KiwiCrate Review: Our Experience After Three Months

kiwicrate review

Hi friends! When I shared a few pictures of my daughter enjoying her Kiwi Crate on Instagram a few months back, a few of you expressed interest in a review. So here it is! I am not being paid to share, and I bought a subscription out of my own pocket. I just know that I would have appreciated an unbiased review when I was first considering the product. (Note: if you make a purchase through my link, I do get referral credit! You and I each get $10 off.)

For those who are unfamiliar: KiwiCo is a monthly subscription service, which provides children with a box of STEM-related activities that includes all the materials, instructions, and supplementary information for a hands-on learning experience. They do ALL the brain-work for you, so you don’t have to plan or gather materials. You can just open it up and get to work! They offer boxes for several different age groups, from 0-16 (e.g. ages 0-2 is called the Tadpole Crate; ages 9-16 is called the Tinker Crate). We got the Kiwi Crate, for ages 5-8. Lydia is seven, and it was perfect for her.

I initially bought a three-month subscription to try it out. I’ll be up-front: Kiwi Crate is rather expensive, and I was nervous to make too big a commitment in case Lydia didn’t like it. However, of course, the bigger the subscription you buy, the better the value. (I’ll go into detail about price later.)

I decided to make the leap because we don’t spend any money on curriculum (we unschool), so I felt I could splurge on this. Science/technology/engineering/math are NOT my strong points, so I was happy to let someone else do the work for me here. Especially if these subjects could be introduced in a fun, engaging way without evaluation or pressure of any kind. I wanted something that might inspire her to dig deeper into STEM without external prodding.

I’m glad I didn’t just buy a single box, because our first one was the least impressive one we got, and wasn’t the best representation of what’s available. I mean, it was still good; but if I would have had to make my decision to continue based on that box alone, it would have been a tough one. The next two were completely fabulous and totally won me over, though. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay. Let’s cover some of the details.

What does Kiwi Crate cost?

kiwi crate activities

Kiwi Crates are more affordable if you live in the US, because shipping is free there. We live in Canada, and so the shoddy current exchange rate, plus the additional $5.95/month shipping fee, make it more expensive. (Note: Kiwi Crates can be shipped all over the world, with varying shipping costs attached.)

You can check the website for all the details on cost. As for me in Canada, I got the 3-month subscription, and it had a “50% off the first crate” special going at the time. I ended up paying $89 after taxes and shipping, which worked out to about $30CAD per crate. It’s a little spendy.

If I was in the US, it would have cost about $17.29USD/crate for the same subscription, which is a lot more affordable. It would be even less per crate if you got, say, a full year subscription.

There are regular sales on the site. At the moment of this writing, you can get 60% off your first month when you use the code EARLY, but this is always changing. Check the site to see what the current deal is.

What’s inside a Kiwi Crate?

The best way to explain what’s inside a Kiwi Crate is to show you exactly what was in ours!

First Crate: Arcade

The theme of the first crate was “arcade.” It had more of an engineering emphasis.

It contained all the tools and materials to put together a wooden claw. It contained extremely detailed instructions, with pictures, so that she could do all the steps with very little guidance from me. (She probably would have needed almost none if she could read.) It also contained everything she needed to make two little pompom creatures to grab with her claw (including googly eyes!).

kiwi crate arcade 1

kiwi crate arcade 2(Here you can get a glimpse of how beautiful the design is.)

kiwi crate arcade 3(Completely unrelated: Look at those flexible feet. Katy Bowman would be proud!)

Each box also comes with a small magazine, containing a short comic, some activities (games, mazes, etc), ideas for additional projects, and suggestions to extend the use of the crate contents.

kiwi crate magazine

kiwi crate comic

Crate #2: Rainbow Optics

This was the first crate to really dazzle us. In it, we learned all about light! It contained:

Everything needed to make a beautiful colour-changing lamp:

rainbow optics 2Everything needed to make this shadow projection box, including finger lights:

rainbow optics 1

mixing coloured light

And a pair of glasses that breaks white light into coloured light. Here’s a shot of what it looked like to look at our kitchen pot lights through them:

Just so awesome. Even I learned a lot about mixing coloured light!

