Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nasty old sweater turned fabulous

My sister Kathy gave me china for my birthday.

I'm giving her a chunk cut out of a sweater I found in the free box at the church rummage sale. I upcycled this old wool sweater into something better ... this handmade flower brooch.

It was argyle, so feeling whimsical I decided to retain the diamonds and use them as leaves. I shaped them with a little nip and tuck.

The flower was once a portion of sleeve.
  1. To make, cut a piece of the purple about 2 inches by 8 inches, with the grain running the short way.
  2. Fold that in half the long way, wrong sides together, then baste along the raw edges by hand with a running stitch.
  3. Simply roll up the long piece, tucking under the raw edges until it becomes an appealing rose shape. Stitch the underside to keep it in place.
  4. Cut out two diamonds for leaves.
  5. Pinch them from the underside, about in the middle, and tack, forming a leaf shape by hand and adding tacks as needed.
  6. Stitch the leaves to the bottom of the rose.
  7. Sew on a safety pin or brooch pin.

No surprise, this sweater has also spent time as a diaper. A large piece from the front became this butt sweater for Dori, and the cuffs formed the leg openings (peeking out under here dress here). You'll have to use your imagination, but the bottom is super cute with the argyle.

Check out the gorgeous felted wool ornaments I made

My sister invited the girls to Aunt Carol's Christmas Craft Camp (read: two days of a quiet house for me to get some work done). Poor Carol broke her foot on the way out her door yesterday to come pick them up. Only she didn't know she broke her foot until tonight when she went to the ER. She thought it was a mere sprain from slipping in the snow.

I can't fix her foot and she insists the girls are fine there, so instead I made her these ornaments while watching Letterman. I never get to watch Letterman anymore.

And tomorrow I'll go pick up the girls.

  1. I started with a gorgeous red boiled wool jacket that met an early demise when somebody put it in the dryer. It was Carol's, so she's getting it back now. She figured I could do something crafty with it after the horrible shrinkage. My first creation was a cute wool diaper cover for Dori last year.

  2. I found a suitable clip art heart shape, and printed it in a few sizes.

  3. I pinned on the pattern and cut out two hearts per ornament.

  4. I used embroidery floss — all 8 strands — to stitch the names of the her family members in a folksy sort of way.

  5. Next I held a personalized heart and a plain heart together, matching the edges (kind of) and stitched around the edge with the same floss. They're supposed to be folksy, so I forced myself to rush and not get it perfectly spaced.

  6. Finally I added a loop of floss to hang the ornaments.

Incidentally, here's how cute Dori's bottom looked in the bum sweater.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to teach a young child about God.

Another blogger asked how to start teaching a preschooler about God when church isn't a part of their regular life. It can seem intimidating to teach our children about something so big and vast as God. It can be easy to start though. The best part is that we as mothers can learn more about God, too, as we teach our children!

The best and easiest thing is to simply pick up a Bible and start reading. So many nice children’s Bibles are made now.
  • Our littlest girl (age 2.5) likes Baby’s First Bible. This one is not really a Bible, but a very short board book with verses and text about God and Jesus. I think she likes the cut-outs, the pictures of Jesus and that it has a handle so she can carry it around.
  • She also likes Little Girls Activity Bible for Toddlers. It has cute, short stories, mostly about women of the Bible, and easy activities or crafts you can do at home to go with each one.
  • For a children’s version of the major Bible stories for the youngest children, I like My First Read and Learn Bible, a board book with very short stories.
  • We also have at our house The Beginner’s Bible. It’s similar to the one above, but with slightly longer stories and it’s not a board book. Stories are easy words to read and are short so my 6-year-old reads this aloud.
  • For kids of maybe kindergarten age and up, the very best I’ve seen is Egermeier’s Bible Story Book. It truly summarizes the entire Bible instead of picking out stories here and there. It would still be great for younger kids, but probably only for those who like to sit for stories. Stories are written in smaller print as an adult book would be, and are about a page and a half long with one illustration for every few stories.

I grew up active in church, but by reading to my children, I have learned so much about God and the Bible that I never knew before!

We participate in Sunday School, and that helps the girls learn. At this age, it’s all about hearing some of the major Bible stories, which they’ll hear again and again as they grow (Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the lion’s den, etc.) When I teach Sunday School, my goal is simply to instill in the children a sense of hope in Jesus and that they begin to begin to trust in faith.

Vacation Bible School is also fun for kids. They’re usually short (a few hours a day for a week) and welcome all children.

Another idea is to help children learn through music. Kids love to sing and dance, so we put on children’s Bible songs at home or in the car. Lots of choices are available. Some of the songs my girls remember the most are the most basic such as “Jesus Loves Me.”

Learning simple prayers can help kids learn how easy it is to talk to God. You can start with simple, easy-to-remember ones and say them before lunch or at bedtime. My 6-year-old likes, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen.” You can teach children to say their own prayers, and that they don’t have to be fancy. If they want to start to learn how to say their own special prayer, you can teach them to praise God, thank God, and ask something of God. You can start by praying for the big things, such as asking God to heal a sick friend, then start to incorporate it into your everyday life.

I tried couponing.

My mother-in-law invited me to a couponing seminar.

Yeah, that was my thought too.

I went, with a smile smeared across my face.

The cheesecake and hors d'oeuvres made the trip worthwhile.

Then the seminar started, and it was actually good. A hip young woman had all kinds of info about blogs she uses to find deals, printable web coupons, online rebates, and which stores in my area do double coupons on which days (I've always been too lazy to find out).

So I decided to try couponing one time. (Don't you love it when ing is added to a noun to make a fake verb?) Instead of buying three copies of the Detroit News and two of the local paper just for the coupons, I decided that finding coupons online only would be my limit. I also had a handful in my rarely used coupon folder. Most were long expired, but a few manufacturer's coupons had no expiration date.

I spent an hour online, mostly at MoneySavingMom.com, finding deals. At the seminar I appreciate that the speaker narrowed down the list of money-saving sites to the few she likes best, and this was one of them. I tried looking for online coupons once before, but I spent tons of time online with few results and an inbox full of spam. This site does make it easier.

I then spent two hours shuttling the kids among three stores. One was out of what I wanted, so that was a complete bust. I guess the other couponers beat me to it. At Kmart, my best buy was a can of Pledge that was free after an in-store sale, plus Kmart double coupon days. On a regular day with no coupons, my total would have been $13.27. Instead it was $6.00.

At Walmart (which I abhor, but I have few choices in my rural area) I got a number of freebies or nearly free items. Did I really need these things? No.

  • I had a $4 coupon for cat food, so I chose the small, $4.50 bag, making it 50 cents.
  • Trial-size Wet Wipes were 97 cents, less my 75-cent coupons. I'll give these to my brother who keeps them in his truck. Total spent: 22 cents for a little goodwill.
  • I got a little money back for buying two little Johnson & Johnson first aid kids for 97 cents each, less my coupons for $1 off on each. I made 6 cents (but paid 11 cents in tax, so really I paid 5 cents for them). A nickel is worth it for the number of Band-Aids we go through.
  • Another freebie was six bars of Johnson & Johnson toddler soap. Each was 97 cents, and I had two coupons for $3 off three J&J items. Total spent: 17 cents in tax for six bars. We'll use these, but I don't feel great about the overpackaging as compared to what we usually buy. I'll also be storing these for more than a year.
  • Baking soda was also free. It was 46 cents each and I had a coupon for $1 off of two. I actually made 8 cents on this. It will now take me two years to go through it.
  • Wheat Chex was at a good price of $1.66/box. We go through a lot of this anyway. Less my $1 coupon off two, I paid $2.32 for two boxes of cereal. That's less than one box normally.
At Walmart I used a total of $13.30 in coupons. It paid for me to watch the cashier carefully and have an idea in my head what the total should be, because she initially missed one of my $3 coupons.
Was this all worth it? For me, not really. I spent three hours to save about $18, some on odd items I didn't have to have, or at least not right now. Some of the time I would have spent shopping for groceries anyway, but not the hour of online coupon time and not nearly this much time looking for oddities such as trial-size Wet Wipes in the store.
If I were younger and without children to drag from store to store (like the seminar speaker), this may be more worthwhile. If I lived in a more urban area with more store choices so I could flit from retailer to retailer scooping up only the best buys, this might be worthwhile. Staples, CVS, Kroger, Meijer and Rite Aid are apparently among the favorites of couponers and rebaters, but none exist within an hour drive of my home. If I didn't have a completly scuzzy house needing to be cleaned, if my kids were 100% caught up on their homeschool lessons, if I didn't have a pile of free-lance writing work clamoring for my time, if I didn't have volunteer work I promised to get done ... this might be worthwhile.
As a happy medium, I'll probably check one or two money-saving blogs before my regular grocery shopping trip. If I find something good, I'll print it and try to limit my time. I won't go off on wild goose chases or spend an hour looking in the wrong department for that elusive bar of free soap.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dori has rowed three books.

