I started a Montessori and Simple Family living series of Interviews with the hopes, as Readers, you may gain some information, encouragement, support and inspiration and just maybe, a way to connect with other like-minded families.
Today I am introducing you to Becky from The Great Northern Family blog whom I had the privilege of interviewing recently. I think you will really appreciate her open and honest answers. Thank you Becky for sharing your story with us!
Q1. Dear Becky, would you like to share with us a bit about yourself, what part of the world you live in and some of your favourite things?
Hi Olivia, It’s so much fun to get to chat to another blogger and try something new. Thank you for doing this.
I’m Becky, and my husband, Kal and our two-year old son, Sam live in a small town in Northern Alberta, Canada. For those not familiar with Canada, we are basically in the western half of the country and while we live in a slightly more northern region of the province, we are still located in Southern Canada. Our region is rough prairie, with a fair number of lakes, cold winters and hot summers. We just moved here in April and are still settling in after living in Canada’s fourth largest city (Calgary) for over ten years. Sam is our miracle child, so we are very doting, involved parents as he may be the only child we ever get the privilege of raising. We try to find a balance, though, between our desire to overprotect and smother him with our love, and our realistic sides that need to prepare him for the world and let him have some freedom from us. We are learning as we go and hope that we are ‘getting it right’ some of the time.
Before Sam was born, I was a preschool teacher with a background in Emergent Curriculum, Learning through Play, and eventually Reggio Emilia. I was famous in the centres for being a staff member who thought outside the box and came up with very unique and creative projects for the classes. After Sam was born, I became a stay-at-home mum, although I don’t think that is a very accurate description as I write Great Northern Family, my blog, about Intentional Parenting, write and illustrate children’s books and have just started a preschool with a friend/colleague. Our preschool is for children 19- 36 months old, who are ready for more challenges, experiences and learning but are too young for regular preschool/and or would not do well in a mainstream classroom with 22 other rambunctious children. It runs two mornings a week and Sam, of course, attends with me. He adores it and as one of the older children, he loves his opportunity to be like a big brother to the youngest classmates.
2. Could you tell us about your blog ‘The Great Northern Family‘ and why you started blogging?
I had thought about writing a blog ever since Sam was born because I really couldn’t find many active Canadian ‘mommy bloggers’ out there, let alone ones that matched my style of parenting and teaching. Our country is so very different from the United States in culture, the United Kingdom in population and the rest of the commonwealth in climate that while other blogs are enjoyable to read, many elements are not very relatable to us. I thought about creating my own Canadian blog but as Sam was a very high needs infant, the idea went on the back-burner. As Sam got older, I was restless and knew I did not want to go back to work full-time but also wanted something I could call my own. I was doing lots of activities with Sam and trying to make his childhood special but when Kal was away a lot and none of my friends were interested in “intentional parenting” it often seemed to go unnoticed. The final nudge towards blogging came through the Mom’s forum I was a part of. As the children matured from babies to toddlers, it became a frequent topic of “What can I do with my child?” I was always quick to answer with suggestions for activities and finally, the Mom’s started encouraging me to have a blog so that I could post ideas consistently. I took the leap in January 2017 and started to write about my life with Sam, activities to do and suggestions for Intentional Parenting.
Since then, we’ve covered a lot of stuff, from breading fish to field trips, the death of a Canadian icon and my emotions about giving up my city life to move to a small town. I really try to give the blog a Canadian feel and note that we strongly value what makes Canada different from other countries. The blog’s name is even a play on Canada’s nickname “The Great White North”. Our philosophy is primarily ‘Intentional Parenting’ which means trying to make the most of your child’s childhood and also parenting in a planned, intentional fashion to raise your child up to be the wonderful, unique, caring, delightful person you know they can be. We often share ideas that could be considered Montessori but as I haven’t done any official Montessori training, I wouldn’t label our blog as Montessori specifically. We also incorporate ideas from the years I spent at a Reggio Emilia school, which is similar to Montessori in its belief in creating beautiful, organized, learning spaces and letting the child lead the learning based on their interests and natural curiosity. To top it off, there’s also a mixture of Pinterest, my own creativity and ideas from my childhood mixed into the blog as well.
3. How do you like to spend time as a family? What do you enjoy doing the most?
We struggle to have time as a family due to Kal’s intense work schedule but when we get it, we can often be found going on adventures, working on a project or going for a walk. Both Sam and I love helping Kal on a DIY project, although, in the end, I’m not sure if we are a help or a hinderance at times. When it’s just Sam and I, we often spend our time at the Library, playing and imagining together with his toys or materials, singing all his favourite songs and doing Practical Life activities such as cooking, managing the home, caring for our cat etc.
Neith Kal or I are particularly athletic but we’ve always enjoyed walking and trying our luck at geocaching, which is basically a modern-day form of a treasure hunt. This May, we started a new project that guaranteed we would be walking each and everyday. My family has been involved with The Kidney Foundation for the past several years. Each year the foundation holds a 100km walk over three days, called the ‘Kidney March‘ to raise money for research. Inspired by my family who have done the walk, this Spring I decided that Sam would become the first ever ‘Mini Marcher‘ by walking 1km a day for 100 days. No other child has ever attempted this and Sam has become a bit of a mini mascot for the foundation and an inspiration for those who are doing the real march. Sam has always loved a good walk and we now are facing the problem that he doesn’t want to walk one kilometer a day….he wants to walk three or four! We really can’t hold him back and he clearly loves it as he sings and chatters the entire way along, often accompanied by a stuffed animal or a wagon to collect natural items he finds. We are now at 78km and will walk the final kilometer with the real Kidney Marchers when they do their walk at the end of the Summer. Every ten kilometers or so, we make a video with the Kidney Foundation and we post it to the blog to help people follow Sam’s journey.
