What to Do with Toddlers in Texas

Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I’m not exactly a “stay-at-home” stay at home mom. I don’t work in the traditonal since and yes, I’m “at home” with my boys, but…we are NEVER at home! Life is too short! We’re adventure seekers and we treat everyday like a new opportunity to see and do. I’ve visited every major city (and many small towns) in Texas with my boys so I can tell you the best things to do and places to go with little ones. 

I’ve done nearly all of these with my twin boys, who are almost eighteen months. We started really enjoying these things around nine to ten months, and even more so after they turned a year old. Many of these tings are perfect for toddlers all the way up to early school aged. My best advice is to look up the place you want to go to, make note of prices & hours, and then decide if you’ll need a stroller or carrier. Then, will you need a lunch, water, or just cash. Pack a few diapers and hit the road. Pura Vida! Enjoy.

My favorites in Austin include:

  • Barton Springs
  • Zilker Zelphyr & Zilker playground
  • Austin Natyre & Science Center
  • Lions, Tigers & Toys train table
  • The Dino Park (Bastrop)
  • Liz Carpenter Fountain at Butler Park
  • Botanical Gardens at zilker
  • Westbank Public Library
  • Graffiti Wall on Baylor
  • Ricky Guerrero Splash Pad
  • Twin Falls or Sculpture Falls
  • Thinkery
  • Toybrary
  • Mount Bonnell (hike)
  • Belterra (splash pad, trails, parks, and ducks to feed)
  • HCG splash pad
  • Catch Air (only ok, a little overwhelming)
  • Locomotion (ghetto, but worth a stop)
  • Founders Park (Dripping Springs)
  • Enchanted Rock (hike)
  • Pease Park
  • Circle C playground, trails and creek
  • Treaty Oak Brewery
  • Little Land Play Therapy
  • Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • Austin Zoo

New Braunfels/San Marcos

  • McKenna Childrens Museum
  • Schlitterbahn
  • Wonder World
  • Float the Guadalupe
  • Wildlife Ranch

San Antonio

  • Doseum
  • Sea World & Aquatica
  • Rainforest Cafe

Marble Falls

  • Horseshoe Bay
  • Sweet Berry Farms
  • Park & ducks by Mamas Kitchen

Grapevine

  • Great Wolf Lodge
  • Grapevine Vintage Railroad
  • Nash Farm
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Sea Life Aquarium
  • LegoLand Discovery Center
  • Vetro Glass Blowing on Main St.

Dallas/Ft. Worth

  • Dallas World Aquarium
  • Dallas Zoo
  • Ft. Worth Zoo
  • Childrens gardens at Arboretum
  • Watermark Church indoor playground
  • Ft Worth Childrens Museum
  • Berger’s Lake Ft. Worth
  • Perot Museum
  • Klyde Warren Park
  • Ft Worth Water Gardens
  • Botanical Gardens Ft Worth

Chappell Hill/Brenham

  • Blue Bell Ice Cream factory
  • Fireman’s Park
  • Public Library (toys and play space)
  • Oil Ranch
  • Antique carousel at Firemans park

Waco

  • Cameron Park zoo & splaspads
  • Magnolia Market
  • Mayborn Childrens Museum

Houston

  • Discovery Green
  • Houston Zoo
  • Houston Childrens Museum
  • Kemah Boardwalk at Galveston,
  • Dewberry Farm
  • Houston Aquarium
  • Houston Nature & Science Center
  • Splashway Family Waterpark

Lets be real, here! What are you really doing everyday?

Laundry: Laundry takes about 5-15 minutes total. Less than a minute to drop it into washer or dryer and about 5-10 minutes to fold. Add a few more minutes to put away.

Dishes: I don’t have a good dishwasher so I hand wash ALL of my dishes. THREE times a day. I can get a sink full of dishes, including pots and pans done in about 8 minutes. So, let’s say I spend about 20 minutes a day doing dishes.

Cleaning: I can clean my entire house in about 20-30 minutes including sweeping and vaccuuming which I don’t do everyday. Your house is probably bigger and if so…put cleaning off and go have fun! It can wait.

All of the above adds up to about an hour. Add in 15-20 minutes for meltdowns and blow outs. Add about 15-20 minutes for getting you and your crew dressed, bags packed, and loaded in the carseats.

