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School Schmool

Photo Credit: Cienpies Design from http://www.sxc.hu

I’m all for homeschooling, just let me know which ‘home’ I should drop my children off at.

Today was the Bear’s first day of public school. Although, according to Tom Hodgkinson of The Idle Parent, homeschooling would be preferable. There are many homeschooling parents out there who are advocates of bypassing the system in order to better engage in child-directed learning or perhaps avoid some of the negative outcomes that the ‘system’ can produce.

Alas, I’m more of a work-for-change-within-the-system kinda gal. I’m also more than happy to have some child/parent separation. Therefore, enrolling the Bear in our local community public school was a no-brainer. And, no, there were no tears shed this morning as we dropped her off.

I think it is interesting how slow parenting has become inextricably linked with shunning the so-called shackles of the school structure. I understand the desire to have more control over your day so that you can offer children downtime, a chance for free play and child-directed learning opportunities. However, I wonder if homeschooling can also be a recipe for developing helicopter parents – parents are so intent on overseeing their children’s education that they have a hard time letting the kids develop independence. I do think that slow parenting can be accomplished by both the homeschoolers and public education supporters. At the same time, either type of parent can be prone to hyper parenting.

Here is how I hope public schooling will support my children. And I do say ‘support’ as there are many influences to an individual’s education.

1. I hope the education system supports my children in becoming literate. Sounds obvious, but all learning hereafter stems from my children being accomplished readers and writers.

2. I hope the education system inspires them to be self-learners. Afterall, if you’re motivated and resourceful you can really learn anything throughout life.

3. I hope the education system inspires them to be creative. Because I’m a big believer that ingenuity is the key ingredient in any definition of success.

4. And finally, but most importantly, I hope that the education system supports my children in becoming critical thinkers. Because, I want my kids to be critics of the systems they will inevitably be part of.

Beyond these four hopes, I think the rest is just icing on the cake.

I also want to add that many of the public school critics I have read come from Britain and America (I recently watched Waiting for Superman which documented the American system). The Canadian school system, while not without issues and critics, is fortunately one of the best ‘systems’ in the world to resign oneself to!

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Show What You Grow

Photo Credit: aidswarrio on http://www.sxc.hu

Looking for a family activity this weekend? You might want to check out the Show What You Grow event at Fort Edmonton Park.

This event is put on by the Edmonton Horticultural Society to celebrate the end of the growing season. This is a great way to get inspired about local food and see what others grow and preserve from their own garden. This year, the show has made a special effort to demonstrate how gardening can be fun and interesting for both parents and children.

Saturday, Aug. 27 from 2:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 28 from 9:00 – 6:00 p.m.

The event is free with admission to Fort Edmonton Park. AND everyone who enters the show gets a complimentary entry to Fort Edmonton Park during the harvest festival weekend!

The Benefits of a Little Suffering

Mount Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier in Jasper National Park

The Bear needed to go to the bathroom. It was our second last day in the mountains and we were far from any sort of conventional bathroom. Not a problem. She set off for the nearest tree. I watched her hold onto branches for support then look around for leaves to use as pseudo toilet paper.

It’s odd what moments you feel pride as a parent. But I did feel proud. There was no complaining, no hesitation in what she needed to do. In a short week, she had learned how get over this hurdle just like the many others before it.

We’ve just returned from a holiday in the mountains (the reason why I haven’t blogged in a while). We spent our time with a mixture of family and friends seeing familiar and not-so-familiar sites through the Rockies.

The Bear admirably rose to the occasion. We calculated that our little five-year-old hiked between one and two kilometers every day without complaint. Even Banana developed a distaste of the hiking backpack that we brought for her. And on our return trip from Mount Edith Cavell, Banana walked the whole way back on her own.
The girls slept in a tent in near freezing conditions. They awoke to watch their breath hanging in the air and put on their mittens and touques before having breakfast. Again, no complaints. They marveled at the insects, used outhouses unquestioningly, dusted off their bodies when they tumbled in the dirt and ignored the tree sap that seemed to make their hands forever sticky.