One of the other notable things about our family is that we try to be quite environmentally conscious and have approached parenting with a ‘low waste attitude’. We cloth diapered Sam, intentionally tried to dress him in hand-me-downs and clothes from the local consignment store and attempted to borrow or buy as much of his baby stuff second-hand as possible. People thought we were strange but we really were passionate about avoiding the excess packaging that ends up in landfill when you buy new items, as well as giving a second chance to the still almost brand new items that often end up in thrift stores. Now that Sam is older, we still try to reuse and recycle as much as we can, while reducing how much we buy in the first place. We love that our town has a toy library so that rather than buying new toys, puzzles and games for Sam whenever he wants he wants to try something new, we can just borrow them from the library and better yet, return them when we are done so that our house remains clutter free.
Q4. Are there any parenting philosophies you are influenced by?
I am deeply influenced by Montessori and Reggio Emilia. When I was a university student, our training was mostly based on the mainstream “learning through play” philosophy used by most preschools and child care centres.We did very little to touch on these two theories that came out of Europe. When I worked as a nanny during my final years of school, in my desperation to help a little boy who was struggling due to a lack of meaningful/structured parenting, I discovered the blogs How We Montessori and The Imagination Tree (a Reggio Blog). Both blogs were beautiful examples of mothers who had chosen to intentionally parent their children and use their knowledge and gifts to shape their children’s early years. As I looked through dozens of pages of inspiring activities and beautiful photos of natural, and aesthetically pleasing homes and toys, I knew that this was right for me. As I studied the philosophy, I knew Montessori’s philosophy of building a child’s self-worth and confidence through meaningful and independent tasks was what I wanted to give my child. I loved Reggio Emilia’s passion to follow a child’s interests and help them to fully explore the concept and topic until the child’s desire for knowledge was satisfied. I remember thinking “This is it”. This is how I am going to raise my child one day.
We’ve never been fully able to adhere to the philosophies of Montessori, as it often requires a lot of materials, the majority of which are very expensive and hard to find in Canada, unless we ship them from elsewhere in the world. It also contradicts our philosophy of trying to reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ Sam owns and buy previously enjoyed items in order to reduce waste. Thus we DIY a lot of materials/ideas and some things we miss entirely. We also know that going fully Montessori and Reggio would likely mean giving up Sam’s beloved thrifted Duplo (some of which were mine as a child) and his playmobil 123 sets, which we feel enrich and add some to his play. So right now, we straddle the fence and try to match up all of our parenting and life philosophies, while keeping it framed by the phrase Intentional Parenting.
Q5. What inspires you? What challenges you?
This is a hard question because I am inspired by so many things. Sam himself is a huge inspiration and just seeing him grow, learn and change each day already keeps me inspired. I am inspired by the other amazing bloggers I see out there, doing incredible things with their children and reminding me that, yes, while I haven’t made a mainstream choice in how to raise Sam, I have definitely made the right choice for us. I’m inspired by the nature around us that I see each day, by the song of the birds and just watching the rhythms, patterns and seasons of the natural world. I’m inspired by thinking about Sam’s future and how one day, I’ll be able to tell him all the amazing stuff we did together as he was growing up and how I treasured every second of it. In some ways I am inspired by my own childhood because while It had some very happy times and wonderful memories, I also have a lot of memories that I wish I could forget like the intense bullying, negative school experiences and very dispassionate teachers, crippling anxiety from a very young age and constant feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. I’m inspired to simultaneously give Sam the best of my childhood while also avoiding the worst of it by teaching him better strategies for coping in rough times, managing emotional health and empowering him to become “bully proofed”.
I’m challenged by our community and the parent styles around me. Our community has very few parents who seem to be intentional in their parenting style and choices. The town is very small and we only have the typical offering of government schools (public or Catholic schools) with no alternative options. Our preschool choices are very limited and don’t appear to be very high quality. Many parents don’t even seem aware that better quality, inspiring and amazing choices for their children’s first five years are out there. (Note: While kindergarten and schooling up to grade twelves is free in Canada, preschool and childcare prior to that is not well-regulated by the government.) While quality early childhood programing is common and often very affordable in the city, in small towns, limited choices often leads to low quality, understaffed and overcrowded programs. As a result of all these factors, my attitude and philosophy of parenting is often considered very unusual, especially our choices to tightly control the media/screen time Sam is exposed to, our encouragement of Sam’s independence from a young age, our choice to buy second-hand and buy less, not out of poverty but philosophy etc. It’s hard always being the outlier and feeling isolated from other parents conversations about their child’s addiction to ‘Paw Patrol’ or their latest shopping spree. However, I love that in the internet age, I can hop on the internet and check out wonderful blogs like this one to inspire me and reaffirm my choices.
Q6. Are there any books or resources you will like to recommend?
I love reading the archives of How We Montessori from when Otis was Sam’s age and still love to follow The Imagination Tree, which are two blogs that initially inspired me. Along with them, I consistently read Frida Be Mighty, This Merry Montessori, and Our Montessori Life (another Canadian blog!). As for books, I strongly recommend every parent, Montessori or not, should read ‘Teach Me To Do it Myself by Maja Pitamic and How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin. For parents who have infants/young toddlers and are lost first time parents like I was, I really recommend reading the book ‘The Wonder Weeks ‘ by Heti van der Rijt and Frans Plooij. The Wonder Weeks really helped me develop an understanding that each fussy period or challenging time my son went through wasn’t just to torture me, but was a stage of his development which had meaning and deep learning occurring. By taking the attitude of helping Sam through it and guiding him to grow and learn, it made the hard times a lot easier and more positive for both of us.