117 posts categorized "Education & Learning"

The Intangible Reward: A Novelty

February 11, 2014

Yesterday morning, I received a call from the math teacher: "This is Mrs. Williams calling about your daughter."  I wasn't certain what would come next.  She went on to explain that the students participated in an intense math competition all last week, with team groups solving multi-step problems.  Our daughter's team won.  The prize: calls to the teammates' parents to recognize their efforts, accomplishments, and abilities in collaboration.

A sweet gesture.

I have been recently immersed with promoting carpooling, walking, taking transit to school.  To do so, our school has employed heavy incentive tactics.  Smoothies for kids that walk to school.  Coffee for parents who carpool (i.e., drop off 2 or more students in the school lot).  Pencils, stickers, iTunes gift cards, small toys, tokens for the arcade: the whole lot.

In our object-heavy lives, it is a breath of fresh air to receive that intangible reward.  So: Thank you, Mrs. Williams, for that reminder and for the recognition.

UM on OMamas - Simplicity Parenting 101

December 11, 2013

In case you didn't catch the interview with The Oregonian's OMama, Amy Wang - check out her online article: 

Simplicity Parenting coach offers Portland course

While Amy and I bonded over pho, she took copious notes to learn the basics of Simplicity Parenting. We both had to laugh when she admitted that her week had been too hectic to really check out the new blog before we met. I know when I first read and reviewed Simplicity Parenting  I was far too busy with summer camping trips to even think about decluttering or setting a screen policy.

Face it, in this busy age, there's never really an easy time to begin to simplify. That's why the movement has encouraged three things above all else:

  1. Create "Small Doable Changes"
  2. Celebrate incremental success 
  3. Build a support network

If you are ready for more than a five-minute article based on a one hour lunch, then I hope you'll come to my free intro workshop and/or join the growing movement by signing up for my January workshops.

In anticipation of  the holidays, here is a fresh post from my new blog on Christmas Countdown vs. Simplicity Slowdown

May this season bring your family true fun and festivities!

Darcy Cronin is a mother of three, blogger, and small business adventurer. Darcy became certified as a Simplicity Parenting Coach to help families create paths toward meaningful values and more sustainable lifestyles. Follow her blog and sign up for workshops at Darcy's Utopia.

I have a dream, that someday, boys won't call their brother 'stupid'

January 24, 2013

My five-year-old is so much like me, sometimes I blink and wonder if we're not one and the same. He really loved the lessons on Martin Luther King, Jr.; he had an amazingly deep and broad grasp of them. ("He was against the bad laws," he said. "And he broke them to show how bad they were.") Bravo, kid!

I was trying to get his older brother to finish his homework, tonight, all about how we're living Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. My oldest was frustrated because I'd told them all we had to help Truman do his homework before anyone could play on the screens (employing the much-maligned-by-me football coach strategy). When Truman said he couldn't think of anything to write, his older brother called him stupid! I was pretty mad.

"Everett," I said, "you're being really unkind."

Fast as a wink and outraged, Monroe shot, "you're not living Dr. King's dream!"

And Everett and I both burst out laughing, and finally, I was able to return to making subscription lists for the magazine.

How have your kids reacted to the school's annual MLK, Jr. history lesson? I love this time of year because it seems we're all studying the same thing; but I never know if the context gets lost, or not.

Oh, June: The mama version of graduation anxiety

May 30, 2012

For as long as I can remember I both loved and mourned June. Every June for almost half my life meant goodbyes. Every teacher to whom you would never turn in homework again; every classmate who would graduate or move away in the summer; every community established so quickly and experienced so wholly. Each grade, from kindergarten all the way up to my second year of business school, had its own uncanny friendships and serendipitous societies and secret-keeping, had its possibilities and magic. And it had to end.

I was reminded of my memories of my junior year in high school during the Great Journal Revisiting that occurred when I performed early this month in Mortified Portland. I'd written a melancholy good-bye to my friends, the seniors, who were graduating. And I've been feeling the same way about the 11 days left of school for my kids.

This year, it's not teachers and fellow students I'll miss -- though indeed I will miss Truman's retiring teacher, Donna Zimbro, who was just what he needed. It's this time I'm having with my youngest, Monroe, who gets to hang out with me each day while his brothers are in school. He'll be in kindergarten next year, and our time together will change in character and intensity. Though I'll welcome the wide open possibility of 5.75 hours each day (!!) utterly to myself (let's do another !!!), I'm already nostalgic for this time we have. There's something irreplaceable about the time with a baby, a toddler, a preschool-aged child; I'm not ready to let go.

When his brothers come home from school on June 13, that time will have concluded, forever.

How has your relationship to the end of school changed as you have become a parent? Are you sad, or happy, or a sentimental mix? Do you mark these ends-of-eras in any special way?

Teacher Appreciation Week -- Celebrate All Year!

May 08, 2012

This week -- May 7 through 11 -- is Teacher Appreciation Week. (Some schools might have celebrated last week; one of my boys' schools did, due to confusion about what "first week in May" meant.) I really appreciate what parents at Bridger have done, coordinating muffin baking for the teachers' breakfast one day and other fun events. And a big bouquet of lilacs was enough to make one group of teachers' Monday; I highly suggest such a simple, pretty, great-smelling gift (and there are lots of overgrown lilacs in alleys and parking strips... don't they deserve their chance to shine?). Calendula and lavender are going bonkers in front yards right now, and they make a beautiful bouquet. My seven-year-old's teacher is a huge fan of dark chocolate, so I'll pick up a few extra bars of my favorite at People's (it's even on sale this week): Equal Exchange Panama.

We've got a great round-up of teacher's favorite gifts here (from the winter holidays; obviously there will be more options now!). I'd love to hear about innovative and simple ideas like muffin baking and a potluck lunch for teachers hosted by the PTA. And this is your official reminder! Remember that teachers tell us over and over again that their favorite gifts are simple notes of appreciation. Remember, too, that this is a good time to pull your teacher aside and learn a little something about him so that you'll be able to tailor the perfect token of your gratitude for their dedication. Don't forget about the administrators, librarians, art teachers, and the like.

And, since we're also talking about whether teachers will keep their jobs this year (as we seem to do so often) -- though we can thank Sam Adams for proposing to provide cash to keep from the worst cuts Portland Public Schools was planning for next year (thank you Sam! maybe we should send him muffins too) -- Teacher Appreciation Week will be ending with a very large rally and march called "Get Upset!" to protest continued "austerity," shall we say, in school budgets. It's starting at 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 11, in the Rose Quarter.

Happy Earth Day! Where do you dig?

April 22, 2012

It's Earth Day, and many local schools are celebrating by having work parties in their rain gardens or school vegetable gardens or compost bins. We're headed to Grout today, where the garden has been greatly expanded by a lot of work (and machinery) last weekend. We're so impressed! We'll probably do the smallest bit of work there -- planting things on this gorgeous day while the littles swing and run on the rocks.

It's a hard balance, though, as I'd rather spend the whole day in *my* yard uprooting the copious weeds and digging and figuring out where to get some free dirt (got extra? bring it over!). I want to plant peas, even though I'm a bit late, and lettuces and radishes and beets and kale. I can't wait to start harvesting more than I have this winter out of my garden -- just a bit of chard and green garlic and lots of herbs. So when we get back from Grout that's what I'll do, harvest nettles for quiche (this nettle quiche recipe, no pine nuts), slay a few blackberry vines and burdocks and uproot as much mint as possible.

How do you decide where to devote your gardening efforts on this and other gorgeous weekend days: your child's school garden, or your own? If you have two or more different school gardens competing for your energies, what will you do?

Monday class scheduling blues

January 10, 2012

Monday, Monday! Can't trust that day.

I should know by now, after having considered this topic week after week last November and January in the days leading up to the LEGO competition -- LEGO club was Mondays and Wednesdays after school, and thank goodness for the Wednesdays, because some weeks that was the only day club met.

Monroe is going to "speech group" as part of the services he receives from Multnomah County ESD. It's great; he adores his teacher and the other members of his class are sweet kids. He looks so forward to it each week. I love it, too, because even though it's 45 minutes it makes a nice routine for me -- I run during his class so I know I have a guaranteed weekly 4-some miler. No excuses possible.

