why I let my baby hang out by the pond

I love this article SO much I’m going to propagandize it here:

On the Wildness of Children by Carol Black:

“When we first take children from the world and put them in an institution, they cry. It used to be on the first day of kindergarten, but now it’s at an ever earlier age, sometimes when they are only a few weeks old. “Don’t worry,” the nice teacher says sweetly, “As soon as you’re gone she’ll be fine. It won’t take more than a few days. She’ll adjust.” And she does. She adjusts to an indoor world of cinderblock and plastic, of fluorescent light and half-closed blinds … Some children grieve longer than others, gazing through the slats of the blinds at the bright world outside; some resist longer than others, tuning out the nice teacher, thwarting her when they can, refusing to sit still when she tells them to (this resistance, we are told, is a “disorder.”)

But gradually, over the many years of confinement, they adjust. The cinderblock world becomes their world. They don’t know the names of the trees outside the classroom window. They don’t know the names of the birds in the trees. They don’t know if the moon is waxing or waning, if that berry is edible or poisonous, if that song is for mating or warning. It is in this context that today’s utopian crusader proposes to teach “eco-literacy.”

It’s summer and time to let my daughter out into the world. She is three now, and at this toddler-turned-preschool age, it’s time to give her a wider berth. She can keep her head out of the water, she can run and tell me when something is wrong, and most importantly, she trusts her own instincts. Out in the country, so long as she stays away from the busy main road (quite a ways away, we live off a small, private dirt lane), she needs to run as free as she possibly can. And this article neatly sums up the reason I feel this way.


Yesterday it was sunny and warm, and my daughter ran about in her bathing suit (bottoms, anyway) splashing in the icy lake water, finding bugs, spending hours searching the pond’s perimeter for frogs and turtles with a ratty net slung over her shoulder. She looks proud and strong, like a mini- Athena with her hunting bow resting on her shoulder. It’s never been more obvious where she belongs- in the wild, dirt-splattered and free.

What’s sad is that I can’t teach her much about her element. It was schooled out of me systematically. I can navigate the waters of the education system, getting all As, passing standardized tests, bullshitting essays and sucking up to teachers. I can earn a degree and pass an interview. I can clock in and do my prescribed duties and clock out. I’m just a diligent little soldier in the system. So the best I can do for my daughter is roll up my own pant legs and let her lead the way.

But the truth is we don’t know how to teach our children about nature because we ourselves were raised in the cinderblock world.  We are, in the parlance of wildlife rehabilitators, unreleasable. I used to do wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and the one thing we all knew was that a young animal kept too long in a cage would not be able to survive in the wild.  Often, when you open the door to the cage, it will be afraid to go out; if it does go out, it won’t know what to do.  The world has become unfamiliar, an alien place. This is what we have done to our children.

This is what was done to us.

Now go read the rest of the article!


the low-down from M’s Montessori teacher

We had “parent-teacher conferences” today, and M was so excited to take me into her classroom to show me the things she does there. My biggest surprise was when she said, “Oh, I need a rug!” She ran, got her rug out, selected an activity, and played with it on the rug. Then she put it back when she was done. Um, who is this child? What happened to my tornado kid? She showed me how she learns counting and numbers with her beads, and did paper rubbings of leaves. And she cleaned them all up afterward! Boy, have they whipped her into shape! She did these activities by herself while my mom and I talked with her teacher.

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Playing with shapes on her rug, photo by the school photographer

M’s Montessori teacher is amazing. She has taught and promoted Montessori methods of teaching for longer than I’ve been alive. As big a fan of unschooling as I am, this teacher really gets most of what makes unschooling appeal to me: self-directed learning, personal development being more important than academic achievements, and just a general focus on the child as a whole person, rather than test results or grades.

Anyway, on to the good stuff! I saw lots of photos of the things that they’ve been doing in class. They have been cooking, even with their Spanish teacher (who I just love), as a way to learn about and experience Spanish-speaking cultures. A critter man has been coming with his chinchillas, snakes, birds, and other animals! Our favorite nun comes and sings to and reads with the kids, too. They start with a story while all the kids are arriving, and then the teacher introduces a new “work station” for a few minutes, showing them a few of the ways they can use the materials. For the next two hours they can choose whatever work stations they want, and the teacher will work with individuals or small groups, exploring with them and guiding them to use the objects in new ways. The last half hour is recess, where M apparently runs around the whole time. And by runs, she literally runs, faster than a lot of the 5-year-olds can!

