• Tot School

Bragging about Breastfeeding

When I say to the world:

I exclusively breastfed my infant until 6 months;

I continued to breastfeed my daughter until she was 3 and a half;

My child never had a drop of formula;

I am not bragging.

I am not saying “look what a great mom I am.”

I am not saying “I am so much better than you, you who failed at breastfeeding, you who gave up, you who weaned at a year, you who chose the bottle.”

In any other area, in any other subject, in any other endeavour, a person who is successful at something is held up as a role model. They serve as an inspiration to others, an example of how achieving this is indeed possible. Especially when it’s just a ‘regular person’ who has met this success, with no special talent or training.

I’m just a regular person. I succeeded because I had the fortune of information. Enough strong information that I knew what to do when I faced obstacles, whether from doctors giving me faulty advice (which they did) or when it was just difficult. I understood what was happening and what was to be done about it.

Formula marketing and societal pressures tell us “breastfeeding is difficult, and you will probably fail. Most women do. So why bother trying?”

Instead, let us say “breastfeeding can be difficult, but you could very well succeed. Many women do. So it’s worth the effort.”

Sharing success stories in all areas of life serves to motivate and encourage each other. If it’s something that many people struggle with, then we look at what successful people do differently, and we learn from that. Without judgement. It’s just the logical thing to do. We don’t say “well most people don’t succeed, so let’s not bother learning from those who do.” We don’t say “those people who do succeed are so holier-than-thou, they just want to make the rest of us feel bad.”

In breastfeeding, it should be no different. I did it. You probably can too. If you feel you can’t, then let’s honestly look at what the moms who succeed at breastfeeding did differently, and learn from that. You still might not make it as far. You might not succeed as highly as you would like. You might face obstacles too difficult to overcome. But it is still worth the effort, and it is still worth looking at the success stories as inspiration and role models — not as braggarts trying to make you feel bad.


Random Act of Kindness

I was just the victim of a random act of kindness!

My kids and hubby are out for the evening, so I decide that I’ll have a nice chicken sandwich, get some good practice on the Beethoven Concerto I’m performing next month, then relax with a junk food snack while watching Netflix or something. So, I walked across to the corner store to get a loaf of bread, a bag of chips and a bottle of pop.

Since I’m just walking and it’s so close, I didn’t bother taking my wallet. I grabbed all the coins that were sitting on the table at the time, mostly toonies, which added up to $8… did some quick mental math (bread: discount outlet, usually $1.20 or so… chips, $3.50, pop, $1.50, even with tax I should be fine) and off I went.

Well, I got up to the till and it came to $8.69! It turns out this particular bread, this particular day, was $2.20. And I went for the nice Covered Bridge chips (slightly less junky) which were $3.99. Oh well — while slightly disappointing, it’s not REALLY a big deal after all. So my relaxing evening will be a little different, I’ll just not take the chips.

The lady beside me then says “oh that’s okay, I’ll pay for her chips.”

I’m rather surprised by this — I don’t think I look destitute, and I don’t recognize her as anyone I should know.

I said she didn’t have to do it, but she insisted and practically forced a $5 bill into my hand.

I paid for the chips and pop and bread, and gave her back everything I had left — which was over $4 of course. I thanked her, smiled. She just said, “oh, you had almost enough.”

And that was that.

Such a little thing, really, but it brightened up my day. So now… how shall I pay it forward?


A Grand Unified Theory of Homeschooling

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about different educational philosophies. From the typical public school curriculum and methodologies, or “school-at-home” homeschooling, to Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Thomas Jefferson, Montessori, lapbooking, notebooking, earth-schooling, unschooling, Classical education… there is so much variety. And in my research and learning over the years, there is something of value in each and every one of them. From the freedom to pursue your own individuality within unschooling, to the security of ensuring that all students have a common foundation within the standardized curriculum of the public school system. But how do we incorporate all these ideals for our own children, when sometimes they are in quite literal opposition to each other? How do you find your balance of freedom versus security, of individuality vs working with society, of practical skills vs academics?

