Monthly Archives: June 2018

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Unschool Update: I Walk the Line

Money MaterialsFor anyone that knows about unschooling or practices it with their children, they are probably also aware of how different it is from the traditional model of schooling. I know for me, the traditional model of school (think desks in rows or pods, teacher at the front, set curriculum, benchmarks, etc.) is both what I went through for my education and was also the setting I taught in when I was in the classroom. Unschooling is much freer, following the child’s interests, introducing skills when they are useful to the child, and trusting the child to know what they need when they need it. I’ll be the first to admit it’s been incredibly difficult to break away from that traditional style of instruction when working with Cam over the past school year. 

It’s a fine line to walk, at least in our home, between offering Object Boxesdirect skills instruction to Cam while also following her lead. This year has been the year she has been both ready and willing to start the process of learning to read. I know from experience that she’s a decoder by nature. Basically she relies on phonics to read. She breaks words up into phonemes and is very focused on letter sounds and combinations. This makes for a slow progress and also does require some hands-on and planned instruction by me. It will ultimately make her a stronger reader over the next few years as grows into more and more complex books, but in the meantime it could really feel like we had veered off into a more traditional model of schooling. That was really a sign to me to back off. Reassess. Check in with Cam and stop anything that wasn’t working for her. Did I manage unschooling perfectly this year? Absolutely not. I’m unlearning how I was taught and also trying to find the best way to use the knowledge I have to help Cam master skills and learn things that she wants. But it wasn’t a complete failure either. 

Hundreds BoardSome other things we worked on or studied this year, prompted by Cam’s expressed interest, were taking nature classes at our local nature center, learning about pregnancy and birth as she watched my belly grow and then saw the birth of her sister, and a little bit of numeracy (counting up to 100 and learning about money). 

This year also saw the addition of Cam’s sister. That basically tanked the last couple months, which was fine. A new baby and being a big sister is a learning experience in and of itself. Cam has grown incredibly over the past three months and I couldn’t be more proud of that emotional and developmental growth. It’s far more important than any academic skill she might work on or any subject she might study. 

Pregnancy MaterialsThis coming year I want to work in some social-emotional learning and mindfulness practices to our daily schedule. I know, though, that this is going to be another area where she needs the skills (we’re working on taming anxiety in her that has reared its head), but I don’t want to push too far or become the driving force behind offering them to her. I am new to these practices too, so maybe that will mitigate some of that. I can frame it as we’re learning together and instead of planning ahead we can plan together. That’s the line I’ll try to walk next year. 

Confessions from a picky eater

My husband and I have this running joke. We’re both finicky eaters and always have been, but we’re not picky about the same things. Our joke is that, if push comes to shove, I’m the kind of picky eater that will starve before eating something I don’t like. Of course this stems from never having been truly hungry in my life, but when we go to places and the only option is a cold sandwich (or a hot one for that matter) he will eat it and dislike it. I will go without lunch. 

My poor, long suffering parents. They didn’t exactly cater to my every whim, but I was seriously limited in what I would eat and try and they still fed me with little coercion. My mom never ceased to be amazed that my strict grandmother would make me different foods to be sure I ate when we went to her house. That was not the norm when my mom was growing up. Bless my parents for letting me give up meat for Lent one year. I am still not sure how I didn’t starve or get some deficiency-related illness. I still remember being forced to eat mayo covered bologna in preschool. To this day I can remember the taste and texture in my mouth and it makes me want to hurl. 

The funny thing was I loved thinking about eating a variety of foods. Pretend kitchen play was one of my favorite things as a kid. When my grandmother taught me to cook, I loved planning meals and cooking a lot of the foods. But beware the advice that getting kids involved will make them more adventurous eaters, to this day I will gladly cook things that I would never let cross my lips. I still refuse to taste things before I completely cook them. I can’t even bring myself to think about trying foods mid-cook. 

I had to laugh when a close friend of mine told me she was pregnant and began texting me about the food aversions she was experiencing in her first trimester. Nearly all the things she described were things I experience on any given weeknight making dinner. Some things sound good, what I had planned doesn’t, and just thinking about certain foods makes me gag. Sometimes nothing sounds good and I wait too long to eat and then feel nauseous. I make our menu out a week in advance and frequently I ask myself what I was thinking about planning a certain food or ingredient. I have a fairly short list of things to choose from to begin with and I have to coordinate it with my husband’s food preferences. At least once a week we give up and go out.  

I wanted to promise you, your picky eater isn’t (usually) doing it to spite you or make your life more difficult. This from the perspective of a person who was very picky as a child and is still discerning. As an adult I have figured out what makes me picky or turn a food down. Usually it’s a texture, either confirmed or suspected. Sometimes it is strong smells or tastes. I still despise cold food. Sandwiches are the perfect storm of disgusting foods for me, hence I will go hungry. If you have a picky eater I highly recommend helping them figure out what it is that is turning them off to various foods. My palette has also changed over the years and gotten better about allowing me to eat and try foods. So know that this too shall pass or at least they move out and have to cook for themselves. 

