Monday, February 27, 2012

How We Became Unschoolers

When my husband and I first committed to homeschooling when my oldest was just two-years-old, I thought for sure that by the time she was five we would be following an age-appropriate, established curriculum--at least for certain subject areas--and would have time allocated each day for "teaching & learning." In those early days, when I would talk to the homeschooling moms of older kids at homeschool park days or similar meet-ups, I thought those "unschooly" moms were a little "out there." They were a bit too radical, I thought, just letting their kids do whatever they wanted, not requiring mastery in certain areas at certain times, not establishing expectations for academic performance. Radical.

And now here I am. Radical and out there. And loving every minute. (Ok, almost every minute.)

It wasn't that I woke up one day and decided to become radical. It wasn't that I was trying to make a point or hop on a bandwagon. It was that I actually saw my children learning, of their own accord, following their own developing interests, without my tutelage. I watched as their natural, innate childhood curiosity guided them to discover and explore and widen their imaginations. I watched as my oldest learned how to read, not because I sat with her to review letters and sounds and "sight words," but because she was surrounded by literacy and was ready to read. I watched as she grew increasingly interested in mathematical concepts, not from using a math curriculum or reviewing math problems, but because she was surrounded by numeracy and wanted to know more about how numbers and patterns could be applied. I watched as she became increasingly interested in learning the piano, in practicing and experimenting, not because I told her to practice or because her piano teacher asked her to, but because she was excited about making music. I saw her doing things, learning things, mastering things that I would never have thought to teach her; and that maybe if I had taught her, might not have resulted in so much originality and skill.

I realized, through the fascinating process of watching my children learn, to trust them: to trust a child's natural drive to know and create, to explore and synthesize. I realized that "unschooling" allows this natural learning to occur in many unanticipated and meaningful ways by allowing our children to show us the way, to reveal to us their passions, their gifts, and to constantly astound us with their capabilities when given the time and space to develop them naturally.

I learned that I am not my children's teacher. I am their follower.

Radical.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I'm a natural parent, but...it took me awhile

Welcome to the "I'm a Natural Parent - BUT..." Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the carnival hosted by The Artful Mama and Natural Parents Network. During this carnival our participants have focused on the many different forms and shapes Natural Parenting can take in our community.

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I knew I wanted to breastfeed. That was about the extent of my "natural parenting" when I first became a mom. I didn't even know what natural parenting was at the time. Breastfeeding was the gateway to more natural parenting for me, but it would take awhile before I really caught on.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I chose an obstetrician affiliated with a large, Boston teaching hospital. I thought: "We have some of the finest hospitals in the world! I would be a fool to birth my baby anywhere else!" At the "meet the doctors" event just prior to giving birth, *I* was the one who asked how quickly I could get an epidural once admitted. Needless to say, my first birth was highly medicalized. Fortunately, I was able to endure a few early weeks of wondering if I would really be able to breastfeed successfully. At eight weeks, I ignored my pediatrician's advice about "self-soothing babies" and brought my baby girl to sleep with me in my bed. Ahhhh.

A few months went by, I stumbled upon Dr. Sears and Attachment Parenting, and realized that it fit with my current parenting practices, like on-demand breastfeeding, co-sleeping, responsive parenting, and babywearing. Still, I was a long way from fully recognizing and appreciating what Natural Parenting meant. I fed my baby Gerber (not even organic! gasp!) and never thought twice about it. She was fully vaccinated and I never blinked an eye. She watched a lot of television while wearing her Pampers. She had lots of plastic, commercialized toys and apparel. Yep, I was a long way from truly appreciating Natural Parenting.

Not surprisingly, I returned to the same obstetrician for my second pregnancy and had another highly-medicalized birth. I continued all of my Attachment Parenting practices from the start with my baby boy and felt very strongly that he would not be circumcised. When he was four-months-old, I switched to all cloth diapers, and eventually started making my own baby food. Ok, I was getting there...

A few months later, when all of my two-year-old's friends were heading off to various preschools here in the city, (yes, preschool typically starts at age two here), I began researching homeschooling more seriously and became instantly hooked. Closer....

Then I had my third baby, my homebirth baby, and, finally, I understood the power and pleasure of living and parenting naturally. I began to fully question "expert" advice and generally accepted actions. I adopted "greener," more sustainable homemaking practices. I began making meals from scratch and buying local, organic food. I switched our doctors and focused more intently on natural family health and well-being. I started knitting.

