Tag Archives: Children

Children are Finland’s Most Precious Resource: Parenting Without Borders, Part 8

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own.In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.” In Part 7,  we explored what education is like in East Asia and in Part 8, we’ll look at education in Finland.

There are many fascinating aspects to education in Finland, especially because they’re so counter to many of the ways we understand education in North America (and East Asia, given the last post in this series, for that matter). Here’s the underlying ideal that guides Finnish education [Emphasis Added]:

Children learn best when they are motivated and when they’re given tools to make responsible and effective choices. Teachers and other adults strive to help kids reach their potential by connecting with them, respecting them, and creating optimal conditions for learning. In Finland, children are regarded as the nation’s most precious resource.

In reading the first part of the quote, it might seem strange that other adults also strive to help kids learn, but as the quote closes, it makes sense. If children are the most important aspect to a country, of course all adults would make strive to foster the development of children.

If you’ve ever come across one of those articles that ranks the education systems of different countries, you should be quite familiar with some of the unorthodox methods used in the Finnish education system. For instance: children don’t begin “academic” education until they’re seven years old; every hour is split into 45 minutes for ‘education’ and 15 minutes for recess (even into high school!); Finnish children spend approximately 300 hours (or ~6 weeks) fewer in elementary school than their counterparts in the USA; and they often have no homework. Oh, don’t forget that there aren’t any specialized programs for gifted children, there aren’t private schools, and there aren’t any high-stakes standardized tests (like the gaokao).

When put in that context, it seems extraordinary that Finns consistently are at the top of global rankings in education. It’s not surprising then, that Gross-Loh dedicated an entire chapter to exploring some of the underlying reasons why this might be the case. She found three “secrets”:

  1. Cultivating High-Quality Teaching
  2. A Variety of Classes Enhance Creativity
  3. The Importance of Setting Up Every Kid for Success

Let’s start with the first one — high-quality teaching. Right off the bat, it’s not easy to become a teacher in Finland. Since the 1970s, all teachers were required to have a Master’s degree. Since the 1970s! If we try and equate that to today’s society, that would be like requiring a PhD. Can you imagine if every teacher in the US had to obtain a PhD before being able to teach (even primary school students!)?

If that analogy isn’t enough, how about this one: “Teachers in Finland are as highly respected as medical doctors in the United States.”

Naturally, it follows that Finland invests quite a bit in their teachers — $30 million a year on professional development. Teachers are continually renewing themselves, which kind of reminds me of the self-cultivation piece of East Asian education.

In the second “secret,” there were two pieces that I found particularly important — Finns want their children to be good at learning how to learn and the emphasis on creative study. In high schools, all Finns must take: Finnish, Swedish, English, math, chemistry, physics, biology, geography, history, social studies, handcrafts, arts, home economics, music, and sports. Not only are Finns educated in science (and foreign languages — sheesh, three languages!?), but there is time and emphasis placed on creative subjects. These topics are emphasized just as much as the sciences because, “teachers believe that creative study transfers to a child’s performance in all subjects.”

The opening sentence from the last ‘secret’: “We can’t afford to waste a brain.” Further to that, in Finland, ‘school readiness’ means that the school is ready to receive and meet the needs of the children (rather than the kids needing to be “ready for school”).

The Finnish way of setting up kids for success means trusting them with many responsibilities even in primary school, so they feel a sense of ownership over their own lives and their education.

An excellent example of this, Gross-Loh has a conversation with a student in Grade 5 who is well-versed in matters of the school budget! If I think back to when I was in Grade 5, I don’t even think I knew what a “budget” was, much less that my school had one, and that I could know about its inner workings.

Two last things I wanted to mention —

Near the end of the chapter, there’s a quote that reminded of an image I’ve seen floating around social media: “Instead of emphasizing global competitiveness, or high individual achievement, the concept guiding almost every educational reform and decision [in Finland] has been equity.”

And finally, in case you want to dismiss the achievements in Finland as being impossible to port to the USA, consider that Finland has the same population as the state of Minnesota.

Advertisements

Parenting “Truths” are Culturally-Based: Parenting Without Borders, Introduction

It’s been some time since my last series (almost a year and a half ago) and even longer since the last time I did a series about a book. I’ve definitely read a number of books since then, but one that I’ve recently, I wanted to explore a bit more in-depth, so I thought I’d write a few posts about it in a series.

