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

Raising Citizens of the World

It started when my boys were born, wanting something different for them, but this past weekend confirmed my decision. No more. Enough is enough. I’m done. 

I’m raising citizens of the world.

We started our Saturday morning wondering what we could do with two one year olds when our “small town” city of Austin was currently flooded with millions of show goers visiting us for the SXSW music festival. The thought of manuevering our toddlers through crowds, sitting in traffic, and being bombarded with music virtually everywhere (some soulful, but most is just hectic noise from unexperienced hopefuls). We decided to venture an hour away to San Antonio.

After circling the city blocks a few times looking at parking signs ranging $10-30 (to place your car on top of concrete safely), we found a spot. We stood in line with the crowds to pay for our spot, inhaling car fumes, cigarette smoke, other people’s ill chosen parfumes and deodorants and then began our excursion.

First stop- food. Dining out with twin toddlers is more fun when the ambiance is kid friendly so we chose Rainforest Cafe. Now, I’ll preface this post by saying I loved our day! Every moment watching my children’s faces light up with wonder is worth every harsh moment, but…my worldview shifted drastically on this day.

We walked our babies around the restaurant pointing out the rubber, plastic, and mechanical animals. We faked amusement when the lights flickered and the “thunder” roared from the speakers hidden behind the fake leaves surrounding our table. Then we paid $50+ for a meal of fried, over-processed, preservative laden food, leaving our meals half-eaten because American portion control is lacking. We showed our waiter our rewards card for this restaurant chain. This reward program allows us to get more artificial food when we eat enough of it over time at various locations. I was disgusted by this thought. Then we tipped the waiter because, in America, no matter how bad the service, the waitstaff is entitled to getting tipped. Blech!

Nextstop- downtown. Then, we paid $120 for a wristband that allowed us to get into several of the attractions for one “low” price.  Handing over the credit card made me feel so powerfless. They know they’ve got us because we’re there, we’re consumers, we want to be entertained. Sure, take our money and run.

Again, we had a good time, but is this it? We rode on a manufactured safari car wearing plastic 3D glasses and shot lasers at holographic zombies. I’m humiliated as I write this. We stood in line for 40 minutes for a 4D ride; another simulated experience (monkeys ziplining through the jungle). We walked down a red carpet through an old building looking at celebrities and athletes made of wax. Then, we took our children to a playscape IN a mall and watched them play on trees and ponds made of rubber. We paid $1 for them to ride in circles on painted, fiberglass animals.

After weaving through more crowds, stopping at umpteen million restauramts trying to find a place that could provide a table without making us wait close to an hour for service, we settled on another restaurant with overpriced, artificial food, and terrible service.

I drove home feeling disgusted. Disgusted with myself for participating in these shenanigans; for playing a part in this artificial world. I was disgusted for my children that we had simulated artificial adventures for them. I want more. I want something different.

Lucky for me, my husband felt the same way. As we drove home we began discussing. We’ve made the decision, not lightly mind you, to raise citizens of the world. Sure, we’ll shop at malls from time to time, we’ll even take our boys to amusement parks and local attractions occassionally, but our worldview has changed and we’re going to make a change for something better. It may be now, or it may be when the boys are slightly older, but we will not be raising them in a society driven by consumerism, gluttony, greed, technology, and materialism anymore.

We plan on raising them in the natural world, to appreciate relationships, experiences, and love. We want them to learn by doing, not sitting in a classroom or staring at a screen. We want them to love because they’ve felt nothing but love amd aren’t surrounded by morally compromised people we have to shield them from. We want them to be grateful by living simply and plan on simplifying our lives.

Stay tuned, friends. The Vails are making changes!

That Girl

Feed the Brain

Through my experiences as a therapist, a teacher, and a newborn care specialist, I’ve learned that a child’s environment plays a major role in a their brain development and behavior. Parents find themselves in a vicious cycle trying to correct their child’s behavior to no avail and they’re clueless about what’s actually causing the behavioral changes. Proactive parenting is far superior to reactive parenting. 

Consider the following…

Toys

The types of toys a child plays with have a major impact on their brain development and behavior. Technology and TV for example entertain the brain, meaning the brain is not having to work. There’s no problem solving, imagination, creativity, or thinking involved with technology or tv. Even “educational games” on an ipad have a negative effect on the brain because they limit possibilities to the software design. The brain; however, is limitless in its possibilities. Use of technology in children has been linked to aggression, sleep deprivation, violence, lack of empathy, detachment, and poor social skills. Ever notice agitation and tantrums more when you take away a tech device from your child? It’s not only because they lost the priviledge, they could be experiencing menal withdrawals.

