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all the posts I haven’t written


I was going to write something like “How to go Paleo in a Vegetarian Household” awhile back. Maybe it would be a listicle, and it would be all SEO and everything. But then I realized that all my list items would be things like, “prepare to have your entire world turned upside down,” and “come to terms with cooking 4 different meals 3 times a day,” and I realized that this just isn’t the kind of thing that listicles are made for. This is the kind of thing that therapists are made for.

I took a few nice pictures of the Christmas tree, and made a video of my 5 year old playing Silent Night on her violin. But I sent it to the grandparents instead, because that’s who really wants to see a video of a 5 year old playing Silent Night while the parent holding the camera tries not to cough too much.

I was going to write something about all the foods I can eat now, and how I had a few glasses of wine over Christmas and didn’t have explosive gut problems or a terrible rash, but then: more food posts? Surely nobody wants to hear about my rashes. This is the Parent vortex, not the Food vortex, although perhaps it might be time for rebranding.

I wrote a little bit about my word of the year for 2014: Harvest. It’s in my paper journal. I may write about it here too. Later.

I want to write about my word for 2015 but I don’t know what that word will be yet.

I’d like to write about our lovely Christmas Day, an oasis of calm and togetherness in a wild sea of preparations and concerts and shopping and coughing and runny noses and cutting out 1000 paper snowflakes and washing dishes and preparing food and writing emails and following through on committments and cleaning up after a dog rampaged through our flock of chickens. On Christmas Day we went out for a walk on a bit of land that was once a piece of private property with lots of trails on it. Everyone was allowed to walk freely there until the land was sold, and now it is slowly being developed. In between sections of road and cleared lots there are still amazing seaside bluffs and handbuilt stone steps. The sun was shining and we were all together. The fragments of the old trail tell a story of years of caretaking and love of that land. There, that was a nice thing to share.

I thought about writing a post about homeschooling during the transition into Love of Learning phase, as my 8 year old dives into the world of her own interests and I am working on guiding her towards daily practice of some academic skills like writing and math. But I’m not feeling anything like an expert here. It was way easier to write advice articles about breastfeeding and getting your baby to nap than it is to write about homeschooling. Heck, it is easier to write advice about parenting babies than it is to write about life in all its messy glory.

This is why there are so many books about parenting babies.

This is why there are so few posts on my blog these days.

Life. In all its messy glory.




Tumbling down the rabbit hole

Interest based learning: It’s what we live and breathe around here. It’s a wild ride sometimes, though, because you never know where you will end up.

For instance, earlier this year I became interested in a possible link between our food intolerances and our diet. I started following the breadcrumbs of information as I came to them, then dove into an intensive real-world project (aka: transitioning my diet from a western/fairly processed version of gluten free Vegetarianism to Autoimmune Paleo). I’ve started searching out mentors and communities of people who can teach me even more about the links between our diet and our guts, brains and lived experiences. I’m well and truly down the rabbit hole now, studying the Human Microbiome in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered by Coursera and the University of Colorado Boulder, and reading stuff like this, and this. I’m starting to try to fit this new knowledge together with other things I’ve learned about psychology, and starting to wonder about how the human microbiome, interpersonal neurobiology, autoimmune disease, psychology and empathy all interplay with each other.

Sometimes I wonder at the fact that I am learning so much despite the fact that I am supposed to be the “teacher” in our little homeschool here.

Interest based learning doesn’t always start out looking so academic. Sometimes an interest gets its start in the most humble beginnings – like Downton Abbey. Call it a gateway show, if you will, because before I got into Downton Abbey I’d tried again and again to read the classics like Pride and Prejudice with no success. They just seemed hopelessly dense and dull. But once I’d watched a few seasons of Downton the characters in the classics were able to get their foot in the door of my imagination. Suddenly I could picture a family living in an estate house, and once I had a framework on which to hang these stories I started flying through them, one after another. Anna Karenina, Gone With the Wind, Wuthering Heights, and yes, Pride and Prejudice. Once I got into the classics, Downton lost much of its appeal.

This can happen with our kids too. An interest that seems kind of frivolous or trashy is actually a door that is opening your child up to the possibility of deeper study in the future.