Both my parents and in-laws were hoping our daughter would be a picky eater. Just for karma’s sake. She isn’t. She is one of the more adventurous eaters I know, actually. But even she has her limits and times when certain foods she usually likes don’t sound good to her. She’ll even go through phases of disliking foods that she normally loves. I don’t push it when that happens, because I know what it’s like to be willing to starve before eating something that you don’t like.  

Montessori Infant: 3 months

Octahedron MobileA number of years ago I created a scope and sequence of sorts of Montessori materials, games, and concepts. I did one for infants and one for toddlers up through about age 6. You can find those here. Since we decided to have another baby I dug out the infant chart and have been using it to select materials to have out for the baby.

In the newborn stage you don’t need much. A topponcino, a place to change diapers, a mirror, a floor bed (or in our case a handmade side car crib). Around two months you can introduce black and white pictures, fabrics, and patterns. This is also the time to hang up the Munari Mobile.

3 Month BasketI have three areas set up in the house: one in the girls’ room, one in the classroom and one in the living room. Each features a pad or blanket for her to lay on and a few materials (right now, black and white art cards and pictures of baby and kid faces). Some of the materials are divided up and others move around with us because she likes them so much. This book is a particular favorite: My Face Book.

Malin turned three months on Friday and I thought I would post some pictures of the things we have out for her that align with Montessori principles and materials. I have a small basket with a small rainbow grasping toy, a wooden grasping ring with ribbons, and a small frog lovey (pictured to the right). The frog was originally Camille’s and lived on her changing table where we used it to distract her if necessary. We called it Changing Frog. It’s soft and large enough for a young infant to practice grabbing at so I included it this month in her materials. The rainbow grasping toy is similar to the Montessori grasping beads, which are in a line instead of a ring. The wooden ring is probably still a little heavy for Malin’s tiny hands to grab onto, but I like the ribbons attached to it. She can gum the ring and touch the ribbons until she’s strong enough to really get ahold of it. Also, I’ll be honest, the Montessori grasping beads freak me out. While I know they technically should be strong enough not to break off their string, they still seem like a choking hazard. More so than the two grasping rings I have put out. That’s just my comfort level, though. 

Room Set Up at One MonthThe last two months we’ve had up the Munari, or black and white, Mobile and it’s been a favorite of Malin’s. You can see it hanging over her in the picture to the left and see her fixating on it even at five weeks. I have now changed it out for the Octahedron Mobile (which makes me kind of sad that she’s already out grown something, but also excited to try out new materials; see it in the picture at the top of the post). I made both mobiles while I was pregnant. It was a fairly simple project. I found a pattern and instructions on Etsy for the Munari and I think I found the Octahedron for free online.

 So that’s a peek at what I have out for the baby right now.

 

Van Life: New Adventures

Van Life Banner

So, about two weeks before the end of 2017 we bought a Eurovan. Our big plan, that we’ve been talking about for nearly a year now, is to take off all of July and headĀ up California, Oregon, Washington and into Canada with the two kids, the two of us, and the two dogs. Ultimately we’d love to do this every year and get out to explore the U.S., Canada, and maybe ultimately Mexico (although we’re hoping to head north to cooler climates when it’s blazing hot down south). I’m not sure we’d ever be the family that sells our house and lives full time in our van while traveling, but a change of pace for one month a year sounds about right for now.

We took our first trip on the last two days of the year and headed down to Yosemite. It was my first time in the Park and it was really lovely, if a wee bit chilly. Also, camping while seven months pregnant was little challenging. I wish our campsite had been closer to the bathroom. We plan on taking a lot of overnight and weekend trips in the van as well since there’s plenty to see within a few hours of where we live. And because my husband runs on a school schedule he gets dedicated winter and spring breaks plus a handful of three day weekends that will allow us to go out on longer trips.

I am really new to the whole camping thing (I did go to summer camp a few times, but it was all tent cabins and mess halls, no tents or camp stoves or even really campfires) so I am learning as we go along. In fact the last, and maybe only time, I went camping was nearly 30 years ago. I would like to post about van life, camping with kids, and traveling/camping with dogs. Tips, tricks, thoughts, etc in case anyone else wants ideas or inspiration. If you’ve done the math, our July trip will involve a three month old baby. It could be the world’s best idea of the world’s worst idea. We’ll find out. I think we’re going into this with an open mind and a sense of adventure that will hopefully allow us to take everything in stride.

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO by Tamara Pizzoli

 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf

The Diverse Bookshelf is a series that shares a book we are enjoying at home. Some of the content may be from my library blog At Home Librarian. 

