Where is home?

I’m sure you have heard the phrase “home is where your heart is”, but what if you can’t really decide where your heart is? Or perhaps it is not set in one single place, but rather scattered around in two or more special places as in my case I’m afraid ?

As many of you know, I am from Finland but live in Namibia with my family of three (+4 pets!). Me and my husband consider ourselves extremely blessed to have these two opposite worlds’, winter and summer, snow and desert, and of course my favourite places on earth, forest and bush.

I realise this is really not a problem at all, just something I’d like to share. After a long Christmas vacation in Finland I felt a bit odd when returning to Namibia. I really love Namibia and consider it home, but at the same time I wasn’t sure how I felt about returning.

In addition, I can’t help to think, now that we have a daughter, where will she grow up, (where are we going to settle,) which country will be more familiar for her, and most of all, will she consider both of the countries home or just another one?

We as parents of course would like her to know both countries and love them equally, despite where we live. Therefore we do our best to make sure she speaks our languages, hears stories and visits as often as possible. Perhaps even more important is to consider the culture that is on the background, and try to emphasize that culture.

My solution for now is to bring a piece of Finland with me here, for instance some Finnish chocolates and sauna drops along with a sauna stove! For us Finns sauna is just as important as braai (bbq) is for the Afrikaans culture. If I would live in Finland, I’m certain I would miss Namibia equally. But how to bring the smell and sounds of the bush, that’s really something to ponder about! Even camping, which we love, would be totally different in Finland!

Speaking of the smell and sounds, I have been caught by my husband smelling the fresh wood planks in the hardware store. I think he must have felt really sorry for his wife who happily, eyes closed imagined a Finnish forest!

If you are in the same situation, how do you cope? Do you think it is our destiny, as well as being blessed, to always be a little in between the two worlds?

Has 21st Century revolutionised reading and writing? Part 2

This is the 2nd part to my previous post, which you can read here.

We are living in an extremely rapidly changing world due to globalisation, fast growth in areas of economy, technology and mobility. A great shift from an industrial world to knowledge societies places a new need for schooling and teacher education. Today we have professions that didn’t even exist ten years ago, and children beginning their school this year will graduate years later into professions we do not know of yet. According to some researchers, the importance of skilled labour does not vanish, although some of these occupations have disappeared on the information age. At the same time, a new set of professions, which depend on information skills, such as problem-solving skills and ICT emerge. [1]
Perhaps you have heard of the concept Digital Natives. Digital Natives are sometimes referred to as those young people, who were born on the information age, who can hardly remember the time before smart phones or internet. They seem to use technology and mobile devices with ease, even those little ones who can’t properly talk yet, have an ability to search for their favourite videos from YouTube. They also seem to multi-task, working on several tasks at the same time. [2]

However, even if their technology use is seemingly effortless, does it mean that they really know what to do with all the information they see, can evaluate it critically, and know how to use internet safely, following ethical and legal guidelines? According to many researchers the answer is no, and some suggest that digital natives are, in fact, a myth, that we are totally overestimating their abilities [3]. For instance, Kirschner and De Bruyckere propose that this myth can be very harmful for education, if policies and curriculums are designed to suit the so called digital natives. This could be very problematic, if the concept simply isn’t real, if it is based on an assumption of the skills these young people may possess, rather than actual scientific knowledge of their true know-how. Sure, they might know how to  use different platforms and apps, but can they actually do anything useful regarding learning, the researchers ask? Kirschner and De Bruyckere suggest that teaching the necessary skills is crucial, not assuming children have them. [3]

Kirschner and De Bruyckere state also, that often digital natives are in addition considered to be “multi-taskers”, but in fact, according to several researchers, are not multitasking, just switching rapidly from one task to another. [3] Has that ever happened to you? I often find myself reading two articles, one at my laptop and one from my mobile device, and ooops, now someone sent me a message through Facebook, which is also open. The question is, do I really focus on any of these tasks? Can I tell you later my opinion about these articles? Can I even explain to you their main concepts? Perhaps most importantly, can I really be present to my friend when I feel a rush to read this article while eying on what is going on the news today?

 

A Digital Native?
Photograph copyright by Paula Virmasalo

 

According to a research conducted with high-school students by Sana, Weston and Xepeda students’ multitasking on a laptop during a class might not only hinder the learning of the particular student, but also distract other students in their immediate surrounding. [4] This is a complex issue. Students might use the technology “the right way”, to support their learning process (for instance, looking for more information about the topic learned) or they might get distracted with something that has absolutely nothing to do with the content. On the other hand, shouldn’t it be also important to learn to regulate one’s behaviour with technology, devices and social media, to understand when it is time for learning and when for socializing, entertainment etc.? [3]

As I wrote in my previous post, the 21st century literacies bring along new possibilities, responsibilities for all of us. When it comes to children and education, it is extremely important to educate them and help them understand the new dimensions of communication, which are putting us on a new situation, as a picture or a quickly made comment can live forever in cyber space. I believe that technology and new literacies can provide amazing possibilities for the future of education and schooling, but it is good to recognise the risks and determine the need for education.

