Monthly Archives: March 2017

Family Vacation: How We Made it Work for Us

MK_TOMBRDG1_20170216_7950165136

These matching shirts were how we surprised the kids at Christmas with the upcoming trip!

As I was preparing to write a post about our vacation to Disney World, I came across this article Benefits of Family Vacations that extols the virtues of family vacations.  It essentially says that taking a vacation is good for child development related to exploring new places and the resulting growth in frontal lobes (I’m really paraphrasing here). It also says that happy childhood memories related to family vacations can serve as ‘happiness anchors’ in future times of distress.  Additionally, taking photos (except when it interferes with your activities) helps foster feelings of engagement and enjoyment of whatever you are doing.  The obvious need to de-stress for all family members, is also mentioned.  All this to say that I guess the kids will grow up to be happy and issue-free, all because we went on a family holiday! 😉  Such an oversimplification, however, I cannot argue with the notion that family time is valuable, whether you’re on vacation or not.

img_8166

This guy was pretty happy to watch a little Batman vs. Superman on WestJet Connect.

The point of this post was to talk about our big family trip to Disney World, and how we made it work with a kid on a pretty strict diet and also in a time of major economic slow down in Alberta, made more impactful in my family due to my leave from work.

49a521a1-5c17-49f2-9684-d181acc6c82f

Travelling with teens. Enough said.

 

  1. We rented a condo through VRBO.com with a kitchen.  This was critical on so many levels I don’t even know where to start.  When you have a family member with some significant dietary restrictions, a kitchen and ability to buy and cook your own food makes life considerably easier.  It also allowed all 7 of us (my parents joined us on this trip) to have less insane mornings.  We were up early to get to the Disney Parks most days, so it was nice to be able to make breakfast and eat at the condo rather than finding a restaurant to sit down in.  Way more cost effective also.  And when someone needs more time for hair and makeup (not mentioning any names, but suffice it to say it was a teenager), or someone else is done eating and wants to play rather than sit at a table waiting for everyone else to finish, no problem.  After a long day at the park we were all hot and tired.  The kids wanted to hit the pool and the adults wanted to have a cold one and relax.
    img_8374

    One of the 7 pools at the resort.  It was a mini paradise and the perfect location for a family vacation at Disney World.

    By heading back to our condo, grabbing some beverages and heading down to the pool, everyone was satisfied.  We cooked dinner in our condo each night (except for one) as well.  Kids kept swimming.  Dad and Kevin barbequed on the resort BBQs, and Mom and I put together the rest of the meal.  No worrying about Berrik’s food.  No trying to

    Grandma and Avi #selfie

    round up everyone from the pool, getting everyone dressed up and ready for dinner and then sitting in a restaurant waiting for food with tired kids, tired parents, and tired grandparents.  Our meals were simple, so it wasn’t a ton of work.  Then everything into the dishwasher, youngest kids to bed and everyone else head to the couch to relax on the couch with a movie.  (My parents were brilliant in bringing their Apple TV with them!). From a cost perspective for the accommodations, it was a very good deal.  All 7 of us stayed together (we would have required 2 hotel rooms which would have been similar in cost to what we paid for the condo) and we had the added bonus of having space for all of us to be together in the evenings.  Hotels make that nearly impossible, and certainly not comfortable.

    img_8178

    These two are almost 6 years apart and don’t get a lot of time together at home so it was nice for them to reconnect.

  2. We packed lunches for the parks every day.  Not only was this necessary for Berrik, it had many benefits for the rest of us.  It was a huge time saver.  No waiting in lines for food.  In fact, at Magic Kingdom (the only park where we actually had to wait more than 10 minutes in line) we ate in the lineups.  As a mom, I was most happy that the packed lunches meant everyone was getting healthy food.  My oldest gets sick with too much sugar.  My middle one gets grouchy with crappy food.  And Berrik just can’t have it.  I think avoiding the deep fried, highly processed food at the parks helped us all have enough energy to get through the long days!  The cost savings is another obvious perk.  A hot dog at Magic Kingdom was about $7 US.  Extra for any sides.  There were options like fruit cups and veggies etc., which was nice to see, but they were also super expensive.   With 7 people travelling, those savings add up significantly.
  3. We used FastPass and timing to our advantage.  STUDIO_JTA2_20170214_398201608439You can pre-book three FastPasses per person at each park.  We got to each park at opening and went to a popular ride that lines up later in the day, first thing.  Then depending on the timing of the FastPasses, we went on rides or attractions that fit in between.  By using the FastPasses for the most popular rides (except one…the trick is to get to one popular ride as soon as the park opens), it almost eliminated our ride wait times.
    img_8219

    Grandma and Grandpa are such good sports.  Especially Grandma who essentially tortured herself with ride after scary ride! #splashmountain

    I believe we waited about 30-40 minutes for Space Mountain and less than 30 minutes for Splash Mountain, but otherwise didn’t really wait for anything.  Very little lining up and standing around meant an overall happier group of people.  Apropos considering we were at the happiest place on earth!