But, it's on Mondays! I forgot how inauspicious this day was until PPS gave its students that extra day of break on January 2nd. Monroe missed the first day of the year and he'll miss next week, too, for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Lucky Thursday kids; they get to meet every single week in January.

So if you're contemplating which day to put your child in a class that meets according to the public school calendar, be warned: every other day (every other day!) every other day of the week is fine...

Procrastination & Homework do not mix

January 09, 2012

Last night at 8:30pm, my first-born (now an eleven-year old sixth grader) came into my room.  "Can you sign-off on my report?"

This was the report on Ancient Egypt that has been in process for months.  Originally due the Wednesday before winter break, their teacher delayed the due date to the Friday before winter break.  I suppose enough students were expressing concerns with the deadline, so he again delayed the due date to the Wednesday after winter break, then to the Friday after winter break, and then - finally - the final, drop-dead, absolute, no-more-delays deadline was the Monday after winter break, TODAY.  

"Sure," I said.  "Let me just skim it first."

The intro page had formatting issues (inconsistent font, weird paragraph breaks), the second page had two typos, the fourth page had incomplete sentences, and conclusion page did not make any conclusive statements.  What ensued was a tense two hour session of refining the entire paper, her dad taking the lead with this effort...  while I stewed.

I remember once, when I was in sixth grade, I told my parents at 9pm on a Sunday that my science project was due the next day.  In a tizzy, I made the solar system out of paper mache and attached it to cardboard, staying up until about 1am.  My dad came in at that time and said, "why don't you get some sleep?" and he went on to stay up hours later painting it for me.  I won 3rd place in the science fair that year.

I hate procrastination.  And, I hate my kids staying up late.  I am a huge sleep advocate and stress about their sleep consumption.  I was so, so, so upset last night.  Why did not we (the collective "we" including myself, my daughter and my husband) finalize this report weeks ago, even over winter break?  Procrastination is much too easy.  What is your approach to homework (long-term assignments especially) that won't leave the bulk of the work to the 11th hour?  Do you do progress check-ins?  Do you trust that the final product is "final", and skip the review all together?

Academic Extracurricular Activities: Yay or nay?

August 30, 2011

With back to school around the corner, I have been receiving a few solicitations from after-school tutors or academic enrichment programs.  There are one-on-one tutor opportunities who can help children with math, reading, and other core subjects. There are also larger programs like Saturday Academy or Kumon that offer more strucutred, further exploration of subjects that may already be covered in school.  

My kids gravitate toward sports for their extracurricular activities.  With that, a two-working parent schedule, plus the other daily requirements (dinner? bath? laundry?), I feel like there is no time for much else.

We recently ran into old friends whose sons go to Kumon.  They love it!  So, then, I started wondering: should we consider it too?  Do your kids have any extracurricular activities of the academic nature?  Out of "need" or their own interest?  Are the one-on-one opportunities the way to go?

Beets for preschoolers and other good vegetable-y things

July 07, 2011

It was Citymama herself who cooked up the fresh goodies at the preschool where Everett began his tenure (until she, sadly, moved away to California). Watching small children eat pasta with eggplant tomato sauce or steamed green beans or little hummus cucumber sandwiches is so affirming it made tears come to my eyes. ("They like it. They really LIKE it!") Later, I would birth a baby who would eat carrot greens out of my farmer's market bag, raspberries right off the bushes outside, and salmon salad sandwiches with fresh onions and yogurt-chive dressing (that was today).

Last month, I went to a culinary conference in Austin. There, my friend Michelle (this friend!) organized a visit to a charter school at the University of Texas where grade school-aged kids had grown and learned to cook vegetables from a garden right behind the school. The presenters asked the kids what they had learned to love that they never would have tried before. "Sorrel," said one (!!). The next four kids picked "brussels sprouts."

So when I saw the FOODday piece by Leslie Cole in this week's Oregonian, "Taking a Fresh Approach to Daycare Meals That Kids Will Actually Eat," I squealed a bit. One-year-olds at ChildRoots eating beets, black beans, and steamed grains. Preschoolers at Maryam's Preschool eating Persian rice and vegetables. Parents thrilled... but not really doing anything nearly like this at home.

After having made some mistakes and some total victories with my own kids (and having the sort of child who has a totally unique set of likes and dislikes -- my middle son, Truman, will only eat dried fruit, and only carrots if he can see the vegetable, though he will happily eat grilled fish or sardines or pate, straight), I can say that it's not just exposing kids to a variety of freshly-prepared healthy foods that aren't hidden in other things that is important in developing healthy eating habits; but also maintaining, as much as possible, a food environment in which unhealthy choices are severely limited. It's just a fact: if there is soda in the house, my kids will drink it (same for energy drinks and prepared chocolate milk etc. etc.). If candy is offered right before lunchtime, they'll eat that and skip the salmon-salad sandwiches. If even such a mildly unhealthy choice as Trader Joe's breakfast bars or those sugary yogurt tubes (even the organic ones are pretty high-sugar and TJ's bars have less whole grains and more sugar than I prefer for the kids to have), they'll disappear before the whole-grain scones I made are even touched.

This piece is fantastic inspiration to keep me offering fresh peas and cherries instead of Starbucks treats and yogurt squeezers. I love that more preschools and elementary schools are offering kids whole grains and fresh vegetables prepared in delicious and visible ways (no wink-wink hiding black beans in brownies). I think parents (and here I include my own thoroughly fallible self) could do a better job of supporting these institutional chefs by putting a variety of recognizable vegetables and fruits and whole grains in front of our kids and keep the packaged snack food and sugary treats and breakfast food out of our cupboards. Not every child is going to become a brussels sprout and quinoa lover. But we should give them lots, and lots, and lots of chances -- and they just might end up surprising us.

School's Out For Summer!

June 14, 2011

The countdown began a couple of weeks ago, when my six-year-old was moping about each morning, telling me, "I'm sick!" when he was only, variously, tired, cranky, or wishing he could stay home and play with his little brother. "Only 14 more days of school," I'd say, "you can make it!"

Today, with the retirement of a beloved kindergarten teacher approaching and the skittering knowledge that going back to Bridger is an impractical choice that would likely result in ill attention for my rising first-grader's rising needs -- he's been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, something that just can't be supported in a neighborhood classroom of 38 first-graders, and now that his big brother isn't going to the school, he no longer gets the "tagalong" status allowing a school bus to take him the 3.5 miles from our house -- I'm saying so long to a school community I'd really grown to love. There are too many people to whom to say goodbye.

I'm not the only one among the urbanMamas who is saying goodbye. I'll let Olivia tell her own story, but her Facebook status last night about an exchange with her graduating oldest daughter had tears in many of our eyes. There are littler goodbyes -- preschool graduations, neighborhood moves, and the like. I chatted yesterday with a life-changing therapist, one who'd worked with Everett in an unusually empathetic and knowing way. All of the mental health professionals -- all of them, except for one school psychologist assigned to each school (often on a half-time basis) -- are losing their jobs. Those with seniority will be re-assigned, maybe as school counsellors. The special ed director has decided that children's mental health shouldn't be supported by schools. (More about this later.)

It's a sparkling, celebratory time for many children, but even those like Truman who spent considerable energy trying to stay home will miss the friends and teachers they loved. A bittersweet time of release from schedules and change in environment. A hope for warm sidewalks and bare feet and ripe strawberries from the garden. The feeling is in the air and in the skips of students through the streets.

How are you feeling as school gets out? What are your happies and sads? To whom are you saying goodbye this June?

Homeschooling for the faint of heart

February 27, 2011

Sometime between Valentine's Day and the following Friday, I decided to home school Everett. Now eight-and-a-half and having just passed his third-year special education re-evaluation (still qualifies under the eye-rolling educational diagnosis of "severe emotional disturbance"), I had been thinking (along with the teachers and administrators) all the way into January that things were getting better. Never the sort of kid to have enough good days in a row for successful extracurricular involvement, I'd signed him up for LEGO club, which he participated in through to the end commendably. We'd agreed to do "Battle of the Books," and I was the team parent, and had read the books with him. The assembly where he and his team would compete for a chance at regional tournament was coming up on the 18th.

