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I’ve regurgitated this post from one I wrote over at HDYDI.com. Because I can.
As mid-August approaches, I join a few million other people in my city as we brace ourselves for the onslaught of School Traffic. In the meantime, I’ve noticed an uptick of posts in both my neighborhood parents and my Mothers of Multiples group forums related to school issues and childcare. And I guess it’s because I have kids now that back-to-school has me thinking about more than just highway congestion and school zones, but also about developing our parenting/education philosophies and future intentions.
And though what I’m about to say surely is full of sweeping generalizations and un-unstudied opinion on education systems, I feel that public schools have become all about teaching-to-the-test with a visible reduction or elimination in subject matter such as physical education, art, and music. Do I think any and all public schools are horrible? No. But I do think that public schools focus on one, maybe two types of learning styles.
So what are the alternatives? Well, there are private schools with expanded curriculum. Yet for us, by virtue of tuition, there’s the…Cost Of Tuition. How the heck do people afford it? And with more than one child? Though to me, the bigger cost of private education is limiting access to the demographic and socio-economic fabrics that make up our larger community. The ones we’ll turn them loose on in twelve years, expecting them to live and work together.
There’s public and private magnet schools, but goodness, so many Labels and compartmentalization and boxing like “the math kid” or the “health careers kid” or the “performing arts kid”. I was lucky (that’s not the right word), to have been labeled Gifted from an early age. (Clearly, somebody screwed up!) I say “lucky” because I have been witness to kids being treated differently depending on if they are “regulars” students or “honors” students. Though I can’t quote directly, I do know there are studies that prove this to be true. In my experience, it meant that I was encouraged to think freely, more easily forgiven when I didn’t conform, and given more say in what courses I took. The very type of individualization that would be beneficial to so many, but is often limited to not enough. Gifted kids are excused their ‘genius’ when the same actions by an underperformer merely gets them labeled as trouble. That kinda didn’t have anything to do with magnet schools, but I’m thinking out loud here anyway.
Oh, and homeschooling. At its best, kids get immersed in their environment and learning is a natural process with appropriate amounts of structure and double doses of discipline from both the parent and child to make it work. Backers say kids are smarter, do better in college, and know better how to deal with all kinds of people and situations. Detractors say they don’t get socialized appropriately or that the parents are granola wackos and religious extremists. With unlimited financial resources, and should I notice either of my children to have learning styles that don’t correlate with the more traditional auditory learning and/or reading/writing preference-learning, we’d lean more towards the option of homeschooling rather than the current local public school system. And I consider myself pretty middle of the road.
Speaking of which, being that our kids are ONLY SIXTEEN MONTHS OLD, our ‘middle of the road’ will be Montessori school, probably entering sometime between 18-24 months. At this age, with two working parents, we’re still in a situation where we have to pay for childcare, so I’m less inclined to get worked up about shelling out money for ‘schooling’ at this time. We like Montessori because it fosters self-directed learning, but still offers some structure. And more importantly, encourages independence, respectful treatment of others, and integration as respected individuals in the environment in which they live, and PLAY. It’s a lot of work and a lot more messy, but we strive to do things in a “Montessori way” at home, too. Once we hit Kindergarten or 1st grade age, I’m not sure what we’ll do, or even what our finances will allow.
No matter which educational methodology we approach and ultimately choose, there are pros and cons to all of them. None of them are perfect. And we as parents have equal (if not more) responsibility to continue their education outside the walls of any school. I mean, I find it to be Jennifer’s and my responsibility to teach things like manners and learning that there is a world outside ourselves, and a sense of community, and spiritual development, and fostering self-confidence without self-absorption. I suppose in the end, we are required to do what’s best for us and our child(ren), studying them for their learning styles, getting involved with educators without becoming that parent. After all, we have to be the change we want to see. I just wish the process didn’t come with so damn many variables! And wait lists! And residential zoning requirements!
If your kids are young like mine, have you begun considering what’s important to you and what’s not as it relates to education? If you’ve hit the Kinder/1st grade era, what kind of environment are your kids in? What was your thought process? Are they thriving or have you had to tweak things? If you have older kids, say upper junior high or middle school, have you been pleased with your choices? Would you have done anything differently?
