Category: Homeschool

Patricia Kuhl: The Linguistic Genius of Babies – Great TED Video

October 7th, 2011 by

Greg and I are eager to expose Kamea to various languages and we’re starting with a spanish native speaker coming to the house… Have any of you done anything like this with your babies? If so, how did it go? How often was the exposure?


Reading Rockin’ Babies to Kamea For Added Fun!

September 7th, 2011 by

Kamea loves books and they’re a huge part of our day. I’ve read enough parenting books to know the importance of reading with my baby. And, boy oh boy, she LOVES it. Ever since she learned to sign “more” she asks me to read and reread and reread books all day long. She has her favorites, though, that’s for sure. Doggies, anyone? To make it even more exciting though, I sometimes, ehem, sing them to her.??Other times I get so animated that I literally exhaust myself… by the way, is it just me or do some of the Dr. Seuss books take a lot out of ya? After reading The Cat in the Hat, I need nap! ;)

One of her favorite books is Rockin’ Babies by Dr. Jenn Berman (fellow vegan and author of SuperBaby). Here I am, sharing with the world (I did this on my Facebook author page, but that’s only available to fans so the audience was limited), my singing to Kamea.

By the way… the part about “spitting on authority figures” is not as bad as it might sound. ;) It’s a cute picture of a dad being spit “up” on with baby food. See?


By the way, check out Kamea’s baby freeze pops on my Kristen’s Raw blog here.



Making Kamea’s Story Book Vegan-Friendly

August 2nd, 2011 by

Kamea is crazy in love with books, which melts my heart. One of the passions both Greg and I share is the love of reading, and we look forward to the time when we can have family outings to Starbucks where we take our books and read.

We love reading to Kamea and she requests it every day, multiple times. Now that she knows the sign “more” in sign language, we see it over and over and over and over and … well, you get the point. Once the story ends, she wants more. Yay!

We’re building her library of books and I buy most of them on Amazon if they’re not hand-me-downs from friends and relatives. However, when you’re not buying from a bookstore where you can flip through it, you don’t always know everything it’ll contain. Recently, I bought the book “Yummy YUCKY” by Leslie Patricelli. It’s such a cute board book with the pictures, colors, and font. The story basically shows one side of the page with something yummy on it, like spaghetti. Then, on the next page it shows something similar, but yucky… like worms. It makes it really fun to read to Kamea as I exclaim out loud the pages that are YUCKY! I make an “eh eh” sound and she imitates me.??

The problem is that there are some foods shown in the book that are illustrated as yummy but that we would clearly not feed her as vegan parents. So, what did we do? We edited the book to suit our needs. (Kudos to Greg’s talented hand in making the words actually look like the other words’ font.)

Here are three examples of some of the changes we made!

This page used to read: “Burgers are yummy.” So, we changed it to “Boca Burgers are yummy.”

This page used to read: “Eggs are yummy.” So, we changed it to “Tofu eggs are yummy.”

This page used to read: “Fish sticks are yummy.” So, we changed it to “Faux Fish sticks are yummy.”

I read in a parenting book that if you find a children’s book that you just don’t agree with, then simply stop reading it. In our case, the book was so darn cute, that we just changed it. ;)

What is Kamea’s favorite book? As in… which book could she hear over and over and over and over???“Doggies” by Sandra Boynton. I love that her favorite book has to do with dogs which is so near and dear to my heart. She’s going to be a big animal lover, I can tell. (more…)

Homeschooling Journey Begins: Cognitive Development Activities, Part 2

February 3rd, 2011 by

In Part One of this post, I discussed the importance of stimulating babies’ brains during critical developmental windows, with shapes, colors, objects, and music.

Here are more things we’re doing…


A sampling of Kamea’s books.

Reading – Even though it’s hard to imagine that Kamea is paying much attention when I’m reading to her, all of the studies in cognitive development say that she is. Experts agree that it’s never too young to read to your baby – even a newborn! According to the book??Baby Read-Aloud Basics reading to babies helps them understand the meaning of words and to learn words they are less likely to hear every day. According to one expert,??”Compared with ordinary talk between a child and parent, children’s books have three times more rare words.”

