Archive for September, 2010

Fast Food Salads (Be Afraid!)


I don’t like to pick on fast food joints, because I too enjoy a Big Mac once in awhile.  But salads at McDonalds really irk me. 

No salad should have more sodium and only 100 calories less than a Big Mac.  But the Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken does.  Seriously.  I have preached before about checking the nutritional guides to familiarize yourself with what you and your kids are consuming anywhere you go.  But wow.  In Banff, I was so tired of eating on the run food, that I wanted a salad.  Only place open?  McDonalds.  I quickly scanned the nutritional guide (hiding in its usual spot where you back is always to it while you’re ordering) and decided that if I was going to eat any kind of salad, it wasn’t going to be a healthy one here.  So I surrendered to a Happy Meal.  Was I happy?  Not especially.

Fast food places will always serve “salads” as their “healthy” option, but don’t be fooled.  You may as well have a Big Mac!

A Brand New (cell phone) Plan

 Over the years, I’ve become quite comfortable with my knee-jerk reactions to educational policies and practices, so I was at a loss, last week, to understand why I didn’t want to publish my initial blog about Premier McGuinty advocating the in-school use of cell phones as “conduits for information.”

Finally, I realized that the woman who once told her husband he had to choose between keeping his wife and having a computer in the house (it was almost 30 years ago, people) probably had a teeny bit of a bias.  Reflection for a minute or two (or a week) was in order. 

Face it:  I teach people to read and write – mostly the very old-fashioned way[1] .  What do I know about what technology should be used in the classroom?

We’ve all heard the horror stories:

  • cell phones used for cheating (taking pictures of test content to be passed on to the next group of students; or texting answers back and forth);
  • cell phones used for drug deals (don’t kid yourself…);
  • cell phones used to take pictures/video of teachers fixing wedgies or screaming at students;
  • cell phones used as a distraction by students who are “bored” (fatigued; insufficiently-challenged;  overly-challenged;  angry; coping with some disaster on the home/social front);
  • cell phones used for bullying (no explanation needed there).

I played around with it for the last week, imagining I was interviewing some old curmudgeon (someone older and more curmudgeonly than I).  Strangely, I found myself offering counter arguments to my imaginary friend:

  • kids have always cheated and will use whatever resources are at hand if that’s their goal;
  • more drugs are probably sold in school yards without cell phones than with;
  • kids have always found ways to antagonize teachers they don’t like (remember letting the air out of the tires in the teachers’ parking lot ; writing on the bathroom walls);
  • kids don’t need cell phones to tune out (ask any parent who just asked for help  with the dishes);
  • kids don’t need cell phones to bully other kids (talk to a teacher at the lower elementary level).

One thing that does trouble me about cell phones in the classroom is this:  We adults often fail to observe rules of etiquette when it comes to cell phone use. 

How many times have you been on a bus or in a coffee shop and overheard (despite your efforts to scrunch your ears closed) a loud and totally unself-conscious conversation about that woman’s menopause or that man’s impending divorce and bankruptcy?  How many presentations have you given during which you’ve lost your flow because of the ringing/clanging/chiming/chirping of a cell phone?  How many family and friend visits have you spent whistling and looking at the artwork on the walls while your host (or guest) finger-taps on his Blackberry with the speed and focus of a shark in a bloodbath? 

You get my point.  If adults don’t know how to behave in the age of instant communication, how can we expect students to know?  How can we teach them?  I don’t have an answer for that. (For those who keep score, this would be a good time to make a notation on your calendars; I don’t admit ignorance very often.)

I think schools have to establish rules and administrators have to encourage and support teachers in the enforcement of those rules.  I don’t think schools should jam cell phone frequencies.  I’m not opposed to confiscating cell phones of rule-breakers and insisting parents come to the school to reclaim them (and their child). 

But, of course, when we talk about college and university students – young adults – and many older adults – all of whom are paying for a service, then we’re back to the question of etiquette.

Sticky stuff.

Now, I have a couple of questions:

  1.  Do homeschooling parents encourage their children to use cell phones as learning tools?  I hope some homeschoolers weigh in on this, but I’m going to hazard a guess.  I guess, no!   Why would they?  If they want their kids to access the wonders of the wired world, my guess is they work with what they have – a home computer.  Why am I so confident?  Cost. 


