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How to build on a toddler’s interests: Transportation!


As Carys gets older, we’re trying to build on things she shows us she’s interested in in a low-pressure, play-based way.  We’re hoping that these opportunities will develop into her own self-directed lines of inquiry into whatever subject she finds interesting, whenever she decides she’s ready.

As early as last summer, just after her first birthday, she fell in love with a train set at a hobby store in New Jersey.  Alvin probably would have spent a thousand dollars on the spot, but even the sales guy said she was a bit young… Continue Reading

Crafting Parenting Woodwork & Home Improvement

Time for a playroom tour!

It seems like ages ago (actually, it was ages ago) that I showed you a sneak preview of the play room and promised an update when it was finished.  It’s been pretty well finished for a while but somehow it always seems to be a bit messy, and I’ve seen so many lovely play spaces on Pinterest that I wanted mine to be perfect in the photos too.  Finally I spent five minutes tidying up on Saturday and took some photos while I was waiting for Alvin and Carys to eat their waffles so we could get going for the day – it’s not perfect, but it’s as perfect as it’s gonna get! Continue Reading


Public, Private, and Unschooling: Considering the options


I’ve been doing a lot of reading about homeschooling recently.  Since Carys is only 20 months old it is admittedly a little early, but I do like to be prepared.  I thought you might be interested in a summary and analysis of what I’ve been reading to save you from having to do it all yourself, and also give you the opportunity to dive in where things look interesting to you. (There’s a list of references at the bottom, in case you lose track of them in the text.)

I will say that I’m still formulating my thinking on this topic – it’s early days, and I’m considering a variety of viewpoints (if you have one to offer, please do so!).  I might change my mind, and I’m open to new ideas.

Our Educational Background

Both Alvin and I went to public schools for our primary and high school education.  We both did reasonably well; me in large part because I figured out how to work the system and I’m good at memorization.  It’s not hard for me to remember large chunks of material for short periods of time and even though the English testing system is a little more difficult than the American one (your final grade in a subject comes down to an test or an essay – externally graded by an examination board – that you write on one day at the end of your high school career; if you have a bad day, you’re kind of screwed), I was able to regurgitate what the examiners wanted to hear, and I did well.   Alvin got paid $20 for an A, so that was a different kind of motivation.

I feel somewhat fortunate that I came out of my school experience with a love of learning.  I read voraciously and am always trying new projects and ideas.  I’m not really sure how that happened; the school system certainly didn’t nurture that in me.  If I had to pin down one goal for Carys’ education right now, I’d say it would be to instill in her a lifelong love of learning.

Are Public and Private the only choices?

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Cooking Parenting

Baby-Led Weaning: How (and why) to try it


When I was still pregnant I stumbled on a NYT article with a fabulous quote about the baby food industry:

Jeff Boutelle, chief executive of Beech-Nut Nutrition [a manufacturer of prepared baby food], said, “When I got here a year and a half ago, the common sense was that the category was declining because birthrates were down.

“But I knew that birthrates had stabilized,” he added, “and babies are not getting any thinner.”

“Underlying our problem, there was a silent, pernicious trend going on that no one was really paying much attention to,” he said — mothers making their own food at home.

The mommy blogging machine went nuts over that quote, as I bet you can imagine.  And I sort of figure if there’s a multi-billion dollar industry riding on my decision as a parent, chances are I want to at least investigate how to do things differently.

A few months earlier I visited my friend Michelle in Ottawa (yes, she of the baby sign language advice) and was impressed at her toddler’s eating habits – she ate what the adults ate, at the table with the adults, and sometimes requested snacks between meals: “Daddy, can I have some pineapple?”.  How did Michelle do that?

She told me she’d used baby-led weaning (BLW), which in North America usually means allowing the baby to stop nursing when she is ready, but she had read that in the U.K. it means something entirely different: skipping purees, and introducing baby straight to solid foods.

I was intrigued.

As usual I did a lot of reading around on the topic (this is the classic book), but the basics are pretty simple.  This video explains it nicely, and here’s a lovely video of a child’s skill improving with BLW between 6 1/2 and 10 months.  The basics are: Continue Reading


How Baby Sign Language helped us to avoid tantrums

I first learned about Baby Sign Language from an old friend in Canada (hi, Michelle!) who did it with both of her kids.  I thought it was interesting but the part that really sold me on it was that she said her kids had never had a tantrum as a result of not being able to communicate what they wanted – because they could always just tell her.

I read got a book on it from the library (honestly I can’t remember which one; there are a lot) and learned that there are a lot of processes involved in speaking; the child has to hear the words, the brain needs to understand what they mean, the vocal chords make a sound, and the mouth and tongue have to make the right shapes to make the sounds into words.  It’s pretty complicated stuff and the vocal chord/mouth/tongue coordination is the last part to come, which means that babies can understand language long before they can speak.  The RIE approach to parenting suggests you tell your baby what you’re going to do to him before you do it precisely because the baby understands – this is why a three month-old will stiffen his neck when you say “I’m going to pick you up now” if you say it routinely before picking her up. Continue Reading


Letting kids be kids (Part 2)

“Why is it perfectly acceptable to push children to strive to be better than their friends academically, and publicly praise them when they succeed. But then the opposite is true in the sporting world? No losers on the field, only in the classroom I guess…”

Our friend Micah of Our Fit Family Life posted this comment on his Facebook wall in response to my last post on not pushing kids to learn school lessons (like reading) before they are ready.  This generated a bit of a debate, ranging from “Dude, have you seen Trophy Kids?” to the citation of a quote: “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to to dance better than myself.” – Mikhail Baryshnikov

I’ve spent some time ruminating on this over the last few days, and I’d like to share my thoughts.  I see four things at play here: Continue Reading


Why not let kids be kids?

