Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Teaching Children to Read, Write, and Speak in French

January 31, 2014

I have been experimenting on my children, and I want to tell you about it.  My goal has been to raise them to be bilingual.

My Background:

I took two years of French in high school.  The languages offered with an in-person teacher were Spanish and French.  I chose French because there were fewer students in the French program, and the language and culture seemed more interesting.  In retrospect, I think I should have chosen Spanish for purely practical reasons.  I really enjoyed learning French, however, and was able to travel to France (and Spain).

When arriving at college I had (and wanted) to continue language study, and I chose French by default because I had already made a bit of progress, though less than I had hoped.  I wasn’t ready to start over with something new – why waste the investment I had made when I wasn’t yet fluent?

I studied abroad in France for about 3 months during my third year of college and had not yet chosen a major.  I was leaning toward doing something in the history department, but I realized that if I went that route I would need to take so many classes that I would have no more room in my schedule for any French classes.  I thus chose to major in French.  It was enjoyable for the most part, but I had to study a lot of fiction literature and wanted to study more of the philosophers.  In particular, the professor who taught classes on Pascal was on leave, and so I studied about Montaigne, instead.

Upon graduating I decided to become an elementary teacher, which had nothing at all to do with studying French language or literature.  I promptly stopped speaking or reading any French.

Starting French with Basil:

When Basil was fairly young I had a few French language children’s books in the house.  These were left over from a very short-lived after school program I took part in, teaching kindergarteners French.  I would occasionally read one with Basil, but it wasn’t a true effort to teach him French.

When my brother’s family returned from living in Taiwan for two years, his daughter was fairly proficient at speaking Chinese, and his wife encouraged me to really teach Basil French.  I thought about it for a while, and it made a lot of sense to me to pass on to him at his young age something that took me so long to acquire in college.  It also seemed to make sense to me from my Montessori training that it would be much easier for him at his age.

Right after he was about 3 years old I decided to only speak to him in French.  I checked out a couple of books from the library about “one parent one language,” which describes how to raise children bilingually.  At first I tried speaking to Elizabeth in French as well to make it a complete system, but she became too frustrated with not understanding what I was saying, especially in stressful situations, that I stopped doing that.

Stopping French:

Basil became very frustrated, as well.  Just after he turned 3, when I started this experiment, he had just come to a fluency with English.  He was speaking full sentences and was able to express his thoughts.  This was a very important new step for him, and he did not enjoy taking a step back with me.  When I spoke French to him he had to gain his understanding by context clues and the little he had learned from children’s books we’d read.  I also stopped reading English language books with him, which mean, of course, most of the books we had access to.  He became very frustrated with not being able to fully understand what I was saying, and we both became frustrated with my inability to say everything I wanted to say.  I spoke less to him than I had previously because I didn’t know how to say everything I wanted to.  Thus, I read and spoke less to him and he spoke less to me.  Out of concern for my relationship with Basil I decided to stop the experiment.

Starting Again:

The only reason I picked it back up is because Basil requested it of me.  He repeatedly brought to me the book Max et Les Maximonstres, which is Where the Wild Things Are in French.  He had never read this book in English, and it had become his favorite book.  This fact alone inspired me to continue reading in French to him and eventually continue speaking in French with him.  It showed me that in at least some way he enjoyed it and enough to ask for more.

We received a membership to the Alliance Francaise in the area, which had a wide variety of children’s books to check out.  I also started to discover the area libraries that had greater collections of French books – most I had explored had absolutely none.  Eventually, we also signed Basil up for classes at the Alliance Francaise two times, which he really enjoyed.

Why Reading?:

When reading from the OPOL books there was a discussion of what kind of “input” the children were receiving.  When the children are in a certain country that country’s language becomes the majority language and provides the majority of language input (written, spoken, or sung).  It becomes paramount that the children receive as much input in the minority language as possible to provide balance between the two languages.  If only one of the parents is providing input from the minority language the balance is weakened.  If that parent is the father it is further weakened due to a father’s reduced time with children (in traditional family arrangements).  It is advantageous to put the child in a school with the minority language, if possible, to tip the balance back and provide more input in the minority language.