We use a resource book called Before Five in a Row (BFIAR) with Dori. The idea is to read the same classic children's book for five days in a row (specific books recommended in BFIAR), doing a different learning activity with it each time. We don't necessarily read each selection five days straight, but I do love the ideas in BFIAR and the book list is excellent.

Above are the books that Dori has "rowed" so far. To add to the BFIAR fun, I decided that we should have a way to visually remember what we have done. I came up with the idea of a BFIAR wall. We cut a shape out of construction paper that reminds us of something in the book. I went to Amazon.com and printed off a picture of the cover of each book (I also could have scanned them). Dori sticks the book cover onto the construction paper, then I tape it to the wall.
So far we have rowed Corduroy, Blueberries for Sal and Goodnight Moon.

Fun in a bottle for little ones.

Dori had fun finding the hidden treasures in this water bottle turned treasure trove. It's a cute activity that could easily be made at home.
Simply dry out an old water bottle, drop in a dozen or so household items, then fill it the rest of the way with rice. Make a list of the items on a card (ours is covered in clear Con-Tact paper) and attach it to the neck of the bottle with ribbon. Make sure the lid is screwed on tight. It wouldn't be a bad idea to wrap it with electrical tape to be safe.
Either let the child discover items as they wish, or challenge them to find the white button or find the green paperclip.
A friend gave us this bottle. She and several other mothers of homeschooled preschoolers got together and each made up enough of the same activity for every family. That made it quick and easy to do, then they distributed them so each family went home with a bunch of new games and activities to do at home. Most of them were fit into standard gallon-size zipper bags. Her daughter is older now, so she shared some of the activities with us. They have worked really well to keep Dori constructively busy while Addy and I do school.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Preparing for siblings at the birth.

I get asked often what I did to prepare Addy for Dori's birth, so I'm pasting my most recent answer here.

My daughter was 3.5 when I was preparing for the homebirth of our second child. I did three main things that helped:
  1. I told her that I might act funny and make loud or even scary noises. I even demonstrated them ahead of time, "Arrgghh!" "Oooohh!!!" and we laughed. That made her more comfortable with the fact that I was moaning during the actual birth.
  2. I told her that there would probably be blood, but that it wasn't "hurty" blood. I told her that the baby might be born with blood on it, or white stuff, and that the baby would look a little funny.
  3. I enlisted extra help to focus only on my daughter during the birth. I knew that my midwife would be busy, and I wanted my husband to be 100% available to help me. I asked one of my sisters to come, one that I knew would totally respect my wishes for the birth and be super supportive of my daughter. I was really careful about who I chose. I feared that some people would try to take her out of the house or distract her too much when she wanted to be part of the birth.

I tracked down a copy of Children at Birth by Marjie and Jay Hathaway, the Bradley birth people, and that was helpful. It was a really old book, but my library was able to get a copy by inter-library loan. (Cool side note: I met the baby from the book, the Hathaway's son, at the LLLI conference in Chicago last summer! He's about my age.)

One thing I did not do was prepare myself for the fact that I ended up needing absolute peace and quiet during transition. I kicked everyone out except for my husband and midwife, and my poor little girl was really upset about it. She was downstairs crying, thinking she was missing something. My sisters were there supporting her, but it was still hard. I wish I had known the intensity of the moment might not have me wanting my daughter there every single minute (she couldn't help but jump around and be chatty at her age). If I had just told her ahead of time that there would be times she could come in and times when she couldn't, but that I wouldn't have her miss the actual birth, she would have been satisified as she has always been quite mature in her thinking.

I also had my daughter watch a video of a real birth. It was a long video showing a lot of the labor and she asked to watch it again and again! As if it were Elmo or something! I thought it was great for her to see the mom looking uncomfortable so she knew that was normal if I looked that way. She was able to see where the baby would come out and see how the mom acted.

My second baby's birth was an awesome experience, and I'm so thankful my older daughter was there to witness it. She told me, "Good job, Mama!" and she gave her little sister her first kiss! I am teary eyed thinking about it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joy Behar thinks my kids may be "demented" and "afraid of other children."

This week on The View, the hosts were wondering how the Obamas will educate their children when they move to D.C. The idea of homeschooling came up, and I feel as if Joy Behar painted my children with quite a broad brush when she said, “A lot of them are demented when they’re homeschooled,” and, “They learn to be scared of other children.”

Side note: I can't even believe I watched The View this week. That drivel is so not my thing. Dori was in the hospital, finally asleep, and there’s not much else to do but turn on the TV when the other option is to listen to the poor old man in the next room as the nurses try to convince him to keep his clothes on.

This is what I sent to ABC in my feedback form. I was only allowed 500 characters. Pretty tame for me, eh?

Dear Joy,

I am a homeschooling mother of two and was offended when you said a lot of homeschooled children are “demented” and “afraid of other children.” I have a feeling you wouldn't be able to pick my children (or their homeschooled peers) out of a crowd. They are bright and active. They get along great with other children, as well as adults. The face of homeschooling has changed. I urge you to get with the times and learn about us before you bash us.


I fully realize she won’t read this, and my best hope is that the responses from all of us homeschooling parents will be expressed to her in some aggregate form. It makes me feel better anyway.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

From the Mixed-Up Words of Little Dori.

While Dori's language skills and vocabulary improve every day, she is only 2 years old. Sometimes words come out funny.

“Is my compost pretty?”
Translation: Is my poncho pretty?

“Addy, you’re responsibility!”
Translation: Addy, you're frustrating me!

“I fell on my knee-bow!”
Translation: I fell on my elbow. (Her joints are mixed up.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wiggly teeth.

Apparently kids' teeth look kind of creepy when they are about to fall out.

Addy already lost her two bottom front teeth and the adult ones are in. Next to go are the top front, then she has four more loose ones.

"I'm dead."

You may remember my post last month, in which Dori kept claiming she couldn't do things as asked because, "I don't have hands."

This time, it has gone too far.

I set up a craft project for the girls on the kitchen table, then went to where they were playing in the front yard to invite them in to work on it. Addy asked if we could do the craft outside, but quickly accepted that the answer was no.

Dori, on the other hand, demanded, "Outside!"

I told her no, we needed to go inside.

Dori's response: "Can't. I'm dead." Then she flopped to the ground.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to homeschool your young child

I'm often asked how to get started homeschooling a young child. The easy answer is this: Play.

But if you're like me — and you probably are if you're reading this — you'll first agonize over whether you're doing all the right things for your child, wonder how to maximize every available learning opportunity, think about which specific skills your child should be developing, worry about which tools and materials can best help you, fret and overplan.

Now that I have been through this stage with two children, I can tell you that it really is as easy as being together and sharing your moments. Baking cookies? There's an opportunity to count cups of flour. Doing laundry? Sort clothes by color. Oh, and read. Read, read, read.

If you want to get all neurotic about homeschooling your toddler or preschooler, as I did, you can check any number of lists of skills commonly acquired by children of this age. It's a little silly, really, because the only checklist you should compare your child against is herself. I sometimes did anyway because it made me feel better knowing my kids were on track.

