Category Archives: Exciting Excursions

How To Get Kids Writing Using Frogspawn

No - nothing's coming.

No – nothing’s coming.

Time and time again, I see young kids not wanting to write and teenagers having to write but struggling to get the words down. It’s not just the kids that suffer, staff in schools and colleges have trouble too as they try to get children to produce pieces of writing. This is because of the way the curriculum has gone, it’s all to do with ticking boxes instead of making writing the enjoyable pastime that it is. It is important then to give kids the desire to write while they are young.

If, at this point, you imagine that I’m going to suggest sitting down at a table and getting a workbook out, you can think again. Get some notebooks, pencils and a camera or phone that has a built in camera and get yourself outside.  You’ve heard of a bear hunt – well you are going on a frogspawn hunt.



Quick note – it depends what time of the year it is and where you are. The best way to decide what you are looking for is to have a quick look for nature sites on the internet and see what your children are likely to be interested in and if you might find them.  As an example, I will use frogspawn.

So how can finding frogspawn get your children writing?

They can take photos or draw sketches of the places that you looked to find the frogspawn. Underneath the visuals they can write where they went that did not produce any samples and where they found some. I visit a pond daily to get photographs.

Look what I found.

Look what I found.

After giving them a safety talk about being near water, you can photograph or sketch the frogspawn that you find. You can then either tell your children about the life cycle of the frog or let them research it themselves. They can put all their evidence in their notebooks alongside what they have actually seen.

The next step is for them to imagine the frogspawn going from tadpole to frog. What is he or she called? Once a name has been decided upon and written in the notebook, your child could think about five things that this frog really likes and five things that their frog hates. All this can go down in the notebook as well as a drawing of the fictional frog. I will be doing more posts about story writing at a later date.

I'm called George.

I’m called George.

All of this can be done out in the fresh air and your children can run about and get exercise while getting their notebook together. It is a good idea to encourage your children to take the notebooks on further outings so that they can keep a record of their adventures.

It is important never to criticise the handwriting, grammar or spelling in your children’s notebooks. The reason for this is that the notebook is there for them to express themselves. Handwriting, spelling and grammar will all fall into place if your children learn to love writing.  This will happen if you make writing a natural part of their pleasurable activities.

This website cannot take responsibility for any suggestions that may be followed. It is up to you to keep your children safe.




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Filed under Creative Writing, Exciting Excursions, For children, Help Your Child To Be Sucessful, Parenting

Why we need to get kids into Shakespeare in Primary School

We at Loony Literature headed up to Hull Truck Theatre last week to see the RSC perform The Famous Victories of Henry V – this is a play, for kids, that brings together all the exciting moments of three plays – Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V.

We need more of this

Basically, we need more of this – it is that simple. We have mentioned before that some teenagers can spend more than three years getting a GSCE grade C in English Language which includes a Shakespeare play. This is because they study it for two years at school but if do not get a C or above, they have to do it again.

We have also said to anyone who will listen that kids need to be introduced in a fun manner to Shakespeare in primary school not in secondary school. By the time they study a play at secondary school they need to be relaxed about The Bard. The Famous Victories of Henry V by the RSC was everything and more than we could have wished for.

Simon Yadoo as Sir John Falstaff in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

Simon Yadoo as Sir John Falstaff in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

The cast was made up of young actors apart from the extra talented  Simon Yadoo who played Falstaff/Henry V. The energy of the players was electric as the young actors went among the audience before the play started making sure that they knew what the plot was.

The name of the game at this event was audience participation – those actors worked that audience as if they were back in Elizabethan England. There were props handed out to some of the children and they had to give them to certain characters during the play.

The audience were taught a song about Falstaff’s wine which everyone sang with vigour while waving their arms about. This was obviously a winner as a group of girls sang it loudly in the lavatory after the performance.

A young boy of about eight sat behind us and he had to stand up and shout. He was truly earnest and we were certain that that little boy would never forget that moment all his life. His eyes showed that.

We want them to laugh until their sides ache

The RSC have also taken this production into some schools and we need more of this for our country’s children. Shakespeare is meant to be performed; this is the second item that we need for kids. We need them to experience crafted actors, like Martin Bassindale who played Henry V, bringing the characters to life. We want them to laugh until their sides ache like they did at this production when Mistress Quickly, played by Daniel Abbott, shook his bosom at them.

Dale Mathurin as John, Martin Bassindale as Prince Hall, Daniel Abbott as Mistress Quickly and Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

Dale Mathurin as John, Martin Bassindale as Prince Hall, Daniel Abbott as Mistress Quickly and Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

When kids have experienced this they will begin to understand what the Bard is all about. One teacher said that before the RSC visited their school, they used to have the ‘collective groan’ when Shakespeare was mentioned but now there was excitement in the air.

Schools need to go to more theatre trips and more theatre companies need to be working with them, hand in hand. We don’t only want the kids of our country being introduced to Shakespeare in this manner, we want them to see Frankenstein making his monster and Dr Jekyll transforming into Mr Hyde.

