A Good Beginning Never Ends

One of the best parts of living in Utah is our experience with four distinct seasons. Yeah, maybe the winter goes on longer than I’d like and the spring can sometimes be very short. But the seasons we have remind us of the cyclical nature of life.

This year, my eighth grader is moving on from middle school, and my baby is graduating from Kindermusik. I was teaching Kindermusik when I was pregnant with her, and but for a short period of time when she was a baby, she has been enrolled for her entire life.  (Her entire life. I say that like she’s ancient. Hah!) It is the end of an era for me, and with each tradition (the symphony, the upcoming Family Jam), I am reminded of the passing of time.

We often talk about autumn as being a season of death, heralding a long period of sleep; conversely, spring is a period of rebirth and renewal. But with all the graduations happening around us during this month, spring is also a season of completion and departure. We launch our kids into the next phases of their lives in May, and the natural phase of growth and possibility serves as our backdrop.

So. Many. Emotions.

How, as humans, do we feel and express those feelings? I’ve been overwhelmed lately as I observe the power of the arts to reach these very intense parts of being a human.

Want sadness? Try Barber’s Adagio for Strings. (You may know this from the movie Platoon or the many other places in pop culture it appears.)

 

How about joy? Try Copland’s Hoe-Down.

 

 

I’m also a sucker for Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man when it comes to expressing expectation and hope.

 

 

Probably has to do with how heavily John Williams borrowed from it to write the theme to Superman, one of the great movies of my youth.

 

 

This principle goes beyond music. Edward Munch managed to recreate just exactly how I feel when the kids have tantrums and I’m trying to get dinner on the table, while the music is blaring and the phone rings.

Edvard_Munch_-_The_Scream_-_Google_Art_Project

Walking up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial and seeing the large statue of this important president evokes awe. There is a reason that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous speech here.

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As parents and caregivers, we can tell our kids how to think and feel, what to do or say. But I’m learning that giving them the tools to express their own thoughts, fears, values and emotions can be far more powerful. Though I am continually challenged by the tasks I face as a parent, I will forever be grateful for the role that art has played in this journey. Kindermusik has truly been a great beginning that has never ended for us.

 

The Emotional Requirements of Parenthood

Downton Abbey“One forgets about parenthood. The on and on-ness of it.” –Violet, the Dowager Countess.

I know I’m a little late to the game, but I’ve been catching up on Downton Abbey before too many spoilers unwittingly come my way. We know Maggie Smith gets to deliver the best, most humorous lines, but this one left me virtually rolling on the floor the other night. (Season 3, episode 8)

It pretty much sums up exactly how I’m feeling these days, navigating the waters of middle school education and taking on extra work as a substitute (no, not much has changed about the life as a sub since you remember those days from your own schooling, except now there are cell phones), especially when I combine that work with the parenting challenges I’m facing.

There were great things about being an only child, and I’m firmly convinced that there is no perfect type of family. But daily I’m experiencing in my parenting life something I rarely encountered growing up as an only: sibling rivalry. It’s compounded by a day spent listening to my young students vocalize the same complaints: “She’s bugging me!” “He took the book I was reading!”

Aarrrgh!  It just keeps going!

I’m learning a lot personally this year as I navigate these discipline stressors.  I’m amazed at how often I’m required to be emotionally centered. Or, at any rate, how often I have to find the balance within myself to generate the emotional intelligence to deliver an appropriate, adult response.  The teenager still living inside me wants to roll my eyes and mouth off some sarcastic response like, “Oh, yeah? Well, you’re ALL bugging ME!” But the adult in me knows that this isn’t really going to help anything, and it may make it worse.

Instead, I have to take a few deep breaths and engage some empathy. Do I know what it is to feel like life is unfair, even if the details differ? (Hello, yes, I’m writing a whole blog post here about how tough it is to manage all the child development jobs I have right now.) Can I remember how frustrating it was to sit in school with kids I just didn’t like? (Yes. . . [shudders]) Are there times when I feel just plain tired or frustrated and all I want is for people to be patient and loving with me?