As far as things that M is interested in, the teacher says she uses ALL of the available work stations, and there is nothing she does not explore or like to do. She is especially drawn to the world culture stations, though, like the map puzzles or the dolls dressed from many different cultures. Of course, she likes to pour, scoop, and work on lots of the other “practical life” stations, like buttons and zippers. She has not been initiating fights, pushing, or hitting, but she does stick up for herself. The few times she was in a scuffle it sounds like she didn’t start it, but she sure finished it! She does have a problem snatching things from others… no surprise there, she is not great at waiting her turn when she wants something!

Exploring volume and shapes with her teacher

Mostly, the teachers there notice how extremely focused she can be when she’s interested in something, and how much her vocabulary is increasing. They like her ability to stick up for herself. She catches on to new things right away, and she has learned to pick up after herself and keep her shoes and socks on. They are working on helping her to dress herself and recognize the need to use the potty in time (she usually has an accident once every other day or so). They said that since switching to half days, she is happier and more energetic in the class, and she applauded me for taking her out as soon as I realized it wasn’t working for her. M loves her classmates, and talks about all of them on a daily basis. She also talk about her teacher and lights up when her teacher comes in to the room! It makes my heart sing to see my child building friendships and making connections outside of home!

So proud of my kiddo, she is such a unique, feisty, extraordinary little girl! She has all the natural qualities of someone who goes after what they want with fierce determination, and we are all certain she will strive for and realize her dreams someday!

what my daughter is going to learn without going to school

Now that I am feeling very decided about the fact that I’m not going to have my daughter attend traditional school, I’ve been thinking about all of the things we do naturally, every day, that teach math, science, and everything else. I realize now that before she is 18, just by exploring the world around us in depth, she will have at least a basic knowledge of the following:

Social studies: Politics, history, geography, world cultures, world religions, anthropology, economics
Literacy: reading, writing, literature, world languages
Science: earth sciences (the plant and animal kingdom, geology, archeology), chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology, health and nutrition, technology, environment and ecology studies
Math: fractions, arithmetic, practical problem solving, measurement, calculations
Life skills: food preparation, vehicle and machinery operational, emotional intelligence, planning skills, household management
Electives: sports, music, art, horticulture, physical activity and anything else she wants to try!

I might have left a few things out. The point is that I’m realizing that through doing things like cooking together, gardening together, and traveling together gives me more than ample opportunity to touch on every single one of those subjects many, many times… because really, they are all just a part of real life! I don’t have to separate her from the real world in order to teach her about it!

I didn’t learn a whole lot from these subjects in school. To this day, I can’t tell you what the chemistry class I took was about. I got an A in it, by the way, but might as well have flunked for all the good it did me at the time and now. The things I currently feel “good at” now are things I mostly pursued outside of school, including what I learned in nursing school. That being said, I’m not anti-classroom instruction. I chose to take an amazing African American literature course as well as a Women in Literature course, and they changed the way I saw the world. You just have to be truly interested in the topic to learn about it.

As it turns out, we all start out “unschooling” our children, up until they attend school full time, and sometimes even after. I just see no reason to take a time out from “real learning” to place my kid in a place which is largely boring and oppressive (always exceptions, of course). If my daughter comes out with a basic knowledge of those subjects above, she’ll be at least on par with the majority of other students who were schooled, if not ahead of many of them!

DisclaimerI attended public school and university, and liked school for the most part. You can put your kid in a school and he or she can turn out just fine, with a discriminating mind and many passions. These are just my personal parenting opinions, and the best way I see fit for MY child. If you’d like to debate the merit of traditional schooling vs. unschooling or worldschooling, I’m all for respectful discourse.

from full day to half day

I had my reasons for putting M in full day Montessori, as opposed to half day. She always seemed happier when she did full days at her previous school, and I assumed it was because she is an extrovert and also has a busy mind that thrives on stimulation. Since starting at the Montessori school, however, I have become aware of the fact that her behaviors might be telling me that full day, five days a week is too much. My little girl seems stressed and over-tired when I pick her up… and we weren’t getting many whole days together anymore, like when she went two days a week (usually when I worked). I think this was contributing to her separation anxiety.

