Our First Year of Unschooling, in Review

our first year of unschooling

The school year is winding down for kids in Canada.

Not that Lydia — now almost six — would know. We spent the year “unschooling.”

At the start of the school year (i.e. last September), I thought I might implement daily lessons or at least set aside special time for schoolish stuff every day. That lasted about a month.

I guess I could see that Lydia was learning plenty without my interference. She also started to really resist my attempts to instruct her on things. And since I really, truly believe that children learn best when they’re driven by their own interests, and that they can learn everything they need without formal instruction, I just let it go. At least for another year.

So we just continued to live life, the way we had for her first four years.

We had fun, we read piles of books, and I answered her questions or helped her find solutions when she came to me with them. And she learned and learned and learned.

We didn’t try to slice learning up into different “subjects,” but as I reflect on our past year, I feel we covered a pretty good range.

Here’s a bit of a recap of our first year of unschooling.

(Note on photos: most of these were taken with my cheap Android inside our darkish house during the darkish Canadian months of Sept-May. Apologies about the quality.)

Socializing

I know this is a big concern for a lot of people, and the reason many parents send their kids to school. I felt we got a great amount of socializing in without school.

Since we didn’t have to be anywhere in particular most days, we had lots of chances to just hang out with friends in the mornings and afternoons. We got together with a few other homeschooling families when we got the chance. We went to the park, met at the petting zoo, and went for walks in the forest. We visited the apple orchard and the pumpkin patch in the fall. Lydia and I stopped in at the local forest school a couple of times, too.

friends

picnic

forest school

One of the coolest things was that I was able to exchange weekly babysitting services with another homeschooling friend, meaning that twice a week, Lydia got to spend a whole day with a friend. They’re becoming like sisters (including the squabbling.)

dressup

Literacy

harry potter

To my surprise (and admittedly, dismay — I majored in literature for six years), Lydia showed little interest in learning to read and write this year. I tried a few lessons from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but she just wouldn’t have it.

So I didn’t push it. Dutch kids aren’t taught to read and write until about age seven, yet they scored at the top of educational achievement and participation in the latest UNICEF study. Waldorf schools do the same. So I’m not too worried. When she wants to learn, I’m sure she’ll pick it up no problem.

Sometimes she would want to write a note to a friend or label a drawing and would ask me how to spell it out. To her annoyance I just helped her sound it out until she had something readable. She knows what letters make what sounds, for the most part.

We also played with her moveable alphabet, figuring out how to spell names from her latest media obsession.

moveable alphabet - how to train your dragon

moveable alphabet - tmnt

Most of all, we read books. Stacks and stacks of picture books. We visited the library almost weekly. Before bed, I always read a few chapters aloud from a novel.

library(bringing home the library haul)

Eventually I know she’ll want to do it on her own, but for now I’m cherishing reading aloud to her.

Math

We learned a lot about geometry by playing with our Spielgaben set. We went through the learning guide that came with it, and she really enjoyed it.

spielgaben - symmetry game(playing with symmetry)

pyramid

geometry pizza - spielgabengeometry pizza

She enjoys counting and doing basic adding and subtracting, just in everyday life. She was so proud the first time she counted to 100 by herself.

We also went through a few Bedtime Math books, which she loved.

Science

microscope

Science has been one of Lydia’s favourite subjects this year, though she doesn’t know that. She just knows she likes books about bones, bodies, plants, and animals.

I also bought her a microscope which was a big hit (We got this one, and are completely delighted with it. A great price for a fantastic piece of equipment). We spent hours poring over slides and specimens. We were surprised by the appearances of kitchen ingredients and different fabrics under the microscope. And we were amazed the see the microsopic creatures swimming around in a single drop of pond water.

We went to a museum in the middle of the week when it was nice and empty.

museum

Art

art

Painting and drawing have been a huge part of Lydia’s life since she first picked up a crayon, and this year was no different.

I went through an obsessive phase learning about watercolours, and she watched every Youtube video with me that she could.

painting with watercolours

Time in Nature

mushrooms

This kind of falls under science, but I thought I’d make it a separate category.

Skipping the classroom meant we had plenty of time to spend outside. We took lots of walks around the neighbourhood and nature parks, looking at plants and animals. That was really important to me.

Practical Life

Staying home also meant lots of time to help out around the house. Since mornings weren’t rushed, she was able to make her bed and put away her laundry every day. She enjoyed helping in the kitchen, too.

dough

cooking

I think that covers most of it!

I didn’t spend a minute regretting our choice to unschool, or wishing we had done anything differently. I’m looking forward to many more years of learning together!

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Our (Super-Relaxed) Kindergarten Homeschool Plans

Resources and inspiration for a relaxed homeschool kindergarten year

Lydia is turning five this month, so I’ve decided to add a bit of “schooling” in our lives, starting this September.

(Last year I explored the reasons we didn’t send her to preschool or do “homeschool preschool” with her.)

Our plan is to be super-relaxed. We’re not buying any curriculum, and in fact plan on doing very little formal instruction (if any). I lean towards the unschooling model, which assumes that children learn everything they need from the world around them as long as they’re given a rich environment and an an enthusiastic adult guide/facilitator. I tend to believe that kids learn best when they’re led by their own interests, and when “subjects” are intermixed and tied to real life.

