The Mother of Adventure

Evolution of the school tutor


Tutor imageAs parents, we sometimes have a tendency to look back at how things were done when we were kids.

I admit that I’ve definitely pulled out the old, “you know, back in my day…” with my girls (who are always quick to remind me that the 80s are long past). And while there are many things worth preserving about my upbringing, other approaches have shifted.

As a parent of two school-aged kids, I’ve realized that the path to academic success has changed – along with the curriculum and teaching methods themselves. The notion of the school tutor – once reserved for those kids needing “remedial help” – has evolved into a resource that can help virtually all of our children maximize their full potential.

Recently, I had the chance to connect with Julie Diamond – the dynamic force behind Teachers to Go, a cross-Canada tutoring service that recently expanded into the Ottawa area. She shared some really interesting insights with me about the evolution of the tutor.

Q – In the past, tutoring services were associated with kids who had learning issues and were far behind their peers. How has that changed? 

A – Even just five years ago – when I founded Teachers to Go in 2011 – there was a huge stigma around tutors; it was looked upon as something that you had to hide. Today, tutoring has become less of a stigma and more of a need – to the point that now tutors are looked upon as almost cool. I think a lot of that has to do with the influx of international students in Canada’s big cities – Toronto, Vancouver and even Ottawa, which has introduced cultures that typically embrace tutoring as an integral part of their education. It’s become increasingly competitive to get into universities, so parents are placing more emphasis on education. We’re also seeing change in the way certain subjects are taught. Math concepts like multiplication, for example, are being taught with discovery learning – the approach is for kids to understand it and be able to explain it instead of just memorizing it.

Q: What was your inspiration to start Teachers to Go?

A: After I became a certified teacher – I graduated from the University of Toronto in 2009 – I was waiting to find a traditional teaching job. I was tutoring for other companies and independently, and I really fell in love with working one-on-one with kids. At the same time, I felt like my abilities weren’t being maximized – like when I was assigned to teach subjects that weren’t my passion. I was working alongside tutors who weren’t certified teachers and didn’t know the curriculum – and I knew there could be a better way, so I founded Teachers to Go in 2011.

Q – What makes Teachers to Go different than other tutoring services?

A – We only staff provincially-certified teachers, so parents know they’re getting professionals in education. But our approach is different, too – it’s more than just knowing the subject and the curriculum. Our teachers are skilled at honing in on a student’s needs, strengths and learning style. We collaborate with the in-school teachers – and can then tailor a program for that student’s unique educational needs. One other bonus is the convenience factor – Teachers to Go comes to you, offering tutoring services in your home.

Q – I know that one of the pillars to your teaching approach is the importance of setting learning goals. How does that contribute to academic success?

A – It’s really critical to have a set focus around the sessions. We use a process of backward mapping, where we take a look at where the student wants to be and then work back to set realistic goals. Having that sense of focus really sets the tone for each session, because the student can see themselves as being able to achieve their goal. It also puts the onus on the child to become an independent learner – they know where they’re going and can take the initiative to look ahead.

Teachers to Go offers full-service tutoring to students in Ottawa and surrounding regions, the GTA and surrounding regions, Calgary, Victoria and the greater Vancouver region. You can reach Julie Diamond at: or by calling toll-free: 1-800-428-8164.


Coming this spring…the Ottawa Parent & Child Expo

mini-pop-jojoDo you remember the Mini-Pops?? OK, I’m dating myself here, but I totally remember listening to the Mini-Pops record with friends when I was a kid in the 80s! Flashback!

Guess what? They’re still around (the songs have been, um, slightly updated, of course!) and they’re coming to Ottawa. Now, if you’re like me, you already have your eyes on the horizon for fun things to do this spring. What if I told you that you could check out the Mini-Pops and MORE (I know, I know…hard to imagine more, right??) at the 2016 Ottawa Parent & Child Expo?

In all seriousness, the Ottawa Parent and Child Expo is a fun event for parents and the kids, and a nice way to kick off the spring. When the snow melts, everyone seems to come out of hibernation. With kids – especially very young kids – it gets exponentially easier to get outside, get active and take in fun events around Ottawa. The expo is taking place at the Nepean Sportsplex from April 16-17.

For parents, the expo features about 100 different exhibitors, offering all sorts of parenting information from toddlers through to the teenage years. Talk with area experts about education, French immersion and tutoring options. Find out about summer camps and child care choices for the upcoming summer – or consider sport and music registration options. Find tips on family health and wellness, and shop new products and gifts.