Box #3: Secret Agent

This box was the absolute coolest, and was the most fun. (But also maybe the least science-y. I don’t know if we learned anything beyond “UV lights are so cool!”) It included…

Everything you need to make a periscope, for spying around corners:

kiwi crate periscope

Everything you need to make a briefcase full of materials for writing secret messages:

kiwi crate secret agent

There were two ways to share secret messages: either by writing with the included markers on red squiggly “spy paper,” which you can decipher if you wear the red “spy glasses”:

secret message(Through the glasses you can see the message “I LOVE YOU MOM” — awwwww)

Or by writing on white paper with the invisible pen, and then shining the included UV light onto it:

kiwi crate UV light(Lydia decided to use it to practice math equations. I did not dissuade her.)

The included magazine gave us lots of ideas for additional spy activities the next day, including taking fingerprints and writing secret messages with lemon juice, which can be revealed with a hot iron (not pictured).

Final Verdict

Well. After our first three month subscription ran out, I went ahead and got another six-month subscription. I decided it was worth it!

The cost is a bit more than I would prefer, but Lydia just had so much fun putting them together, and the magazines sparked lots of interesting experiments and learning opportunities for us to bond over that I really appreciated. Plus, it’s really fun for Lydia to get stuff in the mail with her own name on it!

I would especially recommend them for US residents, for whom they are more affordable.

I think a Kiwi Crate subscription would make a great gift, especially for kids who already have all the toys they need. Remember, there are different boxes for different ages! If you order now, you can probably get the first box in time for Christmas!

Again, if you make a purchase through my referral link, you get $10 off your first crate.

What do you think? Does Kiwi Crate look worth it to you?


Why We’re Opting Out of School, Part Two: Problems with Mainstream Schooling

classroomImage credit

Yesterday I started to talk about why we’re choosing to homeschool (well, unschool) our daughter, acknowledging that there are some weaknesses, and that I’m coming from a place of privilege to be able to make this choice. Today I wanted to explore some of the concerns I have with mainstream education, and the reasons we are choosing to opt out. (Note: most of the following was lifted from a post I wrote several years ago.)

Coerced/Non-Consensual Learning

I’ll come out of the gate with perhaps my most controversial claim: I believe that an adult deciding what a child should learn, and coercing the child to engage with certain material in a prescribed way, is inherently disrespectful to the child. I believe in what John Holt calls “The right of curiosity.” As Holt puts it:

A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us.

And not only is coerced learning morally problematic, it’s not very effective. Humans don’t learn well when they find the subject irrelevant or uninteresting. Learning happens best when the topic is freely chosen by the child, guided by curiosity; learning sticks when the child pursues it willingly, because she can see how the subject is inherently meaningful, useful and/or interesting. Anything that a child is forced to learn is unlikely to be retained long-term.


Grades serve two main functions: (a) they’re a reward/punishment system to motivate children to perform in a certain way; and (b) to sort children – i.e. to determine who’s smart and who’s not, and where they should go in life.

I’ve discussed the problems with rewards and punishments before: they distract from the real issue at hand; and they discourage intrinsic motivation (i.e. doing things for their own sake) in favor of extrinsic motivation (i.e. doing things for the sake of the reward); and to make matters worse, they’re actually remarkably ineffective at getting children to do what you want them to do.

I believe that children are naturally curious and want to learn. There is no need to use reward and punishment to coerce children into learning – they will learn things on their own if given the resources, time, space, and encouragement.

By contrast, I believe grades can – and do – dampen a child’s natural love of learning, turning the focus towards getting approval.

And you can already guess that I’m uncomfortable with using grades to label and classify human beings.


Related to grades is the way that school is designed to pit children against one another in a grand, twelve-year contest, to determine who is the smartest and who is… not. Children instinctively understand that they are in competition with one another, that not everyone can be at the top of the class; and they tend to know exactly where they land within the classroom hierarchy. (I, for one, always knew I was at the top; my husband always knew he was near the bottom. This awareness affects the way we see ourselves to this day.)

