Tag Archives: sonoma

Picking a Preschool

The preschool hunt, for some begins as early as they are pregnant, for others long after the child is born.  For me, the thought process began when Bobby was merely weeks old hanging out in a baby carrier.  I was shopping for apples at my corner market in Oakland when a fellow mom stopped me.  She asked whether baby was on a list for school.  A little shocked by the question – I said no.  At that point, I was really thinking about buying produce, not about preschool options for my little guy.   Since Bobby was not even old enough to hold his head up, I thought it was a little early to start thinking about it.  What I learned was that the waiting lists at some schools start as early as when kids are in utero.  Yikes, I was already behind the ball!

Researching Different Options

With this in mind, when I moved to Sonoma when Bobby was six months old, I began the hunt.  In foreign territory as neither child development nor teaching is my profession, I searched for information.  Looking for expert opinions I consulted books and numerous articles (like these 1 and 2) detailing different educational philosophies like Montessori, Waldorf, Emilia.  There is only so much you can surmise from a book though.

The best advice came from local moms at the playground as they had actual experience with kids at the schools.  As I learned that there were different degrees with which the philosophies would be implemented at particular schools.  From strict implementation to lax, from focusing on daycare to the preschool program, there were so many things to consider.

Visiting the Schools

A shopper by nature, I visited the top schools that I had heard about.  Armed with my lengthy list of questions in hand like student to teacher ratio and schedules, I carefully observed what each school had to offer.  As I became more educated about programs, my list of questions evolved.   What were their goals for their graduates? What approach did they employ? How did the school develop confidence in the child? How did they engage children?

Of course, practical considerations like location and schedule came into play as well.  As one particular school that I fell in love had a very short program.  The short program coupled with the travel time to get there was impossible for my work schedule.

The decision involved other things more specific to Bobby like temperament and handling food allergies.  In addition, Bobby’s reaction to the school was key.  This even required a separate visit for some schools.  When Bobby visited, there were some schools where he immediately seemed comfortable.  There were other schools where wanted to be held the entire time.

Factors to Consider

Ultimately, the following factors helped me compare schools and make a decision:

  • Kids – did the kids seem engaged?
  • Teachers – what was their approach to teaching? How did they interact with the kids? How long had they been there?
  • Structure – what schedule did the day follow?
  • Art – what was the school’s approach to art? Was it free form or worksheets?
  • Curriculum –  what was the curriculum? Was it play based, Montessori, Waldorf or a hybrid like High-Scope?
  • Environment – was it organized, bright & cheery?
  • Play spaces – how did the space seem? Was it safe, clean, inviting?
  • Approaches to Discipline – what was the approach to discipline?  Would kids be in timeout chairs wearing a cone of shame? Or is there another more positive approach?
  • Socialization – how does the school encourage socialization?

Shortcut for Sonomans

With so many great options, picking a preschool can seem like such a tough and even overwhelming decision at times.  The good news is that there are resources out there to make it easier.   Cindy Studdert, owner of FarmTots, put it best when she described her decision not to open a formal school due to the great and numerous child centered programs in town.

In Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley Mother’s Club hosts a preschool fair every other year.  As a past coordinator of the fair, I can say firsthand that it is a unique and fabulous event.  Numerous preschools and other kids’ activities attend to showcase their programs.  It is the event where you as the shopper can comparison shop for preschools under one roof.  Take your list of questions and go booth to booth!  It is a fabulous way to start comparing different schools.  This year, the Preschool/Tot Fair is on Saturday, March 16, from 10 – 12 at the Veterans Building.

If you’re outside of Sonoma, check your local mothers club to see if they host such an event.  If they don’t, maybe start one.

 

Thanks for reading and letting me share my musings with you.  I hope this article is helpful.  I’d love to know what helped you pick a school?

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FarmTots – Sonoma’s Version of Sesame Street

Last year, a friend of mine introduced me to a gem of a program in Sonoma.  FarmTots at the Studdert Family Farm is the country version of Sesame Street.  Tucked away, this darling farm offers days of discovery for young kids and adults alike.  With sheep, rams and chickens, kids can get up close and personal with nature. Farm Tots Cover

FarmTots Epitomizes What Sonoma Is All About

Besides the activities of this seven acre working farm, the main attraction is Cindy Studdert.  Cindy is a trained Montessori teacher and an experienced mom.   A natural with kids, her gentle manner guides and encourages wee ones to get their hands dirty while having fun and learning a ton.

