Children Playing

I’ve written before about how many northern European countries don’t push academics for young children. Instead, playing and time outside are considered more important. Here’s another piece, this one in The Atlantic, about kindergarteners in Finland, that discusses the same thing. The writer, Tim Walker, went to Finland to find out more about why they don’t have children doing work sheets, or spending much time learning to read. Among others, he spoke to staff at a preschool, who told him why play is central to learning in young kids:

When children play, Osei Ntiamoah continued, they’re developing their language, math, and social-interaction skills. A recent research summary “The Power of Play” supports her findings: “In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn,” the researcher concluded.

Osei Ntiamoah’s colleagues all seemed to share her enthusiasm for play-based learning, as did the school’s director, Maarit Reinikka: “It’s not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, ‘Take this pencil and sit still.’” The school’s kindergarten educators have their students engage in desk work—like handwriting—just one day a week. Reinikka, who directs several preschools in Kuopio, assured me that kindergartners throughout Finland—like the ones at Niirala Preschool—are rarely sitting down to complete traditional paper-and-pencil exercises.

Walker also learned that “joy” is a central tenant to the Finns when it comes to learning:

The word “joy” caught me off guard—I’m certainly not used to hearing the word in conversations about education in America, where I received my training and taught for several years. But Holappa, detecting my surprise, reiterated that the country’s early-childhood education program indeed places a heavy emphasis on “joy,” which along with play is explicitly written into the curriculum as a learning concept. “There’s an old Finnish saying,” Holappa said. “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”

Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily. That’s worth contemplating.

I can certainly see this in my own children, even though they’re now older than kindergarteners. They learn much better when they’re enjoying and interested in what they’re doing. And they always play-act what they learn and learn from what they play. They also have a natural desire to be outside exploring and moving around.

I’m not sure when the philosophy of educating young children began to change in North America. I didn’t attend kindergarten myself — it was optional back then and when offered was definitely more of a play-based program. But that was a long time ago, of course. Now there seems to be pressure for preschoolers to be working on reading or pre-reading skills and on other academic skills. I’ve spoken to parents who feel anxious that their three or four year-olds might be behind their peers, and I’ve met other parents whose three year-olds are in all-day programs that look a lot like school.

I think one of the big problems is that American adults, including those in the early education field, don’t understand the benefits of play, creativity, and movement for young children’s development, including their future academic success. If parents understood this, they’d probably make different choices for their kids, and be less stressed out.

It will definitely be interesting to see how these different educational approaches play out in the lives of children in the years to come.

Image: by OmarMedinaRD at pixabay

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Screen Shot Unplugged Nation

Friends, our television episode aired last week! I wanted to give everybody a heads up, but the production company forgot to let us know in advance and since we don’t have a TV, we watch the episodes (well, those that aren’t locked behind a cable key) via our computer after they’ve aired.

Last week I was standing outside our house when a neighbor went by and said, “Hey, I saw your show!” And I actually said, “What show??” … so far was it from my mind. Then B and I stayed up way too late that night and watched it. It was fun to see how the episode turned out, but a few things to keep in mind if you watch it…

This is reality TV… which means that what you see is not always how it was. Plus, it was an entire week of footage reduced to 48 minutes (or whatever it is without the commercials). There were things we were pretty sure would be in there and weren’t; and things we hoped wouldn’t show up and did (like the shutter on our house that broke a few days before they came to film).

I do want the interwebs to know that my husband has been fishing before and actually has very good balance. (And he wants everyone to know that he really didn’t swear in front of the kids.) Also, I wasn’t obsessed with room sizes despite what it seems, and our children didn’t need a break from playing computer games and watching TV since they don’t do much of either at home. But the Billy goat escaping was true, and his name really was “Rambutt.”

Did I mention it was hard to watch myself on TV?

But I remain really glad we did this. We wanted it to be a fun memory-making experience for our family and to learn something about off-grid living and about ourselves, and we did all that. And now we have the show to look back at and remember… and laugh at a few things, of course.

Alrighty, here it is. Let me know what you think!