Looking at and pondering what many educational philosophies have in common with each other, I recently achieved a level of clarity and understanding, where everything fell into place for me. I think I may have come up with a Grand Unified Theory of Homeschooling. Actually, you could call it a Grand Unified Theory of Education, because I think this idea could be implemented in public schools as well… But, since I am a homeschooler, and this is a homeschooling blog, and to actually implement this in public schools would require far more change than most would probably be willing to do… let’s just stick with the “Homeschooling” side of it for now.

The fundamental basis of this Grand Unified Theory, upon which everything else rests, is this:

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Keeping Us On Our Toes: The Best Laid Plans of Unschooling

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted before about how whatever we plan for our kids, they’ll turn things all topsy turvy and surprise us.


In our case, it’s how I overdid early academics with my son, forcing him to do lots of workbooks (and yes, I do mean *forcing*) when he was far too young because I thought he showed signs of giftedness and wanted to jump on it, having been gifted myself (and never gotten the FULL chance to excel from a young age), as well as a desire to ‘prove’ how superior homeschooling could be.  It created a lot of damage and took us years to heal.


I learned my lesson well and learned a TON about homeschooling methodologies, freedom, child development, etc etc.  I resolved when my daughter Pomme was born years later that she would be unschooled.  At *least* until she was 7.  Around age 7, we might start some gentle academics if she seemed so inclined.  We’d use Montessori “lessons” through toddlerhood (not academic but practical skills) and let her be creative and independent and all that wonderful stuff I didn’t do with my son.  And there would be NO WORKBOOKS!  And I was so happy and pleased with myself, and so looking forward to this ‘better way’.


Well, then my daughter, barely age 2, started begging for workbooks.

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Unplugging and Reconnecting

I’ve just been inspired by this post:  What happens when mom unplugs teens for 6 months?

Basically, she banned all computers, MP3 players, video game systems, cell phones, etc etc, for 6 months.  And to kickstart the whole experiment, they went several weeks with no electricity at all.  She figured that after weeks of old-fashioned living, simply getting electricity back would be excitement enough that not having all the electronic devices wouldn’t seem so bad in comparison.

And they had amazing results.  The older kids adapted surprisingly easily, and the family found new time to spend together.  The eldest son even found a talent for music which he’s now pursuing professionally.  And even the youngest child, who had the hardest time with the experiment (even ‘running away’ to live with her father for a time) still saw a great improvement in her grades.

If you’ve read anything about Last Child in the Woods, or Nature Deficit Disorder, or anything about Waldorf philosophy, then you’re familiar with the whole idea of today’s culture being too ‘plugged in’ and not connected with our environment — both in terms of nature AND of the individuals around us.

Technology has its usefulness, of course.  I wouldn’t be posting this right now if it weren’t for the incredible advances the internet has given us, for instance.  But it can be too pervasive, too all-consuming.   As the author put it, “Her girls had become mere accessories of their own social-networking profile, as if real life were simply a dress rehearsal (or more accurately, a photo op) for the next status update.”  Brilliantly observed.

Flipper is techno-addicted, no question.  He’s pretty responsible about obeying the rules, no video games until his work is done, etc.  But his free time is filled with video games, his new electronic music recorder, his videocamera, his MP3 player.  His Gameboy until I permanently took that away some years ago.  This isn’t all bad — he’s learning to make stop-motion movies with his videocamera.  He’s producing full multi-track original songs with his music recorder.  But he shows a level of obsession that is worrying.  He sneaks his camera in bed at night.  He makes video recordings of himself playing video games.  He watches endless Youtube videos of other kids playing video games.  When he engages in creative drawing or writing, it’s all centered around his video games — diagrams of new levels for Mario, inventing new Pokemon characters, designing LineRider tracks… Again, at least he’s being creative and wanting to invent new uses — maybe someday he’ll be a video game designer! — but the exclusion of nearly all other creative offerings is, well, pretty tragic if you ask me.

His Asperger’s likely plays a role in this.  AS kids will hyperfocus on particular areas.

But still.  Wouldn’t it be great to do what SHE did?  Even just for a little while?