I still have further to go, still much, much more to learn and do, along the Natural Parenting continuum. But I'm getting there. Gratefully, I'm getting there.

Join the City Kids Homeschooling Facebook community!


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I'm a Natural Parent — But … Blog CarnivalThis carnival was created by The Artful Mama and Natural Parents Network. We recognize that "natural parenting" means different things to different families, and we are dedicated to providing a safe place for all families, regardless of where they are in their parenting journeys.

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Have you "huggled" today?

Welcome to the February edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama. This month, participants have looked into the topic of “Fostering Healthy Attachment.” Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy!

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I give lots of "huggles," our family's fun word for hugs and snuggles. I always find that these huggles make everyone happier, calmer.

If I am having a rough mothering day, a day when the kids and I are particularly ornery, it's often because huggles are conspicuously absent. If I take a moment to stop, to notice, and then to bring my little ones closer, the mood changes, the day brightens, and we can move forward more peacefully.

Magic, I tell you, these huggles.

Or is it?

It turns out, maybe it's just chemistry. We know the "love hormone," oxytocin, fosters attachment with moms and new babies, and is also the hormone released during labor, breastfeeding, and sex. It brings people together, bonds them, makes them happier, more connected. It's profound, really, how something like a simple touch, a single display of affection, can alter our dispositions and transform a "bad" day into a better one.

These huggles are without question my best mothering trick. And they feel good too.

Join the City Kids Homeschooling Facebook community!


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Visit Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Do You Home School?

It has been so interesting and enjoyable to read the comments, both here and on the blog's Facebook page, about the different homeschooling approaches families choose. After thinking about the "how" of homeschooling, what about the "why?"

Why did you/do you/will you home school?

According to a 2008 National Center for Education Statistics report, here are the top five reasons why families choose to home school:

1. A concern about the school environment
2. A desire to provide religious or moral instruction
3. A dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools
4. A non-traditional approach to child's education
5. Other reasons

We choose homeschooling for "a non-traditional approach to child's education," allowing us to tailor our children's learning to individual interests and needs and providing the time and space for our children's innate curiosity to bloom and expand.

What about you? Check out the Facebook poll as well!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Different Homeschooling Approaches

Homeschoolers are wonderfully diverse in all ways, including the ways in which they approach teaching and learning. Below are some of the most common homeschooling approaches. Head on over to the blog's Facebook page to participate in a poll on which homeschooling approach you identify with most!

1. School-at-home – This traditional approach uses purchased, packaged, often level-specific curriculum that can be religious or secular, online and/or workbook-based.

2. Pedagogically-influenced – This approach is informed and inspired by a particular pedagogical philosophy such as: Waldorf-inspired homeschooling, Montessori-inspired homeschooling, Classical education, and Charlotte Mason.

3. Unit studies – Unit studies present a multi-disciplinary approach to learning by focusing on a particular subject, for example, “the solar system,” and incorporating most subject areas (e.g., math, science, reading, writing, history, social studies) when learning about a particular subject. Unit study programs can either be purchased or developed naturally within a family.

4. “Eclectic” homeschooling – This is a hybrid approach to homeschooling with families choosing structured curriculum for certain areas (e.g., math), and unstructured or alternative learning approaches for other areas.

5. Unschooling – An increasingly popular homeschooling approach, unschoolers don't adhere to a prescribed curriculum and instead follow their child's lead when deciding what and when to learn.

How does your family approach homeschooling?

Monday, February 20, 2012

More Urban Homeschoolers

At this time of year, as parents begin to more seriously consider their education options for their children come fall, an increasing number of urban families are researching and choosing city homeschooling.

In many cities over the next few weeks, including mine, parents of kindergarteners, pre-kindergarteners, or those new to the district will learn to which city public school their child has been assigned using a complex lottery system or school-choice algorithm designed to fully integrate city schools. Other urban parents will receive admission decisions from private schools. And some urban families may begin exploring suburban school districts in preparation for a move out of the city. Still, many urban parents are turning to homeschooling.

According to a recent Newsweek article, approximately 300,000 children are currently homeschooling in American cities, or roughly 20% of the overall U.S. homeschool population of 1.5 million. As more young families settle in cities and grow attached to the convenience, enjoyment, and sustainability of urban living, these families are increasingly drawn to urban homeschooling, recognizing the vast learning resources available in cities and the vibrant and diverse homeschooling communities in urban areas throughout the country. A growing number of inner-city minority families are also choosing to homeschool their children, as they grow increasingly disheartened by under-performing urban schools or frustrated by curriculum that they feel is not culturally relevant.

