Monthly Archives: May 2010

Considering Homeschooling in the Fall

Over the summer, I’ll be working with my daughter on a bit of home schooling. It’s at her request, as she wants to be home schooled next fall. Given my busy schedule and her highly social nature, I told her that we could test it over the summer to be sure that we both like it at least a little before committing to it for the upcoming school year.

The program I’m interested in for her is California Virtual Academy, through It looks like a great program. It goes through the California Public School system, and is free for California residents living in qualifying counties. You get a teacher who helps you guide your child through their schooling. And the K12 curriculum strikes me as really impressive. It’s available in other states through their public schools or private schools too. Just check the website for your area.

Our basic reason for this is frustration with the local school. It really doesn’t meet my daughter’s needs, for a variety of reasons. Some may be pure personality mismatch with her current teacher, but other issues are with a system that is too focused on getting the right test scores so the school looks good, rather than on overall quality of education.

The K12 program offers courses in the usual subject, such as math, English, science and history. But there are also courses in art, music and foreign languages available. You just don’t get that so much at most public schools around here these days, at least at the elementary level. That frustrates me as a parent who wants the best for her kids.

The Virtual Academy model has a lot of advantages for parents concerned about socialization, which is what every person I talk to who isn’t enthused about home schooling immediately brings up. Yes, current home schoolers, I know that’s not really a problem when you do it right.

My husband worries because the only kids he knew in college who were home schooled were definitely socially awkward. He’s going by his experience. Of course, he may well have known other home schooled kids who just weren’t so obvious as the ones he remembers.

The Virtual Academy includes time with fellow students, in the form of field trips, and local message boards and ways to communicate with the other families in your area who are also in the program. Seems to be a good way to get to know the other kids and ensure social time.

The one thing I’m dreading is the time commitment. That’s going to be hard for me with a home business and a toddler. I’m not going to pretend that it will be easy on me. That’s a big part of why I want to test things out over the summer. I need to know how I will cope or if it’s just going to be too much for me.

On the plus side, I often end up more productive when I have a lack of time to work. The lack of time means that I know I can’t goof off at all.

Should You Raise Backyard Chickens?

I got a treat from my younger sister recently. A bunch of fresh eggs from her backyard chickens. They started raising them a while ago, and generally have excess eggs to give away to family. I don’t live close enough to get these often, so when I do it’s a real treat.

I’m not in a situation to even think about getting them for my family. We’re renting in a house that doesn’t allow pets, and I’m pretty sure the Homeowner’s Association would flip if they caught us at it, even with chickens just in the back yard. Beyond that, we’d like to move back closer to family within the year (ideally), which really wouldn’t be fair to any pets. Too much stress.

So backyard chickens are on my “someday” list. Doesn’t mean you have to wait.

Advantages of Raising Backyard Chickens

Fresh eggs are the big advantage most people think of with backyard chickens. Lots of fresh eggs from chickens that are eating as chickens ought to, with bright, healthy yolks and a taste that grocery store eggs just can’t beat. But there are more advantages.

Chickens eat bugs. They’re a very natural pest control.

Chickens eat bugs. They’re a very natural pest control. Just give them some time to roam freely in your yard and they’ll cut down your bug population for you.

Chickens also eat weeds. Other plants too, no doubt. They love vegetable scraps from your kitchen.

Chicken poop makes great fertilizer, so long as you’re careful. It’s powerful stuff that can burn your plants if you use too much or too soon. Let it break down a while.

Many kids love chickens. They make fair pets. I’ve seen how my nieces sometimes carry the chickens around, and the chickens are pretty tolerant of it.

Backyard chickens also help kids to learn where food comes from. You may or may not choose to kill and eat your own chickens as they get older, but letting the kids see where eggs come from is a good lesson.

Disadvantages of Backyard Chickens

As with any other animal, backyard chickens need to be cared for. You need to provide some sort of coop for them so they have shelter from predators and weather. When you go on a trip, you will need someone to come over and feed the chickens, pick up eggs and so forth.

Not all neighbors appreciate chickens. This is particularly true if you have a rooster, but hens make some noise too.

Not all neighbors appreciate chickens.

It may be difficult to get around city ordinances in order to have chickens. You usually have to be able to keep your chickens a certain distance from your home, your neighbors’ homes and property lines. If that’s not possible, you may be out of luck. Some areas ban chickens completely.

You have to clean up after chickens, which can be a smelly job. You’ll want to wear gloves and wash up after cleaning up after chickens, as their poop can carry diseases.

