Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ideal Reading Programs and Kumon (I Can Finally Verbalize Why Their Reading Program Is Bad!)

I read a book on classical education called The Well-Trained Mind that finally has enabled me to verbalize what it is that I don't like about the Kumon reading program!

Yes, the sentences are dumb and the philosophy is bad, but that has been the case in every program I have looked into. What I don't like about it is that it is a language arts program, not a reading program.

Reading and writing are different skills and were treated as such in classical education. Reading, Penmanship, Spelling, Grammar, and Rhetoric/Writing were all treated as different subjects. No wonder educated people had such beautiful penmanship – it was its own discipline, with its own goals. Imagine giving your brain only one instruction at a time: for now we shall focus on the sounds that letters make, and for now we shall focus on shaping letters beautifully, and now on how things are spelled, and now on sentence structure (which is pre-logic), and now on expressing our thoughts (rhetoric).

Back when public education consisted solely of the three "R's" (reading, rhetoric, and 'rithmatic), reading (sounds, penmanship, and spelling) took up three different periods of study and then rhetoric (grammar and writing) took up two more different periods of study! Did they spend three hours a day on what we now cram into one forty minute session (the young children anyway)?

I have read before about how much more intelligent people were in the mid 1800's than they are today. There are many possible explanations for this, but what if it's all about reading? It could be argued: Reading is communication, is thinking, is reasoning. It could be argued that being able to read well is the skill we have lost that has led to so much poor thinking.

In Bauer's book she gives an example schedule for a first grader. The homeschool day is about three hours long, half of which is dedicated to the five reading subjects.

Bauer's main argument for keeping the five skills of the language arts curriculum separate is that most normal children can read at a fourth grade level by kindergarten (given proper instruction), but no child can write at a fourth grade level until, well, third or fourth grade. Combing the two together forces kids to stay behind in reading! Which makes reading boring.

So, having spent pretty much all my free time this week researching the different reading programs this is what I have concluded: Hooked on Phonics is fine (the boxed program with flashcards and book, not the ap.) It's not perfect, but it is complete and orderly. It's actually better than 100 Easy Lessons in many ways (because it introduces all the different sound variations). Where I went wrong with it is something that I actually love about Kumon: mastery. We do not move on until we master this skill. Because Anders could read (by sounding out) all the words in his kindergarten and first grade programs, we moved on to second grade.

But Anders is still sounding out words instead of having memorized sound combinations. For example, when he sounds out milk, he says, m-i-l-k. He should actually sound it out m-i-lk, having memorized the sound combination lk,

I will do Phonics Pathways with my next kid, but for Anders, we will head back to Hooked on Phonics, tail end of the Kindergarten level. We went through the box today, and he is very excited about doing such easy reading again.

*Note, Kumon is also not phonics enough, way too much sight words in their program.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favorite Homeschool Curriculums

*For those of you following Anders's education, here is an updated list of my favorite reading and math programs. I will keep it updated as I find new ones. The following programs should last all the way through 8th grade.

Reading: (starting at age 3)
Phonics Pathways (Hooked on Phonics is also fine)
Supplemented with Explode the Code workbook series (when comfortable with writing)
Read a lot of great books

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting

Spelling (starting at age 7):
Modern Curriculum Press Spelling

Grammar (starting at age 7):
First Language Lessons, then
Hake Grammar (age 9)

Writing (starting at age 7):
The Complete Writer, then
Writing & Rhetoric (age 10)

Kumon (age 3)
Montessori math work (age 3-6)
Right Start Mathematics (starting at age 7)
Singapore Math (starting at age 7)

Yes, eventually, you do three math programs at the same time (Kumon, Right Start, and Singapore). One each day rotating or a little of each every day.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dynasties: How to Avoid "Blue Collar to Blue Collar in Three Generations"

I am currently studying family systems, what leads families to stay together, and what tears them apart or encourages their dispersement. Seventy percent of all generational wealth transfers fail. And then there is the proverb that is, statistically speaking, almost always true: "Blue collar to blue collar in three generations." Why?

The story generally goes like this: An ambitious middle class man creates great wealth and starts a family dynasty. His children try not to mess it up, but mostly they are lazy and/or uncreative. The fortune is no long grows, rather, it stagnates. The grandchildren are worse than the children, even less creative, and sometimes despots, and now the fortune decreases. By the time the great-grandkids are grown, there is no fortune. The dynasty is over and the family is back to blue collar work.

I have been coming up with theories about how families can fight the proverb since I began working for families who were dealing with these issues. For a long time my answer has been: Your children are headed toward the mean because you are not raising them – middle class nannies and teachers are. Want your children to have your values, habits, and skills? You need to be the one who raises them.

But recently I have come to a second realization. In some ways, it only appears that the children are "not great" like the parents. And it only appears that the parents are all that great. Because most of the time it takes three generations to make the "great creator." I think the story is six generations long.

Generation 1: The pioneer generation. They struggle for survival in a new ecosystem. A concrete example of this: A young man, raised by an unsuccessful Inn Keeper, decides to be a farmer as there is an opportunity for cheap land out west. He goes there. It is wilderness. It is far from anyone he knows. Though he knows how to run and inn, he does not actually know how to farm. And though his parents weren't ideal, at least he knew people in the town where he grew up. Now he know's no one. But he is hardworking and determined to make something of himself. Survival isn't easy or guaranteed at first, but he plugs away, clearing the land, breaking in the soil, building a tiny cabin, and saving. He marries and works his tail off to feed his offspring. He has to create a new family culture because the only thing he was able to learn from his own parents was what not to do. So he does not turn to drink, does not divorce, does not indulge in overspending, etc, but he is a lot better at knowing what not to do than what to do.

Generation 2: The second generation continues what the pioneers began. With hard work and perseverance they will do well, but they will never make it big. Outlying success will allude this generation. In my concrete example: The children of the pioneer don't need to spend a decade breaking in virgin soil, learning the native plants of this ecosystem, clearing the land, or even figuring our what values lead to success. They inherit this wealth of knowledge, and they improve upon it. They build bigger houses, barns, and better tools. They plant trees for beauty, not just for food. Their father was only ever able to think about the current year. Because they are already on top of that, they plan ten years ahead. They grew up knowing people in the area - small time farmers like themselves, but unlike their father, they have a support network (not to mention the best support network their is, successful family members nearby). They also build on the family culture. Their parents were good parents, but they want to be even better.

Generation 3: The outliers. They can do what their parents and grandparents could not. Biographies will be written about them. They will be heralded as the creators of dynasty. In my concrete example: The grandchildren of the pioneers are born into a family successful enough that they have free time. Their family farm is already productive and beautiful, so they focus on improving it even more, making it not just beautiful but glorious, and making it not just productive but top notch. They grew up watching their parents be alluded by the big leagues, and they know exactly what they need to do to go big. They go to school, and college. They network. They have a support network of a higher caliber than their parents did. Their family has now made it and they are revered for their success.

But their childhoods are not given enough credit. Their parents and their grandparents, keeping it together despite the rigors of pioneering in a new field, are not given enough credit. They don't become part of the family myth. Whether it's Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson or Beyonce or Gwenyth Paltrow, the third generation outlier becomes this heroic individual who did it with help from his parents, sure, but not to the extent that anyone imagines. And now we get to their children.

Generation 4: How do you follow up a truly incredible parent? Hopefully the Generation 3 Outlier used his success to find the best possible mate he could and then settled into focusing on his own children. More likely, he will be seduced by his own success and not able to give it up. He will spend his life focusing on attaining even higher echelons of success. He will fail to raise his children.

A child of an outlier, say, Beyonce's kids for example, has a choice when it comes to work:
-Don't work and live off the family money
-Try to outdo mother
-Try to do her own thing (i.e. be a pioneer in a new field and/or ecosystem)

Family systems experts generally recommend to heirs that they do their own thing. They inevitably end up not being very impressive. The experts recommend having compassion for them. 

Much of the time, families return to pioneering before the third generation is even reached. Perhaps the family has bought into the cultural myth that everyone must have a One True Passion, and the point of childhood is to find it. Many in academia believe that if all children worked in fields different from their parents, they would not be able to benefit from nepotism, and the playing field would be leveled for all. If everyone was always a pioneer, we would all be equal!

The hard life of a pioneer is also often the end result of twenty-two years in school. Well-meaning parents deprive their children of the wealth of knowledge they would have received from a childhood at their side. So they end up, at twenty-two, starting as a pioneer in his parent's business - a pioneer because even though it is his parents line of work, he has no experience in it.

