Little Passports subscription – no thumbs up from me

I have been subscribing a year almost and now want to cancel this. If you’re contemplating getting this for your child, I hope this blog post helps inform your decision.

Pros :

– Something new in the post every month

– Fun introduction to a different country every month

Cons:

– Subscription fee is way overpriced for what you receive. I’ll tell you what you receive and you can also Google it online. Some have also uploaded photos of the stuff in every package online. One website like this I think is a Montessori-type website featuring Little Passports. The first month, you get the cardboard suitcase, which makes the mail package fairly large. You think wow, a large parcel box like that is going to arrive every month from then on. No in actual fact, all you will get after that first mailing is a thin padded envelope that will slip through your mailbox easily without needing for you to sign for it. Yes and that’s because the contents in each month’s package are really little.

1) You get a printed piece of A4 paper with activities like word searches and things on both sides of the paper.

2) You get a printed piece of C5 paper which is supposed to be a pretend letter written to you by your Little Passports pretend “penpals”, Sam and Sofia.

3) You get like 4 small stickers to stick on your Little Passports cardboard suitcase and pretend passport.

4) And lastly you get a very small and poor quality toy that is supposed to be from the country of the month – usually the toy would be some piece of tat that breaks easily or is worth no more than £2 in the shops – effectively “party bag fillers”.

Altogether these 4 items cost £13.95 per month. If you have the inclination to do so, just make up your own pretend letter from pretend pen pals (or find real ones from these countries online if possible), make up your own or download and print some worksheets or wordsearches from online sources, research online for toys that traditionally hail in that country and source it on the net or in real shops. Bet you can find ones of better quality. Lastly, make your own stickers with country flags on them or just ditch the stickers if they’re no big loss to your kids. £13.95 a month a package,  with 36 packages in total to collect. That’s £500+ you’ll pay in total over 3 years if you keep the subscription until you’ve received all 36 monthly packages. Is that really the kind of money you think worth spending on a very basic standard of Geography and cultural awareness exposure from purchasing this subscription? I bet if you saved your money, you could buy a tonne of resources to expose your child to more of this subject, and still have money left in the kitty after!

Alright, I am not asking for quantity over quality, I am just asking for quality and substance. Right now, the product lacks quality and quantity, lacks substance. Might be fine for an 8 or 9 year old but way too easy and basic for my 10 year old even, who by the way isn’t even a very academic child.

– What a bummer too that so far, despite attempts by home educators both in UK and the US to secure good educational discount deals with Little Passports for groups of us, Little Passports has been very unwilling to budge from their meagre 15% discount code which they already offer to all potential customers. That’s a pretty poor saving. Their classroom subscriptions for US schools works out at USD$16.50 per month for 30 packages. Now that’s the price home educators want, as we can group together and make group purchases of that number or more. Why aren’t Little Passports willing to do us a deal like they already do with schools? Do they not consider what we’re doing a form of teaching and schooling? Or do they suppose all/most home educators are rich and therefore will spend silly money on this? And if they wanted to play the numbers game, well there are a far lot more of us out there than you think, and we do tend to club together for deals and groupbuys for educational materials. They can easily get 100s of home educators subscribing to them, if they are willing to lower prices for us. Home educators already get a lot of discounts and deals together this way, and word travels fast in our community. We could potentially get you lots of subscribers in a small amount of time. Do you want to do business or what?

– Customer service is generally poor and slow to respond – quick to take your money though! And this is especially risky for non-US subscribers because there is no way to contact them other than by email or social media. They take a day or more to respond to every email. Sometimes quite erratically, they respond on the same day. And the fact it is all email-based makes it quite easy for them to ditch responsibility really. They could just ignore you. And well, what is their contact address should you wish to write a letter of complaint? And how would that work sending a recorded letter all the way to America from the UK? Expenses paid by yourself or them? (The answer is you)

And who can you report them to for questionable business practices if you live in the UK and perhaps have little knowledge of American consumer laws or perhaps because of the fact you aren’t a US resident, you might not get the help you need by law enforcement or the ombudsman? And when the customer service reps do respond, they are good with general politeness and that certain American “peppiness” but at the end of the day, issues remain unsatisfactorily resolved and they don’t budge no matter your objection.

For instance, my child’s package did not arrive on the expected date one month. I was worried it might have gotten lost in the mail and contacted them but all the said back to me was a) wait for it to arrive b) items aren’t tracked (well with the pricing and the cheap quality of materials, it should, really.) so they can’t tell me where the item is other than it has been sent. Eventually the package arrived late by a week or so c) just a sorry from them. Nothing else. If the package had arrived later or never arrived, I have no idea if they will even resend the package. Annoying thing is that they will continue taking the monthly payment from your card on time though.