Then there’s the fact that the state mandates that all preschools and day cares have “rest time”, a time during which children must remain on their cot (20 minutes) and then do quiet activities (up to 1 hour). There’s no way in hell my daughter, who no longer needs naps to feel good during the day, will stay on a cot for that long or remain quiet. She is an active, loud person, and that’s ok. I don’t want her to experience shaming, scolding, or punishing because someone else has dictated what her body “needs”. She is the one that should be making that decision, with some guidance at this age, of course. In any case, she should not be expected to stay stationary that long, or remain quiet, if that is not coming naturally to her, or if it is not necessary for her health and well-being.

And so… she will go and enjoy her friends and activities for 3 hours from now on. The point of school for her is only to provide her with fun, stimulating activities that can’t be provided by myself, my home, or my mom. She gets to enjoy friendships, work on relationship skills, while playing. She also gets introduced to new ideas that she might be interested in but hasn’t been exposed to yet at home, like Spanish.

I have no idea what the future holds for my daughter’s education. Unschooling, worldschooling, Montessori schooling, democratic schooling… those are the options we will consider, based on our current life situation and financial situation at the time, and whether or not I have a community or partner to pair up with for education purposes.

Gosh, having kids can really open a person’s mind, eh? Crazy, but I love it!

“we are growing children, not fixing problems”

I read this quote somewhere (if you can source it, let me know!) and loved it so much that without even writing it down, I’ve remembered it and have been repeating it to myself. I love re-framing parenting and education in a way that does not label children and their natural states of being as “problems” to be fixed. Like a plant, they are growing towards adulthood, but they are also perfect in their seedling and sprout condition, exactly where they are supposed to be. We can tend to them and guide them, but we don’t have to consider every little bit of behavior that is not adult-like to be a “problem”.

I’m writing about this because yesterday at work I was told by my mother that M had had two accidents in class. I became upset, not because she had accidents, but because I was worried that she was stressed out about using the potty at school and she might get removed from the class, since I was told she must be potty-trained to be in it. I emailed the teacher, since I’m working again today, to discuss the actual situation and some possible reasons that she didn’t want to use the bathroom at school. My main concern was that she was not getting enough help in the bathroom (Montessori is all about independence) and so she was avoiding going, or that she sensed disapproval from the teachers when she couldn’t get her own pants down or up.

The teacher replied quickly, and told me that they always offer to help children in the bathroom (which is in the classroom itself) but that M refuses help and pushes them out of the door, requesting privacy. They said that when she wants help, she does ask, and if she needs help or has an accident they never express disapproval, because this is a normal part of her development. She told me that M seems happy and engaged in school, and not at all stressed, and that there is absolutely no reason to think she would be moved into another class because “Practical Life Skills” is a part of the Montessori curriculum and potty-training and dressing is a part of the Primary class room curriculum. Finally, she told me NOT to send her in vinyl underwear covers (her old school requested this) because she might take it to mean that she did something wrong. All of the furniture can be easily cleaned.

Can I just express, one more time here, how wonderful it is to have M in a place where they are “growing children, not fixing problems”???

the evolution of a hippy mama

Besides gradually switching us over to a local and more organic diet, I’m also increasingly disillusioned with the current public educational system. This journey all started when I was looking for a preschool that offered Spanish for M. I learned about Montessori, and then about other non-traditional and alternative methods of childhood education. I synced this with what I’ve been learning about positive parenting and gentle discipline, and have been slowly developing the opinion that our current mainstream school system and educational model fails all children in some way, even up to completely destroying the learning process for certain kids.

