Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Farewell, Waterloo.

June 2016 marks our presences in the K-W area for ten years, unfortunately, it also marks the end of an era.  Declining sales have forced me to make the difficult decision to close our doors.  It is with great sadness that I'm announcing our last day of business will be Saturday, June 18th, 2016. 

Over the past ten years, our Waterloo store has been staffed by a great bunch of mothers, many of their children have grown up in the store.  Far from 'just' salesgirls, I know these women have been a great resource in the community, providing wonderful assistance to new mothers in terms of offering breastfeeding support and general parenting advice.

The unfortunate reality of our situation is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete as a brick & mortar business in the world of natural parenting products.  14 years ago, when I started this business, I was filling a need in the community.  I started the business because I thought other parents like myself would find it easier to buy to natural parenting products in person, rather than online.  At the time, being able to see products in person, and in the case of carriers, learn how to use them properly, trumped the convenience of online shopping, which was still in its infancy.

Over the past few years, we've noticed a trend whereby despite the same number of people coming into the store to learn about the products we sell, our sales have steadily declined. This trend picked up steam over the past year as we had to raise prices to compensate for the weak Canadian dollar, making it harder to compete with WAHMs who enjoy a lower overhead, and big box online vendors, who have the volume to justify slimmer margins.  

As sad as I am about making this decision, the store's closure will bring with it a sense of relief.  I think when people consider an independent business, they forget there's a real live person behind it, usually just one.  Dealing with declining sales (and mounting debt) has crept into every second of my life, it's been tough being the only person to shoulder the stress.  I did not start this business to become rich, I started it as a means to share my passion for natural parenting products with other parents, and to carve out a career that allowed me to contribute to our family's finances, and spend time with our children.  I am proud that I managed to foster a work environment that allowed other mothers to do the same, and I know that they are just as gutted as I am about the situation, but they support my decision.  

I have no plans to close our Ottawa location, but I am slowly adapting its inventory to meet the community's needs.  We have been increasing our gift and toy selection, and I am planning on extending our hours so that we can catch the after work crowd.  I have resisted changing the nature of the store for a long time, but the reality is that we need to sell what people want to buy, and if I want to keep our doors open in Ottawa, I need to adapt to the market.  

Effective immediately, all regularly priced inventory in Waterloo (excluding Padraigs) is marked down 25%.  Clearance prices are not applicable to previous purchases, and all sales are final.  If you have an outstanding gift card, I encourage you to use it ASAP.  Once the store is closed, you will be able to use them online, but shopping in person will save you the cost of S&H.

If you are a K-W area parent, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this post with friends who are in the market for cloth diapers, carriers, or breastfeeding essentials.  My husband and I will be travelling to Waterloo to pack everything up and bring it back to Ottawa on June 19th - the lighter our load, the easier our job. I would also encourage you to stop by the store, and let the ladies who work there know how much they'll be missed. There were tears when I broke the news to them, and I'm sure there will be many more tears before our doors close permanently.  I know they formed close friendships with each other, and many of our customers.  I feel fortunate to have had an opportunity to work with such a great group of women, I will truly miss them.

Lastly, if there is a local store you enjoy, please make a point to shop there.  I know a lot of businesses in the K-W are are struggling right now due to the construction of the LRT.  Don't forget to show them your love, every purchase counts.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Kindergarten Registration? Consider the Alternative!

At this time of year, parents come into the store lamenting the fact that it's time to sign their children up for junior kindergarten.  Having 'been there, done that' four times myself, I know it seems like in the blink of an eye, your child goes from being a helpless lump to an independent little ball of energy ready to get out into the world.  Certainly, when we were in the position of signing up our oldest daughter for JK 12 years ago (!!!), we were fearful of how she'd fare at school.  Will she make friends?  Will she like her teachers?  Will she enjoy school?   

