub – read my interview with the hub founder, Evangelos Vlachakis, and/or visit the Porto Grana website.

Oh, and did I mention the animals, playground and family yoga session?

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Educational Freedom Fighter

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Evangelos helping FreeToBeP learn how to ride a bike

 

Educational Freedom Fighter: An Interview with Evangelos Vlachakis, Plitra, Greece, April 2016

Home education is illegal in Greece, yet my family and I have just attended the Worldschoolers Spring Edventure in a small Peloponnese town, hosted by cinematographer Evangelos Vlachakis along with his family and friends at the Porto Grana Hub in Laconia – a place for home educating and worldschooling families to meet, learn, share and discover life together.

I interviewed Evangelos to find out more about his vision for educational freedom in a country in which such freedoms are restricted.

How did the Porto Grana hub come about?

There was an old restaurant available, so we had the idea to use it as a recreational space for kids. Since there was a very limted budget, we tried to renovate it on our own. We tried to combine it with my idea to bring homeschooling families into contact with my family, as I was very concerned about my daughter’s schooling and I felt that having some inside information from families who already homeschool would be beneficial to us. So, it really came about through the combination of having the empty space to use and wanting to research homeschooling.

Is there a strong community of families in Greece who would like to home educate and does anyone practice it despite it being illegal?

I’ve been involved in [researching home education] over the last 3 years and I’ve come into contact with many Greek families that are already willing to homeschool, and also with families that already do it or have done it. Some of the families are doing it underground and only two that I know of have been prosecuted for it.

Some families decide to move abroad in order to pursue a home educating lifestyle when it isn’t legal in their home country – is that something that you ever considered doing or was it always much more important to you to try to develop something in Greece?

I’d like to stay where we live as I think it’s the ideal place for kids and for families – we have the sunshine about 90% of the year and the countryside here is so virgin and unspoilt that it’s an ideal place to grow up. We don’t want to leave this place – on the contrary, I would like to invite families that would like to live in this kind of place to join us here! Foreign families who visit can legally homeschool in Greece – my thought is that on some level we can form a network of foreign and Greek families around Porto Grana and collectively try to lobby the government for a change in law.

So in what way do you hope this more ‘global’ network will help with the lobbying and in the format of home education you present to the Greek government?

I’m trying to gather information about how it’s done because, whilst many people here want to home school, we don’t know how it works in practice, and that’s why we like to come into contact with home educating families so that we have more insight into how you home school the children. This would be beneficial in our attempts to lobby the government in terms of forming a proposal.

Is it in any way difficult looking in on families from elsewhere who have freedoms that you don’t have or does the closer contact with home educating families give you greater optimism that it is possible?

Yes, first of all, I can see that it is possible. I believe what would help is to build a community first, because it helps the families that feel isolated and who need the company of others to support them. I think that building a community will be an ideal base for pursuing home schooling in Greece, and a community also serves the children to more easily interact with one another and develop community projects.

Is it something you’re optimistic could potentially happen soon (as your daughter is already 10 years old and compulsory education in Greece is just until age 15) or are you looking ahead at future generations?

Yes, I’m looking at future generations, it’s not only about my daughter – I would love to home school, but the community-based home schooling I envisage might take some time to happen; we are just at the beginning but I think we have a lot of potential to make it a reality.

It takes some people a lot to take action just for their own children in terms of trying to change a law, maybe putting up with something even if it directly affects them as “that’s the way it is”, so the fact that you’re invested in this is admirable – I think you’ve probably picked up on the fact that for most home educating families it’s a huge lifestyle choice and the freedom to home educate is interlinked with so many other freedoms and our autonomy in the world. Have you got a written plan yet?

Not as yet. My main concern is with forming a community, starting with having families stay with us for a little while. The reason I organise the worldschoolers’ events is for families to come together and be able to live in the countryside and experience how it is to live here – in the future I would like to form an eco-community of worldschooling families who will be the network of people who show the government how community-based home schooling might look.

So the events you’ve set up so far are an experiment to see who’s out there with a view to a future eco-community here?

Yes. We’ve already planned the summer event for June 23rd-30th [2016],and also plan to have autumn and winter events in September [2016] and January [2017].

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Evangelos with home educated children in the Porto Grana garden, preparing for mealtime at the Worldschoolers Spring Edventure

To find out more about the Porto Grana Hub and its events, please visit the website at http://www.portograna.wix.com/worldschoolers-hub and/or join the Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/portogranahub/

10 Websites for Teaching Global Citizenship

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In the age of globalisation, citizenship has become a hot topic for educators – from national citizenship lessons specific to a child’s country through to the more inclusive realm of global citizenship.

In a country such as the UK, there are many things people take for granted that those in other countries cannot (from material goods to human rights) and it is important to equip the next generation with the critical thinking skills to see the bigger picture beyond our own culture and borders.

The following 10 websites for teaching global citizenship are full of activities and resources about world culture and important global issues:

Kid World Citizen

KidWorldCitizen

I find the KWC site fun, friendly and comprehensive. There is a vast array of hands-on activities in order to learn about different cultures from the comfort of your own home, as well as family travel advice for seeking first-hand experiences in other countries.

Whether there’s a particular country or specific celebration you hope to explore or you wish to browse a general subject such as language or geography, you can find something on here which helps bring cultural studies to life.

Oxfam

Oxfam

Oxfam have a wealth of resources relating to many of the big issues facing the world community.

The Resources page allows you to search by age, topic, curriculum subject, country or activity type.

With topics ranging from climate change to conflict, development to diversity, and refugees to rights, there’s a huge variety of issues to recognise and explore.

Global Dimension

GlobalDimension

This is aimed at teachers yet has a huge array of resources and links – their list of topics is inspirational in itself! Many of these resources are free and cover up to date events, such as the 2014 attacks on Gaza.