I’m just not too worried about kindergarten. As long as she has some basic pre-reading and math skills and gets a chance to hear lots of stories and play with friends, I’m happy with that. I want to spend lots of time working on practical life and self-care skills, creating art, and maybe introduce some handcrafts. And I’m psyched to learn stuff with her!

I do want our home to be stocked with helpful resources. And I plan on putting a bit of effort into guiding her learning. I’ll be satisfied if we spend an hour a day doing “educational” stuff together, even if it’s just one subject on a given day.

So here are a few things I’ve looked into and/or purchased to help enhance her learning this year and beyond.

Of course these subjects and materials all overlap . . . which is kind of the point.

Math

Math is the subject I’ve spent the most time thinking about because school ruined it for me. Early on, I got the sense that I was “bad” at math and that it was boring and too abstract. I’ve hated it ever since.

So I’ve been totally surprised that in all of Lydia’s early encounters with math, she’s been enthusiastic and quick to pick it up. I want her experience with math to be vibrant, exciting, and vitally practical.

spielgaben

The first resource I sought out, then, was a Spielgaben set. (It just arrived in the mail this last week. Squee!) Spielgaben is a gorgeous set of all-natural (mostly wood with some cotton) manipulatives that encourages hands-on learning. They can be used for creative play, but I’m most excited for their potential for learning mathematical concepts. Speilgaben is expensive (we’re talking in the $400-500 range), but I believe it will be an invaluable resource for many years to come. (And we’re saving so much by not buying a curriculum.)

spielgaben - symmetry gameLearning about symmetry

(I first got introduced to Spielgaben through the blog Happiness is here. Check it out and get inspired!)

Bedtime Math - Laura Overdeck

I recently took out the first Bedtime Math book (Laura Overdeck) from the library, and Lydia LOVED it. Every page offers fun, silly math problems in a range of difficulties. I was stunned by her enthusiasm. She loved doing Bedtime Math more than reading story books. I could bribe her to get ready for bed by reminder her that we would get to do Bedtime Math. It was amazing to me. I look forward to going through the rest of the books.

I also purchased the digital book Moebius Noodles, which I confess I haven’t read a page of, but looks super-exciting.  I learned about it from this exciting article, entitled “5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus: Why playing with algebraic and calculus concepts—rather than doing arithmetic drills—may be a better way to introduce children to math.” Yes, please!

In the future, I want to explore Life of Fred for math, but I think Lydia’s still a little young. We’ll probably try it in the spring.

Language

For reading, I plan to try Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. I know it’s not very unschooly, but it would help me feel more confident that I was teaching her the right skills in the right order. I’ve read the intro and it looks solid. I’m just waiting for her to show an interest in learning how to read, because I’m sure as soon as she wants to learn she will take off.

Otherwise, I plan to just do LOTS of reading aloud together. The more I learn, the more I realize that this might be the most valuable thing you can do for a child’s literacy.

If you can instill in your child a love of reading, you will unleash unlimited learning potential. And what better way to encourage that love than by reading together? If nothing else, I’ll continue to read to her before bed every night.

Arts

For visual art, I plan to do the obvious: lots regular art time together! I love painting and drawing and experimenting with new materials, and look forward to explore these things together.

For music, I enrolled her in dance lessons at the local dance studio, which will be once a week. In addition to dance instruction, I hope this will also give her a chance to interact with other kids and get instruction from another adult besides me.

Science

My only plan here is to make sure we occasionally get science-y books out of the library. She’s really interested in the human body lately, so I think we’re going to be taking out lots of books on the skeletal system and the like. I can probably get her interested in books on birds and butterflies, too.

Other

museum

I want to place a strong emphasis on learning practical life skills (baking together, caring for herself and her environment, etc). I dream of doing lessons on folding laundry, preparing snacks, tying knots, and stuff like that.

I’m also interested in Waldorf-inspired handcrafts (things like knitting, felting, embroidery, etc). But I haven’t put too much thought into this yet. I don’t want to get ahead of myself!

And that’s about it. I’m sure I’ll come across more resources as we head into the “school season,” but I’m not in a rush.

I can’t wait to learn together!

*Post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

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2 Keys to Keeping Your Young Child’s Art Supplies From Taking Over Your House

2 tips for keeping your toddler's art supplies from taking over the house

My Lydia is an artist.

It was apparent from the start. She knew all her colours names before she was two. From the day she figured out she could make marks on paper she has been producing artwork like it’s her job. Sheets and sheets of paper, every single day.

drawing

The girl loves to draw. And paint. And sculpt. And colour.

But like many artists — especially those under four feet tall — she’s messy. She’s careless.

It used to drive me insane to find all her markers and their caps scattered all over the floor every day. I’d pick them up and return their caps — making sure the colours matched, tossing the ones that had dried out — just to turn around and find they were all over the floor again.

Crayons, markers, coloured pencils, pens, paintbrushes, printer paper, construction paper, ALL OVER THE PLACE, ALL THE TIME.

Finally, I decided to make some changes.

Here are my two main tips for keeping your toddler’s and preschooler’s art supplies under control.

1. Strictly limit colour options.

marker holder made with plaster of paris. Keep markers off the floor and capped!Kids three and under don’t need that many colours. They don’t need the four different shades of purple that come in many packs of markers or crayons. (Why always so many shades of purple??)

