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

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

 

I Already Miss This

When you’re a mom, everyone tells you to “enjoy every moment” and how “it goes by so fast”. I’ve only ever wanted to be a mom so I have breathed in every moment and treasured each day, but this doesn’t stop time from racing by at warp speed. When I was pregnant I told myself I’d document everything, fill photo books, and date each milestone, but then they arrive and you find yourself spinning in circles trying to catch your breath and suddenly they’re almost through their first year of life and you know there are already things you’ve forgotten they did that were so wonderful and hundreds of moments you already miss. 

I already miss…and never want to forget…

chelsea vail with vail twins

  • The way Cannon would wake up the entire neighborhood with his pterodactyl sounds after he first found his voice
  • How Cash would hold his eyes open as if falling asleep meant life or death
  • Taking a bath with him because they were tiny enough we all three fit in the tub together
  • Sneaking into bed next to their tiny Snugglenests and smelling their sweet breath, hearing their grunts and groans as they slept
  • I miss the tearless cries and toothless mouths
  • Nursing them in the tub
  • Cash used to get the hiccups ’round the clock & I loved the way he’d cling to me like a baby monkey with each jolt
  • The way they’d grunt like zombies and Cannon would smack his tummy or beat his chest demanding more food
  • The look on Cash’s face when he rolled over for the first time which scared the hell out of him
  • The way bashful Cannon used to put his cheek to his shoulder and look up at strangers as if he knew what a Gerber baby he was
  • Wearing them in my ACK wrap knowing they’d fall asleep in a matter of minutes with their head on my chest

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  • Nursing them and watching them search desperately for each other’s hands and seeing the relief when they found each other
  • Taking hour long naps with one (or sometimes both) snuggled in to my side or asleep on the breast
  • The way Cash would pet my face or stroke my hair as he fought sleep
  • Bundling them up in their Woombie swaddles and seeing them inch towards each other to spoon all night
  • Cannon talking to himself in his carseat mirror like he’d found his best friend
  • Cash kicking his legs wildly in the tub

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  • Their sweet chubby faces peeking out from under their Walrus or Hippo hooded towels
  • The excitement when they heard Rafi’s “Day-O” song the first time
  • Cash’s huge smile and sly giggle when I’m cleaning countertops
  • The way Cannon’s jowls rest on his carseat straps
  • Cash losing his voice from making zombie noises all night
  • The snuggles in the morning…heads on my shoulder
  • Sleeping next to Cannon from 4am-6am and kissing his juicy lips when he wakes up
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  • Cash log rolling from end to end on the bed attempting to dive off before we catch him
  • Wrestling them both after bath wondering when it was they stopped laying there letting me massage them
  • Biting their “biscuits” during diaper changes and hearing them laugh hysterically
  • Chasing them room to room and scaring them so bad they levitate and crack up laughing
  • Cash’s face on the swings

This list will only continue to grow and grow and grow as their personalities develop and as we experience more of this beautiful life together. I could choose to be sad as I think of days gone by, or I could focus on how wonderful it is that there’s even more of this to come. Their hands will not always be so small and chubby, but I’ll always have them to hold. Their feet will one day stomp instead of pitter patter, but the sound of them in my home will always be music to my ears. Their mouths will one day kiss a woman they’ve fallen in love with instead of me, but…their hearts will have always been mine first. Twice blessed, forget the rest.

Stay gold, That Girl

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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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