Category Archives: Kids

Future-proofing your kids: how to prepare your kids for the world that is not yet there

reading time: approx. 6-7 min

How can we prepare our kids for the world that doesn’t exist yet? Which skills will they need in order to succeed? Should we focus on the technical side and teach everybody to code and program? Or should we go for the soft skills like interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence? Of course any additional skill is an asset and the more of these assets kids have the better, however, what is actually crucial? I have been thinking a lot about these questions and no, of course, I don’t have the right answers. Yet, what I do want to share is some more structured context as a basis for further discussion. In the end it is not only our kids, most probably we will still see the completely new world ourselves…

To begin with, the World Economic Forum of this year in the report The Future of Jobs identified a list of skills that will be important for the future:

  • complex problem solving,
  • critical thinking,
  • creativity,
  • people management,
  • coordinating with others,
  • emotional intelligence,
  • judgement and decision-making,
  • service orientation,
  • negotiation,
  • cognitive flexibility.

Well, you cannot go wrong with these ones, they are relevant in all times! But to think further about it: what does the skill “coordinating with others” mean and what if “others” in the future will also include machine intelligence? And what a hell is “service orientation” after all?

In the essence this is already not the world we were born into and it is going to be even more different within this and a decade. Right here and now we are already a part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: there are significant developments in such fields as artificial intelligence and machine learning, in robotics, in nanotechnology, in 3D printing, in genetics and biotech. All this is already causing a huge disruption in all domains, calling for different models of working and different skills. I don’t have the magic ball to tell what the future will look like, yet in couple of next paragraphs I would like to fantasize a bit and based on some trends try to imagine which skills might be needed in some particular contexts. I would be very interested to hear other opinions, so if you have something to say – please shoot!

What will the business of tomorrow look like and which skills will help one to succeed? If I look at the trends in various business domains, I am likely to agree with Lisa Gansky that the future of business is very likely to be something of a mesh (for more on that – check out her book “The Mesh”). In the essence that will mean sharing all kinds of stuff be it via smart and technology-enabled rental or just peer-to-peer. What it implies is actually a fundamental shift in our relationship with stuff and this is already happening. Which skills does a success in such business environment call for? I would assume among others:

  • ability to communicate efficiently and even more importantly:
  • ability to create and sustain a community around an idea,

because that’s what’s at the very heart of “the mesh”.

In terms of business and economics one also cannot forget the significant systemic risk of fragility that is caused by the “inter-connectedness” and the growing complexity of this world. Moreover, this complexity makes it close to impossible to have all the information normally required to make a decision. Thus, in order to succeed one has to:

  • be creative enough to be able to construct a big picture based on fragmented input and
  • take decisions in conditions of uncertainty and rapid evolution.

In the field of technology there have also been quite some significant developments recently: cloning, 3D printing, robotics. Have a look at what Boston Dynamics create for instance, it’s amazing! In terms of medical innovation: consider, for example, how hearing aids evolved in the last decade. It will not take long before we are able to hear ultrasound. Or lenses: I am pretty convinced that one day we will be able to see ultraviolet or ultra-red and that will be mundane. Moreover, the first fully programmable cell is there! And speaking about cells – skin cells can be turned into stem cells nowadays, providing enormous possibilities in terms of regeneration. So, having some sort of physical impairment will be less of a problem and more people will also have “not original”: bio or biomechatronic body parts, making them what? Exactly! Cyborgs.

It goes further: maybe within this and a decade we will have some sort of hybrid thinking. Think about it for a moment, it’s no longer just a science fiction! You have probably heard of neocortex – that part of our brains that among others is responsible for learning new behaviors. This is in the essence what distinguishes a more complex brain. But with the rapidly developing nanotechnology there is a huge potential here: what if nanobots in the future are able to get to the brain and connect our physical neocortex to the synthetic neocortex in the cloud? What would that possibility to get outside the limits of fixed architecture of our skulls bring us? Have a look at TED for Ray Kurzweil – in his speech “Get ready for hybrid thinking” he talks more about it.

Another at this moment still futuristic technology of ingesting information might one (not that remote) day also manifest itself. Have a look in this context for some speculations about the future by Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of MIT’s Media Lab. He believes it will one day be possible to swallow a pill and then through the bloodstream the information will get into the brain and will be deposited in the right place. If that is ever possible our kids will no longer need to spend hours and hours learning another language, or learning math, or learning to code, or – you name it.

Here some caveats, however, and significant ones. First, let’s be realistic that all these technologies will be available for the lucky few in the developed world; and second, one can easily step on the tricky road of eugenics. So, as for the “skills inspired” by the above the most important in my opinion is:

  • having strong ethics, which also includes, but is not limited to:
    • ability to understand and appreciate what you have, combined with
    • understanding that others might be less fortunate and
    • willingness and drive to improve this imbalance. 