One of the most crucial needs for education are the critical thinking skills, which should be the core of all education, and practicing of them could start from a very early age. However, that is a topic for another blog post, so I won’t go further than mentioning it. Obviously, when thinking about education policies and curriculums for reading and writing, we should also consider much further than just innovative platforms and technologies, we should consider pedagogical practices and the value they may bring along in the big picture of the change. As Lewis [5] points out, teacher training is often focused in the use of tools such as technology, but may fail on the education of new mindsets, forms of communication and identities that come within the new literacies.

Lewis [5, p.236] asks an important question for all of us educators: Do “we want to make school literacy more engaging for students and more meaningful to their present and future lives in a digitally mediated world. If so, then we need to understand the shifts in practices and epistemologies (conceptions of knowledge) that have taken place and consider how these shifts should inform our teaching of reading and writing.”

It is vital to learn about the innovative ways of reading and writing (as well as it is about the traditional ones). We must consider ways we as parents, teachers and educators can help children become informed, critically and ethically aware, responsible, yet creative and courageous writers and readers of the future. Children of today are already building our digital society. We can support, helping them become not only consumers but also producers of content, participating actively on building a sustainable and fair future for everyone.

References:
1. Griffin, P., Care, E. & McGaw, B. (2012). The changing role of education and schools. In Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (pp. 1-16 ). Springer Netherlands

2. Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

3. Kirschner, P. A., & De Bruyckere, P. (2017). The myths of the digital native and the multitasker. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67, 135-142.

4. Sana, F., Weston, T., & Cepeda, N. J. (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education, 62, 24-31.

5. Lewis, C. (2007). New literacies. A new literacies sampler, 229-237.

What do children eat in schools and kindergartens – and why does it matter?

Most of us realise the importance of eating “real food” for our health and wellbeing rather than indulging on the empty calories, added sugar, fat and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, pasta or rice). However, what many people don’t know of, is the impact that added sugar might have for our brains and cognitive abilities, our abilities to perceive, remember, understand and learn. In other words, added sugar might take a toll on our academic performance!


There is quite an extensive amount of research done with animals, which indicates that increased added sugar intake can lead to problems in cognitive performance, for example memory and learning. According to some studies, it also seems that these effects are far more concerning when it comes to adolescent animals, which could mean that children or young people are more vulnerable for the effects of added sugar. [1, 2, 3, 4 & 5] It is notable, that there might not yet be enough scientific evidence to make general conclusions like these when it comes to humans, but it certainly gives us something to think about, doesn’t it?


Let us think about children, who are not yet capable to make the distinction between healthy and unhealthy, and even if they did, may often tend to either choose the tastiest option, eat what they are offered or what they have learned to prefer.


Speaking about the importance of learning what is a good, healthy snack or a lunch, did you know that the taste preferences we have seem to have been learned? According to researchers, some of our taste preferences are learned as early as while in our mother’s womb or while being breastfed! According to these studies, what pregnant mothers eat has an influence on the flavour of the amniotic fluid and breastmilk, which is how we learn about different flavours very early. These early life choices (of a mother in this case) can carry a long way in the form of flavour preferences and eventually, in maintaining a healthy lifestyle! It is also established, that children naturally prefer sweeter tastes over the bitter ones, and despite the preferences learned very early in life, children can learn to enjoy healthier choices through constant and persistent availability and diversity in diet. [6 & 7] Some might also be learned habits, for example, growing up, I was told that “water is the only drink for the thirsty”. I truly appreciate my mother’s far-sighted wisdom, as still today, I don’t really enjoy fizzy, sugary drinks that much and rather choose to drink water when I am thirsty. Similarly, a child can learn a habit of enjoying a banana or an apple as a snack vs. a potato chip bag.

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Have you ever wondered, what is offered for children in the places they spend most of their week, in kindergarten or schools?

Unfortunately, most of the world is not like Finland, where all children are entitled to a good quality, healthy lunch every single day in their basic education. In fact, in many countries and schools, children do not receive a proper lunch, or the lunch they get may be crafted with budget rather than quality. In the case they don’t have access to such a lunch, doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t get hungry, as learning is challenging work and often hours spent in schools are long.

As a solution, some schools urge parents to pack a lunch for their children or they may have a cafeteria or similar for purchasing snacks or food. Sometimes, this works as a way to have a fund-raiser for a field trip or sports event for instance, by selling products on break, as a snack for the pupils. It seems that too often though, products sold are carbonated, sugary drinks, bags of chips, chocolate bars and so on. What is wrong with these products then? If they are only enjoyed in lesser amounts and on special occasions, there might be nothing wrong with them (please don’t get me wrong, I also love my cake and chocolate occasionally!), but if they enter our daily lives and become a regular habit, there might be a problem.

