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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.

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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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It's time to go shopping for your little ones mama. Not long ago we shared the super sale on Hunter boots for us moms, and now the super colorful and water proof boots are on sale for kids! Perfect timing as Spring is approaching and there will be a lot of puddle jumping in our futures.

The sale is up to 50% off in select styles, but in all the colors of the rainbow! We don't know how long the sale will last so act fast because some sizes are already on low stock!


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Jessica Simpson's life seems perfect. She has three beautiful kids, a wildly successful career, a seemingly solid marriage...she has it all, at least as far as we can see. But recent revelations prove that no one really knows what anyone else is secretly dealing with—and Jessica, by her own admission, has been struggling with alcohol issues.

The singer-turned-business-woman recently sat down with TODAY's Hoda Kotb, and it will air on NBC's TODAY Wednesday morning.

"I had started a spiral and I couldn't catch up with myself…and that was with alcohol," Jessica explained. "I would say it openly to everyone. 'I know. I know, I'll stop soon. I'll cut back'," Jessica continued when asked if she realized things were getting out of control. "For me to cut back, like I'm an all or nothing girl, and so I didn't know it was a problem until it was...I completely didn't recognize myself…I always had a glitter cup. It was always filled to the rim with alcohol."

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She's hardly alone. The rise of #winemom phenomenon is well documented and many parents struggle with substance abuse problems. But Simpson's story proves there is a way to get your life back.

Simpson quit drinking in 2017 after she found herself unable to get her kids ready for a Halloween party. She says she'd started drinking before 7:30 in the morning, before accompanying her husband, Eric Johnson, to a school assembly for their oldest daughter. Later that night she was unable to get her kids dressed in their Halloween costumes. The next morning she was so ashamed. Feeling like she had failed her kids she slept until they left the house, then got up and drank some more.

That episode was her tipping point. She quit drinking (as did her husband, Eric Johnson, who supports her in her sobriety.)



As parents, we know how overwhelming the demands can be...and how easy it is to sink into habits that don't ultimately serve us well. For Jessica, the way to heal was to sever her relationship with alcohol.

"I had to give [drinking] up," Jessica said. "I'm not going to miss another day. I'm not going to miss another Halloween. I'm not going to miss another Christmas. I'm going to be present."

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Babies come with a lot of stuff. And when you're out and about, a roomy, comfy diaper bag is the place for everything you need to be prepared for whatever the day throws your way. But is a cute, trendy diaper bag that doesn't scream, well... DIAPER BAG, too much to ask? It's not, mamas.

We've rounded up our favorite diaper bags that don't actually look like diaper bags, but instead like the cute, super stylish bags you might have carried before the days of finding crushed up puffs at the bottom of your purse.

These bags prove you can get the job done, mama—and look darn good while doing it.

Freshly Picked City Pack

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This simple, modern backpack can easily take you from a day at work to dinner with the kiddos. We love the hardware details, the lightweight design, and the hidden back pocket.

$150

Vogshow Waterproof Bag

Vogshow Waterproof Diaper Bag

A sleek look, plus a padded laptop compartment, anti-theft and insulated pockets and magnetic buttons instead of zippers. 🙌

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Skip Hop Travel Bag

Skip Hop Travel Bag

With a large zippered main compartment, there's plenty of room to keep all of the things. We love the adjustable straps—you can wear as a backpack, cross-body, messenger bag, or attach to the stroller.

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Companion Quilted Backpack

companion quilted backpack diaper bag

Are you off to sit on the beach for a few hours, or taking your toddlers to the zoo? No one will be the wiser, mamas. We love the quilted look, padded straps, and roomy interior.

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Mommore Diaper Backpack

Mommore Diaper Backpack

With a water resistant exterior, wet clothes pocket and a main compartment that completely opens up, you'll love having this to tote around.

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JJ Cole Brookmont

JJ Cole Cognac Diaper Bag

As stunning as it is functional. It has 15 pockets and a removable liner on the inside so you can easily clean up messes in no time.

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Little Unicorn Boardwalk Tote

If you're looking to keep things simple + stylish, mamas, this is the bag for you. It's versatile, functional, and will get tons of use well past the diaper days.