I’m not saying you can’t go through traditional schooling and not come out alright. I did. I was an all-A student, graduated from college, have a job/career, and generally function just fine (ok, maybe that hasn’t always been the case, but I got there). The point, however, is that often I was not intrinsically motivated to get good grades. My self-worth was based on the A, or the gpa, and I built my identity around being “an all-A student” which equaled, in my mind and the minds of most adults around me, “good” or “smart”. I don’t really want M to equate being “good” or “smart” with getting a letter that simply indicates that you could jump through certain hoops. It doesn’t mean anything, in the big picture. The things that really inspired my future learning and even my career were these:
a) my mother and grandmother modeled behaviors that were learning-seeking, such as attending healthy cooking classes, careers in nursing that they felt inspired them to learn more, traveling, watching the news and discussing it, finding activities outside of work/school that were interesting and sparked learning, such as playing music or attending festivals
b) I found that I loved foreign languages and traveled with my grandma and French Club to Europe. I found that history and cultures were interesting to me
c) I was raised to be compassionate toward others by offering them help with no-strings attached, showing real interest in their problems, and devoting time and energy to those who benefited from it
d) My natural curiosity and interests were supported: my grandma took me to music lessons and karate lessons, I had access to bands and orchestras, access to libraries and bookstores, and I was never discouraged from seeking out what I found to be inspiring

So nothing that helped me to be a well-adjusted and happy person later in life had anything to do with the fact that I got an A in chemistry, even though I hated chemistry and manipulated the teacher into giving me answers just so I could get that A. Looking back at classes like that one, I feel a sense of disappointment and disillusionment from the teachers and the system. I remember feeling trapped in the classroom, uninterested, and bored. These feelings can’t always be avoided, but can’t we somehow improve our educational model to eliminate much of it?

I love M’s current Montessori program for encouraging her to engage in what already interests her and inspire her to continue learning. I want this natural form of learning to continue past second grade, where our local Montessori program stops. I’m not interested in M receiving letter grades. I honestly don’t even want her thinking about grades. I don’t want her to worry about tests. I don’t want her to sit in a class, bored and watching the clock, tempted to be texting or passing notes or behaving badly just to feel interested in something again. I don’t want both of us to dread homework in the evening, slogging through paper worksheets when we’d rather be outside learning about the properties of snow, the behavior of bees, or the physics of gravity when we jump or swing.

I want my daughter to go to school happily, even in high school, because she knows she’s going to be interested and invested in her own learning processes. I want her to explore her own interests and discover math, science, geography, and literature in a natural way, as it relates to what she already wants to learn about. I want her to discover teamwork in a natural setting. To learn about and participate in her own food sources in a way that naturally promotes learning about nutrition, anatomy, and physiology while simultaneously educating about the environment, animal sciences, and the economy. I don’t want her in a school that separates her so profoundly from learning, but rather one that immerses and supports her in it.

I can’t even believe that this type of learning is called “unschooling”. It’s an unfair title! I am envious of those who do it, but I can’t homeschool or “unschool” for a few reasons:

  • I’m a single, working mom. I need my child to be in a safe, supervised place. I can’t stay home with her every day to provide her with any type of schooling or “un” schooling.
  • As a single mom, I need to be part of the “village” they say it takes to raise a child. I don’t live in a commune, therefore I need teachers, coaches, and administrators to be our village.
  • I am actually not interested in being the facilitator of my child’s curriculum, whatever that curriculum may be. Homeschooling is not for every parent. I enjoy my career (although I wish I didn’t need to work all the hours), and find that it gives me much needed balance and sanity

Based on the above, I need to find a learning community (aka school) for my daughter that endorses my beliefs about education and child development. I hope I can find it by the time she’s in third grade!

school successes, doctor fails

The first week of school went tremendously well, as did today. M’s teachers described her as “having a blast”, “doing wonderfully”, “knowing the routine”, “working hard in school” and being “a lot of fun”. At drop-off, they tell me she is smart, happy, and engaged. When I pick her up, she appears to be calmly participating in the activities, interacting with her peers, and even forming some friendships already. All of the children seem to like each other, always calling out “bye!” and “I’ll miss you!” as she leaves. Another mom of a boy in her class found me on facebook, and she has also raved about the teachers and the school. They communicate with me on a daily basis, and sent out a personal email at the end of the week highlighting what they worked on and how the kids are doing. I think I made the best mom decision ever when I moved her to this school. She’s growing up so much after a week of attending, and showing more enthusiasm for reading!