To teach cursive or not to teach cursive… I’ve been asking myself this for a while and then I watched this video and it kind of sealed the deal.
Not that other homeschooling parents haven’t encouraged me to do it. And the more I learn about the benefits of cursive, the more it makes sense. It’s not only a creative exercise and allows us to be able to read many historic documents, it’s good for our brains. I tend to favor anything that builds brain connections and strengthens cognitive function and cursive is one of those things — there’s actual science behind it.
I learned cursive in grade school myself and had excellent penmanship until my late 20s, when I began to use a computer more and more. My handwriting has now gone to the dogs and I think better as a writer with a keyboard in front of me. But I still write thank you notes and letters and I’m grateful I learned cursive. In fact, I have very few memories of my first few grades of school, but practicing cursive and taking pride in it is one of them.
Many states have done away with cursive; Common Core doesn’t require it. I understand how this happened: in the tech age, what’s the point? As is typical in our society, though, we tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. Why can’t you be computer literate and also be able to write and read cursive? Not everything has to be about immediate usefulness; some things are useful because they’re building blocks for other things, they help us in broader ways to learn, to create, to grow — which is the real point of education, right?
Anyway, Master Penman Jake Weidmann (shown in the video above) also gave this short Ted talk and it’s really impressive. If you have older kids who have any kind of creative bent, they might enjoy listening to it as well.
Is your child learning cursive? If you’re a homeschooler is it part of your curriculum? And what do you think about Jake Weidmann — wow, huh?


Papa Francisco

September 25, 2015

francis_in_rome In case you missed it, the pope’s in town. I’m Catholic so it means something to me, plus he’s practically in our backyard — he was just to the south of us in D.C., and then just to the north of us in NYC and soon, Philly. Poor old Baltimore always get the short end of the stick. But I get it; we’re not the nation’s capital and we’re not the Big Apple, and Philly got lucky when it landed the World Meeting of Families and the pope decided to attend.

A friend of mine’s god-daughter was one of the children who greeting the pope when he landed, and I know many people who’ve attended (or will be) various events. It’s always interesting to see so many people who aren’t even Christians (or couldn’t care less about religion), come out to wave and cheer for the pope. He’s a kind of a celebrity in his own right, but in many ways he also represents values that ring true with people across the board: caring for the poor and forgotten, reaching out to people were they are, upholding the dignity of all people, doing more to preserve and protect the environment, religious freedom, and more. Viva il papa!, as they say in Italy. (And not “viva la papa,” as a gentle reader corrected me, because that apparently means “long live the potato.” So much for my non-existent Italian.)

It’s been an absolutely gorgeous week here. I just want to bottle it up and keep it around for January and February. We’ve been doing some homeschooling work in the park, but it does provide a few more distractions for my little ones.

Any exciting plans for the weekend? Nothing on the docket here yet, but we’ll come up with something, like maybe trying the new ramen noodle bar that just opened up down the street. We were just saying a few months ago that this neighborhood could really use something like that and clearly, someone heard us.

Have a slow one and see you back here next week!

Image: Margaret Cabaniss



Basket from Pixabay Over the weekend I was pushing my cart down the aisle at the grocery store trying to keep up with my daughters when a woman looked up at my daughters and then at me, and said, “Oh, I’ve read your blog!”

Really?!” I said, totally surprised that anyone could possibly recognize us in public from this little web site.

“Yes, at least, I’m pretty sure it’s you,” she said. “I found you through Google and passed along a post you did about hair care to Caucasian friends of mine who have transracially adopted kids, and are looking for resources.”

“I think I know the exact post you’re talking about.” I said.

At that moment, my husband, who was just around the corner, showed up — not the least bit surprised to see me having an animated chat with a stranger in the cereal aisle.

“Hey, she’s read SlowMama!” I tell him, still in shock that I’ve run into a stranger in WholeFoods who recognizes us. (S and H, who still don’t know what a blog is, were thoroughly confused as to what we were all talking about.)

Turns out the lovely woman had just moved to Baltimore from New York. We chit-chatted a bit about that, about hair care, introduced ourselves, and then went on our merry way.

The encounter was one of those fun, unexpected moments in life. But it also made me realize that I spend most days forgetting that people I don’t know — more than I realize — read SlowMama. That’s the weirdness of blogging. Or maybe of just me. But if most of my readers are as lovely as that woman, I’m super lucky.

Image: Unsplash at Pixabay


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Homemade Fruit Roll-Ups

September 21, 2015

picjumbo.com_HNCK8693 I grew up on fruit roll-ups. Back then they seemed more robust in texture and were usually made without refined sugar. When I saw a very simple recipe at Food52 for homemade fruit roll-ups, I had to give it try, especially since I’m now packing lunches two days a week for my girls.