For kids aged 2-3, I find that limiting colours to the primary and secondary colours (i.e. the six colours of the rainbow), plus black and brown, is sufficient. That’s 8 colours total.

Add pink and grey if you want to be generous and you’ve got an even 10.

One of each. No duplicates.

When you limit the number of crayons that are available, I believe you give yourself and your child a certain amount of freedom. Neither of you will feel overwhelmed by the prospect of tidying up the art supplies after a vigorous art session.

You can look at your kid’s whole stash and go, “Hmm . . . where’s the blue?” And then go hunt for that one crayon. It’s very satisfying to know you’ve got every single one.

It can help encourage your child take responsibility for her supplies, too. She won’t want to lose track of her only blue crayon, because how will she draw Elsa without it??

drawing 2

Does it sound like I’m being anal, rationing out colours like a miserly crayon fairy? I don’t care. It feels great to be able to keep track of every single crayon in the house. And she never complained.

Note: when Lydia turned four, I found that she was interested in exploring different shades and hues, and she had become much more responsible with her art supplies. At that point I increased the number of colours available to her so she had at least one light and one dark shade of each colour, making a grand total of 12-15.

(Now that she’s almost five she has access to almost 20).

2. Have an exact place for every item.

As you can see from the marker holder at the top of this post and the crayon roll here, I made a system so that every item had its place and could be accounted for.

The plaster marker holder is a brilliant idea I got from Jean Van’t Hul of the Artful Parent (detailed DIY instructions come from her book of the same name). The lids are embedded in the holder and therefore can’t get scattered on the floor. It really encourages kids to put their markers right back where they belong. It also reduces the number of items you have to pick up by half.

Same with the simple felt pencil crayon holder. I would tell Lydia her pencil crayons all had to go to sleep for night in their own bed. (Of course she tried to bunk several pencils together at once but you do what you can.) When you notice one “bed” is empty, you know you have to hunt down one single crayon somewhere, and you can quickly narrow down which one it is.

When it came to wax crayons, I was delighted that my very favourite ones — Melissa and Doug’s jumbo triangular crayons — come in a beautiful, high-quality container with divided compartments for each of the crayons.

crayons

So there you go. With these two tips you can reduce the chaos that comes with raising a little artist.

Now go make some art!

The Perfect Easter Present for a Toddler: Play Scarves

the perfect easter basket gift for a toddler: play silks!

When Lydia was two, we bought her an Easter present that turned out to be the perfect gift: a set of colourful play scarves.

Play silks are a popular item in Waldorf education, so I became interested in them when I was exploring the philosophy of education, which I find very appealing.

I looked into getting real silks, like the authors all recommended, but couldn’t bring myself to spend the money. (Real silks will run you up to $15 a piece. For a single square of fabric.) I’m all for natural materials, but in this case, I didn’t know if they’d get that much use, and I wasn’t sure they were any more durable or enjoyable than a synthetic fabric.

When I found this set of silky polyester play scarves on Amazon for $30, I decided to give them a try.  (This was two years ago).

What a wonderful purchase they turned out to be! They’re beautiful, durable, versatile, and have a wonderful silky feel. They’re suitable for boys or girls.

Here are three reasons play scarves are the idea Easter gift:

A set of scarves makes an entire Easter hunt.

play scarf easter hunt

play silks for easterThe set I purchased contains six brightly-coloured scarves. Boom. Hide them all separately, there’s your Easter hunt. No need to buy anymore junky treats or presents.

The bright colours seem just perfect for spring.

(We had crappy weather that year, as we do most years, and had to do our Easter hunt indoors.)

They will get lots of play for many years to come.

play scarves for easter - toddler

Lydia still uses her play scarves almost every day, two years later. They act as capes and skirts for herself; blankets for her dolls; and sometimes backdrops for her toys (the blue scarf becomes a lake; the green scarf becomes a meadow.) They can become the roof of a tent or fort. In warm weather you can take them outside and throw them in the air to watch them float and dance to the ground. They are the most versatile toy I’ve ever purchased.

They fuel the imagination.

play scarves: the perfect easter present for a toddler

So many toys available around Easter have such limited functions (e.g. plush  bunnies and chicks) or fuel the gimmies (crappy registered character toys, candy-wrapped collectible figurines, etc). As I explained above, scarves have endless possibilities for play.

So after two years of love and use, and with many more to come, I highly recommend a set of play scarves as an Easter gift (or anytime gift, really. They just seem so perfect for spring).

P.S. These would totally be suitable for a preschooler as well. They just might be a slightly harder sell, since by this time they’ve seen Kinder Eggs and Elsa Barbies and whatnot, and may have certain expectations for Easter presents.

P.P.S. This year, at age four, I’m getting my daughter a good umbrella and a colouring book.

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I get a tiny commission, at no extra cost. Thanks for your support!

I think even a little TV was making my preschooler’s behaviour crappy (and killing her imagination)

 

play doughRecently Lydia’s behaviour was getting out of hand.

She’s always been a bit of a challenging child. She always seemed to have more energy, more passion, and more volume than other kids her age. She has always been demanding and resistant to instruction. She has Opinions and Big Feelings and an exasperating Lack of Need for Sleep.