We have a world famous literary heritage

As with everything, a major problem is budget. We are not experts on these matters but surely putting money into the problem when kids are in primary school would balance out all those English GSCEs that teenagers are resitting around the country. We are talking hundreds of thousands of resits here, not a mere few.

We have a world famous literary heritage and it is only when we make our kids proud of it will the level of GCSE resits drop.


Filed under Education, Exciting Excursions, Help Your Child To Be Sucessful, Inspiration and Us, Shakespeare Diary, theatre in education

Conjuring and Capturing Feelings – Inspiration in Ruins.

English: The Gatehouse at Thornton Abbey

English: The Gatehouse at Thornton Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have great writing days and I have writing days when I simply do not understand why I am writing at all.  On the great ones, I experience life at its best, I know I am not simply alive but actually LIVING, really living as the excitement generates around my body and my fingers flash along the keyboards.  On the bad writing days, I stare at the text and I hate it, every word seems wrong; the characters are cardboard and the plot is boring.  I have trouble concentrating as my mind is more concerned with Bowie songs which will play themselves on a loop in my brain and my study looks like a dusty dump.  At this point, it might seem that on the great days, I get lots of quality writing done and on the bad days, I get nothing done at all.  On the contrary, I still get some done on the bad days, maybe not as much as the good days but the main difference is that it is unpleasant.  To be honest, it puzzled me so much that I started to analyse it to see if I could do anything about it.

I thought about the great days and how they start off and after a while it occurred to me that it is all about feeling certain ways for certain pieces of writing.  For instance, when I work on Mulgrave Castle a supernatural, Victorian novel, I often get a certain feeling coming over me which is my supernatural, Victorian feeling –all it is, is how I felt when I read books and visited places which inspired Mulgrave Castle.  In other words, I had captured the feelings when being inspired to write the book and sometimes they appear when I am actually writing it.  On the bad days, when I would rip it up, if it was on paper, I have not conjured up these feelings and it is jolly hard work.

The more I thought about this, the more it occurred to me that if I could retain the feelings I get when I am inspired and conjure them up at will, my writing and writing experience will greatly benefit from it.  I suppose that really it is merely what Stanislavski suggested  actors should do all those years ago, capture the emotion, store it and learn to bring it back at will.  As I reflected on this, I thought it would be useful if when visiting places to be inspired, I also went with the purpose of capturing the feelings to use again later.  To do this as an experiment, we decided to visit Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire as we have used it before for inspiration; I expect though that all ruins will do perfectly well, wherever you are.

Thornton Abbey

Thornton Abbey

There are some places which one should arrive at preferably by train, Venice being the most obvious example, however, Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire is another one.  If you want to feel as if you have gone back to the world of Enid Blyton or “Swallows and Amazons” dump the car at one of the rural villages along the Barton Upon Humber to Cleethorpes railway line and catch the train to Thornton Abbey.

As I chug along through the flat Lincolnshire countryside, I prepare myself for the jump down from the train.  The platform at the Thornton Abbey stop is so old, I literally have to jump off as the platform is way lower than the train.  It is at this point that I start to feel as if I’ve gone back in time.  The beautiful Thornton Abbey Gatehouse beckons in the distance as we make our way along a path which has glorious countryside on either side and big faced, lazy sheep greet us with a glimmer of interest.  The reason I suggest dumping the car and catching the train somewhere along the line is that walking up the path to Thornton Abbey transports me into another world and is a strong source of inspiration when writing children’s adventure stories.  I strongly remember being eleven and long summer holidays; I close my eyes and monitor the feeling, truly noting it and recognising it instead of simply basking in it.  I picture an eleven year old me running down the path towards Thornton Abbey and hold it.  I do a mental click as if I have taken a photograph and hope that I will be able to conjure up this wonderful feeling when the time is right.

We get to the entrance of The Gatehouse and I am really excited as I have been here before and I have to say that it is one of my favourite places to visit.  I am not going to write the history of Thornton Abbey as that is not the point of the piece and there is lots of information on that elsewhere on the internet.

One of the reasons I love visiting Thornton Abbey so much is that it has a wonderful effect on me.  Whenever I visit it, it changes my mood into a very happy, carefree one; the peaceful, happy feelings on the land are so powerful it is like taking a tonic. I intend to capture that strong feeling today, hopefully for use in the future. I have to say at this point that I am well aware that there are stories of Thornton Abbey being haunted by Thomas De Gretham, the 14th abbot of Thornton Abbey,  who was supposed to have been a practitioner of the dark arts and rather partial to the pleasures of the flesh.  He suffered for his crimes in that he was bricked up alive in an underground dungeon and was found still sitting at his desk in the 1830s, hundreds of years later.  There are supposed to have been sightings of him but the only feelings I get from there are happy, beneficial ones which I can use to energise me when I am writing.

Even though Thornton Abbey has a very strong happy aura, it can be used to create feelings for writing spooky stories.  Will and I took picnic rugs and a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” to Thornton Abbey to read the story amongst the ruins.  We had just finished the story when the sky turned black and we were assaulted with that hard, harsh rain which hurts and soaks within minutes.  We had to shelter in the ruins, which, being ruins, did not really shelter us at all.  It was too far to run to the gatehouse or the small exhibition room so we had to wait and watch the turbulent weather and the swallows flew in and out of our shelter telling us to go – the scene was spooky but made me feel excited.  I closed my eyes and focussed on the image I experienced.  Hopefully, when I remember the scene, the emotions I experienced would return when I want to create that feeling for writing.