Pretty much, all the time.

Dr. John Gottman is a psychology professor emeritus.  His work centers around helping us understanding our emotions—how to develop, as he calls it, emotional intelligence, and then how to use specific skills to channel those emotions in the painful times, especially in family and marriage relationships.  He says, ““Much of today’s popular advice to parents ignores emotion. . . Instead it relies on child-rearing theories that address children’s misbehavior, but disregards the feelings that underlie that misbehavior. The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child. Most parents hope for much more for their children.”

Georgia Anderson, a Gottman trained Educator, will bring some of these skills to our Kindermusik studio on April 21 at 6:30, specifically focusing on the language of encouragement. You can see the steps on her blog (describe situations using facts, share your feelings and effects of the situation, and show gratitude in meaningful ways), but the best part of coming to a coaching session is the time we get to practice these skills so they become our first responses to parenting challenges rather than the “wish I coulda done that differently” thoughts after-the-fact.

Yes, at Song of the Heart, we have Kindermusik classes.  We encourage ongoing musical lessons through ukulele lessons and we continually broaden your child’s interests through other programs, like Spanish classes this summer. But we are in the business of educating the whole child, and guiding you on your parenting journey is one way we can do this. Can’t wait to see you there!

I Choose Long Division

piano heart

This little exchange from Mr. Holland’s Opus has been running through my head this week:

Principal: Each school in the district has been asked to submit proposals on ways of reducing costs by 10% in September. This is what I’ve decided.

Mr. Holland (looks at paper): The entire music department.

Principal: And art, and drama.

Mr. Holland: Well, congratulations, Gene. You’ve been looking for a way to get rid of me for 30 years and they finally gave you an excuse.

Principal: You know, I’m not as popular as you. I’m not anybody’s favorite anything.

Mr. Holland (interrupts): That’s because you’re the enemy, Gene. You just don’t know it.

Principal: BUT, I care about these kids as much as you do, and if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.

Mr. Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want to, sooner or later these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.

In his well-known commencement speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs talked about dropping out of college and “dropping in” to classes that he enjoyed. He said, “Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.” Mr. Jobs chose to attend a calligraphy class during that time, and consequently you can read this blog in an interesting typeface. In fact, Tim Carmody, in a Wired business article, wrote, “Jobs’ ability to bring these two cultures [technology and the creative industry] together and translate between them contributed directly to Apple’s transformation from a computer company to a media company.”

Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg majored in psychology? It takes skill and proficiency in all kinds of domains to solve the challenges of the 21st Century. Unfortunately, our college graduates don’t seem to be getting the critical thinking skills they need. In 2011, a study led by Richard Arum, a New York University sociologist, showed that upwards of 45% of college students “made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning, or writing skills during the first two years of college.”[i] But, as Sara Rimer writes, “Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.”[ii]

For what seems to be my entire life, I’ve heard about the funding cuts that arts and music programs suffer at the hands of those with power to cut it. Richard Dreyfuss delivered those lines as Mr. Holland way back in 1995, after all. But we keep hearing about it, even in 2016.

If you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. As part of our Kindermusik community, you come to class and appreciate the value of music and movement for our young children. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s helpful to keep in mind the bigger picture, when you’re asking your child to practice her recorder or clearing space in the family calendar to get your baby to the studio. This is more than just a fun way to spend a half an hour, to get out of the house for a break. You are helping build your child’s brain in ways that will have far-reaching consequences.

[i] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article24608056.html#storylink=cpy

 

[ii] ibid

Share the Love!

 

It’s Share the Love week at our studio.

Here are just a few of the reasons I love Kindermusik at Song of the Heart studios:

I love having time with the kids, just to be in the moment with them and not worrying about laundry.

I’ve loved being part of the studio traditions—having each of my kids attend the symphony their final year or donating pajamas in December.

My kids have learned more than just musical notes—they’ve had to practice turn-taking, controlling their impulses and engaging their creativity. They just don’t know they’re doing all that because it’s also just plain fun.

The studio itself is a work of art—I have appreciated the attention to detail that Ms. Carol has put into creating an environment that is engaging without being chaotic. Small things help me feel at home.