The fourth generation children, the children of outliers and successful people, will most likely never be that successful, not because they are lazy or losers or less than their parents, but simply because they are pioneering in a new field. They will struggle just to survive in their chosen career in ways that their parents cannot possibly understand.

A second or third generation success cannot fathom what it is like to arrive in the wilderness and learn an entire ecosystem. This is another reason why so many children of successful people choose to be pioneers – because the successful parents advising the children have no idea how hard it is. As a rule, the successful people were not pioneers. They think success is easy and anyone can do it.

In my concrete example, the generation four child of the outlying farmer is told that he can do anything with his life. All he has to do is work hard and he will be a success like his father. So he goes to college and studies film. When he graduates he moves to Los Angeles to be a director. He spends his family's money lavishly and, though he is able to get a foothold, he doesn't find any success in his career. It is so depressing for him, measuring himself up against his father, that he turns to drink. He is a horrible parent to his own children.

Generation 5: Raised by a depressed, alcoholic father who failed to make it as a director, this guy decides that the movie industry is not a safe bet. His family still has enough money for him to go to college. He studies business. He gets a job in Chicago running an inn and, as a pioneer, struggles just to survive. He wasn't raised with any good examples of hard work, rather he grew up learning how to be depressed and drink his problems away. This he does.

Generation 6: The fortune is gone now. The family is now blue collar again. Generation 6 will not be able to afford college. He is raised by an alcoholic failure who runs an Inn. All he knows about his future is that he doesn't want to be like his father.

So I think the proverb should be: "Blue collar to Blue Collar in Six Generation." And I think the problem is a general failure to understand that success takes generations to build.

So what does this mean for you and your family or me and mine? I think it would be helpful for families to place themselves: Are you a pioneer, pioneering in a new line of work that you did not learn from your parents as a kid? Are you second generation, successful and perhaps even very wealthy, but not to the level that biographies will be written about you? Are you third generation, the outlier that most likely your child cannot top? 

If you are a pioneer, you will most likely think your career is a dead end. You will hope your child does something "better." College will fix it! This is your mistake.

I met a guy the other day named Matt. He never went to college. He was raised by a single mother, an immigrant. She worked a minimum wage job and could barely feed him when he was a kid. He quit school at sixteen. He is now forty-years-old and owns thirty two convenience stores. He makes a fantastic living. How did he pull that off?! Hint: He was not the pioneering generation.

His mother worked at a 7-11 for his entire childhood. She couldn't afford daycare, and they didn't know anyone, so he hung out at her 7-11 after school. He knew how to run the place by the time he was twelve. Started working there himself when he was fourteen. Saved up and bought his first 7-11 when he was twenty-five. Killed it. Most people who run 7-11's don't understand how to run them, he told me. He does.

The lesson: If you are a struggling pioneer don't assume your child will struggle as hard as you. You paved the way. Your child has been paying attention. Invite your child to your life. He will do it better. Don't assume your career is a dead end or you life isn't a worthy one to invite your child to join. If you can just keep it together, despite the insane difficulty of your life, your children will do great.

The other lesson: Many people would look at Matt, the guy who owns thirty-two convenience stores, and mistake him for the pioneering generation, after all, his mother never owned any convenience stores. This is not the case. Matt is the second generation in his family to work in the field of convenience stores. Unfortunately, because Matt chose a line of work his childhood had perfectly prepared him for, he thinks that anyone could do what he did, anyone willing to work hard can reach his level of success. That is the mistake the second generation makes.

And one more lesson: If pioneers can just provide their children with basic survival and a good parent-child relationship, the family will rise. But pioneers need to stick to it and not flail about.

Laura Ingles Wilder's story is a good example of pioneers that could have made it, but instead, flailed about, not settling down, not focusing on providing their children with enough nutrition for them to reproduce well. Their children lived to adulthood, so it seemed like they were successful. They probably told themselves that they were fine parents. Three of the daughters married. But there was only one grandchild for Ma and Pa Ingles and she could not have children. There were no great-grand children. The evidence points toward malnutrition related infertility, the physical degeneration Weston A Price writes about. 

If you are second generation, your weakness will be having no idea how hard it is to be a pioneer. Picture Matt's mother and how successful she was, or Pa and Ma Ingles and how successful they were. If you sentence your child to the life of a pioneer, that will likely be that level of success, not yours.

Also, don't assume your kid wants to do his own thing if he knows the true choice. Don't send him down the pioneer track by sending him to a "good school" and being able to afford after school activities or a wife at home that prevents him from hanging out with you at the office all day. Your mistake will be one of ignorance, not appreciating what your parents did that you were able to build on. Be clear with your kids: You can be a pioneer, but you most likely will not find the level of success I have found. If you want to start studying the family business now (at seven years old) you have a chance at becoming an outlier.

The key take away is to be clear with children about the real choice. Hard work is not all it takes to reach a second generation level of success at a reasonable age.

For example, Laura Ingles Wilder found success as a pioneer in the in the field of writing – when she was seventy years old.

If you are adult second-gen who just realized how hard it is going to be to be a pioneer, but its too late to spend your childhood learning the family business, consider accepting your pioneer status and focusing on your children: They can be second generation in whatever field you are pioneering, or, if you raise them at Grandpa's office, they can take your place as the outlying, third generation.

Before I move on to third generation, it should be mentioned that staying at what I am calling second generation levels of success is something a family can actually maintain for many generations. The third generation doesn't have to become outliers. They can build on their family's wealth while focusing on their children. They can grow the company, but not be consumed by it. In fact, in my current studies of the institution of family, the most successful families (in terms of their long term ability to maintain a high level of wealth and stay together as a family) follow this model.

If you are third generation, and people are writing biographies about you, you are in the riskiest spot. If you have made outlying success, you will most likely struggle the most at parenting because your success keeps you stuck in the maiden/squire phase of life and because your children will grow up in your shadow.

You could try to lessen the shadow, toning it down at work. This would happen naturally if you let go of your maiden/squire phase. If your focus becomes your child, and you bring your child to life with you. What happens? You can't do as much. You have to slow down. If you are Beyonce, you do maybe three shows a year, and you prepare for them for months – they take a lot longer to prepare for because your five-year-old is there wanting to learn the dance routine too. You don't make quite as much money because your time is being poured into your child. But in the end, it's wonderful, because you are not a maiden trying to attract the attention of the highest status mate you can anymore. You are a mother now, trying to raise a child who can attract the highest quality mate. You can't buy a good mate for your kid. You can only focus on your child, helping her to become the best potential mate she can be.

That's how I can see a third generation successful family working. It is also currently the only way I can see outlying success work at all in a family that thinks in long-term ways (encourage outlying success in the young as a mating strategy, but once mated, get out of the limelight). Because otherwise, outlying successes are so difficult for the next generation to overcome, that I am not sure a family thinking long-term should even strive for it. In many ways those who choose outlying success for their career might consider forgoing having children as to do so is inconsiderate of them. The outlying success who continues to be so after his children are born is not a good parent, and if he ever does graduate from squire to king, he is the king who cannot give up his throne.

Another option for outlying families would be to take the child destined for a pioneer career, and your fourth generation child isn't going to follow your career, perhaps he can pick something you exposed him to, so he will have a better chance of not being a total pioneer. For example Brad Pitt's kids could consider architecture or directing or working for the UN. In this way maybe they can pull off (almost) second-generation status. Should they choose chemistry, they will be pioneers. It's fine to choose chemistry, but they should be made aware of the reality of the choice they are making.

Another strategy for a third generation parent is to have the child pick something when he is very young. In this way, both child and parent have ten to twenty years to learn about that field, giving the child possible second-generation status by middle age. The danger is that the parent will underestimate the level of involvement needed on his part, thinking that that $150/hr tutor is enough. The tutor is not enough. Every line of work is its own world, it's own ecosystem. If you own a soap business, you can buy your child acting lessons from the best teachers in the world, but if you don't take the time to meet people in the film business, and develop relationships with them, your child will end up a pioneer. 

Anyway, not saying there are not exceptions or that this is The One True Rule. It's just a trend that I have noticed.

You may not understand what I mean when I say "pioneer" unless you have read this post: You may not understand what I mean when I say "maiden" or "squire" later unless you have read this post:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Where RIE and I Part Ways

A friend of mine was reading a Janet Lansbury's book and wanted my opinion on the following three paragraphs (which I have divided into chunks according to my responses):

"A child should have a child's life and not be an appendage of an adult's life. Children should have their own age-appropriate experiences.""