If you’re awake 12-15 hours a day, where does the rest of your time go? Get up, get out there, and do something! There are so many beautiful, wondrous places to explore to provide rich learning experiences for your children. Take time to meander, play, and enjoy every moment with your sweet kiddos.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

 

What if it Was Weird?

My friends and family often comment on how I eat, what I wear, and my parenting choices. I hear, “She eats weird stuff” or “She’s weird about organic”, or “You’ll probably do something weird when they’re school aged, huh?”, but I don’t make my decisions about my wellbeing or my children’s wellbeing lightly. I make decisions based on research based practices. I have made the concious decision to be counter-cultural and do what I feel is best for my family, regardless of the norm. But, what if I weren’t the “weird” one? What if we flipped the script?

What if it was weird…

What if it was weird to see a kid with a bag of Cheetoh’s and a juice box? What if we were used to seeing kids drink nothing but water and almond milk and playgrounds were covered with half eaten celery sticks or roasted seaweed crumbs.

What if it was weird to see a kid with an iPad or a toy that lit up and sang songs? What if we heard a toy like this and it startled us because it was so odd? We’d gotten so used to seeing kids climb trees, build forts, or sculpt masterpieces from mud that when we saw a toy we stared at it like some kind of escapee from a world beyond.

What if it was weird to go to someone’s house for a meal and find out they DIDN’T have a garden nearby? “Huh? Where do you get your food? A store? But, how can you trust how it’s grown or where it comes from?” What if grocery stores were weird because we lived in a world filled with community gardens, farmer’s markets and homemade goods?

What if it was weird to see a TV in a home? What if TV was only for the news or public broadcasts so people rarely watched them and instead spent their time with friends and family traveling, cooking, creating, exploring, talking. What if living room furniture was arranged with seats facing inward to inspire conversation and relaxation instead?

What if medicine cabinets were filled with essential oils labeled with the ailments they cured? What if diffusers filled with Tea Tree oil or Thieves oil were in every doctor’s office instead of cans of Lysol and teachers cleaned toys with lemon and vinegar instead of bleach?

What if, just like the circus, zoos and aquariums were things of the past and the only way to see animals was in the wild, in their natural habitat? Instead of paying to see these beautiful creatures in captivity, families volunteered at sanctuaries and rehab facilities or they vacationed to various parts of the world in hopes of spotting them in nature (gasp!).

What if it was weird to see desks in schools? We were used to seeing kids running up and down the hallways for learning materials for a project, or kids crowded around books in the libraries? What if we saw History teachers dressed up like historical figures, science teachers in lab coats, and math teachers sculpting rollercoasters from Kinex as their students calculated velocities. This became so normal that desks made you think they were being punished for severe misbehavior.

What if it was weird to see an adult on a playground? The parents were usually conversing in a nearby coffee shop so seeing an adult follow a child around a playscape meant the child has special needs and needed additional guidance or perhaps the adult is a kidnapper and someone should contact the authorities.

What if it was weird for a school NOT to offer humanities and liberal arts? Maybe we’d get so used to kids being well-read, versed in poetry, fluent in multiple languages, and playing an instrument or two that if a child didn’t have an artistic talent or hobby we thought it strange.

All over the world you’ll find this “weirdness” I speak of. You’ll see prams parked outside of cafes with sleeping babies while their mother’s enjoy coffee together inside. You’ll see responsible, independent children on mass transit going to and from activities with noone concerned about their safety. It’s perfectly normal to see kids getting out of school by one or two o’clock in the afternoon to go home and free play with peers. It’s not uncommon for a child in primary school to be multi-lingual, play a few instruments, write their own music and perhaps paint or sculpt. It’s also common for a school lunch of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and gourmet cheeses to be served family style to a round table where children serve one another and hold intelligent conversations about their interests. So, why do we think these things are weird here in America? Why do we think our way is the only way and, dare I say it, the better way? We hashtag “‘merica” as if we’re the only ones living well or free, when we’re one of hundreds of countries with freedom and we still make poor choices about our wellbeing.