As you already know, I became a parent last year and as many parents do when making this transition, I was interesting in reading about this new stage of life. I’m aware that there are plenty of books on parenting out there, but I wasn’t interested in reading them all. Luckily for me, during one of my “Bringing Baby Home” classes, the teacher talked about this very thing. Given her experience teaching the course, recommendations from other parents, and her own personal experience, she suggested that the two best books we could read were:

  • The Wonder Weeks: How to Stimulate Your Baby’s Mental Development and Help Him Turn His 10 Predictable, Great, Fussy Phases into Magical Leaps Forward

As the title of this post suggests, we’ll be exploring “Parenting Without Borders.” Part of that’s because the topics within the book are so juicy and part of that’s because my little guy is already beyond the “10 leaps” from The Wonder Weeks. I will say, though, if you’re about to have a young one or you’ve just had a young one, The Wonder Weeks did wonders when helping me to understand why my little guy might have been fussier at times. This is really important because it helps you, as a parent, to understand a little better the things that your baby/toddler might be experiencing. There’s also a Wonder Weeks website.

So, what’s Parenting Without Borders, you ask?

Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not?

The only word that I take issue there is “right,” but that gives you an idea of the kind of material we’re going to be exploring in this series. Let’s get right to the introduction of the book.

~

Right away, Gross-Loh paints a picture of her childhood. Born to two immigrants of the US (via South Korea), she was always given lots of space to do her own thing, but she knew that her parents were worried that they were doing right by her. Her folks would meet with other Korean families to discuss schools, among other things.

Before Gross-Loh had kids, there were things that she “knew” before her kids were born:

They would eat no junk food, watch no violent TV. If my children were raised peacefully, they would never show interest in weapons or war. I would be attentive to them and watchful of their feelings. I would be an accepting, protective parent to give them a secure base.

[…]

I’d been taught it was important to put our kids’ needs first, to give them lots of choice, to praise them to make them feel confident. My American friends and I sought out the right classes, toys, and books to foster our young children’s development, helped oversee their relationships and disagreements with other children, went to bat for them with their teachers and coaches, and guided what they did in their free time.

I think that’s probably a pretty accurate description of how many parents want to be.

But as my own children attended local Japanese schools and we spent time with Japanese families, I saw children raised in a very different way who were clearly thriving — just as much — and sometimes more — than our own. Moms in Japan were surprised by how uptight I was about allowing sweets and were startled by how I monitored what my kids were allowed to watch on TV and the way I tried to stay on top of their behavior. My Japanese friends, unlike me, left their children on their own to figure out their relationships with other kids. But despite how lax these Japanese moms seemed to me, I was constantly surprised by how mature and well-adjusted their children were, how capable, and how pleasant. These were kids being raised in ways that the American parents I knew might look at as simultaneously too permissive and too strict, yet they were clearly thriving.

Which leads us to the most important sentence from the introduction [Emphasis Added]:

It was during that time that I realized something that would change me completely: The parenting assumptions I’d held to be utterly and universally true were culturally based.

And this is why I’m writing a series on this book. There is so much value to be had in exploring the “truths” of different cultures, especially as it relates to shaping (or not shaping?) our young ones.

Stand and Deliver: We Think Better on Our Feet — Literally

Did you see the post from ScienceDaily a couple of months ago? As it turns out, we think better when we’re on our feet. Maybe more importantly though, given how much we tend to sit throughout the day, standing is a good way to change things up (and standing is actually better for us than siting).

This study looked at standing desks in the context of education. In particular, with regard to elementary school-aged children. Given the epidemic of obesity, particularly in America, it certainly seems like a good idea to try and tackle an issue at one of the roots (sitting). While we already know that as a general rule, standing is better than sitting, the researchers were interested in how this would affect the academic performance of students. The results obtained indicate that there are no adverse effects on engagement for those students who were standing. Translation: standing desks don’t negatively affect academic engagement. Wonderful!

Of course, the researchers make it clear that this applied to the sample they studied (about 300 students of 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-grade age, from three schools in one suburban school district), and that there’ll need to be replication. The thing that I’m most curious about moving forward is different ages. In particular, older students. I presume that there’d be similar effects found in 6th and 7th grade and for teenagers as well, but it’d be great to see this confirmed with data.

Why stop at high school, though. It’d also be great to see this for university students. I suppose you can see where I’m going with this, right?