I have seen many children treated as if they were pets or trophies of their parents. To the extent that Lansbury means children should own their lives, I agree. But I think she doesn't mean what I want her to mean. I think she is a benevolent dictator. What is "a child's life?" Sounds like something an adult invented that he is forcing upon the child to me. The child should not "be an appendage" of the adult, but neither should he be a prisoner to the Victorian and Waldorf ideals of what "childhood" should consist of.

To the extent that she wants children to be excluded from the real world "for their own good," I completely disagree.

"Few adults adapt to a child's life--her size, temperament, and timing. Many expect children to adapt to adult life. This is very difficult for children to do. Children can adapt to anything, but it isn't in their best interest."

These statements I agree with. It is very hard to communicate effectively with a baby or toddler if the adult does not adapt to the child's timing. Notice when you talk to your baby, you have to count to four before you can see her reaction or comprehension.

Here is a great video of Anders to illustrate that:

At the end of the video he finally accomplishes his goal and smiles. But that smile takes a few seconds to appear. When Anders was able to lift his legs for me at diaper time he did, but I had to say, "I am ready for you to lift your legs," and then count to four, before those little legs lifted.

This is why I so heartily recommend going to RIE classes and watching them with babies--how slow they are, and how effective their communication is. (But of course it doesn't mean I agree with all of their ideas.)

But I think it may be important again to say: balance. Sometimes the child adapts. Sometimes the adult adapts. As long as the focus is on everyone getting their needs met, as long as everyone's needs matter, I don't see this being a real issue.

"Sadly, children hang on to their parents' lifestyles. The mother needs to shop, so the baby shops. The mother needs to run errands, so the baby runs errands. Everybody survives this, though it's not ideal for your child."

It is one thing to take a child shopping, rush him, and ignore his needs. It is quite another thing to take a child shopping, be present, and enjoy it as a way for the two of you to spend time together.

I remember wonderful times with Anders in the grocery stores. I always asked him if he wanted to go beforehand. He was generally excited to go and loved running errands with me. Every store was an adventure for him, and it was fun for me to share that with him. Trips to the store were very slow with him along, of course. He often needed to check something out for so long that I was done with a few emails on my phone before he was ready for me to keep pushing the cart. There were days when we were in a hurry, but on those days he would hurry with me--we were a hurry-ing team. And if hurrying wasn't working out we would make a choice to skip something. If Anders ever didn't want to on an errand,  I would put my errands off until later when he was happy to go, or I would negotiate with him and make some sort of trade so that we could both get our needs met.

In relationships there are always conflicting needs. In the parent-child relationship, parents are too often given the choice between bulldozing their child or sacrificing themselves. Lansbury seems to be advocating for the parents to sacrifice themselves. But she is also advocating for separation--daycare and nannies. There is an implied threat here: If you can't sacrifice your own needs to give your child a "child's life" then you should hand him to a daycare where he can have a proper "child's life."

It's this false dilemma that has led to the destruction of our families.

In all of our relationships we have a similar dilemma whenever there are conflicting needs: Should one person's needs get sacrificed? Should one person's needs get bulldozed? Of course not. We compromise. We trade. We look for the win-win. We find a way for both parties to get their needs met. It is no different with children.

Why would we skip teaching our children this valuable life skill and instead teach them that when people have conflicting needs, they should split up and go their separate ways? Not saying there isn't a time and a place for people to go their separate ways, just saying that in the daily life of a baby, daycare isn't more ideal than being with mom, being home isn't more ideal than being out--as long as everyone's needs are being respected.

I see the parent-child relationship as a fantastic place to practice "Both our needs matter! Let's find a way to get both our needs met!" Lansbury's "sacrifice or separate!" doesn't work for me at all.

"A child's life should be boringly the same--boring for the adult rather than for the child. In this way she develops an inner rhythm. Children aren't happy spending hours in car seats or shopping. Malls are not for children. They are overstimulating. Children need a life of their own."

This first sentence is very sad. Time for parents to sacrifice in the name of this ideal of their child developing an "inner rhythm." Whatever that means.

I totally disagree that a child's life needs to be boringly the same. It will be, even if the parents don't sacrifice themselves. The average adult only goes to seven places on regular basis. I think that qualifies as "boringly the same." Should the child join the adult in his/her life, the child will learn how to be in those seven places and that is great. The child will feel competent at life in the world and be competent at life in those places and have a life beyond his house, relationships beyond his parents.

Children, in my experience, love the world and want to know about the world. They also love their houses and want to stay home. Same as grownups--we want to go out sometimes; we want to stay in other times. There is no One Rule like "children need a boring schedule that is always the same." This is hogwash. I am a big advocate of striving for authenticity rather than consistency. The whole idea behind being consistent with children is that it makes it easier to control them. I have found that even the very youngest children are capable of complexity (e.g. inconsistency).

Children are not happy to spend hours in carseats and neither are adults happy to spend hours in the car. When Anders was a baby he would strongly object to being in his carseat after two hours. So when we had a drive longer than that I plan the trip so every two hours we could stop somewhere for at least an hour. Usually we would stop for lunch at a park, other times we would check out a random store (like a book store) to give us a break. Other times we would rethink the trip. There is nothing we truly have to do. Everything is a choice.

As long as I approached every situation with the belief that Anders's needs mattered too, there always seemed to be a way for us to both be content.

"Allowing your child a child's life means letting her play peacefully at home, indoors and out, with her play interrupted only by daily caregiving necessities and occasional errands. In earlier times children had more of a chance to do this. In modern culture, life is more urban and less rural, and it takes effort to provide a child with this kind of environment."

For Lansbury, "allowing" her child to "have a child'd life" means imprisoning him in the Victorian childhood.

For me, I "allow" my child to own his body and be in charge of his property. His needs and opinions matter; he is invited to help plan his own schedule and have input on family decisions. He is encouraged to decide what is best for him--staying home or going out and then negotiate accordingly. He is not shut out of aspects of my life in the name of "childhood."

My distaste for Lansbury's wording aside, it's important to note that Anders largely lived her ideal childhood. He spent a great deal of time at home when he was a baby. I tried to never interrupt what he was working on. He played peacefully, indoors and out. He had a chance to really explore the world around him--the very safe and contained little world in our Oxnard house and then our LA house. As soon as he could scoot, he generally scooted to wherever I was and sought a way to join in with what I was doing. The series of videos on my Anders playlist on YouTube illustrates his early life pretty thoroughly. I didn't overstimulate him. I let him be in charge of what he was interested in. I did my own thing (cooking, cleaning, reading, writing) and he found ways to join or not. Sometimes I stopped what I was doing and just watched what he was doing or interacted with him if he wanted to interact.

What I see is that children want to play versions of or explore whatever adults are doing. But how can they do this if they are deprived of adults? To me, respecting a child means inviting him into my world and then letting him be free to explore it how he wishes (as long as it is respectful to me).

Also, I think Anders had a fine baby-hood, the best I could do--but it's not the ideal childhood I envision. It was much too much work for me (and Tom) and far too lonely.

When Anders was an eighteen-month-old we attended a family wedding at a campground resort. Each family had a little cabin and outside our cabins was a grassy area with picnic tables, trees and a creek. That's where all the action was. There were always kids and adults out on that grassy area doing something.

During that long weekend Anders would wake up in the morning, get dressed, and rush outside to the grassy area. He felt totally comfortable saying, "Bye!" to me and heading there all by himself. He played with his cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family friends, and explored the creek, plants, and trees. He would come back to the room looking for me every few hours for a diaper change, food, or cuddles (though I was often outside and then he would find me there). It was really beautiful and effortless. In our regular life he could only join in on whatever I was doing. There he could choose from among what twenty or thirty different people were doing. He could choose which activity was the most interesting to him, or what person he wanted to get to know better. That is what I envision as the ideal childhood.

The nice thing about what I envision is that if the child wants to stay in the house and not be with people or be out in the world, he totally can. But there is a world out there for him to be a part of if he chooses.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What Maids, Cooks, Drivers, Gardeners Have to do with Raising Children

*I just updated the Nicaraguan gulch post with this paragraph, but I thought it also deserved its own post.

I ran into an Argentinian couple the other day. They met in New York and lived there until the birth of their first child. They found raising children in NYC to be unbearable, so they moved to Nicaragua. Not Argentina. Not elsewhere in the US. Why? Because they wanted more children. And in Nicaragua (unlike the US or Argentina) they could afford it and enjoy it. Because to truly enjoy raising your children you need help, they told me. In Nicaragua they could afford the maid, cook and driver that make raising children so much more enjoyable.

This hit home for me because I worked for some of the wealthiest families in Los Angeles--they had full time maids, cooks, and nannies--but raising children in those lonely houses was still unbearable.