It can be difficult to justify this holiday as ‘fun’ to people who have never camped or who dislike hiking. To people who say they are ‘afraid’ of insects or who don’t like to get dirty. Because, yes, it is a little uncomfortable. But there are benefits to a little suffering.

When pushed into the unknown, into a state of discomfort, or being forced to suffer a little, one learns to be flexible and creative. One is forced to adapt, forced to come up with new ways of being. The kids don’t question this state. They accept the condition as fact and acclimatize quickly.

And the benefits? In short, children learn to be resilient. In fact, the scholars call this resilience theory.

As parents, we do our children a favour when we remove their cushy surroundings. We force them into an adaptive state so that they can find their inner creativity and resourcefulness. They learn to rely on themselves and discover new levels of confidence. They toughen up.

No, I’m not a malicious or vindictive parent. But there are benefits to a little bit of suffering. And you know what? As parents we benefit too. It’s feels good to remind yourself what your body and spirit are capable of.

Just So You Know, The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You

Photo credit: Caltiva Creatividad from http://www.sxc.hu

One of the tenets of slow parenting is to be less child-centric. That is, parents need to merely acknowledge, not immerse, themselves in the ebb and flow of children’s lives. For example, let your child play soccer, but don’t let them expect you to be there for every game.

In child-centric families, the children, not the parents, rule the home. The warning is that child-centric families create little princes and princesses – children who believe that they are the center of the universe. These are children who believe their opinions matter as much as a 30-year-old. We are told that child-centric homes create narcissistic children who can’t function by themselves in a world that has more barriers than they perhaps realized.

In theory, I understand this. But as always, being less child-centric is easier said than done. As a mother of young children, my life has been uprooted and twisted around in order to accommodate them. My routine depends on my children’s routines. And any decision that I make is dependent on my children’s schedule.

I also think that there are elements of child-centrism in many of today’s parenting trends that I have come to believe are important. For example, attachment parenting philosophy could be criticized as being very child-centric. And so could the progressive ideas of how children learn – how one should follow the child’s interests and lines of questioning rather than a pre-determined curriculum. Really, all very child-centric.

So how does one avoid being child-centric when we are also a society that [purportedly] believes in the best for the next generation?

As the summer winds down, I’ve felt the child-centric issue more acutely. Both the Banana and the Bear seem to cling to me (which I hate) since we’ve been around each other SO much these last two months. There have been so many times where I have been very to the point about the fact that I need to do something or we (as a family) will be doing things such-and-such a way. This is despite the fact that the Bear or Banana want to do something very different.

And maybe that’s the solution. To let their needs and wants be acknowledged but not always give into them; to not be afraid to expose them to adversity but always be there as support…

My New Play Guidelines

There are times when I will not play with my children. Seriously, there are children’s games that I simply do not have the patience for. For example, I will never be a person who can play ‘pretend’ with children for hours on end. I simply can’t stand it. I will not have tea parties with them or play dress up.

I’ve started to feel that there isn’t anything wrong with admitting this. If play is supposed to be fun, then I need to be having fun too. And I don’t have fun playing ‘school’ for an hour with a five-year-old and nearly two-year-old. There are some parents who do enjoy these activities. That’s great, but it’s not me.

Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of activities that I do enjoy doing with girls. We do play together. But I’ve stopped trying to force myself to enjoy all their games. Instead, I make sure that I participate in games that are fun for me too. I enjoy colouring with the Bear, for example. And I love exploring and discovering nature with them – like a recent trip when I helped them catch about 20 leeches from the lake.