Moreover, reading with baby at this very early age starts to ingrain a deep, life-long foundational association between reading and positive emotions keyed to the voices and touch of mommy and daddy. In doing this, as the child develops, books are anchored as objects of comfort, fun, and joy, as opposed to work or tedium.

I’ve also been able to get my hands on??Your Baby Can Read. While it’s too soon for me to judge its merits, the product has some good reviews and my friends have used it and like it. I do fancy the flash cards and book that are in the box. I think those are great for her. Update: we have not used this system.

Talking with Kamea – There have been many widely cited studies showing the importance of talking to your baby from the moment he or she is born. The quantity of words Kamea is exposed to now has a direct effect on her vocabulary later on. Makes sense, right? It’s not just the words she’s learning… you’re actually laying down the neural structures and cognitive frameworks she’ll use to learn words for the rest of her life! So it’s important to show her objects and describe them to her in as many ways as I can think of. I use many descriptive words and try to integrate them with other sensory modalities such as movement, facial expressions, sounds, varying my pitch, and pointing to objects as I speak or read out loud.

Studies have shown that you can’t get the same results by just plunking your kiddo down in front of the TV, or playing a CD or DVD, to hear more words. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t have the same effect as directly interacting with your baby and talking straight to him or her. Babies are born hardwired to recognize your face and to pay attention to what you say. The sights and sounds coming out of the appropriately named “idiot tube” (TV) will capture baby’s attention, but not have the same emotional context or that all-important interactivity. (This also applies to foreign language acquisition, which will be the subject of a later post.) In fact, experts suggest making eye contact with your baby before you begin discussing a particular object to make sure your baby is paying attention. Research shows that this type of successful “gaze-following” is related to higher language scores… it’s just amazing to me, and more than a little scary, just how much these early developmental months are going to fix in stone certain brain functions later on.

According to a new study,??Power of Talk, children between birth and 3 years of age need to hear??30,000 words daily??from parents and caregivers to ensure optimal language development and academic success (MomSense??magazine, May/June 2008). Yes, 30,000. Talk to your baby. A LOT.

Crossing the Midline – During the first months, there is an important activity that you can do with your baby that involves moving objects from one side of the baby’s body to the other, as baby visually tracks the movement “across the midline” from the left to right of their head (and back). By doing this, you are helping your baby’s brain wire stronger connections between the left and right hemispheres. For example, we worked with Kamea so she would track a toy that we held up for her, where she looked at it to the left of her, and then we crossed it over to the right side of her, making sure she followed it with her eyes. And, back again. We talked through the game with her or sometimes used a rattle and shook it as we watched her track it with her eyes. This can also be done with her reaching for something across the midline of her body using her hand, arm or foot. The stronger the connection across the brain’s midline structure, the corpus callosum, the better the ability to learn certain skills later in life as information is able to cross the brain faster and more efficiently. (To the computer geeks out there, my husband, says midline-crossing exercises “give her motherboard a faster bus.” Whatever that means, it sounds important.)


Tummy time with daddy’s keyboard.

Tummy Time – This very important for development especially in the 3-6 months age range. Tummy time is awesome and I give Kamea tons of it. I never ended up getting a jumperoo or saucer or any of those contraptions that I wrote about??here. Many experts agree that tummy time is the best thing for a baby’s development. This simple activity of having your baby spend time on her tummy enables him or her to develop strong upper body strength and other motor skills needed for pre-crawling, later leading to crawling which is an important developmental stage. While these benefits are primarily for her musculoskeletal development as opposed to cognitive development, time spent on her tummy allows her to see her environment from a completely different perspective than being on her back all day, as well as gain experience looking at and manipulating objects that we place in front of her, within arm’s reach and nearby. It was a joy to witness her endurance go from just a few seconds to (currently) 30 minutes or more. A position that previously amounted to exercise (complete with cute little gym-like grunts) has become downright leisurely.

What We’re Doing Today – I introduced her to a baby sign language video, but she’s still a tad young for it. I’ll report more on that in the future. We showed her a So Smart video and she was mildly interested for a brief spell. Other than these, no other television is on for her to see. Pediatricians recommend no TV for kids in the first two years.