  4. We rented a van.  Easier than airport transfers with all our luggage (although I must brag that our family of 5 were able to pack everything into 3 suitcases!).  There were shuttles from our resort to all the parks. The resort was not a Disney resort, but it was located within the park gates, so was very close to all parks.  With 7 people, the cost of the shuttle back and forth each day almost covered the cost of the van.  And the van eliminated the need to wait for shuttles and risk not all 7 of us fitting on the shuttle.  We could go to the park when we wanted, and leave when we wanted without worrying about timing.  It costs $20/day to park at the parks.  Additionally, we went  to Legoland which is a 45 minute drive away from Disney.  There were shuttles for that too, but more expensive, less times in each direction (so if you miss one, you could be stuck with an expensive cab ride!), and of course sitting in a bus for an hour both ways wasn’t that appealing either.
    img_8345

    #legoland plus #ninjago = #happyplaceforthisguy

    Grocery shopping was also simpler this way.  My parents arrived in Florida first so they did the first (and major) grocery shop.  Kevin and I went mid week to grab a few extra things.  And finally, on the weekend when the parks were slated to be the most busy, we took the van and drove a couple hours west to Clearwater Beach for the day.

    img_8298

    #sisters

    White sand, warm clear water, and a lot of lazing around in the sun.  It was perfect after 4 days of parks and busyness.  Without the van this would have not been an option.  So the van was well worth its cost.

img_8293

Mickey on the beach

This family vacation was the best one we have had.  The kids are all old enough that they aren’t much work to travel with, especially compared to the days of car seats, strollers, diapers and all the other baby and toddler related items that one needs – not to mention the need for naps and inability or lack of desire to wait patiently in lines etc.  None of these were factors this time.  Having my parents there was a huge help as well.  With three kids it is incredibly helpful to have extra ‘adults’ to ensure all kids get lots of attention and get to check the ‘must dos’ off of each of their lists.  My kids are very close to my parents and we so appreciate and value the time spent with them. My parents have unending energy and a knack for making their grandkids feel extra special and loved.  I think I speak for all of us when I say we have created a whole pile of ‘happiness anchors’ to keep us grounded when more challenging times arise in the ups and downs of life.

Have a magical day!

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies (gluten free)


Berrik was having his two best buddies over for a sleepover and I was going to be spending the day at dance dress rehearsal where one of my dance mom friends cannot eat gluten.  So before we headed off to the rehearsal hall, I whipped up a batch of these gluten-free and refined sugar-free cookies.  I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, Monique at AmbitiousKitchen.com.  You can find the original recipe here.   I haven’t made it as it is written, but based on all other recipes I’ve tried from this blog, I am positive it will be delicious as is.  img_8523

The only changes I made was to use Nut and Seed Butter from Costco in place of almond butter, Nuts4Nat_NutSeedButter_1-595x595raw local honey in place of the coconut sugar, and I used stevia sweetened chocolate chips.  Monique at Ambitious Kitchen made her cookies in a food processor, but I was too lazy and rushed to even grab mine out of the cupboard, so I hand stirred and it worked just fine.

I doubled this recipe, and used a bit less than half a cup of honey. Truth be told, I didn’t measure the chocolate chips.  I just dumped some in until it seemed like enough.  If you aren’t sure if it’s sweet enough, just give the batter a taste. If the batter tastes sweet enough, then the cookie will too.  If not, add a bit more

Berrik hasn’t had sweets/refined sugar for 14 months, so even a slightly sweet cookie tastes sweet to him.  But I handed them out to the dance moms at rehearsal and they liked them….and my girls really liked them too.  They are a bit cakey in texture. Next time I might add coconut and/or crushed nuts for some more crunch and texture, not to mention flavor, but it certainly isn’t necessary.  Dried fruits would also work well.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups Nut and Seed Butter
  • 1/2 cup raw local honey
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • 2/3 cup Stevia sweetened chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium sized bowl put in nut and seed butter, honey and coconut oil; hand mix until combined. Add in eggs and stir again.
  3. Next, add in coconut flour, baking soda and salt; stir again until a dough forms. Gently fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Use a cookie scoop to drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet. You can flatten dough with the palm of your hand or you can leave the dough as is and cookies will be a bit puffier.  I left them as is.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies turn slightly golden brown around the edges. Allow them to cool on cookie sheet for at least 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes around 36 cookies.