One problem with these kinds of lists is that they're generally meant for kids who will enter a traditional classroom. If yours won't, maybe it doesn't matter so much if your child is not yet comfortable with strangers or able to wait to be called on. You'll want to tailor the list for your preferences. I refuse to teach my child to color within the lines of any kind, so I promptly crossed that one off the list. You also have to think about the big picture. What's important for your family? You won't find character traits, values and faith on these lists. Only you can decide what's important there. That kind of learning comes through real life.

When Addy was almost 3 years old, I was caving into the pressure of everyone asking, "When will she start preschool? Is there a good preschool in your neighborhood?" For crying out loud, she was 2 years old! But I went through an exaustive search of skills lists like those above, added many of my own, deleted some, and compiled them into a long list. That formed the basic plan for what we would do the next 36 weeks. (Before you get your pencil out, know that I don't recommend this.) I also decided we'd learn a letter each week, a color, a shape and an American Sign Language sign. I chose books to support each week's theme, about five skills to work on, and a Bible story. Talk about neurotic.

Then my brother was seriously ill, about to be discharged from the hospital, and unable to take care of himself. I threw my extensive Excel spreadsheet out the window and taught Addy a real-life lesson instead: When family needs us, we are there. I urged my brother to move in with us.

Of course at the time I worried. When would we "do school?" How was I supposed to get through my weekly lesson plans when we were always driving across the state to see doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist? How would Addy learn anything when the times we actually were home, I had to keep sending her out to play alone in the backyard so I could spend yet another morning on the phone to this agency and that? Today I looked back at my spreadsheet to see what I had planned before I knew my brother would be living with us. The skills I thought were so very important to teach Addy? Traces curved and zigzag lines. Completes a 5-6 piece puzzle. Hops on one foot five times in a row.

You get my point.

The real learning happens through life. If you can throw in some raucous reneditions of the ABC song, that might spice things up. Everything else is extra.

So if you are so inclined, here's what works for us for the extra.

Books. Read a lot. Read the same book, over and over and over, if that's what your child wants. Read while your child ricochets off the furniture if yours isn't a sit-down-and-listen type. (What typical toddler is?)

If you want to get formal about it, the book Before Five in a Row is highly recommended by me and plenty of others. The premise is that you read the same book every day for five days in a row. (The "before" is because the original Five in a Row is about kindergarten level and this one is for preschoolers.) The book gives a list of books to read and, for each book, a set of suggested activities. The books are classics such as Blueberries for Sal and Goodnight Moon. What I most appreciate is that you'll never look at a book the same way again after having "rowed" one for five days. The activities are great, but not so revolutionary you could never have thought of them on your own if you had tons of extra time. They do get you started on how to really get the most out of a book. We're using this now for Dori at age 2-1/2 as her "school." We don't do it every day, but instead use it when she seems ready to sit down for a book and some special time together. It can be a complete preschool curriculum.

Letters. Our family's first step to teaching a child to read is to sing the ABC song. Bob used to sing it to Addy in the womb, but it's never too late. That was back when we had time on our hands. All Dori heard from Daddy in the womb was things like, "Addy, put the scissors down. Addy, get off the counter." She's still turning out OK.

It's fun to have something safe and tactile with letters on them to help your child learn the letters and their sounds. We have some foam bathtub letters. Blocks with letters on them would be fun. Magnetic letters for the refrigerator work well, and give you something to fish out from underneath the furniture all over the house — you know, in case you're bored. The LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Set works well. I usually avoid toys that make noise, but this one is a good exception.

With some letters in hand, you can start to introduce the letters and sounds as you play. Knowing the letter sounds is actually more important than knowing the name of the letter. We play around with a letter toy and make up little songs and poems with its sound. "The A says /a/, the A says /a/, every letter makes a sound, the A says /a/." That one is stolen from the LeapFrog Letter Factory DVD, another exception to another of my rules that says we don't stick in a video and call it learning (call it babysitting and yes, we do that).

Reading A Home Start in Reading by Dr. Ruth Beechick is what convinced me I could actually teach a child to read. It sounds like such a big undertaking, doesn't it? It really isn't that difficult.

Here I am recommending various alphabet toys, but it's also Dr. Beechick's book that made me realize I wouldn't need any of these things to teach my children. I've told Bob before that if we ended up as missionaries in some remote village, all I would need to teach reading is a stick to scrape the letters into the dirt.

If your child likes workbooks, there are lots available at stores such as Meijer and Staples to help introduce the letters.

Once your older child is ready to move on, I like Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I'd recommend you read my complete review of this program first, because some people don't like it or give up too soon. If it doesn't seem right for you, there are many other good phonics programs out there. Please, please be sure to find something that uses intensive phonics rather than the whole-language approach.

A good site for comparing curricula of any type is HomeSchoolReviews.com. This page has reviews of phonics curricula.

As supplemental materials, we enjoy playing the excellent phonics games at http://www.starfall.com/, reading Bob Books and using Explode the Code workbooks (we pick and choose pages and don't do the whole book). This is more toward kindergarten level though, definitely not for toddlers.

There is a free curriculum online called Letter of the Week that, obviously, uses the learning of letters as its base for a complete preschool curriculum. It's fun and simple, and we used some of the ideas when Addy was 3. Feel free to replace books and ideas liberally though, because you may not find all the books or subjects recommended at your own library.

Numbers. Math for toddlers and preschoolers starts with counting. From my observations, the steps go something like this. Getting there is a matter of practice, preferably while playing or doing regular daily tasks.
  1. The child mimics you when you say "one, two, three." She has no idea what those words mean yet.
  2. The child begins to demonstrate one-to-one number correlation, to get fancy about the terms. That means that Dori, age 2-1/2 recently figured out that "two" is a word that means there are two apples on the table, and "three" means there are three.
  3. The child begins to count, putting her finger on each item as she counts a few of them.
  4. The child begins to recognize a lump sum of two or three items. She can look at three blocks and know it's three blocks without counting 1, 2, 3.
  5. Finally, the child begins to associate the numeral with the number word she has been hearing. That funny, curly symbol 6=six.
  6. Early addition is simply counting two groups of objects all together.
  7. Early subtraction is taking some away and either re-counting or, more advanced, counting backward.

For the purposes of educating your young child, what this means is that you play with objects they can really see and feel and hold. Count them, stack them, name them, number them.

Identify shapes. This is geometry. Identify colors. This helps learn to sort and pattern items. Play at which one is bigger or smaller. Which has more or fewer.

If your child is one who actually does enjoy workbooks (I was and Addy is), then feel free to pick up one at the grocery store or office supply store and use it if they seem receptive. When your child is a little older, I highly recommend Singapore Math, beginning with Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics, then moving into Primary Mathematics for grade school. Note that these are about a year ahead of U.S. math levels. The Earlybird series has been updated, so if you find an old set they called them Earlybird 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B. Remember the Earlybird part, because the grade-school levels use the same numbers, but with the word Primary.

Science. For us, the main way to learn science is to observe the world around us. We encourage the girls' curiousity, even when it means dealing with filthy dirty clothes and all kinds of critters being dragged into our house. I wouldn't recommend anything formal here for young kids. Take nature walks. Wonder about things aloud. Answer more questions. Show your child how you find the answers you don't know. Let them pluck the seeds out of the apple core and plant them somewhere.

If you can, have a couple field guides on hand. My own very first bird book was this Birds Golden Guide, only with a retro cover. Our butterfly net gets heavy use for catching all sorts of things. A magnifying glass makes things look cool close up.

When it comes to reading nonfiction science books, I absolutely love the Let's-Read-And-Find-Out Science series. Magic School Bus books are also popular around here.

The living world is really what Bob and I love the most and know the most about (he with a degree in crop and soil science and me with my agriculture communication degree and nature-loving background). All kids I know seem to have an interest in nature, so that's where we start. If physics or chemistry is more your thing — or even if it's not — you can find examples of those branches of science in everyday life, as well. Baking bread becomes a chemistry experiment. You don't even need to use scientific-sounding words with you child, just let them play and explore what happens when ...