Whenever I go to a conference or a talk somewhere, there are almost always a handful of people who can’t bear to sit through the whole thing and it’s not because of a lack of engagement from the speaker. It’s probably a combination of factors, but what if it’s also because they find that they (the audience members of the talk) can be more engaged when they’re standing in the back of the room (or off to the side)? And if, as adults, we think that we’re better engaged in what the speaker is saying when we’re standing, why don’t we also offer that same option to our kids?

ResearchBlogging.orgDornhecker, M., Blake, J., Benden, M., Zhao, H., & Wendel, M. (2015). The effect of stand-biased desks on academic engagement: an exploratory study International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, 1-10 DOI: 10.1080/14635240.2015.1029641

Stop Asking: “Are You OK?”

A few weeks ago, I levelled a criticism at parents who attempt to dissuade their children from feeling their feelings in the moment. That is, as soon as they begin to cry, parents usually try to quash the children’s feeling by saying, “You’re OK,” or “You’re fine.” I think that this same attitude carries on when parents (or people) are dealing with older children (or other people) and something happens.

Consider a couple of teenagers who are playing soccer. One of them falls down and ceases playing for a couple of seconds. Almost always, the teenager who hasn’t fallen will immediately say to the other, “Are you OK?” I’m sure we’ve all been the teenager who’s fallen and scraped our knee and I’m sure we’ve all been the teenager who asks our friend if they’re OK, but this is an extension of the problem that begins when we’re toddlers — we’re not allowing the person the space to feel the feelings that they’re feeling.

By quickly jumping in and asking, “Are you OK?” one probably thinks that they’re being a good friend. My friend has just hurt themselves, so I should ask and see if they’re okay. Certainly, that’s the right spirit. However, by jumping in so quickly, it’s actually demonstrating to your friend that you’re uncomfortable with their pain/feelings. Let’s say that your friend starts to cry. Forgot that, let’s say that you have just begun to cry. When you’re crying, do you really want someone to ask how you’re doing? Well, if you’ve been asked that you’re whole life, you probably do, but if you stop and think about it for a second, when you’re crying (or when you’re upset), the best thing for you is space.

I’m not saying you (or your friend) should walk away when you (or your friend) begins to cry, no. Instead, you (or your friend) should sit there with you and allow you the space to feel the feelings — let you cry. After an acceptable amount of time (this varies), then it might be appropriate to break the silence, but if it were me, I’d actually wait until the person who’s crying begins saying something. By simply being there with your friend in their time of need, you’re holding a safe space that allows them to process their emotions/feelings. And if/when you do that, you’ll be giving your friend a gift they probably haven’t had the chance to experience.

Parents: Stop Saying “You’re OK!”

I’ve been a parent for more than a year. There’s so much I could talk about, but today, I want to make a plea to parents (and anyone who interacts with children, for that matter): STOP SAYING YOU’RE OKAY or YOU’RE FINE!

Now that the weather’s turned, most of the parents and little ones that have been inside protecting against the harsh winter (at least in Ottawa, that is), are out and about at playgrounds and parks. Naturally, as there are more ‘dangerous’ new things for children to interact with, they’re bound to hurt themselves in some way. When little Jonny bangs his head on the stairs of the play structure — before he starts to cry — mom (it’s usually mom, but when dad is on Jonny-duty, dad does it, too), will say “You’re ok, you’re fine,” in what’s meant to pacify little Jonny. Mom thinks that she’s helping Jonny by telling him that he’s okay, but what she doesn’t realize is she’s stunting Jonny’s growth.

Let’s go back to the moment that Jonny bumps his head. If mom doesn’t say anything, maybe Jonny doesn’t even notice that he’s hurt himself (that is, maybe he didn’t hurt himself enough that he noticed — do you cry every time you bang a limb on a doorway, cabinet, or wall?) and Jonny continues on playing. Or maybe Jonny does start to cry because he’s hurt himself. Is that a problem? Do you expect little Jonny to go through his entire life without hurting himself? That is, do you really think that you thwarting his moment of pain by interrupting him and telling him he’s okay is really helping? Let me tell you — it’s not. It’s actually harmful. By intervening, mom is unintentionally telling Jonny that it’s not okay to feel pain. Mom is telling Jonny that feeling pain is bad.

When Jonny hurts himself and he’s upset — he’s upset. Let him be upset. Allow him the space to be upset that he’s hurt himself and experiencing pain. He’s allowed to feel pain. Most times, Jonny will cry for mere seconds and then he’s right back to running around the playground as if nothing happened. If mom intervenes and tells him, “You’re OK,” mom is signifying to Jonny that this ‘event’ of hurting one’s self is important and needs more attention. It doesn’t.

