Our Journey

Our Journey

I’ve always found inspiration in the developing world where the pace is slow and the people have so little. Usually it’s the strength and resilience in the women that I admire the most. However on a recent trip to Central America I have been changed forever by a group of children – many of them teenagers!! In fact the most respectful, thoughtful , smart, gentle and happy teens I’ve ever come across. Not a lick of attitude amongst them! “Who are their parents?” you ask. No parents, just an amazing organization and a lot of love and structure. As many of you know each summer [...]

Why I created HipMum

Why I created HipMum

I believe women in general are extraordinary, but mothers (not to blow my own trumpet) never cease to amaze me. As the proud mother of four incredible little people (ages 11,9,6, and 4) I understand the meaning of selflessness. Like most families, there is never a dull moment in our house. I’m constantly wishing I had more time to spend with each child and more time to myself. And I wish my bathroom felt less like a highway! Regardless of whether we’ve chosen to work from home, climb the corporate ladder, start a business or stay home with the kids – mothers are the busiest [...]

Goodbye to Daniel

August 13, 2012

This week I am so grateful for Daniel Blanco. We met Daniel 3 years ago at Alcuin Montessori in Chicago where he taught my daughter. He was, and still is one of my very favorite teachers.

He has an amazing ability to understand a child on a deep level beyond academic progress. He quickly taps into their motivations, their passions, their obstacles and gently guides them accordingly. In line with the Montessori philosophy he sparks their curiosity, challenges them to think for themselves and gives them ownership in their learning.  As a talented artist he weaves creativity and art into each subject.

In March I emailed Daniel asking him if he would be interested in spending his summer in Nicaragua to teach my older girls.  I figured it would be an incredible experience for my kids to work with him again –this time having Nicaragua as their backdrop. And an equally great opportunity for Daniel to spend his summer in Central America. Being originally from Mexico he is a native Spanish speaker  – added bonus for us!!

I was surprised and elated when he agreed to join us in San Juan del Sur for 6 weeks. He set up his 2-bedroom villa as the classroom and my girls would bound out of bed, eager to join him each morning.

One day we took his classroom to Playa Hermosa where he set up under a cabana on the beach. My husband and I left them and took a long walk along the beach. We looked back the scene of our kids busy painting the scenery with water colors – Daniel busy showing them different techniques. “Look at our kids in school” we laughed “how cool is this?”

They had found a group of baby turtles, live sand dollars and a washed up puffer fish. During their break they swam and surfed.

It made me realize once again that anything is possible if you think outside the box. A classroom does not have to be inside a school. The world is full of learning opportunities and there are many life lessons that are not taught in schools.

Many families who live and travel abroad homeschool their kids giving them tremendous flexibility and freedom.  Homeschooling is becoming more and more popular and for many reasons, that doesn’t surprise me.  I am meeting an increasing number of parents both living abroad and not, who have made that choice. I admire mothers who can do this – I am not one of them.

I get asked a lot about what I do for schooling for my 4 children, especially for my eldest girls who are elementary age. (7 and 9)

My younger children (2 and 4) attend a fabulous international preschool here in San Juan del Sur. For the older kids, we don’t have a variety of awesome schools to choose from. We also don’t have an endless list of after school activities on offer.

And to be honest, I am grateful for that because it means I get to create a unique schedule for them, taking advantage of what Nicaragua has to offer.

This year they spent a semester in a Montessori school in the US (as well as 6 weeks here with Daniel during the summer). I know there are people who won’t agree with me on this but as far as academics are concerned, it’s enough. Apart from reading and writing, I don’t focus on any math, science, language etc for the rest of the year. I don’t worry or think about an academic curriculum or what they may be missing out on in the US.

Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I think their education is so important but we look at education a little differently from a lot of people.  We feel they are getting an amazing education here – just not in the conventional sense.

Nicaragua is their classroom providing a rich and meaningful curriculum centered on life rather than academics. The lessons they are learning here are filled with life experiences that are shaping their character and perspective for the future.

They experience a society that is not centered around material wealth.  They love playing at their local friends’ houses with dirt floors and no bathrooms because there are so many kids, old bikes, puppies, kittens, chickens and piglets around.  They feel welcome and notice how open and kind these people are regardless of the state of their home.

They are learning to be flexible and patient with the everyday inefficiencies of a developing country – and believe me, we could write a book on the obstacles involved in getting the simplest of tasks done here.

They are experiencing the peaks and pitfalls of being foreigners and minorities and they are understanding the importance of learning the language fast.

They are becoming compassionate and thoughtful towards those who need help and are learning how easy it is to love others and make a difference, one person at a time.

Most importantly they are able to enjoy a simple life and be kids without the pressure of the fast pace society that awaits them in the future.

As we prepare for Daniel’s departure I begin to create a schedule for my girls for the rest of this year.  Here’s how they spend their days.

 Spanish - Three mornings a week they learn spanish. Our Spanish teacher  brings her 2 nieces so they are learning the language through lessons and play. Her nieces love coming to our house to swim in the pool. I love them coming to play with my girls in Spanish – it’s a win-win. I have also arranged play-date afternoons with other local kids to develop relationships and to immerse them in the language and culture.

Giving back – On Monday afternoons we travel to Rivas to help cook and feed 70 kids who would usually spend their afternoon rummage through the dump looking for things to sell. We regularly spend a day with the kids at NPH – a home for abused and abandoned children. The kids are also involved in any other projects we are touching here on the ground.

Life lessons - Kristin is not only a fabulous yoga teacher but has a background in psychology and counseling. She also makes and sells hula-hoops and is so talented at shakin’ the hoop.

I asked her to incorporate a theme around a life lesson e.g. gratitude, compassions, positive thinking, communication. This week she explored the Aztec culture and philosophy and the importance of “integrity with your word”. Her goal was to invite the girls to start really thinking about their own lives and their relationships with others.  So a half day with Kristin which entails yoga, an activity around a life lesson, hula hooping and some gymnastics.  Their favorite morning for sure.

Surfing & Capoeira - Wednesday afternoons have become one of my favorites. At 3pm we meet with 2 other families at the beach. With the Dad’s in the water all our kids have a surf lesson. There is nothing better than watching the kids sitting on their boards waiting for the next wave with their friends. Then watching them catch that waves with the cheers and shouts of encouragement from each other. “Out the back, this one, this one, paddle, paddle, stand up, you got it, go, go go, awesome, woo-hoo!”

Straight after surfing they go to Capoeira class – a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance and music. We are so lucky to have Amber – another brilliant yoga teacher and awesome woman who has so much to share and teach. She offers free capoeira classes to local children on Wednesday afternoons.

Capoeira finishes at 5.30pm and we all end up at San Juan Pizzeria which is a great open-air Italian restaurant on the beach. Beer comes, kids play, the sun goes down, we all eat pizza and call it a day.

Like I said, my priority with our kid’s education here in Nicaragua is less about academics and more about life experiences.

So thank you Daniel Blanco for being with us in Nicarauga. What a gift you have been to my girls and to our family. We look forward to our paths crossing again, wherever that may be.

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One Comment

  1. Kristi said...

    Hey Julie,

    I want to tag along with you every day :) jk, but seriously you’ve created the exact types of experiences I’m looking forward to giving my kids. We got to Palermo yesterday and are getting settled in. We’re in villa #2, we’d love to have you over for dinner or something (once we figure out how to make a good dinner here that is :) .


    Sep 07, 2012 at 6:16 pm

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