I would do a few things differently, of course.  First of all, I love the “no electricity” introduction, but we probably would not do that for more than a week.  And not COMPLETELY off the grid, either.  Our beautiful, fresh, clear water comes from a well operated by an electric pump.  With no electricity, we’d have to go to bottled water (or else install a hand pump, which I can’t see happening).  Since the object of the exercise is to experience a more natural living style, that would be a step in the wrong direction.  So, the electricity stays on, the water pump stays on.  The fridge and deep-freeze would also stay on.  Part of our natural-living lifestyle involves lots of home preserving, and much of that is stored in our deep-freeze.

But the stove and the microwave could stay off.  We’d live on raw foods, fresh foods, and barbecue (charcoal, of course).  Maybe experiment with a solar oven!  The TV would stay off, and the computers, obviously.  The radio?  Oh, that’s a hard one.  But just for a week.  It will be all the sweeter when the music comes back on, and in the meantime we’ll just make our own.

We’d invest in a wind-up alarm clock or two.  Leave all the lights off, all the time.  We’d run the vaccuum, though… that’s essential for my dust-allergic hubby.  We might consider allowing the electric kettle as well…  And our telephones are all electric as well.

And of course, for this to work at all, we would have to do it in the summer.  No heat, dark after 5pm… doing it in the winter would just be daft.  But in the summer?  Quite doable.  Just like camping… but at home.

After a week or so of that, we’d turn on the stove again, but leave the computers off.   Maybe for another 2 weeks.   I guess we’d have to start buying newspapers to keep up with important world events.  I’d have to call people instead of emailing them — that’s hard, for an introvert like me!

Another potential obstacle — Many of my son’s school resources are online or on the computer.  And yes, we “do school” in the summer, just on a pretty loose schedule.  I’d have to print stuff out ahead of time, or just take a break from some of them.  Intellego Unit Studies, for instance, ONLY work with an internet connection.

But it would be a most intriguing experiment, one we just might consider doing this summer…


A Succinct Response to the Vaccine “Scandal”

To say that this news completely discredits the anti-vax movement is a gross over-simplification, because it is so much more complex than just this one concern. To think that thousands (if not millions) of parents around the world are so gullible and naive to have chosen to put their children at the risk of VPD’s solely on the basis of one small study that only had 12 people in it, is really quite silly. There are many more reasons people choose to delay or refuse vaccinations, you might not agree with all of them or even any of them, but people have legitimate questions and concerns and should not be ridiculed merely for investigating the risk/benefit analysis.


Beginning to Write

Our children never cease to amaze us, do they?

Just a few short weeks ago, Pomme was eager to learn to write. She was frequently “writing”, by which I mean she was making little circular-ish shapes and squiggles in neat left-to-right lines. And she had learned a few specific letters — she stunned me one day a few months ago, in fact, by writing a perfectly legible “mom” on a Valentine’s envelope she had prepared for me.

But anything beyond a few of the simpler letters was beyond her. She loved to trace letters, and we would write out entire sentences for her to trace. But no matter how many times she traced a particular letter over and over, as soon as she tried to do it on her own it fell apart. Her muscles just weren’t yet able to remember the sequence of motions.

This is not worrisome, of course — she’s only 3! But it was a little frustrating for her, since she so wants to learn. And frustrating for me, since most handwriting instructional books, being intended for older children, don’t feature a lot of tracing. They go pretty quickly to forming letters on their own without that crutch. So my hopes of finding a program to save me the time of writing out things for her to trace all the time were quickly dashed.

I did find one possibility — A Beka’s K4 handwriting program is designed for this younger age group and does have lots of tracing. It’s also not “ball and stick”, which I despise with a white-hot burning passion (there is a choice between ball-and-stick manuscript or cursive). I still waffle between d’Nealian printing and just plain old cursive first… and if cursive first, traditional style or Italics? But for now, I would be happy with anything single-stroke and not ball-and-stick.

Any program we used would also have to focus on lower case letters first. Which, fortunately, most these days do… but not all. Any of the tracings that I’ve done for Pomme myself, all the letters that we’ve worked on learning so far, have all been lower-case.