I decided to further this experiment by teaching Basil how to read in French.  We had previously felt no urgency to teach him how to read early.  In addition, because of my concern of the imbalance in languages Basil would encounter I really didn’t want him to learn to read English early.  I wanted him to only have access to French books in order to increase the balance.  If I couldn’t be with him all day speaking French, I wanted him to have good input from the French books in our home.

Starting Reading with the Sandpaper Letters:

From my Montessori training I learned to teach reading with letter sounds.  The primary tool for this is a set of sandpaper letters.  These are expensive, especially French versions, so I decided to make them myself, which wasn’t too hard.  As it turns out, the alphabet is almost exactly the same aside from some accented letters and the important vowel combinations.  Why this particular material is effective is because it uses three senses to teach letter-sound associations: seeing, hearing, and touching.  I had to try hard (still do) to have family members stop teaching the children alphabet songs or reading alphabet books because learning letter names is counterproductive.  It does not help to say “a” as “ay” when reading the word “dad” or when reading the French word “chat.”  English letter names are counterproductive in both languages.  Each night after Macrina when to sleep, Basil and I would have a special time where we would pull out the letters and I would teach him a lesson on three new letters or fewer if they presented a special difficulty, tracing with the finger and saying the associated sound.  You can learn about a “three period lesson” elsewhere.

To guide my progress through the letters of the alphabet (after covering b,a,s,i, and l) I used a book called Pas à Pas, Ma Méthode de Lecture Syllabique, which I ordered from France.  This book provided a nice sequence and several pictures and words matched to practice some of the letter sounds already learned.  What was very nice about this system is that the words provided usually only contained letters already learned, something that was beyond my ability to create.

Sometimes we even made letters out of dinner!

Continuing Reading with the Movable Alphabet:

Also beyond my ability to create was the next material: the Movable Alphabet.  This is a collection of small letters: 5 of each consonant and 10 of each vowel.  The point of this material is to create words and sentences.  In the Montessori method, students learn first how to associate letters with sounds and then they learn how to compose words with those sounds.  Thus, writing comes before reading.  In practice, the reading comes automatically with the ability to write because they read as they write.  With these green letters Basil began stringing together letters – first his name, then other words we had looked at together.  Eventually he began stringing together entire sentences.  He is still very happy to do this activity as he has not yet mastered the spelling of all French words or the proper French grammar or syntax.  It is still a fun challenge for him.

Other supporting activities involved taking dictation for stories that Basil made up (in English and in French) and then having him illustrate them.

We even created an entire book out of movable alphabet letters and taking photographs to go with each page.

We also sing real and made up songs together in French.

Basil sometimes reads French books to his sister, Macrina.

Here is Basil reading Emilia her first ever book.  The book is in French and it is called Super Bobo.

Learning to Read English:

My hypothesis from the beginning was that I needed to teach Basil to read in French early because he would pick up reading English without even trying.  As it turns out, he seems to have picked up reading English more on account of being able to read in French.  The consonant sounds are largely the same.  The vowel sounds are different but not too different.  His superior knowledge of English allows context clues to help him figure out words that aren’t pronounced the same way as English.


To this point Basil is able to read many of his favorite books in French – and I mean READ, not retell from memory.  He is also able to read most of his favorite English books, as well.  Unknown French words are decoded with phonetic knowledge.  Unknown English words are figured out mostly through context clues and using the phonetic clues from his French knowledge.  Basil is not conversationally fluent.  He understands much more than he can say, and this may be due to my laxity in responding to his English rather than expecting him to speak to me in French.  Still, it has been scarcely more than a year (maybe a year and a half) and he can understand and read much French.  With Macrina I began when she was about 1, and with Emilia I will be starting from the very beginning.  I don’t know what difference this will make since the amount of English input is larger for Macrina than it was with Basil – she has two people at home who speak English to her during the day while he had only one.  Still, there are other methods for trying to balance the input, such as the Alliance Francaise classes, French day at the zoo, a French performance of Eric Carle books, and the occasional viewing of a 1980’s Canadian program, called Téléfrancais (Basil’s only screen time).

My Own Study:

In order to do all of this I had to up my French from when I graduated from college in 2006.  To do this I watched, read, and listened to French news through the internet.  I attended one review class at the Alliance Francaise.  I went to local French discussion groups, and I even found a local French-language playgroup (though we have only attended once so far).  In this whole process I thought that perhaps I should think about teaching French professionally – a thought that never entered my mind as I graduated with a French degree and started in the teaching profession.  I subsequently took courses at a local university and became licensed to teach French K-12.  I don’t know if I’ll take a French job, however.  My fluency is still low, in my opinion, and I think it would be a lot of work!

