Friday, February 29, 2008

"What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?" WSJ Asks

From today's Wall Street Journal, a story about how Finnish high school students rated among the most intelligent according to a recent PISA assessment test.

US delegations to Finnish schools wondered how schools without tons of homework, gifted programs or uniforms manage to produce such results. And, more pertinent to the toddler-set I hang out with, how does it happen in country where children don't even start school until age 7!

Virtually all the preschools we toured in the San Diego area we live in touted their curriculum-based approaches -- even for babies like Tex with topics like 'socks' for a week. They all talked about how their students learn letters, numbers and other such skills in the 2 - 3 year olds classes.

Most of the Finnish mamas I've met in my time in Dallas, Boston and here are very laid back in that sense. They DON'T want to start teaching their toddlers these things. Certainly, its OK if they pick it up, but there is no pressure and they don't seek out schooling based on that criteria.

My feeling is that Peanut and Tex have plenty of years of formal schooling ahead of them, no need to spoil it now. Then again, I spent time to teach Peanut her colors, shapes and many letters because she seems to enjoy it. We don't do flashcards or anything like that. Mostly they come up as we are doing arts and crafts, doodling or reading. Peanut puts the words to use daily as she now has many ways to describe and ask about the world. In picking out a preschool for her, I look for one that offers more time for play than sitting in circles or filling in worksheets.

Tex, I suspect, may not have the patiences Peanut expressed for sitting and quietly exploring these concepts. So, with him, we'll take another approach.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Saving Pennies for a Rainy Day -- or Princess Crown

For a while now Peanut has been keen about "paying" for items when we go to the store or even the library.

I usually just use plastic, so I thought we might need something to help begin instilling the idea of money. And, when you can combine it with an art project - all the better!

Michael's carries a triple-pack of these porclein piggy-banks waiting to be decorated. An example piggy at the store had been graced with a pink fluffy tutu, pink paint and pink eyelashes, so unsurprisingly, Peanut also wanted her piggy to be PINK!

After we painted it, we talked about collecting coins for it, saving the coins to take to the bank or to take to the store to buy something. Peanut decided she wanted to buy a new princess crown to replace the one she broke. Though I would have liked her to be saving for a book or something along those lines, I have to respect her choice.

So, every evening when papa comes home, Peanut runs to jump into his arms and to ask "Papa, did you bring me some money?" He usually digs out some coins which have to be shared with little brother. Peanut is persistent about her income and her piggy is happily jingling already.

Its a start. We may not have yet really covered how to "earn" money, but she is getting the idea that you have to gather a pile together to take to the bank or to the store. I suppose we can work
on the details later.

Since Peanut & Tex each got a piggy, I thought Papa and I could use one for ourselves. Its saving pennies for a special vacation treat. This piggy has golden eyelashes, golden toe-nails and golden wings.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunset Cliffs

Since I posted about Mission Beach, I thought I should also add the pictures from the nearby Sunset Cliffs.

There isn't much to the story -- just an awe-inspiring stop along the highway. Massive waves pounding and bursting against cliffs that seem to crumble into the Pacific Ocean.

Beach Babes

Over the weekend, we checked out Mission Beach.

In contrast to the $20 parking lots of the East Coast, its so wonderful here to find plenty of available and FREE parking along the coasts. Yesterday, an story in the San Diego Union Tribune said some communities, including La Jolla and Pacific Beach, were debating adding their first parking meters for beach parking.

First, we parked right next to a fun park for a picnic lunch while watching a group of children in scuba-diving school run squeling and splashing into the water.

After lunch, we drove to the Pacific Ocean-side thinking we'd just catch a glimpse from a jam-packed parking lot. To our surprise, we snagged a spot just along the boat channel heading out from the harbor to the ocean.

Tex spotted the surfers way out in the ocean with great excitement. He gleefully jabbed his little pointer finger toward them and made sounds of intent. He was even more thrilled by the riskier surfers who caught waves in the boat lane lined by massive boulders.

Peanut always loves the beach. Even though the water was positively frigid, she skipped along the shore gathering shells.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Little Pearly Whites

In tune with National Children's Dental Month, our Finnish playgroup recently had a discussion about the use of xylitol for children to help prevent cavaties and ear infections.

Xylitol, a natural sugar extracted from the birch tree and other sources, has been used in Finland for many years - most popularily in the Jenkki-brand gum. I remember as a child chewing Jenkki and even stuffing our suitcases with it when we visited Finland during the summers. I never wondered why my mom encouraged us to chew it, but now I see.

In Finland, xylitol's ability to impede the development of bacteria which cause cavaties is well known. As a result, children receive xylitol mints or chewing gum in childcare centers after meals. Local Finnish mom's here found it funny that when they sent xylitol in their children's lunch packs, the teachers either objected to the "candy" or refused to make sure that the child ate it at the end of the meal when its most effective.

Its important, however, to use 100% xylitol products to gain the beneficial effects. For example, Trident gum touts xylitol on its packaging, but its just one of many sweetners in the product, some which actual can cause cavaties.