But lately it just seemed worse. She whined, reveled in chaos, blatantly disobeyed us, and most annoyingly, kept complaining about being “sooo boooooooored.” She seemed to have lost her imagination. She wouldn’t play by herself. She just nagged and complained and followed me around, making messes and asking me to do things for her.

We were losing out wits. She was driving us crazy.

Finally Ben asked, “Do you think it’s TV?”

Lydia watched TV every single day. It was only 20-40 minutes a day — one or two episodes of Paw Patrol or Masha and the Bear on Netflix — but she bugged us about it constantly. Her TV time was the only quiet time I managed to get from her, so I gave in. But she never stopped nagging to watch more TV.

So we decided to cut her off.

I was reducing my own screen time for the season of Lent by taking all social media off my phone. I thought it might be a good time to also dramatically reduce Lydia’s screen time, too. It couldn’t hurt.

I explained to her that during these 40 days before Easter, I was going to stop looking at my phone all day and she was going to stop watching TV. It would be good for our hearts and minds, I told her, so we could think about good things.  (We would still watch a movie as a family on Sunday, though.)

When she asked to watch TV the next day, we simply reminded her that we weren’t going to watch TV until Easter.

She complained the first couple of days. And then you know what? She completely forgot about it.

She hasn’t asked for TV in over a week.

By the second or third day we noticed she seemed calmer. She stopped throwing things around just for the fun of it. She was more agreeable when it came to bedtime.

And best of all: she started playing again.

play dough

She started playing with her Waldorf doll again, which she hadn’t touched in over a year. (Right now her doll is naked except for a Viking helmet — “That’s how warriors dress” — and is in engaged in a lively conversation with the sock monkey.) We made a batch of colourful play-dough, and she started making food for me, delivering it personally in her delivery car (aka Plasma Car).

I don’t notice the absence of that quiet time because she isn’t following me around all day, asking me to turn on a show or make things for her.

Life is so much better without TV. I have my imaginative little girl back.

I think screen time affects different children differently. I can’t say how turning off the TV would affect your children. But for us it has been a wholly positive experience.

We’ll see whether or not we bring it back after Easter. We just might leave things the way they are.

(Update 3 weeks later: you guys, it just keeps getting better. She’s starting to play outside on her own initiative, and her imagination keeps expanding. Banquets for her mop and broom [i.e. pony and unicorn], imaginative drawings [like an octopus in a poncho eating a sandwich] . . . I LOVE THIS.)

Sensory Play for Babies and Toddlers: A Safe, Edible Paper Alternative

Sensory play for babies and toddlers: ansafe and edible alternative to paper

(Here’s a quick post with a quick baby tip. I still have a zillion other posts and updates I want to write, but this one was quick so it got priority. Talk to you soon! Maybe! WHO KNOWS)

Babies love paper.

At least, mine do. They love how it crinkles and flutters and tears.

Also, they want to eat it. Which isn’t safe. Or yummy. And they can destroy some pretty important documents in their attempts to eat it.

Felix has been particularly interested in paper lately, especially Lydia’s drawings that she leaves all over the place.

I wanted to let him have that sensory experience in a safe way. Hmm. What’s papery, but okay to chew on?

Ding ding ding! Nori sheets!

nori sheets: a safe alternative to paper for toddlers (for sensory play)

If you’ve ever made your own sushi, you’re already familiar with this stuff. If not, well, it’s the dark green, outer wrapping for sushi, made from seaweed. Some people snack on it like chips, too. (Spoiler alert: it’s repulsive.)

You can buy nori from Asian markets, and increasingly from regular grocery stores. I found it in the “ethnic” section of my local grocery store.

When nori is dry, it feels kinda similar to construction paper. But more brittle and less tearable. As it moistens, it becomes flexible and kinda gummy. Felix can chew a sheet into a pulpy blob in about 10 minutes.

The first time I let Felix play with it, I knew it was a keeper. He loved crinkling it and chewing on it.

He enjoys the sound:

nori: sensory play for babies. listening to the crinkling!

And even the taste:

nori: sensory play for babies. Safer than paper(Weirdo.)

Bonus? Nori is full of vitamins and minerals (Especially iodine, but also vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, niacin, and C), so if he ingests some, it’s actually good for him.

Warning #1: You’ll probably want to keep an eye on your kid while he plays with nori, because it could be a choking hazard.

Warning #2: It smells very strong of seaweed when he gets chewing on it. You may or may not care for it.

Warning #3: He looks like this afterward:

playing with nori sheetsThe bits of seaweed brush off fairly easily, but it is a little messy. You might want to keep it in the high chair.

That’s it!

(PS: Aren’t those leg warmers adorbs? They’re from Baby Leggings, in case you were wondering. This isn’t an affiliate link or anything, I just love the products. My babies live in them. They make diaper changes/potty visits a snap. Lydia wore the same six pairs every day from about 3 months to 19 months.)

That Time My Daughter Ruined My Lipstick and I Didn’t Punish Her

lipstick2(Image Source)

(Note: I wrote this a couple of months ago — just scribbled it down — and thought I might as well post it. I don’t know where this blog is going but I want to explore that with you yet soon. I’m so tired, you guys. I haven’t slept in four years. Anyways, on to the story…)

I knew something was off as soon as she walked out of the bathroom, all nervous and quiet. I was chopping vegetables at the kitchen counter for supper.