Please feel free to ask questions if I left out details you want!



Emilia Margaret is here!

January 30, 2014

Emilia arrived at 11:02 on January 23rd.  She weighed in at 7lbs8oz and was 20ish inches long.  Emilia’s entrance was after a very quick labor and dramatic delivery, but we all seem to be healthy and settling in now.  She is remarkably calm and very alert at times.

Basil and Macrina are in love.  We all are.

The last picture of Macrina’s babyhood:


63 minutes later:



I wish this picture hadn’t turned out so dark.  Macrina’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she got to hold Emilia.:

Lately Basil has become more and more enthusiastic about just about everything in a loud 4yr old boy kind of way. But when he’s with Emilia the enthusiasm quiets into a sort of blissful state.  It’s delightful. Emilia did start fussing when Basil held her the first time and Macrina quickly reprimanded him, “Basil, kiss her head!!”:

And a family photo.  We’ll keep working on it.:

Of course this isn’t Emilia’s usual look, but it’s pretty funny.:

Home again:

We have a new router that’s speeding things up, so perhaps we’ll be back here more frequently.  But really, we’ll probably just be cuddling.

Week 1 Learning Stuff Highlights

September 27, 2013

We started “preschool” the last week of August since that’s when Papa headed back to work.  Basil has no concept of “homeschool” or “doing preschool” and thinks he “goes to school” by attending Church school and French class.  I think we’ll leave it that way as long as possible since there’s no telling what we’ll do next anyways.

It was a transition week just like all the other “Papa back to work” weeks, so we had some extra emotions to work around.  But it was an especially nice time for new routines.  We’re ever so loosely using the “Harvest Time” curriculum from WeeFolkArt (just the book list and activities), attempting some Montessori math lessons, somewhat intentionally “playing Church school” at home, and continuing with French phonics lessons.  Eric is in charge of reading/writing so he’ll have to write out the nitty gritty of that if he so chooses.

Having just finished our fifth week, it’s clear our plans have been pruned by the forces of… life.  Keeping notes of the “educational” aspects of the day usually surprises me to see how much is done, and how much of it is regular life and not the planned aspects.  It also shows very varied days and a lot of missed opportunities. I’m getting a little better at planning realistically.

Bullet points and photos are less of a “day in the life” retelling, but far easier to record:

-Read “Tops and Bottoms” by Janet Stevens and “Vegetables” by Gail Gibbons for our vegetable theme.  Other books of note, because someone in the crew liked them a lot (a lot more than this were read): “Pet of the Met” by Lydia and Don Freeman, “Children of the Forest” by Elsa Beskow, and “Lentil” by Robert McClosky.  We started reading “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The story of Joseph in Egypt was read through in the Children’s Bible Reader.

-We went to the park and I tried to teach left vs right on the way there.  Lots of cute pointing out of the stroller from both children, but that’s all.  We’ll try again in a few years!  Mostly they were pretending to have a concert.  The music was… progressive?

-Restarted recording the date and important events for the month on a calendar.  Read the stories of St Elizabeth (mother of the forerunner), looked at her icon and read through her hymns.

-Joined up with a homeschool playgroup for one morning.  It was terribly terribly hot out, but we wound up pouring water all over and keeping relatively cool.

-Took a walk at the lake.

-Made paint from cornstartch.  Mixing the colors was a big hit.  This is what happens when I ask Basil to smile.

-Made salt dough vegetables to play with.  You can’t see the veggie he’s holding. But we’re closer to a smile!

-Took a trip to the grocery store to try a new vegetable.  Tried taro root (okay, kind of like spongy celery) and dragon fruit (pretty tasty, like a less acidic kiwi).  Found root, leaf, stem, flower bud, fruit, bulb, tuber and seed vegetables.

-Went to the downtown farmers market to enjoy a bluegrass concert, admire vegetables, and pick up cabbage for kraut.  Clogging was a main form of percussion for the band.  I’m a fan!  On the bus on the way to the market and then the band:

-Introduced the red rods.  (We never let pants get in the way of our education.)