The competitive nature of school erodes social bonding and discourages collaboration. I’m not a fan.


Written tests are perhaps the worst way to assess how much children know, how intelligent they are, and how successful they’ll be at performing important daily tasks. Tests cannot accurately gauge intelligence, emotional maturity, or problem-solving skills. (I, for one, am a spectacular test-taker, but not much a problem-solver.) They mostly demonstrate how well a child can memorize material. Yet written tests remain one of the dominant methods for assessing student knowledge.

Irrelevant Curriculum

My experience is that much of what is taught in the classroom is largely irrelevant to real life. Moreover, school privileges certain subjects (math, language, and science) over others (dance, art, music, practical life skills), assuming that these are more useful and will better prepare young people for the work force. This is becoming less and less true, however. Teachers today have very little idea what will be important in 20 years.

(More valuable than a pre-determined curriculum, then, would be working to instill a passionate curiosity and a love of learning, so children can learn what’s important when the time comes.)

Crowd Control

Due to the nature of the classroom setting (i.e. one adult to thirty kids), teachers have to expend enormous amounts of their time and energy on crowd control. So much time is spent getting kids to line up, moving kids from one classroom to another, getting everyone to quiet down and focus on the task at hand, etc., which I feel could be better spent doing more interesting, meaningful things. Like sleeping, for example. (I’m not even joking.)

Age Segregation

In order to make teaching more efficient, and because we want everyone to learn and develop at the exact same rate, we segregate children into classes based on age (or “date of manufacture,” as Ken Robinson puts it). As a consequence, children don’t learn how to interact with people of different ages. We have generations of teenagers who feel uncomfortable around babies and old people, children who are scared to talk to adults, and parents who feel disconnected from their kids. Older kids don’t get to experience the joy of sharing their knowledge with younger kids.


Large groups of children are easiest to control when they are seated at desks, so children spend much of their time in school in a sedentary state. This is bad for their bodies, and fosters sedentary habits that carry into adulthood.

* * *

So these are a few of the reasons I consider mainstream schooling to be a sub-optimal way for children to learn, and why we’re currently opting out.

If I have the time and inclination, I’m hoping to write a post exploring some of the positive sides of homeschooling/unschooling (e.g. it’s fun! The food at home is better! We don’t have to wear foot-coffins!), besides avoiding the pitfalls I’ve explored here. But that one might come a bit later.

Why We’re Opting Out of School: Introduction

unschooling kids

Note: In this post, I’m only talking about the choices we’re currently making in regards to our typically-abled seven-year-old daughter. We’re still not sure what route we’ll take with our disabled three-year-old son, who has complicated needs. From what I can tell, the Ontario public school system offers some great programs for disabled children which we are currently exploring.

I was going to title this post “Why We Homeschool,” but for some reason that didn’t feel quite right. As I pondered the reason for this feeling, I decided that the title placed the emphasis on the wrong thing. We didn’t so much “choose to homeschool” as “reject the whole notion of schooling.” We decided against disrupting normal life with this strange thing called “school,” and decided to just keep living life with our children.

The thing is, in my opinion, school is the strange, modern invention that begs justification more than homeschooling. Young people have been informally learning how to become capable adults by living alongside their parents, older relatives, and mentors since the beginning of history; education has only been institutionalized within the last two centuries, and the effectiveness of that model has been questionable. (I’ll be exploring that last claim in my next post.)

So far, we simply haven’t found a compelling reason to opt in.

I want to be clear from the start that I am in support of good public schools being available to all, as they provide valuable childcare services to working parents. The way our society is currently set up, many parents need or benefit hugely from being able to send their kids to publicly-funded schools, and I honour and respect that. I support high-quality, tax-funded babysitting to be available for all parents who need to to or want to work outside the home. It’s great that kids learn a few things along the way, too!

The current model of mainstream schooling is a perfectly decent option for those who can’t or don’t want to stay home with their kids. No judgment to those who take advantage of it. Who knows — we may even take advantage of it someday, too.