Two sets of them.

Wooden magnets for the refrigerator – these are awesome. I love exposing her to words, animals, numbers, and other things (hello – dinosaurs!) and we’re doing it through fun kitchen magnets. Currently, I have 2 refrigerators and one big standalone freezer, which means lots of magnet space. I found??these great “wooden” magnets and we’re having a ball with them (love keeping it eco-friendly with wood and not the plastic ones you usually see). I started with one set of the letters and then bought a second set. Then, I bought the??numbers??animals and??dinosaurs.??*Keep in mind that the magnets are small and not recommended for children under the age of three. Kamea is actively supervised when she holds them and for the most part, we use them to show her words. As an added bonus, my husband and I leave secret messages to each other on the fridge. ;)

Plus, I found this great little??tabletop easel where she can sit on the floor and push the magnets around herself (again, supervised!). It’s also used as a dry erase board which will be super for homeschooling when she can draw, write, and do math.

That’s all for now. I’ll keep you posted as we continue on the homeschooling journey!

What techniques have you deployed for your little one? Any clever tricks or tips you’ve picked up along the way? Leave your comments, below.

Homeschooling Journey Begins: Cognitive Development Activities, Part I

January 29th, 2011 by

I’ve been researching a lot about baby development since before I became pregnant with Kamea. Even though Kamea is only 7 months old, we have been doing things with her since birth to promote development. I consider this as starting her homeschool even at this young age. So, I plan to blog about these homeschooling activities and share what we are doing and I welcome comments and sharing about what other parents are doing out there to promote development and what homeschooling activities you do.

Did you know that a baby is born with an IQ that is not fixed? There is a range that’s determined by genes, but within that range, IQ can vary as much as 20-30 points depending on pre- and postnatal environmental exposure such as nutrition, health, and experiences. Thus, nature and nurture are braided together.

It’s the environmental experiences I’m focusing on today. It’s fascinating to know that the majority of the brain’s wiring actually occurs during the first few years of life. Most of the brain cells are created before birth, but the all-important connections between them are primarily formed after birth. Before kindergarten, a baby’s brain is developing, growing, and soaking up information like a sponge. Much of the wiring for specific brain structures occurs during critical developmental windows, meaning if certain wiring doesn’t occur by a certain time, it never will. For this reason, from almost the day Kamea was born, Greg and I wasted no time in getting started.

There have been a number of things we’ve done so far…

Stimulating Shapes and Contrasting Colors – I think most parents know about this one. During those first months babies are attracted to black and white, sometimes red and bright yellow. The clear and sharp contrasts capture and hold a baby’s attention. To support this, I bought a cute black and white board book (you can find a number of them on Amazon, like this one). Greg and I also drew pictures with black marker on white paper. We started with simple shapes and very high contrast images (like the ninja) and gradually added more complexity. It was fascinating to watch Kamea’s reactions and observe what kinds of stimuli she was responding to (simple shapes vs. complex patterns vs. vs animals, faces, colors, etc.), and see how this changed over time. We taped the drawings to the wall all over our home, in areas where she would see them frequently or for extended periods of time. She loved staring at them. (Ummm… can you guess which one of these four I drew? lol)

Stimulating shapes and colors isn’t the only way to capture and hold a baby’s attention though. Changing your voice is important, too. We would talk to Kamea in a soft voice, loud voice, and funny voices. We make animal noises, which delight her… as though she knows we’re being goofy.

Size matters as well. Showing your baby toys and objects of different sizes is great for attracting your baby’s attention and helping him/her wire more neural connections.

Finally, novelty is important. Nature plays a strong role here in that we’re wired to pay special attention to new things, people, sounds, etc., not just merely from curiosity, but as a survival mechanism that tunes us for noticing things that are new or different in our environment. This doesn’t mean you must constantly buy new toys though. A couple of ways to maintain novelty is to rotate toys, change the locations of where they are in the house, let baby play with things you wouldn’t consider toys: measuring cups, kitchen gadgets, office supplies, etc. And then talk with your baby, describe the items, and play with your baby while he or she is checking them out. Of course, you’ll want to watch your baby at all times when playing with items like these. One safety test is to see if the object is small enough to fit through a toilet paper tube. If it does, it could be a potential choking hazard and is not a good toy.