-Wrote letters to friends.  This devolved rather quickly into making letters out of crayons.  (We don’t let original plans, shirts or the fact that we have moose antlers get in the way either.)

Maybe I’ll write another one of these sooner than 5 weeks from now and remember more.

A Changing Taste for Bikes

September 25, 2013

Recently I got a new bike, and it marked a turn in my life as a biker.  I thought I would run through how I have changed recently because I find it interesting.

When I was young I had bikes, but the only bike that I remember is an adult tricycle that I rode for a while (a year, perhaps?) until it broke.  Later in high school I got a Diamondback Hybrid that I enjoyed riding quite a bit.  I rode it all over my town several times listening to my earphones.  It wasn’t hard to retrace the same sections of town over and over when it’s only 2.4 square miles.

(something like this Diamondback)

Sometime after having been in college for a year or two I brought my bicycle up to Chicago.  Within short order it was stolen.  I don’t remember the circumstances, but I don’t think it was my fault.  I shortly thereafter bought another bike (used this time), which was promptly stolen out of my back yard, and this time it was clearly my fault because I left it hidden but unlocked.

With two bikes being stolen I stuck with my car for the next few years.  After moving to Minneapolis something led both me and Elizabeth to look for bikes.  I bought a Raleigh 3-speed, and she bought a Rollfast 3-speed.  I was specifically looking for a bike that would have an upright ride because I was very wary of riding a bike where I would have to hunch up my shoulders and lean over a lot.  If I wasn’t comfortable I wouldn’t ride, I thought.

Somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to be more local and to ride more often – with Basil, our only child at that time.  We bought a used Burley trailer, and Basil just hated it.  My mother bought us a Bobike Mini, and he and I both loved it by comparison.  However, my knees hit the seat, and I had to lean down over him to get to the handlebars.  The shoulder hunching I feared was happening.


I didn’t feel comfortable on the Raleigh and sought a better solution for family hauling.  This is when I started learning about Dutch bicycles.  It appeared that they were more comfortable, waterproof, and indestructible, and some were really meant for family transportation.  I wanted to find a bike that could do it all – a weekday commuter that could take the whole family to church and get all the groceries.

I convinced Elizabeth to let me buy a Workcycles Fr8, with the hope that we could both ride it with the kids.  Quickly after getting it we found out only I could ride it, which was a major disappointment.  However, it was an absolute joy to ride with Basil on the front – for him and for me, and it was extremely comfortable.

IMG_6451   IMG_6446

That is… when it was on level ground.  I found when I went to work and back on this bicycle that it was very difficult getting up hills.  This was undoubtedly due to it’s being nearly 75 lbs unloaded.  Just after getting it put together at a local bike shop I took it back to have the cables adjusted and asked if it was normal to have so much rolling resistance from the dynamo hub.  The bike just didn’t seem to *go* very easily, even in its easiest gear of 8 (Shimano Nexus internal hub).

Shortly thereafter, I found a used Gazelle on Craigslist that I decided was a great deal and was worth getting as a winter bike.  I did get it but didn’t think it was as comfortable as the Fr8.  The handlebars did not go as high, and the frame size was actually too big, making it hard for me to put my feet on the ground and balance myself at stops.

(something very much like this Gazelle)

Now with three bikes I never rode the Raleigh and ended up giving it to my brother when he moved to town.

The bike shop guys convinced me that if I rode the Gazelle during the winter I would destroy it and it was “too cool” of a bike to trash in that way.  The creator of the Fr8, in Amsterdam, seconded that opinion by email.  I decided to ride the more weatherproof Fr8 during the winter, and on January 7th I slipped on some ice and broke my ankle under 75 lbs of bike.  The bike, of course, didn’t have a scratch on it.  Quite a tank.


I had a lot of time to think about bike riding as I lay on my back during the recovery.  Slowly it occurred to me that it was perhaps the weight of the Fr8 that contributed to my injury.  It also occurred to me how intimidated I was to ride my bike any great distance from my home because of what a chore it was to get around – and I was completely intimidated to go anywhere that involved hills.  I have never yet gone to the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition, because I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up on one of their rides.  Almost every time I rode it to work and back I would have pain in my knees for the rest of the day.  I would comment to Elizabeth on those few days I didn’t feel knee pain, as if I was building strength that would eventually make that pain go away.