The fact of the matter is simply that school doesn’t offer anything of much value to us right now.

We don’t currently need or want all-day-every-day childcare. (Though I’ll admit I’d love one or two days of childcare a week to get things done; but unfortunately the current system only offers an all-or-nothing model).

And I can indisputably provide a superior education for my child than a school can, with little effort: not because I’m a better teacher than most teachers are — I’m sure that’s not true — but simply because I only have one pupil. I can provide one-on-one support, a flexible schedule, and an immersive, hands-on, tailor-made learning experience. There’s no way a single teacher can provide an education of equal value to 30 children, all stored in a single building for six hours a day, simultaneously.

I also recognize that it takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to make this decision. My husband and I don’t make a lot of money, but we have access to a number of other resources to make staying home with the kids full-time possible. I acknowledge my privilege within this conversation as a white, married, abled, educated, English-speaking citizen.

I also acknowledge that homeschooling — even unschooling — is far from perfect.

It can be a little lonely/isolating. I would love for my daughter to have more ready access to other children (and adults, for that matter). The way our society is currently organized, I have to put a lot of effort into making sure she interacts with people outside our family. That sucks. (But this is mostly just because so many kids go to school and are unavailable to play most of the day. If more kids homeschooled we wouldn’t have this problem!)

Homeschooling also tends to be an inefficient way to use resources, because in most cases each nuclear family must purchase their own equipment, materials, tools, etc, for individual use. I wish it was easier to share resources among families.

But so far, it seems to be the best option available to us.

I initially tried to tackle the entire subject of homeschooling in an entire post, but it quickly got too long, so I decided to break it up into two (or maybe three).

In the next post, I want to explore some of the concerns I have with mainstream education, and the more complex reasons we are choosing to opt out.

Our Second Year of Unschooling, In Review


The end of June marks the end of the school year for Canadians.

If Lydia would have been in traditional school, she’d be finishing up first grade right now. As most of you know, we unschool, so we just live life and learn along the way, allowing her to follow her interests and facilitating her education by providing a rich learning environment.

I thought I’d take some time to reflect on what we did over the last school year. I’ve divided things up into rough subject categories, though of course learning doesn’t happen like that in real life. (I did the same thing last year, if you’d like to read what we did during her “kindergarten” year).

We continued to mostly avoid anything particularly “academic,” since she simply wasn’t interested in it, and because my research has led me to feel it’s unnecessary at best (and harmful at worst) to push academics before the age of seven. We’ll see what we do next year.

(Psst: You can follow our homeschooling adventures on a regular basis by following my Instagram account. If you’re not interested in seeing my knitting/homesteading/sourdough-baking posts, the hashtag #quiringhomeschool will take you directly to all my homeschooling posts.)

Social Skills

homeschool group

I like to cover this one first, since this topic is one that folks seem to worry about most when it comes to homeschooled kids.

Lydia typically spent at least four days a week with at least one other kid besides her baby brother. Mondays were spent at her grandma’s with her younger boy cousin; Tuesdays and Wednesdays were shared with her best girl friend; and Friday mornings were spent with our large and diverse homeschool group. The kids got a chance to swim at the beach, play at different parks, and visit back yards and farms.

She also went to forest school and swim lessons at various times throughout the year. We went on a ton of field trips with our homeschool group, and did a Valentine’s Day exchange in February. I am so thrilled with the group we’ve found this year, I couldn’t ask for better.

Field Trips

field trip pioneers

Speaking of field trips: I felt like these outings were terrific both for learning opportunities and to nurture a general sense of community.

We went to a pioneer homestead on multiple occasions to learn about how life was lived over a hundred years ago. We went to a local marsh to learn about wetland habitats. We visited the local Historical Aircraft Association to see and learn about WWII planes. Again: I am SO, SO GRATEFUL for our homeschooling community this year!