Participate in civic life. Remember the old Sesame Street ditty, "Who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neigh-booor-hooo-ood?" That was an early social studies lesson.

To learn about the world, start close. Your family, your neighborhood, your city, your state, then your world. From there, maps and geography, stories about the past and history all sort of evolve into something your child can actually be interested in and learn.

This is easier than it sounds. Go to the grocery store, not a special trip, but when you're going anyway. Notice who cuts the meat, scoops up the potato salad, stocks the produce. Attend the fire station's open house. Watch the garbage truck workers do their thing. Let your child see what members of your family do to contribute to community life, whether it be paid work or otherwise. Play dress-up and pretend. Take your child to the voting booth, and talk about what you're doing and why it's important to you. Celebrate holidays. Talk about your cultural and family traditions as your child participates fully in them.

This is not stuff you can get from a workbook.

Look at maps. See that Aunt Marion in California is very far away, while Aunt Kathy in southern Michigan lives much closer, and Grandma is even closer yet.

I grew up thinking that geography and history were very specific, very boring, very tedious school subjects. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I had any concept of how they affected me. Once I realized that, I was able to translate it into things that would interest my children.

To me, history equaled boring dates I could never remember. When I found out I had a great great grandfather who was a Union soldier in the Civil War, I suddenly became interested in what was happening in the world that would have affected his life at that time. It turns out history and geography are not about calendar dates and kilometers. They're about stories — stories of people's lives and places.

What stories interest your child? Addy likes having Little House on the Prairie books read to her. Right now that translates into dressing as Laura Ingalls for Halloween, wearing a bonnet and wishing to ride in a covered wagon. Someday it will translate into wondering what else was happening in the U.S. during Laura's time — the aftermath of the Civil War, settlement of the West, the Great Depression. She'll probably want to find the places Laura lived on a map, maybe even visit them someday.

She's already beginning to make connections through history. We try to relate everything in ways she can understand. The Great Depression? (She hears about it in the news.) Who cares about the specific years; it happened when Great Grandpa B. was a little boy. Daddy remembers him telling stories about his farm family eating a lot of cornmeal. His mom would make corn mush in the morning, then fry it up as cakes in the afternoon. Great Grandpa was awful sick of it, but it was cheap and they could grind it from their own corn. Those stories are history.

There are plenty of good books about people and places in history. For learning about contemporary cultures, we enjoyed Children Just Like Me by DK, which even has a neat accompanying sticker book. It's not a book to read verbatim to young children, but instead to explore the pictures and main ideas. It includes pictures of real kids in real faraway places. We encourage the girls to talk to people who have visited faraway places and ask about everyday life — what people eat, what their houses are like, what clothes they wear. My globetrotting nieces have come in really handy on that one.

We introduced a globe early, in the form of an inflatable ball. I can't say our kids started using it to identify countries early on, but having it introduced it as something to play with and explore, rather than something to sit on a shelf and not break.

My sister Anita found a couple good books that fit in here, Me and My Family Tree and Me on the Map.

To learn about hero figures for kids beyond toddlerhood I like the one-page stories in My First Book of Biographies: Great Men and Woman Every Child Should Know. Any stories about historical figures that might trip your child's trigger are good. Johnny Appleseed, Helen Keller and Sacajawea have been popular at our house. Lots are available at the library.

Dance. I wish I had the cash for Kindermusik classes for my toddler or the discipline to encourage weekly piano lessons and practice for my 6-year-old, but instead we mess with music at home. I'm anxious to get our piano back (we're in a temporary smaller home until our remodel) so the girls can experiment. We enacted a no-banging-on-the-piano-with-fists-or-toy-tractors rule, but other than that they are free to experiment. The girls do a lot of dancing. Daddy is good at this one.

Remember the basic songs from your childhood. I can't sing or play an instrument, but I do it anyway and the kids haven't complained yet. With toddlers, encourage them to clap along to the beat or the rhythm.

Make or buy some music makers. We have a box with a tambourine, harmonica, bells, egg shakers we filled with rice and beans, and whatever other noisemaker that finds its way into our house.
Practice making low notes and high notes. Practice soft and loud. Practice slow and fast.
Find some music that you can all enjoy. Our first children's CD was a really annoying, sappy sweet one that made Bob and I cringe. Then we discovered Laurie Berkner and found out children's music can be really cool. Her CD Victor Vito is the most played at our house. That and Reba.

Get messy. Come to find out, some families have rules about not mixing the Pla-Doh or say things like "make it pretty now." We don't have those rules.

We do have a ton of art supplies. We beg the grandmas to give the girls art supplies instead of more noisy toys for gifts. Therefore, there's almost always enough paper for more sheets all around, for more globs of poster paint, to go crazy with glue.

That's all I have to say about art for young children.

Where do I get this stuff?
I do hope you caught the part about real life and interaction with you being a child's primary lessons. Beyond that, if you have the funds and inclination to buy some formal materials, here are my favorite sources. It is really easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices.
  • Read reviews of various programs at HomeSchoolReviews.com.
  • If you're really lucky and live near Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Home School Building or any other town that has a store specificially for homeschoolers, go there. Now. You'll be able to get your hands on the materials before you buy and probably ask questions of real homeschool parents who work there.
  • Buy nearly everything, and I mean everything, in the homeschool world through Rainbow Resource Center. I have checked prices time and time again, and can never beat these.
  • When it's general books I'm looking for, I use Amazon.com and take advantage of free shipping over $25.
  • Can you tell I live in a rural area with no malls within an hour? If you actually have retailers in your area, Barnes & Noble offers a 20% discount for educators, including homeschoolers. Sign up for a discount card, but it only works in stores. Again, you won't find the specialty homeschool curricula here though, but you will find workbooks and general resources.
  • If you know specifically what you're looking for, find it for sale from another homeschool parent at HomeschoolClassifieds.com. The interface isn't pretty, but I have had really good luck with it. I think it's safe to say that homeschoolers are reputable, so if you send away your money you can trust you'll get what you purchased. I've never had a problem anyway. EBay has become overpriced for homeschool materials. I have seen plenty of used items go for more than they would be new!
  • For young children, yard sales and resale shops often yield some pretty good finds. Basic books, workbooks and games can be found cheap. If they don't end up working for you, so what? You only paid a quarter.
  • What I use the most, though, is my local library. I use interlibrary loan like a fiend. They probably hate me for the number of books I request each week.
What else?
If you're thinking of homeschooling beyond preschool, think about attending a meeting of a local homeschool group. You will get your questions answered and so many ideas that you may feel as if your head will explode. At least I did.

It may take some work to find a group that really fits your family's lifestyle and beliefs — or you might find it right away. If you do find the right group, it can be really helpful.

If you're into it, you can start reading about the various homeschool methods. Yeah, there's a lot to it, so ignore it if you're not as detail-oriented as I am. You've probably heard of Montessori schools, right? Well there are also a number of other styles embraced by homeschoolers. You can learn about the Charlotte Mason method (this fits my bent the best), Waldorf, unschooling, Thomas Jefferson education, classical education, traditional school at home and lots more. Comment or e-mail me if you want a specific book recommendation.

What will your child be missing by doing preschool at home?
Frequent colds. The flu bug. Bad manners. Jokes about boogers. Separation anxiety. Time for you to watch TV alone and actually clean the house.

Warning, I have some strong opinions here, which may not be for the weak.

Seriously, though, I think we concerned parents tend to worry about what our children may be missing whatever they're doing. In my mind, conventional classroom preschool is all about learning the basic skills, but those who promote it will tell you it's also about learning social skills — how to get along in a group, accept strangers, share and so on. Those all sound real nice, but I think we tend to use preschool as babysitting and then force our kids into some of these experiences before they are ready. We're also quick to forget that children can and do learn social skills in their own families. Unless you are a family of wolves, you can do this yourself. Try living in a downsized house with one bathroom and you'll learn about sharing, by golly. Living real life with you and interacting with real people in the world — the ones you meet at the bank as you do your weekly errands — are genuine social experiences for your children. If it's interaction with other kids you're after, you can seek it out in many ways. You can set up playdates, you can participate in story hour at the library, you can take part in Sunday School or other church activities, you can join a 4-H club or an AYSO soccer team, you can seek out a homeschool group. We do all these.