I envisioned how a city gulch (a place where one could enjoy raising her children) could work, but it required too much capital to get it going. So I chose the farm gulch, where raising Anders is every bit as idyllic as I imagined it would be. It's not perfect, but if there were 120 voluntaryists here it would be as close to perfect as my ideal life could possibly be.

It's hard for egalitarian Americans to understand the value of having help. The fact is: All parents would be significantly happier with maids, cooks, drivers, gardeners, personal secretaries, and the like. Raising children is not a two person job. Yes, I would rather the help be grandparents, bachelor uncles, spinster aunts, strange cousins, and single friends but that was not an option for me. So I chose the paid staff. What I don't consider a viable choice is the two parents doing it alone. It's just too miserable and hard.

Every parenting book talks about the time crunch, and how you have to lower your cleanliness standards, lower your organizational standards, lower your cooking standards, lower your expectations of your own behavior: That is the only way the two-parent household can cope with parenting. This is nuts.

When raising children our behavioral standards and cooking (nutrition) standards should be of the highest quality in our lives. Or at least that's what I wanted for my parenting experience. So, like the Argentinians, I live in Nicaragua.

"It was a very simple decision for us," the Argentinian woman told me, "if we still lived in New York, my younger two children would never have been born."

I concur!

That being said, let me state the problem in a different way so that other solutions become apparent: A child is a 98 hour a week responsibility, not including nights, cooking, and cleaning. 98 hours is a hard load to carry. This load would be easier divided up among three people. Interestingly enough, here in Nicaragua I have a cook, a maid, and me here to care for one child. This is easy and an enjoyable way to do things. But with this arrangement, I could handle a lot more kids, up to six I would say. Now, I can't pop out five more kids because I spend about five months of the year in Los Angeles (or Santa Barbara or Whistler or wherever we decide to go). Those months are grueling. But, what if, in Los Angeles, three sets of parents decide to live together and share a cook and a maid? Now, not only do I have a cook and a maid in Los Angeles, I have companionship at home and so does my son! Now parenting is more enjoyable.

The same can be done in other places. I think parents would be wise to form groups of 4-5 couples. The couples decide to raise their children together. Perhaps they buy one big house or apartments all next door or they live in a neighborhood and make one big backyard instead of five backyards. Better yet maybe there could be a house with four different wings and then a shared play space for the children and cooking space in the center. This is very similar to the extended families that reared children for so many centuries. The kids are happy because they have people to play with. The women are happy because they have people to cook and clean with. The kids can connect with more than just their moms (they have other adults around). Better yet if the guys work within walking distance or at home so the working world can be part of their lives as well. But now we are getting into the "City Gulch" idea I wrote about before:

I am not saying that the two parent household isn't doable. Children have been raised in two person households (and one parent) for almost a century. I am saying that it is not enjoyable. Sure, everyone loves their kids. But man is it hard! So hard, that most people, as soon as they leave their extended family situation, will opt for having just 1 kid. The birthrate in all affluent societies is always negative. Immigrants live with their extended families and have a lot of kids. Then they adapt to the Western way of doing things, switch to a two parent household, and voila, negative birth rate for them too.

The solution in some societies has been more and more compartmentalization of life and government involvement in the family. "Oh no, we have a negative birth rate! Let's get them to have more kids by paying for child care and school!" The problem is: This doesn't fix the problem. It makes parenting doable but not enjoyable. Children raised by other people become alienated from their parents. Children removed from the world require parents to be removed from the world or to be separated from their children. Instead, people interested in solving the negative birth rate problem need to think: Under what set of circumstances is raising children enjoyable. If it is enjoyable people will do it more.

The solution I propose is:
1. Invite children back into the world
2. Keep families together
3. Get rid of the nuclear family as a child-rearing model

Lastly, if you want to go all conspiracy theorist, consider that the government does not benefit from happy families that are wonderfully bonded and love each other. Governments do not like multigenerational extended families because they are their own little worlds--and if they get big and strong they may end up wanting to be their own government.... Governments benefit from raising the kids. They get to decide what values are imparted onto them. They make the kids into "Americans" instead of proud member of "Clan Garrett." The loyalty is to them, not the family. The family bonds, severed in childhood, keep the government in power. Moreover, the harder and more miserable parenting is, the more willing people are to hang their children to the government to be raised (free school! free daycare! let's be like Sweden!)

Not saying there is a conspiracy going on. Just saying people make decisions based on what benefits them. Those in power are not benefited by competing powers.

Monday, November 28, 2016

My Favorite Things

For those of you who need them, here are some gift ideas - my very favorite things:


Seven Dry Shampoo
I have tried a dozen dry shampoos at this point, trying to find one that doesn't leave my hair white and my scalp itchy. Seven's Dry Shampoo is expensive, but it is so much better than all the others I have tried it's in a league all by itself.



Vivo Barefoot Shoes for kids over 5
The shoes Anders wore after he was 5, again the focus is on healthy food and body development

Hanna Anderson Moccasins for kids under 5
Shoes that don't harm developing feet, the only shoes Anders wore until he was 5

Dress Up Shoes for Boys

Rain Boots
Western Chief Firechief 2 Rain Pull-On Boot

Children should never wear clothing that would hinder their body's natural movement. Many of today's jeans prevent proper bending and sitting and encourage slouching, for example.

Kids Sun Hat

World History Time Line

Evolution and Classification of Life Poster

Art Classes
Because beauty is objective



Everything on my top 9 reading recommendations list

and all the five star books on my bibliography page

All the Books in Red on this List


Nourishing Our Children
Our Daily Bread
The Future of Food
The Business of Being Born
Terry Jones documentaries
Babies (the documentary)
March of the Penguins
More Than Honey


The Wedge that has helped to change how my body bends
and the book

Vivo Barefoot Shoes
I still love Vibram five fingers, but I like these better because they are easier to put on and I get to wear socks.

MSM Shampoo and Conditioner
Over the last five years I have switched natural shampoo and conditioner pretty much every other month, going through many brands searching for one that would meet my needs to soft, shiny, hair and toxin free ingredients. This is the first one I have tried that I would recommend to other people.

LoveStock Tallow Balm
We are animals, not plants. Why would we rub plant oils on our bodies when we need moisturizer? Best lotion/chapstick I have ever used, no contest.


Blinc Mascara I tried over a dozen mascaras looking for one that would not leave shadows under my eyes. This is the only one I have ever found that does not.

The Wet Brush
A post-shower revolution!

Fashion Academy Personal Colour Consultant 
A handy little book about the size of a checkbook that has your best colors in it. (Beauty is objective. There are colors that maximize your attractiveness potential and colors that kill your attractiveness potential. The more attractive you are, the more likely you are to get what you want in any situation. Maximizing your attractiveness potential is not a superficial thing to attend to!) I have one of these books for me, my husband, and my son. I keep them in my purse when I go clothes shopping.
Carolyn did our colors in seconds using pictures of us on Facebook. I sent her a check in the mail, and she mailed me our booklets. and send her a check


Williams-Sonoma Veggie Chopper
The kitchen tool I use more than any other, chop onions without killing your eyes!

Williams-Sonoma Nutmeg Grinder
Easy fresh ground nutmeg

Pure Beeswax Candles


Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir Grape Juice

Roederer Estate Rose Sparkling Wine and especially their L'Hermitage Rose

Honey Patties (for stockings!)

Maple Candy (for stockings!)

The Apple Farm's French Plum Chutney

SeaSnax Organic Roasted Seaweed Snack Grab and Go, Toasty Onion

One Degree Organic Foods Organic Sprouted Spelt Flour

Any of the classes offered at Culture Club 101

Any of the classes offered at North House Folk School


The Sunrise Alarm Clock
I loved this thing back in the days when I woke up by non-child alarm clock and lived in a city where I was deprived of the darkness and light that regulates my sleeping at our farm in Nicaragua.


Women's Pajamas



Firefly & Serenity
The Matrix
Into the Wild
The Incredibles
The Iron Giant
The Lego Movie



ANYTHING THEY SELL AT I have never found any other company to be as knowledgable as these two about things like air and water purifiers, mattresses, and other home goods. A person answers the phone and will tell you the whys on all of their products. I highly value customer service like theirs! (for those of you with a politically incorrect sense of humor)

Friday, November 11, 2016

In Search of a Good Family Model

*This post is a follow up to the much more thorough post discussing this idea

Happiness is loving the people with whom you share your life and feeling that your life has meaning. (Or rather contentment. "Happiness" as the goal is out.)