Urban homeschoolers choose homeschooling for an array of reasons and are as diverse as the cities in which they live, reflecting various religious, cultural and ethnic groups, socio-economic positions, family structures, and pedagogical approaches. The one thing these urban homeschoolers have in common, though, is an appreciation for their city's abundant learning resources and the great opportunity to use the city as their child's classroom.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Opting Out

I recently re-read the well-known 2003 article, "The Opt-Out Revolution," by New York Times columnist, Lisa Belkin, and was struck again by this quote: "Why don't women run the world? Maybe it's because they don't want to."

The must-read article discusses the trend of highly-educated, successful women opting-out of high-powered career tracks to be stay-at-home-moms, and the implications of this for the feminist movement.

I am one of those opt-outers. If you had told me in 2003, when I first read this article, that I would be blissfully content as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of three, I wouldn't have believed you. Back then, with two degrees and running a successful six-figure corporate training business, I was sure that I would continue on the career track, even if I became a mom someday.

And then I became a mom.

And somehow it was strikingly easy to shutter my business, say farewell to my clients and paychecks, and immerse myself in full-time motherhood.

I realize the privilege from which I speak: urban, educated, married, middle-class. I realize that it was the feminists of the last century, the trailblazers, who led the way for me to have the opportunity to go to college and graduate school and become an entrepreneur. And I realize it was also those feminists who gave me the choice to eventually opt-out.

It is those early feminists for whom I am thankful when I think of the opportunities that will be available to my own daughters as they grow into adulthood, as they pursue their dreams unfettered by the discrimination and limited choices offered to women not so long ago, and as they someday, I hope, realize the unparalleled rewards of motherhood.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Motherhood Is Messy: Wear Black

I have found that one of the key elements to happy motherhood is acceptance. Rather than be surprised that my little guy used me as a human napkin, I should have known better than to wear white when going out for a pasta dinner. I should have known that the marinara sauce might sting his face and he would need to wipe it off RIGHT NOW and that my sweater might be closer than his napkin. I should have known.

Now certainly we parents should redirect behavior (no, dear, mommy's sweater is not a napkin; here's yours), but the reality is that kids are just being kids and to parent peacefully we shouldn't fight these natural childhood tendencies, but rather anticipate and calmly manage them.

That is, we should wear black. Or at least not white. For a pasta dinner.

Have you heard of Authentic Parenting? I know a lot of you have and that it inspires and informs your parenting style. (Here is a nice article to learn more.) Authentic Parenting recognizes a truth about childhood: that children have authentic, legitimate, real needs that we parents must address to live peacefully with our children. It recognizes that children are not being intentionally malicious, or deceitful, or annoying. They are not doing things specifically to "push our buttons" or make us unhappy. Their needs are authentic and they are trying to communicate their needs in the only way they know how, often through their behavior. It is up to us as parents, I think, to recognize our children's needs as pure and authentic, to hear what it is that they are telling us, and then to address their needs. Most often with young children, their authentic needs relate directly to basic needs. They are hungry, tired, or uncomfortable. They need more attention, more affection. They need to feel safe and loved. They need to run around outside, or sit quietly and read a book. They need to play with others or spend some time alone. These are basic, authentic needs that we parents must continuously monitor and meet.

Sometimes meeting these needs is challenging. Sometimes it's inconvenient. Often it's messy.

We should wear black.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Homeschooling: Why Not?

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions With Other Parents
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.
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Often when I meet parents at the park or around the city and they learn that we are homeschoolers, a common response is: "Oh, I could never do that!" To which I respond, "Of course you could! Why not?"

What follows is usually a litany of reasons including, "I don't have the patience," or "I need my breaks," or "I want my kids to learn from others," or "I wouldn't know what to teach," or "I can't give them everything they need to learn," or "We both have to work."

Homeschooling may not be the right path for every family for a panoply of reasons, but just as parents spend a lot of time contemplating and researching the public and private school options available to them, homeschooling should be another reasonable education choice for families to consider.

There are two hurdles, I think, that parents need to get passed to truly understand and fully consider the homeschooling option: the personal and the practical.