Here are my new play guidelines:

1. If I’m not having fun, I don’t push myself to endure the activity.
2. I make an effort to do things with the girls that we all enjoy.
3. I try to come up with activities that they love, but are combined with getting things done. Hence, bath time for the stuffies. Pete (the sheep in the picture) is Banana’s favourite. He gets filthy as she drags him everywhere. So I made the animals a bubblebath in the backyard and the girls washed their animals. Ta-da, playtime that also accomplishes something. Best activity ever!

Slow Down – Rethink E-mail

Photo Credit: Dan Mulligan from http://www.sxc.hu

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m not as fastidious about returning e-mails as the rest of the population. And I’m not all that apologetic. I don’t have a new I-anything that allows me to access my e-mail en-route. In fact, I wouldn’t want such a device if it were given to me for free. Instead, I read and respond to e-mail on a computer – when I have time. And sometimes, this means that I don’t respond to e-mail for a day or two. I deliberately use e-mail this way. I don’t want to e-mail to rule my life; I want it to be a complementary communication method to my days.

I know, I know, there are all the technology addicts out there who can’t imagine their life without their e-mail on their phone and the constant tweets and beeps that make them feel connected. But the misuse of e-mail demands that we speed up communications so that we don’t really connect with people as thoughtfully or as meaningfully as we may like.

My attitude towards e-mail was reinforced the other day when I heard Chris Anderson, curator of TED talks, interviewed on CBC’s program, Q. He is quoted as saying that e-mail is a “giant rats nest of voracious demands on our time, energy and sanity.” He states that as long as it takes longer to respond to an e-mail than to send it, this mode of communication will be ineffective. He has created an e-mail charter to help people use e-mail in a more efficient way. Go read it and consider signing it.

Communication technology is one of those allusive, ever-changing arrangements between people. It can keep us bound to devices more than people. And ultimately, it can keep us working and interacting at lightening speed. If we want to slow our lives down, we need to stop expecting immediacy when we connect with technology.

Still not convinced? Here’s a teaser for a great CBC documentary titled Are We Digital Dummies? Or, watch the full episode here.

Strawberry Days

Banana 'helping' pick strawberries

I just want to say that I have had the yummiest week! The girls and I went strawberry picking on Tuesday to ELKS Farm. It is so close to Edmonton (just north of St. Albert), the owners were kind and the farm was very child-friendly. The Bear and Banana snacked their way through the rows of strawberries while I picked. We purchased $25 worth of strawberries – a price that I have no problem paying since the girls ate up so many berries.

Then it was jam-making time. We had enough strawberries to do three batches. I did a conventional strawberry jam and one that combined the raspberries from our backyard with the strawberries. Then we got creative by adding mint from our garden with lemon zest and pepper. The recipe is listed below.

If this is slow parenting, I’m in my element. The farm was beautiful and it was so great to get out of the city. We even caught a frog among the strawberry bushes. The girls were exposed to that all-important element of slow food – know where your food comes from. And there is so much satisfaction in creating from scratch. As I gobbled up warm leftover jam on homemade bread last night (one of the many reasons I will never be skinny!), I was moved by the fact that I was eating something completely pure, local and all of my creation. And the taste, well, it is indescribable.

Strawberry Jam with Mint, Pepper and Lemon Zest

2 pounds sliced strawberries (approximately 6 cups sliced)
lemon zest from one lemon
2/3 cup lemon juice (I squeezed juice from the lemon and then topped it up)
1 box (57 grams) of pectin
4 3/4 cups sugar
8 large mint leaves, hand shredded (or about ¼ cup shredded leaves)
2 tsp ground pepper

Instructions
1. Prepare canning jars. Directions are here.
2. Bring strawberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, and pectin to a boil in thick-bottomed pot until pectin is dissolved.
3. Add sugar and stir constantly. Jam should get to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil hard for 1 minute.
4. Skim off foam.
5. Add mint and pepper
6. Ladle into jars and secure seals and rings. Place jars back into water bath and boil for 10 minutes. Take jam from water bath without tilting (use canning tongs) and let rest for 24 hours.


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