Before I had fully recovered I had decided to sell the Fr8.  But what was I going to get instead?

I thought what I wanted was a folding bike – a Brompton.  Why?  Because it was the opposite of the Fr8 in almost every way.  It was small and light, and I could take it anywhere, whether by carrying it or riding it.  It might not be able to carry children, however.  I spent many hours reading about them and trying to figure out how to use one to carry children.  When I was finally up and well and able to test ride one for a couple of hours I decided that it wasn’t as comfortable as I was hoping.  With that major drawback I had to ask myself how often I would actually need to fold it, and the answer was a very clear never.

I started then to look at much less expensive options for replacing the Fr8.  I wanted something lighter but still with low maintenance.  If possible, I wanted hub gearing, hub brakes, and a  hub generator.  Low and behold something popped up on Craigslist.  It was another old Raleigh that had all of these features.  I went to take a look at it and it needed a little bit of work, which helped to lower the price a bunch.  I then invested money in the bike to replace the handlebars (increasing cockpit room for comfort and child hauling) and grips.  I also replaced the cog on the internal gear hub to make the Sturmey Archer better for riding up hills.


This bike has been a fantastic bike for almost everything.  It is a joy to ride with children and without.  The cockpit is not as large as the Fr8, so I do hit my knees on the front child seat occasionally, but I have never hurt my knees going to work and back.

I decided to take this bike on the St. Paul Classic bike ride with my friend, Dan.  Each of us took our oldest child, as well.  That meant I took Basil on a 30 mile bike ride around the city of St. Paul with my 3-speed.  Well, after a big hill at around the 15 mile mark, my knees gave out on me, and I was in a lot of pain.  I had to walk the bike a few times, and I really slowed Dan down (he was towing a trailer and had a lot of gear options).

That experience convinced me that as much as I love the simplicity of a 3-speed internally geared hub, it is not enough for me to ride around the city of St. Paul without injuring myself.  I finally wanted to move beyond an internally geared hub.  I wanted something I could ride all around the city without being intimidated by hills.  I started looking for a 10-speed road bike.

A Fuji?  A French bike like a Peugot?  An old Schwinn or Raleigh?  I had no real idea where to start or what to look for.  I didn’t even know what kind of handlebar positions or brake levers were important.  Where do you put your hands with drop bars?  I didn’t know what size I would need, and I thought it ridiculous to pay someone to measure me.

On Craigslist I happened to see one day a listing for a Surly CrossCheck at what seemed to be an amazing price.  It was more than I was planning to spend, but it appeared that it could be an investment, even if it did not fit and I learned to hate road bikes.  I drove to Minneapolis that very day to check it out after work, and it was light, smooth, and responsive.  I wasn’t sure it was the right size or that I would like riding it, but I reminded myself that at that price I could easily get my money back.

The next day I rode it to work and my shoulders hurt from leaning over so much.  On the other hand, I zoomed up hills without a lot of effort, and I was nowhere near having knee pain.  It was incredibly liberating to not fear hills or distances.  Within two days the shoulder pain had disappeared.

I used to give myself 30 minutes to ride to school and ended up using almost all of them.  I think it was about 27 minutes by Fr8.  With the CrossCheck I think I’ve managed to get my time down to about 18 minutes, which includes an inconvenient detour.  Google Maps says my standard route should take 23 minutes, but I have no idea how they calculate this.

I’ve changed the rear cassette in order to have a couple easier gears for eventual hill climbing in other parts of the city, and I replaced the disposable pedals the fella sold to me on the bike.  I still think I should buy a high rise stem to make the bike fit me a bit better, but based on my current comfort level I don’t really think I have to.

After this experience, I don’t think I’ll turn back.  Perhaps I will become disenchanted with derailleurs after some major, expensive complication.  Or I will develop back problems from leaning over too much.  But the difference in my confidence as a rider changes my situation completely.  I want to commute by bike and get around as much as possible without a car, and while my previous bike preferences were super comfortable on flat ground, they restricted my range of distance far too much.

I now plan to keep three bikes:

1. The Gazelle will be a snow bike, equipped with studded tires
2. The Raleigh will be for child hauling with the mounted seats (these don’t work on the Surly)
3. The Surly will be for everything else

Do I really need to keep all three?