So when my kids want to spend every waking moment designing elaborate felt wardrobes to go with their felt dolls, I try to relax and imagine where that little rabbit hole might go. Maybe nowhere, maybe to a future as a designer. But wherever it goes, that time they spend digging deep into their own interest is time that has been invested in developing their ability to recognize what they are interested in, and their ability to find and follow those little breadcrumbs that lead deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

It is when we get really deep down that rabbit hole that we start to be able to fly.

felt doll wardrobe

Let’s Make This Easier

It’s a well known technique for getting things done: break a large, unmanageable job into smaller parts.

Bea was consistently struggling to care for her hair on her own, despite regular encouragement, advice and support from me. It was time to make the job easier. I cut 5 inches off the bottom and now it is a job she can manage on her own. She is elated with her new hair, brushes it without being asked (!), and everyone is happier.

Claire is never expected to learn an entire song at once on her violin. She learns one chunk at a time – clapping the rhythm, one small phrase of notes – and slowly puts them together. Only after a significant amount of practice does it come together as an entire song.

autumn leaves

I know this. And yet, when it comes to my own struggles, emotional ones especially, I persist in trying to tackle the whole enchilada at once. All I see is a tangle of yarn, and the emotional response to that prevents me from taking a deep breath and slowly, painstakingly unwinding all the different threads. Freaking out only tugs all those knots tighter.

How can I break this huge job into smaller parts? How can we make this easier?

Full Disclosure: This is one of those posts where I am writing to figure something out for myself, not decreeing from on high. I do not do any of this perfectly. Your mileage may vary. You may have another technique. It may even involve wine and chocolate cake. That’s fine. I am not jealous. Ok, I am. But wine and chocolate cake are out of my toolkit for the moment and I’ve got to figure something else out.

Take Time / Have an Adult Time Out

Emotional distress is so easy to sweep under the rug. Unless it’s bubbling over and spitting out like a pot of burning oatmeal, ordinary simmering distress can be somewhat ignored. It’s not that fun to deal with and there are many, many other things on the to-do list. So it gets ignored until the simmering turns into burning and spitting.

Calming down our alarmed amygdalas and identifying triggered implicit memories takes time. Lots of time. Time spent either with a patient, warm and loving Compassionate Self-Witness or an Empathy Buddy. There is no quick fix. Time is part of the process.

autumn light

Identify Feelings

Pare off the excess by focusing your attention on the present moment. With eyes closed, scan your awareness over your entire body. What do you notice? Any areas of particular tightness or pain? Can you name those sensations as accurately as possible? Is it a dark, prickly pain or a hot, dull one? What colour is that sensation? Does it have an emotional quality attached to it? I do this as an activity with my kids sometimes and they draw pictures of their feelings, giving them names and pets and favourite sunglasses and everything. They usually find that by the time they have finished their drawing they are feeling much, much better.

Sometimes naming alone brings a tangled mess of a feeling into focus enough so that we can see what needs to be done next. I’ve even had naming bring a huge sigh of relief and a shift in emotional state from agitation to calmness. Name it to tame it.

tree swing

What Do You Need?

Unmet needs are behind every kind of distress – from a toddler’s tantrum to a protracted international conflict. But the tricky thing about needs is that they are universal, and not bound to any one particular outcome. Here’s an example: I have a need for peace and harmony. My preferred strategy for meeting that need is for everyone else to do what I want (Ha!). But I can also get my need for peace and harmony met by going for a walk by myself in the forest, slowly teaching my children how to resolve conflicts and appreciating the peaceful, harmonious interactions I do have with other people, even a conflict still exists with someone else. Looking for the unmet needs is truly the key that unlocks conflict and transforms it from blame and anger to compassion, although it takes time and honest reflection to come to understand what the real, deep needs are for yourself and others.

slug cuddles


Make a Request

I’ve left this one for last because it usually doesn’t work well unless you’ve gone through the rest of the process and spent some time identifying your feelings and needs, and the feelings and needs of the other people involved. But once you know what feelings and needs are alive in a certain situation, you might see a solution that will help get those particular needs met. In this case, you can make a request. Ask for something specific, something that can actually be done. “I want you to be less annoying” does not count. “Can we meet at 10am and make a list of the things that need to be done today?” does.

rope swing

What did I figure out by writing this post? I wrote down every tool I could think of and then realized that I ended up with the basic framework of Non-Violent Communication: Observation (time out), Feelings, Needs, Request. Taken together, it can seem like an overwhelming process, almost as difficult to manage as the original distress. But taken separately, each step is one manageable chunk. And they will work independently, for the most part. There is value in each step, each piece of a jigsaw puzzle clicked into place, each small tangle of yarn undone. Even if the rest of the yarn is a hopeless snarl, we can use these techniques to untwist one small part at a time.