What else? Machines already learn! But what does that imply? Nick Bostrom (Swedish philosopher at the University of Oxford) speculates that:

“machine intelligence is the last thing that a human will need to invent”.

From then on, the machine will take over. And that poses a very big question of values. If the machine intelligence will go for an optimization of this planet, there is no place for a human anymore – hello, Hollywood!

But seriously… Efficiency without compassion, without love, empathy and caring – it’s a doom scenario for humanity. So we have to be able to teach the machine to learn what we value and to be able to do that one:

  • needs to have strong value foundation and
  • be able to stand for these values.

And which are these values? It’s a question for a separate post, but let’s stick to compassion and empathy for starters.

I mentioned 3D printing and we already see some fantastic applications of this invention. But there is also a dark side to it related to crimes. 3D printing means that you don’t really need to carry a gun to the destination, all you need is a file and a 3D printer at the spot. What is also scary is that the human body is likewise becoming an information technology, where DNA one day will be yet another operating system ready to be hacked.

I am not going to talk in more detail about the crimes of the future, yet what is important to remember is that the ability of one to affect many is scaling exponentially as you are reading this, and not only in a good sense. Moreover, now, more than any time before we are actually capable of completely destroying  our planet. Thus, yuppie to the last year’s discovery of water on Mars – maybe that’s the answer. But on the serious tone, an additional essential skill for the future that I would single out is:

  • an ability to forecast even the unintended consequences of one’s actions and take full responsibility for them.

There are much more developments in different domains than what I have enumerated in this post and probably more skills needed for our kids to be successful. However, without trying to belittle the importance of technical skills I am inclined to conclude that it is mostly the soft side that requires to be “strengthened”. To conclude, it is not going to be an easy world our kids will step into, but something tells me, if equipped right they will have hell of a ride!

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Guilty pleasures: Pampering your inner child

A guilty pleasure is something, such as a movie, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard. (source: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid I always wanted to grow up as fast as possible for one main reason: I could do whatever I wanted. That’s what I thought. I could eat that chocolate for breakfast, I could go out for a walk in the late evening, I could watch that stupid show for the third time, I could stay for a whole day in my nightgown and a whole bunch of other stuff that I could finally do. Yesterday I had an argument with my daughter that wanted to eat M&M’s instead of an apple for her snack time. I bet she was also thinking at the moment how she will grow up and then…! And then comes adulthood and understanding of what’s good for you and what’s not. And you don’t do it, although now you finally can. So unfair, isn’t it?

I must admit that even though generally I am a responsible health-conscious adult (giggle!), I allow myself some guilty pleasures from time to time, because it makes me feel good and if I feel good it affects everything I do. Maybe because I still have that inner child in me that also needs to be pampered from time to time.

So this is precisely why:

  • Sometimes instead of a decent lunch I have yet another cup of coffee and a chocolate. Or two.
  • And speaking about chocolates: if we have a box of chocolates, I first eat all the ones that I like the most, even if they are in the bottom layer of the box (so annoying, ain’t it?).
  • Sometimes I distract my kids with a cartoon and in the meanwhile eat a bowl of ice-cream. Alone. Without sharing.
  • Sometimes I watch those totally brainless sitcoms like “Two and a half men” (and that’s not the first round, I am afraid) and even “Married… with children”.
  • Sometimes instead of going for a normal walk, I get my son to sleep in his buggy on the terrace and in the meanwhile train my golf pitch in the garden.
  • After opera I like to go to McDonald’s. Maybe because after I have been “lifted up” by the gorgeous classical music I feel the strong urge to be grounded again. Maybe. But that’s already a tradition that I have with my mom. And I like it. (or should I better say – “I’m loving it?”)
  • I once spent a whole evening recording myself singing Jennifer Lopez songs. Well, technically she was still singing, but I was just opening my mouth. On the video it looked like it was me who was singing, though. It was fun! Hello! My name is Maria and I am turning 31 today.
  • When I am playing with Lego together with kids I take their blocks away if I need them to build my “castle”… Did I mention I am turning 31 today? (LOL)

Keyword in all of the above is of course “sometimes”, otherwise it is no longer a guilty pleasure, but just a guilty lifestyle (gigle!). But it is somehow comforting to know that I am able to let that nasty little girl that lives inside of me to have some fun from time to time. If it doesn’t fit the image of a smart grown-up mother of two – well, as they say it Dutch – pech! (~ “bad luck!”).

