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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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We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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