– I like the Gazelle better than the Raleigh for snow because it has a full chaincase, and I’m not sure I can get this for the Raleigh.  If I could I might be able to just switch out tires and ditch the Gazelle.
– I like the Raleigh best for child hauling because the Gazelle is unsafe with kids (large frame size), and I prefer bike mounted seats to the Burley (the Surly can take kids in the trailer)

When it’s snowy I will be restricted by riding the Gazelle, but I don’t plan to do a lot of snow riding outside of commuting.  When I’m taking kids I’ll rarely be going too far, but if I need to I can hook up the Burley to the Surly and go farther.

I don’t expect this to be my lifelong bike set-up, but I do plan to own a multi-speed road bike as my primary ride, and I have been avoiding anything even remotely like a road bike for the last five years.

Thank you, St. Paul Classic.  Thank you, broken ankle.


Total Lack of Internet Presence

September 19, 2013

We do still USE the internet.  And I haven’t actually deleted my facebook page, though I can’t access it from home.

But the exciting wonderful news hereabouts is that there’s a new Saathoff sister!  La plus petite soeur is due mid-late January and sittin’ pretty (swimming, I suppose) now at 22 weeks.

If you are our close personal friend and somehow see this post (having bothered to keep this blog on a reader even after google-reader ended?!?) you can email and we can share pictures on snapfish. There’s lots and lots of highly unorganized, unedited and un-captioned cuteness.

In far less exciting news (and probably equally un-surprising!), we’re trying our hand at a bit of homeschooling this year.  Basil is still only 4 and compulsory education doesn’t begin until 7 in MN.  But the wide-eyed looks when people hear he’s not in PreK apparently start now.  We’ve begun some more intentional learning and maybe, just oh so maybe, this space will be used to chronicle a bit of that.

But not in the winter.  God willing we’ll be back with triple cuteness explosion photos!








Our first photo as a family of five.  Basil wasn’t having it and Macrina insisted on carrying a cross.  They’re quite pleased about the new baby now.

Toys, Waldorf, Montessori

April 18, 2012


I know Elizabeth has been reading recently about Waldorf education, which is a little interesting since I am currently a Montessori educator.  I, myself, have read very little about Waldorf education, but there are some things that I find to be very different about them.

In Montessori education one of the important factors for young children is to make everything real.  If the children are just developing their minds and coming to understand the world around them, they have no need for fantasy.  The new world that they are exploring is fantastic enough.  Instead of using a fake broom, they want to use a real broom and to sweep like they see the adults doing.  A large chunk of the Montessori education for young children is involved with “practical life” – teaching the children how to do real, practical things in life (for a variety of reasons).  For a short while I was convinced to take out all of the fantasty books from Basil’s library – anything with talking animals – in exchange for non-fiction books that explained real parts of the world or realistic / historical fiction types of books.

My shallow understanding of Waldorf is that it is the opposite – that children are encouraged to use their imaginations a lot and to do a lot of fantasy or make-believe play.  Montessori children do not “play” but rather “work.”  Children choose different works, and imaginative play has little to no place in the learning environment.  The “work” is productive, constructive activity that continues their natural ( = ideal, perfect) development (to adulthood).

Having raised Basil now for nearly 3 years, my mind has changed a bit.  He does want to do what he sees his mama and papa doing, and I still want to provide him a real broom, fork, etc.  But he also loves pretending, and he knows he’s pretending.  He says “I’m pretending” when I tell him the toy chimpanzee is not a polar bear.  His pro-yiayia loves seeing him pretend to do church when he comes over on Sundays.  In a way he is going through the motions of a Montessori “work” and repeating what he’s seen, but in another way he is doing imaginative play – which is more like Waldorf.  We simply can’t get him the materials to truly do the Eucharist at home…

In the Montessori classroom there are really no “toys.”  Our home is not a Montessori classroom, nor should it be.  We do have toys, and here is where the Waldorf ideas really seem to hit home for me.  One website I saw summed up the idea like this:

  • Is it beautiful?
  • Does it feel good?
  • Does it leave room for the imagination?
  • Will it inspire creative play?
  • Is it open-ended? (That is, is there more than one way to play with it?)

These questions do guide our choice of toys.  A quick conclusion from the questions is that most of the plastic, commercial toys today are automatically out.  They are too specific in use, they are not beautiful, and they are made to be disposable yet are not biodegradable -> which is really the opposite of what we want to teach him about how to use resources.