Then a couple of weeks ago, everything changed all at once. We were registering her for her dance classes, and I had signed a credit card slip. As she often does, she announced that she wanted to sign too. I’ll usually take the regular receipt and let her “sign” that, which is usually her little pattern of circles and squiggles in a neat left-to-right line.

But that time, she wrote her name.

Now I should mention that she’s been typing her name recently, and working on learning the spelling by heart. She logs in to various computer games with her name and had just really mastered the complete spelling by herself.

But to write it by hand all by herself, that was another matter entirely. And what’s more — she wrote some of the letters in capitals. Which I have never taught her.

My guess is that she learned the capital forms from her computer games. But it’s still a difficult task to transfer making a shape by clicking points with a mouse, to forming it with a pen by hand. And she did it flawlessly, without asking for help, with no advance “practice”.

Not long after that, we were doing the first unit of Meet the Masters. The project for this unit is to make a portfolio to store your artwork, and to decorate it with a palette featuring the names of the artists which will be studied in the programme, and your own name. I let her write it all by herself. She doesn’t yet know how to spell her last name, so I told her each letter, but she wrote them independently:

Caileigh Name_0001

Now I realize that by posting this picture I’ve exposed her real name to the world, but I was just so proud I can’t help it! She also cut out the palette by herself except for the worst of the inside turn (top left of this picture) which I finished for her.

So now my plans for a handwriting program are up in the air. She is able now to write without tracing! So maybe we’ll give Penny Gardner’s Italics program another go. Or maybe I’ll splurge and buy Cursive First. Or get Barchowsky’s Fluent Handwriting, I love their emphasis on rhythm… either the regular or the beginner’s workbook… Or maybe we’ll still get A Beka but go with K5 instead of K4. Or maybe K4 is still a good choice. Or maybe… or… or… ARGH!!


From the Mouths of Babes: Math Funny

My daughter Pomme just told me she wanted two more cookies, and I said “sure, help yourself.” She loudly proclaimed, “that will make THREE cookies!” — because she had already had one a little while ago.

Jumping on the chance to practice some addition in a ‘natural’ fashion (since she herself brought it up), I then asked:

“What if you have 3 cookies, and then you eat 2 more?”

“That will make 5!”

“What if you have 5 cookies, and then you eat 4 more?”

“That will make 9!”

“This is a harder one… what if you have 2 cookies, and then you eat 6 more?”

“That will make us sick!”


Tot School: Checking in

Oh dear, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, hasn’t it?

So much has happened too, so many interesting adventures and changes and cute little moments. I’ve been tending to post little blurbs on Facebook, or on any of the yahoogroups I’m a part of, rather than properly write things up for the blog. I should try to remedy that. Not that there’s anything wrong with Facebook or Yahoogroups… those are more immediate. This has a more… permanent feeling about it.

All I’m going to mention today is about how Pomme is doing. I’ve mentioned before about how I learned from my mistakes with Flipper in regards to early academics. To quote myself:

I am a staunch and vocal advocate of letting preschoolers PLAY to learn, that there is no rush for academics, that forcing early academics on children not yet ready for them causes much more harm than good.

I have approached Pomme’s preschool years with the same amount of pride and certainty of the correctness of my beliefs that I used to have in regards to turning Flipper into ‘My Little Prodigy’.

But the universe just isn’t that simple, is it? Pomme has turned out to be the complete opposite of her brother, a child who at only 3.5 years old adores and demands worksheets, math lessons, and just more and more academics.

I’ve been greatly informed by Waldorf philosophies this past year, and I know that the ‘pure’ Waldorf approach to a precocious preschooler is still to not provide them with academics. The belief is that their precociousness is a sign of an unbalance that must be corrected for; that they still need to be in their dream world until age 7 in order to be healthy.