– Speaking of monthly card payments, that takes us to the next important major cons about Little Passports – their requirement of every subscriber to pass them their credit or debit card details so they can take payment continuously during the entire subscription period. Now did you know that when you give an online retailer your card details to take payment as and when they wish, you have basically lost a huge amount of control on your end as to stopping any future payments, if you should ever feel disgruntled about the product. Basically there is no way you can stop these future payments Little Passports will take from you if they choose to keep taking them, if your bank is unwilling to do anything about it for you. Some banks will insist that such continuous payments can never be cancelled as long as the company keeps taking them, because some banks will tell you once you have given your card details away to a company, you have basically given up control over the matter and there will be nothing the bank can do about stopping future payments. Hopefully your bank won’t be like that. In the worst case scenario, the only thing you can do to stop further payments to be taken is to close down your bank account and reopen another one. Because even if you applied for a change of card number and kept your old account, some banks will just transfer Little Passports’ authority to take payments, to the new card associated with your bank account, so they can continue taking payments from your new card number!

So when you entrust your card payment details to a company like Little Passports, which to all intents and appearances seem to be a fully online company with no physical address nor call centre, you are basically trusting that nothing will ever go wrong as far as dealings with them are concerned, and that nothing will ever happen that could be the reason why you might wish to stop them taking another monthly payment off your payment card. Big, big risk. Especially with the poor level of customer care I have received. My advice to you after my own experiences is never hand over your card details for recurring payments for any subscription. If possible, use Direct Debit or Standing Orders.

– In addition, they have a very odd billing system I find, in which they take your money in advance, usually around 25th of the month, for the next month’s shipment which is expected to arrive around mid-month. Once they have taken your money, if you ask for a cancellation and refund, they will refuse to refund anything to you, saying that the packages are already in the process of being prepared and shipped and they cannot take the package back. What kind of preparation and airmail shipment method from the US takes just over 2 weeks to complete? They are basically saying that from round about the 25th of the month till round about the middle (15th) of the following month, the packages are in the process of being prepared and airmailed to you. Packages that typically contain one tiny toy, 2 sheets of printed paper, and a sheet of about 4 small stickers that isn’t bigger than your palm. I can’t imagine how that could take a lot of time and effort to pack and send. And the US is a first world country and not so far from the UK, so airmail packages from the US typically arrive in UK within a week of postage. In general, it’s all a bit BS really.

– If you’re thinking of purchasing more than 1 subscription for 1 household, perhaps so that each child in the household can have their own package, well I would caution against that. I purchased 2 subscriptions from the start so 2 of my children can have their own sets. Unfortunately the past 2 or 3 of my son’s packages didn’t arrive at the same time as my daughter’s, which affected his enjoyment of the packages – basically the surprise element was gone once he’d seen what his sister had received first. The surprise element of these packages was the main reason why I subscribed to Little Passports. As a home educator, I am used to planning and arranging curricula resources for my children. I could easily have gotten books, worksheets and workbooks or online resources to help my kids learn Geography and cultural awareness. However I notice my kids were more interested in a subject if there is a sensory aspect or a surprise element to it. I tried Little Passports out as it seemed to fit those expectations. Unfortunately it started out fine and then became less satisfactory as time went on due to the above-mentioned issues. When I contacted Little Passports about the lack of synchronicity with the mailing of both packages, I just got an answer that basically meant the company can’t do anything about it. Not only that, the company couldn’t track the packages so if one came late (and once my son’s package did come as late as nearly 2 weeks longer than his sister’s), all the company rep could tell me was they’re sorry and that I must just wait for the packages to arrive.

I felt the company could at least try to ensure that 2 orders from 2 children with the same surname and therefore from the same family at the same address (i.e. siblings) could be sent at the same time so they arrive together. It just makes sense to do so, right? But apparently this is not possible, according to their rep 😕

– And lastly, they have a very poor online  account management system. Below are a few incidents that have happened :

– I forgot my password (or I assumed I did since I tried what I thought was the password I’d set initially and it didn’t work) when I needed to log in one day to halt my shipments for a month. The customer rep I emailed just didn’t address the issue of my password, but she halted the shipments for me.

– When I emailed them to unsubscribe, and according to their online website FAQs, if you want to cancel subscription, all you have to do is email their customer support and give 30 days notice. Well when I emailed customer support to cancel subscription, she said I had to log into my account to do so myself! Well since my online login and password issue still remains unresolved for months, how can I? Why can’t she cancel the subscription herself? Even their FAQs say you just email customer support and give 30 days notice. So why now is she saying I have to log into my online account and unsubscribe from there myself? Conflicting information much? 😕 Below is a screenshot of their company policy from their website on cancelling subscriptions :

***

– Once my son tried going onto their online portal to do the “additional online fun activities”, but we couldn’t log in. Emailed their customer reps only to be given login details but the fields for them were blank in the email. Duh… so this didn’t resolve anything. Luckily for us, after examining his Little Passports suitcase “boarding passes” I realised the problem may be the fact I hadn’t keyed in the correct boarding pass code for him. So problem resolved by myself, no thanks to the customer reps who seemed to not even know much about how the company system operates – ditto for my previous point about conflicting advice on subscription cancellation policies.