I wish I would have been aware of xylitol's ability to ward off ear infections! A link has been established between pregnant mother's using xylitol and a decreased incidence of ear infections. Even if you missed that chance, xylitol's natural antibiotic property can even help with ear infections in children.

A quick search online, brings up several web-shops that sell xylitol products in the US:

Zellies - where I ordered a batch of mints and gum from. Peanut's been a big fan of the fruit-flavored mints and often requests the mint herself after meals.

Another very helpful piece of information, I'm surprised is also not covered is how infants and toddlers first get the bacteria that causes cavities: usually the source is their parents! I recall in Finland, hearing that you should never taste your baby's food off their spoon before feeding them as it passes the cavity-causing bacteria to them.

In fact, infants are born without the bacteria and can be kept cavity free if you can successfully keep them from getting the bacteria by avoiding transmission from family members. So, no sharing utensils, bites of food, toothbrushes, or other materials that could move bacteria from one to another via salvia.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Birch Aquarium

Many years ago when I worked in Atlanta, our company sponsored an evening cocktail party at the most beautifully located aquarium - the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla.

When I heard we were moving to San Diego, it was one of the first places I wanted to take the children to.

The Aquarium was just the right size for a short outing and lunch on the outdoor patio.

We walked in past the explorer submarine which gave us a chance to look at a real one after singing "Yellow Submarine" at home so many times and recently reading the Adventures of Polo were a segment takes place in one.

Lunch was enjoyable except for the talking trashcan next to us which scared Peanut. We had to move tables and unfortunately, it remains one of the most memorable parts of the day for her.

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Aquarium deck are three tide pools filled with local marine life - vibrant orange, purple and pink starfish, Pacific lobsters without claws, shy octopus, lush sea weed - all for the touching. Water flows in and out, mimicking the ebb and flow of the tides to show how the ecosystem works.

Inside, we toured the dark hallways dappled by glowing tanks of sea creatures. We paused for a long time at the Kelp Forest wall to watch the sharks, halibut and other finned friends swim by as the kelp swayed in the underwater breezes.

The little ones were running into nap-time as we quickly swung past the shark tank and pools of water, tides and sand where children can experiment with these powers of nature.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I Google'd the babysitter

On the list of things to do when we move is to find a new babysitter. That's a tough task because I don't want just some totally random person. I want someone who comes recommended by someone, and that means I first have to meet and get to know that first someone.

Here in San Diego, I lucked into TWO babysitters in one day! Just amazing!

The local high school has a child development program that I happened to learn about when on my grand tour of local preschools. I figured its a good place to start.

When I called the director, she wasn't very optimistic that anyone would answer my posting on her bulletin board. Most of the students have other jobs, she told me. On the other hand, she also told me that the going rate is $10/hour. Not too shabby!

So, two girls from the program responded. I was able to get a reference from the child development program director and then I decided to Google them.

And, look for them on MySpace and Facebook.

No wild stories came up. No drunken, half-naked party shots with sleeping or dancing toddlers in the background. Actually, nothing exceptional at all. Neither were on MySpace. Both were in Facebook with nice photos. One of the girls is evidently into drama as her name came up on a couple of local theater billets.

I feel better.

50% Chance

Peanut is a clothes horse and loves to dress, undress, dress, partially undress, partially dress, etc, etc herself.

I've arranged a few piles in her drawer of pants (which are NEVER touched), skirts (which are always in short supply), t-shirts and long-sleeve shirts for her to make her own combinations. Usually they don't match in the usual sense, but since virtually everything is a variant of pink, its not that far off.

The funniest part is that everything seems to be put on backwards. Always.

Starting with her underwear. And, ending with her shoes.

We've talked about how tags go in the back and she even searches for the tags, but opts to put them in the front. With shoes, we've talked about putting the flowers on the outside and she knows, but they always end up on the inside.

Shouldn't there really be a 50/50 chance of her clothes sometimes facing the right direction?? Somehow the rules of statistics don't seem to apply to toddler dressing.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I'm glad to see January go

Hurray for February!

I suppose this makes me superstitious, but January was a month of bad health news for our family and I couldn't wait for February 1st to roll around to give us a fresh start. I feel somewhat safer on this page of the calendar.

My mom's dear little doggie, Geisha, passed away last week. She had been ill and lived a life where she was loved, cared for and definitely spoiled. As my mom became an empty-nester, I know that Geisha's companionship was more important than ever. She was always there to offer a bark, or fluffy cuddle. My mom is a friend of all animals and her mothering instincts never faded. Geisha gave her a way to continue sharing that warmth and nurturing when her daughters flew out into the world. I hope that our kitties, Miuku & Mauku, who moved in with Grandma as we started our moves this year, are keeping my mom good company.

Early in the month we got the news that my dad's cancer had resurfaced even though he had had surgery, radiation treatment and hormone treatment two years ago for prostate cancer. We don't yet know the details of what is happening or where, but lab tests show that something is happening. Thankfully, my dad is otherwise as healthy as a man his age can be and has a positive attitude to match.

We also heard that a long-wished for addition the family would have to wait.

And, so, I am happy to see that its February 1st.