I’m not sure who made the rule that child-size items had to be so chunky and loud colored. Utensils, for example. On many products, the edges are so rounded that the fork can hardly stab through any food. And those that are stainless steel seem to have weirded out wavy handles that look nothing like what we’ll expect them to use appropriately within a couple of years.
I suppose if my kids needed motivation or colorful distractions to eat, I might be more a fan of the retail ware, but have you seen our kids’ stats? They are obviously not strangers to food! Oh sure, for trips out during or around meals, we take our fair share of take and toss utensils, but when we’re at home, I love the child-size flatware by Oneida.
They’re a perfect size for small hands, approximately four-and-a-half inches long, pictured above next to a grown up fork. We purchased ours (set of 5 forks and 5 spoons) from the Michael Olaf Montessori online store for $27.00. I did a search on the internet and you can also find them on Amazon.
I may have mentioned no less than a thousand times that we’re really striving to develop and foster independence in our kids, and this includes respecting their participation at mealtime by having dinnerware not unlike Mommy and Matou’s.
This includes what the drink from. We never used traditional sippy cups, instead transitioning from cups with lids and straws to, around nine months of age, these open-top 5oz tumblers made by Carlisle Foodservice Products. Less than four inches tall, they are the perfect size for tiny hands to manage.
A curious thing happens, too. They are more intent and careful – for the most part – with the open top cups. Whereas with the flip straw cups elicit more carelessness, I guess because when they’re tossed to the ground, there is no consequence other than for mom to pick it up.
This is not to say they always place the cup back on the table, or that it is done so without spills, or that they don’t sometimes blow bubbles into the cup, or stick their fork in the cup, or drop blueberries into their water and go “UH! OH!”. BECAUSE ALL THOSE THINGS HAPPEN.
But we do minimize spills by pouring only enough liquid into the cup for them to manage readily. And they are getting better and better. It has also given us a chance to teach and reinforce the signs for “more” and “please” and “thank you”. And since they only drink milk or water, we’ve worked on the use of the words “milk” and “agua”. All good practical life experience for us.
We picked ours up at AceMart, an area restaurant supply store, for…wait for it…FIFTY CENTS EACH. Check your local restaurant supply store, or find them in their online store, here.
Schleich is a German toy and figurine producer, headquartered in Germany, with the majority of their sales in Europe, though Canadian and American sales are growing. Their toys are modeled from nature, and meticulously handpainted. They are beautiful, and lifelike, except for the size, of course. Schleich makes many figurines including farm, wild, and sea animals.
While we don’t strictly adhere to Montessori principles, there is much I conceptually agree with, including that play and work objects should provide a real sense of the world (when possible) and that when introducing an object, it is better to introduce first the Real Thing prior to showing a two-dimensional or caricature of Said Object. This is not always practical, but, for example, we pulled out the Whale after a trip to Sea World and seeing Shamu.
And I don’t know, but given the choice, aren’t Schleich’s walrus and penguin far superior than the ones here? Oh, we have those too, mind you, I’m just saying these are far more beautiful and realistic.
They are not cheap. This here lamb (sized 5.7 x 2.5 x 4.5 cm) was $2.49 and the killer whale (sized 22.0 x 9.3 x 9.8 cm) was $12.99. Almost all the animals are between 2-6 inches and most are in the $6-$8 range. So yeah, multiply that times God’s creation and you could spend a fortune if you wanted to. However, we see these as long-term, multi-purpose toys.
When it wasn’t hot as hell outside, we’d go to the zoo and then reinforce object permanence by identifying the animals at home. We also use them to describe colors (look at the brown cow! this is a black and white whale!), and to mimic the animals’ sounds. Well, some of them anyway. I mean, the hippo? No. By the way, you should hear Harper’s lion or Mateo’s monkey sounds. Could make a hardened criminal pee his pants.
In the coming months, we can use to practice sorting as in farm or woodland or sea life. They can certainly identify them now (Mateo, go get me the Alligator), though naming will come as their language explodes. And we’ll be able to work in classification during play like putting all the different cats together and the horses together. Like blocks, these will truly grow with the child(ren) and provide for hours of imaginative play when the time comes. So… Yeah. Worth it to us.
We’re in collection mode, picking up a couple every few months. I think since I took those pictures a while back, Grandma added a camel and another horse. We have purchased most of ours from the online store and Grandma finds them at an educational toy store in her area. If you prefer to see in person before you buy, you can find a reasonably decent collection at your local Target, or you can find an authorized retailer in your area by using Schleich’s retailer search. Raaaahhhrrrr!