Chickens love to eat plants in general. It’s nice when they eat your weeds, but rather less convenient when they go at your lawn, the young plants in your garden and so forth. You may need to limit their range. They also scratch up the ground quite a bit in their search for bugs.

Getting started isn’t cheap. It’s not just buying the chickens. It’s buying or building the coop, buying their food, and the other supplies you’ll need to keep your chickens happy and healthy.

The Chicken Coop

Even if your plan is to mostly let your chickens roam your yard, they must have a coop. This is a place where they can be cool in the heat of the day, dry when it rains, and mostly safe from predators.

You’ll have to consider what you can spend on a chicken coop. This is often the biggest part of your initial investment in raising chickens. The birds themselves probably won’t cost too much.

You’ll have to consider what you can spend on a chicken coop.

You can buy a premade chicken coop if you like – there are a lot of chicken coops available on eBay.

You can also buy instructions on how to build a chicken coop. Chicken DIY Guide is a great resource for this. It includes instructions on how to build your own chicken coop (much cheaper than buying one!), including small, medium, large and portable chicken coops. It includes a guide on city chicken ordinances. It includes a video library on caring for chickens. Plus a lot of other material to help you get off to a great start with your chickens.

Raising backyard chickens is not for everyone. It’s work. It costs money to get started. But it’s a great way to bring some pretty amazing eggs into your home and give your children still more appreciation for where food comes from.

The Link Between Pesticides and ADHD

An article in Time magazine this week brings up a study that has shown a link between pesticides and ADHD. Rates of ADHD have been increasing in recent years, making finding possible causes all the more interesting.

The study itself was published in Pediatrics, and analyzed pesticide residue in the urine of children between the ages of 8 and 15. The highest levels of dialkyl phosphates correlated to a 35% increase in the chance of the child having been diagnosed with ADHD. Dailkyl phosphates are the result of organophosphate pesticides breaking down. Even at low levels, the odds of an ADHD diagnosis were increased.

It’s worth noting that this does not mean pesticides cause ADHD. Correlation does not imply causation, as the saying goes. But this makes the topic worth looking into further.

As a parent, this should be motivation to not use pesticides on your property, and to buy organic produce when possible. One possible source for children to ingest pesticide residue is through fresh fruit and vegetables. You can scrub your produce to remove what you can, but organic or home grown produce that you’ve never sprayed with pesticides is the safest option.

It’s not too late to get a garden going! You may have to start with plants rather than seeds, but do what you can. Tomatoes are pretty easy to grow for many people. Consider planting a fruit tree so that you have a long term source of pesticide free fruits. Join a co-op.

There are plenty of ways to avoid pesticides in your food. You may not be able to get it perfect, but with yet another reason to try, why not get going?

The Delights of Extended Breastfeeding

Most of us know that breast is best for baby, and if it works for you, to breastfeed that baby for at least one year. It doesn’t work for everyone, for a variety of reasons, but when you can manage it, breastfeeding is wonderful.

I have to say, extended breastfeeding in some ways is even more fun. More challenging at times, but so much fun!

Toddlers Can Be Playful Breastfeeders

My 15 month old is an absolute wild child when it comes to breastfeeding. She’s all over the place, standing up, sitting down, getting back into that old cradle hold, trying to flip upside down while still latched. It’s practically a comedy routine some days.

She knows what she wants and when she wants it, and can come up to get it.

Sometimes it’s clearly a game to her. She’s not always serious about getting any actual milk out. It’s the attention and the bond, plus making sure her siblings know that Mommy is hers!

Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding

There is a great list of benefits of extended breastfeeding posted on KellyMom that she appears to keep updated. But here are a few of my favorites:

1. Nursing toddlers benefit nutritionally.

I love seeing this one after being warned by my pediatrician to be sure to start giving whole milk in case I didn’t realize that my daughter was weaning. I think I would notice! The whole lack of nursing thing.

I assume the pediatrician’s point would be that a gradual weaning might not be noticed as quickly as it should be. I think I’m pretty aware, overall, of how much my daughter nurses. Having had two older children self wean, I’m also pretty familiar with the routine.

But nutritionally you just can’t beat breastmilk for babies and toddlers. It’s a significant source of fat and protein, as well as other nutrients that toddlers need.

2. Nursing toddlers are sick less often.

How could any mother not love that? Sick toddlers are a lot of work. Anything that helps them get sick less often has to be a good thing!

