Monday, April 30, 2012

Sea World

A quick weekend trip to Sea World was a huge hit with our kids. We got to do rides, see shows, and play. We also enjoyed the water park included, but none of those photos will be posted here, as no one needs to see me in a bathing suit!
 While my kids have never seen Sesame Street, we have a few books with the characters so they were thrilled with the live show as well as the themed rides perfect for their age. You will notice the two outside seats are bigger for the adults while the middle seats are tiny. Excellent planning on their part.
 This ride goes up and down and spins around, all great things for helping children develop their vestibular system. The kids and I loved it. Granted, my husband refused to ride since things like this make him sick. That left me holding both kids on the bench without a seat belt as we were spinning. The metal bar that comes down really doesn't do much for my tiny children. It was fun and the kids started crying when it stopped and we had to get off.
 They were very excited to see the large aquariums and loved all of the fish. They did feel the need to point and identify each one individually, "fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish." It was cute for a little while, but started to get old fast.
 This is what happened when we saw the shark tank. Suddenly they both wanted to sit on my lap. My daughter wrapped my arm around her while my son reverted to thumb sucking. Guess we won't be getting a pet shark.
 On the way home we stopped at Subway for some food and a picnic. This blanket is great. It is made for picnics. It is waterproof and folds closed with so it is easy to carry with the carrying strap. It was a great trip and we are already planning when we can go back again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A quick trip to the zoo!

One of the great things about our local zoo is that it is divided into 3 areas. Since we have a membership, we can go as often as we like and that's usually 9-10 times a year. This means each time we go we can visit one of the 3 areas. The trip is more doable with this age and we don't try pushing past our kids limit just to see everything in one visit.
 The 3 areas are Zoo North, the Children's Area, and Wilds of Africa. My favorite is the Wilds of Africa. It has only been open for a couple of years and they are able to introduce animals to each other. You look out into a giant savannah and will see herds of many different types of animals together. It's much better than a zoo with the animals in cages and segregated.
 My kids love all of the areas, but this trip we focused on the Children's Area. You can walk along the path or climb over the rocks to enter. We don't believe in doing things the easy way, so up and over we go.
 The petting zoo has mostly goats, but a few other animals as well. There was only one black goat in the bunch and while the other kids all went to the white goats, my kids were fascinated by the one that's different.
 He's singing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and is very happy about it. In other ares of the children's section there are farm animals, birds you can feed, pony rides (for a fee), a nocturnal animal area, indoor educational areas, a riverbed for kids to splash in and a playground.
 All of the playground items are based on animals rather than a traditional climbing/sliding playground. One of the best parts of the zoo is the Nature Exchange. If a child (or adult) brings in an item from nature they get to trade it for something else from nature. The more you know the more points you get. You can save the points or exchange every time you attend. Items like acorns aren't worth much because they have so many, but specialty items like sand from a beach in Dubai are worth a lot more. When you bring in an item they ask you to tell them about it and the more you know, the more points you get. They also teach you about the item you select to take home. It's fun and educational!
I'm waiting until my kids are a little older before they start participating in the nature exchange each visit. There is no age minimum or limit, but I want my kids to be more verbal and to understand what is going on when they start participating. I hope they can start nature journals when they are around 2.5 years old which they will be able to take in for credit as well.

My favorite part of the nature exchange is the sand. They have sand from all over the world. They will take a small amount out and put it under the microscope so they can help the child analyze it. They talk about why it's certain colors, if it is magnetic, and how sand is made. Many of the people who work there can look at a rock or sample of sand and tell you where it came from. I'm always impressed when people know things that I have no interest in learning. :)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blog Party!

Ultimate Blog Party 2012

This is my first time joining the Ultimate Blog Party, but what's not to love, right?

My family in a field of bluebonnets

I'm Jessica and I started this blog because I parent differently than many of my family and friends. This is a way to explain what we are doing and why. I'm a nerd who researches everything and this is the place where I share what I have learned. I have boy/girl twins and life keeps me amazingly busy.

My kids at the zoo.

Here are some of my most popular posts:
Car Seats, Baby Carriers
TV and Computer Time for Babies
Teething Necklaces
Cloth Diapers

Told you we do things differently! I hope to see you back here again. Leave a comment and I will follow your blog as well.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


While most learning happens before the age of 3, your myelin grows throughout life and your brain actually peaks around age 50. As I posted before, this is related to the amount of healthy foods you eat, exercise for your body and mind, as well as education.