And just for interest, I went on Little Passport’s Facebook page to look at their Visitor Posts to see if others were having similar issues to mine. Well I found quite a few. To take a look yourself, go to https://www.facebook.com/littlepassports/

Click on the small arrow next to the word “Visitor Posts”  to view the full list of posts made by various visitors.  I’ve indicated it with a red arrow in the screenshot below.

img_0270

And below this paragraph are screenshots of the complaints, for the month of January 2017 alone, posted by Little Passport customers on the Little Passports Facebook page. I’m sure there are more if you want to look into their page. Hmm clearly a recurring pattern there amongst the complaints mainly relating to delivery issues, customer service issues, and charging and unsubscription issues.

img_0261img_0262img_0264img_0265img_0266img_0267img_0268

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I hope this information is useful to anyone considering subscribing to Little Passports from the UK especially. Also, Little Passports, if you’re reading this, you might think this all sounds harsh, but I promise you if you actually manage to get my issues resolved satisfactorily, I will comment here as truthfully as I can about it. All of your usual pleasantries in your emails will sound nothing but insincere if you fail to be able to resolve your customer issues. I await any further emails from you in good faith and I hope you can understand how frustrated I have been at dealing with your company, which is why I want to cancel now.

You could be doing so much better. You have a great concept in your hands. It is on the strength of the concept that customers flock to you. If you really try and work on the issues surrounding your customer service, the quality of your materials, and your online account portal for customers, you could gain a lot more customers and not lose customers like me who have had frustrating experiences with you.

*******************************************************************

UPDATE:  I received a final reply from the rep today which sounded as if she didn’t understand the issues I’ve had with the company in the past 10 months. She said she wasn’t able to respond timely because of timezone issues, but she was apologetic and said she has made sure my account has been cancelled straight away. I can’t fault the customer reps when they do respond. Rude is not a word that describes them. However the problems still remain, so it could be a company policy issue. Something the directors should decide. Also I suggest timezone issues affecting customer service rep response should not be present if this company wants to be established in the UK market as well. They used to restrict their business to US-only customers, and only last year they started shipping to UK customers too. But it would improve their UK customer service if they had UK-based reps or at least US ones who can man the customer service systems during daytime hours in the UK. And for goodness sakes, they really need to fix their online portal, delivery methods, and charging issues.

I also called my bank today to explain my situation. Having looked at UK-based online forums where people described their difficulties in getting their banks to stop recurring subscription card payments such as this, I was expecting there could be a chance my request could be refused. However I got transferred by the phone banking customer rep to the right person in the company handling this sort of thing, and this lady was very helpful and understanding. She asked me to describe the details of what happened and why I was wanting the payments to be stopped. I explained and didn’t even need to go into excruciating detail, but she basically replied and said it sounds like this company isn’t interested in stopping the payments, and then told me she will ensure all attempts by Little Passports to claim future payments will be refused as of immediate effect. She also said I should receive a letter in the post soon confirming this. How’s that for efficient and responsive customer service? 🙂

Moving to the city

Finally, we are moving again. This time to a city with lots of hippies and people into alternative lifestyles. It is also very multicultural (even more so than the metropolis we lived in before, but not as multicultural as say, London). But I think I’ll like it a bit more. There are more home education events going on there. More kids after-school clubs and things. Not that I would necessarily join home education events as I found from experience that home ed groups can be quite cliquey and its members difficult to befriend. English people are, in general, more difficult to befriend than Americans, Italians or Spaniards anyway, and this is something I’ve known ever since I started living in the UK more than a decade ago. That’s not a big problem if we live in a place with a load of different activities for the kids to go to and a very diverse population. In my experience, I find foreigners are more friendly and ready to befriend us than the more reserved locals. After all, foreigners “club together” right? That is not to say we have never managed to befriend locals. Before we became parents, we were quite the partygoers. Our partying lifestyle had enabled us to befriend a lot of English people, but we drank, smoked, went clubbing a lot. You have to have something in common to befriend people, I guess, and back then it was a love of trance music and dancing that helped us click with others. After we had kids and decided to forgo that kind of lifestyle, I have found it a lot more difficult to make friends with locals. That’s a choice I made and I don’t regret it! But it has to be said that without alcohol to loosen up inhibitions, most English locals are very reserved and not very easy to befriend at all.

