Friday, 1 April 2011

Co-op school - Week 1

We've been going now since March 14th, so just about two weeks. We had a few set backs which have led to me not blogging yet about our days. We had a large storm last week which left my house without power for 36 hours and then I stupidly sliced my finger on a mandolin. That was not a fun day, but now that I am on somewhat of a normal schedule again I am able to sit down and share how the first two weeks went.

The first week was meant to get acquainted. I wanted it to be simple. Work out the kinks in the scheduling, have the kids get used to the routine. Our curriculum the first week talked about school and friends. All our crafts revolved around our supplies and getting familiar with the space. Not just for the kids but for myself and the other parents as well.

The first day each kid painted an apron that will be their crafting apron for the year. I cut out shapes from a potato and used celery to make flower shapes. I wasn't thinking and forgot that maybe the 2 shape wouldn't work since it would make it backwards, but oh well. :) I still like how her apron turned out. I had never used celery to make a stamp and was delighted by the beautiful flower stamp it makes. The kids had a great time and I noticed then that they all have a color they gravitate towards. It's nice to have a craft apron that they created to use for all future projects.
 The next day we painted white boxes that would house all their personal supplies for school. There isn't a huge amount in the boxes yet, but I imagine as the year goes on we'll accumulate more supplies. For now each kid has their apron, a bug collecting jar, a magnifying glass, a pair of kid safe scissors, and a glue stick. I have a bookcase in the garage where I have all our shared supplies, ie. paint, brushes, pipe cleaners, etc. 
We all pitched in at the beginning of the school to buy a few supplies. I purchased a cash register for the grocery store corner I have setup. We have a dress up corner, a kitchen, puzzles, blocks. Outside I have a swing set, sandbox, baseball, various bouncy balls and have plans to add a water table as we continue to get warmer and warmer weather.

Each parent has a day that they stay and help out with the school. The way the schedule has been working out it gives each parent a full week off occasionally as we have 5 kids and only 3 days a week of school. The kids have been amazing! I was nervous as I don't have a lot of experience with groups of children, but it has turned out better than I thought.

Here's a sample of our schedule:

March 14th
Person Helping:    xxxxx
9:00    Circle Time
9:20    Make Apple Carrot Muffins
9:40    Outdoor Play
10:00    Clean Up/Snack
10:15    Learning Centers
10:45    Story/Signs
11:00    Craft
               -Painting the craft aprons we'll use all year
11:30    Finish crafts, freeplay, music
12:00    Lunch

Each day I have different "centers" based on the theme of the day. I'll add in different materials to the blocks, like one day I threw in a few trains and their tracks. I encouraged the kids to make train stations and give their little people rides around the town. It's been fascinating to me to try different activities to see which kids respond to them. It is always different. Some are great with the drawing projects while others tire quickly of using crayons, some focus intently on gross motor activities, some are quiet and introspective while others are interactive. They are all so fascinatingly different, it has been so much fun for me to observe. All the kids are fascinated by books and insist that I read at least 4 before we can get up form story time. Sometimes they want the same story more than once. It surprised me to see four 2-3 year olds so focused on one thing for such a period of time. It is by far our most focused time of the day.

The other aspect I wanted to be sure to include was sign language. My background is in sign language interpreting. When I had my daughter that had to be put on the back burner, but I have been signing with her since she was born. Throughout the day while talking to the kids I use simple signs and try to incorporate them into everything I do. I only use a few signs at a time and I try to cross over the signs through each activity. For instance, if I used a color sign in the story, I'll make sure to use the color sign again during crafts. I try to bring up signs from previous days to keep them remembering the signs. So far there hasn't been a huge increase in them signing, so it'll be interesting to see when they start picking up on the fact that not only does everything have a name, but it also has a sign.

Overall, despite some rocky setbacks over the first two weeks, we have had a blast and I look forward to settling into a routine with the kids.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Starting a Co-Op Preschool

Since July when my daughter turned two, I've thought about preschool. Do we put E into school, when is too early, does the school vaccinate, do they follow our philosophies? It's an exhausting and stressful process. I wrote previously about starting a Co-Op of my own and it's taken me the better part of year to get going with it. When I first considered it, I had two kids. The other mom and I decided that two kids does not a preschool make so the idea pretty much got shelved until recently.