3. Nursing a toddler is normal.

Yes, normal! Despite the many who want to know when you’re going to get around to weaning that baby, nursing a toddler is a very normal thing to do.

4. Extended nursing makes for smarter children.

Aw geez, this might be a disadvantage! She’s smart enough already!

Kidding, kidding! Although she is doing things already that her older brother and sister weren’t doing so young.

All the fats in breastmilk, particularly the omega-3, help with brain development, which is vital during the first 2 years.

5. It’s good for the mother’s health.

Extended breatfeeding continues the general benefits to the mother of breastfeeding. Easier weight loss, less chance of osteoporosis, less chance of various cancers, it’s pretty good stuff.

Disadvantages of Extended Breastfeeding

None of the disadvantages of extended breastfeeding really bother me. They are pretty minor to me and how I want to live my life. Nonetheless….

1. Social disapproval.

The longer you breastfeed, the more you’re going to be getting the question of when you’re going to wean. Some people get pretty disgusted by extended breastfeeding, as though it’s any of their business. Some even compare it to child abuse, which says more about their frame of mind than it does about breastfeeding.

The disapproval that some breastfeeding mothers feel in public increases if you breastfeed a toddler in public. More people will feel you shouldn’t be doing that in public. Your toddler may well be making it harder to be “discreet” about the whole matter.

2. Not all pediatricians are aware of the benefits of extended breastfeeding.

Actually, this is a disadvantage to having a pediatrician who is unaware of the benefits, not really a disadvantage to extended breastfeeding. No fault of breastfeeding that not all doctors keep up on current research.

But it can be annoying to hear from your child’s doctor that you’re doing it wrong, or that you don’t need to breastfeed anymore.

3. Weaning may be a challenge.

I’ve never found it to be so, but your mileage may vary. My older two self weaned, so there never was a challenge.

But if the time comes when you do decide to wean your child on your schedule rather than his or hers, there may be more of a battle. Toddlers know what they want and they can try to get it. You may have to be a bit stubborner.

4. Your toddler can delete your blog posts while you’re breastfeeding.

Yes, I’ve been nursing my toddler while typing this up. She swung up when I was a bit more than halfway through, hit a few random keys and poof! My post vanished as my browser window went back a few pages.

Thank you WordPress autosave!

As for Me…

Our current plans include breastfeeding until my daughter self weans or until around age 2, at which point I’ll probably be working on encouraging weaning. If she’s like my older two, she’ll choose self weaning in a few more months, and that’s fine.

I’m not especially looking forward to weaning. My last baby, and I love the closeness. I have days where I’m ready to be done with it all, but more days where breastfeeding is such a treat that I dread when I have to give it up.

Would You Like an Owl in Your Back Yard?

My daughter recently celebrated her birthday. She wanted to see her old friends back where we used to live, and since that’s closer to family too, we went along with it. It was particularly nice because one friend’s parents offered to host.

The party went well, my daughter had hours to play with some old friends. But the biggest hit was the owl box in the back part of the yard. It had a mother barn owl, father barn owl and two almost grown baby barn owls. They were really neat to see.

Advantages of Owls

Owls are of course predators. They love to eat rodents. Our hosts reported that the gopher population in their yard appears to have significantly decreased since the barn owls took up residence in the box.

Seeing the owls was also really fascinating for the kids. An unusual bit of nature for them to see. At least two owls were visible any time anyone looked, and sometimes you could see all four crowding the door area.

Disadvantages of Owls

There was one big problem – the smell near the owl box was awful. They are predators, after all, and the remains of any food uneaten by the fledgelings plus the scents from their natural bodily functions was pretty bad. But I hear that it gets better after the babies leave, so hopefully that won’t be a problem for long.

Owls can also be noisy. I gather our friends were quite glad to have not had any complaints on this score from their neighbors.

Where to Put an Owl Box

If you want to buy an owl box, make sure you have a place to put one where the owls will feel safe, and any odor won’t bother you or the neighbors. The box we saw was at the back of a fair size yard, and you could not smell anything near the house, which I’m sure was a great relief to the owners.

It needs to be at least 15 feet above ground, and owls certainly won’t mind being higher yet. Don’t put it right where you’re going to be disturbing the owls all the time, and put it near a tree so the owls can enjoy the tree as well.

Don’t expect owls to move in right away. I know this particular box had been up for a year or so before a pair of owls moved in. It just takes time for a possible home to be found sometimes.