  1. Which brings me to my second question.   If student behaviour on a public computer can be monitored more easily than student behaviour on a cell phone (and I believe it can), why would the provincial government not just use our taxes to install more computers in schools?  I wonder – and I do hope you’ll pardon the pun – if this isn’t just a bid to download more education costs onto family budgets.  If mom and dad are going to supply a cell phone, Uncle Dalton doesn’t have to pony up for a laptop.  It’s just a thought. 

Note to self:  Research what school taxes are being used for.


Diane L. Duff, B. Ed.,
Literacy Consutant and Reading Specialist

[1] I do often advocate for my dyslexic and dysgraphic clients’ use of assistive technology in the classroom.

Book Review: The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future

Like most kids, my 6-year old son loves having books read to him. He loves books, all sorts of books, but when it comes to reading them on his own that’s another story. Being a beginner reader it can be hard work reading so unless the book really, I mean REALLY, interests him, he’ll pass. 
When I attended the Scholastic’s blogger breakfast in New York City in August they talked about Dav Pilkey’s latest book release, The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future  (age 7+). 
The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future is a graphic novel written by fictitious 9-year old buddies George Beard and Harold Hutchins, similar in style as the Captain Underpants series, which Pilkey also created and my son loves. Toss in some kung-fu fighting cavemen and a time machine and you can’t go wrong, at least not with my son. 
As soon as our review copy arrived my son was all over the book; we started reading it that night. I should point out that the two main characters are cavemen so a lot of the dialog is caveman-speak: me no like this, she no really have name, me guess. At first this was hard for me to read. I’m always correcting my kids to speak in proper sentences and I was tempted many times to correct the dialog, but those are the characters and my kids loved it, my 3 and 6-year old (my 8-year old didn’t have much interest but then she doesn’t have much interest in bathroom humor). The words are written phonetically in some cases too which sometimes made it hard for me but easy for my son. Funny how we’re conditioned to read differently. 
Remember The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, King-Fu Cavemen from the Future is written for boys so there are a lot of boy language. By that I mean silly insults like you ‘diaper head’ or ‘ya big dumb poo ball’. Both my 3 and 6-year old were rolling on the floor with laughter throughout the whole book. 
Another fun feature is Pilkey’s Flip-O-Rama animations he’s included throughout the book. These are based on the flip book concept; you flip the pages of a book really fast and the animation comes to life. Pilkey’s Flip-O-Rama pages were much simplier, just two pages that the kids would flip back and forth. I’m so glad the stock on the book pages is a little heavier so my two didn’t end up tearing the pages right out of the book with their enthusiastic turning. Kids will also find lessons at the back of the book teaching them how to speak caveman. Be prepared for them to speak it often; it’s like a code between my two youngest. 
The Adventures of Ook and Glu, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future is a fun story. I love how Pilkey makes the connection between our past and our future, in both the earth and the people. My 3 and 6 year old loved the book. I loved reading it with them. But what makes The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future an amazing book is the fact that my son WANTED to read it on his own. He would sit in his room and work at reading the pages. As we read it together, he would read some of the dialog. This is fantastic. And even if I struggle with the caveman-speak and phonetic spelling issue, my son has found something he enjoys reading, he’s discovering on his own how fun reading can be. 
I have to thank Nikole from Scholastic Canada for my review copy. 

The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future
written and illusrated by Dav Pilkey
Age 7+

Carrie Anne is a contributing book reviewer on Best Tools for School’s blog and No Time for Flash Cards as well as Managing Editor of You can catch up with her and her three kids on her blog Another Day Another Thought… Or Two.

Talking about healthy eating

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Backpacks are flying.  There’s that crisp fall feeling in the air.

Back to school.

Healthy lunches can prove to be a difficult task with pizza days, hamburger days, cafeteria food, and even though you parents have eyes in the back of your heads, as much as you tell your kids “Milk and a sandwich only!”  some will rebel and end up with French Fries on their plate.