I have long been disturbed by the destroyed families created by the educational system and the current cultural myth that there is One True Job for each person and we ought to leave the place we grew up and the people who matter to us and pursue that One True Job.

I am especially disturbed by the myth that a man who takes over his father's company instead of being a pioneer in something new is "not his own man." Rather than the world envying him for being part of a successful, united, special family he is seen as lesser to the pioneer man who leaves his family and grows more and more distant from them over the years and eventually repeats that process with his children.

Not that having a family business that gets passed down doesn't have drawbacks. But unless one is truly called to leave their families and do something else, I currently see the family business as a more ideal way to raise children than the current model in which families go their separate ways and spend their lives rather lonely for an idea of family that doesn't exist for them.

One of the most exciting things I have stumbled across so far in this research is the following:

Families that have had the same business for 200 years--

Education on the special challenges of working with family--

I am planning to read many more books on this subject and will report back to you once I have a more firm conclusion. In the mean time, here is a review of an excellent book on the subject that I just finished!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Things I Got Right and Wrong: The First Five Years

Before I had Anders, I had worked with kids for over a decade and had read hundreds of books on raising children. I had developed many hypotheses that I didn't get to fully put into practice until I had my own family. (And perhaps, if you have read the same books I have read, you have similar expectations.)

Here are the things I got wrong and right in my little n=1 study.

As Henrik grows I will update this list. If it says x2 it means I had the same results the second time around as well.


-By eating a high fat, med protein, low sugar diet I won't get morning sickness: RIGHT x2. (But pregnancy was still horrible.)

-By having my baby at home, where my subconscious brain feels safe, I will have a complication-free birth: RIGHT x2

-By having my baby at home I will have a peaceful birth: WRONG. Birth is horrific (in my opinion). It doesn't matter where you do it. *Learned this with Anders

-A water birth will make birth suck a little less: WRONG. Birth is horrific on land or in water. *Learned this with Henrik.

-By having my baby at home, and by studying birth psychology (hynobirthing, reading Baby Catcher), I will have a fast birth: RIGHT (3.5 hours for Anders, 6 hours for Henrik)


-By not using artificial light in the first two weeks, I will have a newborn that effortlessly learns night and day. RIGHT x2

-By eating a WAPF diet I will have a baby that does not spit up. RIGHT

-By eating a WAPF diet I will have a baby that never gets cradle cap, eye infections, or other illnesses. RIGHT

-I don't need to hire a lactation consultant as breast feeding is natural and easy. WRONG (I had actually always planned on having a lactation consultant as everything I had read told me that if I wanted to be successful at breastfeeding, that was the way to go, but then my mother put in her two cents and, well, I took her advice. Terrible mistake. Anders didn't get enough food for his first week.)

-By eating a WAPF diet and nursing Anders until he is three, he will not get cavities. WRONG (Well, we were traveling and not eating the WAPF diet when he got the cavities, and we arrested the cavities by returning to the WAPF diet... so this one is a little inconclusive).

-By following Dr. Mendelsohn's advice in How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor, I will avoid needless (all) trips to the doctor and the emergency room. RIGHT (after his well-baby, Anders went to the doctor only twice before he was five, once to retrieve something he put up his nose and once for diagnosis of impetigo rash. I did fail to avoid his getting an unnecessary chest xray by following bad advice from a doctor friend of mine.)

-By following Baby-Led Weaning I will have a baby that does not choke on food, regardless of the size presented i.e. I will not have to cut anything into baby-sized portions. RIGHT

-By putting my baby in cloth diapers, I will have a baby that never gets diaper rash. RIGHT

-By following RIE techniques I will have a secure and respectful relationship with my child. RIGHT

-By following RIE techniques I will have a self-confident baby. RIGHT

-By following RIE techniques my baby will develop good communication and cooperation skills at a very young age. RIGHT

-By following RIE techniques my baby will be able to entertain himself for long periods of time. RIGHTISH Anders could entertain himself longer than standard babies, but not as long as I had hoped for.

-I don't need to be "consistent;" babies are smart enough to understand why we do things this way one time and that way the next time and explaining these things to them makes them better decision makers. RIGHT


-By feeding my child whatever I am eating, I will have a child with an expansive palate, who enjoys flavorful food, including fish, sushi, and spicy foods. RIGHT

-By never having an opinion about whether or what my son eats when meals are presented to him, I will raise a "good eater." RIGHT

-By raising my son with RIE techniques he will be a safe climber and never get a hard hit to his head or break a bone. RIGHT

-By raising my child in reality--and therefore never giving him floaties or help that will give him an artificial relationship with the water--he will teach himself to swim at a young age, and be safe around pools and other bodies of water RIGHT (this means I sat in a chair near the pool while he crawled over and explored the water, not that I let him play near the pool while I went and made dinner).

-By inviting my son into the bathroom with me, discussing what is interesting about poop and pee, and allowing my son to spend time naked, I will have a child that is a) not afraid of toilets b) not afraid of pooping c) potty trains himself with ease. RIGHT

-There is no super-defiant "no" phase for respectfully raise children. RIGHT

-Because I don't chase after him or control him, because it is "our" goal to not lose one another, I will have a toddler that never runs away in stores or parks or other places. RIGHT

-By giving him information about safety around cars but not being controlling about it, my toddler will make safe choices in parking lots and around cars. RIGHT (He requested to be held or hold my hand.)

-If I use NVC, the woods good and bad will never be necessary. WRONG (concepts exist because we experience them, not because the words create them. It's important to be cognizant of what we are trying to express, but good and bad are fine, useful concepts.)

-If I create a respectful relationship with my son, he will give to me when I ask, for example, we will not struggle over him getting into his carseat. RIGHT (Anders was forced into his carseat against his will only once in his life.)

-By raising my child respectfully, he will not throw tantrums. RIGHT (though he did experience some strong emotions sometimes)

-By never hitting my son, I will have a child that never hits. WRONG

-By focusing on creating a secure attachment and respecting his needs, I will have a child who never protests when I drop him off somewhere or have a sitter come. RIGHT (I never once dropped him off and let him cry, or hired a baby sitter and let him cry. It was always his choice, and he chose to give me time off when I asked for it.)

-By not engaging in helicopter parenting and having a secure attachment, my child will choose to sleep in his own room RIGHT (though he went back and forth, and then at age 3 1/2 he stopped having a room of his own, so he slept with me from then on. Except at hotels when we have a suite. then he has the opportunity to have his own room and he takes it, and sleeps in it just fine.)

-By inviting my son to life with me, I will have a child quite advanced for his age in the study of real life. RIGHT (Note this is where RIE and I part ways. RIE does not invite children to life with their parent, but rather puts them into daycare.) Note what Anders could do when he was two:


-By eating a WAPF diet, we won't get colds. WRONG. (Though none of them have been serious. Anders has never been on antibiotics.)

-By eating gourmet, adult food from a young age, I will have a child that does not like the classic kid foods like pasta, pizza, hot dogs, and french fries. WRONG (He does like these foods, but also they are not really on his radar. He never requests them like he does steak, fish, and sushi.)

-By eating adult food from a young age and having absolute authority about what goes in and what does not go in to his mouth, I will have a child who is an "adventurous eater," willing to try new things. RIGHT (But though he has happily tried oysters, iguana, and testicles, he will not try most jellos, puddings, mashed potatoes or anything of that consistency.)

-Children allowed to freely choose will choose to wipe their noses. WRONG *Was happy to wipe nose on shirt starting at age 4, finally started using tissues at age 5 1/2

-Children allowed to freely choose, will choose to bathe. RIGHT

-Children allowed to freely choose, will choose to wash their hair with shampoo. RIGHT/WRONG (He started washing his hair with shampoo at age 4 1/2.)

-Children allowed to freely choose will choose to clothe themselves around the age of 5. RIGHT

-Children allowed to freely choose will share when it feels good for them to share. RIGHT (And they will not share when it doesn't feel good.)

-By making him largely responsible for his own safe choices, my son will make safe choices. RIGHT (I have been continuously impressed with his ability to judge whether something is safe or not for him to do.)

-If I use NVC with my son, his pretend games will have NVC. WRONG (Ish, he uses more non-NVC communication in his games than he does NVC, but he does use a little NVC.)

-If I am not violent and threatening, my son won't play games in which he uses threats and pretend violence. WRONG

-By focusing on creating a secure attachment, my child will not exhibit the nervousness, eye-twitches, and stuttering that are common at this age. RIGHT

-By teaching my son that his needs matter, and taking them seriously, I will have a child that does not whine--not because he is told not to whine, but because it would never occur to him to whine. RIGHT

-By treating my son with respect and empowering him to make his own choices, I will raise a child who is not obsessed with power (like dinosaurs, police, anything that represents being big and powerful to a child). WRONG (My conclusion here is that small, powerless people know they are small and powerless, even if you treat them otherwise.)