So what have my children missed out on? Fake Thanksgiving reenactments where the children all dress as good little Pilgrims and Native Americans. Instead, we learn our family's version of the whole truth about the holiday. It's still fun. The kids aren't shooed out of the room while I prepare for a holiday tradition. They take part in it. They get their hands dirty. We talk.

My children have no idea how to get a hall pass to use the bathroom or that they might even consider raising their hands before speaking. Thank God.

• • •

I think the bottom line is to have fun with your young children, take them with you instead of thinking you need to find a sitter, let them experience real life.

If you need to convince the nosy neighbor that your homeschooling is working when they ask what you do all day, throw in some pedagogical terms. Instead of "played ball in the back yard," try "practiced gross motor skills." Instead of "stacked blocks and counted them," say you "explored size and spacial relationships and practiced one-to-one number correspondence."

Good luck to you. If you can count to 10, know your colors, can sing the ABC song and love your child more than anyone else in the world (and I know you do) you can do this.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"I don't have hands."

Someone tell me what I am to do about this. Just what is the natural consequence?

Me: "Time to clean up the toys."
Dori: "I don't have hands."

Me: "Dori, could you please put this over there?"
Dori: "I don't have hands."

Me: "Let's put your mittens on. It's cold out here."
Dori: "I don't have hands."

Monday, September 29, 2008

My snarky baby formula contest entry.

By popular demand, I'm pasting here my entry in a baby killer's essay contest.

I didn't win.

May 21, 2005

Nestlé Share Your GOOD START Story Contest
6500 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1900
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Dear Contest Judges:

I’m happy to share our family’s great-start story so I can offer comfort and support to other moms. Thanks for the opportunity. Oh, and the web site says, “Don’t be shy if you have a Nestlé story to share!” so I have included some specific information about Nestlé products.

Here’s my story:

Before her birth, I decided my baby was worth more than a “good” start. She deserved a great start. That’s why I skipped inferior, artificial milk, instead nourishing and comforting baby at my breast.

Feeding my daughter artificial milk from an artificial nipple was not an option, especially since it would leave her at increased risk for ear infections, allergies, diabetes, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, many childhood cancers, SIDS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, breast and ovarian cancer, and a host of other diseases.

I ignored the marketing tactics of manufacturers who said “breastfeeding is the gold standard” with their fingers crossed behind their backs as they used misleading advertising to convince mothers formula is about as good if they “cannot” breastfeed (rare) or if they “choose to supplement” — as if the worst option is a good choice for baby. The World Health Organization, in fact, ranks formula as the fourth choice for infant feeding, following a mother breastfeeding, another woman breastfeeding, or banked human milk.

I ignored messages claiming formulas “provide infants with all the nutrients they need for growth and development,” since researchers have so far identified at least 100 components of human milk missing from artificial formula. Most notably, my milk provides immunoglobulins custom-made for my baby. I passed by statements telling me formula proteins were “broken down to be easy-to-digest, and only Nestle has them,” because I know every foreign substance is harsher on an infant’s immature stomach than her mother’s own milk.

And only Mommy has it.

Thank you for the opportunity to enter the contest. If I am chosen as the grand prize winner, I’d love to accept house-cleaning or personal chef services so I can focus more on my precious child. I will pass on the day of beauty and relaxation at a local spa. My baby needs me.



Tainted Chinese baby formula should be a wake-up call to Americans.

Do I even have to say it?

It's clear that the most recent rash of babies killed and sickened by tainted baby formula ought to be a wake-up call for Americans. Three Chinese babies are dead. At least 53,000 are sick at last count, more than 12,000 hospitalized. Though an ocean away, these are real cases, real people, real babies. The artificial milk they were fed was found to contain traces of melamine, causing tragedy that's almost too horrific for me as a mother to imagine.

But that wouldn't happen here, you say? China is known for its product quality and safety problems, you say?

Maybe melamine wouldn't make its way into the U.S. foodstream. I, for one, am proud that the FDA, food manufacturers, retailers and farmers do a pretty darn good job of keeping the U.S. food supply safe. But at the same time, our babies are too important to put at risk. Any risk. Anytime we circumvent a good system (human lactation) for a flawed one (artificial baby milk), we put people at risk. In this case, it's round-cheeked, oh-so-soft-skinned people who generally weigh fewer than 30-some pounds and can't speak up for themselves.

Baby formula has already put American babies at risk. I'm not even talking the everyday risks of feeding it — the increased risk for ear infections, allergies, diabetes, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, many childhood cancers, SIDS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, breast and ovarian cancer, and a host of other diseases. I'm talking the extraordinary recalls of baby formula right here in the US of A.

May 30, 2008. Abbott recalls two different manufacturing lots of a formula made for babies and kids with hypercalcemia. Turns out the stuff oxidized. The FDA warns, "Consumption of highly oxidized foods can cause gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea." Ooh, it's a voluntary recall. Is that supposed to make me feel better?

May 28, 2007. Abbot recalls Similac Special Care bottles given for preemies "because they do not contain as much iron as indicated on the label." Risk: anemia, according to the press release.

July 9, 2004. The FDA alerts consumers not to feed a formula sold in New York in an Asian market "because the safety and nutritional adequacy of infant formula from China is unknown" and it could result in severe illness or death. Analysis "found the formula to contain less than 1/7 of the federally required minimal amount of protein per serving, approximately 1/4 the required amount of fat and only minute amounts of declared calcium and magnesium."

January 23, 2004. The FDA warns consumers not to feed a product called "Better than Formula Ultra Infant Immune Booster 117." It isn't regulated as a formula, but it's labeling seems to indicate otherwise. Better yet, don't feed any crap in a can.

February 23, 2006. Mead Johnson recalls GENTLEASE powdered infant formula for "metal particles, consisting of up to 2.7 millimeter in size."

October 25, 2002. 1.5 million cans of Wyeth formula recalled by the FDA because "products may be contaminated with Enterobacter sakazakii." Distributed nationwide under the labels Parent's Choice, Walgreens Infant Formula, Safeway Select, HomeBest Soy, American Fare, Hill Country, Kozy Kids and Baby Basics. (They bothered to issue a press release 7 days later. I've worked in PR. 7 days = no good. They bothered to send e-mails and registered letters 11 days later. Click here for the FDA Enforcement Report.)

September 14, 2001. Nestle recalls cans of Carnation Follow-Up Formula sold at Wal-mart in Texas. Excessive magnesium. Risk: Severe adverse health effects such as low blood pressure and irregular heart beat.

July 27, 2001. Mead Johnson issues a nationwide allergy alert concerning Lactofree Infant Formula.

October 6, 1999. Mead Johnson reports that labels from Next Step Powdered milk or soy -based toddler formula were removed from cans. A Nutramigen label was stuck on instead. Nutramigen is a more expensive, "hypoallergenic" infant formula. Risk: "mild to severe allergic reactions."

June 1997. Isomil brand Soy Protein Infant Formula with Iron. Does not contain the labeled amount of inositol.

September 1996. Alsoy Soy Formula. "... manufactured with lids intended for ready-to-feed formula. The potential exists for a consumer to follow the lid directions (DO NOT ADD WATER) and not properly dilute the formula prior to feeding."

September 1996. Carnation Follow-up Infant Formula. 11,317 cases "may have been produced under insanitary conditions whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health. Furthermore, the product appears separated and has been linked with mild gastrointestinal illness."

February 1995. FDA special agents made their arrest in a scheme to distribute formula in counterfeit packaging. 38,000 pounds of powder were seized from the counterfitter's shop. 6,366 cans of fake Similac were taken from retailers' and wholesalers' shelves. How many had already made it out of the stores and were fed to babies? An FDA report says, "The agency did not receive any reports of illness attributable to the counterfeit formula." Ooh, I'm sure that makes parents confident.