How can you stop this from happening?  Talking to your kids is important in all aspects of their school lives, and this includes talking about their healthy meal choices.  Talking about the differences in their food choices can be helpful for their sponge-like minds while they are absorbing everything else at school.

Give them options to choose from to learn about what they are consuming.  Milk or juice?  Fries or rice?  Veggies or creamy pasta salad?  Cookies or yogurt with granola?  These are all obvious choices to parents and guardians, and even teachers, but to your child, they see juice, friends, pasta salad and cookies as the best lunch out there!

Remember, a healthy lunch, means your little ones are getting the proper nutrition to learn everything from how to print their names to E=MC2!

Happy & healthy eating!


Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Today we shut our warehouse down and officially closed the door on the assembly part of our business for yet another year. We are riding a wave of goodwill right now from our many customers who wrote to tell how pleased they were with our service and to thank us for giving them back those last few days of summer.

2010 was an exciting year for us and we’d like to share a few stats with you:

  • Between customer purchases and donated kits we assembled 4,431 kits. That’s almost triple the amount of kits we did in our first year. We couldn’t be more pleased and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your business.
  • We helped our schools raise just over $10,000 this year.
  • We recycled a total of 1,500 pounds of cardboard
  • We sold 48,651 Staedtler pencils. That’s a lot of math.
  • We loved that Junior Academy Private School in Toronto adopted Harmony Public School in Oshawa as a sister school and helped them with much needed supplies this year. We are hopeful we can continue this initiative with other private schools in 2011.
  • We garnered great media attention this year in The Globe & Mail, CTV CanadaAM, Today’s Parent, Canadian Living, Durham Region Metro, Montreal Gazette,, ‘A’ Morning Ottawa, and CBC Evening News.

We’re going to take a couple of days off now and wander aimlessly through Homesense. We’ll be back at it next week, planning and strategizing for 2011. We value your feedback and invite you to please share your thoughts with us at

If you’d like our program at your school for next year we’d be happy to discuss how easy it is. All our contact information can be found here.


Candace & Laurie

Do You Know What to Look For in a Yoga Program?

*Image Credit: Flickr

September is now here and with that comes registration for Fall programs at many community centres.  Most facilities have already sent out their program guides and brochures and at times it can be overwhelming when looking through the millions of wonderful leisure and wellness programs that are offered.  So, you have decided you are interested in taking yoga, or maybe registering your child, but how do you decide what program to register for?  Here are my recommendations on points to consider before registering for a yoga program.

  1. Ensure that the program you are registering for is age appropriate for your child if looking for a children’s yoga class.  You may have a mature 5 year old who you want to register for the 6-12 year old program.  Speak to the instructor first.  At times the class may not be appropriate for your child, whether for physical, emotional or other reasons.  If the class has mostly 12 year olds registered will your 5 year old feel comfortable within the environment and get the most from the class?  I have had 5 year olds I bump up to the older kids class if appropriate, and others I have recommended to stay with the other 5 year olds as they would benefit more from it.
  2. Is the class at a time and located at a facility that you will be able to make it on time to each and every class?  Yoga is practiced in a calm and serene environment and having participants come in late can really disturb other participants and the flow of the class.  If traffic is going to be bad or if you think it is a squeeze to make it on time then find another class that better suits your needs.
  3. What are the instructor’s certifications and experience? Are you aware that there is no governing body that regulates the fitness & yoga industry? This means that your instructor could of taken no certification courses, a 16 hour course or longer.  Personally I would not take a yoga class without the instructor having taken minimum 200 hours of yoga training.  A serious yoga teacher, in my opinion, will have participated in at least a 200 hour yoga teacher training program as well as other workshops and courses of interest each year as continuing education.  Don’t be afraid to call the facility or instructor and ask about their qualifications and experience. It is your right as a student to know who you are learning from.
  4. If you want to register for a class that is at a local recreation facility, not a studio or private facility, are you bothered by noises of people walking by in the hallway, waiting for others to finish various activities or activities (such as dance) that may be happening in the room beside where you will be practicing yoga? If so don’t hesitate to ask what room the class will be located in and what activities will be going on around the yoga room. For example I taught yoga regularly once a week in a facility room that was located right next to the main entrance. This facility also hosted several hockey tournaments, making some classes a little louder than others.
  5. The types of adult classes that are offered can be overwhelming if you have never participated in a class before.  Yoga classes range from general hatha, power, vinyasa, bikram, kundalini, yin and the list goes on!  Visit my last post for details about each of these types.