Why is it weird to live naturally and respect the environment? Why is it weird to eat only what our bodies are designed to process and treat diseases with what grows in our world? Why is it weird to see a Homeopath whose science dates back for centuries, instead of pediatricians who’ve memorized formulas for treating symptoms, rather than preventing illness. Why do we consider it weird for someone to not only think outside the box, but to live outside the box? How can we possibly expect our world and our society to improve if we keep doing the same thing over and over again wondering why things aren’t changing for the better? 

Stay gold, be different, 

That Girl

I Dream of an Empty School

Let’s face it, the rest of the world is kicking America’s ass! We may still be known as the most powerful country in the world, but we don’t rank number one for anything…nothing. Our healthcare, economy, crime rates, prison systems, standard of living, are all tanking at alarming rates and the education system is lacking significantly. New studies indicate top ranking countries ahead of US at two to three times the learning rates. Ick!

We keep throwing money at the problem, but we’re not fixing anything. I dream of empty schools.

curtesy of WHCSNews

I dream of walking into an American school and hearing crickets chirping. It’s completely empty and practically collecting dust.

A few of the math classes are stuffed into the kitchen measuring, sifting, pouring, sorting. They’re outside collecting data on the seeds they planted in the school garden and graphing.

The science classes are at the Nature Scenter collecting rocks, soil, bugs, water samples, and observing birds. Or perhaps they’re visiting with wind engineers off-campus or creating solar panels for the school’s energy source.

Habibis Hutch Preschool, Austin Texas

There’s a mass of kids outside painting murals on the fences and exploring with different building materials, trying to engineer new playground equipment. A few kids are scuplting with clay and water and the others are checking on their ceramic projects in the kiln.

Some of the students are spread out across the soccer fields, baseball fields, and football fields. There’s a group of girls attempting to build a human pyramid and a few kids from a younger grade are jumping rope and trying to walk while hula hooping.

I spot a group of kids in the auditorium listening to a children’s book author about his writing process and they’re taking notes before breaking into groups and publishing e-books on Amazon. There’s a class off-campus at a publishing house shadowing everyone from the receptionist, to printers, to editors.

The classrooms are empty. In fact the entire campus will be empty around noon because the kids will run home or to a friend’s house for lunch. The older kids will return to the campus for a few more hours of learning, but the younger kids are done for the day. They don’t have any homework so they’ll spend their afternoon climbing trees, skipping rocks, or building forts in the backyard.

Sound to good to be true? This is the very similar to the Finish education system and several home school co-ops around the world. Project based learning, communit involvement, mixed grades, no homework, and no standardized testing!

A Finnish classroom

The teachers have master’s level educations in many parts of the world and they’re paid well and highly respected for their profession of choice. The graduation rates are higher, college admittance is higher, and the students are quite literally taking over the globe with innovation and entrepreneurism.

My children will NOT go to an American public school…no way, no how! Until things change, I plan on a cultural learning experience traveling the globe, learning new languages, and utilizing online learning tools once my children outsmart me or need more individualized instruction. Need money to do this? Not really. Living abroad is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than you think. In fact, we can live like millionaires traveling the globe, while struggling to make ends meet here in the US. A global education is not a pipe dream if you want it to be your reality.

Mind expansion does not occur sitting in a cold, sterile classroom quietly doing exactly what everyone around you is doing. No learning is taking place when you’re being taught how to take a test. How can children develop creativity in a paint-by-number education system? And what’s more…think about how much time is wasted during an American school day.

How do we fix this?

Speak up! Inform your child’s teacher that they won’t do homework. Take your child out of school for field trips when you want and share the learning opportunities with your child’s teacher, peers and other parents. Refuse standardized testing and expensive, often unnecessary projects outside school hours. To teach our children not to conform, we ourselves must refuse to conform.

Maybe we’ll make a change for the better, but maybe it’ll go unnoticed. Either way, I’ll sleep better at night knowing I attempted something better for them.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Finding the Perfect Child Care Program

When I heard they had a two year wait list and were a “Texas Rising Star” campus, I decided I just had to take a tour and get my boys on that wait list asap! I even took a tour  during nap time because I was so excited to see what they were all about. I was so thrilled to be a part of this campus…

…until I wasn’t!

I pulled up to the school and peered over the busted fence to see several four year old (or maybe even five year olds) playing on the playground, and in the sandbox, in their underwear! No shirts, no shoes, no pants! I felt my body immediately try to reverse and retreat back home, but the Austinite in me decided to be open minded and I decided to proceed with a willingness to find out what this place was all about (and why the students were playing outside in their underwear). This was problem #1.