I spent quite a bit of time researching which blocks to get. I know, shocker. We finally decided on a starter set called the Barclay Blocks Premium Maple Baby Wooden Unit Block Kit A (on the Barclay site known as “BAB07/BABKIT-Version AA”), which consists of 43 pieces in 19 shapes. We purchased ours from KidBean.com, an eco-friendly website, for just under $77. Yes, that’s about $1.77 per block and that seems outrageous, but here’s the thing: AMORTIZATION.
By no means do I assume that higher price equals higher quality, but in the case of wood blocks, its just true. And I don’t mind paying a lot for something that will last a long time. Quality blocks have always been expensive, but if you calculate the amount of play for the dollar, they are actually quite inexpensive. Kids will develop some interest in blocks around a year – holding the shapes, feeling the texture, figuring out what a triangle tastes like. As the months and years pass, they’ll stack them, identify them, and later build elaborate structures from their imaginations. We’re talking easily 8 years of entertainment, if not more. And that comes out to less than a buck a month.
A week before the kids’ party, I was telling my dad that we had ordered these blocks as a first birthday present. He offered to write a check for the blocks, which we gladly accepted. Saved him a trip, and it purchased a quality toy we wanted for the kids. Ka. Ching.
Also, not all wood is wood, and if it says “hardwood”, they might be lying. Some manufacturers of wood blocks aren’t selling wood blocks at all. It’s pressed particleboard. And that’s why they sell so cheap. If you’re looking for blocks to serve a short-term purpose and you don’t mind having to toss them out and buy new ones later, then by all means get the cheap stuff. For example, we bought a pressed “wood” dresser from Ikea awhile back for less than $100. I don’t expect it to last forever, but IT IS SERVING ITS SHORT-TERM PURPOSE. Blocks, though? We want to be able to watch our grandkids play with them.
Some manufacturers tout that their blocks are “hardwood”, when in fact they are not. Don’t be fooled. There are lots of different kinds of wood but Barclay blocks are made from high quality wood and our premium blocks have been made from hand picked American Rock Maple.
Some manufactuers produce so many other products they just can’t be bothered with quality WORKMANSHIP. They might lack uniformity in the cuts, or use softer woods vulnerable to blemishes and splintering. Barclay blocks are not coated with anything, have rounded corners, and they are hand-sanded on the ends and edges. Barclay’s has an unconditionally guarantee and they are so sure as to workmanship and materials that they will replace cracked or broken blocks for free.
We keep our blocks stored in a cotton gauze drawstring produce bag nestled in a toddler-level bookshelf in the living room. I chose these bags because they are thin (offering transparency to the kids to see what is in the bag), durable (can be machine washed), and multi-functional (we can use them for their intended purpose at any time).
At 12-13 months, we enjoy watching the kids stack two to three blocks. But mostly, they enjoy knocking down the things we build. I like toys that inspire imagination from within, instead of some prescribed way of doing things. Blocks will allow them to play freely, and will assure them smaller bruises as they take to throwing things at one another.
You can find reviews of our other favorite products at the bottom of this post over yonder.
Although we’ve had electricity at our home since last Wednesday, we still don’t have cable, phone, or internet access at home. Which is fine, really, because Comcast’s rates are so absurd as it is that it’ll be a nice break from a full-month’s bill from them. Speaking of which, do you know if you call to change your service in any way, they CHARGE you for the phone call? Don’t even get me started.
Work is really busy. One of the hats I wear is as risk manager, and needless to say, with properties affected by both Gustav and Ike, I’m swamped. Oh, and did I mention I am also on the Garage Sale Committee for our area’s Mother’s Of Multiples sale October 17? I decided one of my contributions would be to create an online volunteer scheduling system using subscription based software in order to reduce the amount of time swallowed up by any one individual having to do this manually via phone calls and excel spreadsheets. And to prevent any accusations of favoritism for the more popular shifts. I had no idea parenthood was a lot like junior high.
So this is the best my September posting is going to get, until I can find some time.
We arrived to San Antonio late in the evening on September 11, ahead of Hurricane Ike’s anticipated path through urban Houston, where we reside. We took enough clothing for three days, not expecting we’d end up there for a total of ten.