“What’s up, honey?” I asked. She hung back. I put down my knife and started to walk towards her when I noticed some red streaks on her cheek.

I knew immediately what had happened.

She’d been pestering me to put lipstick on her all afternoon. Each time I’d said, “No, not today, honey. That’s only for when we go somewhere fancy.” (Really, as a four-year-old there’s probably never a right time to wear lipstick; but I hadn’t been able to resist dabbing a bit of red on her lips the night we’d gone to a banquet a few months earlier. She’d been so eager to join in when she saw me putting it on.)

I decided right then that I wouldn’t get upset.*

I knelt down to take a closer look.

“Hmm . . . did you do something with my lipstick?” I asked.

“No!” she said in a panic.

“Hmm . . .” I said again (which is how I buy time when I don’t know what to say). “I think I’m going to check.”

“No!” she said again. She ran toward the bathroom. “No, don’t check!”

She ran in front of me and barricaded the doorway with her arms. “Don’t go in there!”

“Honey, I’m going to check. I’m going to go in there.” I held her arm as I stepped past her.

“No!” she yelled again from behind me.

Everything looked tidy and normal in the bathroom. I was glad of that. I opened my makeup drawer. My lipstick was there, but there was a bit of red smeared on the outside of the tube.

“Hmm . . .” I said as I opened it and twisted. Out twisted a mangled red stump. I looked inside the lid, which was caked in red gunk.

“Oh, no, look at my lipstick,” I said softly.

And she threw her head back and let out a long, loud cry.

I stood there a moment, thinking while she wept.

“Oh, honey,” I finally said, turning around. She cried louder and louder.

I tried to think what to say. I was disappointed that my all-natural, handmade lipstick from the Farmer’s Market in a different city — the only lipstick I’d owned since a teenager — had been destroyed. I’d only worn it twice. But I wasn’t really as upset about it as she was.

I knelt down. “How do you think Mommy feels about her lipstick being ruined?” I asked.

She howled.

“She feels bad,” I told her.

More cries.

I pulled her in towards me for a hug and she didn’t resist. She just cried into my shoulder. Then I had an idea.

“You know what we can do? Some people put lipstick on with a brush. I can buy a lipstick brush and we can still use it.” I was satisfied with that.

She continued to cry but it softened after that. I gave her another squeeze and then returned to the kitchen, because honestly, I had to get back to supper. I didn’t have time to comfort her for ruining my lipstick. I don’t remember what happened after that but she must have gotten over it.

She hasn’t asked for lipstick since.

I thought it was a very interesting event as I reflected on it later.

Why did she try to hide it? Because she knew she was guilty without anyone telling her.

Why did she cry? Because she knew she had done something wrong.

The fact that she’d come to these conclusions and had an emotional response to them intrigued me.

She knew she wouldn’t get punished — she’d never been punished for anything before , she had no basis for ever getting that idea — so it wasn’t that. (We don’t do punishments or rewards.)

My guess is that she was unhappy knowing that I was going to be unhappy. And that strikes me as a good thing.

Will she do something like that again? I don’t know. I can’t tell the future. But even if I’d punished her, I still can’t say whether or not she’d still do it again. Preschoolers and toddlers are notoriously forgetful. But if she did repeat the crime after having been punished, she might go to greater lengths to hide it from me in the future. And I want her to feel safe coming to me and being honest no matter what she’s done, and not have to worry that I will exact further punishments on her.

What good would punishment have done? What could it have added to the experience? From my understanding, all it would do would be to put a rift in our relationship.

What Did She Learn?

Of course I can’t say for sure what she took away from the experience. But here are the messages I hope she got:

  • Being careless with other people’s things and breaking them makes them unhappy, which makes me feel bad. However:
  • Material things are just things.
  • I make mistakes but that doesn’t make my mom love me any less.

* I am rarely able to pull this off. I’m usually so sleep-deprived I yell at the first provocation. I have shouted “YOU ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY!!” more times than I’d like to admit.

Why I’m (Reluctantly) Supportive of My Preschooler’s Princess Obsession

Why I'm (Reluctantly) Supportive of My Daughter-s Princess Obsession

While we were in the hospital with Felix for five months and Lydia stayed with grandparents, something super-annoying happened: she fell crazy in love with princesses.

I don’t know if we could have prevented it. Maybe she just finally reached the age where it was inevitable. Princesses are everywhere, smiling with their pink lips and enormous eyes, promising love and elegance to all little girls who gaze upon them.

I had worked hard to keep them out of sight and out of mind for the three years prior. Absolutely no princess stuff entered our home. Her clothes were all practical and well-made. If I got a Cinderella or Ariel in a box of hand-me-down stuff it got promptly returned or given away before she could see it. For Halloween I dressed her up as a lion or a ladybug and she loved it.

But over the months we were separated, princess culture crept into her life more and more. She showed up at the Ronald McDonald house with sparkly shoes or an Elsa-emblazoned dress. She would run to us saying, “Look at my sleeves! They’re like Sofia’s!”

Sigh.

As a general rule, I hate princesses. Especially Disney princesses.

Here are a few reasons why:

They’re kind of crappy role models.

Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White are famous for not doing much of anything. Ariel is the worst — at sixteen, she runs away from her dad to an adult who is clearly untrustworthy so she can go be with a boy she watched on a boat for eleven seconds. They all have ridiculously unrealistic bodies (C-cup boobs and waists no wider than their boyfriends’ legs). I don’t want that for my daughter.

The merchandise.

disney purseThis collection of plastic trash can’t have cost more than 85 cents to make. (Photo credit)

Good heavens, the merchandise. If you can make a garment cheaper and uglier than you thought possible, the Disney princess franchise will find a way. If it is possible to get a princess’ face onto an item and sell it for triple what it’s worth, they will do it, whether it’s a crayon, a toothbrush, or a tiny bottle of crappy nail polish. There is no concern whatsoever for quality or durability.

I hate, hate, hate it. Just NO.

princess crapOMG. I cannot even. (Photo credit)

And while some of the princesses aren’t half bad in the movies (Jasmine and Belle are rather spunky and proactive), the way they’re represented on the posters and the board books reinforces the idea that girls and women are just for looking at. They just stand there with their hair twirled around their fingers and their ankles popped in the air.

I was once at a friend’s house and while she put her kids to bed I ended up looking through a Disney princess book. There was no action, no story; the whole book was just a series of pictures of the princesses in various passive poses. The entire text was made up of “Snow White is so sweet . . . Sleeping Beauty is so kind . . . Cinderella is so gentle.” They don’t do anything . . . they’re just there to look at and be admired for their feminine qualities. Which mostly consist in being nice to animals.

And yet . . .

You know what I did? I bought Lydia a tiara for Easter. I knew it would make her sooooo happy.

And I recently ordered a handmade Elsa dress from Etsy for her for Christmas. I can’t wait to give it to her because she is going to lose her mind.

Here are a few reasons I’m reluctantly tolerant of her princess obsession.

Elsa and Anna.

These are Lydia’s absolute favourites. No one holds a candle to Elsa in Lydia’s mind. And I can’t complain too much about these gals. Sure, they’re still insanely skinny, and that’s a problem. But they’re also complex, flawed, interesting women who defeat darkness with love. Elsa overcomes inner battles and decides to be true to who she is. Anna is quirky, clumsy, confident, and takes initiative to save her sister. They both make mistakes but they learn from them. I can get behind this dynamic sister duo.

I loved princesses as a kid, and I turned out mostly okay.

disney-princesses

(And I grew up with the girl in the clamshell bikini who gives up her voice to be with a strange boy as my primary princess role model).

I LOVE LOVE LOVED princesses with an undying passion as a little girl. The eyelashes, the glass shoes, the glittery ball gowns, the curtsying. LOVED it. But even as a child I found their passivity annoying. (Maid Marian: “Robin! Help me! Help me!” Gag me.)

In my imaginary world, I was a princess who could sword fight and do karate. Sometimes I had to swoop in and save the man (who usually responded by proposing to me. I usually accepted). I took the qualities that I liked in my favorite male characters (Robin Hood, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle) and put them in a princess body. I was eccentric and used nunchucks and solved mysteries. I saved orphans who were left at the garbage dump and took them with me to discover magical islands. I was an active princess, with goals and ideas and talents. I also happened to look stunning in a sequined ball gown.

And in real life, I tried hard at school, loved to read and paint, and played soccer with the boys at recess. I went on to get university degrees and become a critical thinker.

So maybe the princess influence wasn’t so bad.

So while I don’t love my daughter’s adoration for princesses, I realize they won’t totally ruin her sense of self.

And I have to actively remind myself not to devalue femininity. There’s nothing inherently wrong or anti-feminist about glitter and tulle and frills. Just like my imaginary princess self, you can kick ass and have adventures in diamonds and sparkly nail polish.

I know that it’s a losing battle.

It would be impossible to completely ban princesses, even if I wanted to. Princess culture is too huge. I don’t want to make myself an enemy and I don’t want to end up making princesses the alluring forbidden fruit. And I cannot seem to get the grandparents to stop buying her princess stuff.

So I try to just bring a bit of balance to the situation — I’ll indulge her desire for a bejeweled tiara but suggest a more neutral-themed birthday cake. I’ll print out Frozen colouring pages for her to colour but follow that with a quality bedtime story about nature or family.

And so help me I am never buying her licensed merchandise.

What do you think about little girls and princess culture?

Why We’re Not Doing Preschool With Our Four-Year-Old This Fall

Why We're Not Sending our Child to Preschool“Is she starting school this fall?”

“Oh, no. She’ll only be four in August.”

This is how many conversations have gone over the last year about our daughter. But after enough confused looks at my response, I finally started to realize something. These days, it’s normal for kids in North America to start school when they’re four. Even when moms stay at home with the kids.

I honestly didn’t know that before this summer. I thought five was still the standard age to start formal education (that’s when I started school), and that preschool was just free daycare for working moms if they wanted to take advantage of it. What confused me most, then, were families who did something called “home school preschool.” What? What does that even mean?

I imagine the only difference between “home school preschool” and “just being at home with mom/dad” is the addition of some formal lessons to the daily routine. Worksheets and the like. Probably primarily in reading and math. That sounds all right.

I just don’t plan on doing it.

Here are a few reasons why we’re not going to bother with preschool for our four-year-old.