On the personal side, I find parents don't give themselves enough credit. They are often too hard on themselves. Parents don't need to be superstars, with limitless patience, boundless energy, and masterful creativity to help their children learn. They have been engaged in the important process of teaching and learning with their kids since birth, and homeschooling becomes an extension of this natural learning process. Homeschooling provides time and space for children to explore and uncover their own interests and talents. It strengthens family and sibling bonds, positioning family at the center of a child's life and learning, while also encouraging children to become vital members of their community through civic activities, community classes and local events. Homeschooling helps to slow down the increasingly frenetic pace of American childhood, helping families to simplify schedules and foster an environment of natural family learning.

On the practical side, there are many resources now available to homeschoolers that help to craft a homeschooling approach that is right for each family. Many homeschoolers purchase level-specific curriculum packages to provide structure to learning. Homeschoolers may hire tutors, participate in community classes or lessons, take advantage of online learning programs, use community college courses and a host of other learning resources to define or augment their homeschooling approach. Some homeschoolers use an "eclectic" approach to learning, perhaps using structured curriculum for certain learning areas but not for others. An increasingly growing number of homeschoolers, ourselves included, are "unschoolers," or those who don't follow any prescribed curriculum but instead follow our children's lead when deciding when and what to learn.

Given the wide variety of homeschooling approaches, it is not surprising that all kinds of families find ways to make homeschooling work, including families with single parents and those with two working parents. Creative scheduling, community classes, formal or informal homeschooling co-ops, and help from others can make homeschooling accessible to many families who wish to choose this educational option.

So, of course you can homeschool! In the end, homeschooling may not be right for every family, but for families who are interested in exploring this educational option, along with private and public school offerings, there are many personal and practical ways to make homeschooling work for any family that wants to give it a try.


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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)

  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekend "Trip"







To celebrate my little guy's third birthday, we took a mini-"trip" here in the city. Using Daddy's frequent traveler points, we got a room at a local hotel and enjoyed a new launching point from which to explore the city's sites. A highlight of the weekend was Boston's one-and-only "Truck Day," the annual date when the Red Sox equipment truck is loaded for departure to spring training down south. Only in Boston, with our dedicated fans, would a baseball team's "truck day" spawn crowd-gathering festivities.

I wonder if Attachment Parenting helps contribute to peaceful family travel, as close-to-home or far away as that travel may be. We are all accustomed to sharing a bed, so there are no sleepless hotel nights. (We put the mattress on the floor to protect our night-crawlers.) We try to stay focused on our children's needs and the signals they send, and we maintain our usual calm-active-calm-active-calm cadence even when away. And while there was definitely a lot of pasta consumed this weekend, we tried to bring and buy many healthy food options (save for the birthday cake, of course!) With lots of out-of-town family travel planned for this spring and summer, it's nice to know that Attachment Parenting helps to make our trips calm and enjoyable.

What do you think? When traveling with your kids, do you find that Attachment Parenting helps your trips run smoothly and happily?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Economics of Family Size

Welcome to the first Family Size Blog Carnival!

This post was written for inclusion in the Family Size Blog Carnival hosted by Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling and Patti at Jazzy Mama. Today our participants share their decisions on family size and whether or not to grow their families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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When I was in college studying economics, I became fascinated by the idea of using economic theory to analyze lifestyle decisions. No longer just used for quantifying the price of widgets or the profit of firms, economists were now using economic theory to understand how individuals and families make decisions ranging from who to marry to how many children to raise.

The seminal leader in the discipline of economics of the family is Nobel prize-winning economist, Gary Becker, who helped to capture and quantify the amount of "utility," or satisfaction, parents derive from raising children when assessing the associated costs and benefits.

When I first discovered this novel economic theory, I was a decade away from my own child-bearing and family size choices. But now, as I wonder about the family size choices others make as well as my own, I am increasingly curious how parents make "rational consumption" choices regarding the number of children to welcome to their family, whether through birth or adoption.

According to economic theory, what it comes down to is this: parents should welcome more children to their family as long as the "marginal benefits," the benefits derived from each additional child, are greater than the "marginal costs," the monetary and non-monetary costs of each additional child. The benefits of additional children are many and may encompass the joys and rewards of parenting, the closeness of sibling bonds, the opportunities to learn from and with our children, and the long-term prospect of time spent with our adult children and any future grandchildren. The costs of children are also many and include short-term and long-term monetary costs--everything from car seats to college--and also many non-monetary costs like lack of sleep, lack of personal time and space, and the daily demands of parenting. There are also costs, both monetary and non-monetary, physical and emotional, incurred when expecting another child, whether through birth or adoption, that also need to be factored in to family size decision-making.