I run a group for Skeptic/secular parents and after having almost forgotten about the dream of opening a preschool a parent asked me what I thought about Co-Ops. This opened the conversation once more and suddenly I had 4 other kids ready and willing to get started with Miss E and I.

We promptly scheduled a meeting to discuss our ideas and philosophies.
My main objectives were:

1. Duration - How many days a week and how many hours?
2. Discipline - Are we all on the same page?
3. Curriculum - Do we create our own or buy one?
4. Teacher - Will one of us be responsible for leadership or will we all
provide lessons from day to day?
5. Parent help schedule - Who will work what days and how frequently?
6. Cost - Do we all pitch in one sum at the beginning or per item needed?

After deciding on the details we scheduled an informal play date with just the kids that would be attending the preschool as our monthly group has many more children. We wanted to get the kids together informally to have them interact a bit.

When we all agreed and were ready to get started, I created a shared calendar that outlines each day's events, who will be working, and what the kids need to bring for crafts, food, etc. I also created a spreadsheet listing emergency contacts for each child.

Now to set a date. We start next Monday and I am thrilled! I'd like to blog my journey here. I plan on writing about each day and share what works with the kids and what doesn't. The lessons we do, the crafts we create. I haven't been this excited about something in a long time. I can't wait to get started with the kids. Next Monday can't come soon enough!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Humidifiers - The Good and The Bad

One of the hardest things to accept as a parent is conflicting evidence. It makes me question my decisions more on a daily basis than anything ever has in my life. Since having my daughter, doubt has settled in to my every decision from the most basic of life needs: sleeping, eating, bathing. If simple needs created such mixed advice than the first cold was going to send me in to a tailspin. However, that's why we have doctors right? What if the very same doctor's office recommends conflicting advice? Where does that leave me?

We felt horrendous when E got her first cold and was up all night coughing When I have a cough, I pop a cough drop and go back to sleep. When a baby has a cough there is nothing you can really do, besides feel incredibly helpless. So I called the all night nurse hot line that I'd made sure my doctor's office had. Their advice was to run a cool-mist humidifier all night. We did and felt grateful for the advice, but it didn't really do much to assuage her cough. We were still up all night long with very little comfort.

The next day we took her in to see her pediatrician. He asked us what we were doing to help her at home and I dutifully stated we were running our humidifier all night and keeping her propped up and full of fluids, but nothing really seemed to help. He immediately chastised me for even using a humidifier at all. I was shocked, replying that his nurse hot line recommended it. He told me they do more harm than good because they are a breeding ground for mold no matter how well you clean them. His advice was that there are too many tubes and parts that you can't get in to sterilize properly so don't bother with them at all.

Armed with such conflicting advice I needed answers. Was I in fact helping or hurting with my daughter with her harmless looking frog humidifier?

In searching for answers, I started by seeing what the American Association of Pediatrics had to say. I typed in "humidifiers" on their Parenting Corner and came up with two articles, both talking about the dangers humidifiers caused by mold. If not properly cleaned, humidifiers can lead to Legionnaires Disease which resembles pneumonia. In fact, any stagnant tap water has potential to create Legionnaires. More so in elderly, but in mild cases for children. Are they even useful to begin with? Never mind proper cleaning?

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends cleaning a humidifier every day. Honeywell, a major brand in humidifiers, list in their manual for a popular item that to clean a humidifier properly you need to use vinegar in the base for 20 min and then clean all interior parts with a brush. Finally you should rinse with water and a cleaning solution. I am not sure I want to deal with vinegar every day to clean a product I am not even entirely convinced actually helps to begin with. How many people are actually doing this even once, not to mention as often as needed?

