Tag Archives: Kids

Pre-owned and pre-loved: Simple ways to afford premium quality items

I started talking about market segmentation in one of my previous posts (that the mid-segment is disappearing, but the lower segment and upper segment are simultaneously on the rise – see here for more). However, even if you are a household that is searching ways to save money there are numerous possibilities how you can get premium quality items. First,  Continue reading Pre-owned and pre-loved: Simple ways to afford premium quality items

Balancing act: Choosing extracurricular activities for kids – Part 1

Already for a while I am pondering about extracurricular activities for our kids. When I was a kid myself I did a whole bunch of stuff – gymnastics, figure skating, languages (English, French, Spanish, Modern Greek), self-defense (street fight), aikido, theater, modern dance, salsa and some others. I was a busy kid. However, I also studied in a different system. During my school years we had much more time for extracurricular activities (further – ECA) with lessons starting at 8 o’clock in the morning and frequently ending shortly after noon. On the contrary, the schooling system in Belgium is different than that in Latvia. Our kids will study longer hours and basically will only have time on Wednesday afternoons or on Saturdays to do something else. Additional issue here is that every kid in Belgium has, for instance, Wednesday afternoons off, meaning that there are a lot of different ECA organized at the same time slot. All this calls for a fairly selective approach – you simply cannot have it all!

The subject of ECA in general has two main aspects: Continue reading Balancing act: Choosing extracurricular activities for kids – Part 1

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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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Square peg in a round hole: Why it is perfectly normal not to fit the norm

Norms… Sometimes I am under the impression that a lot of norms that exist regarding different aspects of life are just there to make us feel bad.”I don’t feel happy every day, what’s wrong with me?”, “My kid is 5 month and he doesn’t roll yet, what’s wrong with him?“, or “Oh, but my kid is almost two and he doesn’t talk yet, what’s wrong with him?“… Did somebody actually ever wonder if there is anything wrong with the norms?

I almost failed my physical education class in school because I could not run the 4000-meter torture that I was supposed to. I got 4 out of 10 (the last passing score) merely for my persistence. I ran the first 1000 or so meters and the rest I walked. I am no runner! Does it make me a failure? My daughter started rolling only at the age of 5 months. Only the lazy one did not ask me if I was not worried. I was not. She was physically in a perfect condition. She did not want to roll. Does that make her a failure? My son started walking at the age of 9 months. But that’s not normal! And what should I have done? Tied him to the chair?!

It gets worse. You should go to school, you should get a degree, you should get a job (and preferably in the same domain where your degree is), you should buy a house, you should get married, you should have a ring, a dress, a party for 200 people, you should go on the honeymoon to the fancy location at the sea, you should have kids before 30, you should lose weight  in the first 10 days after giving birth, you should have a career, you should have a dog/cat/hamster/horse/alligator… You should… Have a riffle to use every time you hear it? That would be a great idea.

I did not invent this quote but I like it:

All I should is enumerated in the Tax Code; all I should not – in the Criminal Code; all the rest is in my discretion!

I don’t believe in “shoulds”. I don’t believe in norms. And most importantly what I don’t believe in – is in being worried and feeling yourself down just because you or your kids don’t fit some stupid norm written by somebody. What I do believe in, however, is in respecting the choice of others that they made for themselves and their family. In the end you are the only one who knows what’s right for you.

You breastfeed until your kid is 2,5 y.o.? Good for you both! And you stopped at 6 months and your kid already eats steak at 1? Perfect! You chose to work and your kid goes to day-care? That’s fine. And you decided it’s best that you stay at home? Also great. You do Montessori and a whole bunch of other early development activities? Good choice. And you don’t believe in the value of an early development? You’re also right. You co-sleep with your little one? Super! But yours learned to sleep in his own bed since the beginning? Wow!

Bottom-line is: Universal “normal” applicable to everybody does not exist. Normal is defined by lots of factors, amongst which your unique life circumstances, but also your vision of the world, your attitude, your values and your perception. It is what you personally feel comfortable with and what is acceptable for your family, but not what somebody else tries to force on you.

And by the way all the great minds of the past and present were not “normal”: they did not fit, they challenged the norms, they rebelled against them and went their own way. They followed their own normal. They were square pegs in a round hole and that’s what in the end contributed to their greatness.