I learned so much professionally and personally from interacting with the faculty. Some of my favorite memories of all time include moments with these women. I’m grateful my kids have had opportunities to learn from each of them.

I enjoy chatting with the other parents. Sometimes I forget names (or, rather, I usually know them as “Isaac’s mom”), but I like being part of this community.

It only takes putting on an old Kindermusik CD before I am awash in memories of being with my kids when they were little. At this point, my teenage daughter may not remember some of those specific dances or lullabies, but in those difficult moments of parenting my teen, it helps me to remember our history together.

I’m counting down to mere months before my baby graduates from the Kindermusik program. I can’t believe it, as I distinctly remember the moment I told Ms. Carol I was pregnant.  She was helping me hang lyric charts for my Family Time class in the old studio. I will grieve not being at the studio weekly, but I will always hold, with gratitude for all that the studio was and will be for our family, a place in my heart for Kindermusik.

Passion for Learning

I have been learning about sketchnoting lately.

sketchnoting_600

Sketchnoting is the art of taking notes with pictures. They don’t have to be perfect pictures, but they need to make sense to their creator. For many, they serve as a more powerful reminder of the lesson they heard than reviewing a bunch of words written on a paper. Importantly, since the note taker has to comprehend the information well enough to put the teacher’s words into pictures, they require an extra level of processing, allowing it to “stick” into long-term memory better.

I could go on and on about how cool the process is. I’ll spare you.

Here’s the reason I bring it up: I love being a life-long learner. I love learning about learning. In many of the videos I’ve been watching about how to doodle notes, experts talk about practicing one’s skills at conferences—some of the videos have even been recorded at conferences. So, at the same time I find myself needing to do a song and dance to get my middle school students to learn (sometimes), I notice all these other people willingly subjecting themselves (even paying money) for the privilege of learning something new.

As a parent, a school-teacher, and an adult, I’m in a continual state of observation about the process of learning. For babies and young children, the world around them generally provides enough fascination that it typically doesn’t take much encouragement for them to learn. There is just intrinsic reward in acquiring language or learning how to crawl. Have you taken a nature walk with your little one? It can take hours—they will examine every little pebble or leaf. And not because their grade depends on it or because they will get some sort of reward at the end of the walk. It’s just because the process is fascinating.

Something happens to many of us during those school years. There are multiple reasons for this drop in intrinsic interest in learning, I know. Hormones, social pressures, events at home, and the ways our school system doesn’t always accommodate individuals’ learning needs all play a part. I’m continually trying to improve my skills in motivating students.

As an adult, then, I’m also learning. In addition to learning how to teach better, I’m constantly on the look-out for ways to parent better. And I’ve also learned about many things right alongside my kids. I never thought I’d know as much about bagpipes as I do now that my son has chosen that as his instrument. And I dare you to ask me any question about asthma that I can’t answer.

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So then I come to Kindermusik classes with my kids, and I see this natural learning at play. Literally, at play. Kids come, and they play, and in so doing, they learn. It’s not about a grade, or getting your name drawn out of a hat for good behavior at the studio.

Watch what happens the next time your baby grabs the bell in a way that prohibits it from ringing out. In that moment, she is learning cause and effect. When she moves it to a different hand, maybe she gets a different sound out of it than she is used to—now she’s working on timbre. Your preschooler, on the other hand, might be using rhythm sticks to pretend to build a house—maybe tapping on the ground or even moving into the air. Now he’s combining skills—small motor skills, steady beat and locomotor movements. And at the same time, using skills of pretend to figure out the way the world works and his place in it.

Music instruction gives kids all those “soft skills” that they need for success in their future learning endeavors, too, like superior auditory processing, high self-esteem, and knowing the value of practice. In other words, Kindermusik draws on kids’ natural curiosities to help them learn. And then it sets the stage for them to pursue additional music lessons, which in turn influence their learning processes.