What's more, he was generally getting along with his teacher, though he'd been through four that year; one permanent teacher who took a job elsewhere; one long-term substitute; one new permanent teacher; then the last one, the day after new-permanent-teacher took over. We all decided it would be best to move him to the older class (the only third-grader in the behavioral classrooms at Bridger, he had been the oldest in K-3 and was more appropriately served, we thought, as the youngest in 3-5). At first, things went great.

Until they didn't. One bad day turned into a week-long bus suspension (shortly after we'd gotten the paperwork done for both boys to take the bus) and then suddenly, he and a friend were suspended. On Valentine's Day, we had a re-entry meeting and, after handing out his dragon valentines, it became obvious that he wasn't emotionally ready to re-enter. Not on Wednesday, either. We missed the Battle of the Books assembly -- the one we'd been reading for since October. On Friday, the counsellor came by and I told her how I felt about this right now: that home schooling might be a better option. About the same time, Rebecca invited me to Get the Scoop on Schooling, "an Evening of Information, Inspiration, and Clarity about Educational Options for Our Children" (Monday February 28 at The Warehouse, 6:30 p.m.). I responded "yes" immediately.

After years of considering this option, and many times typing or saying to someone in the heat of emotion, "I'm THIS close to homeschooling!", the balance had tipped. I felt it was inevitable and that continuing in public school had no possible good ending.

Continue reading "Homeschooling for the faint of heart" »

Homework: does your child have it? how do you handle?

February 08, 2011

After being tucked in at least 30 minutes prior, our 10-year old fifth grader scurried downstairs in a real hurry last Sunday night.  With a frantic look on her face, she held up a paper with about a dozen questions on it about Paul Revere.  "I was supposed to do this!  It's due tomorrow!"

I certainly know the feeling of having forgotten to do something and the feeling of needing to get something done right away.  I used a calm voice and demeanor, as I know just how stressed she was at that moment.  We tackled the questions together, I kind of prodded her along with leading questions.


Our fifth grader gets homework.  Our first grader does not.  We never really ask, "do you have any homework?"  We just know and assume and fully trust that it will get done.  And, it almost always does.  Thank goodness our school's teachers deliver only a moderate-to-mild dose of homework for any given night.  Some nights, there is not homework.  Lucky kids: I recall having at least two hours-worth of homework, every night, when I was growing up.

Have times changed?  Do your kids get a lot of homework?  I know every kid is different, but how do you handle homework in your home?  Does your child get it done even before they get home (I know some kids who do!)?  Does your child do it in a hurry at the breakfast table?  Do you do it together every night?

Back to school: Shivers and shakes and tears

September 07, 2010

Some districts started in the last two weeks, but most students in PPS and surrounding districts have the first day of school today, with kindergarteners coming to class later this week. I dropped off my third-grader, Everett, this morning at Bridger School, where he's in the behavioral classroom. We were a few minutes late; evidently, I'm not as speedy a bicyclist as I remember being last spring. We passed by a few schools on our bike ride; I recognized mamas and papas I knew ushering kids out of cars at Atkinson, and there were so many pedestrians we had to wait at a crosswalk with our bike just for them to clear the corner. Eagerness, first day photos, and cool outfits were everywhere!

Everett was eager for the first day of school, but it's tempered for both of us with concern. He's had a hard time these three-going-on-four years in grade school, and I was a little apprehensive about his move into the classroom -- literally inches away from his old K-2 classroom last year -- because I wonder whether the teacher's style will work for him. But, he was excited to be with the older kids, and separated a bit from some younger students who had challenged his coping skills the year before.

We walked into the classroom to blank faces. "Oh, Everett's going to be next door!" she said. No one had alerted the special ed students to the fact that "the numbers worked out" for third grade to be added back together with K-2. I think the teacher may be nice for him, but he really struggles coping with situations where his expectations do not match reality. His face, as he sat in a seat very near his seat last year, looked crushed.

Continue reading "Back to school: Shivers and shakes and tears" »

Budget cuts at area schools have us sick

June 25, 2010

Last week, I listened to a Planet Money piece on a financial crisis in Barbados in the 1970s. The country had to borrow money from the IMF, and in doing so, were told they needed to follow some rules in order to reduce spending -- rules that meant they'd have to reduce social services, or reduce wages. After a few of the protests you'd imagine, magically the business leaders and the labor leaders came together and, through difficult talks and careful negotiating, agreed to reduce wages instead of laying off workers or cutting important social programs. Many businesses instituted productivity bonuses and other incentives to help increase worker loyalty.

Decades later, Barbados' economy had improved, wages were much better, employment was stable and -- amazingly -- a deep sense of trust had developed between business and labor interests. Jamaica had experienced a similar crisis and dealt with it differently. In Jamaica, the economy was still bad.

Listening to this story in the background of news from the past few weeks -- in Oregon and around the country -- is sobering. I wish we were as strong and community-focused as Barbados was in the 1970s; I wish we could come together and agree on belt-tightening and shared support for the things that matter to us: people, one by one, jobs, one by one, students, one by one. But no.

In Portland, PPS superintendent Carole Smith has proposed a series of budget cuts meant to reduce the expenses by $19.1 million. In order to be "equitable," she plans to require all schools to make similar cuts. These will, if her proposed budget is approved, be to PE and library employees (126 full-time-equivalent, or FTE, positions); ESL and special education employees (52 positions); and central support and operations (25 positions).

Continue reading "Budget cuts at area schools have us sick" »

And what about starting kindergarten "early" or "young"?

March 15, 2010

This is the time of year when many parent conversations are all about schools - lotteries, holding back, testing, and maybe even the question of public vs. private.  An urbanMama recently emailed:

My daughter will be turning 5 on August 29th, meaning she is old enough to be starting kindergarten next year. While there is no doubt she is bright, she will always be the youngest in her class. I have brought this up with her pre-k teacher and the principal and I suggested maybe she stay in preschool an additional year. Both said if she was behind, she could repeat kindergarten twice. That's what worries me. For one, I think she will do fine in kindergarten, but what about when she's older. And two, why would I set her up to even fail kindergarten? To me, that seems out if the question. I have heard plenty of parents who recommend holding back boys with summer birthdays, but most give the advice that little girls do fine starting kindergarten a young 5.  Has anyone else dealt with this?  Were you the youngest in your class and always felt behind although you were bright and capable?  Will a stigma be attached to a child who didn't start kindergarten until 6?

Kindergarten choice deadline tomorrow: 'I'm destroyed'

March 11, 2010

"I'm destroyed," she said. I had been hanging out on the Bridger playground yesterday just before the school's out bell, watching Everett and Truman play while Monroe slept on the bike. I'd seen her and her friend first on an "unimproved road" on the way to school; they and their daughters, each in their own wagon, had been walking while we biked past. She'd called out something friendly; I'd smiled and responded.

Now we were talking about her upcoming, impending, oh-my-god-it's-Friday decision: where to send her daughter to school. Should she go with her neighborhood option, Bridger? She had a few other great ones on her list: Creative Sciences, Buckman, maybe even Atkinson. We chatted for a few minutes, I owning up to not having a great handle yet on the school; I've only been hanging at this playground for two-and-a-half weeks, Everett's in the behavioral program, we didn't pick this.

The decision, she said, was too much. And Friday! Two days to make the decision that would seriously change the course of her and her daughter's life. Who could know how it would develop? What the future would hold?

As she was talking I realized I wasn't, after all, ready to send Truman to his neighborhood school, Grout. How crazy would that be, after all, next year? We'd be on the bikes at 7:45 to get Truman to his school; then head the other direction, past home, to get Everett to Bridger. Monroe and I would have four-and-a-half hours before it was time to pick Truman up, then slog the four-plus miles to Bridger, home again home again. Forget volunteering or staying after to read to my kids. With two on either end of southeast Portland, and me on my bike, I'd be torn between my children.

So now, I, too, am destroyed. I have until tomorrow to make the decision and I'm pretty sure I know what it will be: not my neighborhood school. It's not the way I thought this would go. Are any of you, like this mama and I, feeling destroyed right now?

What we learned in a cooking lesson: Soup every way

March 07, 2010

A nice mama took me up on my offer from the post about Jamie Oliver, and came over Thursday for a cooking lesson. While I'd quizzed her on likes and dislikes before she came (no mushrooms, she said, and her husband wasn't an onion fan), we hadn't really talked about what she wanted to learn. "I feel overwhelmed," she said, with a 14-month-old in the kitchen and a tight budget. "How do people just always have what they need on hand?"