Teflon Alternatives – let those non-stick pans slip away

Chances are you have some sort of non-stick cookware in your home. A frying pan, a cake pan, a cookie sheet…but do you know what makes these items non-stick? This is a tough topic to cover in such a small space because of all the controversy and abundance of information surrounding it, but the following are the basics along with some links where you can get more information.

What is Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)? PTFE has many applications, but one of its main uses is in the manufacturing of Teflon, a coating to make cookware non-stick. PTFE begins to break down when it reaches a temperature of 260 °C (500 °F) and this is where the problems begin. Once PTFE begins to break down/off gas, this poses a problem to both humans and animals, birds especially. In birds, it can be lethal and in humans, it can cause flu-like symptoms (known as “Teflon flu”).

What is Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)? PFOAs can be found in carpets, microwave popcorn bags and even foods. It is said that all of us have some trace of it in our bodies. PFOA’s are used to make fluoro-polymers, which are used to make Teflon. It has been found to be a carcinogen to animals and when it comes to humans, studies have found that PFOA’s are linked to birth defects, infertility and a whole lot more. DuPont, one of the largest users of this chemical has agreed to eliminate almost all use of it by 2015.

What are the alternatives to Teflon coated cooking ware? 

1. Use cast iron or stainless steel cookware

2. Use Earth Chef Cookware. Now we are not affiliated with Earth Chef in any way, we just really like their products (and own quite a few of them!) 

Earth Chef Products:

  • are earth-friendly
  • cannot be overheated
  • are naturally non-stick
  • do not release any toxic fumes
  • are free of nasty PFOA and PTFE
  • are all non-toxic to humans and animals

For our Canadian friends, you can buy Earth Chef products at Zellers, The Bay and Home Outfitters. For our American and International friends, you must contact the manufacturer BergHOFF Worldwide to find out where you can find them in your area.

Where can you find more information? The following links will provide more information on these chemicals:

Image Sources: Earth Chef Website

Note: This article was originally published in the February 2010 Nayla Natural Care Newsletter

Book Review: 1 + 1 = 5 and Other Unlikely Additions

It seems when my kids were little, alphabet books were big in our house but now as my kids get older, number books have taken over. For my 8-year old, she loves books that revolve around math and ooze with number story lines. My 3-year old is still about basic numbers. We reviewed The Real Princess, A Mathmagical Tale right here on Best Tools for Schools, which is a nice mix of the two.

But I was sent a new book from Sterling Pubishing, 1+1=5 and Other Unlikely Additions, written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Brenda Sexton, that puts a new twist on thinking about numbers and math. The first page we open in the book shows two animals reading and the following equation appears over their heads: 1+1=3? Of course this is confusing because we all know that 1 + 1 = 2 and 1 animal plus another animal equals two animals. Right? Well sort of.

After you spend some time pondering this page and the equation a flip of the page reveals the answer (and the two animals): 1 unicorn + 1 goat = 3 horns (as in horns on the animals’ heads. This was like an aha moment for my kids. So now on each subsequent page the kids were faced with a new equation, like 1+1=5? They would hunt around the page trying to figure out what this equation could be referring to. Is it the star points on the wall? Maybe the toys hanging from the mobile? After they were done guessing, we would turn the page to find out the answer.

Some equations were a little more obvious to answer with the picture clues and some were not possible to answer, but my kids enjoyed hypothesizing at what it could be and then laughing at the answer. My 6-year old son, who isn’t a big fan of math, now creates his own crazy equations to try and stump his sisters.

The pages in 1+1=5 and Other Unlikely Additions are full of bright colours and the copy is at a minimum, keeping the focus on the numbers. All three of my kids enjoyed reading this book the first time, though the interest in reading it subsequent times was only retained with my younger two. 1+1=5 is a great book to help kids with number recognition and counting (counting the items on the answer page to prove the equation). The minimum amount of words makes it a fun read for a beginning reader also, plus it helps to illustrate the concept of addition. And any book that gets my son excited about numbers and math is a great tool.