 

Teach for Mastery, Not Test Scores

I will admit that I am a bit of a Ted Talk junkie.  Add to that a healthy respect for and frequent use of the Khan Academy learning materials and you’ll understand why I LOVE this particular Ted Talk by Sal Khan:

I recommend watching the Ted Talk – it’s 10 minutes of simple brilliance.  But the general overview is that our current education system that teaches for test scores rather than mastery is causing a multitude of issues that could be overcome with a shift in mindset.  My favourite analogy in the talk is about Math.  Kids learn math concepts from an early age.  They are tested.  Let’s say they get 75%.  That’s a good grade.  They move on.  After a few years of 75% mastery, you can imagine that the 25% gaps in knowledge will create some critical issues.  Without mastery of earlier concepts, at some point, more complex concepts will become extremely difficult, and you will start to hear kids say, “I’m just not good at math.”  You can apply this to many subjects.  If kids were expected to achieve mastery before moving on (by using technology and any number of free and easily accessible resources – thank you, world wide web!), then nearly 100% of the population would be able to read, do calculus, organic chemistry etc.  He goes on to talk also about the benefits of kids learning to seek the information they need, the perseverance, taking agency over their own learning, as critical life skills.

As a homeschooling mom of a kid who has had significant challenges learning to read, and as a result also struggled in math, I fully subscribe to this philosophy of mastery over test scores.  My first introduction to this concept, or at least the first time it was articulated to me in a way that really hit home, was in Sound Connections.  Berrik does not move on to a more complex concept until he has mastered the concept he is currently working on.  And we constantly review earlier concepts as full mastery and ability to quickly access those concepts results in faster and more successful mastery of more complex concepts.

Imagine a kid who has trouble learning to read due to a learning disability that is diagnosed in grade 3.  In a typical classroom, that kid who may now have accommodations or therapies is just starting to learn to read.  What are the chances that anyone at school will go right back to the beginning…the early reading skills that kids are exposed to in preschool, kindergarten and grade 1?  Slim.  There just isn’t time. So unless he’s in a program like Sound Connections, there are going to be some gaps that will make things more challenging down the road.

img_8508

If only all kids were given the opportunity to master all pre-reading concepts and then early reading concepts and so on and so on!  Watching my kid go from low self confidence and feeling as though he was ‘stupid’ to successfully reading, and learning to decode words, and understanding advanced sound rules (and learning that the rules are all made to be broken in the English language), and learning to spell and write stories has been an incredible journey.  Yes, I homeschool so I have time.  But it’s not the time so much as the access to resources and guidance that have allowed us to efficiently work on mastering concepts. We are playing catch up.  But if these resources and methods were implemented in all kindergartens and grade 1 classes, the foundations would be strong for all kids.

Knowing that mastery is the key has changed the way we approach everything.  This is the true beauty of homeschooling for me.  We do NOT move on until a concept is mastered.  And there is no one telling me I have to.  And not surprisingly, ensuring mastery along the way has resulted in Berrik moving more quickly (especially in math) even as concepts get more complex.  We are still unravelling the puzzle pieces of why Berrik struggles so much with reading and writing – more on vision therapy and other things later.  However, in Math, we started in September doing Grade 1 Math.  We are now working on Grade 2 Math and I expect Berrik to be ready for Grade 3 Math in September when he enters Grade 3.

img_8485

My two older daughters both do well in school.  Even so, Khan’s example rang true for both of them with regard to Math.  Lack of mastery of some concepts (like memorizing timestables, for example) took 3-4 years before it truly came back to bite them. Suddenly more advanced math concepts that require an ability to recall single digit multiplication became onerous and challenging.  I remember McKenna at one point, maybe in grade 7, realizing that knowing multiplication tables like the back of her hand was a critical skill, so she took the time (on her own time, because that is a grade 3 concept!) to memorize them.  This year in Grade 8, Math is one of her strongest subjects.

It is so very simple, and it is now scalable in the classroom like it never has been in history.  It simply requires a shift in thinking.  An example Khan talks about is hearing from teachers who started assigning the Khan Academy math videos as homework and then doing the practice in class time, instead of the typical method of lecturing and teaching concepts in class and sending kids home to practice on their own with their busy and bewildered parents.  It’s no surprise that this resulted in significantly higher success rates.  And as a parent who has spent many an hour at the table doing math with kids (in spanish no less), I would be over the moon if our homework was to watch the video instead of do the practice.  For the record, many times I had to Google translate the instructions to english and then watch a Khan Academy video to teach myself what my daughters were supposed to be practicing, and then try to help them! PAINFUL.

I think a lot of homeschoolers choose homeschooling for this ability to allow kids to learn at their own pace, and achieve mastery before moving on.  It has been life changing for us this year.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 1.22.50 PM

I am going to throw in a final plug for the Khan Academy.  This website/app is FREE, and you can learn just about anything.  We are using it for math and it’s pretty fantastic.  Sal has created videos about concepts which you can watch as many times as you need to. Then you practice.  A specific number of correct answers identifies mastery.  If you struggle, there are links back to the videos right in the questions, and there are also hints to help you. If you have an account, your data is tracked and you can access and analyze your child’s (or your own) progress.  Even better, the site has been gameified which I know from my L&D world is excellent for motivation and engagement.

My engineer husband who works in the construction industry would never consider building a skyscraper on a foundation that is 80% complete, so why are we building the minds of our children on these faulty, incomplete foundations?