October 1994. Carnation Good Start Infant Formula Concentrated Liquid. "A small number of cans were found to contain non-pathogenic spoilage organisms indicating the product has the remote possibility of being contaminated with other microorganisms."

December 1993. Nursoy Soy Protein, 10,250 cases distributed in the Midwest. "Some cans are contaminated with Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa which poses a mild to moderate hazard to health in the form of gastrointestinal stress to infants and new borns with developing microbial flora."

September 22, 1993. Isomil Soy Formula with Iron. "Product is in cans with peeling can liners."

September 1993. Infant formulas from Maple Island, Inc. "Defendants were charged with adulterating their products because they were manufactured, prepared, processed, packaged, and held for sale under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health. Defendants were further charged with adulterating products manufactured attheir facilities due to the presence in those products and in the equipment that produced those products, of salmonella bacteria, a poisonous or deleterious substance,which may have rendered them injurious to health."

June 28, 1993. Soyalac recalled. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC shows three cases of babies contracting Salmonella "linked to consumption of contaminated powdered infant formula." Recall was more than 7 months after possible manufacture date.

June 1993. Mead Johnson Nutramigen brand. 102,048 bottles distributed nationwide. "The product was contaminated with glass particles."

I'm tired, and breastfeeding my own baby as I type this, so I've skipped some that you're welcome to Google if you want to have the pants scared off you (or the diapers, as it may be): furan in infant formulas, beriberi from lack of thiamine in Israeli formula that may have made its way into the US by mail, "labeling errors," etc. Frankly, I'm tired of reading the FDA dockets.

Does the FDA protect our babies from bad formula batches?

So you're still confident the FDA can catch these contaminated batches? Maybe, but when? After they're fed to babies? Whose baby? Yours? The agency says, "Due to the susceptible nature of the population affected by infant formulas, the recall of a violative infant formula is to receive the highest agency priority." That's real nice.

The FDA's policy requires them to complete the recall process within 5 days after a manufacturer alerts them to a problem. Five days. That's fine if the government is recalling a car for an annoying, non-safety-related problem — as happened to my last two vehicles. But for a baby's sole source of nutrition? No thank you.

How can we manufacture artificial baby formula when we don't even know what to put in it?

Researchers haven't even identified what is in breast milk, let alone how to replace it and put it in a can. So far, they do know that human milk contains more than 200 elements. Some simply cannot be manufactured, such as the immunity factors.

FDA requires that the following ingredients be included in infant formula. There are 26 here. That leaves at least 124 ingredients of human milk missing from artificial substitutes.

  1. protein
  2. fat
  3. linoleic acid
  4. vitamin A
  5. vitamin D
  6. vitamin E
  7. vitamin K
  8. thiamin (vitamin B1)
  9. riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  10. vitamin B6
  11. vitamin B12
  12. niacin
  13. folic acid
  14. pantothenic acid
  15. vitamin C
  16. calcium
  17. phosphorus
  18. magnesium
  19. iron
  20. zinc
  21. manganese
  22. copper
  23. iodine
  24. sodium
  25. potassium
  26. chloride

And what is actually put in the can, babies can't always use. For example, we hear so much about iron-fortified formula because babies' bodies cannot process the iron in formula. What about the iron in mother's milk? Babies readily absorb nearly 100% of it. It's all about bioavailability, baby ... or, babies.

DHA, RHA, my left foot

It makes me sick to be subjected to baby formula marketing. They boast of new additions, like DHA and RHA which Nestle marketing says are "naturally found in breastmilk and are important for mental and visual development." This long-chain polyunsaturated fatty-acid fortification was introduced in the early 2000s. What about babies fed formula before then? If I follow their marketing, it was deficient in something so very important for mental and visual development. The list goes on. 1984: Taurine fortification introduced. Late 1990s: Nucleotide fortification introduced. If I feed formula today, in 2008, what oh-so-important ingredient will be added in 2010 that my baby will have missed out on?

Manufacturing mother's milk is impossible

Even the artificial milk manufacturers have long known they'll never be able to adequately mimic mother's milk. In one dozen-plus-year-old journal article, two Abbot Laboratories researchers write that it has become "increasingly apparent that infant formula can never duplicate human milk." They explain, "Human milk contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, immunoglobulins and compounds with unique structures that cannot be replicated in infant formula." (Endocrine Regulations, March 1994) And then they go on with a bunch of blather about trying to match "performance" instead. Whatever.

More concerns

More concerns I'll let you pursue on your own:

  • Bisphenol A in baby bottles.
  • Do tired parents at 3 a.m. actually sterilize formula feeding equipment as directed on the label? (Short answer: No.)
  • What about the many, many dilution errors, resulting in too-concentrated or too-dilute artificial milk fed to babies?
What to do about it

Let me sum this up for you.

  1. Breastfeed your baby.
  2. See #1. Even if someone tries to say you don't make enough milk. Get help. This is very, very rare, yet women are still fed this line all the time. Want to hear a list of my friends who have successfully breastfed with only one breast? Breastfed adopted babies, some even without previous lacatations? Yes, you can breastfeed if you're on medication, but you may need help to choose the right one.
  3. If you have no breasts, have AIDS in a country with a safe water supply, are currently undergoing radiation or are a crack addict, you may seek another solution. The World Health Organization ranks formula as 4th choice, after breastfeeding, wet nursing and donated breast milk by bottle.
  4. If you "choose" formula because you think breastfeeding is gross (yeah, I actually hear this one), because you think you must switch to formula after 6 months (Where does that come from? Oh yeah, the formula manufacturers.), because you think Dad or Grandma may want a turn caring for the baby (how 'bout diapers, rocking, baths, walks ...) or because you think a bottle is more convenient (the grass is always greener), then see #1.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Math has real-world application. And can be humiliating.

One thing I enjoy about homeschooling is that my children can witness concepts in their real-world applications.

I took Dori to the doctor today and Addy, of course, came along. She brought her math workbook and worked out some subtraction problems while we waited. At this point she finds math to be a little tedious. She has a great mind for it, but gets hung up writing out the answers. At home I've started to toss the workbook aside and let her work out concepts kinesthetically using Unifix cubes or base-ten blocks. For today, though, the workbook was easier to transport and Addy wasn't thrilled about having to do her subtraction problems.

I was able to demonstrate the real-world application of subtraction and humiliate myself in the process. Dori is always on the reserved side, but today she simply refused to interact with the nurse. She wouldn't even stand on the scale. We tried everything. Addy stood on the scale to demonstrate how fun it was to make it wiggle. The nurse bribed her with an Elmo sticker and claimed that Elmo wanted her to stand on the scale. The nurse stood on the scale. I placed Dori on the scale against her will, only to have her flail around so much an accurate reading was impossible.

Finally, I scooped Dori into my arms and stood on the scale with her. Addy was able to see a real number sentence (elementary term for equation) at work.

A a huge number - B a really big number = C the little tiny number that is Dori's weight

All I will tell you is that C=32 pounds.

Then later Addy announced out loud in public what A was. Anyone can see that Dori doesn't weigh much more than a bag of cat food.

Monday, August 25, 2008

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Originally uploaded by stueverfleetwood
This is the kind of jumping in that I mean in one of the first bullets in the post below.

Dori, age 2, scaring the crap out of her grandmother and jumping into the pool. Over. And over. And over again.

What will the kindergarten teacher do when my child ... ?

Back in January, the superintendent of the local school district came to our house to attend the estate sale before we moved in. Upon learing we were homeschoolers, he and his wife tried to sell me on the merits of the public elementary school. His wife seemed to think I would be interested in how cutely it is decorated* (as if) and he told me who was his best kindergarten teacher, Mrs. P. (sorry for the kids who aren't in her class). He could have gained some valuable market research and may have even been able to help me realize his points better had he asked me a thing, but he did all the talking.