I don’t agree with this 100%. But I do let it inform my decisions. We make sure that Pomme still has LOTS of creative play time. While we are indeed doing “work,” it takes a very small part of her day. Most of her day is still off in her own fascinating little world. She even brings her imaginary friends with her to “school,” and helps to teach them what she herself is learning about. She still spends her time building barnyards out of blocks, turning her playsilks into dresses, running around barefoot in the backyard, digging in the sandbox and making mud pies.

But when I do ask her “would you like to do school now?” her response is almost always a resounding “YES!” In fact, the other day, we sat down to do what was really the first time I’d ever really pulled up a structured work day for her. More than just an informal math lesson, more than just a match-the-numbers worksheet or two. I had a whole program laid out: Cuisenaire rods work; reading practice; TBB Seasons unit study activities; and a RightStart math lesson. I was honestly just curious to see what would happen.

What happened: She did everything, then demanded more. I had printed out enough of the TBB activities to last most of the week, but by the end of our school time that one day I only had 2 sheets left. She had traced letters, tallied survey results, made a bar graph, learned about temperature and coloured in thermometers, sorted seasonal activities, learned about what trees need to grow, and completed most of a “colour by shapes” picture.

It was three hours since we had started before she showed signs of slowing down.

And we weren’t finished yet. When it was bedtime, she saw her unfinished picture and declared she wanted to finish it. I let her do a few more shapes, but it was soon apparent that she was being so deliberate and careful with it (she’s extremely careful to colour properly, and within the lines), that we’d be up all night if I really let her finish it. She wasn’t happy, but I told her she could get right back to it the next morning.

That night, she stayed in her room all night (which is about 50/50 these days). I peeked in on her in the morning just as she was starting to wake up. A few minutes later, I checked again… and she had set herself up at her little table, and was dutifully colouring her picture. She didn’t come out until she was finished.

I believe that she has recently passed over another of those little bumps of development, something has “clicked”. Three weeks ago, she could not independently write most letters, but loved to trace them. Suddenly, a few days ago, she started writing letters by herself, correctly, that she had never even been shown how to write… had never traced.

Two days ago, we had started a RightStart math lesson but didn’t have time to finish it. So yesterday, we reviewed the first part of the lesson then did the rest of it. She wanted more. We did the entire next lesson. She wanted more! We did the first part of the next lesson before she decided it was enough!

Today, we started Meet the Masters, a great art program. We’re trying the age 5-7 program for her, I think she’ll be able to manage it. And since Flipper is doing the same program but at the older level, we’ll be able to do the actual projects together — there are modifications for the different age levels but it’s a similar project.

There are three parts to each lesson. An interactive slide show online with me narrating the script. Then a ‘worksheet’ to learn about a certain art concept related to the current artist. Then the project itself. These can be done all in one day or spread over a few days. The whole lesson start to finish could be an hour to three hours.

She did all three parts today for the first lesson. Then she wanted to do the next one right away! It wasn’t possible, unfortunately, since they were about to head to grandma’s for the afternoon.

I’m just flabbergasted. And excited. Could she really be this easy? But I’m also keeping my feet on the ground, and staying cautious. I still have to be careful not to overdo it (since I know I have the tendency), and I have to realize that this might be temporary! She could very likely go through phases where she does not want to “do school” at all, and I need to be prepared to respect that!

In the meantime, though, I’m going to enjoy the ride. ;)


Books For Sale!

I have a few used books for sale, prices do NOT include shipping. I will ship here in Canada and to the US.

Saxon Math 5/4, Homeschool Third Edition (2005). 630 pages. Just the student textbook. Some exercise numbers are circled in pencil, otherwise no marks. Very good condition overall, some wear here and there. $30.

Easy Grammar: Grades 3 and 4, 1996 Teacher’s edition. 480 pages. A few pencil marks, no writing. Cover shows wear, first40 or so pages are dog-eared. Otherwise in good condition. $15.

Easy Grammar: Grade 4, 2006 Teacher’s edition. 585 pages. Excellent, like new condition. $25.

A Reason for Spelling, Level D, Teacher’s edition. 355 pages. Front cover missing, some dog-eared pages, otherwise good condition. $15

Birthing from Within, England and Horowitz. Paperback. Excellent condition. $10.



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