We quickly realized that she didn't need help figuring out how to dice and peel and saute: she needed to be released from the stress of a recipe. She's one of those people (on the other end of the spectrum of home cooks than I) who must absolutely put two teaspoons of thyme into a recipe if it calls for two teaspoons of thyme, and if she can't find thyme or if it's very expensive or if she gets home and realizes she has, after all, no balsamic vinegar (just cider), or whatever: she panics.

What she needed, I said, was to cook without a recipe at all. Just a process. That would save her from the planning, list-making, recipe-checking, budget-busting stress. She could just buy whatever she saw that was in season and inexpensive (or whatever was growing in her garden, arrived in her CSA box, or her mom had given her), and use the process to make it fit.

We made one thing: a cabbage black bean chili, in which I used the beans from the recipe I included in the first post, and I stressed throughout our time that weren't going to talk about quantities or requirements, just procedures, categories and maximums, and ways she could fit this process into her own family's life. One piece of advice I gave her was, I thought, universally useful, and that is to figure out what are your favorite and most versatile spices, and become comfortable enough with them so you'll always know how much to use. Mine are cumin, smoked paprika, dried chiles, cloves, nutmeg and allspice; other good standbys could include ginger, dry mustard, star anise, thyme, dill, cinnamon and cayenne or chipotle pepper. You could only have two or three (cumin and thyme and some sort of pepper, for instance) and still manage to make good food no matter what, I think. Buy the spices in bulk (Limbo has a fantastic fresh spice and herb aisle; many other neighborhoods sport their own super spice sources) and you'll save money and ensure freshness.

Below is the process for bean soup I used. This is an endlessly great way to make soups, and could be vegetarian, vegan, or thoroughly meaty-creamy, depending on which options you picked. The one we made was delicious! And though I'll probably never make it exactly like that again, I'm sure we'll make many more great soups in our day that will best even that.

Continue reading "What we learned in a cooking lesson: Soup every way" »

Preschool: How much is too little?

January 28, 2010

As Truman is heading to kindergarten next year, he's going to be ending his preschool journey in June. He's in an MESD program at Grout, meant to provide an opportunity for children qualifying for early intervention to learn alongside "peers," kids who don't qualify but love the $5-per-session (and less for those on low incomes) rates. It's lovely: close to home, with caring teachers, FREE. But it's on a two-hours-and-twenty-five minutes timetable, three days a week. Just barely enough to give him a chance to learn a little bit about letters and numbers and seasons and how important it is to follow rules about cleanup and sharing: not enough to give me a chance to actually get anything done in the meantime.

Typically, I treasure the days, like today, that he's off school; in order to get him in the door at 11:50, I'm feeding him a snack at 11 and doing the get-ready dance for him and Monroe for the next 20 or 30 minutes. By 1:45 I'm looking at my watch every two minutes, interrupting any train of thought I'd been able to establish what with Monroe, longing for the human interaction he craves, holding his hands on either side of my face asking me to look at something -- his nose, a Pokemon card, a Hot Wheels race car.

As Monroe will be three this summer, when his big brother is heading for kindergarten I'll be left to decide whether to put him in preschool. I definitely don't have room in my budget for any longer, less public school-y preschool program; it's the MESD seven or eight hours a week, or nothing. Today, loving the flexibility of my time and the space I have to let my trains of thought play all the way out before I interrupt them for snacks and bike rides, I'm leaning toward foregoing preschool altogether for my third kid.

But... Truman's definitely benefited; he really needed the "discipline," if you can call it that, preschool provides; the structure is something he craves and I'm not great at affording; the social opportunities are hard to live without. Life without preschool for my youngest would require at least a little investment in playdates and a mama who could promise herself to dedicate a little time each day to crafts and books. (I love them. I just don't always manage to fit them into writing-housework-bills-errands-bread baking-chicken feeding-etc.)

What do you all think: how much preschool is too little? Have any of you let preschool be when faced with such a decision (and only one child still at home)? How much "curriculum" (hah) do you do? Crafts and books and seasons, oh my? Do you paint with your young child? Schedule many playdates? I'd love to hear how you've organized your life around preschool, if you too have decided "that much is not enough."

Homework: The daily fight to finish

January 19, 2010

3311919424_e0d9bc4fb7_b The setting:  the dining room table.  The activity:  Finishing homework the night before it's due.  The result:  A battle of wills like you've never witnessed before.  There will be many broken pencils, gray hairs, and with a little luck (because effort is not even part of this equation) there will be a finished assignment.  Things always come up, like a more interesting speck of dust, or the need to pee (5 times in 20 minutes).  Eventually, most of it will get done.  And this is just First Grade!  Boy, are we in for it!  So please, mamas, do you have any tricks?  Tips?  How do you get homework done without getting into a brawl? 

talking to kids about Martin Luther King, Jr., race relations, and ethics

January 18, 2010

As with everything, I launched into it without much thought. "You see," I told the boys one night last week, "many people in this country used to think people who looked different than them -- with darker skin or different hair or different-shaped noses -- weren't as good as them. They even sometimes thought they weren't fully human, like animals or something! Isn't that awful?"

"That sounds pretty stupid to me," said Everett. He's the oldest, seven-and-a-half. Emboldened, I marched on, describing how people who needed to make decisions they weren't totally comfortable with -- like owning people, treating them horribly as slaves, making them do the worst work and endure terrible living conditions -- used this ethical trap to convince themselves it was o.k. "If they believed it, then they wouldn't think of themselves as so mean and awful," I said. "And it made them feel good, to think of themselves as better than these other people."

Lately, I've been referring to Hitler in a few different contexts, telling Everett the story of the man who put the heads on Pez (I had discovered he'd ended up working for the same Nazis who had sent his entire family to their deaths in concentration camps, after the war, and been stunned by this) and another story about the man who first put jigsaw puzzles on cardboard, making them available to the masses (his family, too, had needed escape from Nazis; we don't know if they made it).

It's context that I feel the kids need to understand why Martin Luther King, Jr's speech is so important -- why it is I still cry when I hear it, for the umpteenth time -- how our generous minds let us take cruel shortcuts, sometimes, without owning up to the cost. How we build up a whole infrastructure around this cruelty, laws and societal norms and unkind jokes, to protect our fragile consciences from the truth.

Continue reading "talking to kids about Martin Luther King, Jr., race relations, and ethics" »

Gifted toys from... uncles

December 29, 2009

Yesterday, a Twitter friend was kvetching about the Christmas gift given by her brother to her young boys: a Leapster video game "made and marketed by Satan's helpers." I could relate, as my brothers-in-law (both sides of the family) have made themselves famous in the house for their extremely loud, blinking-lights, electronic gifts, often given with the best of intentions: they're marketed as "educational" toys, after all. There was the Barney monstrosity with the alphabet buttons and the voice I couldn't even recognize, except that it was enough to drive me out of my head. There was the toy I like to think of as "baby's first TV," a little scrolling translucent screen with 80s-style plastic doodads that prompted different "soundtracks," targeted at one-year-olds (really, toy companies?).  There was the Transformers helmet found at the bins that changed everyone's voice into an Autobot's voice, loudly (not educational, but surely delightful for boys).

This year, it's the Nerf guns, everyone's favorite toy, right? I watch my two-year-old walk upstairs with a gun on his shoulder, looking for all the world like Matt Damon's character in a movie with lots and lots of shooting. Except littler, and barefoot.

I've slowly banished most of the loud toys from the house, but sometimes you just have to let a kid play with the dearly beloved terror. And there is no shortage of over-priced, enormous, loud toys, the manufacture of which must have the carbon footprint of a cross-country drive in an SUV, the marketing of which is surely delight at "spending time together" as you watch your child "learn" by pushing buttons and listening to the resulting cacaphony. Toy companies make a lot of money from aunts, uncles, and a goodly portion of parents who have bought the marketing pitch hook, line and C batteries. I think the best approach is education: not of our kids, but of other adults out there who are paying for the stuff in the first place. So tell me: how can we spread the word that the best education is a puzzle, a book, a crayon, a pebble, a ball, a stick (even if it's in the shape of a gun) and some quiet(ish) face time with your son, daughter, niece, nephew, granddaughter, godson? The sound of the toy companies' marketing is deafening.