One example is the way she taught Bobby how to care for plants.   The patience of her approach is nothing short of amazing.  It went something like this – Cindy took out plants for Bobby to water and handed him a small watering can.  Of course I thought he’d drown the plants with water as he is an expert in doing so.  As calm as a clam, Cindy explained to Bobby how he needed to make sure each of the plants had water.  He listened and did so.  After she saw how much he enjoyed waterinFarm Tots Plantsg the plants, she brought our more plants to let him water.  She then explained to him how the plants needed to be put in the greenhouse, but she asked him if the neighboring chickens looked hungry.   You can guess what happened next.

With a barn fashioned as a classroom and playgrounds galore, this farm is absolutely kid friendly.   The classroom decorated with twinkling Christmas lights boasts activities at every corner, including a sandbox.  The play structure has a steering wheel so young mateys can steer ye ship.

How did this jewel start?  It started out as a soccer program for kids.  As the kids became more interested in nature and the farm more developed, Cindy followed the children’s lead and modified her program to focus on farm activities.  Of course, she offers the typical preschool things like counting.  But what this program really offers is a hands on experience where kids can gain confidence in their abilities through working on the farm.  To me, this program epitomizes what Sonoma is all about.

Montessori Roots – Cindy’s model of engaging and interacting with the children lies with background as a Montessori teacher.  She emulates Mari Montessori’s’ tenet to follow the child.  Flexible as can be, Cindy makes space to create activities for what the child wants to do.  If a child wants to play in the garden, it’s available.  If they want to play fireman, then that’s available too.  Of if they want to steer a ship and play pirates, then off to the play structure.  If they ate all of the Farm Tots Mike Iketomatoes, then Cindy helps the kids plant more.

She follows another of Montessori’s tenets which is to teach practical life skills.  For example, kids learn to rake and sweep.  In doing so, they develop not only fine but also gross motor skills.

It also seems to follow some Waldorf principles as well as the program follows and teaches children about the rhythm of the seasons.  With fruit cocktail trees, children are able to enjoy loads of different fruit.

Most of the kids in the program also are in other programs as well.  So, the program acts as a supplement to those programs.  With all of the child centered programs in Sonoma, Cindy didn’t feel a need to open a school.

With a fabulous ratio of teachers to students, sometimes even 2 to 1, FarmTots can nurture children with individualized attention schools with larger ratios are unable to provide.

Sound good?  The Nitty Gritty – FarmTots is now accepting preschool aged and school aged children.  The program for preschool tots, starting at age 2.5, is on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 -1:00 (during the spring and then again in late August).  The school aged program is on Wednesday afternoons after school.  FarmTots also has a Parent & Tot Class on March 15, 29 and April 19, & 26 from 9:30-11 at a cost of $10.

FarmTots has a summer program that serves kids ages  2.5-10 during the weeks of June 17, 24.  July 8, 15, 22 and 29 (Mondays – Thursdays from 9:30 -2:00pm).

Contact Cindy Studdert for more information cindylane1@sbcglobal.net

Where to Dine With Kids in Sonoma & Glen Ellen

FremontWith numerous Michelin rated restaurants, Sonoma is definitely a culinary mecca. There’s no reason to let kids deter you from hitting the town. From formal to casual, there are endless places to enjoy. Here is my short list.

cafe The Fig Cafe, Glen Ellen – With kid friendly tablecloths, divine food and friendly service, the Fig Cafe has it all. Savor the seasonal flavors and local produce while your little Picasso decorates the tablecloths. Don’t panic, because the cloths are topped with butcher paper (yay!). Bobby and CJ (well and to be honest I) highly recommend the mac & cheese. Bring your favorite bottle of wine as corkage is complimentary. A word to the wise – make sure to avoid the long wait by arriving when they open at 5:30.

Hopmonk Tavern – With a lovely beer garden that is nearly fully enclosed, Hopmonk is absolutely kid friendly. Hopmonk also hosts a variety of musical gigs, which can be captivating for young-ones as you enjoy the local brew.

Murphy’s Pub – Warm enough to dine al fresco? Then Murphys is a great spot. With burgers, fries and chicken strips, the menu offers kiddo friendly food. Bobby and CJ love the curry fries. So order up your favorite pint and enjoy!

Red Grape, Sonoma Square – Who doesn’t love Italian food with fresh Sonoma flair? In a laid back setting, the Red Grape allows families to do so in a no fuss setting. And, what kid dislikes pizza? I recommend just ordering off of the adult menu and providing Junior a slice of the adult flavor. Should you be meeting up with friends, consider reserving a spot in the back room. The bench is a great way to corral tumbling toddlers.

Taste of the Himalayas, Sonoma Square – This quaint restaurant is perfect for kids. With warm service and flavorful food, kids are right at home. They’ve brought food out for the kids almost immediately. Bobby recommends the garlic naan and CJ the lentil soup.

Fancy a special breakfast spot? Then check out the Fremont Diner or Studebaker Cafe.