Expo_Banner_2x6inKids can explore the Gymnastics Try-It Playzone and other fun, interactive areas. Create something silly at the Play-Doh Play Centre – and they’ll want to get their faces painted, too (what kid doesn’t??). For little ones, there will be a meet-and-greet with Dora the Explorer and Diego*. If you’ve already survived the Dora stage and your kids are older, they might want to check out the Mini-Pop Kids LIVE on the mainstage.

For $12 for a family of four, it’s bound to provide some fun and entertainment for the day. Plus – visit – and you’ll find a coupon for $2 off. Hopefully, this year’s expo will put a little “pop” – or a Mini-Pop – into your family’s spring schedule.

* Note: A limited number of tickets to go on stage with Dora or Diego will be distributed daily, free with price of admission to the Expo, on a first come, first served basis!


Ticket giveaway – Norm of the North

Norm of the NorthIf you’re looking to get the kids out of the Ottawa cold this weekend, then I’ve got just the ticket…literally!

I’m pleased to announce that I have a limited number of passes to an advanced screening of ‘Norm of the North.’

If you’re interested, please comment on this post and let me know your favourite pick-me-up for getting through the Ottawa winter! (Please email your contact info. to me at so I can contact you if you are randomly selected.)


Screening Date: Saturday, January 9 at 10 a.m.

Location: Cineplex Cinemas Ottawa (Formerly Coliseum Ottawa)


Cast: Rob Schneider, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Loretta Divine, Bill Nighy, Gabriel Iglesias, Colm Meany, Michael McElhatton

Synopsis: Displaced from their Arctic home, a polar bear named Norm and his three lemming friends wind up in New York City, where Norm becomes the mascot of a corporation he soon learns is tied to the fate of his homeland.


The playtime pledge

Don't stop playingHappy New Year!

I think I’ve had equal parts broccoli and Ferraro Rocher this weekend; I’ve been straddling the fence between the lingering indulgence of the holidays and looking towards stronger, healthier habits.

The first week of a fresh, unwritten year is upon us. What are you anticipating for the year ahead? Are you making any New Year’s resolutions?

Leading up to Christmas, I found myself in a bit of a rut. As someone who has periodic arm-wrestling matches with anxiety, especially during the dreary winter months, I didn’t feel quite like myself. Taking a break from the day-to-day routine of office life, home and family commitments was great – our family spent an awesome week in Washington, DC with my in-laws. They spoiled us rotten with home-cooked meals and babysitting services – which allowed my husband and I to get out a few times alone. We went to see Star Wars, spent an evening at an awesome wine bar and finished up our Christmas shopping (as best we could with the brutal exchange rate!).

Our time away reminded me of the importance of playtime. Nope – not for the kids this time, although they are a great reminder of how to do it and can be just the catalyst we need to embrace general silliness. But as working parents, we need to find time for our own fun. For me, that can take a lot of different forms, from cooking a tasty new recipe from scratch, trying a new yoga class at the gym or brainstorming my next creative writing project. Sometimes it’s as simple as an impromptu dance performance to the tune of a favourite song, catching up with a friend over a pint or following up a serving of veggies with a big, rich, indulgent chunk of chocolate.

Life is about balance, after all, and if we can’t savour the flavours of our favourite parts it can get pretty stale. So I’m pledging to add more playtime to my 2016.

What about you? What’s on your to-do list of fun this year?



Winter reading (Parenting Times)

Shopping with a conscienceIf you’re looking for some upbeat, holiday reading material over the next few days, pick up the winter issue of Parenting Times magazine – available free at community centres, libraries and coffee shops across Ottawa (or read the full issue online).

The issue features 20 free (or crazy cheap) fun things to do this winter – which might just be your saving grace for keeping the kids entertained till Monday!

As a regular contributor to Parenting Times, I had the chance to write a couple of interesting feature pieces. In “Shopping with a Conscience” I spoke to some adorable Brownies and Girl Guides about their introduction to fair trade at the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale in Ottawa – and the beautiful, handcrafted items they purchased as Christmas gifts.

Kyram storyI also had the honour of speaking with an inspirational dad – Myles Dear – and his challenge to raise funds for his severely disabled son, Kyram. I wrote about this Richmond father-son duo in “A desperate dad’s plea for help.” Dear is campaigning for changes to provincial support for families like his, who must struggle to finance the demands of supporting a disabled child. The family is still in need of financial help for the upcoming year – pledges can be made through their online crowdfunding campaign to help improve life for this vibrant little boy.

Enjoy the rest of the holidays – and happy reading!