I am a bit sad to leave my current place. The people are nice… but the longer I live here, the more I realise that they can be kind of nosy. They really do ask a lot of personal questions. I understand perhaps this is just the way village folk are. But recently my eldest and my youngest told me that every week when they attend their Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade clubs, they get asked by the staff “what did they do in their homeschool today?” … My boy told me a lady there even asked him if he “learnt Maths at home”. That is like… so odd to ask. I mean, my boy is really good with Math. Haha… From my earliest posts I mentioned how he had a natural talent for numbers since he was 4. But the lady did not actually quiz him on his knowledge. Well he’s only 6, but since she is a teacher at a school, I’m sure she could easily come up with some Math questions to test him, and I have no worries about him being able to answer them. But this is not about whether he could answer any Math questions his Boys Brigade leader wants to ask of him though…

The point is that I find our family is under a little scrutiny in this village for home educating our children. While no one in this village has been rude to us in our face about the home education, the general consensus around here is very obvious – all kids go to school. No one else in this village home educates, and no one really understands why anyone would. Although no one has pressured me to send my kids to school here, I do get a lot of people asking me why I chose to home educate, what curriculum do I use, etc. For the benefit of doubt, I accept that they are just asking out of curiosity, because home education is so unheard of in these parts. It still doesn’t make me feel very comfortable living here though. Obviously me and my kids are like the odd ones out. When my neighbours’ kids have parties, they invite each other, but we are not invited. When we lived in cities, this was never a problem – neighbours who hardly knew us would invite us to their home just to get to know us, especially the foreigners. And the British ones used to always invite us to their kids’ birthday parties in the communal gardens when we used to live in a flat if they hadn’t had a chance to get to know us. But the people here are… well… I guess maybe they don’t feel comfortable knowing us because we seem strange to them, not only because we are not local, but also because we home educate!

The people who are nice to us here are from church, and they really are lovely people, but a bit nosy, like I said, and in general not only do my kids stick out because they are mixed race, look part Asian (there are no Asians around here apart from me), but the fact that we home educate and that my kids are not interested in football. One Direction, and some other “mainstream” stuff makes us really really … odd to them? I don’t know. I just feel at the end of the day, we’d be better off living somewhere else, even though life here is peaceful – at least superficially so.  And that’s kind of … what living in a village is like I guess. I’ve never tried living in a village before, but now I know what it can be like.

But I’m not complaining. The place is so quiet and peaceful. It is tranquil, and I don’t worry about crime here. People are generally in a good mood here, presumably because the pace of life here is slower. I wish I could live in a place like this but with the convenience of city life. I feel really isolated here and don’t feel like I can provide my children with the best home education possible… all because I don’t drive and can’t afford a car of my own even if I did drive anyway. My kids have been attending the local church’s Sunday school and Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade groups so far, but nothing else on offer around here really interests them. I mean, there isn’t much on offer around here. Just a football club and a karate club. That’s it. Nothing for a good 10 miles or more. My kids don’t like football or karate. Especially my son, who is the most atypical boy here with his lack of enthusiasm for ball games (e.g. football). He actually told us to purposely bring him to Boys’ Brigade “late” so that he can miss the first part of it – the part when the boys play football. It’s not like the boys there were mean to him, because they aren’t. They are some of the kindest children I’ve met (and I’ve met some mean ones in the cities really). My son says they even tell each other to “give him a kick of the ball because he hasn’t had a chance to have a kick of the ball the whole time they were playing football”. Then my son tells me “But Mummy, I don’t even care about kicking that football. I don’t even care if they never gave me a kick of the ball. I hate football!” So there you have it. My son really doesn’t like football.

Since we’ve been here, the thought of enrolling them back into school has crept up on me quite a few times, simply because school would be able to offer a bit more variety than what I can provide for my kids here. School can take the kids on school trips elsewhere, which I cannot by myself since I don’t drive. Schools can provide the extra socialisation that I cannot, simply because I can’t drive my kids to various home ed meetups and interesting after-school activities in the nearest big town. I felt bad that my kids no longer have nice fantastic parks with duck ponds and boating lakes, free museums, fantastic range of clubs, orchestras, plays, etc. right on their “doorstep” like they used to in the city.. I felt bad I could not take them to places for day trips simply because I don’t drive and there are no buses here that serve most areas – buses only go to two small towns in each direction, and takes an hour to reach each town. My kids have grown bored… so bored, since they came here, although they still would rather home ed than go to school – their explanation being that they have more free time to pursue their interests when they are home ed whereas school’s 6 hours daily of “boredom” is too much. Believe me, I have asked them if they would rather go to school here since it’s so boring for them, but each time they said no.