Fremont Diner – It doesn’t get more kid friendly than Fremont Diner where you’ll be greeted by rusty trucks out front. Watch out Cars fans, Bobby has cited Mater. Farm enthusiasts will delight watching the chickens free range in the back garden. The patio hosts picnic tables perched atop gravel. A delight for toddlers as they toss their food on the floor (yay!). So, grab a table and order up some comfort food. I’m in love with the breakfast sandwich, and my husband with the biscuits and gravy.

Studebaker Cafe home to the Golden Hawk Cafe (breakfast only) offers a more casual experience. Fully equipped with a train table and developmental toys, Studebaker photo(18)Cafe can help keep your kids entertained while you enjoy some of the decadently sinful offerings there including the famous cheesecake. They have a nice and affordable breakfast menu. For example, organic egg omelets with cheese are $4. That said, I highly recommend the scones. with each bite, a symphony if bliss. Maybe its from the fact that Studebaker takes endless efforts to ensure perfection, including making their own buttermilk. So, check it out.

Did I miss your favorite spot? I’d love to learn about it.

Kid Friendly Wine Tasting in Sonoma Valley

Wine tastingLife in Sonoma may be synonymous with picturesque vineyards but it is also synonymous with kid friendly activities of all sorts.  Finding kid friendly wine tasting experiences, however, can be a little tricky as some of the tasting rooms seem more like museums.  From intimate to commercial tasting rooms, here’s a list of my favorite spots to take family and friends with kids in tow.

RocheSince this article is about wine tasting in Sonoma, I’ll first mention a delightful tasting room steps from the historic Sonoma Plaza.  Let your kids explore the Sonoma Plaza and then continue the fun at the Roche Winery Tasting Room.  In addition to exquisite wines, Roche offers a perfect place to experience life Sonoma style.  Not to worry if your tots are still restless, Roche has a lovely patio for kids to roam.  If your kids are older, Roche also has bike tours of the vineyards!Kid cycling Roche

Meadowcroft is ideally situated at Cornerstone.  Why not let your kiddos let off some steam while hunting around the gardens, and then pop in for a tasting?  That’s what I did.  And, to be honest the folks at Meadowcroft were more than hospitable with the two galloping tots.  They even went out of their way to invite me to feed my kiddos in the tasting room.

Bartholomew Park  offers as its name suggests is in a park setting.  With trails and picnic grounds to roam, all will delight in a visit.  Interested in hiking? Then load your toddler in your backpack and take a hike.  Or bring a picnic and enjoy the grounds.

No list of family friendly Sonoma wineries would be complete without mention of the Larson Family Winery.  This place includes picnic tables and a grassy area with kid friendly games.  If you like  bubbles, then try theirs. We used it to celebrate CJ’s baptism.  Also, for future holiday planning, note that Santa visits Larson.  Wine tasting  and Santa — enough said.

Desire a more intimate tasting experience?  Then consider visiting Peter Cellars.  Located on a private estate equipped with bocce ball, it doesn’t get more kid friendly than this. Be forewarned, however, that this boutique winery offers wines so delightful you’ll be hard pressed not to join IMG_1755the wine club!  Note that tastings are by appointment only.

Up for a bit of a drive?  Then venture to two wineries in my neighborhood – Benziger and Eric Ross.  The warm, friendly and intimate environment at Eric Ross Tasting Room is worth a visit.  Eric Ross is so kid friendly that they keep hot-wheel cars on hand!  And, Dennis and Diane, the tasting room managers, make it a point to welcome kids.

Benziger in Glen Ellen offers a fun experience.  It even boasts a play-structure!  I think one of the only play structures in Glen Ellen.  Take kids on the tractor tour of the vineyard or let them climb the fort and speed down the slide.  Either way you win!

Kenwood offers numerous spots as well.  Why not visit VJB?  VJB offers a little piece of Italy right here in Sonoma.  Feel transported  by the environment, wines and flavors.  In addition to a tasting room, VJB houses a lovely Italian deli and dessert cafe.  The courtyard contains kids providing a respite for parents as they leisurely nibble on Italian treats while letting kids race around the courtyard.  I highly recommend the prosciutto and arugula pizza.  Totally delicious!

I hope you enjoy some of these places.  Did I miss your favorite spot?  I’d love to hear about it!

Sonoma Slow Cooker Stew

Winter in Sonoma means rainy weather, cozy fires and warm stew.  Having 2 young boys around makes finding a dish that all will enjoy challenging at times.  This stew though is a winner.  With Bobby loving the veggies and CJ the meat, this dish is both baby and toddler friendly.  The deep flavor imbued by the red wine (I use cab) makes it adult friendly too.  Plus this recipe yields quite a bit of stew so it is a perfect excuse to invite over a few friends to share it with.