Unfortunately, by the time I got around to making it, some of the berries I had were a little far gone so instead of 3 cups of fruit, I only had 1 cup. I was undaunted; this was going to be an experiment anyway. I combined raspberries and strawberries together, added the proportionate amount of lemon juice and a touch of honey, put it all in the Vitamix, and voila.

I didn’t boil the mixture down because I only had the one cup of fruit; I used parchment paper; I didn’t have the proper spreading tool so I used a spatula. (I left it in a little longer because I hadn’t boiled it.)

Even with all these corners cut, it turned out really well. I cut the pan in strips just like the picture here, and stuck a couple in the girls’ lunch bags the next day. H was a fan. S wasn’t keen at first — she’s more sensitive to textures — but after a few bites, decided she liked it after all. I could have gobbled it all down myself. Definitely going to make them again — maybe blueberry next time.

Have you ever made fruit roll-ups? Do they remind you of childhood?

Image: berries at picjumbo


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Pull Up A Chair

September 18, 2015

Lemon Drinks at picjumbo It’s time to resurrect “Pull Up A Chair,” don’t you think? With a new school year in full swing and a packed fall schedule, sharing the ups and downs of the week and grabbing a virtual beverage together seems like a good thing to do, at least occasionally.

Before I get to my high and low of the week, I’m offering a Salted Meyer Lemon and Sage Pressé (which I recommended last week on Jennifer Fulwiler’s radio show). What I love about this drink is that it sounds super fancy but it’s actually really simple. Plus, it’s a terrific summer-to-fall beverage. Now, if I could only  use lemons from my sister’s lemon tree in San Luis Obispo, I would be a happy camper!

So, my high of the week… I think it has to be that homeschooling is off to a good start. I’m so used to being the world’s worst homeschooler that it always surprises me when things seem to actually be going decently. The girls are enjoying the homeschool academy two days a week so far, and we’ve been staying on top of things during our stay-at-home days. It’s only two weeks in, but I’ll take it!

My low: Not being able to take advantage of the gorgeous weather. I live for this time of year — when it’s sunny and breezy, not hot and humid. We’ve managed to take a couple of lunch picnics and get some school work done at the park, but I wish S and H could be outside running around most of the day right now.

What about you? What kind of week has it been? Grab a Pressé and tell me about it! Hope your weekend is lovely and I’ll see you back here soon.

Image: lemon drinks from picjumbo






The Answer to Sleep Deprivation

September 16, 2015

Sleeping Cat by Ranya at pixabay

I’m not a person who can thrive on a few hours a sleep every night; I need my rest. This was one of my great concerns about motherhood and while things have definitely improved in that department, parenting has not cured me of being a night owl.

I’m also not a parent who thinks it’s good for my kids to wake up earlier than they’re ready. I believe we’d all be better off waking up naturally without alarm clocks. I get that we live in the real world, and that the early bird catches the worm and all that, but I must admit to feeling justified when I read an article like this one, about another researcher who says society is out of whack when it comes to how early everything starts.

Paul Kelley of Oxford University’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute says we’re in the middle of a “sleep-deprivation crisis” because our work hours are often unnatural and unsuitable for our internal body clocks. He told David Barnett at The Guardian:

 “This is a huge issue … We are generally a sleep-deprived society but the 14–24 age group is more sleep-deprived than any other sector of society. This causes serious threats to health, mood performance and mental health.”

He believes that when it comes to school,  8:30 a.m. should be the start time for children ages 8-10, 10:00 a.m. for 16 year-olds, and 11:00 a.m. for 18-year-olds.

“At the age of 10 you get up and go to school and it fits in with our 9-to–5 lifestyle,” Kelley said. “When you are about 55 you also settle into the same pattern. But in between it changes a huge amount and, depending on your age, you really need to be starting around 3 hours later, which is entirely natural.”

Kelly also advocates that office staff should begin at 10:00 a.m.

As the article points out, if he’s right, from our teens until the end of middle age, we are all being woken up every day way too early.

Given how important sleep is for memory and brain function, as well as for our immune systems, why isn’t this taken more seriously? Cultural habits and assumptions die hard, I suppose. There’s still a stigma when it comes to waking up later… you’re considered not as hard-working, on the ball, or serious about success.