The next day, we went to the hospital where my mom works. We told her we’d take the kids so her co-workers could see in person two of the five little creatures she speaks of incessantly between bringing people back to life and taking out their intubation tubes. After a brief visit, you know, because they’re kinda busy making sure people stay alive post-surgery, we left and went to my dad’s house.
This was the first time my dad had seen the babies since the week after their birth. And Tato especially was mesmerized. I don’t know if it was the tone of his voice, the resemblence of his bald head to his own, or the captivating ponytail that had him hooked.
Later that evening, we went to Alamo Cafe on IH-10 and pretty much took up the whole center of one side of the restaurant. I commend the staff for not flinching when we asked for a table for twelve: 4 infants, 1 toddler, and 7 adults.
Much of that night, we watched the drama unfolding on the Weather Channel regarding the projected path and coundown to landfall of Hurricane Ike. But some time around 11:00, I decided enough was enough, said my prayers for those affected, and went to bed.
The next morning, I started mapping out plans to return to Houston to assess any damage. But mostly to clean out the refrigerators and freezers. I knew we probably didn’t have power, which was confirmed via text message from our neighbors who rode out the storm at home. Neither Jennifer nor my mother wanted me to return, but I just remembered the refrigerator stories from friends who went through Hurricane Katrina, and I just didn’t want to have to deal with rotting food and otherwise perfectly good refrigerators that had to be thrown out. Granted, we had friends who had keys to our home, but they had enough going on with water and wind damage to their OWN home. Plus, you always want to check things out for yourself. As a compromise to my mother’s paranoid concerns regarding safety, my dad went with me. I didn’t take any pictures, but I did take some video which you can see here and here. But fair warning, you should take a dose of dramamine before watching these, or a shot of tequilla, or whatever it is you do for motion sickness.
My sister-in-law, who is still on maternity leave, mentioned that she was going to Stroller Strides the morning of September 15. And since we were all ready to get out of the house, we decided to crash the stroller striding party, or as Jennifer calls it, the Diaper Derby. Not only did we attend this in a different city, but we came with twins, and we were two-mommies at that. Everyone was welcoming (and in already great shape). The class totally kicked my ass. Enough to think about the fact that I still need to lose weight and exercise. But not apparently enough to take further action.
As working mom’s, and because Jennifer works on Saturday’s, there is little occasion to start something new and do it together. So we took advantage of being stay-at-home parents and tried rice cereal with the kids a couple weeks before we originally anticipated. Which is fine, really, because it’s not like we were giving them the keys to the car or anything. They both took the Eat-First-Ask-Questions-Later approach and seemed to like it enough. Towards the end, Tato really just wanted the damn bottle. His words, not mine.
Jennifer had set the cup down on Carpet’s tray table and she immediately picked it up. I’d insert something snippy here about her raging independence, but that would be self-incriminating.
On Saturday, September 20 (yes, we were STILL THERE!), we took a drive out to the Shops at La Cantera, a wonderful outdoor shopping center not too far from my mom or sister’s homes. And I qualify “not too far” with the fact that we live in Houston, and if you can get to your destination within 30 minutes of your house, it’s considered “close by”. Whereas for locals, our “close by” would be considered the other side of town.
Later, we went to Rudy’s BBQ, a delicious picnic table joint just north of town. This was the RJBs’ first trip to Rudy’s but since I didn’t have my camera with me, I took it with my poor-quality-camera-function on my Blackberry. Still, how cute are they with that BBQ sauce!?
The next day, Carpet was especially chipper at the inception of meltdown time, that section of time between 6pm and bathtime that can send their heads spinning. So I just snapped a shot of her on the bebe chair just before bath time.
And here’s a photo of Tato, with eyes that draw you in. Or at least they do me.
We returned to Houston early morning of Monday, September 22. We dropped the kids off at the montessori school around 8:30, then Jennifer dropped me off at work around 9:00. My dad had driven in the day prior to set up the generator my boss let me borrow now that he had power. He also set up a small window a/c unit that one of the neighborhood kids’ group families had let us borrow, since they, too, had power. Jen went home to finish helping and to get everything ready for baths and bedtime so that when we got home with the kids, it would be a seamless transition for them.