In the end, the only life I have any control over is my own. But hopefully my passion for education inspires my kids and my students to make the most of their lives, too. In the meanwhile, I’m so very grateful that I can give my kids the gift of education by bringing them to Kindermusik. I can’t wait to see what doors open to them as a result!

 

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

The other day, because of some research I’m doing on work-related matters, I found myself listening to an Asperkids podcast by Jennifer O’Toole, an author and the creator of the Asperkids website. Ms. O’Toole has Asperger’s Syndrome, as do her kids. I loved listening to her talk about the many ways our world has changed because of people who have this particular neurobiogical condition. She says:

“I do believe there is much that is awesome and amazing about looking at the world in a little bit of a different way. . . . I always say to folks when they say, ‘Well, I don’t know anybody on the Spectrum,’ I say, ‘Well, OK. . . if anyone’s ever read “The Declaration of Independence,” thank an Aspie. . . Ever driven a car, thank an Aspie. Turned on the light? Thank an Aspie. Had an x-ray! Thank an Aspie. The things that make life just that little bit better . . . are the fruit of those minds that imagine a little bit differently.”

Dr. Howard Gardner, a researcher and educator at Harvard University, theorizes that there are many ways in which we can be smart, or, to be formal, there are “Multiple Intelligences.” He has, to now, identified nine different kinds of smarts: musical/rhythmic, visual/spatial, verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and existential.

multiple_intelligences-2When our kids are working their way through school, they can generally find some success if they have sufficient verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical smarts. Other kids, regardless of whatever biological make-up they have, find themselves with gifts that are not typically valued in a traditional school setting. They may be particularly gifted musicians or dancers who can’t read very well. John Lennon had dyslexia, for instance.

John-Lennon

So did Walt Disney. What a sad place the world would be without The Beatles or Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland_(disneyland)I’m beginning to think this is one of the hardest parts of parenting (or at least it is right up there with an entire sleepless night): helping our children tune in to those gifts and giving them the tools they need to nurture those passions. Perhaps it is hard because it is so very important. After all, if the alternative is that they judge themselves to be fundamentally flawed somehow, where might they be in another 10 years?

EinsteinYou’ll notice when you come to Kindermusik class, your teacher will talk about following the child. If your son would rather stack the sand blocks than keep a steady beat with them, that’s OK. If she wants to watch the others dance, it is no problem for us. Perhaps your child needs a little break. Go ahead—literally, follow him or her out to the hall and rejoin us when you’re ready.

Obviously, you can follow your child’s lead when you’re in class. But Kindermusik opens our kids’ worlds and gives them tools to explore in the first place. Connecting with them in class strengthens their foundation and gives them the security they need to branch out. Learning the stringed dulcimer as well as a pre-keyboarding glockenspiel, for instance, gives them some clues about the instruments they might love. Exposing them to a variety of music styles trains their ears and their psyches to be open to all sorts of differences—among people, cultures, history and musical styles.

This principle of following our children can serve us throughout their lives, too. Well, maybe we shouldn’t follow them to college. But we can help our kids find their paths by letting them take the lead.

What might that look like for you this week?

 

Controlling the Impulse

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Kindermusik stop and go songs are among the favorites in our family. The anticipation builds as my kids and I wonder when the music will stop, and we laugh when we get it right—and wrong. I am probably not alone in feeling less amused by this little game when my conversations are the ones being interrupted by the absolute imperative to “Watch me right now!”

Impulse control is a tough thing for kids to master—and even for some adults. It requires so many other sub-skills like the ability to stop an action, to think about what is going on, to tolerate frustration, to change behaviors based on context (one’s behavior in the library is different than the backyard) and to have developed a few alternative behavior patterns like hitting a pillow or using words to describe emotions.