Classical Music – This is another popular one, a cliche even, ever since Yuppies popularized it in the 80s. Playing classical music to facilitate baby’s learning is known as the “Mozart Effect”… although Bach, Beethoven, or other classical composers are purported to be appropriate as well. We often play classical music when we’re just doing stuff around the house. It’s reputed to help with the development of spatial-temporal reasoning. Furthermore, teaching Kamea to play an instrument is believed to have life-long enhancement of spatial reasoning skills, which is important later on for math, art, and efficiently packing the trunk of your car.

My brother, now an accomplished musician, began playing piano by ear at age three. Although Kamea is too young to even hold an instrument, let alone learn to play one, she already delights in banging on her daddy’s guitar strings and she seems to understand that her actions are indeed what’s causing the strange, new sounds. The most important thing is that baby is having fun, as this begins to establish all learning as something that’s enjoyable. Best of all, her spastic little guitar riffs sometimes occupy her attention for a good 15 minutes, a blissful eternity in mommy-entertaining-baby time. Future genius brain wiring or not, her cute little pats on the fretboard and resulting giggles are music to my ears.

In Part Two of this post, I’ll talk about reading, talking, tummy time, and a few more important things we’ve been paying attention to with Kamea’s development.

What To Do With Halloween Candy As A Vegan Mom

October 28th, 2010 by

As a vegan mom, I’ve been struggling with what to do for Halloween in the coming years, when Kamea is old enough to wear a costume and say “trick-or-treat.” I, myself, have so many fond memories from childhood on Halloween. And, even though I wasn’t a vegan growing up, my fond memories are for more than just the candy. Dressing up and going door to door with my friends was so fun (The candy wasn’t bad too though! ;) haha). Heck, I still like to dress up. Here is a picture of me a few years ago at Halloween when I was blond.

But. My family is vegan, and I’ve been wondering what we’ll do when Halloween rolls around in the coming years. Do we, instead, take a special trip each year, at that time, and celebrate it another way? Perhaps we can find an alternate way to celebrate so Kamea doesn’t go door to door getting a bunch of junky (mostly non-vegan) candy. But, I can’t help think that she’ll be missing out on the dress-up fun if I do that. There must be some compromise. Then… I came across this article and now I can’t wait for Halloween and for a time when Kamea is old enough to trick-or-treat! Knowing that we’re homeschooling makes this especially exciting!


I loved candy when I was a kid, but when I became a mother, I worried about my kids eating too much of the stuff. Still, I’ve never banned it from our home. Now, when my children come home on Halloween night, examine their candy, and go to bed without asking to eat a single piece, it’s not because I’ve forbidden it. It’s because they have better ideas about what 
to do with it.

It began with a simple question three years ago, when I was overwhelmed by our collection of Halloween candy. An afternoon with too-generous coworkers, a church Trunk-or-Treat (i.e., collecting candy at every car in a full parking lot), and a subsequent trick-or-treating expedition up our street had provided my four-year-old princess and two-year-old cowboy with mountains of candy. But since the candies had been the gifts of kind friends, and of elderly neighbors on fixed incomes, I didn’t want to throw them all away. Instead, I decided to dole them out one piece at a time. Handing out pieces after lunch was painful—the bowl loomed enormous atop my fridge, and I knew that at this rate we’d be eating candy for months.

Then, as my daughter Katherine poured out a box of Nerds, she asked the life-changing question:

“What would happen if I put these in water?”

I almost missed the moment. I was cleaning up the lunch dishes, and didn’t want to get out another one. Besides, the experiment sounded messy and wasteful (even though I’d just been agonizing about how to get rid of the stuff). I brushed her question aside, hoping she’d forget it. Instead, she asked again. I got her a white, unspillable mug, filled it with water, and set it down in front of her. She poured in her strawberry Nerds, examined them, stirred them into something the color of raspberry lemonade, and examined the cup again. Then I dumped 
it down the sink.

That was our first candy experiment.

Read the rest of this awesome article here…