Thornton Abbey

A spooky place to take shelter when there is a storm.

Once the rain stopped, we went to do our final experiment.  We were going to use the main hall on the second floor of the gatehouse for Will to perform a Richard III monologue.  The room was darkly lit with a wooden floor which bends slightly when walked along and shafts of light escape through the gaps up into the room.  It was perfect for Will to perform the villain’s piece and as I watched I shivered and did feel as if I was in another time.  Will took the emotion of how he felt in that room away with him; he really did feel that it was a powerful exercise.

Thornton Abbey

I could really imagine Shakespeare’s Richard III in here plotting.

It might all seem like a great deal of fuss for a bit of writing and acting but it works, not every time because we all have times in our life when it is distraught and we cannot escape reality.  However, because the great moments in life are so precious, we have to create them when and where we can – give it a go when you get the chance or have you been doing it for years? Let me know.


Filed under Creative Writing, Exciting Excursions, Inspiration and Us

Lincoln Gaol

Sometimes we take our children on days out which we think are educational but exciting for them.  All too often we pay out our hard earned cash and the only thing they are interested in is the shop at the venue.  Little ones mostly enjoy anything but the older ones are not so easy to impress.  Exciting excursions therefore looks at the more grisly side of our heritage.


The Victorian prison is set in the grounds of Lincoln Castle in the historical city of Lincoln.

The Lucy Tower is perhaps one of the most unusual graveyards that can be found.  The visitor has to climb many steep steps to get to the graveyard.  Once inside, we find ourselves in an enclosed cemetery.  The other bizarre aspect of the graveyard is that all the graves are of prisoners who were hanged in Lincoln Gaol.  One of whom was William Frederick Harry who was hanged on April 1st, 1872 for the murder of his wife.  Others who were hanged at Lincoln Gaol were : Peter Blanchard  -1875, William Clark – 1877, James Anderson -1883 and Thomas Garry in 1868.  The first private female hanging was that of Pricilla Biggerdyke in 1868.   Apparently she was having an affair with the lodger and her husband died of rat poisoning.  Although Priscilla actually bought the poison she maintained that she was innocent up until her execution.  Years later, the lodger confessed to the dastardly deed on his deathbed.  Priscilla was pardoned – too little, too late.

Older children seem to enjoy these grisly tales and it brings history to life for them when they actually visit the spot where it happened.  This case is well documented and it is good for their I.T. skills to do further research on real life historical cases.  Sometimes, older children also seem to be more interested in grisly tales of everyday people of the past.   The violence of the Kings and Queens often seems unreal and more like something from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales.

There is a bench for visitors to sit upon in The Lucy Tower.  It could be imagined that sitting up there in unhallowed ground, amongst people who had suffered violent deaths, would cause an atmosphere of unrest – that is the strangest aspect of The Lucy Tower.  It offers a feeling of peace and tranquility bordering on sanctuary.

Lincoln Gate.


The original mound upon which The Lucy Tower stands was built in 1068.  It would have been built with a mixture of earth and stones and then covered in clay.  The first tower would have been made of wood.  If the enemy had taken over the castle, The Lucy Tower most probably would have been the last line of defence.  It was not made into a prison graveyard until 1824.

Standing in the pulpit of the prison chapel is intimidating; it is something which I will never forget.

In 1849 the Separate System came into force.  It was believed that if prisoners were kept in isolation they would become rehabilitated.  They were only let out of their cells to go to the Chapel and for exercise.  If strangely enough, The Lucy Tower gives the visitor a pleasant feeling, then the Chapel does the opposite.  It is said to be the only one of its kind left in the world.  The Separate System meant that the inmates would sit in closed in seats, in The Chapel, so that they could not see or speak to anyone else.  The seats are tilted, therefore if any prisoners dared to fall asleep during a sermon they would fall forward and be punished.  There was an open bench at the back which was especially for condemned criminals; obviously it was thought that they were beyond redemption.  Debtors also were not included in the separate system and they would be seated in the gallery with the men above and the female debtors below.  There were sloping seats at the front for the women.  Each criminal in the Separate System was locked into his seat before another could be let in.  In addition to not being allowed to see others, the prisoners also had to wear masks to cover their faces.  In 1851, it was realized that this system did not work and it was abandoned.

The remarkable aspect of all this is that visitors to the chapel today can stand in the pulpit and have the view which the prison chaplain would have.  Some seats are fitted with a dummy criminal wearing a mask.  The vision is intimidating and the atmosphere is awful, it gave me shivers down my back.  If it made me feel so uncomfortable when the situation was simply being portrayed, I can not imagine what it must have been like to be there in reality.  It is places like this which really help children understand what the past was like.

There is also the castle and the castle walls to visit.


Filed under Exciting Excursions