Carrie Anne is a contributing book reviewer on Best Tools for School’s blog and No Time for Flash Cards as well as Managing Editor of You can catch up with her and her three kids on her blog Another Day Another Thought… Or Two.

So many choices: Which Yoga Class/Style is right for you?


As yoga has hit the main stream the variety of classes continue to increase. Even recreation facilities have started to offer the large variety of classes that you would have only found at a yoga studio in the years before.  You may be looking to start yoga but hesitant as you don’t know what class to register for.  Or, you may be a yoga enthusiast but would like to try something new.  I have outlined here for you various yoga styles that you will now find at most places that offer yoga. Keep in mind this is just what I would call a basic list, and classes offered continue to grow!  If you are unsure what the class involves don’t hesitate to contact the facility or instructor and make sure the class is exactly what you are looking for. It’s important that you enjoy the class style, instructor and atmosphere.

Hatha-  Hatha comes from the sanskrit meaning of “ha” = sun and “tha” = moon. This branch of yoga works towards balancing these two yin and yang elements. Hatha yoga involves prananyama (breathing) techniques, asana (posture) practice, and relaxation techniques (including meditation) to bring forth tranquility within your mind, body and spirit.

Power-  Power yoga is a strong style class that uses yoga asana (usually those that are also taught in a Hatha class) to build strength, stamina and endurance.  I would recommend this class to those who have participated in a Hatha class and are looking for a class that will build strength and endurance, or for those who are physically active already and looking to add yoga to their lifestyle. This class may also be offered in a “hot” format, meaning it is done in a heated room.

Vinyasa- Vinyasa yoga is a flowing class, using yoga asana to continually move from one movement to the next movement with each breath.  This class builds cardiovascular endurance as well as strength while building flexibility.  This class may also be offered in a “hot” format, meaning it is done in a heated room.

Yin- Yin yoga stretches the deep connective tissue within the body and is done by holding yoga asanas for 3-5 minutes in duration.  Yin yoga focuses on the legs, hips and spine.  This class is a great compliment to many of the yang styles of yoga (ie: power) and our typical yang lifestyles.

Bikram- Bikram is a serious of 26 yoga asanas completed two times in succession.  This yoga sequence is actually copyrighted and only Bikram certified instructors are able to teach the yoga asanas in this specific sequence.  Bikram is completed in a room that is 104 F.

Kundalini- Kundalini yoga is taught according to Yogi Bhajan as a practice that brings movement and the breath together in specific yoga sets that have greater effects when linked together than on their own as individual yoga asanas.  Kundalini yoga also incorporates mantras and meditation.
Styles of classes will vary from facility to facility and yoga styles are continuing to increase in variety.  Looking to build strength and endurance and increase flexibility of deep connective tissue? Find a Yin/Yang class that will do a bit of both!  Class combos, such as Yin/Yang, are also becoming more in demand.

Try several different styles and find out for yourself what style, or styles, you most enjoy.



To Kindergarten or No?

I was almost 29 when I put my eldest daughter in Kindergarten. She was 5.  I wanted her to have a bit of a challenge, so I chose French Immersion.  You see, she’d taught herself to read when she was 4 ½ and she was bored in the day care she attended with her little sister.

Day care was a necessity for me – and an expensive one.  As a single mother who worked nights, I had to enrol my girls in day care so I could sleep while the sun was out.  Our “nanny” was home at night while I worked, but attended college during the day. 

The Kindergarten experience was initially hard on both my daughter and me.  I promised her I’d stay with her until she felt comfortable (and am still not a proponent of the sink-or-swim approach to starting school).  Of course, neither the school staff in general, nor the classroom teacher in particular, greeted my plan with enthusiasm.  I was told that parents generally leave their kids at the door.  I retorted that I had made a promise to my daughter and wasn’t going to break it. 