In terms of deciding which school to send our kids to when we lived in a suburb of Ottawa, the only consideration we had to make was English or French.  As Anglophones who both grew up in Southwestern Ontario, despite its widespread availability in Ottawa, French Immersion was not important to us.  Prior to coming to Ottawa, I had never heard anyone speak French outside of the classroom, where I became quite fluent at issuing commands such as "Open the window!", "Close the door!", "Raise your hand!", and my personal favourite "Shut your mouth!". As someone who moved to Ottawa and managed to carve out a respectable living just fine without being fluently bilingual, exposing our children to French Immersion was not important to me.  My father taught himself to speak and read German when he started dating my mother, so I wasn't terribly concerned about introducing French to our children at a young age, on an ongoing basis - if they are so inclined, they can learn to speak a second language later in life.  We enrolled our kids in regular Public school, and things were fine.

When we packed up and left the suburbs almost four years ago and put down roots near the Shoppe, we had to enroll the kids in a new school.  I was under the impression our only choice of schools would be Devonshire (offering early French Immersion), or Connaught Public School (regular Public, at the time).  In deciding which school to enroll our children in, I was mostly concerned about our son Owen; he was still working on overcoming a considerable speech delay, and according to his teachers at the time, he was lagging behind.  In a casual conversation about school options with someone already living in the neighbourhood, I was ecstatic when I learned our kids were eligible to attend Churchill Alternative School.  I already knew other families who had their children enrolled at Churchill, so I was thrilled that our move had also put us within the school's boundaries. Talk about serendipity!  Now we weren't simply limited to choosing between schools that differed based on whether they offered a French Immersion program or not, we had an Alternative school to consider. 

When casually discussing school choices with parents of preschoolers, parents often dismiss Churchill on the basis that it doesn't offer an early French Immersion program.  Like all kids in Ottawa, the kids at Churchill receive 40 minutes of core French daily from Grade 1 onwards; starting in Fall 2016, all children in JK will receive 50% of their instruction in French. There are schools in the area that offer a middle Immersion program, so if French is an important factor in your decision in terms of which school to send your child to, Hilson Avenue Public School accepts children in grade four into a French Immersion program - the decision to take advantage of a French Immersion program is not one that must be made when you enroll your child in Junior Kindergarten. 

Alternative schools teach the same core curriculum as regular schools, but they differ in approach.  My daughter's former teacher (the talented Shauna Pollock) summed up how kids learn at Churchill perfectly with the phrase "Different kids learn in different ways, on different days."  Rather than apply a one-size-fits-all solution to teaching, the teachers manage to engage kids individually. The core tenets the school adheres to foster a sense of caring and respect among students, and it encourages intrinsic learning; children are internally motivated to participate and succeed.  Owen went from struggling at school, and disliking it as a result, to thriving - it was like someone had flipped a switch.  Our other children, despite not 'needing' an Alternative program, loved their new school.  

At our previous school, like any traditional Public school, our kids received letter grades on their report cards. At Churchill, the report cards do not show a grade (although the report card is filed with the school board with a grade); rather, we receive detailed comments that provide us with a much better sense of how our children are actually faring in class.  The letter grade and canned comments we received from our former school were not helpful, they were just a source of stress for our son, who felt inadequate.  

What the school lacks in French Immersion it makes up for in a comprehensive music program that culminates at the end of the school year with a community concert.  Our kids went from having zero musical ability to being able to read (and compose!) music by participating in the school's 'Ukulele Club.' There are many secondary benefits of musical instruction that influence children's development; as someone who doesn't harbor any musical talent, I'm glad our kids are getting a chance to tap into a creative outlet they would not have been exposed to otherwise.  In addition to the various music clubs, the teachers run a number of interesting and engaging extracurricular activities at recess that expose children to topics and skills outside of the core curriculum.  Given how taxed teachers already are trying to keep up with the basic demands of their profession, I am really appreciative that they find the time and energy to run these programs.