Perhaps you have also noticed that those potato chips can relief a roaring tummy for a short while, but on a long-term, one ends up being hungry again, sooner than later. This is because they are mostly full of “empty” calories, no nutrients, vitamins or minerals, just pure energy and fast carbohydrates. Most of us are also aware, that the excessive use of added sugar causes weight gain and can lead to several health problems, such as metabolic disorder, life style diseases and so on. Sugar is also very bad for our teeth, as it feeds the bad bacteria in our mouths.

What could be the solution? If you have the power to pack your child’s snack box or lunch, you can make it a good one. Aim for real, unprocessed diet: fruits, berries, wholegrain products instead of refined white flours, real meat vs. processed meat, nuts and seeds instead of candies, water instead of sugary juices or sodas. Read the ingredients lists: If you can’t understand the contents, it might be because it is not real food, but what is sometimes called “food-like-food”: artificial, processed food. I have been surprised many times, as I look at a product seemingly healthy (advertised with words such as “fit” or “diet” and the reality is totally the opposite when I look at the ingredients list. For example, recently I checked a package of “healthy” breakfast cereal: loads of sugar and other, seemingly unnecessary ingredients. I ended up choosing plain oats and mix them with fruits, seeds and nuts. I also make my own muesli. Of course, it is good to bear in mind that sometimes names can be misleading, for example ascorbic acid is in fact vitamin C. However, one can quickly learn a difference between strawberry and artificial strawberry flavour.

If it is not in your hands, what your child can eat, you might still be able to have a say. Could you join the parental boards, meetings and/or contact the principal? Perhaps join forces with other parents who share your concern. There is no need to stop a fundraiser for children to get on a field trip, but there are healthy alternatives to sell too. Perhaps you could come to a compromise and have a coke and chips day on Fridays, if it is necessary.

P.s this article in The Guardian provides great advice for healthy lunch for teachers, but can be used by anyone!

Have you struggled with this issue? Did you find a solution and how?

References:

1. Hsu, T. M., Konanur, V. R., Taing, L., Usui, R., Kayser, B. D., Goran, M. I. and Kanoski, S. E. (2015), Effects of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup consumption on spatial memory function and hippocampal neuroinflammation in adolescent rats. Hippocampus, 25: 227–239. doi:10.1002/hipo.22368

2. Kendig, M. D. (2014). Cognitive and behavioural effects of sugar consumption in rodents. A review. Appetite, 80, 41-54.

3. Molteni, R., Barnard, R. J., Ying, Z., Roberts, C. K., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2002). A high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning. Neuroscience, 112(4), 803-814.

4. Francis, H., & Stevenson, R. (2013). The longer-term impacts of Western diet on human cognition and the brain. Appetite, 63, 119-128.

5. Noble, E. E., & Kanoski, S. E. (2016). Early life exposure to obesogenic diets and learning and memory dysfunction. Current opinion in behavioral sciences, 9, 7-14.

6. Beauchamp, G. K., & Mennella, J. A. (2009). Early flavor learning and its impact on later feeding behavior. Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 48, S25-S30.

7. Mennella, J. A. (2014). Ontogeny of taste preferences: basic biology and implications for health. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 99(3), 704S-711S.

Join me on my journey!

Hi there,

are you an educator, teacher, parent, or just in general interested in personal development and growth? Then you can’t miss my blog, as it is about the issues that may be thought-provoking and hopefully helpful for you!  I will write about the topics (quite broadly) related to education, (especially 21st century education) family life and personal development. As I am a new mum, many posts will be related to parenthood, this is a warning! In the beginning my thought was to post more about official, not-so personal stuff, bt as the time goes on, I see that it is the personal stuff that quietly fills the blank!

I am a Finnish teacher and a PhD-student (in education) living currently in Namibia. I decided to start this blog, in order to learn more about the phenomena’s related to learning and education around my life. Sometimes people approach me with questions about learning, teaching and schooling (and how do we do it in Finland). Almost every time, when I don’t have an easy answer, I am happy to dive into the topic in order to learn more and help the person who approached me. That’s my second motivation for this blog: I hope I can help someone pondering with similar questions or challenges.

Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make

In the coming months, you may expect topics such as homework, school lunches, and multilingual parenting to start with. Please follow my blog and ensure you won’t miss any new posts. Don’t worry, I won’t overload your e-mail, as I will only post a couple of times per month.

I’m looking forward to sharing my life-long learning with you and eagerly wait for your comments and suggestions. If there is anything at all that you would like me to write about, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

P.s this is my personal blog and all of the opinions represent only me, not my university for instance. All pictures are mine unless otherwise mentioned.