I found a ton of sites giving suggestions on how to ease the symptoms of a common cold, and they almost always list using a humidifier, but I was having a hard time finding a study that shows why humidifier is a good idea. According to the NIH, the use of
a cool-mist humidifier or steam vaporizer may help relieve an irritated throat and loosen mucus.
and the AAP confirms that
Placing a cool-mist humidifier (vaporizer) in your child’s room also will help keep nasal secretions more liquid and make her more comfortable.
This basic open access answer site says that you should
INCREASE HUMIDITY. It is important to let fresh air inside your room when you have common cold to increase humidity. Low humidity makes your mucus membrane dry and in effect worsens nasal congestion. If you cannot keep a window open, you need to have a humidifier. Just make sure to replace the water regularly and clean it every three days.
However, another site (about common cold myths) reports on a study that finds
the nasal mucus membrane is very resistant to the effects of low humidity. Volunteers placed in chambers where the humidity was dramatically lowered (9% relative humidity, such as found in a desert) still have normal clearance function of the nasal mucus membrane. Low humidity makes the nose feel dry but the mucus membrane still continues to work normally.
These same findings are also mentioned in a later study. From the point of view of the protective abilities of mucus, humidity seemed to have no effect.

Our personal experience was, that even with the use of the humidifier, she was up all night coughing and congested. Taking her in the bathroom and steaming it up seemed to more quickly and effectively make her comfortable, which in turn got us all more sleep. Why use a humidifier if I end up in a steamy bathroom anyway? Not that our humidifier was a high ticket item, but to have a $40 item that has the possibility to harm my child and doesn't really seem to work for us anyway, I immediately disposed of it and went straight back to using the shower which has worked well for us since. It seems the warm air must do more for her than the cool mist humidifier and since I can't use a warm mist humidifier due to the burn risks (as well as not wanting to harbor pesky bacteria) I will stick to the shower until she is old enough for other means of comfort.

Whether it is a cool-mist or warm-mist humidifier the consensus is it must be cleaned thoroughly and humidity levels monitored to avoid creating bacteria. What I did manage to find is that a humidifier may make one more comfortable by keeping the mucus flowing and that a properly humidified building can help keep illness at bay. There is a great article from FDA Consumer discussing this. At the end of day, always ask your own pediatrician as they have the most up to date information and may know more about the general humidity of the area. Of course, if a humidifier seems to work for your child please make sure to follow the manufacturers instructions on proper cleaning.

A cold sucks, we all suffer through them, but we as adults drown out the effects of the cold with Nyquil and Sudafed. They don't cure, but sure help make us feel better. The jury is still out on whether a humidifier actually has an effect. It has, however, been shown that it can be harmful if not properly cleaned, but hey researchers are proving chicken soup works! That's something we can do, right? :)

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Preschool Dilemma

As my daughter hurls towards preschool age faster than I would like I am plagued by the preschool dilemma. Is it worth it to put her in school? Can I teach her all that she needs to know her at home? Can I give her the social environment she needs without being in school? Did I really need to be on a list for a decent school before she was even born?

There are parents who spend years working to get their kids into a good school and I commend them, but it terrifies me to think that I could put that much time in and end up not having it even be a great school. Or I could spend two years trying to get her into the school and she ends up hating it. Not to mention the thousands of dollars that could end up being spent before her 5th birthday.

Than the one thing that plagues me most...what is she going to learn while she's there? Will the school even live up to what it claims, or will I spend all this time, money and effort on glorified daycare. So many questions without answers and as I've asked myself these questions every day lately I have time and time again come to the same conclusion.

Teach her myself.

In searching for the right choice for us, I've come across the co-op preschool. I am diving full force into the unknown and attempting to start my own co-op. I have two parents ready to go along with me.

Now is the time to figure out if I need to get licensed, do I charge, how often the parents need to be involved? It's scary, but this year will be the test. Can I do it? Can I grow and build a school that will maintain itself beyond my kids?

The easy part is what I want to teach the kids. Science, skepticism, critical thinking, will all be a part of our day at the school.

Hopefully I can get a few local freethinking preschoolers to join us to expand our class size a bit. :)

Now for a name...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Noah's Ark at the Skirball

One of my favorite places to take E is the Noah's Ark exhibit at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. I was very hesitant to check it out when a friend invited us to join her and her son. Hmmm...Noah's Ark...not really my thing. I was expecting it to have a more religious slant, but after my first visit I was hooked.