TallulahTalullah the Tooth Fairy CEO written by Tamara Pizzloi, illustrated by Federico Fabiani

From Goodreads: Tallulah the Tooth Fairy is not only the founder and CEO of the largest teeth collecting organization on the planet, Teeth Titans, Incorporated, she’s a clever and wildly successful business woman with an affinity for all things dental. A natural innovator and problem solver, Tallulah finds herself unexpectedly stumped when six year-old Ballard Burchell leaves a note instead of his tooth under his pillow. What’s a Tooth Fairy to do when there’s no tooth to take?

This book is amazing! It’s got great illustrations, excellent text, tons of humor that will appeal to both kids and the adults reading it to them, wonderful vocabulary and lots of details relating to teeth that are fun to spot, not to mention a good story.

I bought the book for Cam when she was intrigued by mythical people like Santa and the Easter Bunny. We don’t actually use any of those conventions, but for whatever reason she keeps hoping we will. I wanted to get it because, well, look at her! Tallulah is amazing with her Afro and huge sunglasses and she’s a CEO! Cam got her first loose tooth a few months ago and has since lost four more. Every time she has a new tooth to tuck under her pillow she’s got her fingers crossed that Tallulah will pay her a visit.

I absolutely love that the story challenges the usual idea and imagery of the tooth fairy that shows her as white, blonde, and medieval. In fact, the story tackles that head on. In the note written by Ballard, he has drawn the tooth fairy in that way despite being black himself. Tallulah reads the note and the first comment she makes is “that looks nothing like me”. She does comment in the next sentence that she isn’t that small, but between those lines is the unspoken fact that she is also clearly not white.

The text is longer, so unless you think your child or younger audience is motivated to listen, or is good at listening, I would recommend it for 1st through 3rd grade (my third grade class last year had a superb sense of humor and would have LOVED this book) which are prime tooth-losing years. The vocabulary is pretty sophisticated too. The vast majority of it makes perfect sense in context and shouldn’t cause a problem. It very much brought to mind William Steig, particularly Dr. DeSoto and Shrek and how he uses language.

The language also ties into the humor of the story. There are plenty of funny asides for parents and kids and the twist at the end is both a great message and satisfying. Do not miss the boardroom scene wherein Tallulah asks for advice about what to do with Ballard’s note. Her board is made up of all black women, except for one white dude, who is complaining about the lack of diversity and wearing an All Fairies Matter shirt. Hilarious nod to current events and again a subtle nod to defaulting the Tooth Fairy to white.

The illustrations appealed to me because of their clean modernity which made Tallulah seem all the more cool. The colors are bright without being garish or saccharine. The art appealed to my daughter because each picture has lots of tiny tooth details and invite long looks (I highly recommend flipping through the pictures before reading it through the first time because they are so captivating).

If you are looking for general books to add to your collection this is well worth it. Move it to the top of your list or gift it the next time a tooth falls out.

*I edited this review from what ran on my library blog.

Parenting for Revolution: Stories We Aren’t Waiting On

Parenting for Revolution

Or How I’m Not Allowing White Privilege to Shield My Daughter

In my last post I talked about how powerful stories can be (in books and movies) and how I feel strongly that there are some I want my daughter to be exposed to when she is ready. A big part of my point about not encouraging my daughter to watch Jurassic Park at six years old is that it’s a story that tackles some incredibly deep questions about humanity and our role in life. Today I wanted to address the idea that there are difficult ideas that I am not holding back on with her and how I determine, rightly or wrongly, which ones those will be. 

The short answer to what hard topics and questions do I choose discuss openly with her is, if someone’s safety and/or humanity is impacted by the answers to those questions right now in the real world, then it is imperative we talk about it. This includes things like overt racism, systemic racism and sexism, police violence, Islamophobia, violence against trans and queer people. I have opened conversations about all of these topics with her. 

We talk about stories about how people have been and continue to be excluded, persecuted, and discriminated against. We talk openly about skin color, race, gender, sex, religion, disability, body type, immigration, and socio-economic status. None of these things are shameful. They are part of people’s identities and unless my daughter can talk about them without shame or without hatred or a feeling of superiority (i.e. white supremacy) then she can’t fight for equity. We read stories about current events and historical events. We have talked about people crossing the Mediterranean and the desperation that must drive them to take such risks. We have talked about rape and rape culture and the #metoo movement. We have talked about redlining. We have talked about slavery and Jim Crow laws and segregation here in California, which impacted Latinx people. Of course these topics are tackled in an age appropriate way, but we don’t shy away from them and I give her honest answers to any and all questions she asks, even if the answers are hard and scary. She knows about Stephon Clark who was killed here in Sacramento a few months ago and she knows about the Black Lives Matter movement. We often first approach these stories through stories. Through picture books that bring up the topics and give us an opening to think and discuss more deeply and I think that is a very powerful and impactful approach to getting at real world problems. 

I know many white parents want to avoid talking about these things. They’re uncomfortable and awkward and difficult and we’re afraid of making mistakes. But that’s our privilege allowing us to not to talk about them and I don’t want to be party to that. That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes and know all the answers to the tough questions we come up with, but I am trying.