Thankfully, we had only two evenings of sleeping without power in house. The generator kept the nursery cool and the guest room that we stayed in sufficiently cool with a fan. After putting the kids down to bed, we’d go upstairs to wash bottles and eat dinner. It was 90 degrees in the house. And if you moved VERY VERY SLOWLY, it actually wasn’t that bad. It did, however, have a way of making you feel like you were trying to take a breath of air with a mid-sized vehicle sitting on your chest.
Power was restored at our house on Wednesday, September 24th. Being that we’re only home a few hours a day, it took us a couple more days to get almost back to normal. Just in time to go pick up my mom and sister from the airport so they could attend the twins’ Baptism. Jennifer’s mother and grandmother also came in from Louisiana. And we were joined by several other family members, both of origin and chosen. And while at least the Baptism will be a separate post that I hope to write before they are one-year olds, I conclude with this lovely photo of us and my second neck, framed by their godparents, Karin (l) and Alli (r). It was a blessed event and lunch at our home afterwards, more of which I’ll share soon.
As I previously mentioned, the Montessori school was closed on Tuesday due to a hypochondriatic reaction to Tropical Storm Edouard. So what’s two mom’s to do with a day at home with the kids? Make your daughter’s hair into a dorsal fin and video, of course.
A couple weeks ago we started looking for alternate arrangements for childcare for the RaJenBabies. This was because the other place we had planned to put them, THE PLACE WE SECURED TWO SPOTS FOR IN FEBRUARY, flaked out again, delaying our entry date. Plans for their expansion were on hold pending city inspections and no one from the infant room had become mobile enough to move up to the next class BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!
Change of plans? The thing you planned isn’t what will actually happen? We said we’d be there at 10:30 and didn’t get there until 10:50? WITH TWINS, CURVE BALLS ARE SO PREDICTABLE.
We got on the phone, made a couple calls, and suddenly, two places that had waiting lists a year long in January had two entries available. A lot can change in seven months. The third place, the one we really wanted, wasn’t open so we got on a waiting list there. Could be one month, could be ten, but that’s ultimately where we’ll move them. And let me go off on a branch of tangents here and say that, unlike what I previously thought, Waiting Lists are not just for those rich New York people, the one’s whose nannies are banging the unfaithful husband’s on Law & Order SVU. No, those waiting lists happen for regular people like us, middle of the middle-class typical two-mom family in a urban area, trying to get into what I’m pretty sure is your average school.
One of the two places that had availability was a Montessori school. It took some reading up on, but, for example Montessori schools don’t use sippy cups. As soon as the babies are big enough to sit on their own, that they teach the little ones to drink from a regular open-topped cup and eat at a little table instead of on high chairs. As I weighed aloud the pros and cons of the two schools with my mother, she said it sounded like the Montessori school wasn’t going to let the babies be babies. My thought was any inkling of order and self-confidence and independence would be beneficial in our household. So guess where we enrolled them.
Monday, July 28, was the first day at Montessori School for the RaJenBabies. I started preparing on Saturday. Picked their clothes out for the week to make mornings easier. Packed blankets, towels, burp cloths. Extra clothes. Bottles. Formula. Water. Labeled everything. Monday morning, with the help of our night nanny, they were dressed and fed and ready to go at 7 a.m. Matou and I got everything in the car. I brought my camera.
And we even remembered the babies.
We got to the school and took them to their new room to meet the teachers. Then we did all our security paperwork, pictures, and paid the monthly mortgage on the 5,000 square foot summer home on Lake LBJ tuition through September 1. The babies were smiling and happy. Which in turn made us smiley and happy. So leaving them there wasn’t terribly emotional. It helped that Matou and I were both there together.
At 9:30 a.m., the phone in my office rang and I could see from the caller-ID that it was the school. And my immediate thought was Oh, Shit, They Threw Up Again And We’re Getting Kicked Out. I picked up and said “is everything ok? The kids are ok?” And the teacher said “Oh, they are fine. But….ummmmm….did you pack them any diapers?”
That’s right, Internet. I remembered the Camera but forgot the diapers! I had prepared a box with 50 diapers, a big ‘ol bin of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, and ten bibs. AND LEFT IT BY THE GARAGE DOOR.
No, we usually just keep them in the same one all day is what I didn’t say because I figured they didn’t know me well enough to be subjected to my Smartassitis condition. MAYBE TOMORROW.