-If I raise my child in reality, my child will not get nightmares. RIGHT

-If I raise my child in reality (no night lights) and spend time with him looking at the stars, my child will not be afraid of the dark. RIGHT

-Because we don't watch other types of television, my son will enjoy documentaries. RIGHT

-If I homeschool my child, he will confidently converse with and make friends with people older and younger than he is, including teenagers and adults as well. RIGHT

-If I homeschool my child and we are television free, he will happily play with girls in addition to boys. RIGHT

-If I homeschool my child and we are television free, he will not care about the current popular toys or clothes. RIGHT

-By opting out of preschool and bringing Anders to life with me, I will get along with him better, have more in common with him, and like him more than other parents with children the same age. RIGHT (This is completely subjective of course.) I expect this to be even more true at 10 and 15 than right now.

-By not entertaining Anders from the beginning, I will have a child that is able to entertain himself. RIGHT (By this age, Anders can play by himself for hours at a time, and entire days when we are at the farm.)

-By never dropping Anders off anywhere against his will or hiring a babysitter and leaving him against his will, I will have a child who is not clingy, happy to go to camps and have babysitters, and who is an excellent judge of those caring for him. RIGHT *Anders is also generous with me. Sometimes the babysitter available isn't a great one, but I tell him I really need a night to myself, so he says he can do that for me.


-It is not necessary to read to a child before he is three years old in order to have a child who loves to read and can read at a young age. RIGHT

-Raised with information and freedom, young children will choose to eat healthy foods in addition to unhealthy foods. RIGHT

-Raised to see their bodies as their responsibility young children will take good care of their bodies. RIGHT (Anders doesn't take as good care as I would like him too, but he does a very good job.)

-Children can be exposed to reality (including death and violence shown documentaries) and it will not make them anxious if they have competent parents and a secure attachment. RIGHT. (Though Anders did sometimes reject certain books or documentaries by saying they were too scary, he was happy to try them again later. He chooses his tolerance level.)

-Children raised in reality are focused on their futures from a young age. RIGHT.

-If brought to life with their parents rather than put in a room with other people their age, young children will act more mature than their peers. RIGHT (Though the most noticeable difference is in how he speaks. People constantly comment to me about how advanced his vocabulary and ability to communicate is.) By constantly I mean every time we go out at least once and often more; everywhere we go people comment to me that Anders speaks incredibly well.

-By doing the above, parenting will be easier, less stressful, and more fun. WRONG. Despite the success of most of my hypotheses, parenting in this way is not easy and is completely exhausting. And being so different from the mainstream is stressful.

-By doing the above, parenting will be easier, less stressful, and more fun if I live on a farm. RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT SOOOOOOO RIGHT

-By doing the above, parenting will be easier, less stressful, and more fun if I live in an office complex like the one I describe here: I WAS NOT ABLE TO TEST THIS ONE


-Diet makes a big difference. When Anders does have a lot of junk food, he can become quite emotional and obnoxious.

-Cavities that don't hurt don't (usually) don't need to be filled. Honest dentists do exist.

-Topical medications can cure impetigo if you are dedicated; internal antibiotics are not necessary despite the doctor dramatically insisting.

-Despite efforts to not prop Anders and other efforts to encourage core development, he still did not retain his ability to squat nor does he bend from the hips. I am currently unclear on why this is.

-Four-year-olds are competent to follow a complicated route to a store a mile away from home without help (if they have traveled it before).

-Four-year-olds are competent to purchase items on their own.

-Even the youngest of children are competent with sharp knives, provided they are supervised and taught proper chopping techniques.

-Homeschooled children can be quite advanced academically compared to their pre-schooled peers, despite spending very little time each day doing school work.

-Anders's threshold for pain is higher now. He doesn't cry as much when he gets hurt, and many times he says, "It's not a big deal," and doesn't cry at all. But otherwise he has retained his ability to cry when injured. I saw him question this when we moved to Nicaragua as the children he hangs out with are extremely stoic. He started to try to be stoic too, but after I explained to him how crying releases stress hormones and is very good for us, he made a conscious decision to allow himself to be different from his peers in that way.

-Saying "No" to things Anders asks for is not a big deal. People gawk at me refusing to buy Anders things in the grocery store and him just accepting it like it's no big deal. If it is a big deal, he lets me know, but that is the exception not the rule. In general, it just isn't a big deal to him. My own inner child can barely handle it. "How can you not care about not having candy! You have to care! What's wrong with you?!"

-I am also surprised by just how influential I am, how many instances Anders simply defers to whatever I think is best. It's hard to explain because Anders is a very opinionated and strong willed little guy, yet ... he's also very compromising and reasonable and easy to get along with.


-By eating a WAPF diet and having him take cod liver oil every day, I will have a child who has a broader palate than he would have had otherwise i.e. a child who does not need braces despite the fact that both his parents wore them. (This wont be entirely conclusive with Anders as I did not start eating the WAPF diet until right after he was born. WAPF says you have to eat their diet for two years prior to conceiving to have a child who does not need braces.)

*I am sure there will be a lot more surprises! I just don't know what they are yet...

Monday, November 7, 2016

Notes on Anders's "Education" age 5

At  5


We stopped doing the 100 Easy Lessons program at lesson 90 (so close to the end!) because when we went to the Kumon center (for math) in June, Anders insisted on starting their reading program and doing two different reading programs proved to be more work than he wanted to do every day.

Though we don't do 100 Easy Lessons anymore, Anders still insists that it is his favorite program. I continue to be unimpressed by the Kumon reading program. Their math program is great, but their reading program is more interested in kids memorizing words than in kids learning to sound things out. And they also have a social agenda going on that I don't appreciate. But Anders wants to do it, so for now, that's what we are doing.

We have not had a lot of time to read before bed lately. Anders has so much he wants to do outside during the day that he races out in the morning and only comes in at dark, passing out in seconds. Despite this, we did recently finish Little Men, Escape the Rat Race: Learn How Money Works and Become a Rich Kid, and we are half way through Beowulf, which Anders really likes.

Note: I don't buy the dumbed-down, children's versions of classic books. A big reason I read classic literature to Anders is to expose him to vocabulary to which he wouldn't otherwise be exposed. The dumbed down versions of classic books, the "kids versions," don't add anything to Anders's vocabulary.

Moreover, the kids versions all sound the same. Reading different authors and time periods requires listening to very different voices and ways of communicating; it's like learning to speak different languages. Anders is at a crucial age in which he can absorb these voices and languages without resistance. With enough exposure, his brain will remain open to them and later he won't find books by Dickens or Shakespeare overly foreign or intimidating. (Or at least, that is my hypothesis.)


On his most recent visit to the Kumon center, Anders worked for an hour and fifteen minutes without stopping, doing over 100 pages of work. He made it to level 3A in Kumon math. 3A is adding 1, 2, and 3. It is the hardest level for young kids and generally takes six months to a year to pass. (Kumon doesn't pass a kid to the next level until they are flawless and fast at their current level.)

I am a big fan of the Kumon math program, but also the Montessori math program (Kumon for the repetition and required excellence, Montessori for concretizing mathematical concepts). This is why I looked into Montessori summer programs and found one in Santa Barbara that Anders was excited to attended. He stayed after the camp for an hour three times a week for a private math lesson. He liked these lessons so much that he requested to do them every day! His Montessori teacher reported to me that when she got him he was very advanced in math, right on par with her students who are about a year ahead of public school students. By the end of her six weeks with him, she said he had done the entire upcoming school year and was now two years ahead of public school students.

In one hour, three times a week for six weeks, a kid can do the work of  an entire school year. I think this is the most surprising thing to me about homeschooling: It takes so little time.

Anders's favorite games these days are: the Montessori Pythagorus Board, the Montessori Stamp Game, and Memory. But we have not been playing games all that much as Anders has been so busy working on the farm.

Anders's Work

What is Anders so busy doing on the farm all day? Well... it all started when the kids dug the hole for the fountain one week. I was so blown away by their work, that I offered them more work, but Anders declined. He didn't want to work on my projects anymore, he wanted to work on his own, he said.

Anders negotiated with me and Tom for land. Despite his initial attempt to use the argument, "You guys have so much land, and I don't have any, so it's fair," we eventually reached an agreement, and about 1/8 of an acre--from the jocote tree to his treehouse--was deemed his.

