What Diapers?

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Are you hip to the diaperless method? Also known as elimination communication (or EC for short)? Most earthy parents consider all kinds of diapering options - compostable, washable, classic cotton, and yes - disposable. Us too. But since we lived on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, we took the risk and went naked. I'm not saying my daughter never wore a diaper, especially if we went to town, but mostly she didn't and by and large it was very successful. We even did it in the winter.

By setting a rhythm and routine, my daughter was able to pee and poop at predictable intervals eight times out of ten around one year of age. And when she did have an accident, she knew it because she could feel it. We took to carrying an extra pair of pants around instead of diapers. She didn't have a bulky weird thing attached to her hips and crotch while learning to walk. And without any prompting whatsoever she potty-trained herself before the age of two. I cannot recall even one time since that she had an accident.

Successful parents are annoying as sh**, so I don't blame you if you're rolling your eyes right now. And all children and parents are different. But if you or a friend are considering diapering methods, search online for elimination communication. It's worth trying. And guess how much it costs? Nothing.

How Do You Find Wilderness in the City?

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My daughter and I came upon this pile of leaves in a city park one day while visiting my parents in Cleveland, Ohio. It would have been just as easy to walk by, but instead we stopped and spent an hour throwing the leaves in huge piles over our heads, dancing and listening as they tumbled around us. We buried one another, then Grandpa. It was just a little concrete shelter with a handful of picnic tables. Cars drove down a busy street nearby. But for a moment it was absolute magic. That's wilderness. It lives inside you. What's your story?

The Impact of Tactile Education

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I've posted a lot of photos about bones of late. Yesterday, we visited an entire elk skeleton. My daughter took some bones home and later I found this menagerie on the table. A day later, as we were walking with a friend's dog, out of the blue she asked me whether dogs have bones in their tails. We talked for a while, about spines and tailbones, then she asked me if we have bones in our tongues. This is exactly what I mean about outdoor education. It goes WAY beyond neato experiences in nature. The kinds of up-close and real encounters we have blend into our daily lives, our imaginations, informing the kids in ways I could never even dream up. I would never have thought about teaching my six-year-old about skeletal structure, but now she has a tactile, palpable feel for what it means.

Balancing the Masculine and Feminine in Our Children (Video)

Outdoor education teaches the children - boys and girls - to work together as a team. Silke and Joe model this balance so that the children experience it every day. Each one of us - man or woman - is a model to our kids. Are you angry with a man or a woman? Or men or women in general? Some of us have good reason to be - but consider the message it sends. Health comes from balance.

A Word About Knives

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We allow the kids (4-6 yrs old) to use knives, often carving simple objects beside them as they whittle sticks. The task is not mastery (for child or adult), but simply the exploration of meaningful work. Some children are very strong, and can quickly hone a stick down to a meaningful point or sword. Others spend 30 minutes merely scraping off bark. Whatever they create, it has incredible value to them, and we often help turn them into wands or swords with the addition of a felt heart, a cross-bar handle, or some woven grass or willows. Simply seeing their teacher (you) engaged in a meaningful activity inspires their own creativity. Don't focus on doing it right. Be safe - that's always rule number one with a knife - but many children can learn a great deal simply by handling a knife. Even in our school, with some pretty wild and tough kids, many of the children have told us that this is the first time they have ever used a knife, even a kitchen knife (we cut potatoes for snack on Mondays), a hatchet, an axe. Basic experience with tools builds confidence. Be vigilant. Be careful. Lay some ground rules. But trust them. Children don't willfully hurt themselves, or others. Sometimes the danger of a knife blade, or a flame, brings a certain focus and attention that plastic cutlery sets and toy stoves can never induce.

I am not an accomplished woodworker (as you can probably tell). This bird took me about 5-10 minutes. With practice, I get better, and even this is a great lesson for the kids (all of whom think I am "the best carver in the world"). The children get to see adults that need practice and learning too. They get to see an adult who is not afraid of doing something because s/he "doesn't know how." They watch as my crude figures turn into slightly more elegant versions. As I whittled this bird, several of the kids came up and asked what I was doing, watched some of the process, or made suggestions. Afterward, I gave it to one of the kids (not in the pile up) to play with.

I am not an accomplished woodworker (as you can probably tell). This bird took me about 5-10 minutes. With practice, I get better, and even this is a great lesson for the kids (all of whom think I am "the best carver in the world"). The children get to see adults that need practice and learning too. They get to see an adult who is not afraid of doing something because s/he "doesn't know how." They watch as my crude figures turn into slightly more elegant versions. As I whittled this bird, several of the kids came up and asked what I was doing, watched some of the process, or made suggestions. Afterward, I gave it to one of the kids (not in the pile up) to play with.

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I was making a salad after school that night and my nascent woodcarving skills immediately recognized the bird in this carrot (that's a worm in its mouth). The kids clambered for it, so that I had to make another one so they could both eat one.

I was making a salad after school that night and my nascent woodcarving skills immediately recognized the bird in this carrot (that's a worm in its mouth). The kids clambered for it, so that I had to make another one so they could both eat one.