Because I was taught by his type of system not to be bold and assert myself with authority, I just nodded and sold them a decorative oak shelf. Here's what I wish I would have asked the superintendent about his star kindergarten teacher, Mrs. P.:
  • Will Mrs. P. sit down with my daughter on her lap and read her really good stories every day? Will she welcome each question, even if it's right in the middle of the story?
  • When Addy is inspired by an idea, will she drop the day's lesson plan (or the week's or month's!) and dive right into it head first?
  • Will she base the curriculum on what excites Addy and helps her develop as a person, or will she be so worried about meeting state standards in specific areas that the life is drained out of it?
  • Can Dori come to the classroom every day, too, and take a spot right next to Addy so they can love and learn from each other, developing the kind of deep relationship sisters should?
  • Will she clear her classroom from the typical pop culture icons that send the wrong messages to developing young minds?
  • Will children in her classroom value people before things, self-esteem over group acceptance, words over fists? How about on the playground? On the bus? Little children are learning and need loving guidance every time. Will Mrs. P. be there on the bus, in the lunchroom and on the playground to provide it?
  • Will she uphold our family's values?
  • Will she spend all the time Addy needs to learn a concept without ever rushing her, labeling her or sending her off to a special classroom? Is she willing to drop months of lesson plans if Addy is ready to zoom on to something new?
  • Will she promise to never squelch Addy's love of learning by filling her time with busywork? Can she promise not to make her wait to be called on when she is eager with a question or idea?
  • Will she come to my home so she can continue to discuss what they're learning at the dinner table, in the car and at bedtime?
  • What will she say when Addy asks the hard questions, about God, or sex, or dying?

I really do want to know these sorts of things. I am very open to hearing from others, even if (maybe especially if?) they disagree with me.

* I was at the school for a public event. Behind a cute facade and inviting lobby, office and board room, down the hallways I saw cinderblock walls, solid steel doors and cold lockers. Not that I care.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Using the "Come Look with Me" series for homeschool art appreciation

I used to be afraid of art until I shared the book Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children with Addy when she was 5. I thought fine art was for the sophisticated — certainly not for a regular person like me.

The books in the Come Look with Me series introduce kids to great works of art in a very gentle way. The whole point of beginning to enjoy art is simply to start looking at it.

Each two-page spread covers one piece of art. On the left page is the print, nearly filling the page, with information about the artist, name of the piece, date, and where it is located (such as a gallery or private collection). The right-hand page has a few questions the parent can ask the child and discuss together, such as, "What do you think the child is looking at? What makes you think so?" and, "The artist used a lot of different lines in this painting. Find a straight line. ..." There are no wrong answers. The questions are designed to get the children looking — really looking — at the art.

Then at the bottom is a brief narrative about the artwork and the artist, explaining what is happening in the picture or how and why the artist created it. Each spread is an art appreciation lesson, without it ever feeling like a lesson. It's even easy for someone like me with no prior art background. I like that this book starts author Gladys Blizzard’s series of books with pictures of children, as it’s easy for children to get into paintings of kids their own ages.

Now that I’m not afraid to look at art and take it all in, it’s fun to explore it further. Addy and I are able to talk about artwork we see. We talk about how it was created, what the artist might have been feeling, and we compare it to other art we have seen.

I wish I had been exposed to art like this when I was 5 years old!

We started with Enjoying Art with Children and I acquired three more in the series that we will continue using. We study one piece of art per week. This is the cornerstone book, but you could start with any one.

Some things we have done at home to extend the learning from this book:
  • I bought an inexpensive table-top easel and set the book up in our living room, opened to the artwork we studied that week. Every time we walk by we can appreciate it even more and even notice new things.
  • We add the artist’s birth and death dates in the Sonlight Book of Time we keep for history and geography. (Any timeline will do.)

    This may save you scads of time: I'm offering free use of the timeline label stickers I created for Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children, Come Look with Me: Animals in Art, Come Look with Me: Enjoying Landscape Art with Children and Come Look with Me: The World of Play. Next semester we'll be using the American Girl art book in a similar way, so stickers are included here also for Imagine: The Girl in the Painting. Just print them on address labels, or you could print them on regular paper to cut and paste. Most of the images are in the public domain because of their age, but some are not, so use with care and know that these are for your home use only. Read the details on the file footer.
  • Once my daughter wanted to try to recreate one of the paintings, so we sketched it ourselves.
  • One of my favorite moments as a homeschooling mother was when our family had the chance to go to the Art Institute of Chicago and see one of the paintings. We were able to enjoy it and talk about it intelligently. My daughter was not bored at the art gallery as I would have been at her age. She was fascinated, all thanks to Come Look with Me!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Our pet population quadrupled in a week.

We moved into this house 5 months ago with a cat. A single, spayed cat. Tippy lives outside in the garage, which we figure is a nicer life than the one from which she was rescued. She was a wee kitten standing in the road — no homes anywhere in sight — as Bob barreled down it at 55 mph and I only urged him to swerve. We stopped, and somehow she ended up coming home with us.

Come spring this year a new kitty claimed our place as her own. We didn't find her; she found us. As soon as I found a vet who offered reasonable rates on spaying, it was too late. More later.

Now, we have known since Addy could walk that a rabbit would one day be added to our household. It was unavoidable. Her great uncle raises them and Uncle Dick and Aunt Maggie brought a bunny to Addy's 1st birthday party for her to play with. We were to give the green light when it was OK for her to have her own. My severe rabbit allergy stood in the way for a long time, but I finally gave in as it's getting better. Now Addy is 6 and a 4-H Cloverbud, so we gave the green light (or waved the white flag?) and on Thursday night added Buns to our list of garage dwellers. Buns (Addy named her, of course) is an 8-week old black-and-white Dutch. Very, very cute.

Either late in the night or early yesterday morning, the friendly cat that adopted us in the spring birthed four kittens. Although I made a nice nest for her in the garage and suggested other spots by leaving soft material around, she had them outside, under the kids' big yellow slide. Addy found them when she went out to play. Dori already knows that they're too little to touch, and gets concerned when they cry. She tells me I need to go to them.

We're still renting the home in town. Can you tell we're country people trapped in the city?

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's World Breastfeeding Week. What can I do about it?

You don't have to turn into a lactivist (though it would be nice) or write a check to La Leche League (though it would be nice) or even encourage a woman to breastfeed (though it would be nice). It's World Breastfeeding Week and I'm asking if you would please support a breastfeeding woman. It doesn't matter how, when or where. It can be something major or a really simple act.

The focus for World Breastfeeding Week 2008 is on supporting women in their efforts to do what is most important for the health and survival of their children through the best and most cost-effective intervention: early and exclusive breastfeeding.

What can you do?
• Give a mother the phone number of a La Leche League Leader. www.llli.org
• Tell a first-time breastfeeding mother she is doing just fine.
• Bring the new mother a nutrious snack and a big glass of water.
See, I told you it wouldn't have to be hard.

• As an employer, accommodate a mother's need to pump with a private comfortable space.
• As the baby's father, intercede with family and friends so that mother and baby can feel confident.
• Write to legislators to support the enactment of laws supporting paid maternity leave and mother-friendly workplaces.
• Contact an emergency relief organization and request training to help in emergency situations, especially in breastfeeding support.
• Take care of your health and nutritional needs during pregnancy and lactation.
• Set up or join a network of lactation experts in your community.
• Provide transportation to a mother to attend an LLL meeting or visit a lactation consultant.
• Advocate for legislation that enacts the provisions of the WHO/UNICEF Code of Marketing.
• Ask for support and offer support to others.

To learn more, visit LLL in the USA. If you can spare a dime, donate here to an organization that supports breastfeeding mothers and babies every day in communites across the nation. Tell ’em The Incompetent Housewife sent you. Thanks!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Making your own baby wipes (sewn or from paper towels)

I used to throw away a nickel every time I wiped my baby's butt.

I bought commercial baby wipes. Even when I'd find off brands on sale in bulk packages, I spent half that much per wipe. Now I make my own, saving bucks and landfill space at the same time. If you just invest about two hours one time, you'll never need to make them again for all of your children.