Children can learn about global issues through browsing their favourite curriculum subjects or by choosing a specific issue facing the world community.

Education Scotland

EducationScotland

Based in Scotland yet truly global, this has a wealth of ideas, information and resources for approaching global citizenship and international education. Its blog and calendar are up to date, making it a great site for informing yourself about current affairs.

This site is a bit on the ‘dry’ side for looking at with younger children, but there are plenty of conversation starters – even just thinking about their definitions of terms could provide enough material for a learning session:

Education for citizenship encourages taking thoughtful and responsible action, locally and globally. – Education Scotland / Foghlam Alba

International education helps to prepare young people for life and active participation in a global multicultural society. – Education Scotland / Foghlam Alba

Oh, and giant panda lovers click here.

My Learning: Citizenship

MyLearning

The Citizenship page of this site features plenty of resources for researching both local and global concerns, particularly for primary school aged children.

When looking at human rights, slavery and discrimination you might want to explore the Global Citizens – Make An Impact! resources. For learning about women’s rights, the From Suffering to Suffrage page may prove useful.

Global Footprints

GlobalFootprints

Yet again aimed at schools, the Global Footprints website by the HEC Global Learning Centre nonetheless looks to be a handy resource for exploring global community, whether in a classroom or at home.

Their classroom page includes a number of activities for getting to grips with global issues via literacy and numeracy lessons, with many key topics being explored alongside the 3Rs.

Traidcraft

Traidcraft

The Traidcraft website provides a number of activities for looking at the issue of fair trade with children and young people. From group assemblies to competitions, there are a variety of ways to get kids engaged with the topic of fair trade.

Including many seasonal activities, the most relevant as I post this is their Easter page, featuring an Easter egg hunt with a difference!

Picture My World

PictureMyWorld

This site is the face of CAFOD for children (CAFOD being the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development); whilst I automatically link such organisations to missionaries and conversion efforts, I believe this can be a talking point in itself, leading onto topics such as secular society, and the links between religion, race and culture.

On this site, children are invited to learn about life in other areas of the world through looking at photo diaries of other children. It also draws attention to issues such as world hunger and the need for clean water.

Global Kids Connect

GlobalKidsConnect

A US site aimed at school classes, this site nonetheless has useful information about what it means to be a global citizen, with ideas on how to encourage cultural exchange and philanthropy.

With an emphasis on the lives and culture of children in other parts of the world, this gets kids thinking about what it means to be a child in a different country – or even someone in your own community with a different background.

British Red Cross

RedCross

The Red Cross provides a broad range of issues to explore which can be browsed by topic or school subject. Featuring current news headlines such as ebola and migration, it also looks at citizenship issues closer to home – from day-to-day kindness through to emergency situations.

Browsing the activities on this site, the practical and emotional concerns of people during crises are clearly evident – the shared experiences of all humanity brought to the fore.

 

I hope this list gets you off to a flying start with your family discussions about the human family!

Do let me know what you think of the sites listed and whether you successfully make use of any of the resources they lead you to.

Book lovers – if your children’s appetite for global citizenship education has been whetted, the following titles may be of interest (FYI, these are Amazon affiliate links):

GrowingUpGlobal

iftheworldwereavillage

weareallbornfreewhoeveryouaredreamsoffreedomihaveadream

Project Planning & The Organic Organisation of Home Education

The theme music plays, evoking memories of time spent in childhood reveries about mystery, exploration and other worlds. The Mysterious Cities of Gold, an adventure revolving around an orphaned boy and the search for Inca gold, was a favourite TV series of mine as a child, and famous cultures of old that built magnificent temples and tombs always held a fascination for me; a fascination which remains to this day.

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And now it seems that, through his mutual love of a TV programme, FreeToBeP is becoming as captivated as I was about the journey to ancient civilisations in search of secret places and secret knowledge.

As a home educator who takes a semi-structured yet child-led approach to our family learning, I’ve jumped on this as an opportunity to begin our first proper ‘project’ as an HE family: The Incas.

We’re currently forming a plan of what we can do, things that will satisfy FreeToBeP’s visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning style. Even just doing preliminary online research for possible activities, we’re both taking in new concepts and learning new facts – we test the sound of new words on our tongues as we learn what quipus are and what chicha is; FreeToBeP giggles nervously as he ponders the fate that would befall our friends’ pet guinea pigs in Peru (guinea pigs being ‘cuy’, a favourite meat dish of the Inca empire); and I grin in anticipation of knowing I will soon be purchasing some purple flour.

The ruined Inca city Machu Picchu (Creative Commons image. Copyright: Peter van der Sluijs)
The ruined Inca city Machu Picchu (Creative Commons image. Copyright: Peter van der Sluijs)

The further we tread on our path of home education, the more I realise how compartmentalised conventional schooling is. Once upon a time I viewed my Year 5 project on the ancient Egyptians as ‘just’ history. In forming a plan for our own ‘history’ project, it quickly becomes apparent how holistic such projects actually are.

During our first day of brainstorming activities and points for discussion, our list of project components covers history, geography, cultural studies, geology, religion, cuisine, politics, archaeology, art, engineering, human biology, mythology, mathematics and literacy.

In successive posts I hope to share some of our activities with you, which will hopefully culminate not only in a child (and mother!) who can wax lyrical about the Inca empire but also in a whole project plan for others who wish to pursue the same subject.

FreeToBeP has already started constructing his Minecraft Inca city, complete with booby-trapped temple. For me, some background reading: free books available on Kindle – History of the Incas and (a novel) The Treasure of the Incas.

history of the incastreasure of the incas

 

How do you plan any family projects? Do you ditch a ‘plan’ and just let it flow? Any other fans of The Mysterious Cities of Gold out there? Let me know below 🙂