House of the Seed

An old petting zoo converted into a school in the jungle of a developing country. Children are barefoot, half dressed, and running amuck. There are no teachers, no whiteboards, no computers, and not a textbook in sight. There is no curriculum and no testing. In fact, it’s unclear who is in charge…if anyone.

This is the school my children will be attending and Im stoked! Why? Because, despite how it may appear to the untrained eye (or through the lenses of first-world glasses), this school is the future. This school is based on brain development, rather than content development. Its focused on a holistic view of the child as an independent, spiritual being, and believes the child is driven innately towards creating, exploring, learning, and loving. It is understood by the adults, who have over thirty-five years “teaching” experience”, that play is not only how children communicate, but it is how they learn. They incorporate learning into daily projects led by the children and provide a Renaissance-esque education for them that no public school in the states could ever provide.

I dreamed of this school a while back, which was either me putting it out into the universe, or the universe bringing it to my attention, but either way, we found each other. The past ten years have been bringing me to it’s doors. My years as a teacher in the public school system witnessing children with anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration built up a disgust for our education system. Listening to fellow teachers complain daily about the poor behavior from students, the lack of drive or ambition students had, the minimal parent support, and the bullying amongst peers in the classroom. I knew the drop out rates were increasing and the college attendance rates were decreasing and when I had my two boys I began experiencing my own level of anxiety about their educational future.

No, I don’t want Montessori, where they practice adult skills every day and learn shapes, letters, and numbers before they’re even three.

No, I don’t want a private school where they’ll likely be surrounded by elitist peers who care more about who’s wearing what and what their daddy’s do for a living.

No, I don’t want the Lord of the Flies preschool where they run around like wild banshees and their emotional needs may be overlooked in the “every man for himself” philosophy.

Then, I discovered the “House of the Seed” school via a mom blog and thought I was still dreaming! It exists! It’s real! A place where children lead their own learning and where culture, arts, and logic are all incoporated into the day. Where children learn to think, rather than memorize! A place set in nature that promotes respect for the environment and helps children understand how to be a part of the world, not just use the world. I fell in love and began begging my husband to take me there so I could see it in action.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to visit in person and I cried! I cried because I watched my boy’s faces light up from the inside and I watched the other children welcome them with open arms and show them things, teaching them without even speaking the same language. I felt I was finally at home and I knew they would thrive in a place like this and that my dreams for them could be realized if I could only get them here.

They can’t technically “attend” until age three, but I can take them daily since we will be living in the community part of the year and I can assist them in their transition and support their learning experiences daily. The leaders of the school encourage parent involvement because they understand the parent-child bond and respect the parent’s role in their child’s ability to learn. Parents enrich the experience rather than hinder it and they’re welcomed daily.

Some naysayers will wonder how children can learn without a clear curriculum or schedule. How can they learn history without a history class or learn literature without taking a Language Arts course? Math is so important to brain development and logical reasoning so how can the students be successful without that? The thing is- they’re learning ALL of this and more every day through projects, activities and play.

For example, while I was there I saw students building an organic garden together. They chose seeds from the kitchen to plant, they learned the different levels and types of soil as they used real gardening tools to prepare each row. They studied various insects before deciding which ones were helpful and which ones may be harmful. Some of the students didn’t care to help with the garden, but instead decided to make signs for it. They went to a construction zone and selected materials, measured, cut, and sanded the wood. Not only are these students learning life lessons, but they’re learning (and applying) science and math skills! They’re also learning about cooperation, communication, teamwork, patience, and nurturing the environment.

All of the materials I saw in the school were designed to provide concrete experience, and reach every type of learner, whether they were visual, kinestheic, or auditory learners. The students were engaged, happy, and self-directed. I loved every magical moment of my time there and can’t wait to go back.

Bonus? When the director noticed my son’s interest in animals and invited us to visit the stables so they could feed and pet the ponies. Winning!

Where is this place? I can’t tell you! I’ll keep this gem a secret in hopes it inspires people to create one in their own community all over the world and ignite change! It’s time to unschool and raise children to be lifelong learners who know how to think rather than memorize.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

We finished up our day with a dunk in the Rio Macheuga! Feeling the earth on your skin is so therapeutic! Dirt, water, sun, air…

Let it Aeroflow

When I found out I was having twins I wasn’t at all surprised. My doctor had told me I had an 80% change of twins before I was even pregnant. I was shocked; however, to find how difficult it is to get everything needed to care for two babies. What do I need? What do I need two of? What can I skimp on? What should I never skimp on? What might I get at my shower? What should I get now so I can have it ready? The nesting and prep for babies is endless of although much if it is fun, much of it is also tedious. One thing I did NOT like dealing with was securing a BREASTPUMP.

First, I crowdsourced a few times on facebook and noone tells you which one is really best, they just recommend the one they used and for all you know it could be super shitty.

Then, I decided dealing with an insurance company is about as much fun as pluking your eyelashes out with dull tweezers so I tried to sidestep that landmine and just buy one off craigslist. It sucked!

Finally, my mother told me I should qualify for one that I could pick up on Target and this is the route I ultimately went although the experience was not as easy as it sounds. Emails, phone calls, forms, standing in line, rejection, and doctor’s Rx needed. No thank you!

I’m kicking myself for not doing more research and finding Aeroflow! Let it go, let Aeroflow!

The Aeroflow Breastpumps Process:

Aeroflow Breastpump makes the process of getting a breast pump covered through your insurance as easy as possible. Our dedicated and informed Breastpump Specialists are here to help you navigate insurance by taking care of all the paperwork, phone calls and prescription requests so you can take it easy. Our team is available by phone, text, or email to answer any questions you have during this exciting time in your life.

To get started, Aeroflow’s qualify through insurance form asks for a few bits of information such as address, due date and insurance provider. Once you submit the form, a dedicated Breastpump Specialist will process your information and give you a call to discuss your options. Aeroflow offers a huge selection of breast pumps for you to choose from, and our Specialists are trained on each and every pump to help you choose the best option for your lifestyle.

We take care of everything, including:

  • Contacting your physician for a prescription
  • Recommending breast pump options based on your lifestyle and breastfeeding goals
  • Informing you if certain resupply options are available under your insurance plan
  • Billing and processing insurance claims for a breast pump
  • Shipping your breast pump to your door, free of charge!

Once you choose your breast pump, we process your order AND ship it to your door. The entire process is totally free! Some insurance plans require that a mom is at a certain point in her pregnancy before she gets her pump, but your Breastpump Specialist will let you know exactly when you can get order placed and will even remind you about your eligibility and benefits when your due date is near if you end up having to wait a bit before ordering your breast pump.

Currently, the Affordable Care Act requires that insurance providers provide breastfeeding support and supplies for lactating mothers. This includes a breast pump! Aeroflow makes it easy to get your pump covered for free under your specific insurance plan, and we also ensure that you get the most out of your benefits. This often includes extra accessories like milk storage bottles.

Here are just a few of the breast pumps offered by Aeroflow:

  • Spectra S2
  • Lansinoh Smartpump
  • Medela Starter Set (That Girl strongly recomends this!)
  • Evenflo Advanced Double Electric

Good news! Aeroflow is currently the exclusive provider of the Motif Duo — a lightweight, super quiet, double electric breast pump that is now available through insurance and cash-pay!

Breast is best, but having a human or two hanging from your boobs ALL day long just ain’t happenin’! Mama needs a break. Pump it, girl! Reach out to Aeroflow now!

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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

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