Math mostly took the form of everyday addition and subtraction. It was mostly explored orally, in response to real-life scenarios. (This is a fancy way of saying that when numbers came up in real life, we worked through problems aloud.) We briefly visited the concept of multiplication a few times, and I bribed her with chewing gum to fill out a 1-100 chart, just to prove to both of us that she could do it.

We also spent a few hours on the Khan Academy website, just to learn about written formulas. I feel we probably caught up on a full year’s-worth of lessons in about three combined hours. It helped me feel more relaxed about her math situation. She didn’t love it, though, so I kept it to a minimum.

One resource she loved was the book Amazing Visual Math. She spent a lot of time poring over the geometric shapes and movable charts. I highly recommend it. I think it will be very educational when she can read.

Language and Literacy

Lydia was still not really interested in learning to read this year, which is fine.

However, I must mention that one week in May, I got her to try the free educational computer game Teach Your Monster to Read, and she played obsessively for about three days. The progress she made was astronomical. She went from barely being able to name the sounds of individual letters to being able to read short sentences in less than 48 hours. Demonstrating, once again, that learning does not naturally happen in a linear or evenly-paced fashion. Most kids can probably learn in a few hours or days — when they’re ready and self-motivated — what they would traditionally be taught over the span of weeks or months in school.

But even though she didn’t want reading lessons, that doesn’t mean her literacy education was completely ignored! We spent lots of time reading chapter books aloud. In this way she learned things like vocabulary, sentence structure, and story structure; and most importantly, she is learning to love stories and language.

Some of our favourite read-alouds this year included:

(Notice a theme here? While she can appreciate more realistic stories like The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street or the Ramona and Beezus books, she definitely has more passion for fantasy. Just like her parents.)

Visual Art

art museum

Lydia is a natural-born artist, so I don’t need to do much here but make sure she’s stocked with supplies. She literally spends hours every day drawing.

We loved two books that I highly recommend: The Art Book for Children and Get Into Art: People. Both books introduce kids to influential artists in an accessible way. She can now recognize the works of Picasso or Arcimboldo thanks to these books, and they’ve inspired her to try new methods and materials.


daphnia microsope(This is a daphnia under a miscroscope)

Our microscope got lots of use this year (I wrote a whole post about it a few months ago). We especially enjoyed looking at bacteria and fungus colonies; microscopic pond creatures; and snowflakes.

We did a bit of nature journaling during the warmer months.

I set up some science demonstrations, like creating sugar crystals, and using red cabbage juice to test pH levels (so cool! I wrote about it here!) She was inspired to try some of her own science experiments.


Ummm . . . we listened obsessively to The Greatest Showman soundtrack? And she watched hours and hours of Lindsey Stirling’s videos on Youtube?

Whenever I brought up any kind of voice or dance lessons, she would say, “I don’t need lessons. I’m already amazing!”

She recently became interested in playing the xylophone, and was very proud when she taught herself to play Twinkle Twinkle on it.

Even though she’s already an “amazing” dancer, I’m thinking about signing her up for tap lessons in the fall.


museum jars

We read and really enjoyed the first half of The Story of the World, where we covered early nomadic cultures, through the Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires. She particularly enjoyed learning about the Egyptians, and was excited to see the Egyptian displays the the Detroit Institute of Arts.

(In this photo she is sticking out her tongue because she knows what gets stored in canopic jars!)

Physical Education


In the warmer months, she got lots of time playing unsupervised in the back yard, swinging and climbing. We also walk as a family regularly to the library, local restaurants, etc.

During winter she really enjoyed Cosmic Kids Yoga on Youtube.

Well, I think that covers all the big stuff!

Thanks for sticking around, and I wish you a relaxing summer!

*This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Becoming Peculiar!

Our Month of Science, AKA Get Thee a Microscope!

looking through microscope

Since we unschool, we don’t follow any curriculum. Instead, we let our interests lead the way. Some months, we end up with a big emphasis on history or art or music. It just so happens that December ended up being a big Science month. We got really excited about looking at small things! Our microscope got a lot of use, and I thought I’d share some of the things we discovered together.