After helping my darling find her cubby (while the teacher tried to meet the demands of all the chirping nestlings at once), I slipped the antique silver bracelet my grandmother had given me on my 17th birthday onto my daughter’s little wrist.  As I re-assured my little one that she could just think of us being together whenever she touched the bracelet, I wondered if I would ever see it again.

Children milled around us and moved past us.  Some shyly eyed the others, some bolder sorts waded into conversation, a few ventured into the teacher’s shadow, already jockeying for position as the favourite.  When Madame called for circle, I explained to my daughter that I would stay for a few minutes more and kneeled several deferential feet behind the sanctum. 

When she seemed a little more comfortable a few minutes later, I took my leave.  No tears.

Well, she didn’t cry.  On the way home, our nanny – who had come with us to the school, but who had waited for me in the courtyard – handed me Kleenex.  Then she took hold of my arm and quite firmly pulled me in the direction of home when I said I just had to go back to get my daughter.

I got through the morning more easily than I expected.

Not so, my daughter

The children weren’t supposed to speak in English (my babe knew no French) and my daughter thought the teacher was mean to her (be careful, parents, of annoying the teacher(s) with whom your children are going to spend time).

About ¾ of the way through the school year, we moved to Saskatchewan where my daughter fared much better.  Partly, I think, because everyone was speaking English, and partly, I know, because the teacher was warm and generous to my little one’s needs in the late-year transition.  Grade one entry was smooth and we were both relaxed. 

My youngest was a much more independent soul, and took to the Kindergarten experience like Huck Finn took to water.  A great ride.  Grade one for her was just another adventure – and mom was not needed, thank you very much.  “I’ll walk with my sister,” she said, oblivious to the tears welling in my eyes.

Now of course, they’re both finished school and living independent lives – and though the decisions I made around school enrolment didn’t ruin them for life, they bear revisiting.

  1.  Kindergarten was not mandatory, but I didn’t know that.  Given my economic situation, I made the right decision to enrol my eldest in school at the age of 5.  It saved me day care fees – money we needed in the household.


  1. French Immersion was not the right choice for my daughter -at least French Immersion with that teacher.  I’ll never know which aspect was most difficult for her.  I knew that she wasn’t as happy as she could have been.  But, going back to point 1, I didn’t know I had options.  In truth, I didn’t think to even ask. 


  1. Staying with my eldest daughter until she settled into her Kindergarten class was as right as was not walking my youngest to grade one.  I respected what my children needed. One, comfort.  The other, autonomy. 


  1. I cried when both kids went to school.  Once, for my eldest – because she seemed a little overwhelmed by it all.  The second time for me – because my baby didn’t need me. 

I’m 52 years old now and have granddaughters almost Kindergarten age.  All around me, I hear – and read mothers’ concerns about Ontario’s new all day-kindergarten policy.  I know my daughter and step daughter will soon be facing this decision, and if they ask my advice, I know what I’ll say:

“Your daughter is developing well and normally. If you can afford to keep your child home, do it.  The gains made by attending school early are of most significant impact to those children who come from under-resourced families – and those gains fall away by grade three.”

I’d say, “Your time with your children is so short – no matter how long some days (and nights) might seem.  Keep them close to you as long as it works for you both.” 

I’d say, “You give your child lots of opportunities to interact with peers and the community and you know she is already well socialized.  You are teaching her to speak up for herself; you are teaching her about healthy food choices; you are teaching her to share.  She doesn’t need to go to Kindergarten for that.”

I’d say, “Your little one still gets tired and a little weepy mid-day.  Think about where she is going to feel most comfortable when that time comes: at home, with you or someone who loves her, or in a classroom of 20-odd other children.”

I’d say, “You know your daughter best. If Kindergarten is right for her, let her go.  Just remember, you have choices. You can enrol her in public education, and you can un-enrol her.  You can find a good local Montessori if you can afford that.  This is your family’s decision – and there are a lot of things to consider before you make your choice.”

I’d say. “No matter what you choose, you will second-guess yourself.”

 I’d say – and this to my own daughter only, “I’m sorry I left you in Immersion.  I’m sorry I failed to ask if I had choices.  I’m sorry I wasn’t more pro-active on your behalf.”

And I’d hope she’d finally give me back my bracelet.

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