So, Anders and his friends (whom he was referring to as his workers) spent weeks digging holes underneath and around the tree house. Then off to the nursery they went and took three dozen plants. The gardener, German, went with them to make sure everything was planted properly and now near his tree house Anders has "a farm" that includes many flower plants, an aloe vera, and some young teak and mahogany trees.

Next Anders, German, and the local kids spent a few days digging a trench that extended from the jocote tree to Anders's tree house. They put rocks in their trench and Anders announced, "This is the fence to my property." For a while he had everyone asking permission before they set foot on his land. Several of the children tired of this game and stopped coming over every day. 

When there was nothing more to plant, Anders and German worked hard cutting down shrubby guacimo trees to allow in enough light for the young rainforest trees they planted to flourish. Anders is now really good with a machete:

I am not sure when Anders will tired of this game. For now, he says it is very important to get his current acre successful, so that he can have a second acre of land.

Social Skills

Anders continues to be confident, outgoing, authoritative, and bossy. He is often compassionate. He is a ridiculously good negotiator.

Anders is very interested in girls right now as he wants to find a partner/wife. He often makes art projects and saves them "to give to his partner" when he finds her.

Anders continued to lie about his age until about a month ago. He stopped telling people he was 13 or 19 around July as he found no one believed him. He started telling people he was 6. This confused a great many people. After September the excitement about his birthday took over, and he started telling people he would be 5 on October 20.

Anders values being a person who sticks to his deals, but he is currently not quite truly capable. Which is, developmentally speaking, totally fine. He has incredible perseverance to accomplish his goals--as long as they are intrinsically motivated.

Anders tells a lot of tall tales. Often they are benign lies that are things he wishes were true. "No it wasn't me that did that, it was Moises." I might say, "I think you wish that was the truth." Often he agrees that he wishes that were the truth. Other times he becomes offended and says he is not lying. Again, developmentally speaking, lying is not a big deal at this age. I want him to understand the concept of truth, but I don't want to make it a moral thing. I tell him truth is helpful, and truthful information enables us to make better decisions, but I don't make a big deal out of it. Though I never laugh, it is extremely difficult as his tall tales are immensely entertaining.

Anders's changing phone skills: When he was younger and he was done with a call, he would just hang up. Then, as he learned the social customs associated with telephones, he would interrupt whatever the person was saying, and say, "Bye!" and hang up. In the last year he began allowing people to finish their sentences before saying, "Okay bye!" and hanging up. Recently he has started waiting until they finish their sentence sand saying, "Well, I'm done talking now. Are you done?"


Anders's favorite food these days is jocote leaves. They taste like spinach, and the kids like to climb the tree and snack on them. I am having a hard time convincing them that they need to be washed first.

Anders commented to me the other day that the men who work at our farm chew with their mouths open. Though we read the book Manly Manners, it's not like I have ever told him to close his mouth while he eats (though, come to think of it, he does).

Personal Care

Anders showers every night before bed as always. He currently takes great care in washing his body, shampooing his hair, brushing his own teeth and water-picking. His motivation for this self-care evolution is that his future partner will want a man who is nice and clean.


Anders's main interest at the moment is dinosaurs, space, and airplanes.

He loves building with his legos. Currently he builds airplanes and methane factories. 

He loves all arts and crafts projects, and especially loves my pens and markers. He does not like his much larger collection of Crayola markers, colored pencils, and crayons. He says my markers (sharpies, nice art markers, painting-pens) make much richer colors. He also prefers the thick, nice paper that I like to use to the standard printer paper that I buy him. 

Anders has watched almost no documentaries lately. He is just too busy all day. Tom brought three new Families of the World DVD's from the library in LA for us to watch, and we had to really make time to watch them.


About six weeks ago, Anders got so busy with his farm project that he stopped doing his Kumon entirely for about ten days, after which we had a conversation something like this:

Me: Anders, I notice that you haven't done your Kumon work in over a week! Do you want to keep doing the program or should we stop doing it?

Anders: I want to do it, I just don't have time right now.

Me: That's fine. Maybe we can do it again later. It's just important for me to know because it costs money every month, and if you are not going to do it, I need to cancel it, so that we are not spending $260 a month on a program you are not doing.

Anders: No! Don't cancel it! I want to do it!

Me: You may want to do it, but you are not doing it. How about I wait until the end of the month to cancel it? If you start doing it again, I won't cancel it, but if you still aren't doing it, then I can cancel it. Is that good?

Anders: It's great! But I'm going to do it!

Me: Okay. (Totally non-committed, not having an opinion one way or the other.)

But the next day he did four days worth of pages (which I did not suggest, that was all him) and the following day he did two days worth of pages, and after that he has stuck to doing his daily pages.

Average day in Santa Barbara:

7am wake, dress, eat
730am walk to camp
8:00am camp
2:30pm math tutor
3:00pm swim in hotel pool, play 
5:00pm dinner and Kumon
6:30pm get ready for bed, read
6:45pm I start reading, and by the end of the first page Anders is asleep.

Average day at the farm:

5:30am wake, get dressed, rush outside to work with German

7:00am breakfast
7:10am back to work with German
11:30am lunch, Anders runs to the dining room when the lunch bell is rung; we talk about what we are up to; he eats very fast and rushes back out
11:45am back to work with German 
2:00pm swimming
3:00pm Legos
4:00pm dinner and Kumon
5:00pm get ready for bed
6:00pm Anders gets into bed with paper and a pen and plans his day for the next day
6:30pm I start reading and by the end of the first page Anders is asleep.

Notes on Anders's "Education" age 4 2/3

At  4 2/3


We stopped doing the Hooked on Phonics program (somewhere in the second half of first grade) and now we do solely the 100 Easy Lessons program. We have made it to lesson 80. Each lesson includes practicing a series of words and then reading a story that has those words in it. After lesson 70 or so, Anders started reading the story first. That way he would know which words he didn't know and needed to practice. Then we would go back and do the lesson, practicing just those words that he didn't know in the story and skipping the rest that he (rightly) found to be needless repetition. I continue to be impressed with his ability to direct his own learning and make whatever program we are doing work for him.

Though we no longer do any of the Hooked on Phonics lessons, Anders still likes to read the little books to himself.

In the last few months, we have read a lot of fairy tales. I am quite disturbed by them. Almost all of them seem to teach a "poor person" philosophy: Success in life is based on luck and magic; good people are people who do what they are told and never try to better their lives or are altruistic to a masochistic degree; good people are rewarded for their goodness by some benevolent, magical power. The only other path to success in life presented in Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales, is to be cunning, and trick other people out of their money. No one in these stories finds success in life because of consistent, dedicated hard work and moral behavior toward others.

I cannot recommend these stories for anyone's children.

A little research, of course, revealed that fairy tales ARE poor people stories! According to Ken Mondschein, Phd, who wrote the long introduction at the front of my 652 page Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales:

"Fairy tales are, after all, a form of folk tale. They were works of low culture – very unlike the stories of valiant knights and holy saints that the rich paid poets to compose in the Middle Ages.... For centuries, fairy tales were usually considered outside the bounds of refined taste. ... The Grimms intended their work to be the psychic bricks and mortar of a new Germany. This was a product of their time. ... The Grimms portrayed themselves as recording the authentic German spirit and culture, which they believed was not in the hands of the literary and sophisticated elites, but was instead unconsciously manifested through the words and deeds of the common people."

Despite my dislike of the values taught in fairy tales, they are part of our "cultural knowledge." References are made constantly to the them, especially in children's games, so knowing the stories is important. I would rather Anders's references to the fairy tales be the stories than the Disney movies based on the stories that teach the same terrible life philosophy but in a far more manipulative way.

So, I did decide to read the fairy tales to Anders, but with a lot of care and conversation, as if I were reading him statist propaganda. We talked about what values each story was selling, and what the hero would have done if he thought like a successful person.

After the fairy tales we read a book of Norse myths, which I liked a lot more. The gods in the Norse myths are very proactive at achieving their goals. I also enjoyed using the picture of Yggdrasil to start talking to Anders about how our brains work. (Yggdrasil is the best concretized picture of human consciousness I have come across.)

After the Norse myths we read a book of Greek myths that included a kids version of The Odyssey. It is insane to me that today an intellectual education includes having read The Odyssey. Like the fairy tales, this is not a work of high literature. This is the trashy super hero comic of its day. In ancient Greece, the intellectual class considered the Iliad and Odyssey stories for common people. Uncommon people read philosophy to their children.