Opt for open ended toys that inspire creativity, thinking, and imagination. Fat brain toys such as blocks, cars, dolls, play-doh, art supplies, magnetiles, role play items, and sensory play such as sand, water, or beads.

Food

Nutrition plays a major role in your child’s behavior. I always have to bite my tongue around my friends who complain about the terrible twos, having a “threenager,” or the frantic fours when often these are the same friends who fuel their children with sodas, gluten laden goodies, and sugary cereals. Sure, my kids will inevitably act up from time to time and I know I’ll have some disciplinary issues, but these things are far less in frequency as well as intensity when diet is considered. Major culprits to poor behavior include gluten, sugar, caffeine, low water intake, and dyes.

Opt for organic fruits, veggies, dairy, meats to avoid exposure to hormones and pesticides. Try not to allow your child to snack all day, but don’t allow them to go hungry. Schedule three solid meals of high protein, healthy fats, and high nutriton, but allow two smaller meals/snacks in betweek to keep sugar levels regulated. Avoid processed foods with artificial ingredients when you can and just say no to sugar and caffeine at all costs, especially if you’ve noticed a sensitivity.

Sleep

Adults need to take some responsibility for their child’s behavior when sleep deprivation could be the catalyst. If you allowed them to skip their nap, then it’s unfair to them for you to get angry when they throw a tantrum in the middle of Target. Were they up late because you wanted to finish your concersation on the phone before you started bedtime? Then, don’t get mad at them when they wake up cranky and start throwing food or spilling their juice. Children have crazy fast metabolisms, their mind is on constant overload and their body’s are growing rapidly. They need 10-12 hours of sleep a night depending on age and toddlers need naps (or at least downtime) in order to function optimally.

Envornmental Toxins

Numerous studies have shown a correlation between environmenal toxins and behavior. I recently saw that I can be found on google when you search “crunchy mom” or “granola mom” which totally cracks me up, because I’m far from crunchy, but I am green. I do not use toxic cleaners, detergents, soap or perfumes in my home. I refuse to eat nonorganic veggies, dairy, or meats. I wouldn’t accept a million dollars to vaccinate my children and I hold my breath, or sit in the car, when I’m pumping gas. Our environment is filled with carcinogens and neurotoxins that nnegatively affect our behavior. Top culprits include insecticides, pesticides, lead, paints, cleaners, mercury, formaldehyde and aluminum (found in vaccines), BPAs found in plastics, and parabens in lotions and soaps. These have been blamed for “silently eroding intelligence”

“Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity,” Grandjean and Landrigan write. “The presumption that new chemicals and technologies are safe until proven otherwise is a fundamental problem.” As in their 2006 review, the authors reiterate their concern “that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries.” (LINK HERE)

Organic clothes by Finn & Emma

So, before you even attempt at correcting your child’s behavior, search for the source first! It would be unfair to punish the child for behavior beyond their control when their mind is greatly affected by the environment we’ve created for them.

Good luck and stay gold,

Chelsea Vail

The Case Against Toys

My mother texted me last week and asked me about a couple of gifts she was thinking about for my twins for Christmas (she shops early). I googled the items she was referring to and read about the products. When I read the words “teaches your child,” “educational,” and “your child will learn,” I knew the toys were not for us. Ironically, the toys that “teach” your child actually counteract learning and stunt development. Shocker, right?

I refuse to have toys in my home that teach my children.

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I texted my mom back and reminded her that I don’t allow toys that have batteries or electricity. In fact, I dont have toys in my home that “do” things. A toy that does for a child robs them of the opportunity to do. The play becomes limited by what the toy has been programmed to do. It does not require imagination, problem solving, creativity, exploration, or observation. It is entertaining the child, which is not what play is about. It’s not about entertainment or distraction.

Play is a child’s natural language. It is how they make sense of their world, how they communicate, how they express feelings, and how they process their experiemces. Play by definition is intrinsically motivated, therefore a toy that gives the same response each time a button is pushed, or a lever is pulled, trains the child to seek extrinsic reward, rather than introinsic. So, once again, play is negatively affected.

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As a Play Therapist I always felt saddened by the child who would come into the playroom filled with open-ended toys, pick up a toy and try to press a button. They’d search desperately for an off/on switch, something to push, pull, turn on somehow before finally looking at me and exclaiming, “It’s broken” or “What does it do?” This child has been programmed for toys to  do the work for him and he no longer knows how to play.