Favorite Winter-Themed Books?

December 03, 2009

The sun may be shining, but we are definitely approaching the heart of wintertime.  As the seasons change, so may our books to resonate with the world around us.  An urbanMama recently emailed to see if you could recommend a few seasonal reads:

Hi mamas, I am hoping you will post something to get us talking about our favorite winter books. I am trying to build our collection and am looking for ideas. On my list to buy this year are The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren and Snow by Uri Shulevitz. Favorites from my childhood are The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keatz and Father Christmas goes on Holiday by Raymond Briggs.

Image from cafemama's favorite winter book, The Lemon Sisters by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss.

Dear Disney: You didn't make my baby into Einstein

October 26, 2009

I should have known better; after all, I myself graduated from a couple of rigorous post-high school academic programs. But still, I bought the concept (literally and figuratively) that the Baby Einstein series of DVDs would provide my first son a richer babyhood. I never really thought he'd be made into a certified genius by watching DVDs, but I did think he'd at least pick up some minor smarts from exposure to this heady stuff.

The 'Language Nursery' one had me most enchanted; until I started watching it and wondered, how is this going to teach my baby languages, again? The video consisted mostly of just throwing words and nursery songs at kids without any accompanying explanation. "Frère Jacques," for instance, was accompanied by video of little hands playing with bright-colored toys (now I wonder, darkly, if they were painted with lead-based paint). I could neither understand nor participate; there was no translation, not even a rundown of the lyrics of the lullabies sung in other languages. Later I'd read that there was no worse way to teach children languages than to expose them utterly without context.

We sold our Baby Einstein DVDs on eBay before my second baby was born, and later we learned that, indeed, Baby Einstein videos were not only based on zero infant developmental science but were proven not to make one smarter. The AAP came out with a recommendation that children under two not be exposed to television or DVDs at all. This weekend, the news was even more thundering: after being threatened with a class action lawsuit for false and deceptive advertising (to the most impressionable and defenseless consumers of all, I'd add: new parents), Disney agreed to refund consumers' money for their purchases, should they want it back, $15.99 for up to four Baby Einstein DVDs per household, bought between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 5, 2009, and returned to the company.

That won't provide any monetary help for me... my videos were purchased before June 2004. But that's not really my biggest concern; it's that millions were made deceiving parents about what's good for their babies. "Fostering parent-child interaction always has and always will come first at The Baby Einstein Company, and we know that there is an ongoing discussion about how that interaction is best promoted," said a Disney spokesperson. No, there's no such discussion. We all know now that having a baby watch other babies play with other parents on a screen doesn't teach him or her anything. Actually playing with your baby... interacting on his level sans screentime... is the best way to promote interaction. And it doesn't require a single Disney product, or Mattel, or Hasbro, or Melissa & Doug, or even the super-natural Waldorf toy companies like Maine Toys.

I'd certainly be ill-advised to judge anyone for using so-called "educational" shows to occupy my young children when I'm losing it. A sane mom with kids in front of the TV is probably better than a shouting, hair-tearing mom without a screen in sight. But this whole story provides a lens into the enormous industry of selling intelligence to new parents. With brand names like IQ Baby and Baby Scholars and Neurosmith, it doesn't take a genius to understand how we're being subtly manipulated to feel this will actually separate the eventual results of our children's IQ tests.

It's good to know that baby play is the great economic equalizer: no parent, given the most vast amount of resources imaginable, has a leg up over another parent unless the amount of time he or she can devote to the baby is greater. (I know: this isn't always true given the paucity of maternity leave in our country and the frequent economic necessity of mom working.) But it's important to underscore that, given two at-home parents, one with barely enough money to keep the lights on and the fridge stocked, the other with plentiful disposable income and the entire Baby Einstein oeuvre, both are entirely equally equipped to make their babies smart.

School Supplies - stocking up & supporting drives

September 01, 2009

The end of summer vacation is closing in on us quickly.  Last weekend, I took my rising fourth-grader and her classmate to the store to acquire all the items on their supply lists.  The stores (we opted for Fred Meyer's and Walgreens) were overwhelming with all their back-to-school displays, reams of paper, and boxes of Pee Chee folders.  Of course, they were all out of No. 2 pencils!  We carefully chose our items and surprisingly ended up with a bill that was half of what it had been in previous years.

Somewhere in all the school supply craze, I know I've seen signs for school supply drives.  I can recall only one organization, though: Schoolhouse Supplies is a nonprofit organization helps schools by providing free supplies, donated by businesses, to teachers of classrooms in need.  Their school supply drive started on August 1st, but there's still time to contribute before drives end on Labor Day.  Details on locations and participating businesses on the Schoolhouse Supplies website.

This year: where are you shopping for your school supplies?  Have you heard of community school supply drives that could use additional support?

Outside time, all the time?

May 03, 2009

As I type this, my two older boys run around outside in our (blessedly) big back yard. The youngest was outside, too, until naptime overtook him with a thunderstorm of neediness. Everett asks, "could you bring me something to eat out here?" and I unhesitatingly say, sure.

I've just been reading this about a U.K. preschool whose students spend nearly every moment out-of-doors. And I've been "studying" my kids' behavior and finding an unsurprising result: the more time outside, running, jumping, digging, collecting worms, fighting all those bad guys who seem to inhabit our block, or just lying in the dirt with a serious expression and a dump truck; the happier everyone is. Everett's therapist asks, "what do good days look like?" My answer is "plenty of intense outdoors play" and I immediately wonder what I'm doing with him in public school at all.


For a lot of complicated reasons, I've been considering home schooling him. With what will I fill his days? I wonder, imagining dozens of mini-power struggles over adjective worksheets. And then discarding all that wonder with the thought that maybe, we'll just have math, reading and outside time. Lots, and lots, of outside time.

Out there, we have a hundred lessons in science, math, social studies, vocabulary, agriculture; it's the Green Hour supercharged. I wonder if we'll have enough for him to build the skills in which he's lagging while at the same time protecting him from the often too-stressful, too-troubled environment of the school he's attending. Unschoolers have already been convinced, I know. For those of you who do homeschool, unschool, free school, or some variant thereof -- even just for preschool -- tell me how you've balanced "curriculum" and teaching children the parts of speech, multiplication tables, and all that with a sufficient amount of outside time. Have any of you considered changing your child's schooling to allow more time outside? How has the thought process gone for you? Have you tried it and gone back to the way of the formal schoolroom? Have you just longed for more untrammeled running, free-range kid raising time? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Do you stop while you read?

March 05, 2009

Last night when I was reading through Chapter 5 of "The Borrowers", I was interrupted several times.  "Mama," says the little one, raising her hand but waiting before she speaks.  When I reach the end of the paragraph, I look at her.  She says: "You know what I did today with Aidan?"  I say, "Maybe we can talk about that when we're done with the chapter."  After a few more sentences, again it's "Mama!  Mama!"  I read to the end of the paragraph and again look at her.  She asks "Where did the borrowers get that chair?"  We stop and talk about how the chair is an empty spool of thread, but her older sister is growing anxious, wanting for me to read on and on.

It's tough for me to read to two different children at different ages and different attention spans.  But, this is our storytime, and it's not going to change.  I personally don't like stopping so often to talk about the day or talk about the setting (although I suppose I shouldn't mind the latter).  I like to dig into the book and read right through.

One of our daughters has always been inquisitive at story time, whether it be a chapter book or picture book.  Always asking tangential questions about the characters, their mamas, papas, brothers, and sisters.  Our other daughter enjoys just listening and silently visualizing the words.

I have long wondered: do you stop while you read?  To really examine and discuss the pictures?  To talk about what it may be like to be that character?  To talk through feelings about the story?  Or, do you read straight through and leave the discussion to the end (of the book or the chapter)?

Ross W. Greene and the 'Explosive Child'

February 26, 2009

A few years ago, when I was first understanding my son, Everett, and his behavioral difficulties, I read Ross W. Greene's The Explosive Child. Now that he's at the Pioneer School, a special school geared toward children who have major trouble adapting in the general education environment, and many of the members of the schools' staff have been through Greene's workshops. His approach for dealing with challenging kids, called "collaborative problem solving," is now taught in workshops and MESD-sponsored book groups around the city.