I’ll be honest. My kids aren’t naturally very sociable people. They don’t feel lonely easily. They are pretty happy by themselves engrossed in whatever interests them. They are very musical. Oh yes, that’s another thing that my daughter misses. Her violin lessons. Over here in the sticks, there is like 1 violin teacher in the whole 20 miles of expanse… and it was difficult to find her. We only found her 2 weeks ago. But then a week after that, we went to view a house in the new city and we were impressed. We wanted to take the house straight away. Neighbourhood seems good. More up our street. So close to the city centre. Well-connected by buses and trains. Perfect for a non-driver like me. Very diverse city. Good schools if we wanted to enrol our kids in school. The college in the city also accepts home educated kids for exams – what I intend to do if my kids don’t go to school is to send them to college.

So I will miss the people in this little village. But I sure won’t miss my loss of freedom here. I will look back with fond memories and think… if I could drive, and if we could afford 2 cars in our family, then I would consider coming back to this village to live again, because it is a nice place to live in, if you could drive. And if I could drive, I’d be like… sod what people here think of my choice to home educate. If people don’t like us, that’s okay. We can still drive to towns x, y and z to socialise in home ed groups, bigger range of after-school clubs and classes, etc.. But right now, this option doesn’t exist because I don’t drive and don’t own a car of my own.

And so… I look forward to moving to our new house with enthusiasm. A new life, ahead of us.

Who knows what that will bring?

 

Copyright Notice
This website and its content is copyright of Ticklyfeet.net – © Ticklyfeet.net 2012. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited except with the Author’s express written permission. The Author may be initially contacted by email via the webform on the “About” page here : /about/

Allergies… and living in the sticks.

We’ve moved. For the last 2 weeks, we’ve been living in a house in the sticks. The house itself is not very big for a 3 bedroomed house, but the garden is massive and it has an outdoor shed converted into a study, which is cute.

Whilst we no doubt appreciated the increase in the space of our living quarters, all of us caught some kind of flu/coughing bug soon after moving here. The house looked clean but that is really deceptive. We all had horrible hayfever symptoms which complicated things and dragged out for 2 whole weeks (of which me and my son and eldest daughter are still recovering from).

I remember last week, walking into one of the sheds in the garden (there are three), and immediately coughing and coughing once I entered the dusty, cobwebbed interior. I had to go out quick as I could.

We went out for a meal one day and I noticed my coughing subsided. Then we came back home and I was continuously hacking up all the time, even through the night. Sitting up half the night hacking out dry tickly coughs uncontrollably is very unpleasant, but it wasn’t the first time I had this sort of coughing episode – the last time being nearly 5 years ago when my son was not yet a year old. It was such a bad lingering 3 week cough back then -you bet I always remembered it after. Well this time round, it was just as bad, except it was for a week only and I felt more concerned about having it, because when I’m coughing like this, I cannot talk much at all… in fact my voice was lost for a week and was a hoarsey deep croak. I was tired and lethargic because of lack of sleep and I cannot homeschool at all. I’ve had to declare “Homeschool Holidays” to my kids for all of this time. Well, that was an unplanned holiday I guess, but since we had already completed most of our year’s work, it’d be okay to stop now for a break and resume some time during the Summer vacation period for schooled kids. That’s the beauty of homeschooling.

I’ve had to consider medical solutions to my problem. I was, at one point, coughing at every inhale because my throat was insanely tickly. Visiting the GP was too much of a a hassle as they were so strict on procedures. Apparently the NHS allows you to see GPs you are not registered with, as an Emergency, only if you are on holiday and you have to show them proof of it. Otherwise you just have to go through the usual rigmarole of registering – over here, they want to see a recent utilities or council tax bill with your name on it (to prove you are really resident here in this part of the UK) and they want to see a photographic form of ID like a passport. Not only that, I was told that even if I followed procedure, I still won’t be able to see a doctor the same day. I had to try my luck by calling the clinic when it opens in the early morning to see if they could give me a slot during the day. If not, I’ll have to try my luck again the next day or I can choose to book an appointment in advance, which will mean I may not be seen until a week later.

I’ve never had to go through all that just to register myself with a GP before, and I’ve registered myself at over 7 different GP practices across the country over the last decade as a result of moving around for my husband’s career. Maybe things have changed since like, the last time I registered myself with a GP… but I decided that I’ve got to be really desperate for medical attention to go through all that.