Anders is still very into his Kumon program. When we were in LA, he stopped by the Kumon center and took tests and did work for 45 minutes straight. He has made it to level 4A in the Kumon math program. This means he is still counting to 100, and not yet doing addition--though he can definitely add. We have a Montessori adding game that we play, and Anders can add 1, 2, and 3 to even big numbers pretty effortlessly. (Big numbers mean numbers like 55 or 117, numbers less than 120.)

Anders loves the games Go Fish, Monopoly Junior, and Set Junior. All of these I think help with math. He still shows very little interest in doing puzzles.

Social Skills

Anders continues to impress me with his social skills. At his spring break camps you would have had no idea that this kid was being homeschooled on a farm in the jungle. He made friends easily with everyone and shocked me with his ability to line up and follow orders.

He still has no problem playing with girls. He chooses his next reading book based on whether the plot sounds interesting, not the gender of the main character. This is interesting to me as four-year-old boys I was a nanny for would never have let me read them things like Anne of Green Gables or The Secret Garden.

According to his camp counselor, Anders introduced himself to the other campers as Tree Thomas Anders Ragnar Wolf Balto Garrett. He also told them he is 13 and from Europe.

One behavioral change I noticed after Anders attended camp for four weeks was that he began to constantly report, throughout the day, on whether he was a good boy or a bad boy and on whether I was a good mom or a bad mom.

Anders likes to walk into restaurants with which he is familiar all by himself. He tells me I can come in five minutes. He gets the table and asks for waters. Sometimes he even orders. Only then am I welcome to show up. He likes playing "ladies and gentleman" at the restaurant, and putting his napkin on his lap, but thinks ladies should pull out chairs for gentleman and not the other way around.

When Anders has a babysitter come he opens the door and tells the babysitter what the plan is for the day. He sees himself as the boss in that relationship. If he does not enjoy being with a babysitter, he tells me when I get home, and I never hire her again. Interestingly, though I always tell him he can call me if there are any issues, he never has. He just waits until I get home and tells me he didn't really like the sitter. When I asked him why he did this, he told me that he wanted me to have my time off.

The most common form of play in Nicaragua involves some scenario in which the kids run around shooting each other. If they ever pretend to shoot an adult, the adult generally pretends to die a very dramatic death. So before we went to the US for spring break, I warned him people in the US are obsessed with kids not pretending to shoot at them. He experimented with pretty much the first adult with whom he came into contact in the US. He pretended to shoot her; she got very upset. Having discovered that what I had warned him about was, in fact, true, Anders didn't attempt to shoot anyone again the entire time we were in LA. The minute we got back to Nicaragua he started shooting people right and left. I always thought the "consistency!" parenting myth was bunk, and now I am sure it is. Children are fully capable of learning all the different if-then situations adults are.

Another example of this: Anders knows if someone in the US pats his head or pinches his cheek, he can tell them not to touch him, and they will apologize immediately. He knows this does not work in Nicaragua and asking adults not to touch him will make them laugh and touch him more. Likewise, when you get hurt in LA, everyone comforts you. In Nicaragua if you get hurt, the other kids laugh at you.

Anders asked me why this was, and I explained that I am not sure, but I believe that the people we hang out with in Nicaragua (the workers on our farm and other farmers and their children) are lower class and the people we hang out with in LA are middle class and upper class. My understanding is that lower class people are toughened up. Pain is something you laugh at. Upper class kids are trained to be sensitive and empathetic. I always tell him it is good to know both ways, so when in Rome, you know what the custom is. Then I asked him what he wants the custom to be in his family, and he said that he likes to be comforted.

One final example of children's ability to compartmentalize correct social behaviors for varying situations is with "bad" words. I use the words: ass, shit, damnit, fuck, asshole, and jerk. And though I make an effort not to swear around people who are bothered by it, I don't give a damn the rest of the time because I don't really buy into the idea that some words are "bad." Anders knows these swear words, and though he rarely uses them, when he does, he uses the them correctly.

Before our recent trip to Los Angeles, I explained to Anders that some people think of certain words as "bad" and will get upset with him for using them. I told him what the bad words were and just like that he stopped using them for the entire trip to LA. Unlike the shooting example, he did not feel the need to test my veracity.

Because bad words are not "bad" to Anders, when he wants to say something really mean to someone, he calls them silly, or a silly bunny, or a foo foo. When he says these words, he has such a sneer on his face, it is clear he is trying to be mean. Insults are so much more about tone and the expression than the actual word!

One last note: "Ass" is frequently used in the book The Wind and the Willows and "cock" is used in all books before the 1900's. These are relatively new "bad" words.


Anders spends a lot of time pretending that he is writing a book.

He also plays with Legos a lot. One time I overhead him playing a game with his Legos in which bad guys knocked down fences and stole cows.

He never plays games in which he has magical powers or is a superhero. When he wants to pretend he is very powerful, he pretends he is very rich or "the government" or a really good fighter.


Anders continues to be very easy to feed. He went on a mustard kick for a while, putting mustard on everything at every meal for about two months. About once a week he requests "something junky" which is generally juice, chips, or cookies.

We continue to talk about nutrition and health whenever it comes up. Anders enjoys the story I tell him about his body fighting a war on his teeth and how eating sugar gives weapons to the bacteria trying to attack his teeth and make holes in them, whereas eating kefir arms the good bacteria and eating sardines and milk make his teeth stronger and harder to attack.

Personal Care Skills

There is no bath at the farm, so Anders showers. Sometimes he stays in the shower for thirty minutes, sometimes thirty seconds. Either way he showers every night before bed. Sometimes I ask him to shower (so that he smells good when we cuddle!) but everyone who says children raised without coercion won't bathe is just ... afraid of all the wrong things.


Anders became very interested in whales, dolphins, and orcas recently and has watched about six documentaries on them. He knows more about them than I do and uses words like "archeoplast" that I have to Google in order to understand what he is talking about.

He is also very interested in rich people and poor people, bosses and employees, Nicaraguans and Americans, farms and construction, and cars and advertising. Which is to say, he is interested in the world to which he has been exposed.

His favorite activity (in my opinion) is going through my stuff. He goes through item by item and wants to know what everything is for, and then he plays a game with it.

He loves to pretend to cook and makes a lot of "meals" out of things he picks from all over the farm.

He has completely taken over paying the workers. I hand him a stack of envelopes with eighteen different names written on them, and he takes it from there.

Anders still enjoys Ted Ed videos, especially those about the human body. He also likes animal and space documentaries, and any show about construction. His full moon fiction movies have included: Sleeping Beauty, Winnie-the-Pooh, Zootopia, Ratatouille, and Anne of Green Gables.

Other Notes

Anders knows all the days of the week, and in the right order. No idea how he learned this.

When he grows up, Anders plans to take over his father's company, Garrett Associates. He is quite firm in this. He was interested in being a writer like me, a fireman, and a rock scientist until he found out how much money his father made comparatively.

It fascinates me how he seems to design his own preschool program--painting, drawing, mazes, gluing, cutting, sculpting. He finds something interesting while going through my stuff (scissors!) and develops an obsession with them for a month or so. Recently it has been cutting and glueing. Before that it was painting and mazes. Before that it was sculpting things out of this clay-like mud he found. I never said, "Let's sculpt things out of clay!" or "Let's cut and paste!" He just finds these things and starts doing them.

Anders's Average day at the farm:

7:00am wake, cuddle, talk about our day, get dressed
7:30am have breakfast, say "hi" to workers, give instructions
8:00am-12:00pm Yesnir and Jesslyn come over; they all watch the workers and check out progress on the building. They build toys out of scrap wood, run around, swim, play in tree house, dig in the mud, sculpt things, pick something from a tree and eat it, crack coyol nuts
12:00pm lunch, Anders and I check in
12:30pm Anders heads back to playing with his friends, or perhaps he is bored with them and joins German for a few hours of chopping away the jungle or planting something. Anders has gotten quite skilled with a machete.
3:00pm the kids sit down and ask for their workbooks
4:00pm they swim
5:00pm we have dinner
5:30pm the kids play tag or hide and seek
6:00pm get ready for bed, read, cuddle, talk
8:00pm go to sleep

Anders's Average day attending camp in the city:

7:00am wake, rush through breakfast and dressing
7:30am leave the hotel, walk or drive to camp
8:00am-2:00pm Camp
2:00pm walk or drive home
2:30pm decompress with quiet, alone play
3:30pm do an errand, swim in hotel pool
4:30pm kumon
5:00pm dinner
6:00pm get ready for bed, read, cuddle, talk
8:00pm go to sleep