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Presidio Vegan Leather Diaper Tote

Presidio Vegan Leather Diaper Tote

This stunning tote would make the perfect on-the-go bag. It comes with a changing page and a couple pockets on the inside to keep everything organized. Don't forget to personalize it!

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Ticent Tote

Ticent Diaper Bag

With nearly 500 reviews, this one has incredible ratings. It offers multiple pockets, including an insulated one for snacks or bottles. The waterproof cotton material is ideal for those inevitable spills.

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Fawn Design Original

Stylish and versatile, this bag can be worn as a cross body or as a backpack. It's roomy without being bulky, and has a total of 10 pockets for awesome storage.

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Skip Hop Greenwich Backpack

No one would ever know this bag is packed full of baby's items. 😉

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Rosie Pope Highbury Hill

Highbury Hill Diaper Backpack

If you're looking to up your style, this chic backpack will help you get there. Lots of inner pockets and zippered compartments make it simple to organize your stuff, and the top flap and wide opening make for quick + easy accessibility.

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Babymel Robyn

Babymel Robyn Diaper Backpack

We love everything about this effortlessly stylish faux leather backpack. It's easy to wipe down, converts to a cross body bag, and even comes with a changing pad and drawstring bottle holder.

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Petunia Pickle Bottom Pathway

Petunia Pickle Bottom Diaper Tote

This two-tone canvas bag could not be prettier. We love that it easily stands upright when set down, and that it's super functional as a diaper bag yet super stylish as an everyday purse.

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Skip Hop Duo

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The timeless stripes on this 11-pocket bag means it will never go out of style, and the durable cotton canvas means it will stand up to years of use.

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We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Frustrations and emotions were at an all time high for both us. I was worried that my lack of patience would get the best of me, leaving her feeling let down and frustrated with me on her new journey of becoming a “big girl." And selfishly, I was tired of washing wet underwear. For her part, my daughter was tired of being asked for the hundredth time if she needed to use the potty.

We both were feeling a little defeated in this new adventure.

I have found too often as a mother that I expect my child to respond new things, like to potty training, as fast and as close to the last blog post, book or opinion I heard or read. What I have learned is that no two children are alike and the moment I release my expectations for where mine should or should not be, we are both brought back to peace and patience.

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So maybe a break was all we needed to start fresh the next day. We headed to our favorite spot by the lake and had a picnic. My daughter munched on popcorn and chatted away about the weather and pinecones, and listened for the sounds of helicopters—which you hear quite often living on an aviation military base.

Sometimes in the daily struggles of motherhood I have noticed that I can forget who I am and the strength we possess as mothers. It may not come easily at first, but I grow with each new day. Even potty training—this mundane human activity that is emotional and (quite literally) messy, teaches me much about the meaning and purpose of motherhood.

Potty training has taught me a huge lesson on patience. Patience to be present, to pay attention to what is right in front of me. To be encouraging, to not rush the process, to not place expectations on timing or play the comparison game we often play as mothers.

Patience is needed in every area of parenting and potty training is just one way where we can see as parents where our patience is wearing thin.

I have found that it's when I come from a place of patience and presence that I can then glean wisdom from those messy, mundane, time-consuming tasks of potty training, and find that the waiting, sitting and hours of time spent in the bathroom gives me an opportunity to be present in my child's world.

Whether it be the grocery line, a traffic jam, or cleaning up wet bedding, I learn the art and joy in the small and big moments in motherhood. Giving our children space to fail and try it again as many times as it takes encourages them that they too can cultivate the gift of patience in there own tiny lives.

My daughter speaks to me everyday, inviting growth that sometimes feels really hard and frustrating, she provokes patience to be felt and sensed through every minute of the day. And for this I am grateful. Because to truly live and be present in my child's world means “I learn from her, and she learns from me." Even in potty training.

Our children have so much to offer to who we are as individuals and they have so much to teach us. In fact, I have come to live for these exhausting, beautiful, and downright messy moments in time. When I push myself to embrace them, rather than just find them frustrating, I stretch and grow and evolve. I become the mother I hope to be.

And to you mama, whether in the midst of sleepless newborn nights or toddler tornados or the midst of potty training, may you find strength as a mother, as a wife, and as a person to let go of any expectations or judgements you place upon yourself.

May love and gratitude fill our hearts and peace be with all of us on the journey that motherhood is.

Life
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