P.S. and my daughter did get her M&M’s even though it was only after she had her apple…

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To be or not to be: Why asking questions is a necessary and important means of learning

When I was still studying in the lyceum (long long time ago), we had the so-called “Day of Shadows” when we could arrange to go and spend a day with any businessman, politician or other known person we wanted. I chose, together with 4 others, to be the “shadow” of the CEO of a large factory in Latvia. The idea of the day was that we had to follow the guy around, see all his daily activities and ask any question we wanted. I was 16. I always had a lot of good questions in my head. I still do, but nowadays I have no problems asking them anymore. However, back then my level of self-doubt was way too high. I still remember that day, Continue reading To be or not to be: Why asking questions is a necessary and important means of learning

Prepare the battlefield: Childproofing your home

Before I had kids the first thing I noticed when I entered a new location was the interior design, the color palette, the furniture and so on. Then came kids. I still do notice interior design and color palette, however the first thing I see is potential dangers and objects of potential demolition (giggle). It is like I am in the computer game – the red target immediately lights up the attention points.

Even though it is not possible to completely childproof your home nor it is actually needed, there are still certain things that makes sense to take into account. With childproofing like with everything else in life I prefer to stay reasonable. Of course, you can buy an indoor helmet for your kid (imagine, they really do exist!), remove all furniture, every potentially dangerous item and cover all surfaces with a sport mat, but that’s not the idea, is it?

Cutting long story short, below I have assembled some points with respect to childproofing which I personally consider important. This list is probably not going to be anything new for somebody who has several kids or who already has successfully survived through the first 5-6 years of a kid’s life, yet for “fresh” first-time parents it might provide some useful insights. 

  • breakables will break. That’s a rule. So if they are valuable to you pack them carefully for better times (those times will come, don’t worry!). I am referring to that Chinese vase you got from your granny, or nice collectible figurines, or even picture frames which used to nicely stand on the side table. Just put them all away.
  • all small items – and by small I mean everything the size of a pet-bottle cap and smaller – have to be unreachable, otherwise they will end up in kid’s mouth in no time.
  • sockets – we have safe ones, but if you don’t – buy those click-in protectors.
  • cords: any type of cords is a potential danger – either for a kid, or for the thing the cord is attached to. Here I am talking about all the electric cords, dangling cords of blinds and drapes, in other words – anything that so temptingly says: “pull me!”.
  • same logic for tablecloths – put them away for now, as babies just love to pull them down together with everything that’s on them.
  • elaborating on appliances – if they are anywhere reachable unplug them after use. I mean: toaster, coffee maker, stand-mixer, you name it.
  • we don’t have sharp edges anywhere, so for us it made no sense to buy all these corner and side protectors. At my mom’s place, however, the kitchen table has some silicon corners attached because otherwise those little heads can get injured. An alternative to special “equipment” that sometimes can be costly is to cushion sharp edges with cut pool noodle or with cut tennis balls, or simply have a look at aliexpress or even in your supermarket – they always have something cheaper than in kids specialty shops.
  • furniture, like bookcases, chests of drawers and other potentially unstable objects has to be secured or blocked, or removed.
  • medicines need to be put totally out of reach for kids! And another thing here – never refer to medicine as a “candy” when you talk to your kids. I still remember how I ate a whole jar of C vitamin myself when I was something like 5 years old. It was standing in the fridge and it was so tasty! Like candies… Luckily for me nothing major happened, but some throwing up. But don’t take any chances with this point!
  • same applies to all cleaning products – the further the better. Luckily most of the cleaning products nowadays have the “anti-kids” cap but still. And your cosmetics – that’s a bit less of a danger, but if a kid drinks your facial tonic that will cause serious poisoning as well. And garbage. Keep it safely away.
  • when you are cooking, even if you are sure that your kid is playing somewhere else, even if you are 100% confident that you are not moving anywhere yourself, please turn pot handles away from the edge, so that they are impossible to be grabbed and pulled down together with a boiling content. You would amazed how fast it might happen and how often it does.
  • I don’t lock the drawers, but it is in general not a bad idea. In our case I made sure that the lower drawers don’t have anything dangerous in them. Yes, the upper drawer of my kitchen island has a nice set of very sharp knives and my 3 year old can easily reach them. However, by this age she knows that it is dangerous and why it is so, and she actually knows how to use them, as I wrote already before (link). Another small lifehack – even though opening kitchen island drawers without my permission and immediate supervision is not allowed, there is one compromise drawer – the one with my baking “equipment”: silicon muffin cups, silicon cake forms, some other silicon kitchen helpers (yes, I love Lekue!). If kids get into their special exploratory mode I would allow to get their hands into this drawer, and as kids love winning (who doesn’t?), they enjoy that little victory of theirs and keep hands off everything else.
  • if you have stairs, install gates at the bottom and at the top. Also for fireplaces – use special fences. We don’t have neither stairs nor fireplace at this moment so for us the only gate / fence is in front of the door to the garden. The part of the house where we currently live is basically a glass cube that doesn’t have windows, it only has doors. Thus if I want to ventilate the house I have to open a door, and if I open a door and turn away for a split second, kids will run frrrreeeeee. Hence – the fence (LOL).