It is based on the basic Noah's Ark story, without really featuring Noah. The kids get to interact with and act out every aspect of the story as if they were the ones traveling at the time. From the storm to life on the ark it feels more like what it actually may have been like to take a ship in those days. They get to create the storm, build the ark, load the animals, climb the rafters and share a meal in the eating quarters. There is 8,000 square feet of exploration and interaction for kids of all ages to enjoy.

What's more, there is plenty for the parents to enjoy as well. Everything in the exhibit is built from recycled objects. The picture I've added above shows an alligator whose teeth are made of super glue tops and tongue is a violin. The elephant's tusk below is made from dim sum boxes. Every single time I go I notice something new, whether it is the fly swatter wings of a bird or a body made out a croquet ball.

The staff is amazing and are always around for questions or to show you and your kids a new way to enjoy the exhibit. When you enter, a staff member brings you in to tell the beginning of the story. Then they lead you down to the play area.

It is not easy for kids to wander off which allows you to relax and enjoy yourself without having to chase kids all over the exhibit. They also come around often with hand held animals for you to check out, tell a story, and will even bring out instruments for the kids to play.

In the farthest room there is a table set up with a different crafts from day to day. The last time I was there they had various items to turn an ordinary cup into an animal of your own to take home. In the same room is an area for even the littlest visitor to sit and enjoy, with a squishy mat and wooden blocks to play with.

As they like to keep the crowds down, which trust me makes it even more enjoyable for me, you must reserve tickets. You will get an entry and exit time, which I believe gives you a two hour window to explore the exhibit. The best way to book tickets is to go online to their website and make your reservation. Children under 2 are free, otherwise everyone else needs a ticket. Thursday's are always free, but you still need to go online and reserve a ticket. They fill up fast so you may end up needing to book tickets a month or more in advance.

I highly recommend Noah's Ark for kids of any age.
Babies, toddlers, and adults alike will have a blast.

Great Park in Irvine

I am subscribed to a website called that sends out emails with free events all over Los Angeles. Most often they are events that don't really suit me, but occasionally an event will pique my interest.

The Great Park Balloon immediately caught my eye. The Great Park in Irvine is a recycled air field whose 1,347 acre span will inform guests about sustainability. In the summer they have concerts and in the winter they have an ice skating rink in the hangar located across from the balloon. When we were there they were working on a kids park next the balloon that should be done early this year.

The Great Park Balloon is one of the largest helium balloons in the world and the first of it's kind in the United States. It rises 500 feet in the air holding 25-30 passengers. It is appropriate for any age and even allows pets aboard. It was definitely a nerve wracking experience for me, as heights make me more than a little nervous. Yet, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. It was well worth it! The view is amazing and I would love to try it out again in the evening during which I heard the sunset views are incredible.

We drove out there at about 9 am and if you have far to travel might I recommend combining this venture with a trip to the Discovery Science Museum (more on that later) right off the 5 freeway. You can't miss the large cube visible from the freeway. The balloon itself only takes a few minutes depending on if there is a wait or not. We went first to the balloon and than to the science museum for lunch and some play time.

I would highly recommend both for any age child and is a lot of fun for the parents as well.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

To vaccinate or to not vaccinate?

My husband has always believed that it is just short of criminal not to vaccinate. It's harmful not only to the child, but to the community at large. Recently he posted a link, innocently enough, on a social networking site. He didn't expect the response he received. He'd always just believed and hadn't done a vast amount of research. When someone gave him a large number of claims he decided to set out to look into each an every one.

The result is the article below. As I was irritated that it took him away from me and E for the better part of a week, I am proud of what he accomplished. The information speaks for itself. It is important that people realize where anti-vaccination claims are actually coming from and that the news is hyping up fallacies. It may be good news to report the dangers of vaccines, and not at all entertaining to talk about what they accomplish, it is simply irresponsible and untrue.

If you disagree with vaccines, please take a look at the research. Everything he's referenced is from a highly reliable source. He and I welcome any one to inform us of anything that he may have not addressed or is not aware of. Please include links where available, as we are happy to look into anything new on the subject.