4.5 lbs of stew meat

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp bacon fat

1 lb frozen white pearl onions

1 lb crimini mushrooms quartered

2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes cubed

2 cups kale chopped

1 leek

1 stalk celery

2 tbsp tomato paste

4 cups beef broth

1 bottle red wine

¼ cup flour

2 tsps parsley

2 tsps thyme

3 bay leaves

Salt & pepper to taste

Heat pan, add oil and bacon fat, heat till smokes.  Brown meat.

Add bouquet garni (leek cut lengthwise and 1 stalk celery tied together with kitchen twine) and bay leaves

Add mushrooms, potatoes, onions, broth, wine, tomato paste, spices (parsley, thyme, salt and pepper).  Cook on low in slow cooker for 7.5 hours.  Toss the bouquet.  Thicken sauce to desired thickness with flour.  Add kale.  Let kale wilt.  Serve with rice.  Enjoy!

Birthday Bash Baked Brie

Celebrating birthdays Sonoma style means being surrounded by close family, close friends and good food.  This is how we have been ringing in Bobby’s 3rd birthday.  The highlight food wise so far has been what I’ve named Birthday Bash Baked Brie (try to say that 10 times) or as it has also been called Brie Cobbler.   It is both easy and versatile.

You will need:

1 package of frozen puff pastry sheets

Wheel of brie

1 egg (beaten in a cup)

Two cups of fresh fruit (peaches, apples, pears would work well)

¼ cup sugar

1 Tbsp Quick cooking tapioca

Dash of cinnamon

Thaw your puff pastry sheets.  Slice your fruit.  Warm a saucepan and cook fruit with sugar, tapioca and cinnamon.  Stir frequently until the fruit is soft and the juices are thick.  About 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease an ovenproof dish with a bit of butter.  Lay one sheet of puff pastry on the bottom.  Unwrap brie and place on top.  Place fruit mixture on top of brie.  Fold pastry over brie – Depending upon size of brie, you may need another sheet of puff pastry.  Seal pastry at the seams.  And, then brush with an egg wash. Bake in oven at 350 until golden brown (about 40 minutes).  Let cool for a few minutes before serving.  Serve with crackers and/or sliced baguette.

Enjoy!

A 6 Month Old Foodie – Feeding Baby Sonoma Style

Raising kids in Sonoma has tons of benefits, beautiful weather, picturesque pastures and amazing local produce.  The food part of this joyous trinity seemed to disappear when I started feeding my 6 month old premade babyfood.

Have you ever tasted store bought babyfood?  The other day, I opened a jar of garden veggie dinner of the organic variety.  I gave some to CJ, my 6 month old.  He spit it out!  So, I had to wonder why his protest?  I tasted it.   It was absolutely dreadful.  I spit it out too!  It made me wonder about the long term effect of serving my child bland disgusting mush.  So, in a very dramatic style, I tossed the jar in the trash and threw some of my dinner into a blender (the magic bullet – best 20$ investment ever).   Shallot and lavender chicken, sautéed Romano beans and panko crusted mac n’cheese.  Interestingly enough, CJ gobbled down the blended mush.

It turns out that folks have written all about this phenomena – check out Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton and Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.

It has turned into a bit of an experiment for me.  As I fed my first son completely differently than how I am feeding CJ.  With Bobby, I followed the traditional approach.  First he had rice cereal.  Then I slowly introduced each food individually for about a 5 day period looking for allergies.  For awhile Bobby had very plain tastes that have taken awhile to undo.  That’s not to say I disagree with the idea of slowly introducing foods as to look for allergies.  But as a mom with a child with food allergies, I can tell you that in my experience the reaction a child may have to food can be really pronounced  (rash, wheezing, swelling, vomit).

It is quite possible that I stunted Bobby’s culinary tastes by feeding him such plain food for so long.  Having come to this realization, I have completely changed what and how I feed CJ.  Now for breakfast, he gets whatever we’re having.  Today it was bits of sweet potato banana scones (see recipe in my blog post).  For lunch, he gets blended fruits and veggies.  He snacks on fresh produce from the farmers market. He loves cucumbers, peaches and plums all fed through a mesh feeder.  For dinner, he gets a mashed version of whatever we’re having.  Over the weekend, he tasted and loved ribeye steak, basa fillets, and lavender chicken.   All were hits as he didn’t spit it out and wanted more.

Don’t get me wrong – sometimes he gets jarred food too as it is so convenient.   It is the rare instance that I don’t add some sort of flavoring to it.

So, if you want to start feeding your baby Sonoma foodie style – pick up a small blender like the Magic Bullet and a few mesh feeders.  Get creative and you won’t be disappointed.