Kindergarten Homeschool Resources

When it comes to homeschooling for kindergarten, most parents are far more excited or anxious about the transition than the children are. As far as a kindergarten age child is concerned, they may be aware that some of their friends now go to school and they don’t, but they are most likely not going to wake up on the first day of school expecting a math curriculum workbook on the table. Full disclosure: I bought a math curriculum for my eldest when she was five and tried to make her work through it. So I’m speaking from experience here. My youngest daughter is now just starting kindergarten, but with far less fanfare and anxiety than the first time around.

What kind of resources do you need to homeschool a child through kindergarten?

  • What is useful and good to have around?
  • What is a waste of money, or more trouble than it’s worth?
  • What’s age appropriate, what’s too advanced or too babyish?

The answers to these questions depend entirely on your individual child, of course. But there are some common traits and developmental stages that most five year old children share. Here is a list of the resources I found most helpful when I homeschooled for kindergarten the first time around:

Pattern Blocks

pattern blocks

These blocks are great for the entire kindergarten math curriculum objectives – you can count them, arrange them in patterns, make observations about how you can arrange them and make the same shapes with different combinations of blocks, stack them, make chickens or foxes or rockets or anything else you can think of by arranging them in different ways. They are fun, simple, and open-ended. Open ended Legos are also a great resource, with similar mathematical potential.

Bob Books

We have brought out the Bob books for each girl as she reaches the stage of being curious about letters and their sounds – once Claire could identify all the letters and knew that they represented sounds, I brought out the first box of Bob books and showed her how sounds go together to make words. We’re very relaxed about this – now that I have seen Bea go through her own process of learning to read, I am better able to trust that it will happen in its own good time. Bob books are just a good tool to use to make those early steps because they are small and completely phonics based. They don’t contain many sight words, unlike many early readers I see on the library shelves.

Dress up clothes

dressing up clothes

Young children learn a tremendous amount through play, especially representational, imaginary play. Dress up clothes are a wonderful addition to make this kind of play really come alive. They don’t have to be fancy, but a few simple scarves and leftover halloween costumes (pirate hats! tiger suit! fancy lady dresses!) go a long way.

Art and craft supplies

painting cardboard boxes

Paper, scissors, crayons, glue. Old magazines to cut up and collage. Bits of yarn and elastic, plastic straws and paper plates. Cardboard boxes. Tempera paints, watercolour paints, maybe even acrylic paints if you’re willing to keep a very close eye on the paints and how they are being used. Sticks, leaves, acorns, sand, rocks, seashells, wool. The clean contents of your recycling bin. Pretty much anything can be incorporated into a creative project!

Weather-appropriate outdoor clothes

Little kids (Ok, all of us) need to get moving every day, and when you’re homeschooling the best and easiest place to move is outside. For us, we have full body waterproof layers for every member of our family – we can go out for a walk in the forest in a torrential downpour if we want to (and we often do!). The specific gear you will need will depend on your local climate, but it’s worth the investment to have decent quality outdoor gear for your most inclement weather.

Cooperative board games and jigsaw puzzles

cooperative board games

We have been moving more towards conventional (ie: competitive) board games as my eldest grows older, but for the first several years we almost exclusively played cooperative board games like Round Up and Harvest Time. Taking competition out of the equation resulted in a better experience for everyone, especially with a kindergarten age child. We also like playing Go Fish, Uno and Dominoes.

A writing station

girls with their writing station

Inspired by Reggio Emilia and other emergent curriculum pedagogies, I set up a writing station for my eldest when she was kindergarten age. It was simple – just a kid size table with a few jars of pencils, erasers and mailing labels in a set of little wooden drawers, and some paper and envelopes nearby. My daughter loved the idea that she could write letters to people whenever she wanted, and our friends and family got more mail than usual for a while. Now our entire dining room is basically our writing station. Supplies are all within easy reach, are straightforward to put away, and are free for everyone to use. A very select group of tools require adult assistance and are not stored within reach, but everything else is. This means that when inspiration strikes, the tools for making it happen are ready and waiting, whether you are 5 or 105.