I was surprised, then, when I told several of Everett's teachers that I had just ordered Greene's newest book, Lost in School, a follow-up to his previous books that lays out a framework for how parents and schools can work together to help challenging kids succeed. They hadn't yet heard of it. (What, do you people not have GoodReads?) I've read a few chapters of Lost in School, now, and I already recommend both books to anyone who has a child with behavioral challenges, whether they're like Everett's or more strictly diagnosed (the autism spectrum and ADHD are also maladaptive disorders and can be approached with Greene's philosophies). When adding the new book to my GoodReads shelf, I decided to review the The Explosive Child; I've copied the review after the jump.

Continue reading "Ross W. Greene and the 'Explosive Child'" »

Getting kids involved without polling places: I voted!

November 04, 2008

Ballots_on_bike_cropI remember going with my mom to the polling place when I was a kid; there was one right at the end of our block, at 25th and Madison, so watching the people stream by all day was so exciting. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to vote. Now my six-year-old is just like me: only there's no polling place. My husband and I voted after bedtime on Friday and the only evidence was our sealed, signed ballots on the table the next morning, whisked away by my parents to drop off at the elections office.

So, how can we invest our children with the excitement of civic involvement in our vote-by-mail state? Here are a couple of things we've done (and plan to do):

  • Electoral maps. There will be electoral maps to color at Backspace for the election party tonight; and last night Everett insisted I fill in every state as blue (he's loyal, that kid) on the New York Times electoral map, a fun interactive map that lets you run different scenarios while you wait.
  • Mock election. Asha at ParentHacks has a fun idea with imaginary candidates who espouse candy policies and bedtimes.
  • Get your freebies. Though election law now says they can't ask if you voted (nothing of value can be exchanged to induce someone to vote, or to refrain from voting), Starbucks is giving away a free tall coffee in honor of voting, Ben & Jerry is giving away free scoops from 5 to 8 p.m., and Dunkin' Donuts is giving away star-shaped pastries.
  • Campaign with every last second. Moms Rising has several "get out the mom vote" campaigns, like offering to be backup childcare for friends who want to vote, and making last-minute calls to remind moms to vote. Maybe the best way to adapt this to Oregon is to offer to drop off ballots for your friends who haven't yet voted, or to stage a "voting playdate" where you bring your ballots, vote, and hand them over to one mama to hand-deliver to a ballot drop-off location.

How will you get your kids enthused about your civic involvement today?

How many books is 'enough'?

November 02, 2008


"One more time?" says Truman as we finish his latest book crush. This came in the "red bag" from school, part of a Multnomah County program to make sure underprivileged kids have books in the home.

Seriously? One more time? I thought. Even though I loved the book, I had things to do! But part of the whole reason I quit my job and am doing a few hours' daily freelance work is so I could do this, read it ah-gain. I read it again, expressively, and closed it decisively. "All done!" I said happily.

"One more time?" says Truman. "Read it ah-gain?" And this time I say, "no, two times is enough!" and head to the kitchen to finish the dishes. But I have to wonder: how many times is enough? Last night while Monroe was sleeping on my lap I read Inch by Inch four times in a row (and then it was requested again at bedtime). Later I listen to him, sitting studiously on the couch, "reading" it to himself. Be still my heart.

So repetition is good, I know from my sisters' early childhood development classes. But how much can I stand? How about you? When do you call it quits on "one more time"?

Sustainable living on a budget: Am I inspired yet?

May 22, 2008

Yogurt_in_crock Monique Dupre was, as everyone seems to agree, not what we expected. She's too lovely, too pulled-together, too funny, too American. (For the record, she is married to a Frenchman, grew up near Astoria, and now lives in Vancouver, Wash.) I half-expect her to start her insanely popular 'Sustainable Living on a Budget' workshop with a little ledger for us to add up our errant spending and lots of judgment, but that's entirely not what she does.

She starts by saying that she just wants to inspire us, reminds us that inspire means "in the spirit," and that we don't have to do everything, just start where we are. And begins to talk about where she is.

It's at once devilishly inspiring (I will admit to having called Comcast to cut off my cable the next day, and removed the TV from the living room, although it was only minorly influenced by Monique) and crushingly overwhelming. Monique, through lots of hard work, much ability to be present and inquisitive, and the oh-so-useful French husband questioning all that is America, has created a life that is truly my dream. She gets all her food locally and organically, creating healthy and whole-foods-y meals for each and every bite her family eats. She leaves her home each morning with a clean kitchen and a small pile of laundry. Her children want nothing for Christmas because they have everything they need. Her eldest daughter can recognize fennel plants when they're an inch tall. She loves fennel!

Continue reading "Sustainable living on a budget: Am I inspired yet?" »

Prenatal / Infant Care DVD

January 30, 2008

Theresa is entering the realm as a health educator.  She was hoping that the greater readership at-large could provide some insight on DVDs or videos that could help her provide support to expecting mothers.  She emails:

I recently moved back to Norcal and miss Portland dearly.  But that's another story.  I still check out the UM website for thought provoking info and advice. My question; I recently got a job as a Health Educator for low income pregnant women.  Most of my clientèle are young mothers.  Does anyone have any effective / helpful Prenatal and Infant Care DVD's/Videos you would recommend? Childbirth is taught by someone else.  Thanks for you help!

The Business of Being Born - Private Screening

January 09, 2008

M_240x400 So it's been a few years, but I'll never forget.  Not the labors (one excruciatingly long, the other excruciatingly fast), not the stitches (yes, the dreaded 'stage 4' tear).  And definitely not the hospital midwives, dedicated labor nurses, and OB (think forceps) who helped me vaginally deliver two children without drugs - not their norm.

I'm all for natural, but only to a point.  Drugs?  No way.  Bathtub at home?  No thanks.  Hospital?  Absolutely - plus, that's what my insurance covered, right?   But enough about me and my boring births of yesteryear.  We're ready to hear about someone else's births - namely Ricki Lake's - and the birthing "business."

Continue reading "The Business of Being Born - Private Screening" »

Parenting philosophies: Is *anyone* right?

December 03, 2007

Broadway_medical_clinic_me I've been thinking, studying, and discussing a lot lately about one very important topic: parenting. Not just parenting in general, but how to parent, and how to parent right. But even more troubling than the realization that I haven't been parenting entirely perfectly is the growing conviction that no one knows what they're doing. And I'm not judging you guys, the parents: no, I'm judging the experts, the parenting authors, the pediatricians, the teachers.

Everett's temporarily in a special education program and we're finding that the teachers, "coaches," and other great staff are -- despite their commendable patience and amazing energy -- frequently guilty of inconsistence. Are they right when they ignore bad behavior, or right when they provide consequences? I was all ready to embrace Love & Logic without question when I discovered some of the more punitive examples proffered by its creators. I love my children's pediatrician unreservedly, but occasionally her behavioral advice seems half-cooked. Another mama was raving about Alfie Kohn's speech, but admitted she had trouble putting much of his advice into practice after she got home.

While it's somewhat comforting to conclude that no one knows what they're doing, it's also terrifying -- how can I get it right if I can't even decide what right, is? I wonder -- has anyone come across a philosophy you embrace whole-heartedly? And why is this parenting gig so darned hard?

Bringing Healthy Food to the Classrooms

September 19, 2007

Meg poses an interesting question and seeks some wisdom from urbanMamas:

I am a high school teacher and I teach a course called environmental issues.  As part of the on-going guiding question of “How do you impact the environment and how can this be measured?” I wanted to do a weekly bit on healthy eating; healthy for the planet and healthy for the student.  My idea was to get a local farm or grocery store to donate organic fruit that was all locally grown.  I approached my administration with this idea and was told that I could only serve prepackaged food in class…. In other words, soda, chips, pizza, doughnuts, candy are all a-ok, but not organic fruit.  What are your experiences with what is acceptable to serve in the public school classroom?  Are there any loopholes I could squeeze through?  I know I can’t cook anything, but I thought raw foods were ok.  What would be the best way to go about changing this policy in a time efficient manner?  Lastly, does anyone have any connections with Washington County organic farms just in case I get this off the ground?

Tessy & Tab: How did you know?