Today we had an appointment with her primary doctor (who is never there, and on maternity leave again, so another random doctor in the practice) for a 2 1/2 year wellness check. She was in the 98th percentile for weight and 68th for height. She scored in the top tier for all of her developmental milestones… BUT. He completely blew me off when I described her sensory-seeking and aggressive behavior. He told me that “we don’t worry about stuff like that at least until kindergarten” and “she may be ADHD but we can’t know that for now”. Oh, and also, “she’s growing just fine so that’s good enough”. Good enough?! My child struggles not to be violent, leaps off of tall structures, has trouble with bonding with family members and peers because she is rough and hyper, and that doesn’t even warrant at least an assessment? He seemed to think I was being a nutcase hypochondriac for taking her to the early child behavioral specialist but fuck that. He met my kid two minutes ago and he seems to know less about early childhood behavioral development than I do!!!

So… tomorrow I am making an appointment with a doctor in my town that was recommended to me by a friend who has a daughter with special needs. She says he is very thorough medically, but also holistic in his approach. She says he spends a long time with you at each visit and really gets to know his patients. I wasn’t sure if I was going to switch before today, but now I’m quite sure. I am also going to need a physician’s referral to get her into occupational therapy (or at least assessed) so I need a physician who will take me seriously.

This evening was not the greatest in terms of behavior. M did not like the change in routine as I had to pick her up a little early from school and drive her out to the doctor’s. She got the flu shot (yes, I’m a vaxxer, no I don’t want to discuss it), and was quite thrilled with her new “owie”. She would NOT get into the car. We spent about 20 minutes in the parking lot. I refused to have a physical fight over it. She just was not transitioning well. Eventually, she was ready, and we were off. We spent a lot of time together playing so I thought bedtime would go smoothly… but just as I thought she was drifting off, she beamed me in the side of the head. Then she did it again. After holding her swinging punches and kicks away from me (as calmly as I possibly could while being attaacked) we went to rock. Then to the potty. I allowed her to have a bottle with water in it… the oral stimulation of sucking on it helps her relax, as does playing with a doo-dad in bed while she’s lying down. We ended up going to sleep with three barrettes, a pair of safety nail clippers, a stuffed bear, a stuffed pillow cow, and a bottle of water.

But you know? It could’ve been so, so much worse. Only about a minute of physical assault, and I was able to intervene and redirect her. I provided her with more sensory stimulation (while refusing her repeated requests for “TV” and “toons”), we rocked, and before she (finally) fell asleep, she hugged and kissed and snuggled me. She was out by 8:15!


I’m famous!

Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and the Aha! Parenting website somehow found my blog post about dealing with M’s raging tantrums and linked to it on her facebook! Then, boom! I have about triple the readership I usually have in a day in just a few hours. I definitely feel like this is my five minutes of fame!

To all those parents who made their way here today via that link, I get it. I am right there with you in the trenches, dealing with tantrums, defiance, and the struggle to parent in a way that makes you feel good while still setting firm limits. How the heck do you get your kid to be nice to others? Learn and explore and yet not destroy everything? Clean up after themselves but still be allowed to be themselves and act in age-appropriate ways? How do you accomplish the formation of a compassionate, respectful human being’s character without threatening, punishing, or bribing? How do you stay calm and do the right thing while thinking this isn’t working! Just stop it already! I can’t take it for another second!

I don’t even know. I’m glad that one of my prouder parenting moments is featured on Dr. Laura’s facebook, because I’ve had way more moments that I’m not proud of. I’m glad there are people out there like her, who write books, articles, and other publications that help us parents feel like someone else “gets it” and has a few answers. Nothing about raising kids is easy, nothing goes the way it’s supposed to, and no child always responds to any one type of disciplinary method on any one particular day. I’m learning that this is normal, that we (my daughter and I) are normal.