  • I’m planning on home schooling. I’m planning on being at home with my kids regardless. So there’s no pressure to start anything official this year. And if I don’t need to go through the effort of planning and organizing a curriculum for another year, I’m not going to. I’ve got enough going on this year. (To be fair, I’m interested in unschooling, so I might never do a curriculum or formal lessons. I haven’t decided yet. But I especially won’t be doing them before our daughter is at least five.)
  • Kids in some of the highest-ranking countries for educational outcomes don’t start formal lessons until the age of seven. In fact, some researchers believe that pushing children to read too early (i.e. by five) can be detrimental to their academic outcomes. At the very least, it can’t hurt her to wait. I’m going to follow the lead of educators in Finland and elsewhere and wait a few years with the reading and math lessons. (Though I’ll definitely explore reading and math with her, casually, if she’s interested.)
  • Instead, kids (of all ages but especially before seven) need plenty of free play time. Time for running around, climbing things, dressing up their dolls and teddy bears, dancing, drawing, painting, and listening to stories. I can provide all that at home. (And in order to make sure she gets time to play with other kids, I plan on doing lots of outings with friends, trips to the park, and hopefully swimming and music lessons, too.)

playing

  • Through informal games, activities and conversations, Lydia already has lots of fundamental reading and math skills under her belt. She knows that letters make sounds which form words, and she knows what a lot of those sounds are. She can count and do some basic adding and subtracting (“I ate one of the three bananas. How many are left?”). Anything academic she’d learn at preschool she already knows. So I’m not worried at all that she’ll fall “behind” her peers academically (although that shouldn’t really matter. Life is not a competition. But she’s my first child, so of course I secretly kind of care.)

So we’re just going to skip the academics this year. I am not even a tiny bit worried that she will miss out on learning opportunities. She can learn all she needs through play at home.

P.S. – I just happened to stumble across this article on Slate before publishing mine and thought I’d share it: If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool.

Felix Victor’s Home Water Birth Story

Home Water Birth Story

(Warning: in case the title wasn’t obvious enough, this post contains details and photos from a real birth. You might want to skip this one if words like placenta make you squeamish.)

Well. Felix entered the world as a consummate gentleman, as conveniently as possible.

I’d been feeling really crampy and miserable the day before, so my mom had offered to keep Lydia overnight. Just in case. I ended up having the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time. (With Lydia, by contrast, I labored all night and gave birth in the morning, to be greeted by a nonstop stream of visitors for the rest of the day. NOT a great way to start things off.)

I told Ben he’d probably be able to go in to work today, since the cramps were gone and I felt so good. The baby was probably not coming today after all. But by the end of breakfast – around 7am — I told him to maybe hold that thought. I thought I was feeling pretty regular (though painless) contractions. I texted my mom to warn her Lydia might be spending the day there, and we probably weren’t going to make it to my 39-week midwife appointment scheduled for that day.

Beginning of labour (home water birth story)(Early in labour. That smile isn’t going to last long. Side note: paper-maché deer head = work in progress)

Ben stayed home, working in the basement, and I folded laundry and cleaned the kitchen. The contractions kept coming every five minutes, though they weren’t that long – only about 30 seconds. I kept myself busy.

After an hour of this I called my midwife to let her know what was going on. The contractions didn’t hurt too badly, but they were very regular, so she said she’d call back in half an hour. She did this twice before saying she was on her way. (She had an hour-long drive, and after Lydia’s quick birth she didn’t want to miss it.)

I stayed on my feet, pacing the room, pausing to lean against a counter or bookshelf to breathe through contractions, which were getting closer together and more painful. I was still doing okay, though – I even had time to put on makeup so I would look nice in pictures. Ben started to fill the pool and get everything ready: he set up a mattress by the pool and plugged in the heating pad with the baby clothes, blankets, and towels.

home water birth story - room setup

Obviously things got more and more serious. I continued to putter around the house, pausing to lean and moan through contractions. I was mostly cheerful until about three hours in — around 10am — when every contraction would leave me in tears. They HURT. And thinking about the baby coming made me an emotional wreck.

I alternated between pacing the room and sitting on my birthing ball, scrolling through social media to distract myself. I let my friends know what was going on. I put on my bathing suit top.

home water birth story - early labour(Still able to smile between contractions.)

home water birth story - birth ball

My midwife showed up half an hour later. She checked my cervix and said I was dilated about seven centimeters. Excellent. But no wonder I was in so much pain now – seven centimeters in three hours take some pretty serious work on the uterus’ part. She said I could get into the pool and she started to get her stuff set up.

I was so much more aware of everything this time, with it not being the middle of the night and not being fully dilated by the time my midwife arrived. It was pretty cool how prepared she was – she even had oxygen tanks in case the baby needed resuscitation.

The water felt amazing but the contractions were still coming on HARD. My midwife said that as soon as my water broke, I’d probably be ready to push. But the backup midwife wasn’t there yet so we weren’t in a hurry.

home water birth story - labouring in pool

OH GOSH the contractions were painful. I was getting louder and louder with each one.

Soon my midwife suggestion I go to the bathroom to speed things up even more (UGH). Contractions on the toilet were extra horrible. While I was there I lost my mucus plug. (See? Convenient. Kept the pool water clean.) I got back into the pool.

The backup midwife showed up soon after that, around 11:45am. She had such a warm, comforting, motherly presence, I was glad to have her there.