A library card

Ok, this may be the most obvious homeschool resource for any age, but it has to go on the list because I love my library that much. Show your kids how to request books, how to look them up in the catalogue, how to find specific books on the shelf, and how to look for books on a particular topic. This is called information studies, and in the information age it’s a valuable skill.

Media and Computer Games

For a 5 year old, we try to limit screen based media and electronic games, but we make exceptions for nature documentaries (we love the Planet Earth, The Private Life of Plants and Walking With Dinosaurs series) and a few online games like Starfall.com. Audiobooks are also a huge hit with the kindergarten crowd – they allow kids to listen to books that are at their interest level, not their reading level. A very popular activity around here is colouring while listening to audiobooks (Lego and audiobooks work equally well). You may also want to invest in a kid-friendly pair of headphones, or be zen about listening to a favourite book 100 times!

Social Time and Family Time

family time

5 year olds don’t need a ton of time to socialize with their peers, but they do benefit from some. We like to have one or two regular playdates or scheduled activities for each child in our week – this leaves plenty of time for diving deep into play and learning at home while making time to build connections with our friends or take a class in the community. Family time is really the foundation of learning at the kindergarten age. In Leadership Education (aka Thomas Jefferson Education), age 5 is at the Core stage – when kids are learning how to contribute and be in a group, what the boundaries of good behaviour are and forming the bedrock of strong attachment to their parents that will allow them to stretch and reach in their learning as they get older. When my eldest was 5 I thought that 8 was far too long to wait, but now that my eldest has turned 8 I can see just how much she has changed in those three years, and she is far more interested in formal academics than she was before. If I could turn back the clock I’d reassure myself that Core stage work (how to get along with others, how to help out around the house, how to get empathy, how to listen and communicate) is critically important and more than enough to focus on for age 5.

What are your favourite kindergarten homeschool resources? Anything you’d add to the list? 






That Back to Homeschool Feeling

This year, the most notable thing about our schooling is not that we are NOT back in school, but that we have actually returned to a routine that prioritises dedicated time for learning and projects. Kids in our province are still at home, teachers are on the picket line, and us homeschoolers are continuing on our merry way, mostly unaffected by the drama.

It is a relief, actually. As I focus more intentionally on my children and their goals, interests and challenges, I find myself focusing better on my own goals, interests and challenges. I’m focusing better elsewhere too – staying on top of the dishes more often than not, dealing with the giant pile of things that needed to be dealt with, approaching things with clarity and a systematic approach.

canning jam

As I bustled around the house today, sorting and cleaning and organizing on my mama-day Saturday, I thought back to the intention I set at the start of the year: Harvest. We’re in the thick of the harvest this year – the zuchinni and tomatoes are still coming in strong, and the solitary pumpkin is ripening on the vine. But I can feel that laziness there too – the laziness that resulted in mushy pumpkins rotting on the porch early last winter, and a few mushy apples on the counter just last week.

The thing about the harvest is that it comes at the end of the season. By the time the harvest rolls around, I’m kind of bored with the garden. I’m ready for knitting by the fire and making stews on cold, rainy days. But keeping up with the harvest requires diligence, perseverance, and plain old hard work.

processing the harvest

As I think about all the ways this attitude of rushing through the final stages of something or leaving the last two bites on my plate might affect my life, I think again about homeschooling and how important it is for me to demonstrate the ability to stick something through to the end, even when it gets boring and difficult. How I want to only take on work that I know I can see through properly – not bringing home several boxes of produce to process when I’ve already got mounds of something else that I haven’t dealt with here. I guess this is called being a responsible adult.

Thankfully, it’s a work in progress. Every day I get to make choices about how I do things – either distracted and lazy or focused and energized. And if this article is right (and I suspect it is), my approach to those zuchinni waiting to be shredded and and frozen could be an indicator of my approach to everything else in life. Tackle the zuchinni today, tomorrow: the world!


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