Anyone who has a child who behaves in extreme ways, once in a while or all the time, feels lost, ashamed, and isolated. Parents present the best of themselves and their kids in public, including online. I see other families with their little darlings sitting nicely in a row for hours, and want to scream. I want to cry when other moms look at myself or my daughter oddly when she is unable to behave because a transition is hard for her. I want them to see her the way I do: as a smart, loving, charming girl who just struggles with managing her emotions and transitioning. I don’t want them to label her ADHD, hyper, wild, problematic, or difficult. I don’t want teachers to dread her or want her to leave their class. I don’t want my relatives to tell me “you have your hands full” anymore. I don’t want to worry about bringing my daughter to play dates or parks or picnics because everyone else there won’t understand and will judge. I don’t think I can stand hearing one more well-intentioned but idiotic scrap of advice about how I should or should not be parenting my spirited child.

If you feel the same, you’re not alone, and I wish we could find each other!

Thanks for coming by!

goodbye crib, hello rocking chair

For the first time in over three years, we have no crib in the house. Instead, we have a recliner/rocking chair for rocking in when M has her fits. She had two more on Tuesday, both related to sleeping when she wasn’t ready and/or willing. We cut out nap times on Wednesday and Thursday, and it was a good plan. She went to bed at bedtime with no problem. So no more naps, unless she naps for 45 minutes at school, but that’s all her nap time will be from now on. God, my baby is for real not a baby anymore!

We have an appointment with “The Healing Place”, a local practice that treats behavioral and psychological conditions across the lifespan. Specifically, we will be seeing a therapist who works with ages 0-3. I was unable to get into the clinic I wanted originally, which is through our own healthcare system and has a lot of experience with foster/adopt and substance-exposed children. Hopefully this practitioner will at least give me some perspective, if nothing else. If I’m worried about nothing, that would be good to know. If she has new or good suggestions about how to manage this behavior, that would also be great. Mostly, I just want someone to say, “This is normal, this might not be, let’s do a, b, and c, and everything will be ok”.

I wrote her new teacher a letter describing her background, our home life, and what we’re working on. My hope is that they will communicate frequently with me so that we can work together to create consistency between home and school. I’d like to continue working on whatever she’s working on at school (not hitting, putting things away, whatever) and also let the teachers know what she’s been doing at home. She’ll be in this class for the next three years, so there is supposed to be a very individual, whole-child approach here. Let’s hope it works out!

I’m nervous as can be about her first day. The drop off policy is that the cute little nun will greet M at the door, but I won’t enter the classroom with her. I’m 99% sure she’s going to cry, which means I also will be crying as I leave. She’s a baby compared to some of those older kids! Then I pick her up from the playground in the afternoon. In a way, I’m glad there is a division between parents and the classroom. It might help her, as it’s me she likes to push limits with.

Speaking of nuns, they granted me 21% off of our total tuition for the year! God I do love those nuns. They are all so peaceful, projecting love and light, and now they’ve gone and given me money! Basically, for five full days I’m paying $50 more per month than I paid for two full days. Woot!

Montessori-ing our house

Since M is starting a 5-day-a-week, 6 1/2 hour per day Montessori program in a couple weeks, I thought I might as well look into making our home (and my parenting) as similar to the school’s style as is reasonable. I’ve seen how much calmer, focused, and settled M is when she can be independent, so yesterday I worked on making small adjustments to our home that will enable her to feel more in control of her routine and environment.

M has been doing really well pouring her own bowls of cereal. She also eats a whole lot more when she does it herself! She is much more enthusiastic about tooth brushing, hair washing, and showering. She took her own shower yesterday, and washed her own hair, as a matter a fact. If only she would be willing to get dressed…

Bottom drawer: non-refrigerated snacks, portioned out if need be (crackers are in individual baggies
Bottom drawer: non-refrigerated snacks, portioned out if need be (crackers are in individual baggies, etc)  
Plates, cups, bowls, and utensils
Small bin of refrigerated snacks to choose from
Small bin of refrigerated snacks to choose from
Toothbrush(es), hair brushes, lotion all within reach. And only one lotion… cause she LOVES her lotion.
Step stool to reach the sink and the soap, potty seat