Phew! Two more points and I guess the main idea is clear:

  • even if everything is childproof (you hope) you need to explain to your kid why certain things are dangerous from the very early on. Don’t expect them to understand and obey, but keep on explaining. And not just “because I say so”. It is easy to show in a controlled way what is sharp, what is hot, what does falling mean.
  • and finally, after you think you have childproofed your home entirely, get on all fours and crawl around. That would allow you to discover a whole new “world of possibilities” (and maybe some dust here and there, and perhaps even your lost earring).

As a final note just be reasonable – not overly worried about how dangerous this world is (easier said that done!) but also not too reckless. Be aware and be prepared, but don’t forget to notice the interior design either!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A game of life: Why teaching your kids to play golf is a good idea

It was my long-term dream to learn to play golf and finally last summer my husband and myself took golf lessons and obtained our green cards to get us onto a golf course. Our kids also participate in the game but so far mostly by bringing back the practice balls when I am pitching in the garden (using kids labor, I know!). However we do intend to teach them the actual game of golf in the near future. Why do I think it is a good idea? The short answer would be a quote on the matter by Bobby Jones:

Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies“.

Golf is by no means a lazy and boring sport of the old fat rich men. Yes, it is still not cheap yet neither is tennis or hockey or skiing. And with respect to gear: there is a huge second-hand market for clubs and bags if you want to minimize costs. I got my first basic set of clubs together with a bag  and a whole bunch of balls for 50 eur.

Playing golf good requires you to be in a decent physical condition, as every golf stroke uses numerous muscles on core, hamstring, shoulder and wrist. It is highly addictive and once you are in you’re in for good. I actually do love everything about golf: from the actual game to an equipment and an outfit of a golfer.

A bit off-top: if you are struggling to find good-fitting pants (which a lot do!), try looking in the golf shop. Golf pants are simply the best pants you can get! They usually have a perfect fit, with a bit of lycra in them, and you don’t really need to go for the insane golfer’s checkers, as the choice of classic colors is also abundant.

However, I am deviating from the answer to why would that particular sport be a good idea to introduce kids to. Mostly not because of the so to-say “physical qualities” of the game, but because of its philosophy, because of the underlying principles of golf.

Golf teaches you a number of life lessons that are also useful to teach to kids:

  • Golf teaches you honesty and integrity. When you are playing you are also the one keeping track of your strokes. It is not really done to cheat in golf.
  • Golf teaches you strategy. It is not just about hitting the ball, it is about hitting the ball while already thinking about your next stroke. If there is, for example, a water hazard in front it might be a good idea to go a bit side-wise first in order to be able to succeed at your next stroke.
  • Golf teaches you humility. Even when you are a PRO, even when you have a great technique and perfect clubs, the game can still go wrong. You learn that sometimes a human effort is really futile and sometimes you are just damn lucky.
  • Golf teaches you endurance. The average game of 18 holes takes about 4-4,5 hours and implies walking for 8-10 kilometers (unless of course you take a golf-cart, you lazy bastard!) And by the way, walking outside, breathing fresh air, enjoying the beautiful greens of a golf course – isn’t that what’s called “healthy lifestyle”?
  • Golf teaches you that your main opponent is yourself. You can of course participate in different competitions, but you can also go solo. And competition or not, it is anyway about your score against objective par (number of strokes allowed to get a golf ball in a hole) that matters the most.
  • Golf teaches you not mere equality but fairness. You can equally play golf with those who are stronger and with those who are weaker players which is not possible in other sports. Thanks to the adjustment that the handicap system provides, your allowed stroke count on each hole is calculated based on your handicap. That means that you as an amateur can play together with a professional golfer and maybe even beat him in the particular match-play (because he is allowed e.g. 3 strokes, but your handicap gives you additional 3 strokes on that hole). So you will not feel yourself a loser!
  • But above all golf teaches you to enjoy. I will add another quote here (but in the context of kids, better park it until their adulthood!): “Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at them“. So true! (giggle)

In other words, this sport is a unique combination of being a way to stay toned and energized and at the same time being a teacher of important life lessons. Hence, thumbs up, golf, you’re on my kids to-do list!

P.S. This year is also special for golf because for the first time since 1904 golf is included in the list of sports for the Summer 2016 Olympic Games – hurrah!