It’s a bit difficult to really rule out all plastic things, such as his toilet, and at this point it would seem nearly impossible for us to do this as adults in our own environment.  Still, as much as possible this is something we agree on and seems to not be in dispute between Montessori and Waldorf educators.  Montessorians might heavily disagree regarding the shape and use of the toys – but not in their materials or construction.  Montessori materials are nearly always made of glass, metal, or wood.

Another aspect of all of this is to consider the disposable nature of many toys offered today and the quantity of toys we have in the house.  We decided a little while back to do a rotation of toys – putting some in the closet and bringing them back out when the current toys on the shelf were no longer of interest.  One problem with this scenario is that our closet is only so large!  We’ve begun running out of space to put the ones we want to take off the shelf.

The quality of toys can have a direct effect on the quantity of toys in these ways: Quality toys are likely higher in price, so you buy fewer (this one is hard because we are penny pinchers!).  Quality toys should be more open ended, so you need fewer because you can do more with less.  Quality toys should be made of better materials and last longer, so they need fewer replacements.

Here are some other articles I recently read regarding toys, plastics, etc:

MotherSpirit Article: Toys
Top 3 Reasons Why Mothers Should Get Rid of Plastic
Easy Ways to Reduce Plastics at Home
Waldorf Toys: Choosing the Best Educational Toys For Your Children <- Source of above quote
Too Many Toys <- a very interesting article about someone who was going to work for Hasbro


Macrina Laughs and Many Meetings

January 19, 2012

Her neck is fairly irresistible for kissing, even when it’s full of crusties from dried spit up.  Who knew it was a tickle spot on a girl so young!

We’ve been very busy and neglectful to our blog audience.  So many things have passed they will hardly be covered, but I will try to provide a few pictures.

Papou Sam and Yiayia Brooke met Macrina:

Basil and Papou Sam meet a Como Zoo Polar Bear:

Oh wait, that’s Jesse Ventura!  Here’s the bear:

Cousin Stella and Auntie Katina meet Macrina:

Uncle Jeff meets Macrina:

Basil meets an orange bike from Yiayia Brooke and takes it for a walk:

A proud papa?

The living room meets a new look:

Macrina meets Danielle and Meredith:

Macrina meets one of her first smiles:

My new tools meet some wood and hardware:

My new tools meet more wood and hardware, as well as very smelly, slowly drying polyurethane…

Basil meets our first real snow of the season:

Mama meets spit-up bad:

Sibling lips meet:

Come meet us!


Cannibalistic Newborns! …and other photos

November 19, 2011

I must admit, I am just as much of a guilty party in the attempted consumption as the infants…



First family photo at home:

Four generations:

Family “tummy time”:

Basil and Macrina fun time:

Papa and Macrina fun time:


Papa and Basil fun time:

Goodbye umbilical cord stump – we hardly knew ye!


Many Visitors!

November 5, 2011

We were happy to see many friends in the hours and days after Macrina’s birth.  Here are a few photos:


Papou Chris:

Basil holding Macrina:


Phyl, Jason, and Jake:

Basil holding Macrina again:

Andrea and Teagan:

A couple hospital visitors didn’t make it into photographs: Uncle Richard, Fr. Jonathon and Emily Johnson come to mind.  We look forward to everyone else meeting Macrina and more experiences of Basil being a great older brother.


Basil’s Little Sister!

October 31, 2011

The Saathoff (nuclear) family has increased to four terrestrial beings: Papa, Mama, Basil, and Macrina.

As I wrote in an email that went out earlier:

“Contractions began around 4:00am, we made it to the hospital at 6:50am, and the baby girl beat the doctor at 7:30am.

Macrina Brooke weighed 7lbs 6oz, 21 inches.  Very healthy and good at nursing.”

She is named for St Macrina the Younger, sister of St. Basil the Great, and both of her yiayias (Brooke).

– Here is the Life of Macrina, written by her brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa.
– Here is a dialogue written by St. Gregory between himself and Macrina concerning the soul and resurrection.
Here is a shorter version of her life.

Big brother is a big, big fan, as is everyone else.  Fr. Jonathan stopped by to give a blessing.  All local family have met her, as well.  We look forward to seeing the distant family!  Until then…