Problem #2 & #3: We got out of the car and wandered around aimlessly looking for the entrance until a “teacher” dressed in vintage booties, an ironic tee, and daisy dukes led us through the gate. I’m all for showing your personal style as a teacher, but I also believe in professional dress for professional learners.

Problem #4 & #5: We enter the “office” and it reeks of poop. There are a bunch of two year olds using the office restroom with the door open for all to enjoy. And…the office is a DISASTER! Papers were piled high to the sky, file folders were jumbled up behind the desk, there was no where to sit, and supplies were randomly placed anywhere and everywhere.

I. Must. Proceed.

At this point I decided there was no way in hell my boys would ever attend this school, but it was like a train wreck I couldn’t turn away from. I found myself drawn towards the classrooms because I just had to find out what it was that made this place worth a two year wait? Perhaps I was the crazy one? Surely there’s something I just haven’t seen yet, right?

Problem #6-10: The director was a young gay man. This was a non issue to me until I met three more young, gay, male teachers. I’m in no wayhomophobic, nor do I think gay men can’t be day care teachers, but when 5 out of 7 teachers are young gay men, I wonder,”Is this diversity, or have you just replaced one sub-population with another?” I want diversity for my children, not only in sexuality, but in gender, race, culture…

I continued to tour the school although I found it obnoxiously overstimulating, dirty, and cluttered. My mind was racing from one sight to the next. What I fell in love with; however, was it’s ideals. It’s philosophies. It’s approach to learning. The biggest issue to me was the environment, but so much of a child’s learning at this age is environment so I still couldn’t consider this place. No matter what their educational philosophy is, a child just will not thrive in a school of chaos.

So…what should a parent look for when choosing a school, or child care, for their infant or toddler.

  1. An infant/toddler classroom should be tech free and battery free. No ipads, no computers, no smart phones, no tablets, and definitely no TV. This age group not only can become overstimulated, but they learn best from experience, not entertainment.
  2. There should not be discipline, time outs, or any consequences for misbehavior. This age group (baby-12m) does not know how to misbehave. Everything they do is driven from curiosity, lack of ability to communicate, and instinct. They need positive guidance, modeling, and redirection.
  3. Everything should be at the child’s level. Teaching decor, mirrors, sensory items, nap mats, toilets, even toys, should be accessible to the child and hung at the child’s eye level (not the adult’s). This shows the children this place was designed with them in mind and this is a place where they’re superior, not inferior.
  4. A child care center, or school, should not be sterile, but it should be clean. If it smells of lysol or other toxic chemicals, it’s not the place for your child. Ask the director what they use in cleaning and how they disinfect. They should be cleaning regularly, with help from the children, and using nontoxic, VOC free, fragrance free cleaners.
  5. Studies show that an organized room is an organized mind. Children thrive in an organized space! Areas of the classroom should be distinguished and/or framed using rugs, mats, or shelving. Perhaps various colors signal different areas, but it should be visible to adults where each area of the classroom is, and things should be labeled and clutter free. Each child should have a space for their own things as well.
  6. The environment should be calming and the colors should be neutral. Color is powerful for the mind and soul, therefore can be overstimulating to infants. Neutral tones should be used and a soft pallet of color. An infant classroom should also have furnishings made of real world, natural materials such as wood, or metal. This allows the child’s brain to take in new information from the learning activities, without being overstimulated/exhausted from it’s surroundings.
  7. Plenty of natural light and access to the outdoors is crucial.
  8. If the director, or teachers, tell you they have a curriculum for infants, RUN! This age group should not be “taught”, “educated”, or “entertained”. They should be provided an environment for learning to take place through sensing, exploration, and experience.
  9. Do they allow “drop in” care? If so, be prepared for random kids you don’t know to be included in your child’s class from time to time. This will not only disrupt routine and sense of security for your child, but will introduce new personalities, new germs, and new dynamics into the structure of their day. Not healthy.