And it requires a particular level of brain development. Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for our ability to regulate any particular impulse. Interestingly, the size of our prefrontal cortex is one of the things that sets us Homo sapiens apart from other hominins, illustrating not just how vital it is for the survival of our species but also how unique this gift of nature is for us.

prefrontal cortex

The PFC reaches full maturity by about age 25. Yes, you read that right. 25. Well after we have turned over our car keys to our kids, allowed them to vote, and sent them off to college. The only people who seem to have this figured out are the car rental agencies. There are some benefits to this late development, however. As human development author Kathleen Staseen Berger writes, “Enrolling in college, moving to a new state or nation, getting married, having a baby—all are risky. So is starting a business, filming a documentary, entering an athletic contest, enlisting in the army, joining the Peace Corps, rescuing a stranger.   Without emerging adults, all those activities would occur less often.” [1]

Studies tell us that being able to control one’s impulse is a good predictor of school success. Nevertheless, it is a skill that, like bicycling or swimming, improves with practice. Once our kids get to school they get plenty of practice in learning to raise their hands and waiting to be called on. But playing stop-and-go songs in Kindermusik aids in that practice, and it is infinitely more fun for the kids!

Parenthood is nothing, for me, if not the process of learning how to hold in balance adjusting my expectations to the reality of my children’s capacities, at the same time that I love them enough to hold high expectations for what they may be able to accomplish. The idea that my sweet daughter just may need to bounce around while she’s eating, while also teaching her how to sit at a table and eat like a human being (is that really a high expectation? I don’t know!) I’m so grateful that I have had the Kindermusik community to support me in that journey.

 

[1] Berger, Professor Kathleen Stassen. Invitation to the Life Span. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan Higher Education, 2013

Growth

growth-hacking-e1393370920358Carol Dweck keeps popping up in all the things I’m learning, as a person, an educator and a mother. Dweck is a motivation researcher who has published her findings in a book called Mindset. You can check out her TED talk here, if you’ve got 10 minutes. But here’s a good, kid-friendly Sesame Street version:

Dweck’s research centers on the notions of fixed and growth mindsets. If we have a fixed mindset, we believe that we have an immovable amount of talent or intelligence, and there is nothing we can do about it. Conversely, a belief in a growth mindset means that, with hard work and perseverance, we can change our abilities. In fact, research, has led us to understand that students can improve their school performance if they are willing to adopt a growth mindset.

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Dweck’s position has a far-reaching effect on education in our country, and many teachers are changing the way they teach students and react to their performances. The willingness to embrace a growth mindset has powerful implications for parents, too.

For instance, when we talk to our kids, do we praise their brilliance or their hard work? “You’re so smart!” pushes them towards a fixed mindset; “Look how hard you worked! Wow!” gives them space to develop a growth mindset. If our children are struggling, as we are reminded by the Sesame Street gang, we might choose to say, “You haven’t mastered this yet. You’ll get there.”

Here’s another perspective, from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

At the Kindermusik studio, we embrace growth mindsets. In fact, it is the very basis of what we do. We are not scouting for child prodigies in music educating only them. Rather, we believe that every child deserves music education. We strive to increase and strengthen the neural pathways of your little ones through sensory interactions with their environment like playing with instruments, keeping a steady beat, moving to favorite songs, or giving you time to connect with each other.

Perhaps the best part of developing a growth mindset occurs for us personally. We don’t have to be perfect at this parenting gig. We don’t even have to be good at it always. It doesn’t mean that we’re failures.  It just means that we’re not there yet.

As Maya Angelou says, “I did then what I knew how to do. When I knew better, I did better.”

May this apply to all of us today!

Creativity

henri matisseA friend asked me the other day, as we were talking about our daughters’ school performances, “Do we really care what Henri Matisse’s math scores were?” In other words, how do we measure “intelligence”? And how do we create an environment in which our kids discover all the talents they may have to offer the world?

Reading Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds, in which he discusses the importance of cultivating creativity, I’m learning that it has only been recently in our education system history that we divide the arts education from math and science subjects.   Consider Leonardo da Vinci, whom we know not just for his Last Supper but for his contributions to anatomy and engineering. Did you know that a bridge, based on one of his sketches, was actually constructed in Norway in 2001?