“Spontaneous reading happens for a few kids. The vast majority need (and all can benefit from) explicit instruction in phonics.”

Apparently this quote popped up on the Twitter feed of Carol Black (of the Schooling the World movie fame); she wrote a long article in response which appeared on my own Facebook feed today.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about new (and new to me) research into how kids learn and how to best support them.  The gist of Black’s very long and interesting article (that you should read, especially if you have kids) is that the American educational system is broken.  “Well duh,” I hear you say.  But the premise is that it’s not just broken in failing to achieve a worthy goal; it’s broken in what it determines that worthy goal to be in the first place.

Parental preference seems to be – and national scholastic standards explicitly state – that not only must children learn specific (reading, writing, math) skills, but they must learn these skills as early as possible to ensure the best possible educational outcomes.  To which I ask, why? Continue Reading


Reggio Emilia Provocations (or, The Value Your Kids Get Out Of Playing With Stuff That’s Free)


When I started my research on how on earth I was we were going to raise this kid, I discovered the RIE approach to parenting for the under-two set (I say “I was” because, really, I’m the one doing the research here).  RIE advocates a respectful way to parent even the smallest babies, but its recommendations end at around age two – when the toddler is rather more able to stick up for herself, and when perhaps the parent doesn’t need reminding quite so often to be respectful (perhaps because the toddler is talking back and demanding it by now?:-)).

I discovered Reggio Emilia about a year ago and put it on hold for a while because Carys wasn’t really old enough but, folks, the time has come.

Reggio Emilia Provocation Sticks Stones Pine Cones

Reggio Emilia  isn’t so much about parenting generally (as we already have our foundation on that front, even if RIE will shortly officially ‘run out’), but rather an approach to preschool and primary education.  A teacher named Loris Malaguzzi in the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy, developed it shortly after the Second World War as part of a shift toward child-led education, and it has since become quite popular in many places around the world.  There is no Reggio Emilia Training School by which all official Reggio teachers must be certified – rather, it is a concept that anyone can use and apply in whatever way is most applicable to them.

Kate over at An Everyday Story has a really nice detailed description of what Reggio is (and isn’t); the essential components most relevant to us are: Continue Reading


Hold On to Your Kids (and three actions you can do today to increase your connection with your kids)


Hold on to your KidsA worthy goal for parenting teenagers: to have your kid be the one who says “you know, my friends think it’s weird how much I confide in you.”

I get ideas for my reading list from all over the place; when I hear about a book I think might be worth reading I hop on over to the library’s website and place a hold on the book.  By the time I get the notification that it’s in I’ve usually forgotten where I first found it or who recommended it, and I start reading with no preconceived ideas about what I’m about to dive into – this was the case with Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, although it’s written from Neufeld’s perspective alone.

The premise is that kids are increasingly becoming peer-oriented rather than adult-oriented: Continue Reading

Parenting Reading

Last Child in the Woods: Why your kid needs the outdoors

Last Child In The WoodsRichard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods has been on my reading list for a long time; I never seemed to get around to it because I felt like I probably already agreed with it in principle so why not skip straight to the ‘what to do about it’ books?  I’ve been reading some of those too (more to come in future posts) but over Christmas I finally got my act together – and I was glad I did.

Take this excerpt, in which Louv describes a conversation between a youth from Los Angeles who was sent to spend two weeks with Native Americans in Ketchikan, Alaksa as an alternative to jail time:




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Environmental Impacts Parenting

Cloth Diapers or Disposables? How to choose the one that will reduce your environmental impact the most


“Wait, you work in sustainability consulting?  And you use disposable diapers?”

Nobody has ever actually had the courage to say this to me, but they think it.  Or at least I imagine they do.

Anyway, yes – I work in sustainability consulting and my daughter wears disposable diapers.  Specifically, in my work I use a tool called Life Cycle Assessment, which helps us to understand the environmental impacts of a product or service from raw material extraction through manufacturing, consumer use, and disposal – so we can make better choices about the products we make and use.

This article may be a bit different from all the others I’ve seen on this topic in that I don’t come with an agenda.  I don’t believe you must use either cloth or disposable diapers to reduce your environmental impact – a much better question is ‘what environmental impact is most important to you?’ I’ll give you the data to help you decide which impact to prioritize, and thus which type of diapers may work best for you.  Because – and here’s the kicker – neither is clearly better for the environment than the other, so it’s up to you to apply your own principles to the available data to make your own choice.

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Making Stuff