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Finnish children start school at the age of seven, whereas in the UK children start school at five, and in Canada at age five or six. The relatively late start for Finnish schoolchildren often surprises people, especially those who follow the global educational comparisons in which Finland often ranks near the top.

It seems that part of the key to the Finnish school system's success—educationally and otherwise—is the nurturing day care and preschool system. There, kids are allowed to be kids, play together, and have naps; they are not aggressively prepped academically.

Many of the skills my son learns in day care and preschool instill a sense of practical sisu, an attitude of not quitting or giving up when faced with a challenge, whether that's putting together a difficult puzzle or resolving a dispute with another child by talking it out. Early on, a sense of independence and autonomy are fostered, which can be as simple as carrying your own plate and cutlery to the dirty dish cart after you've finished eating or putting on your own snowsuit. Creative DIY skills such as making a ring as a Mother's Day gift out of a discarded button and leftover small metal hoops fosters a recycling or upcycling way of thinking and encourages a mind-s et that first explores ways to use discarded items rather than throwing them in the garbage and rushing out to buy a ready-made gift.


What I observe during the years that our son is in day care and later preschool is a commitment to equality, which means that every child is treated as an individual with a commonsense preventative approach in mind. The latter means that from an early age—three, four, or five years old— children and their parents are offered any extra resources or help that they might need, ranging from speech therapy (useful for many kids, including those who are bi- or trilingual) to physical therapy.

Educator, author, scholar, and international speaker Pasi Sahlberg writes in his bestselling book Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change?: "Kindergarten in Finland doesn't focus on pre-paring children for school academically. Instead, the main goal is to make sure that all children are happy and responsible individuals."

Sahlberg, a former director general of the Finnish Ministry of Education, is synonymous with Finnish education on the international stage. Just about any article or report discussing education and Finland has a reference to Sahlberg and/ or his extensive body of work.

On a rainy autumn Saturday afternoon slick with bright orange, yellow, and red leaves dotting the sidewalks, I meet Sahlberg in the atrium of the Helsinki Music Centre. The glassy modern masterpiece houses the Sibelius Academy, the country's top music education institute, and the headquarters of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

Against the backdrop of an open-house music session, I ask Sahlberg how the early childhood education and pre-school system contributes to the success of the Finnish education system.

"Preschool is often defined as the year before a child goes to school, but in Finland it's broader than that—actually from prebirth to the moment when a child starts school. And that's an increasingly important factor behind the successful educational performance of students after-ward," says Sahlberg.

He outlines three key areas of focus: play, trust, and health.

"What makes the Finnish approach unique is the emphasis on free, unstructured, child-centered play. We understand that play is important for growing up, building identity and self-esteem. We also understand that children need time to do that," says Sahlberg, whose next book will focus on the importance of play in education. "Children will grow healthier and happier if we adults consider play an important part of the overall teaching in schools."

He tells me, "We also trust people and trust our children much more than anywhere else; we can let them play in the playground outside with other kids and just hang out." This of course is possible as Finland is a relatively safe country.

"And another key issue is health: prenatal health, the health care of mothers and the infants when they are born. We still have a social policy system that allows one of the parents to stay home with the child until they're 3-years-old, if they choose. These are much more health-related than education- related issues, as we have this comprehensive approach in understanding the importance of childhood," he says.

"We have all sorts of rights for children regarding their learning and well- being and health: for example, children have the right to fifteen minutes of each school hour for themselves, during which they often go outside," he says. That means for every forty- five minutes of school instruction children are given a fifteen-minute break.

I ask Sahlberg if children are taught sisu in school in Finland.

"Finnish schools don't teach sisu as a topic, rather it's part of the culture in many schools. My experience is that children in Finland are taught early on that you need to finish what you start regardless of how hard the task at hand is. I believe that our schools focus on resiliency and perseverance in teaching and learning, we probably value more complex and open-ended learning experiences that often come with the sense of sisu. I also think that the key aspect of Finnish schools to teach children to take responsibility for their own actions and learning early on is an important factor in growing up with the sisu ethos," he says. "Some suggest that this old mentality of sisu would be in decline now in Finland among young people. If it is true, then perhaps teaching sisu more directly wouldn't be a bad idea at all."

I also meet up with Sanna Jahkola, the outdoor guide who I first met in Lapland. For in addition to studying to be a teacher, Jahkola is part of an outdoor education component to Finnish Schools on the Move, a national action program aimed at promoting a physically active culture in comprehensive schools.

I'm curious to know how the government's guidelines relate to someone who is in the field.

"The new school curriculum is terrific because different learning environments such as nature are emphasized big-time—it doesn't have to be only the classroom. It can be a schoolyard, shoreline, beach, or city park, not necessarily just a forest," says Jahkola, who is writing her PhD dissertation on outdoor learning.

"For children, it's a totally different learning environment; there's more room and space. We know that we feel better outdoors and children develop fine and gross motor skills as they move on uneven surfaces such the forest floor," says Jahkola. She adds that kids who move a lot in nature are often in better physical shape than those who don't. "It also shows in their other activities and hobbies; for example, they choose to walk or bicycle as a form of transportation as opposed to children who are chauffeured around by car," says Jahkola.

The outdoors neatly combines three different skill sets, she says. Learning by doing—for example, identifying and counting different types of trees—strengthens cognitive skills. Movement, whether walking from one place to an-other or keeping active to stay warm during the cold months, encourages kids to be active, and in the process of being outdoors children develop a relationship with, and respect for, nature.

Reprinted from The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu arrangement with TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018, Katja Pantzar.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.

1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.


We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown


If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

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My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.


So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

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