Granted, the mornings I do manage to rise early, my day goes much better. But that’s because I feel like I’m getting a head start on everything. If the world started a little later, I could still get that by waking a little later. Which would be entirely fine by me, of course.

So what do you think? Are you sleep-deprived? Do you think school and work start too early?

Image: Ranya at pixabay


Worried Girl by Ryan McGuire

I followed a conversation on Facebook recently about an article called “I’m Tired of Being Nice to Creepy Men In Order to Stay Safe.” In the piece, writer Daisy Buchanan talks about the increase in harassment against women in Britain on trains and in stations (up 25%), and how she regularly curtails her plans because of a fear of men who don’t take kindly to women ignoring them.

I’ve had my share of harassers — especially when I was single and spent a lot of time in public spaces. Thankfully, though, I’ve had very few seriously threatening situations, in part because I’ve always been very cautious, but also because I’ve never been shy to assert myself. As a petite woman who’s never mastered a fighting art, I’ve honed the fine skill of not making eye contact and using a serious and commanding tone of voice when necessary. Most of the time, it works.

The conversation on Facebook centered on whether we should be teaching our girls to be nice to strangers. Buchanan talks about her 14 year-old little sister coming home in tears one day because she didn’t want to be rude to a man who kept remarking on her legs at a train station. In their house, politeness was a big deal, and even though she was highly uncomfortable with the harassment, she was paralyzed by her inability to be impolite.

Being kind and polite is extremely important to me, too; but how do I instill this in my daughters while also giving them the tools to protect themselves from unwanted advances and creepy people?

I’ll need to think this through more as H and S grow, but here’s what comes to mind right now… and I’m already trying to instill these things now, in age-appropriate ways, of course…

First, I want to teach my girls that it’s not impolite to set your personal boundaries and demand respect. That means, if someone is trying to violate that, it’s not unkind to ignore them, say something to them — or even report them.

I also believe you can be both street-smart and kind. It’s all about having good judgment. I hope as my girls grow up they’ll be able to assess situations, make smart decisions, and find the balance between treating people well while making sure they are being treated well, too. Self-confidence is what enables a woman to do this, and I hope I can help my girls become confident, self-assured women.

I also think it’s important to help my daughters hone their intuitions and observation skills. Both have saved me many times. I can often sense something may become a bad situation before it actually does, and I can spot a creep from a mile away. I’m also usually able to tell the difference between a lonely, over-friendly man who’s trying to flirt, versus a man who’s got some serious problems. Bottom line: Always listen to your gut.

Buchanan’s piece laments the fact that women have to be concerned about this at all, especially in this day and age. But the fact is, we do. For the most part, I can’t do much about it other than raise my daughters to be strong, resilient women who themselves do their part to make the world a better, more loving and respectful place for everyone.

Image: Ryan McGuire at pixabay




Serving Ethiopian Food in Ethiopia First, a big hello to anyone here who is stopping by after hearing my interview with Jennifer Fulwiler on her Sirius XM show yesterday! Jen really talked up SlowMama and while things have been a little quieter around here of late, I hope you’ll poke around and find something worth reading. Please come on by anytime.

September 11th has become both a day of remembrance as well as a day of celebration in our home. I can never forget being in downtown D.C. on 9-11. What to even say about that tragedy 14 years later? Words still fail.

But the day also happens to mark Enkutatash, the beginning of a new year in Ethiopia, which follows a different calendar. So it’s 2008 there as of today. This is one of the biggest celebrations for Ethiopians and to help keep our daughters connected to their birth culture, we celebrate it. Tomorrow we’ll be joining a large group of Ethiopian adoptive families at a local restaurant (Ethiopian, of course) to toast being seven years younger! Ha.

I’m still thinking about the beautiful services for our pastor this past week. As expected, the downtown basilica was packed and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I’m not used to seeing archbishops cry. It was all very fitting for a holy man who touched so many lives and is already deeply missed. It’s a gift to have people in our lives who come along and show us what it means to live and love well.

A few people recently mentioned that they miss my Friday “Pull Up A Chair” posts, so I might get back to those, maybe a couple times each month. Always fun to find those delicious drinks to end a week!

I hope this weekend is restful and lovely where ever you are. See you back here next week.

Image: Ethiopian food being served in Ethiopia, Zoe Saint-Paul