I want to pause to say I highly, highly recommend buying a microscope for your family, no matter whether you home school or use public school! Or heck, even if you don’t have any kids! If you just enjoy being in awe of the natural world, a microscope is a gift. They’re not that expensive, and ours has encouraged hours of joyful discovery and learning. I think it’s a great tool for all kids 5 and up, and the adults enjoy it, too! I have been known to spend hours looking at things through the microscope all by myself, gasping to my family about what I see.

We have the My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope, which we bought from Amazon for about $70. (For some reason they’re way more expensive on the Canadian site right now). It’s very easy to use, it’s quite sturdy, and we’ve seen some spectacular things! You can turn on the light either from above or below, depending on what you’re looking at, meaning you can examine opaque specimens (like stones) and get a good look at their surface. You can get prepared slides to go with the microscope, but honestly we’ve preferred looking at specimens we find ourselves.

Growing Microbes

Anyway, our Month of Science started when I got inspired to grow some microbes after seeing some cool experiments in The Curious Kid’s Science Book. I asked Lydia if she was interested, and she was; so I ordered a Petri Dish and Nutrient Agar Kit to make it easy (here in Canada).

After preparing the petri dishes, Lydia and I had fun going around collecting samples from different places around the home (including everyone’s hands). We sealed up our petri dishes and let them sit around for a few days. Every day we observed them, to see what started growing. It got pretty gross!

petri dishes

growing bacteria

science experiment for kids

science growing microbesNasty, right? We talked about how microbes multiply and form colonies, and why it’s important to wash our hands.

It was a little tricky to look at them through the microscope through the petri dishes, but we got a few good looks!

microscope mold

microscope microbe colonies

P.S. This book on microbes is great for kids! The explanations are simple and elegant, and the illustrations are lovely.



snowflakes in a microscope

While the microscope was out, we got some of our first snowfalls of the season. I got the idea to look at snowflakes through the microscope.

It was more challenging than expected! I discovered that if any part of the instrument was room-temperature, the snowflakes would immediately melt. If you take the slides inside, they immediately melt. So everything needed to be chilled, and the viewing had to happen outside.

So I chilled the microscope and all the tools outside with a towel over it. Then I left out glass slides to catch snowflakes. But if you leave them out too long, the snow builds up too much and you can’t really see anything. It’s quite a delicate science! After a few minutes we could step out and see if we could see anything.

I was amazed at some of what we saw! And I was equally amazed to discover I could easily take photos of what I saw, simply by putting my camera lens up to the eyepiece. Here are a few shots:

snowflakes through a microscope



snowflakes science

snowflakes microscope

It was very hard to find snowflakes that weren’t severely damaged or in mangled clumps. But the intact ones we found were breathtaking.

And there you have it! Our Month of Science. I hope it inspires you to find something amazing in the world around you!

*This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

What I Learned This Summer

sidewalk chalk

I’m a couple days late, since summer technically ended last Wednesday. But I love Emily Freeman’s idea of sharing things you’ve learned over the last season, so I thought I’d join in.

Here are three things I learned this summer.

1. You really can trust kids to do things when they’re ready.

I’m a firm believer in letting kids do things when they’re ready . . . in theory. That’s part of the reason we’re choosing to unschool. But sometimes that idea is harder to put into practice.

Several months ago, I noticed that Lydia was starting to sprout her first new adult teeth (the bottom front ones) . . . behind her baby teeth. This surprised me, because we’d been checking on those baby teeth for any wiggliness since she turned five. They still weren’t loose at all. But the adult ones were ready to move in, regardless of what the baby teeth were doing.

I wasn’t too alarmed, since mine had done the exact same when I was five. But I’d had my not-loose baby teeth removed by a dentist, and I thought maybe she’d have to have the same thing done with hers.

I was getting ready to make an appointment for her when her baby teeth started to get the teeniest bit wiggly. Hmm. I hesitated. At the same time, I talked to my cousin (who’s a dental assistant), and she told me she sees the exact phenomenon in their office all the time, and it’s no big deal — eventually, when the baby teeth come out, the adult ones move right into place. (I don’t know if this is true of other teeth in the mouth, but the ones at the very front kind of get pushed forward by the tongue). So I waited a little longer.