I liked that this particular school described themselves as “child centered” and explained to me that they have a play based learning program. That’s generally what I want to hear. They also told me they don’t force children to apologize for behaviors because they believe a child will find their own way to communicate when they feel sorry for their actions. I agree with this. Children should not be forced to apologize, be affectionate, or make eye contact. The child’s natural feelings should always be validated and respected. I liked that they seek diversity in student make-up, but I would’ve liked to see diversity in the teaching staff as well. I also like the idea of allowing children to be free and make their own choices as much as possible, but whether or not they wear clothes at school was a bit too far for me.

Good luck…it’s a jungle out there!

Stay gold,

That Girl

 

Fall Portrait Party!

YOU are invited to a portrait party in the heart of the hill country! Ariel Rawlings, elite wedding and family photographer and owner of Evan & Marin Photography, is offering fall portrait mini-sessions for ONE DAY ONLY Oct 8 at Whole Heart headquarters (aka, my home). Picture two acres of Texas hill country with miles and miles of rolling hills behind you. imagine hay bales, quilts, pupkins, apples, wood crates…

cash-and-cannon-foot-bathtub

Ariel is super talented with light! She’s that photographer that reminds us all that it takes more than a fancy camera to be a pro; it takes artistic talent and an eye for detail. I’ll be setting up three pinterest-esque fall portrait backdrops on our property for you to choose from. Or, opt for no backdrop and just get down with nature!

It’s a party so come mingle with other mamas. Those that schedule sessions in the morning can enjoy pumpkin bread from Quacks Bakery (I think there’s crack in it as it’s SO addicting) and fresh coffee or mimosas. Those that schedule the afternoon sessions can enjoy wine from local wineries and a charcuterie board with fresh meats and cheeses.

cannon-crawling-on-quilt

Bring the baby, bring the kids, bring your partner, or bring the whole fam damn! This opportunity is too good to pass up. Ariel is offering her services PLUS three photos at a fraction of her sitting fees. Sign up here for the time slot that works for your family. Should you sign up during the TX/OU game…yes, the game will be on our outdoor TV!

Stay gold, 

That Girl

The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly Might Die: Get Over It

The Old Lady Who Swallows the Fly Might DIE. Get Over It.

I picked up a board book yesterday about the old lady who swallows the fly and began to sing it to my twin boys. I wasn’t paying much attention to the written print at first because I know the song by heart from my own childhood; however, a few pages in I realized that instead of the lyrics “perhaps she’ll die”, I read the words, “we’ll ask her why”. Huh? This is bullshit!

We can’t say the word “die” in a children’s song? If some crazy bitch decides to swallow an entire food chain of animals to chase after the tiny little fly she started with, that’s up to her. She’s the one who overreacted and created a monster problem out of a tiny incident. In fact, now that I think about it, that’s the whole point of the rhyme. She died because she overdramatized. Also, I don’t want to send the message to my kids that this is a chick you want to deal with. If you see an old lady swallowing a farm full of animals you run the other way. You do not walk up and ask her why. And, let’s not forget, she’s fiction! I hope my boys won’t lose sleep over the death of a fictional character in a silly song.

IMG_4512

This got me thinking, when did everything get so weeny-fied? The newest versions of Little Red Riding Hood have her escaping the wolf and being rescued by a hunter, but I remember her getting gobbled up whole because she made the stupid ass move of telling a big bad WOLF exactly where she was going and who she was going to meet. She needed a lesson about stranger danger and being eaten alive might do the trick. What’s next? I guess the third little pig invites the wolf in for a marathon viewing of Fixer Upper? Perhaps they share a bottle of vino and chat about Joanna’s unique ability to mix farmhouse chic with modern elements. I’m banning this crap!

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For my kids, Bambi’s mother got shot by hunters just like daddy leaving her orphaned. The cradle falls out of the tree and the baby plummets to the ground from irresponsible parenting, The old man who played knick knack on the kid’s knee is a probably a pedophile and you should stay far away from him. I’m not going to rewrite nursery rhymes or children’s songs out of fear that my kids can’t handle something dark, or try to protect my children from the realities of the world. We live in a scary place. I’m not doing them any favors by acting like nothing bad ever happens and raising them in a bubble of lemonade and gumdrops.

Sorry, boys, but the old lady who swallowed a fly, a spider, a cat, a dog, a goat, and a cow probably died. Serves her right.

Stay gold, 

That Girl