The Alternative teaching model encourages parental involvement in the classroom. Although not required by any means, volunteering in our children's classrooms has given me a chance to witness firsthand how they're doing, and it's given me a great opportunity to get to know their peers and their teachers.  Communication at Churchill goes beyond occasional newsletters sent home in backpacks. We receive regular e-mail updates from their teachers, and many teachers maintain a class blog that gives parents a regular peek (including pictures!) into their child's day at school. Updates aside, having access to teachers via e-mail encourages an open dialog; if we've ever had concerns about our children at school, they are easily addressed directly with teachers.  

I can't speak about the teachers at Churchill without mentioning how highly I think of them. They are kind and compassionate, and above all, they are clearly dedicated to their role as educators. 

We are incredibly fortunate to be a member of this school community, with four years under our belt, we're officially at the halfway point, and I'm already feeling verklempt about leaving. I think I'll take it harder than the kids when it's time for us to part ways!  Moving to the Hintonburg area was a great choice for our family for a number of reasons, the change in school's was an unforeseen benefit that I'd put at the top of the list.  If you live in the school's catchment area, and you are still debating which school to enroll your child at,  I would strongly suggest you consider Churchill. Weekly tours on Friday mornings give parents considering the school an opportunity to see the Alternative teaching model in action.   

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Just keep swimming!

Are you starting swim classes with your little one?   Perhaps you're heading south to escape the cruel Canadian winter, taking advantage of parental leave and free plane fare for the under-two crowd.  Either way, you may be in the market for a swim diaper

Swim diapers, unlike regular diapers, are only meant to retain solid waste.  They do not hold urine because they are unable to distinguish between urine and water, and if they were absorbent, swim diapers would pose a hazard because they would swell and become heavy.  For this reason, regardless if you use a washable or single-use swim diaper, you do not want to put your child into a swim diaper until you are ready to get into the pool.

Will a swim diaper contain runny, breastfed poop?

Customers are often skeptical of a swim diaper's ability to contain breastfed poop, however, you can rest-assured that if your little one is wearing a swim diaper that fits properly, it will do it's job.  If your baby does poop in the pool, even though it will be contained in the diaper, you will still have to get out and change her swim diaper (a poop in the diaper is still a poop in the pool!).  For this reason, it's a good idea to pack a spare swim diaper 'just in case.'

What style should I buy?

Single-use swim diapers pull-on, however, they are made with a tearaway seam at the side of the diaper so you can tear it off.  Washable swim diapers are either pull on, or wrap-style.  Pull-on swim diapers can be a challenge to get on (especially with a small baby), as you have to shimmy that baby into the swim diaper.  Furthermore, if you have to take a poopy swim diaper off, a pull-on swim diaper must be pulled off.   Think about that for a minute.  Easy-on and easy-off aside, a wrap-style swim diaper also offers a customizable fit.

Sized or one-size?

It was only a matter of time, but since one-size cloth diapers have become popular, manufacturers have introduced one-size swim diapers to the market.  Given that 'one size fits all' translates to 'one size fits most', we have elected to eschew this new trend.  When the only thing standing between your baby's turd and a pool evacuation is a swim diaper, fit is important. Something that fits well is going to do a better job that something that fits OK.

Velcro or snaps?

A wrap-style swim diaper will be secured with snaps or Velcro.  Both offer their own advantages.  Velcro is quick and easy, if you have a diaper Houdini, this can be appealing (especially when you're trying to negotiate a public pool changeroom!).  Some people prefer snaps because they don't like the feeling of Velcro rubbing against their skin or bathing suit if they are holding their baby on their hip.

Can I use a regular old diaper as a swim diaper?

You can, but we would only recommend it in a pinch.  Regular diapers are sized assuming there is an insert in there, so an empty diaper (or diaper cover) will fit differently with nothing in it.  Furthermore, regular diapers are laminated, so they will hold fluid in the pool (like a plastic bag, it will catch water, when you pick your baby up out of the water, or move them through the water - a swim diaper will allow water to filter through the fabric).  If you do use a regular diaper in a pinch in a public swimming pool, be sure to rinse it properly immediately after you leave the pool - public pools are typically highly chlorinated, and chlorine can ruin your diapers laminate.

Happy swimming!