Eventually, her baby teeth started to get more and more wiggly. But Lydia would not let anyone touch them. I believe in bodily autonomy, even for the youngest children,  so I let it go. I didn’t believe her teeth were in any trouble.

I was personally pretty scarred from the experience of losing my own teeth. My dad would tie strong threads around my loose teeth and yank them out. Sometimes it took several tries. It was terrifying. I still shudder at the thought.

{Question: Why are we so anxious to get kids’ teeth out as soon as absolutely possible?}

I didn’t want to do the same to Lydia. Her teeth belong to her. She gets to decide what happens to them.

Soon the adult teeth were fully in place, with the tiny little baby ones still hanging on but slowly getting looser and getting pushed further forward.

loose teethHere’s a nice image to haunt your dreams. You’re welcome.

It looked pretty gross, honestly. She now had a double row of teeth in the front, and the baby ones were turning greyish and looking dead and dangly. Everyone wanted them out so bad . . . except for Lydia.

We bribed. We reasoned. We asked really nicely. But she didn’t want us to touch them and she wasn’t ready to pull them herself.

This went on for two whole weeks past the time we thought they should really come out. I wanted so badly to reach over and just pluck them out. It would have been so easy! But I restrained myself. It’s her body, I reminded myself. She’ll pull them when she’s ready.

And finally, one day while she was eating a carrot, the first one came out. Thank goodness! And she was so proud of herself!

The next one came out the next day. She easily pulled it out herself.

Now she has two beautiful, straight, white adult teeth, without having the damaging experience of having someone barge in and yank out her teeth against her will. As a bonus, she never had to have any gaps in her mouth.

Sometimes you have to have patience and trust that your kids know what they’re doing.

{Note: I’m still trying to follow my own advice when it comes to Felix reaching his milestones on his own time, with varying levels of success.}

2. You can hone your skills just by watching other people.

passionflower watercolour

Earlier in the year, I decided to learn how to paint with watercolours. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I watched a ton of YouTube videos. I bought new paints, brushes, and paper. And I practiced. I got pretty good. It was so, so fun and fulfilling.

But I didn’t get to practice nearly as much as I would have liked. I’m just not at a stage in my life where I can often get out a bunch of art materials, spread them across a table, and work to my heart’s content.

But I was passionate about learning. So I kept watching tutorials. Lots and lots of them. I watched while I fed the baby or washed the dishes. While I chopped vegetables or mixed meatballs for dinner, I watched other people play with colours and create masterpieces. I watched them lay down glazes and demonstrate techniques.

And to my surprise, when I did get the chance to pull out my paints, I was better at it than I was before I watched the videos.

Simple watching experts paint for hours on end made me a better painter myself, even when I’d had little chance to practice.


3. I can buy underwear online.


This felt like a revelation.

First of all, you need to know that Canadians don’t enjoy all the same online shopping options you Americans do. We don’t have all the same businesses, and shipping costs here are insane. (I’ve done quite a bit of shipping in the U.S. so I know that the price differences are dramatic). Free shipping is almost unheard-of. So I’ve never even considered doing things like Stitch Fix. Online clothes shopping is mostly unaffordable and unrealistic.

And honestly, I’m not really even interested in buying my clothes online. I don’t mind shopping for clothes, and only need to do it every couple of years.

But underwear. What a pain!

The underwear available at our local Wal-Mart are all garbage quality and mostly hideous granny panties. So: no.

My favourite underwear come from LaSenza, a flashy lingerie store at the mall (an hour away) that makes me feel very uncomfortable, plastered wall-to-wall with ginormous posters of almost-naked women. It’s located right next to the food court, so everyone can watch you examine underpants while they eat their Cinnabons. When panties go on sale, they’re offered in huge bins right in the front doorway, and you have to sift through piles of lacy thongs to get to the comfy cotton hipsters (the only cut/style I buy). I always dread it.