There are a few things you can do to help this process along. First, parents and teachers should eliminate passive learning. Listening to a lecture or sitting and watching a video or demonstration are some of the worst ways to encourage learning. If a topic requires passive learning, teachers/parents should do cold calls on students to check for understanding. Waiting for children to raise their hands and volunteer allows most students to be less active with their thoughts and analysis.

Another important technique is to celebrate struggle and repetition. For anyone familiar with the Montessori method or the Suzuki method, this is apparent. Don't celebrate correct answers, but encourage the struggle. Compliment the continued effort, the focus, and when they finally achieve success point out how proud they must feel about themselves. If you only mention success and focus a big celebration, they will learn to value that more than the struggle. Once they get it right, don't just move on. Let them repeat the entire process again and again. They will get faster and more confident. They might even find different ways to solve the same problem. These are keys to learning.

Also help your child focus on what their future self will be doing. Do not tell your child what they will do, if they say they are going to grow up to be a lemon, just go with it. Talk about what they might do or what they want to learn before they get there. Keep a goal in front of their eyes in the form of a person. This could be an imaginary person (the first toddler to land on Pluto) or a real person (the President). This will often cause more of a drive than just telling your child they will go to college and get a job.

When looking at preschool programs, I of course did research on what the neuro-scientists have found. They have compared many different types of programs. Multiple studies have found two different answers. Montessori and Tools of Mind are the repeated "winners" of these studies. These are vastly different programs so it's important to think what would be best for your child.

Tools of Mind is based on deliberate play. Students will write (or draw) their plan for play and are expected to stick with it for a long period of time. They learn focus and self control above all else and the academics just seem to fall into place. This is an impressive program, but depending on the area you live in, may be difficult to find. Where I live there aren't any close to us.

Montessori is also an excellent method, but you need to research carefully. The term Montessori can be used by anyone and many schools call themselves Montessori even if they don't follow any of the method. There are tons of "Montessori" schools around where we live, but less than 10% actually follow the method. I suggest reading Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius before you look at schools so you will know what to look for in each classroom. Many of the false Montessori schools around here were easy to identify by the existence of a transition class, dividing classes by age (all 4 year olds together), or the lack of Montessori materials.

As of last Summer (the last time I read the research on this topic), I have not seen a single controlled study comparing Tools of Mind to Montessori. If anyone knows of one (published in a peer reviewed journal) I would love to see it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Easter!

Introducing young children to Easter traditions is fun and requires practice. You can't just give kids a basket and expect them to know what to do with the eggs in the grass. We started with empty eggs in our front yard. We had to constantly remind them to pick them up and put them in their baskets. The best part of this age is half the time when they bend down, they dump out more than they pick up. It's the never ending game!
 After a few practice sessions at home over a week, we headed to our city egg  hunt on a Saturday. There were 5 different fields for the different age groups (1 was for special needs kids as well). This time rather than stopping to play with the first thing they picked up, they finally understood. They ran around filling their baskets and having a great time.
 We also dyed some eggs at home. There are no pictures of the process because with two toddlers, two adults, one dog, and many colors of dye we didn't have a free hand for the camera. After all, we didn't want the camera ruined or blue in the end. The kids loved it though and they gently played with the dyed eggs for a few days. (She refused to wear a hair bow.)
 Another tradition for my family is playing with cascarones. I didn't learn about this until college when a friend came up to me with a dyed egg and smashed it on my head. What I didn't know is that they are filled with confetti. We only let our kids play with cascarones after they have seen us throw out the dyed eggs. I don't want them trying to smash the dyed eggs. We also don't smash them on heads at this age. We will wait until they are a little older for that. For now, we just taught them to throw the eggs on the driveway. They loved being surprised by the confetti and who doesn't like being told to throw things and smash them?
What are some of your Easter traditions?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bluebonnet Photos

After the last post proving the difficulty of posing twin toddlers for photos, I would like to show you the results of our bluebonnet photos.

Bluebonnets are a wild flower that comes out for about 2 weeks each year in Texas. There is a great tradition of taking your family out to a field for photos.

I use the term "field" loosely. Most patches of wild flowers grow on the side of highways. Not really the best place to take young children who like to run.

Oddly, our favorite patch is in part of a cemetery. There are no graves in the area with the flowers, which makes it ok in our minds.

The most difficult things about the photos, (other than getting the kids to be in one place looking at the camera) is not getting a ton of people in the background. The fields are full of people all doing the exact same thing.

Bluebonnets also attract bees and there are other wild flowers that bloom at the same time that cause many allergic reactions. Luckily, we didn't have any of those issues this year.

Many of our photos ended up becoming action shots. This was not intentional, just the only option the kids would cooperate for.

What regional traditions/photo opportunities do you participate in?