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Toys do not need names either. A toy that comes with a name, or a label, pulls the child from fantasy and anchors them to reality. This is not a good thing. I don’t want my children growing up thinking a stick is just a stick and a box is just a box. The possibilities for items like this should be endless to a child’s imagination. I once put a whisk on the play tray of my five month old son’s walker and my stepson said, “Why did you give him a whisk?” I told him it’s not a whisk to the baby, it could be anything the baby wants it to be. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind and said, “But what else could it be?” Again, how sad. This child has lost the ability to imagine.

So…what do they play with?

  • ribbons
  • tin foil
  • bubble wrap, corks, sponges
  • spatulas, whisks, ladels, egg beaters
  • Measuring cups
  • salad spinners, drainers, muffin tins
  • egg cartons, boxes
  • bags
  • blocks
  • balls
  • cars, trains, planes (wooden toys)
  • books
  • crayons, shaving cream, play doh
  • musical toys, wooden toys
  • blankets
  • bubbles
  • swings, slides, ladders, jungle gyms
  • hula hoops, jump ropes
  • figurines

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If you buy your children pop up tents how will they learn to build forts? If you buy them the bubble machine how will they learn to blow bubbles? If you buy hot wheels track you’re limiting how far and which direction the cars can go? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did not grow up using iPads and tech toys…they grew up playing with what was around them and as a result they learned how to think and they became creators.

So, my children will not watch TV. They will not have ipads. They will not use smart phones until age appropriate and they will not play with toys that need batteries or need to be plugged in. They will learn to be resourceful, creative, and imaginative to play and to make sense of the world around them.

Stay gold,

That Girl

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Kangacare Lil Joey’s

A friend of mine had a baby a few weeks ago. I’d put both of us in the “green mom” category so when I started thinking what to bring to her when I visited her and sweet Ellory, I thought through what was in my “my boys are too little for” closet. No need to go spend money and waste resources, right? I spotted the bag of Lil Joey cloth diapers by Kangacare and my heart dropped a little bit. The teeny tiny diapers my brand new, sweet smelling babies wore the first few months of life would now only cover a thingh most likely. Sigh!

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If you read my birth story you know I didn’t have much control over what went down the first 11 days of life for my babies. When mom nearly dies on the operating table, the staff doesn’t call her to discuss her stance on cloth versus disposables. I’m aware how silly it makes me sound, but one of the hardest things for me as a new mom was meeting my babies for the first time in the NICU and smelling the powdery chemicals from the disposable diapers they were forced to wear. I could feel the plastic in my hand under their bums and it broke my heart that my precious newborns were sitting in sodium polyacralate, dioxins, propylene, tributyltin…blach! My baby born with a pneumo-thorax (hole in his lung) was being exposed to chemicals that cause respiratory distress?! My sweet twins, born to me after years of battling endometriosis and infertility issues were sitting in the very dioxins my fertility doctor told me were responsible for my struggles?!

My heart sank.

The nurse even gave me a toxic diaper as a koozie for the water she gave me in a BPA laden plastic container

The nurse even gave me a toxic diaper as a koozie for the water she gave me in a BPA laden plastic container

When the boys were released to me I put them in organic diapers right away. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough of the Lil Joeys to cloth them full time. But, when they started getting diaper rash and red, flaky, chapped booties from the ORGANIC disposable diapers, I knew cloth was the only way to go. I started putting coconut oil on the butts to fix the damage and putting them only in cloth and things cleared right up! I’ve never looked back.

Cloth is SO much better for your babies, but way better on your pocket book and mother earth. The Lil Joey’s come in 2pks for less than $30 so a good starter kit of these will run you about $200-300 depending on how often you want to do laundry, but they’ll wear these diapers everyday for about 12 weeks so you’ll save hundreds of dollars in the meantime.

Lil Joeys clyde Whole Heart

I loved the prints the Lil Joeys come in! My favorites were the Clyde and the TokiDoki. I wasn’t sure what TokiDoki even was until I visited the Kangacare booth at the ABC Expo and the moms there were acting like John Lennon had stopped by the booth. They were going nuts over this print! In fact, apparently I’d been living under a rock because these designs were in high demand in diaper bags, shopping cart covers, blankets. Everyone wanted some TokiDoki.

vail twins in toki doki

When friends and fans ask me what I consider a must have after having twins, cloth diapers, especially Lil Joeys, are in my top five! I’m so glad I was able to start cloth diapering them right away and limiting the pollutants entering their sweet new bodies. I am confident my babies are strong and healthy and will continue to be this way as long as I’m able to continue limiting their exposure to environmental toxins.