I did my own homework online and found out that codeine is very effective for stubborn uncontrollable dry coughs like mine. Codeine acts on a part of our brain that is responsible for coughing. So I ordered a bottle of Palmo Bailly cough mixture online. It arrived about 2 days later – 2 days too late in my opinion… but it was quite miraculous. It literally worked the moment I brought the glass of this stuff to my lips and smelt the pungent fumes. It silenced every propensity to cough from the very first moment it touched my lips until… well, until half an hour to an hour later, unfortunately. So it is a quick fix, but didn’t last long enough. I suppose it may be because the amount of codeine in this is a lot lesser than other codeine cough meds that used to be easily available (but are now all restricted as prescription drugs due to possible abuse).

But I took it faithfully and within 2 days, my cough had subsided to a manageable once-an-hourly cough or clearing of the throat. I will certainly keep this stuff around for coughs in future now that I’ve discovered it’s efficacy. And I really can’t see how I can get addicted to it. It tastes and smells so vile, which must be from the chloroform in the mixture, as it reminds me of the smell of chlorine. Yep, you heard it. They put chloroform in the stuff… I tried researching why, and apparently chloroform is used during the chemical process for extracting the codeine. Codeine, as you may already know, is very weak morphine, an opioid.

My nose also was bunged up a lot of the time, due to the coughing. The coughing fits (which were bad enough to make me retch) would cause my eyes to water and my nose to bung up with snot straight away. I thought this made recovery even more difficult, as all that extra mucus generated in my nose from the coughing will just end up as post nasal drip, which I believe was already partly responsible for the persistent cough and the irritated throat. So I researched online and found this nasal decongestant spray called Otrivine which had good reviews. I bought it on Amazon, arrived the next day (I love my Amazon Prime subscription). And it does work like magic. Literally within seconds of squirting Otrivine up my nostrils, they started opening up and remained clear and dry for about 8 hours, before they start getting bunged up again and I’d need another squirt of the stuff to clear my nose again.

So… a whole week of trying out meds on my own. I realised it wasn’t too bad because I stumbled upon some real gems for coughs and nasal congestion. I learned some things too but I wouldn’t want to wish it on anyone or myself again.

I noticed that because I tend to cough more when I’m in the house rather than out, that perhaps the house was still too dusty even though it looked clean. I hoovered down the carpeted areas twice and was shocked to find a lot of black sandy dust particles and what looked like pet hairs (maybe belonging to a dog or cat… about 3 inch long ones… I guess the previous occupant of this house must have kept some pets, like our neighbours all do). We then gave the carpets a good clean with our carpet washing machine, and took down all the curtains, machine washed them. I wasn’t coughing as much anymore. In fact I actually managed to catch a few hours of sleep without coughing after that. Then I realised that I must have some kind of dust allergy or even a pet allergy.

I remember once visiting someone’s house. Her house was always in a mess with clutter everywhere, no table surface was ever available for eating or working on unless one shifts over a ton of stuff from the table surface. that time was particularly bad, as apparently she had a stressful week so I guess she didn’t clean. And the stairs and corners had small clumps of hair here and there. All human hair, as this person had no furry pets, but for the hair to accumulate to the point of gathering into clumps around the edges and corners of the rooms and stairwell… it was no wonder I had hayfever within one day of living there. The intense sneezing, sniffling, the watering eyes, etc. I was practically begging for antihistamines from her, as I didn’t think of taking some for myself before going to her house to stay – I’ve always carried a pack of antihistamine tablets with me everywhere I go, since learning that lesson.

But yeah just thinking about all of this made me realise I must have some sort of dust allergy at the very least. I don’t even notice that in the flat I lived in for 7 years before moving to this house, because I always vacuumed my flat twice a week as it was fully carpeted throughout except for the kitchen and bathroom and I liked the feeling of walking on clean carpets.

It did make me feel a bit sad that maybe it would be best we didn’t adopt a cat or a dog. We had originally wanted to, because now we’ve got a house and will be living in houses for the foreseeable future as my husband will probably never land a job in a big city again and we will always be living in semi rural places at least… and in these parts, flats… even ugly flats, can be really difficult if not impossible to find. Because house prices are quite low, and the population density is so low, there is no need to build flats and cram lots of people into one single land area. But living in these places mean we’re always surrounded by other people’s pets too. Our neighbours on both sides have a total of at least 4 dogs and 10 cats between them. There are ducks waddling about on the roads in the village. There is no duck pond however. How strange.

My kids love animals and want furry pets. My husband is a star though. He got so concerned for my coughing, he was the one who initiated the intense cleaning of the carpets and curtains these past two days. I couldn’t have done it on my own as I would have still been busy coughing my lungs out and trying my best to take things slowly and rest more and only do the cleaning when I’m better.

Anyway my husband now is dead set on never getting a pet dog or cat. He told the kids we won’t be getting them because it risked mummy’s health. In a way it was touching (because my husband too loves animals and grew up with lots of animals at home) but also sad for me because when I was growing up, I wanted a pet dog so much but my animal-hating mum flat out refused. I just never had the chance to have a pet because I was never staying in a house with a big enough garden of my own to have such pets.

