It’s getting better. We’re getting used to the rain. We bought hideous bright blue plastic garbage-bag-like ponchos to get around the holiday village in which we’re staying. It’s a bit like a toned down Disneyland-in-nature; lots and lots of identical one-story houses in a forest full of little streams. It reminds me of the theme tune for the TV series ‘Weeds’; “Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same…”. There’s nature but the whole setup feels too artificial for me. The trees, ducks and swans are real but as you sit outside enjoying them you can faintly hear the squeals of kids on waterslides a kilometer or two away. It’s not loud but it reminds you of all the manufactured entertainment this place is centered around. Hubbie and I would much rather be staying in our own farmhouse somewhere, surrounded by nature that inspires the soul. But my husband was really worried about the kids being easily entertained because he really, really needs a break but he doesn’t want me taking them off into Amsterdam to be edu-tained all the time because then he’s not seeing them at all. Hence this compromise.
We have the car now so can escape when we can’t stand it any longer. This is a daily urge for me that I have to control because the kids love it here. Edward says he wishes he lived here! Aaaah (that’s a roar of exasperation!) We made our first proper escape yesterday, visiting our first Dutch castle, Muiderslot. The kids dressed up in their knight and princess outfits, complete with wooden swords. The castle has been arranged to educate and entertain kids very, very well. The best way I think I have ever seen. The most imaginative game was the one the kids enjoyed the most. There were two of those bucking bronco seats that you see in fairgrounds, modified to be jousting seats. The kids sat opposite each other on their ‘horses’ with hands in a glove attached to a jousting stick. (insert photo) Between them was projected the image of a jousting match, like a video game. When the kids rocked back and forth on their horses, to make them go ‘faster’, it looked like the horses were running towards each other and that one knight knocked the other off his horse. There was a soundtrack of a crowd cheering and trumpets blaring. Extremely clever. And of course the kids got incredibly excited, pumping their fists in the air with victory, hollering in triumph, dismounting the ‘horse’ for a bow to the King. It definitely got their imaginative juices flowing more than the static suit of armour and jousting stick mounted in riding position in a glass box, as wonderful as that was to see.
Edward is mad into knights and castles at the moment and I think this is the first castle he’s seen or at least the first one he’ll remember. I found myself frequently repeating to Edward, “This is not like Disneyland, Edward. This is a real castle. Real knights and a real King (Floris V) really lived here. There were real wars here; those weapons, I’m sorry to say, really killed people.” Pretty soon Edward said, “Stop going on about it all being real, Mummy” and I did but I hope he got the message. When we climbed the tiny, winding staircases I stopped at the arrow slits and said, ‘Look out, they’re trying to cross the moat, shoot your arrows!” When he didn’t get into it, I said, ‘But imagine, bowmen really did stand here firing real, lethal arrows at real attackers. They must have been so afraid. And you know why these staircases are so tiny and winding? Because they could be defended more easily if the attackers managed to breach the castle’s walls. Imagine how terrifying it must have been to hear the heavy thud of enemy boots, the scraping of weapons on the walls as they wound their way up, coming nearer and nearer!”
I want him so much to get a feel for the difference between real history, real people’s stories and the fake kind! When Edward imagines all his knight stories, I’d like him to think of them in real castles and not think in Disney pictures! Why? Because I want his stories to be as far as possible from his own imagination and not from someone else’s (because movies are, after all, a construct of someone else’s imagination). He has the privilege of seeing a real medieval castle, real armour and weapons. I desperately want him to get a feel for the real stories behind these things, since all that’s left to us are the ‘things’, not the people anymore. And I hope this will fire his imagination in a way I don’t think movies alone can. When I visit sites steeped in history, I like to try and close my eyes and tap into the feelings that were experienced in these places, all those years ago. I try and imagine what people wore, what they ate. I try and sense whether the walls, the very bricks, still contain traces of their happiness or sadness, love or anger, comedy or tragedy. I try to literally smell the smells and hear the sounds of the place where it was lived. If you can sense the historical reality, I think it can help you devise your own stories, stories that will resonate in the telling, in the showing, because they have their basis in reality. Don’t get me wrong, if Edward makes Disney-like movies in the future, I would be more than delighted, because they’ll be from his imagination, inspired from, yes, other movies, probably Disney movies but also from the way he imagined other, real, people’s lives and hopefully actually felt what those lives must have felt like. Even if he makes movies about other worlds and alien peoples, nobody would care about them unless they had their basis in our own reality, in a way we could relate to.
The castle provided (for a Euro) an excellent booklet with a trail of questions and sticker rewards. It’s been designed really imaginatively. Some of those kids’ trails are a bit basic but this one had had a lot of thought put into it. But after a long search for parking I just didn’t have the energy to take the kids through it and they’re still too young to do it alone. However, I also genuinely think that sometimes, as educational as those trails are, it’s better for kids to experience something on their own terms – to notice whatever interests them rather than what the booklet directs them to. It’s a hard call. Which approach is better? But tired Mummy felt the latter had enough merit to avoid summoning up the energy needed if I’d really thought the former was a far superior approach to getting the most from a medieval castle visit. I hope I’m not kidding myself!
What’s your favourite way to help your kids get the most out of historical site visits? Living in Bahrain, we don’t often get the chance to do historical visits and we don’t have time for trial and error! Your suggestions would be most appreciated!