One day I groaned to Ben, I wish I could just buy my underwear online. And then I thought, Well, why the heck not? I searched for the La Senza website, and before I knew it, had six pairs of clearance-priced underwear in my cart for less than $30. Shipping cost $4. They arrived three days later.

Hooray! No pawing through piles of panties in front of families eating fake Chinese food! This is the only way I’m doing it from now on.

And that’s it for now! What cool things did you learn this summer?



Our Homeschool Plans for 2017/2018 (For First Grade)

nature journal

The school year started last week around these parts, but in our family that doesn’t mean much (since we mostly still unschool. I’ve written about our approach to education here). But the cooling September air did have me thinking more consciously about learning, and I decided to add a few resources to our learning environment.

Here are a couple of things we’re planning on using to enhance Lydia’s learning in the year ahead, divided roughly by subject, though of course learning doesn’t happen all chopped up in real life.


Lydia specifically requested that we not do reading lessons this year (we tried for a while last year), and I’m respecting that. We’re in no hurry to start reading, and I want her to always love reading and learning, so I’m not going to push it.

Instead, the plan is just to read lots of books together. We live in walking distance of the library, and plan to make weekly visits. By listening to me read aloud from quality books, she’ll absorb new vocabulary, grammar, style, etc. Hearing good stories and good writing read aloud will equip her for when she decides she’s ready to read on her own, and will hopefully inspire a lifelong love of books. That’s all I care about right now.


story of the world

Tying into the above: I borrowed a copy of The Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Times from a homeschooling veteran to read aloud. I plan to read a chapter to her every so often during Felix’s naps. So far we’ve only read a few chapters, but she’s already hooked (and so am I!). She begs me to read more, and perks up anytime she hears the word “history.”

As the title suggests, history is written as a narrative, starting with the first nomads, in a simple way that a first-grader can understand. (I understand that as the books move forward in time they also get more advanced, aging with the children.) Hearing history as a story makes in both more engaging and memorable.

(The stories are also available as audiobooks, but so far Lydia doesn’t care for audiobooks. Plus, I like to be able to stop and talk about what we’re reading while it’s happening.)

I personally didn’t get exposed to a lot of this material until I was in university. I was given dismembered chunks of history over the years, and I didn’t know how any of them fit together until adulthood. (I know heaps of adults who today couldn’t tell you whether the Middle Ages or Renaissance came first). I am PSYCHED at this chance to provide her with a skeleton of history at a young age, on which she can hang all future history lessons, and know how it all fits together.

If the rest of the book turns out to be as great as the opening chapters, I’m definitely going to continue with the rest of the series!

Science and Art

exploring nature with children - nature journaling

I think these two subjects combine beautifully in the form of nature journaling. Lydia already loves both drawing and nature, so I’m excited to start nature journaling together.

I purchased the ebook Exploring Nature With Children and two sketchbooks — one for each of us. The plan is to take regular nature walks, focusing on different themes each week as outlined in the book, and then journal about what we find in our sketchbooks.


Life of Fred Math

We’re borrowing a copy of the first Life of Fred book. We haven’t started it yet, and we’ll see what happens. So far she has rejected it on account of how ugly the illustrations are, and I can’t say I blame her. It doesn’t look very inspiring. But I’ve heard great things about it, so we’ll give it a try.

Otherwise, I hope to revive an interest in her Spielgaben set from last year, which hasn’t seen much play in the last couple of months.

Nature Appreciation and Socializing

We also enrolled Lydia in the local forest school, where she will enjoy a half-day of nature education each week. There, she will hopefully get a chance to befriend and play with some other kids apart from me.

We are also involved in a growing local homeschool group, where the plan is to gather weekly, just to play and socialize. I am so excited for this, since our group was very small last year. Yay for new homeschoolers!

* * *

Otherwise, I don’t have any plans — just faith that she will learn plenty of things from everyday life. We’ll cook and bake together, go to the park and beach, hopefully visit some museums . . . and let her natural desire to learn lead the way.

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.)


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.



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.)



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.


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)


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 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.




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


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.



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!









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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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!

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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.


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.


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!

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