September 11, 2007

About a week before one of our first summer trips to the beach this year, some mail arrived for Tati, our 3-1/2 year old.  It was her first issue of Tessy & Tab (yay for this locally produced tot-mag!), "Tessy & Tab have fun at the beach".  Toward the end of the summer, as we were packing up for a week with the kids' grandparents in New York, more mail came for Tati.  In that issue of Tessy & Tab, "Tessy & Tab went on a trip", and I must say that their examples probably provided impetus for Tati to be particularly independent on this trip; it was our first trip without a stroller or any other carrying device.

Back from our end of summer trip and preparing for Tati's first few days at her new school (today being her first longer day), we were met by psychic mail again.  This time, "Tessy & Tab go back to school."

Tati gets excited when she sees her preschool magazine in the mail pile waiting for her.  More than that, she loves when the Tessy & Tab adventures are stories that she can completely relate to, at that moment, in her life.  She lights up and gets so excited to be able to connect with Tessy & Tab.  When I think about it, who wouldn't light up and get excited?

Another wonderful thing about Tessy & Tab for our family is that our older girl, Philly (aged almost-7) loves to read issues to her little sis and she loves to help her little sis start to recognize letters.  We know other Tessy & Tab subscribers who love the tot mag for the big-kid-helps-little-kid experience too.

We'd love to hear about Tessy & Tab experiences, as well as feedback on any other preschool periodicals.  We've heard of Ladybug Magazine?  What about periodicals for the older set?  I myself am an old Highlights fan...   

Sewing with kids: when do you start?

August 12, 2007

When I was visiting my sister a few days ago, her 13-year-old step-daughter was busy working on her first sewing project (after a lesson from her grandma). Even though she's clearly old enough, I was surprised at how well her little bib had turned out. The next day Everett and I were busy choosing projects from Amy Karol's fabulous beginner's book, Bend-the-Rules Sewing and the number of projects he demanded was, well, impossible. I started thinking about teaching him to sew...

When we were kids, we always begged to use the sewing machine, but mom made a rule: you had to be eight years old to use it. I'm pretty sure, though, we started in with hand-sewing before that (and you can bet our great-grandmas were sewing before they knew the alphabet). I'd love to hear your experiences (or plans) -- if you're into the textile arts as I am, when did you learn to sew? When did you, or do you plan to, teach your own children?

Oh yes: and if you're looking for that perfect gift for a teenager (or adult) who's taking up sewing, Amy Karol's book would be a nice place to start.

Do you homeschool?

July 17, 2007

Melia would love your thoughts and tips on homeschooling:

On an education thread someone asked for local information about home-schooling, but it was never answered. We are thinking about home-schooling after a tumultuous kinder-year. I'd love to know if there are people doing Montessori-based home-schooling.

Summer Reading 2007 - Starts today!

June 01, 2007

It's that time of year again! The wildly successful and popular Summer Reading program starts today, June 1, and runs until August 31, 2007. Find tons of resources for kids' reading and participation, including booklists (sorted by age group) and opportunities for sending book reviews or sending in kids' own poems.

Don't delay! Head to your neighborhood library today, and start your summer reading.

Exploring Oregon Coast Tidepools

May 20, 2007

Img_0378Oregon's coastline provides a mix of sandy beaches and rocky headlands. This mix creates a lot of opportunity to see a rich mix of sea life in coastal tidepools. Tidepools are found all along the 350+ mile coastline but many great viewing areas are easily accessible from state park and public scenic areas.

We were recently in Yachats and spent a few mornings exploring tide pools in the area. We enjoyed seeing chitons, snails, limpets, barnacles, sea stars, mussels, anemones, crabs and more!  But there are many tidepool areas even closer to Portland including:

1) Ecola State Park - About two miles north of Cannon Beach. This area also offers access to the Clatsop Loop Trail which connects with the Tillamook Head Trail that we explored this February - a good trail for older children due to the elevation gain and length.

2) Oswald West State Park - About 10 miles south of Cannon Beach just off the 101. This is also one of our favorite camping spots and there is some great hiking in the area including a hike to Cape Falcon (about 3.5 miles round trip, uphill getting to the top but still a nice family hike).

3) Cape Meares Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge - 10 miles west of Tillamook on the Three Capes Loop. Added bonuses are touring the lighthouse and the vistas in the area.

4) Cape Lookout - About 18 miles south of Tillamook also on the Three Capes Loop. There is a family-friendly campground at this park as well.

If you are going to explore tide pools, be ready to get wet, wear some sensible shoes - maybe even some gloves, and be ready to do some scrambling on rocks to find some wonderful surprises!

Consult a tide table and plan your exploration to coincide with low tide - which means being on the coast in the morning. Watch out for exposed animals as you walk along. For the best viewing, head for the lowest tide pools that are closest to the ocean. In the lowest pools, you are likely to see the most activity as well as the greatest variety of animals. But be mindful of the tide location and of the ocean at all times - don’t let yourself get stranded or surprised by a rogue wave.

When viewing the pools, tread lightly and be respectful of the animals. Don’t pry any animals from their locations. A gentle touch on a sea star by a curious little girl (or excited adult) is not entirely out of line but try to avoid touching of the animals as much as possible.

Also, these are great areas for a picnic, so pack a meal to enjoy once your exploring is over. When you are ready to go, leave everything where you find it - except for garbage! Pack out any trash that you find (or any trash that you brought). It is never too early to instill some outdoor ethics in your kids.

One final practical item to keep in mind, many - but not all - parks require a day use fee. If you are going to hit more than a couple of parks/areas that require a fee, consider getting an Oregon Pacific Coast Passport which will give you unlimited access for 5 days for only $10. Have fun!


National Teacher Day tomorrow!

May 07, 2007

Tomorrow, May 8, is National Teacher Day.  We know so many of us are privileged with wonderful, inspirational, patient and nurturing teachers in our lives.  Do you have something planned to celebrate your teacher tomorrow?

Special Mother Day's Event

Mothers_manifesto_7 Mother’s Day weekend kick-offs Saturday, May 12th at the Hollywood Theatre (4122 NE Sandy Blvd) with a special celebration of motherhood that also provides mamas a unique opportunity to learn and talk about the issues that are important to them: Motherhood Manifesto Day!
  •  10 am - 2 pm Mother’s Day Market:  Local women-owned businesses that offer creative goods and services with particular appeal to mothers will turn the lobby of the Hollywood Theatre into a fun-filled bazaar. Admission to the Market is FREE!  
  • 11 am - FREE Special Performance by Super XX Man! Super XX Man creates bittersweet folksongs of love and memory, sure to soften even the most hardened cynic. According to Bob Boilen of NPR’s All Songs Considered, “If we’re going to choose 10-songs every week, let it be Super XX Man.”
  • 1:30 pm - Special Screening of The Motherhood Manifesto. This screening will be followed by an unique opportunity to discuss the issues presented in the film with the filmmakers. Admission is only $7 and all proceeds will support momsrising.org and the 2008 Portland Women’s Film Festival.
  • Special Raffle! Movie ticket holders may enter a FREE raffle and get a chance to win some great prizes like gift certificates for Milagros, Natural Light Photography, and Campbell Salgado Studios, free pilates Classes from Divine Pilates, great products from  Blueprints for Footprints, Global Sistergoods, Zoom Baby Gear and more!
Get advance tickets to the showing of The Motherhood Manifesto on-line or directly from the Hollywood Theatre box office at 4122 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR. See you there!

School Preferences: Public vs Private

May 04, 2007

Just a couple days ago, OPB was airing a story about how students seem to be disappearing from public schools and moving to private education.  I've always liked to think that no matter what, I would send my children to public school, unless it was detrimental to their health or well-being.  Of course my eldest is still a pre-schooler so I don't know for sure until the time comes what will be the right choice for our family.  One local mama, Laura, asks this question:

We have a year to decide where our child will go to school. We are debating on whether to send him to Portland Public Schools (we're not impressed), private school (expensive) or move (flee) to the burbs. Any thoughts?

For us, our neighborhood is non-negotiable.  We love where we live and it is our community.  So for now, we are planning on sending our child to PPS.  How about you?  Have you thought this through, and what decision works best for your family?

Parlez vous francais?

