I've been a National Trust member for as long as I can remember. First as a child on my parent's family membership, then an adult member in my own right, and now as a joint member with Mr C. The kids aren't yet old enough for us to need family membership, but I'm pretty sure that will come next. Every year when I pay the annual direct debit I have to admit that I do briefly wonder if it really is worth it, but just a few moments remembering some of the amazing days out we've had and there's no question that we'll continue.
These last few weeks we've been making good use of our membership with the kids and now that Little Miss C is a little bit older there has been so much more for her to do and join in with on our visits and it's suddenly made me realise just how well the National Trust understands their younger visitors and members and how it gets things so right for them.
We've recently had a lovely day out at Anglesey Abbey with a friend and her daughters and also a good old explore at Clumber Park with my mum who lives nearby. Both visits had me (and the kids) buzzing with excitement and more and more in love with the National Trusts way of doing things.
Firstly at Anglesey Abbey the children were able to pick up explorer packs at the visitor's centre and wander round the grounds with large magnifying glasses and bird and insect guides. Suddenly they had a reason to look closely at what was all around them and really get up close with nature and they loved doing so.
After a picnic by a lake full of fish we then headed over to the wildlife discovery area where the fun and excitement went up a step further. Not only was there a huge tree house to climb and explore, but also a pirate ship and wooden "cafe" area which were perfect for role playing. It really says a lot about how much fun we had when I say that despite a huge thunder storm and torrential rain I don't think any of the three (walking age) children complained once about the weather – they were all just having too much fun to stop!
Tired, muddy and happy we finally ended up back at the visitor's centre for a cup of tea and chocolate cake – plus a medal each for the children for completing an activity there. Little Miss C still wears hers with pride telling everyone what a fantastic time she had there.
Now, Clumber Park is somewhere that I have been going with my parents since I was born and it's probably the National Trust site that I know best, but so much is being improved there these days that this last visit was quite an eye opener. We initially headed straight for the playground area that we've got to know quite well near the main cafe and shop area. After a good play there we then headed down to the lake to see the ducks and then to the cafe for the all important tea and cake stop. A visit to the secondhand bookshop followed and then we discovered the Discovery Centre. I was amazed to hear that it's been open for a couple of years now as I'd somehow completely missed it until now.
What a fantastic space – an indoor glass-sided wildlife tank, at the perfect height for children to see what was in it, good display boards, an area with puzzles and games, a cosy corner with beanbags and a basket full of children's books, an area set up with microscopes and exhibits to look at through them. It was quite simply marvellous and the perfect place to take children on a day when the weather's not so good outside.
But, as I've said before, there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, and if you subscribe to that idea then you'll also love the woodland play area that has just opened there. Once again, this place is just perfect for kids to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies. In the woods they've used natural materials to create dens, balance bars, ramps and other obstacles for children to explore and enjoy. LMC spent ages running up a huge tree trunk arranged as a ramp and then jumping off into a circle filled with bark chippings. She absolutely loved it there and there were tears when it was time to go home.
Two amazing days out and so much for the children to do, and all covered by our membership.
So, how have the National Trust got it so spot on for children? In my mind, it's actually all quite simple – they've gone back to basics. Children are encouraged to enjoy the outdoors and get to know nature. To climb trees, run around in the fresh air, go pond dipping, look at what's around them and behave just like children have done for years before. There's education information there for them, but all presented in such a fun way, meaning that children want to learn and explore things further.
All this is exactly what their 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4 encourages too. For children to do some of the simple activities that their parents and grandparents enjoyed outdoors when they were children, as well as try some things that simply weren't available to those generations.
I love the National Trust for this I really do. I love the fact that they encourage children to be children. And I also love the fact that they've also thought about all those helpful things that help parents to enjoy their day out too – baby changing facilities, children's lunch boxes, highchairs and activity packs.
Quite simply – this is why I'm happy to pay for my annual membership every year and will continue to do so for years to come. Keep up the good work NT!
Disclaimer: I've written this post about the National Trust because I want to shout about how wonderful they are. They're a charity and I'd love it if you could support them too. In case it's not obvious I have received nothing in exchange for this post.