Stay green, 

That Girl

Baby on a Budget

It’s true I’m a wee bit obsessed with baby gear, and have been since WAY before my boys were born; however, most of this gear is not considered a necessity. I even had some mom-troll comment on one of my posts one day, “Seems like you have to be a millionaire to have a baby these days”. I chose not to respond at the time, but here’s what I would’ve liked to say, “Actually, all it takes to have a baby is an egg, sperm, and a vagina”. But, tthat may have been considered rude, even though it’s true, lol. 

You don’t have to be a millionaire to have a baby. Here’s how to avoid breaking the bank when you’re preggo.

Breastfeed.

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Formula is not only lacking in nourishment and high in unnecessary toxins, but in pales significantly in comparison to breastmilk and it’s expensive! The sticky, stinky powder will empty your pockets so fast it’ll make your head spin, plus you’ll need bottles, nipples, warmers, bottle cleaner, etc. Something like 97% of the female population can breastfeed successfully so only 3% of you may have trouble. No need for fancy nursing covers either. If you’re shy, say goodbye…and walk away to somewhere peaceful and private. Otherwise, sun’s out? Boobs out!

Babywear

breastfeed, sideline, that girl

A babywearing wrap can be as cheap as $40! Know what’s even cheaper? Fabric. It cracks me up when I’m out in public tying on my ACK Wrap or Happy Wrap and someone comments, “Wow, they didn’t have things like that when I had my babies.” Yes, they did! All over the world people have worn their babies using not much more than a bed sheet or cut of fabric. Tie your baby on and there’s no need for a fancy schmancy stroller.

Cloth Diaper

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Yes, there’s some money up front and it’s suggested to have about 24 diapers to start with, but you could get by with less than that at first and build your way up to more. You’ll just have to do laundry a bit more until baby is using less diapers per day, but the upfront costs of cloth will save you thousands down the road. Get a starter kit of 24 diapers plus diaper pail liners and wet bags from ShopWholeHeart.com

Feed the Baby What You Eat

Jarred baby food costs about $.50 for one little jar, but you may go through 3-5 per day, which adds up to $1.50-2.50 a day, or averaging about $40-60 a month. Yikes! Make your own for a third of that price or, even better, just feed baby from your plate. Around six months baby can start eating soft foods and doesn’t need purees. Mash up that banana, potatoes, avocado, egg yolk, or bone marrow delicacy you’re spreading onto your toast points! Studies show babies who ate what the family ate before two years of age are far less likely to be picky eaters.

Clothes

Hand me downs from...somewhere

Hand me downs from…somewhere

Facebook is your friend! Join local garage sale pages, or swap sites, and post every few months asking for hand me downs. Trust me-people don’t want to go through that big box marked for Goodwill and price everything out to sell you individually. They just want it out of their house. I’ve gotten stuff from Baby Gap, Janie and Jack, even Feather4Arrow for FREE!!!

Bathtime 

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You do NOT need expensive organic soaps and lotions. Babies aren’t dirty and their skin produces natural oils to moisturize and protect. For bath, fold up a towel in the kitchen sink, fill it a little ways with warm water and wash baby off with a washcloth and natural oil (such as coconut oil or almond oil) every few days.

Toys

The best toys for babies and toddlers are “real world” items found around the house. Commercial toys are often overstimulating, which can actually stunt imagination and development rather than enhance it.

  • Create a sensory board using plywood and attach things such as sandpaper, buttons, locks, zippers, old calculators, ribbons, cotton, or various fabrics with different colors and textures.
  • Create a “sandbox” with a large rubbermaid container and cornmeal (safe to injest).
  • Use kitchen utensils like spatulas, ladles, measuring cups, or measuring spoons to play in sand or water.
  • Make shakers with old pill bottles and fill with beans, rice, coins, or beads.
  • Save toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, ribbon, bubble wrap, yarn, egg cartons, and milk jugs. All of these things allow for open ended, creative play.

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I won’t lie to you and say I didn’t splurge on the top of the line baby gear for my babies. I did. My stroller cost more than most people’s first cars (I’m embarassed to admit that); however, at the end of the day it’s not about the stroller, the diaper bag, or the clothes a baby had. It’s all about the love they received!

Stay Gold, 

That Girl

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