When Jonny hurts himself on the playground and mom intervenes telling him that he’s okay, what’s really going on? Mom is uncomfortable and when she’s telling Jonny, “You’re OK,” she’s actually saying that to comfort herself.

So, the next time Jonny hurts himself on the playground, I’d encourage parents (or caregivers) out there to, before you tell him that he’s okay, think about why it is that you’re telling Jonny he’s okay. Is it for him or is it for you?

How to Solve the Password Problem: Teach Kids When They’re Young

I came across an article a few days ago that explained how to teach humans to remember really complex passwords. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think that there’s an important piece to the solution to helping humans remember really complex passwords: habit.

When we first started using computers, coming up with a super-difficult password wasn’t necessary as we were usually just trying to keep our stuff protected from our family members. Then, it was trying to keep things protected from our co-workers. Slowly, that grew and grew until now, someone (or something!) on the other side of the planet can figure out your password and hack into your online accounts.

I wonder, if we were taught how to come up with complex passwords when we were younger, would there still be such a high percentage of people using easy-to-crack passwords? That is, if we only knew passwords to be in the form of “passphrases,” would someone still try to use a word as their password? While there would still probably be some, my guess is that the percentage would drop.

So, how do we teach our kids to use smarter passwords? Well, assuming that kids at some point are still taught how to type in school, I see this as the perfect opportunity to also teach them about how to use passphrases for accounts. Assuming that students will have to logon to a computer to use the program that teaches them how to type, this is the best time to imprint the habit of using an effective password.

Of course, this won’t solve the problem of all the people out there today who still use “password” or “1234password” for their password, but it will help to correct problem by not adding more people to the number of people who use poor password habits.

~

Extending this idea, there may still be some adults or teens out there who are still learning how to type. In these cases, we could have the software that is teaching them how to type also teach them about good password habits. If the adults are learning how to type in some sort of class, this could also be a good place to teach them about good password habits.

How Smartphones Can Lead to Better Parents

Over three years ago, I wrote a post about cell phone etiquette. At the time I wrote that, I wouldn’t have guessed that three years later, I’d be considering the possibility that smartphones could actually lead to better parents.

But that’s exactly what this post is about.

The stereotype goes that many parents will bring their children to the park (and/or some activity) and upon arriving, they shoo away their children only to peer down at their cell phone. Some folks do this while out to dinner with friends (even though they don’t have kids, see here). Many will cringe upon seeing parents sitting on the bench enwrapped in the goings on of their cell phone. Farhad Manjoo, however, points out how smartphones can actually make for more available parents [Emphasis Added]:

But we rarely consider how, by liberating us from the office, smartphones have greatly expanded the opportunity for certain kinds of workers to increase their involvement in their children’s lives. Because you can work from anywhere thanks to your phone, you can be present and at least partly attentive to your children in scenarios where, in the past, you’d have had to be totally absent. Even though my son had to yell for my attention once when I was fixed to my phone, if I didn’t have that phone, I would almost certainly not have been able to be with him that day — or at any one of numerous school events or extracurricular activities. I would have been in an office. And he would have been with a caretaker.

Stop and consider that for a moment: having a smartphone can actually make you more available as a parent. Now, this isn’t a commercial for smartphones, but it’s certainly something that should give you pause for consideration. I know it did for me when I read it. This idea put forth from Manjoo is exactly the kind of thing that I’m talking about when I say putting a new perspective on things. Someone who is so focused on how smartphones are bad for parents and how they keep parents from their children wouldn’t be able to see the possibility that for a small population, having a smartphone can actually allow a parent to be away from the office and with their children.

This idea isn’t meant to invalidate the idea that smartphones are changing the relationship we have with our children, but the idea that smartphones are allowing us to be with our children more is, to be hyperbolic for a moment, paradigm-altering. A key step to being a better parent is being able to be with your children. So, if smartphones can get us out of the office and next to our kids, isn’t that an important step?

~

There still might be some of you out there that unequivocally think we shouldn’t be on our phones when we’re with our kids and that’s okay, but I hope that you’ll at least consider (reflect, think about, ponder, etc.) the possibility that the opposite may be true. It’ll put you one step closer to defending against the confirmation bias.