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Shop with a conscience this season

If you’ve ever wondered about the ethics behind big-name clothing and jewelry manufacturers and wanted to help make a difference, this is your chance.

This Friday, fair trade retailers Ten Thousand Villages and Adorit Boutique will be joining forces for their third-annual Fair Trade Fashion Show in Ottawa – and admission is FREE!

Celebrity emcee Melissa Lamb (from CTV Ottawa) will join us to show you how to “shop with a conscience” – and look great doing it.

WHEN: Friday, November 27, 2015 from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Ottawa Mennonite Church, located at 1830 Kilborn Avenue (free parking!)

WHY: Come see original, organic and fairly-traded clothing from Adorit Boutique, a funky clothing store based in the Byward Market. Adorit’s clothing will be paired with beautiful, handcrafted and fairly-traded accessories (scarves, necklaces, handbags) from Ten Thousand Villages, an organization which gives a livelihood to underprivileged artisans in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

*PLUS! Get a jump-start on your Christmas shopping by browsing our global marketplace at the church – the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale is running alongside the fashion show! Beautiful, handcrafted Christmas decorations, dishes, cards, toys and home décor items will be available for purchase (*Note: Festival sale is open from 3 to 8 p.m.).
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Shades of November (Young Rembrandts)

Lily's American Gothic

AMERICAN GOTHIC: One of my all-time favourite drawings that my daughter, Lily created during her classes with the Young Rembrandts.

Well, Halloween is behind us and a new month lies ahead…happy November! Does anyone have a candy hangover today??

I don’t know about you, but autumn has *totally* been flying by at our house. I’m looking at November as a time to re-group and get ready for winter and, of course, Christmas (sorry…too soon??)!

At this time of year, many parents are also looking for engaging activities to take their kids through the winter. If your kids are anything like mine and enjoy creative pursuits, you might want to check out the Young Rembrandts in Ottawa. My girls have enjoyed countless drawing classes there, and the instructors have truly helped further their artistic abilities!

In each week’s new (and kid-tested!) lesson, the Young Rembrandts use a step-by-step method that assures every student is a creative success.  As they learn and use technical drawing skills, children engage their problem-solving skills, innovation and imagination to create their very own masterpieces. Instructors at the drawing school are also skilled at working with kids on the autism spectrum, which I wrote about in a past issue of Parenting Times magazine.

Check out the latest Young Rembrandt class offerings in Barrhaven, Kanata, Stittsville and Orleans. Your kids will be colouring November with all shades of happy as they discover art for themselves!


The seashell motto

Birthday with KimThe other day, while digging in one of the many pockets of my purse, my hand closed around a seashell.

Surprised, I pulled it out – and was flooded with a wave of nostalgia. The shell came from the ocean shores of Vancouver, where we spent a blissful few days with my sister-in-law and her family at the tail end of our family vacation in western Canada. I was also blessed to celebrate my 40th birthday there, surrounded by friends and family – including an incredible surprise visit from my dear friend, Kim – who flew all the way up from Phoenix just to spend the day with me. The Vancouver harbour, fresh seafood and delicious Thai food (and obviously, a few cocktails), and a circle of my most favourite people…amazing memories.

I’ve always found transitions to be tough. I anticipated the arrival of the big “four-oh!” with low-level dread, then had such a great time celebrating it that it was hard to come home. After settling back in, I definitely felt the letdown of a much-anticipated holiday – now over and in the past. The end of August felt like sand slipping through my fingers – I was reluctant to let go of the long, sun-kissed days – unharnessed from the routine of full-time work for me and my husband, and school and activities for the kids.

Elissa at the beachBut the benefit of life experience (and I swear I’m not just saying this to sweeten the fact that I have a whole 40 years of it!) is that we learn from every stage. Bittersweet though it may be to change chapters or seasons, we take along what we’ve learned – and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some pretty incredible people.

Leading up to the fall issue of Parenting Times Magazine, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Shimi Kang, the author of the book, The Dolphin Parent: A Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Self-Motivated Kids. One of her book’s key messages is that parents shouldn’t feel the need to hyperschedule their kids – and at the same time, themselves – in order to ensure their success. She argues that constantly filling our children’s time with formal instruction – when a tutor, coach or parent is telling the child what to do – results in rigidity and sleep-deprived, fragile kids (she calls them “crispies”). You can read the full Q&A in the magazine for full details.