The Last Supperbridge sketch leonardo_da_vinci_bridge_1_by_hidephix-d3nw0vs

Sir Robinson points out in his book that at universities, professors in the arts and literature departments are employed to write about other artists and writers, rather than to create works of art and literature. He contrasts this to those in science departments, who are paid to produce their own, unique research projects. We can see this mindset permeate education through high school and towards early education, as arts and music programs continue loose funding, and emphasis is placed on math, science and engineering disciplines.   And then Sir Robinson follows with the natural question—will valuing these disciplines differently actually serve us into the 21st century? Will we not, in fact, need all the ingenuity we can find, as we try to solve global issues like climate change, economic growth and conflict during a time when most people carry in their cell phones or even wristwatches more “power and memory than the 1969 Apollo Moonlander[1]”?

Sometimes we see the arts as being something we do for relaxation or downtime. Or something that the touchy-feely types do and never really make any money at doing. But what if we could view them as a way to help people discover their potential? Or what if we can use art education as a way to help our kids develop certain skill sets (such as collaboration, visual representation, and kinesthetic awareness) that they can in turn use in their future jobs—jobs that may not even exist today, that we may not even imagine possible?

These are big thoughts when one is just trying to get through the day with a toddler and a newborn.   When changing diapers and calming the temper tantrums, while trying to get the laundry done and that work project completed, weigh on us more heavily than the latest photos of Pluto.

plutoHowever, this is one of the gifts of Kindermusik. Taking the time to get to class, we can structure some weekly time to connect, some time to focus on our little ones. But we will also be rewiring their brains, helping them to unlock their potential and fostering creativity skills that will help them on their middle school science projects and beyond.

[1] Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds. Chicehster, West Sussex: Capstone Publishing Ltd: 2011. Print.

Success Skills

This week I attended a screening of the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. It is a fascinating look at one particular high school in California that is taking a radically different approach to education. You can watch the trailer here.

At the heart of the movie is the notion that computers are quickly and easily replacing many of the jobs requiring a medium-level of skill (such as sales, production and operator jobs). Our nation’s work force is increasingly polarized between low skill-level jobs (such as food prep and janitorial jobs) and high skill-level jobs (such as managerial and engineering professions). Therefore, as parents concerned about our children’s futures, we need to work towards helping them develop the skills that will open doors for them in the future, and, as it turns out, these are skills that have very little to do with deriving equations or writing essays.

So what are these? In an interview with the New York Times, Laszlo Bock, whose job at Google is to oversee hiring, said that primarily they want “learning ability” (emphasis added). He continues, “It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.”

The next skills are: leadership, humility, a sense of ownership, and (at the bottom of the list of importance), expertise. They want employees who understand and can learn from failure, and who know what to do with the knowledge they have.

In the movie, they call these “soft skills.” And I believe that these are the skills that cannot be easily taught from a traditional textbook. They are abilities that we develop as we engage with the world in meaningful ways, through challenge and perseverance.

I believe we have it in us as a community to work towards helping our schools develop the model they examine in the documentary. But until such time as that happens, I believe that music education provides us with the exact formula for the things that our kids need for success.

Consider the notion that, “playing music is the brain’s equivalent to a full-body workout.” (How playing an instrument benefits your brain—Anita Collins). Our whole brain works together. In fact, a musician’s corpus collosum is bigger than that of a non-musician. This is the part of the brain that moves information between both hemispheres and, housing the largest amount of white matter in the brain, influences the way our brains function.

Playing with other musicians and vocalists gives our kids a way to practice feeling ownership over something. There’s nothing like knowing the marching band is dependent on your steady beat to make sure that you hone your drum skills! Additionally, musical education can be tough—but kids learn that perseverance pays off. And my son is proof that in learning an instrument, one also has to listen to what is coming out of the instrument, figuring out what is right and wrong, and learning to make adjustments. It’s a great big R&D lab for critical thinking skills.

Of course, in Kindermusik we are not about performance. But the process of engaging with music at this young age means that our kids are learning how to explore options—prime practice for practicing and developing curiosity.

We talk a lot in Kindermusik about how we’re educating the whole child. Certainly, we are priming kids brains for success in school. But we are also priming them for success in life.

Check out more from Anita Collin’s research in the video:

Can’t wait to see you again next week in class!