April 11, 2007

Je ne comprend pas (I don't understand) is one of the first phrases I learned in French when I took an "Introduction to French" class at the community center with my mom when I was a kid. As it turns out, my mother was a whiz at languages; I think she can speak four languages fluently. It's never too early to learn another language. Many children show keen interest and ability to absorb. Stephanie is looking for French classes for her 4 year old:

Does anyone know of anyone/anywhere that offers French language instruction (or even French summer camp) for preschoolers? My daughter used to take French lessons at the Alliance Francaise de Portland, which she loved, but her teacher accepted a college-level teaching position and the class was discontinued. I do know that there is a French preschool program at the Fulton Park Community Center, but it starts at 12:30 and my daughter doesn't get out of preschool until 12:30, so that won't work for us. There's no way we could get there before 1 p.m. I heard a rumor that they offered French classes through Portland Parks and Rec. at Sellwood Park, but I'm not finding any evidence of that online. Any other leads out there? My daughter is four and she has been BEGGING to take French classes for ages - she brings it up almost every day. (I suspect it is because she had so much fun at French class when she was younger. She still remembers all of the songs!) Since the interest is there, I really want to encourage it, but I haven't had any luck finding any classes out there for four year olds. I'm familiar with the Portland French School and the French International School, but sadly, we really can't afford the tuition. So, I guess I'm really looking more for a class or camp situation that would be supplemental to preschool for her. We live in the Hawthorne neighborhood, but I'd absolutely be willing to drive to another part of town for class. I know there are a lot of great French tutors in the Portland area. If there aren't any established classes out there already, are there any other mamas out there who might be interested in trying to start one by sharing the costs of hiring a tutor for a weekly session?

I Don't Want to Go to School!

March 26, 2007

Every time we tell my son "it's time to get ready for school" his inevitable reply is "but I don't want to go to school!"  This started over a year ago, and even though I kept telling myself it's just a phase, it hasn't stopped yet.  Late last winter I was just starting the pregnancy with son #2 and despite my best efforts to contact pre-schools and get my elder son enrolled, the strong urge to procrastinate won out and I didn't lift a finger until November that year.  This means we MAY be able to get him in to another pre-school by next fall (2007).  That's a big MAY.

Currently he's only going to his care center 2 days a week at most.  Sometimes if he's sick or there's a weather day, we haven't taken him in.  Add to that the two and a half months he was home with me for my maternity leave, and maybe he thinks just whining about it will mean he can stay home instead (or better yet, go to Granny's house!).  When he starts his denial I try to engage him in a conversation about what it is he doesn't like about school, so we can address what his issues are rather than just dismissing them.  Usually he says he doesn't like when his "friends" at school hurt him (which doesn't necessarily mean physical hurt, but also emotional hurt).  The scenarios he describes are not unusual interactions for 3 year olds, as far as I can tell, so I offer him some solutions for dealing with the situations that arise.  I've discussed his concerns with the teachers and tried to probe them for solutions, but they have their own issues in trying to deal with the gaggle of kids in the classroom, so my little guy's needs just get lost in the mix.  In my heart of hearts, though, I know that this is not the place for him to do his best growing and learning.  But, until our number is up at any of our other choices, this place will have to do.

Am I the ONLY mama who totally missed the preschool boat?  I mean I heard it was difficult but I think needing full time preschool 2-3 days a week and needing to get enrolled more than a year in advance really threw me for a loop.  I think I really mucked this one up and I hope my little guy doesn't suffer for my mistake.  Hopefully, I'll get a call that our dream situation has arrived, and then things will get better.  I also can't help wondering if we actually make the change, he'll still not want to go to school because ultimately, he just wants to be with his family instead.

It's Seussical!

February 28, 2007

Everyone loves Dr. Susss. The first week of March will be celebrated by many as Dr. Susss Celebration week, part of the Seussentennial fun. Theodor Geisel's birthday is March 2. In his honor, the National Educational Association has instituted a day to Read Across America. Also to celebrate, our daughter's classroom will "read away the day", coming to school in jammies, bringing loads and loads of books, and read, read, read.

Multnomah County Library has a bunch of stuff planned to celebrate Dr. Seuss. The fun starts tomorrow at a library near you. See this flyer (*pdf) for all Seussical events.

Seuss Storytime: Celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday with stories!

For preschoolers:
Thursday, March 1, 10:15–11 a.m. @ Midland Library
Thursday, March 1, 11–11:30 a.m. @ Central Library
Tuesday, March 6, 10:15–10:45 a.m. @ Hillsdale Library

For toddlers:
Wednesday, March 7, 10:15–10:45 a.m. @ Hillsdale Library

It's a Seuss-a-thon!: In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, drop by the Belmont Library and be read to by volunteers from neighborhood schools and the community.
Friday, March 2, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. @ Belmont Library

Celebrate Seuss!: National award-winning storyteller Christopher Leebrick shares Dr. Seuss stories as well as delightful multicultural tales. Suitable for ages 5-105!
Friday, March 2, 3–3:45 p.m.@ Northwest Library
Saturday, March 10, 2–2:45 p.m. @Rockwood Library
Thursday, March 29, 2–2:45 p.m.@ Midland Library
Free tickets for seating will be available 30 minutes prior to the program.

Seussational! Crafts! Games! Seussical snacks! Become a Daisy-Head Maisy! Play with your Green Eggs and Ham! Create your own zoo animal!
Saturday, March 3, noon–3 p.m. @ Capitol Hill Library

Discover the Lorax: Celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday with a reading of The Lorax, and create your own three-dimensional Truffula tree with artist and storyteller Kathy Karbo.
Saturday, March 3, 1–3 p.m. @ Capitol Hill Library
Sunday, March 4, 2–4 p.m. @ Gregory Heights Library
Saturday, April 7, 1–3 p.m. @ St. Johns Library

Registration required; call 503.988.5397.

Dr. Seuss Birthday Party Celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday with stories, games and more!
Sunday, March 4, 2–4 p.m. @ Fairview-Columbia Library

International Schools and Immersion Programs

February 27, 2007

Here in Portland, we believe we have a wealth of educational choices.  On such choice is language study.  Portland Public Schools offer language immersion programs: Ainsworth, Atkinson, Beach offers Spanish Immersion; Woodstock offers Mandarin Immersion; Richmond offers Japanses.

The International School also offers language study (Chinese, Japanese, Spanish) for our children.  Melinda, in a previous conversation on kindergartens, says:

Giving our daughter a bilingual education is a real priority for us. We went to an open house at the International School last night. They offer immersion programs in Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese from pre-school to grade 5. Does anyone have any experience, both positive and maybe not-so-positive, with the International School?

Children's Art Supplies Study

February 22, 2007

We've gotten information about a study that some urbanFamilies may be interested in...

Study Details:
The project is focused on children's art supplies and will be conducted by SmartRevenue on behalf of a leading children's art supplies manufacturer. Participants will meet one of SmartRevenue's researchers at a local retailer to participate in a short, mock-shopping trip. After the shop-along participants will engage in a brief 12-15 minute interview on their shopping habits and history.

Participants will receive $25 dollars after the completion of the interview.

Friday, Saturday, and Sundays from March 3rd -March 25th 2007

Eligible Participants:
* A mother with at least one child in your household between the ages of 2 and 10 years
* Have purchased Children's Art Supplies in the past 12 months
* Are open to purchasing Children's Art Supplies in the next 6 months

Contact Us:
Interested candidates should email Anne Dougherty, SmartRevenue Children's Art Supplies Study Director at crayons@smartrevenue.com to schedule an appointment. Be sure to include "Portland urbanMamas" in the subject line.

Ariel Gore, Hip Mama, in Portland

February 16, 2007

Ariel Gore, publisher.editor of e-zine Hip Mama, will be at the Central Library leading reading and discussions. See her live in action at the Central Library on Saturday, February 17, from 1 PM to 2:30 PM. Event is hosted by Multnomah County Library.

Healthy Foods for Healthy Students

February 07, 2007

Today, there's a bill being introduced to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to get junk food out of Oregon's schools. The bill sets nutrition standards on snack foods and beverages sold in schools for sugar content, fat, saturated fat and calories. These standards are consistent with a law passed in California and with national guidelines negotiated by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. We know many of us are conscientious about what we eat and where our foods come from. This effort will make healthy food in more available in schools to make sure schools model good eating habits in addition to teaching nutrition in the classroom. Read more at Upstream Public Health.

And, if you feel so inclined, call your legislator and let 'em know what you think.