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.

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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

Bloom Retreat: A Day of Serenity for Expectant Mamas

Studies show that the stress of a pregnant mother can have adverse effects on her unborn baby. I watched videos in grad school that show an increasing mother’s heart rate and cortisol levels actually cause baby’s brain to light up like a Christmas tree with stress! That’s prompted me to host an annual retreat for expectant mothers called “Bloom Retreat”. Mama, this is ALL about you. 

Bloom Retreat

The Bloom Retreat will be hosted at The Travaasa Resort here in Austin, but we’re hoping we’ll have moms joining us from all over central Texas! This day will be a day of serenity, guaranteed to help mom prepare physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally for bringing baby into the world.

Should you choose to join us, your day will begin with a farm-to-table breakfast in the cozy Parlor Room of the resort. The mothers-to-be will have an opportunity to meet one another, share stories, anxities, and excitements.

Kelley Hawkins, a certified educator in the Gottman Institute’s Bring Home Baby Program will be speaking and guiding group discussions to help mamas mentally prepare for baby! “My goal is to help a couple proactively prepare for bringing a new baby home. This approach includes sharing practical, proven strategies designed to make this transition one that brings the most joy and least turmoil to the relationship.”

Nature Walk:

Later in the day we will embark on a guided walk along the hiking trails of the Texas Hill Country located at the resort.

Brian Salmon, “The Birth Guy“, will visit us to provide education related to breastfeeding, birth, and postpartum support. Brian teaches wildly successful courses to parents-to-be, has a podacast called “Rocking Dads, and is well-known, loved, and respected in the industry. We are thrilled to have him on board for this event.

Lunch & Newborn Care:

A farm-to-table lunch will also be provided by the Travaasa in the Parlor Room, allowing more time to meet other attendees and continuing building relationships with fellow moms-to-be.

SidelinepositionChelsea Vail, owner of Whole Heart and “That Girl”, will lead discussions regarding newborn care, prepping the home for baby, and utilizing postpartum support. Chelsea is a Newborn Care Specialist, Family Counselor, Maternity Concierge, and baby gear expert!

Then, Phyllis Brasenell, owner of Austin-Born, and highly sought after doula, will provide birth education and information on comfort measures and self-advocacy during birth.

Relaxation/Yoga:

The Travaasa Resort will be offering a private prenatal yoga class to interested guests. Yoga is a fabulous way to prepare mind, body, and spirit for labor and delivery. Practicing yoga regularly during your pregnancy also decreases stress level, increases circulation, and detoxifies the body. Should you choose not to join us, you’re welcome to book a spa appointment during this time or utilize the infinity pool overlooking the Texas hills.

The Spa:

A visit to The Spa at Travaasa Austin goes far beyond pampering and indulgence. Their treatments reflect a passion for, and knowledge of, the human body and the ability of plants and essential oils to naturally treat, heal and revitalize the soul. Featuring 11 treatment rooms, their unique Texas spa sits adjacent to the property’s saline infinity pool, which overlooks the serene and scenic hill country landscape.

They offer an array of massages, healing rituals, beauty treatments and personalized services, using only organic, and bioenergetic products. We strongly encourage guests to book a prenatal massage, or organic facial during the retreat. As the event nears, we will recommend the best times for your service so as not to interfere with the event itinerary.

Our hope is that attendees leave the Bloom Retreat feeling knowledgeable, feeling calm, and feeling prepared and empowered as mothers. This day is about pampering you

Bloom Retreat

Travaasa Resort & Spa

Austin, TX

Oct 3, 2015

 

Purchase your ticket by Sept 3 to RSVP, limited seating, purchase HERE

Dining Out Just Isn’t The Same

Do you find yourself *secretly* wishing that eating at a restaurant could be as peaceful and relaxing as it used to be? Going out to eat just isn’t the same with baby in tow! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE showing off my handsome boy and I LOVE that my friends still invite us to dinner cause they want to see me him! But, those nice, “take your time” meals at a restaurant are few and far between.

dining out with kids

 

Last night, I met my girl Chelsea at Chuy’s for dinner (creamy jalapeño, please!). It was nice to catch up and do some girl talk…that is, in between Caden’s happy baby pterodactyl screeches. Our dinner went a little something like this:

Step 1: Get all of our shit out of the car. Without Nate around, Chelsea offered to help…I’m sure I would have thrown some stuff her way even if she hadn’t offered! Diaper bag, check! Caden’s lunchbox, check! High-chair cover, check! Toys for distraction, check!

Step 2: Realize there is a long wait…that’s okay, we both want salads so we can sit in the bar area! GET ME A MARTINI, STAT! 🙂

Step 3: Ask for high chair…”you’re out of high chairs?!?!” Waitress brings a booster instead, with NO BUCKLE…for my 6 month old. He may have rolled his way out of that thing and landed on his tummy in the booth while I was taking a sip of my Texas Martini. #momfail

Step 4: Now I can have a conversation with my friend, in an adult voice, while stuffing pureed veggies into my little piggie’s face! Today is summer squash & sweet potato with carrots & applesauce. He downed it!

Step 5: Ok, Caden is out of food…let’s finish eating, QUICK! Distract Caden with toys. When I’m out of that “ammo”, I put some ice cubes on the table for him to push around.

Step 6: Caden needs a diaper change…I have to pee too, but I’m pretty sure I can hold it till we get home (sorry not sorry, bladder). Throw everything in the wet bag and get out!

Step 7: Gather everything back up and Chelsea escorts us to the car. Give hugs and kisses bye! Chels says, “Let’s do this again soon” and I think “Absolutely”, and I mean it.

Auntie Chelsea's first time holding Caden

Auntie Chelsea’s first time holding Caden

Going out to eat may be a totally different (and faster) experience, it may require extra “prep” and it may be a total pain in the ass at times, but it is still SO much fun! I love every experience and every stage I get to walk Caden through, and we are very lucky that he really is a laid-back little guy. I’m grateful that my friends, his “aunties”, love us so much that they will join us for dinner, even though they know that Caden will probably sneeze his carrots on them! We have quite a bit of time before he learns some real table manners, but until then we’re just goin’ with it! Cheers!