To sew cloth wipes, I buy the fuzziest flannel I can find at my local store (sometimes they have double thick or double nap). I cut it into squares that will fold in half and fit into a box that store-bought wipes came in. I serge around the edges and that’s all. If you don’t have a serger, you could either zigzag the edges or just cut them with pinking shears. Some people use terrycloth or microfiber or Sherpa for wipes, but flannel is cheap and easy for me.

To wet the wipes, I just use plain water. Back when I used to think I needed some fancy stuff in the wipes, I used to make this:

Sue & Bob’s Homemade Baby Wipes Solution
2 c. water
2 T. baby oil or olive oil
1-2 T. baby shampoo or baby wash
1 T. vinegar, if needed

Boil water. (Not sure why, I just did. It's not as if my tap water was unsafe.) Stir in oil and soap. Add vinegar if thrush has been a problem. Pour over flannel wipes in box or in wipes warmer. Replace after 1-2 weeks.

If fabric isn't your thing, or the idea of washing wipes is too much for you, here's a plan shared by my friend Danielle.

Homemade Baby Wipes from Paper Towels
by Danielle B.

Cut a roll of paper towels in half or thirds.

Mix together the ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp of Basic H (a Shaklee product)
2 tablespoons of Small Wonders baby wash
2 tablespoons of Small Wonders baby lotion

Then remove the cardboard roll from my 1/2 or 1/3 of paper towel and place in the container. Let it set for a few seconds, then flip the roll over. Remove the paper towel starting from the center.

A few notes from Danielle: I cut mine in thirds to place in my Tupperware container that I use. The original recipe said to cut in half. Make a batch and then decide if they are too moist or too dry and adjust. I do not use as much liquid as was recommended to me. Choose a good, thick paper towel. Saving money on this ingredient will be a waste of money as the wipes will fall apart.

Wipes solution for the diaper bag
If you keep a container of wet wipes in the car for a long time, they may dry out or even get skunky before you use them. Keep a spray or squeeze bottle full of plain water or wipes solution with your dry wipes or paper towels and it will always be ready. Some use the peri-care bottle they may receive at birth.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How I make my cloth diapers

There are lots of ways to make cloth diapers — fabric choices, pattern choices, styles, closures — but here's what works for me. My diapers have been through two children and are still going strong.

Diaper style and pattern
My preference is for pocket diapers with snaps. They're slim and trim, go on as easily as a disposable, and the inside soaker fabric comes out for quicker drying. I use the Chloe Toes pattern. I bought it back when she sold hand-traced copies for $5. It's significantly more costly now, but I think it's still worth the cost. The diapers fit great, are sized right, and her instructions are good.

I have been sewing all my life, but I'm pretty sure a novice sewer could make these diapers with no problem. You only need a machine with a zigzag stitch.

Buy the pattern first, then read the directions to see how much of what materials you will need.

Waterproof outer fabrics
I use knit PUL (polyurethane laminated) fabric for the outer layer to make the diaper waterproof. The thickness — 1 or 2mil — doesn't matter as both perform just as well and both are supple.

I have never heard of PUL being available at a local store, only online. I have price shopped all over the Internet and always end up at SewShoppe, Cradled in Cloth, DiaperFabric.com or Wazoodle.

An alternative to PUL is ProCare from Wazoodle, but my husband has some odd aversion to the texture. Since he does most of the diaper washing and much of the changing, I'm glad to cater to this.

Once I was lucky to find some Ultrex outdoor fabric on clearance at a local store so I bought yards and yards. Gore-tex would also work. I've scoured the Internet and retailers that sell fabric for marine and outdoor gear, and unless you find an unbeatable clearance deal, you can't beat the cost of PUL or ProCare.

You can buy other kinds of fabric with the PUL applied, but I only like the knit PUL sold for diaper-making. Many diaper fabric shops sell cute woven cotton prints with PUL applied, but I find that the urine wicks to the outside of the fabric. The cuteness isn't worth the wetness to me. Knit PUL comes in fun colors anyway.

Inner fabrics next to the baby's bum
I prefer either microfleece or a sportswear fabric like Malden Mills Power Dry.

Microfleece isn't the same as the polarfleece you might use to make a blanket or poncho. It's thinner and wicks the moisture away. Some polarfleece blocks the moisture, so it wouldn't work. I found my best buy at a local Jo-Ann fabric store on sale. You can also buy it from one of the web stores above or directly from Malden Mills by the yard (look for those labeled lightweight micro).

Power Dry is available on the Malden Mills site and sometimes on the others. Cradled in Cloth has an unbelievable bargain on a moon and stars print and has had it for a few years now. She must have bought many, many bolts and I assume it was so cheap because it's a little gaudy.

Snap fasteners
I strongly prefer snaps for my diapers. Hook-and-loop tape can be stiff, and even the better choices for diapers can get clogged with lint and stuck together after many washings.

I invested in this professional snap setter and use the 20mm resin (like plastic) snaps. They last and last. Once you have a nice snap setter, you find all kinds of uses for snaps. It's also possible to hire someone else to put in your snaps so you can avoid the cost of a press. Contact me for details.

Before I bought the professional snap setter, I used this SnapSource hand tool that's cheaper, but still good. Use their long-prong, metal snaps. Just know that you may have to replace some after a year or more of use. And if you need enough snaps to make a couple dozen Chloe Toes diapers, you're actually better off buying the professional snap setter since the resin snaps are much, much cheaper. Don't bother with the Dritz snap tool available in fabric stores. It doesn't work well.

Absorbent fabric for inside the diapers
If you use pocket diapers as we do, you need something absorbent to stuff inside to soak up the urine. I have tried lots and lots of options, but our absolute favorite is also the cheapest and most readily available. We use microfiber cloths intended for washing car windshields. I hate Wal-mart, but there and Sam's Club are where we have found the cheapest packages. Be sure to buy it in the auto aisle. It's the same microfiber cloth as you would buy for dusting or drying yourself off or anything else, but it's more expensive per square foot if you buy it outside the auto aisle. Seriously. Make sure you get the one that is about as thick as a washcloth with the loops, not something completely flat like you would use to clean your eyeglasses.

Microfiber is thin, yet holds in more urine per square inch than other choices. It also dries on the line super fast. The only reason to avoid it might be if you want to use only natural fibers such as cotton or hemp.

We just take a square microfiber towel (ours are anywhere from 10 to 14 inches square) and fold it in thirds to stuff in the diaper. If we need more absorbency, we use two.

My only warning is that they over-dye these towels big time and they often come in neon colors. Just wash them separately from your other diaper materials after the first few wearings until all the color has bled out.

Fold-over elastic
The final specialty notion you'll need is fold-over elastic, also available from any of the diaper fabric shops. I have only found it at a local retail shop once. It was designed for finishing off the edges of fleece jackets and was super expensive when sold for that purpose.

The thread
It does make a difference. Cotton thread will absorb the urine and wick it to the outside of the diaper. I use a polyester thread.

With all this said, I do have another favorite diaper option. Someday I'll post more about how I convert old wool sweaters into diaper covers or pants (called wool soakers or longies). We only use these in the winter months, not because they're too hot for summer, but because they pick up debris from the playground in the summertime!

How to sew a cloth mama pad

I know, I thought reuseable menstrual pads sounded disgusting, too, until I tried one for myself.

Now I think the plastic commercial feminine hygiene products are disgusting. They feel sticky, sweaty, icky. Only cloth is good enough for my baby's bottom; now only cloth is good enough for me.

I even used my home-sewn pads post-partum and they worked great.

Here's the link to a PDF with instructions and a pattern I put together for making cloth mama pads.

What about washing cloth pads? I throw my pads in with my daughter's cloth diapers to wash. When I don't have a baby in diapers, I keep an old lidded bucket of cold water under the sink and drop in the pads. When my period is over I pour the water down the toilet and dump them in the washer. I set run one cold rinse, then wash them on hot with some Biz or Oxi-Clean plus a little tea tree oil in the rinse (it's antibacterial and smells nice). I haven't yet tried washing them in my homemade laundry soap, but that will probably work even better and not require anything extra in the wash.