We could still have pets, but it would have to stay outdoors at all times. I think rodents, chickens or birds would be nice too. I could also try and get myself allergy tested for cats and dogs. Funny how I’ve learnt so much in just 2 weeks of living in the sticks. Some other things I’ve learnt so far …

A) I find I get stared at a lot more for being an ethnic minority here. It’s not really hostile staring, but more like they’ve never seen someone like this around here before. Plus I normally have my kids with me, and they stare at my kids and my family too, because they’ve never seen mixed race kids much around here. I have to say though that my kids have had positive interactions with their peers here in Sunday School and Boys and Girls Brigade. On the other hand, I feel like I am something of an unofficial ambassador for my race… whatever that is to them. Whatever I say or do may reflect a lot to them about what people like me say or do. It is a weird feeling but I don’t blame people for it.

B) The locals here speak a sort of north London accent… the sort I’d hear in Watford or Harrow… well, I used to live there for some time, so of course I’d know. This is something I didn’t expect… because this place is quite far from Watford for a start. I never thought there would be so little variation in accent from Watford up to this neck of the woods. Good thing about this is that the accent is very easy for us to understand. It is unlike the Northern accents which I often struggled with. My kids tell me they find the accents here easy to understand as well. It’s a very neutral sort of accent.

C) Everybody drives around here. Everybody. Most our neighbours have 2 cars per household, and if they have kids who are high school graduates, they have more than 2 cars parked outside their houses. There is a bus service and there’s a bus once or twice an hour, but the journey from our village to the nearest big towns take an hour by bus each – whereas if you drove, the time it takes to get to these bigger towns is like half the time taken by the bus, so round about half an hour. Major difference, and makes you not feel like taking the bus, no? I used to be a regular public transport user, but when I came here and saw what it’s like, I just thought… forget it. If I need to go “to town”, I’d ask my husband to give us a lift instead. And I would just rely on internet shopping a LOT more to buy my stuff. Thank God for the internet! I guess you can also say, we’ve become more homely. Oh yes, no parks around here. It is quite poorly-resourced compared to a big city, but on the other hand, this place is good for outdoor living. We are literally living in the middle of huge agricultural swathes of land. There are no motorways here. Just A roads, B roads and dirt tracks.

D) Average salaries here are lower than in bigger cities, yet the people here live a generally higher standard of life. This area produces a lot of the fruit and veg that goes on to be sold in the big supermarkets, and we are lucky that our little village has a long-standing tradition of a weekly “market” where produce is sold at a fraction (up to half) of the price of their equivalent in supermarkets but are so fresh and good. Not to mention large. For instance, some of the strawberries they sell here in the village’s weekly market are as big as apples. And they are always really sweet and juicy. Not like the supermarket ones which often can be quite sour. You can get a lot of “house” for your money here, and an outdoor lifestyle, and the crime rate here is so low that if there is one murder, it’d make the front page news. So all in all it seems that people here have a higher standard of living.

 

Copyright Notice
This website and its content is copyright of Ticklyfeet.net – © Ticklyfeet.net 2012. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited except with the Author’s express written permission. The Author may be initially contacted by email via the webform on the “About” page here : /about/

Sharing interests in Biology

tumblr_moeketvfYF1r6jsmjo1_r2_500
(images above are of one of the exhibits at the Hunterian Museum, London)

I took the girls to the Hunterian Museum in London 2 days ago and it was just fascinating. Okay, more so for me and my younger daughter (who’s 6), as we just seem to have the same interests in biology and nature. My eldest daughter likes this sort of thing too but not as much as me and my younger one.

We originally made the decision to go to London 2 days ago because we had learnt at the last minute, by word of mouth, that there was gonna be a “World of Minecraft” late night family event at London’s V&A museum. Now *that* was, in my eldest daughter’s words… “Awesome!!” So yes we spent a day and a half in London in total – first going to the “World of Minecraft” event, where they both thoroughly enjoyed themselves, then we returned to the hotel to sleep for the night, and the next day, after waking up and having breakfast, we went straight to the Hunterian Museum.

When I stepped into the Hunterian, I felt like a child in a “candy shop”. My eyes just lit up. And it made me realise I’ve always loved biology more than I’d ever acknowledged. I was not allowed to study biology in Secondary because I went to an academically-selective semi-private school and I wasn’t “creme de la creme” of my batch of students. And that meant I was not allowed to do biology. I was forced to do other hard sciences like Chemistry, Calculus and Physics though – this was de rigeur for all students in that school. In Singapore however, not doing biology at O levels meant you won’t get to do it for A levels either. Your future’s made in Singapore from the results you get in school from the age of 12, and not being allowed to do biology at O levels meant you will never be allowed to do biology in any Singaporean institution of higher learning. The only recourse was to be brave enough to go overseas and pursue biology at a great expense with no guarantees in sight.