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Math Encounters

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Kindergarten is a time to explore the world through touch, sight and sound. At Taos Earth Children, we do not focus on symbols like letters and numbers (not at this age). Mostly, we let the kids explore through their own creativity, because that is what we seek to inspire. But when we do give a lesson, we do it in nature, with trees and leaves, with pine cones and snowflakes. Here, the kids are making 10 piles of 10 leaves. Then we count to a hundred. Most four- and five-year-olds can count verbally to twenty, even one hundred. But most have a hard time "mapping" those numbers to discrete objects and sets. It is like a two-year-old who sings his ABC's. They have taken in the words, the sounds, but the meaning escapes them almost entirely. Try counting with your children - without correcting them. See if they can count footsteps, leaves, or grapes, eggs or crackers. A four- or five-year-old can often say the words, but has a hard time "mapping" those words to one object at a time. So beware of verbal counting and ABC's. The deeper lesson is the mapping of "one, two, three..." to one object, one object, one object. Mastery of this skill from 1-10 far exceeds the "knowledge" of counting to one hundred, one thousand, or even "one-hundred eighty five thousand million google, google, google."

Walking with Lesson Stones

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Along our walks, Silke and I have painted several stones with animals, gnomes, etc. The children know them very well. At each one, we stop and have a simple lesson. There is the rhyming pig, which helps us with phonics and sounds, the wise buffalo, who gives us a thought for the day. There is gnome plus (ever happy) and gnome minus (always sad), who ask us to count children, clouds, fingers or whatever might be at hand. There is the silly bird, the "eye spy", the question queen, the owl (who can answer any question), and more.

These visitors can help a struggling child make the long walk, creating natural stopping points along the way and giving motivation to walk "just a little further till we reach tortoise, who can tell us something." It also adds structure and lessons to our walks, so that the children hardly even know they are learning something. To them, it's just something fun they look forward to. And if Silke or I walk past without taking notice, the children will shout forcefully to remind us, "you missed gnome A!", the snake, or whatever it happened to be.

See photos for more detail. These are only about half of our gnomes. Someday I can post more. They change throughout the year. The children can even participate in making them.

This is the rhyming pig - dancing a jig with a yellow wig next to a twig with a big fig. He has blue shoes with golden toes and has a beautiful red rose. Whenever we visit, we rhyme children's names, or something we happened to see or do. The pig, and all our visitors, also help the children with memory tasks, as we will often ask the children if they can remember all the rhymes, or what we rhymed that morning, or the day before.

This is the rhyming pig - dancing a jig with a yellow wig next to a twig with a big fig. He has blue shoes with golden toes and has a beautiful red rose. Whenever we visit, we rhyme children's names, or something we happened to see or do. The pig, and all our visitors, also help the children with memory tasks, as we will often ask the children if they can remember all the rhymes, or what we rhymed that morning, or the day before.

The wise buffalo says, "Four hoofs on the ground, two horns in the air - this makes for a good life." He tells us about paying attention, about listening to our friends and classmates, or just the weather. Sometimes, we ask the children to speak for buffalo and share some of their own wisdom. Super fun.

The wise buffalo says, "Four hoofs on the ground, two horns in the air - this makes for a good life." He tells us about paying attention, about listening to our friends and classmates, or just the weather. Sometimes, we ask the children to speak for buffalo and share some of their own wisdom. Super fun.

Gnome minus. His brother, gnome plus, is red. Every time we stop, we do counting or subtraction games.

Gnome minus. His brother, gnome plus, is red. Every time we stop, we do counting or subtraction games.

So sad :(

So sad :(

The owl answers any question, like why the sky is blue, why people need to breath, or "do we HAVE to sing?" Silke answers like a magician. Joe is a bit more technical. But the proper answer is not exactly the point. The point is to ask.  The owl got a visit from jumping jack a month ago, who often invites us to stop and hop over the rope, run through, or jump for bubble gum. The rope can be used for a variety of hopping tasks - one foot, two feet, running with a friend.

The owl answers any question, like why the sky is blue, why people need to breath, or "do we HAVE to sing?" Silke answers like a magician. Joe is a bit more technical. But the proper answer is not exactly the point. The point is to ask.

The owl got a visit from jumping jack a month ago, who often invites us to stop and hop over the rope, run through, or jump for bubble gum. The rope can be used for a variety of hopping tasks - one foot, two feet, running with a friend.

Tortoise. So stoic, yet stable. He teaches us patience, persistence, and reminds us that carrying our packs allows us to be quite comfortable wherever we happen roam.

Tortoise. So stoic, yet stable. He teaches us patience, persistence, and reminds us that carrying our packs allows us to be quite comfortable wherever we happen roam.

Lesson #4

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I have found enough bones to fill a museum. When I bring them to school, the kids hold them and their eyes go wide with excitement. Skulls and horns, antlers, hoofs and spines. We explore and touch and talk. It's like going to the dinosaur museum, except they get to touch them and see how they work. It's not uncommon that I find leg bones with enough joinery left to observe their motion. But I never find bones on the path. No one eats a meal right in the middle of the road. Sometimes, all it takes is crawling under a bush, or to the top of a nondescript hill. The big hill, the obvious one - that's not the place.