I was getting really loud at this point and this second midwife knew exactly how to squeeze my hips to ease some of the pressure. They suggested I try to toilet again. UGH again. They helped me there, I gave a little push during one of the contractions, and my waters broke – a tidy little gush right into the toilet. Pa-shew. Again: how nice. No cleanup. They helped me back into the pool.

The next hour was agony. I started to feel pushy so they told me to follow my body. I was pushing during contractions for half an hour when they checked and noticed I wasn’t really making any progress (GAH!). My midwife suggested that I wasn’t really pushing because I was afraid of the pain. They both suggested I try holding my breath and use all that energy (that I was spending on yelling) to PUSH.

On the next contraction I did that and felt a world of difference. In fact, when I pushed like that — with my whole body — the pain was much less. It was still unbelievably INTENSE, but not nearly as painful. They said to give it my everything, because I was exhausting myself and needed to get the baby out. So I switched gears from fearful to determined: I was going to PUSH that baby out.

It was absolutely horrible. I wish I was one of those women who could say birth didn’t hurt that much, but it did. Between contractions I was totally worn out – I would just slump back against Ben, who was supporting me with his arms, and whimper. When the contractions came and I pushed, my whole body felt like it was going to explode, even my face. I would occasionally reach down and feel that smushy little head still in the birth canal, which was exciting but also disheartening – it wasn’t going nearly fast enough. This was my second baby, it was supposed to go faster! Each time, though, I would say, “Hi, Baby!” and get a new determination to get that thing out of there.

And then, finally: crowning. OH LORD HAVE MERCY. Agony. I screamed my face off. So much pressure, so much pain. I was going to explode. Two more excruciating contractions and that thing finally popped out. 12:35 pm. Six hours after I’d first started feeling contractions.

And then I lost my mind because there was a baby on my chest. An enormous purple baby. A healthy, real-live baby out of nowhere. I was hysterical with joy. I DID IT!!!! And I took a look below – A BOY! Wow!!! Everyone had been right. A boy. Our little Felix. He coughed and gave a piercing, said little cry. He was breathing. He was here. Amazing.

Home water birth story

The midwives quickly helped me out of the tub and onto the mattress to deliver the placenta. I got to hold my baby the whole time – they just wrapped us in towels.

It was incredible, miraculous. My own new little baby boy in a sweet little body in my arms, sticky and wet. He made sad faces and cried a little. I whispered to him and kissed him and comforted him. What an ordeal he’d just been through! He looked so healthy and robust, though. His face looked so unfamiliar, so foreign – nothing like Lydia. But the fact that he was a boy felt exactly right. And also the fact that he was so huge. I could easily believe that this enormous child had been in my belly; I just couldn’t believe I had pushed this enormous child out of my vagina. HOLY CRAP. My body was incredible.

home water birth story

home water birth story - baby resting

The placenta came out with almost no awareness on my part. And then came the — ahem — repair work, which was horrifying but I don’t need to talk about that. I SQUEEZED Ben’s hand through it all. It took forever and ever (Probably ten minutes). I tried to focus on the sweet baby in my arms. My midwife told me the damage was actually not bad at all, which surprised and relieved me.

Finally it was all done. The midwives wiped down my legs and put dry underwear on me, stuffed with pads. They rolled me and Felix onto one side of the bed and then the other to change the sheet right under me. They covered me in warm blankets and propped me up to try nursing. Felix knew exactly what to do and latched on immediately. He was born for this.

Just then, my mom showed up with Lydia. Lydia bounced in excitedly to see Baby Felix. She was a little disoriented and confused. Where was the pool? (I had given her a pretty detailed explanation of how everything would go down, in case she would be present.) She was very excited to take her first look at him, and then went off to play. Ha. Toddlers.

home water birth story - big sister's reaction

home water birth story - first time seeing siblingIn the meantime, the midwives did paperwork.

When Felix was done nursing the second midwife did the examination. Lydia watched with great interest. He looked SO GOOD – so pink and strong.

home water birth story - sister watching examination

They weighed him: nine pounds even. No surprise here. I’d totally been able to feel that much weight against my lungs when on my back while pregnant. And no wonder pushing had been so much harder than with six-pound-eleven-ounce Lydia.

home water birth story - weighing

They measured his length: 23 inches. Again, no surprise here. He looked long.

I think after that I was helped to the bathroom to pee, which wasn’t horrible. Then I’m pretty sure I went back to nurse him some more. I’m a little fuzzy on the details after that.

I do remember scarfing down a bowl of hot pho that my mom had brought. I thought it was wonderfully appropriate that she had brought me the one food that had pretty much sustained me through my difficult first trimester.

After that I rested. Mom took Lydia home with her, the midwives packed and left. Ben cleaned up and did laundry while I cuddled with Felix, flitting in and out of consciousness. Then he laid down and rested with us, too. Just the three of us.

home water birth story(Yeah, I look tired. Also, Ben was our photographer throughout; that’s why he’s not in any photos. He prefers it that way.)

We had done it. Our little baby was here.

I’d started labour at breakfast and we were done it time to have a late lunch and an afternoon nap. I never had to leave my house. Thanks, little dude. I appreciated it.

(You might be interested in my post, 6 Reasons to Consider Home Birth.)

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