I think this particularly resonated with me after my experience of returning to work full-time last January. Part of what made the transition so hard was that my kids’ extra-curricular schedule was so busy; the girls had activities four out of five evenings a week. When I was freelance writing from home, it worked. But in the new scenario, it meant that after a full work day and my hour-long commute home, I had to rush to pick up the kids from daycare, make dinner and get them back out the door in record time for activities. It’s a bad feeling to come in the front door – arms loaded with backpacks – and realize you have approximately 22 minutes to prepare and serve supper if you’re going to have any hope of getting to the prescheduled activity on time.

This season, I’m taking a page from Dr. Kang’s book (quite literally) and reassessing our priorities. That means picking and choosing our commitments carefully, and, if necessary, dropping a few things – or signing up for weekend activities, when we’re not being pulled 100 directions.

Check the viewBy dialing back a bit on the structure, I’m also aiming to build in more unstructured time. I’m always amazed at the creative games our girls come up with – particularly when we drag them away from TV and video screens. Suddenly, the “Cat Olympics” will be set up in the basement, or an elaborate series of forts created. Outdoor time and fresh air is critical, too. It can be so easy to drop onto the couch after work, but I really find that getting out the door for a bike ride with the kids – or a walk on a nearby nature trail – is so rewarding.

So maybe we don’t have to give up every iota of unstructured time just because September is here again. Perhaps making room for even little pockets of freedom will keep that sweet, summertime feeling alive just a bit longer. In the meantime, I’ll put the seashell back in my pocket – so I don’t forget.

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The summer issue is here! (Ottawa Parenting Times)

Parenting TimesIt’s here!

The June/July 2015 edition of Ottawa Parenting Times magazine is now online — and on racks all around the city. It’s jam-packed with great ideas for summer food and fun with the kids. Read new and archived stories at and find the new digital issue here:

Readers can also download Ottawa Parenting Times brand-new app – for free – available on iTunes and Google Play.

Happy reading!

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Colour Me Happy!

Brooke, Sonia & Lily

Brooke (left) of Crayon Occasion, Sonia and seven-year-old Lily at her birthday party.

I’ve always seen my girls’ birthday parties as a creative opportunity – a chance to celebrate their unique, emerging personalities.

Kids go through different stages and phases, and in an effort to embrace that I aim to build a party theme that reflects one of their passions or interest areas. My daughter, Lily, absolutely loves to draw, so we decided to plan a drawing party for her seventh birthday.

I recently met a very talented and enthusiastic fine artist named Brooke Alexander, who has launched a small business in Ottawa called Crayon Occasion. Brooke offers painting lessons for children ages six to 12, teaching kids to create their own masterpieces based on art styles like realism or impressionism. She provides all supplies – canvases, paint, brushes, etc. – for the duration of the six-week session, and participants (and their parents) are always in awe of what they produce under her direction.

In addition to ongoing classes, I learned that Brooke offers drawing lessons customized for birthday parties. What could be more perfect for Lily??

Hiring Crayon Occasion turned out to be a great decision, as Brooke was a huge help with the party planning. Leading up to Lily’s big day, Brooke contacted me to ask what we preferred in the way of a theme for the drawing exercise. Since Lily was in the throes of a dragon obsession, we decided to give her party a “mythical creatures” theme.

Building on that idea, Brooke drew an original unicorn-and-dragon image, which she sent to me via email for approval. She was open to input and made several modifications – insisting that both Lily and I be 100 per cent happy with the final image. She truly went out of her way to please!

White board

Brooke leads Lily and her party guests in a step-by-step drawing tutorial.

On the day of the party, I had two large tables set up for the kids to work on their drawings. Since the two groups were sitting in adjoining rooms, Brooke could move between the tables to provide each child with one-on-one assistance if they needed it. After showing them her beautiful, completed image, Brooke gave the kids paper, pencils and step-by-step instructions on how to replicate it.

Little artists at work

Lily and her birthday guests bring their masterpieces to life with pencil crayons.

Since Brooke has such a way with kids, everyone was very engaged in their drawings and eager to follow the teacher’s instructions. Once their images were completed, Brooke helped the kids bring it alive by adding colour. At the end of the party, each child went home with a frame-worthy drawing of their very own! I had also arranged for Brooke to provide an additional black-and-white image – another original that she had created – to take home for more colouring; that made a great addition to the loot bags I had prepared.

Book reading

Party host Brooke reads her published children’s book, “Little Mia’s Big Heart”, to an attentive audience.


After cake and opening gifts, Brooke gathered the kids for a reading of Little Mia’s Big Heart, a beautiful book that she wrote and illustrated herself. It was the perfect way to wind the kids down and wrap up one of the best kids’ parties that I’ve pulled off!




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