Now that I’m in England, where there are night classes in biology open to all and running in most city colleges of further education, I know the opportunity is now open to me to do biology formally. Well if I can find the time, that is! Now that I’m home educating, time is scarce and limited.

And it’s just something that happened after I started unschooling. I’ve learnt to see opportunities instead of failure. I’ve gotten in touch with my true passions in life – a side effect of helping my children get in touch with theirs’. I’m thinking about how I can go about pursuing my passions, as I help my children pursue theirs’. Unschooling has been a very rewarding endeavour for me.

Today my 6 year old daughter wanted me to read one of her favourite books for bedtime – Usbourne’s See Inside Your Body book – and we did the pages on lungs and breathing. Reading it led to informal discussion of… Radiation.

And this was how.

In the book, there was an illustration of how oxygen we breathe into our lungs actually pass through the alveoli in our lungs (those balloon-shaped endings on the respiratory branches in our lungs), going into our blood and turning our blood red from blue.

“How does this happen?”, she asked.

Well, because there are tiny tiny holes in the walls of the alveoli in our lungs that are large enough for the little molecules of oxygen we breathe to fit through.

“Ahh…”, she said in realization.

Well this isn’t unusual, I added. Millions of tiny molecules are passing through our walls as we speak. In fact, they are passing through us. This happens all the time. You know what are some of these particles?

She shook her head.

Well our WiFi for instance. How do you think we can still get internet even though we’re in another room? Because the WiFi waves from the router are passing through our walls to get to us. And I mentioned other things like radio waves… how do you think music played from the radio station in the city centre gets to our radio at home? Well, the radio waves travel through the air, past the streets, going through walls, etc… to come to us.

I went on explaining how things like the microwave oven, radio frequencies, WiFi connections at home, the lights at home, sunlight, etc. all involve different forms of radiation. And I went on to illustrate briefly what radiation can be. The dangerous, cancer-causing sort that killed the two Curies… and the radiation from the sun that can give us skin cancer if we stay out in the sun for too long without sunscreen or shade. Or the harmless kind of radiation like the light (radiation) that emanates from our light bulb.

“I mean, do you think the light from the lightbulb in your lamp can cause cancer?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head firmly.

And radiation is the same as waves. They move like them. Except radiation can be invisible. Like WiFi is made up of invisible waves.

“What? Waves only happen in the sea! They don’t happen invisibly!” my daughter exclaimed.

I said oh yes, you can certainly view radiation moving in waves, just that you need to use a very special kind of microscope. Because the particles that move in radiation are so very tiny that we can’t see them without special machines.

She listened intently, very wide awake at that point. I noticed my eldest daughter had dozed off by then! I decided to call it a night and tucked my middle child into bed and kiss her goodnight. She gave me a very long satisfied squeeze-hug before I went. An indication of just how much she loved what we shared just now. Just that informal conversation alone, about all that stuff that fascinates her.

We connected. Through shared interests. Though I know a little bit more than her at this point, my job is not to be the sole provider of all that she wants to know, but to help her discover new interests and learn to research things on her own so she does not have to rely on me (or any adult) to tell her what to do.

As I walked out their bedroom, I thought to myself “What?? What is all that I’d just been talking to her about??” Physics? I haven’t even touched Physics in years!

During my years of force-fed pure-Physics Secondary-schooling, I have never came to a personal realisation of these topics about waves and radiation. I might have read about it being mentioned on some texts before, but it was never really information that was absorbed and fully understood…just regurgitated for the sake of passing exams with flying colours. But tonight when I was explaining to her about all this, I felt I really understood it. It just flowed naturally.

So in a way, my knowledge has been enriched by home education. Even though I had set out to home educate for the sake of my children’s enrichment, not my own. I can’t begin to tell you how many times this has happened. This eureka moment, when I’m involved in my children’s education and I learnt something new.

Although I may put my daughter back in mainstream schooling eventually, especially since she seems to gravitate towards sciences (I know it’s very rare for a person to go it alone in the science fields without any affiliation to a traditional institution of learning), but I hope to home educate her as long as possible until the time comes, to keep her love of science alive as and until she naturally, if ever she would, lose interest in it.

Love learning for learning’s sake.

Let’s keep it that way.

 

Copyright Notice
This website and its content is copyright of Ticklyfeet.net – © Ticklyfeet.net 2012. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited except with the Author’s express written permission. The Author may be initially contacted by email via the webform on the “About” page here : /about/