At some point, according to this economic model, every family arrives at the "optimal" number of children: that number at which one more child would ultimately tip the scale to marginal costs exceeding marginal benefits. So the goal is to conduct our own cost-benefit analysis to determine when that tipping point might be for our family. If we think that the benefits of an additional child outweigh all those costs, then as "rational" decision-makers, we should go for it, we should maximize our utility, our satisfaction, by welcoming another child.

For us, the many benefits of an additional child do currently outweigh the costs, and we would be delighted to grow our family. So what may seem completely irrational to others (4 kids in a small city condo! yikes!), seems entirely rational to us.

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Visit City Kids Homeschooling and Jazzy Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Family Size Blog Carnival!

Please take some time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants below:

  • The Perfect Family The family at Living Peacefully With Children isn't perfect, but the size is just right for them...at least for now.
  • Family Size Carnival Zoie at TouchstoneZ discusses how she loves the extremes of being happily child-free for life to being a mom of several. And on knowing when her family is just the right size.
  • Is Adoption for Me? Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares why she would consider adoption as the socially responsible way to have a large family.
  • Getting Used to Having Kids Lauren at Hobo Mama went from "probably one, maybe two" to wanting a handful, but not without some major struggles and soul searching along the way.
  • Magic Number For a while, Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales has wondered what the magic number will be for their family, but now thinks she's finally settled on an answer.
  • How Did You Get That Size Jorje explains how she "chose" her family size and why they aren't planning to grow again on Momma Jorje.com.
  • Family Size On A Per Kid Basis Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how plans change as families grow.
  • More Babies: How, When, Why Joella at Fine and Fair writes to her daughter about when, how, and why she might get a sibling.
  • Family Size Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares how she has no idea what size her family will end up being; though she used to be sure, a few factors have recently come up to change everything.
  • Thy Will Be Done CatholicMommy hasn't decided how many children she'll have. And she never will. Because, you know, she's Catholic.
  • Sanity and Health Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment talks about sanity and health considerations when deciding on her family's size.
  • Love Comes In All Sizes Melissa at White Noise and Mothers of Change shares her family's journey to becoming a family of six!
  • Family Size Liz at Homeschooling in Buffalo discusses how this carnival occurs less than two weeks after "closing up shop" by way of vasectomy.
  • Family Size Blog Carnival Billy, a single mother by choice, writes about the size of her family at My Pathway to Motherhood.
  • Creating Your Perfect Family Size Dr. Alan Singer shares insights from his new book, Creating Your Perfect Family Size.
  • Our Family Size You might not be surprised to learn that Patti at Jazzy Mama can't find any reasons NOT to have more babies.
  • Economics of Family Size Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling uses an economic cost-benefit analysis to determine her family's optimal size.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter Homeschooling Rhythms


As we are now in the heart of winter, albeit a mild one at that, I thought it might be a good time to share our winter homeschooling rhythms for a sample week (click above graphic to enlarge). We are unschoolers and don't follow any set or structured curriculum, but nonetheless there is a certain flow to our weeks that changes with each season. Given this winter's moderate temperatures and lack of snow, we have been able to continue with many of our usual activities, like nature walks and homeschool park days. "Normal" winters would typically bring more indoor time, more slots in our week that would be filled with inside crafting or play, but I have been pleasantly amazed at the number of days this winter when our outside time has exceeded our indoor time. Even on the coldest of days, we try to get outside at least a couple of times a day for a short stroll to the library or coffee shop, or a faster dash to a museum or class.

These sample rhythms are a very rough snapshot of our winter weeks, failing to fully capture the amount of time we spend visiting with family members and enjoying time with friends. They also may seem rigid when in fact they are very loose. With the exception of swimming and piano, most of our other weekly activities are voluntary: we take advantage of them when we choose and pass on them if necessary. I have mentioned previously how hooked we are on the city's many drop-in, pay-as-you-go class offerings, which are invaluable to us as unschoolers and help us to pop in a fun activity here or there without the pressure of a weekly commitment.

Above all, we try to keep our children's schedule simple and serene. We try to keep a natural cadence to our days: calm, active, calm, active, calm. And we try to incorporate the city's many resources and events into our weekly rhythms.

As gentle as this winter has been, we are looking forward to spring's new rhythms, when so much of our day is spent outside spotting signals of rebirth and renewal, taking long nature walks, reading books on the grass, painting on our back deck, eating meals on the picnic table.

Our rhythms change, reflecting seasonal changes as well as changes in the interests and needs of our family. But the cadence remains the same, as does the comfort in centering our lives around family, community, and the natural world.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beyond Time-Outs

I used to give time-outs. When my oldest entered toddlerhood and began pushing buttons and testing limits, I used time-outs. I thought that was the responsible thing to do, lest my child grow up to be wild and unruly with no respect for authority. But they never felt quite right, those time-outs. They always seemed reactionary, as if I relied on them because I knew no other way.

At the peak of toddlerhood with my oldest, with a new baby in the mix, I felt like we got stuck in a behavior-punishment cycle. I was frustrated, I raised my voice more than I wanted to, and time-outs were sprinkled throughout the week. I didn't like it. I didn't like the pattern we were caught in and I wasn't sure how to end it. But I knew it had to be me who ended it.

So I did. I stopped all time-outs. And I never looked back.

I realized that my parental frustration was rooted, not in my child's behavior, but in my own perspectives, emotions, and expectations. I made a concerted effort to change the way I parented, to make my home more child-centered, to let go of being steadfast in wanting things to be done in a certain way at a certain time, to be more proactive in recognizing and minimizing the conditions that might lead to my kids misbehaving.

As I began to become more mindful of my parenting approach and more focused on creating a calmer, more peaceful, more child-focused home--without time-outs and other arbitrary punishments--I found that the overall tone of my home changed. The kids were calmer. They didn't fuss or whine as much. They didn't "act out" or "press buttons" as often. And I began to really enjoy motherhood so much more. I realized that I didn't need to mold my kids into perfectly-behaved, obedient tots. Instead, I needed to recognize their childhood needs, their childhood rhythms, and learn the ways in which their behavior communicated these things to me.

It was up to me to listen, to learn, to change. Not them.

It may seem radical to give up time-outs in favor of more gentle discipline, more peaceful parenting. Sometimes to break a cycle of behavior that makes us frustrated and unhappy takes radical change, and it's up to us as parents to initiate this change. It's up to us to take a time-out, catch our breath, recognize what we might be doing wrong, and try our best to do things differently going forward.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Our New Wheels

We easily put more miles on our two strollers on average each week than we do on our car, and we haven't had a new stroller in years, so it was fun to splurge on one. We still cherish our big, old, beat-up, rusty, mildewy double stroller and our equally old and tattered light-weight umbrella stroller, but ooooo is it fabulous to have a shiny, new set of wheels to dash around the city!

I was so eager to take our new stroller out for a spin today that we grabbed the bus to our local toy store to pick it up and then spent all afternoon with it out and about in the city. As I mentioned in my earlier post this week on "10 City Parenting Must-Haves," I am a big fan of collapsible, lightweight strollers for crowded city buses, busy restaurants, and bustling museums -- not to mention taxis, airports and train stations.

So let's talk stroller types and brands! What are your favorites? Which stroller(s) do you think is essential? Which ones do you like for babies, for bigger kids? I have a couple of friends expecting their third babies who are starting to research new strollers. What do you recommend?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"You've Got Your Hands Full!"

I hear this statement multiple times a week, which always slightly baffles me because (a) my kids are *usually* not acting like a handful when I get this comment, (b) I am *usually* not flustered or disheveled or otherwise bedraggled at the time, and (c) three isn't really all that many kids.

As the fabulous posts for next week's Family Size Blog Carnival roll in (yes, there's still time for yours!), I continue to reflect on our family's size. What I keep coming back to is how, for me, having only one child was much more of a handful than having three. Much of the challenge with one was rooted in my own lack of experience, confidence, and perspective. I thought for sure that those newborn nighttime fussy periods would last for decades, that potty training would forever make me a captive in my own home, that my toddler would never eat a green vegetable. All of these concerns took up a lot of mental energy, energy that with more kids naturally goes elsewhere.

With one child, there was a lot more boredom, a lot more endless winter afternoons, a lot more time to stew over my parenting approaches and question my tactics. With more, I gained knowledge, trust, and perspective, but I also gained helpers and my kids gained playmates. Days got busier, fuller, more fun, more rewarding. I learned to let go of the silly little things that once irked me, like toddler nightwaking or picky eating. I learned to take better notice of the passing of time with my little ones. I learned to remind myself that even on those tough mothering days, those days when nothing seems to go smoothly, that I chose this job, this privilege of mothering three precious people, and it's up to me to do it right.

"Yes," I answer to the passersby: "Full and fulfilled."