Ask any Coastside parent or teacher about Lisa Hinshelwood, and most likely they’ll know who she is. As a child development expert with a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from U.C. Berkeley and a mother raising two daughters in Half Moon Bay, Hinshelwood is revered by many as the Coast’s go-to person when it comes to easing their parental anxiety surrounding childrearing issues.
Even though these days Hinshelwood calls Madrid, Spain her home, temporarily living there with her daughters and husband, who took a job assignment with IBM, her roots on the Coast, as a parent with lots of experience raising young children, run deep. Because of her educational background and professional experience — from research projects and consulting work to teaching and running early child development centers — neighbors, friends and acquaintances have all been known to bend her ear for some bit of parenting advice, whether it’s discipline issues, behavior concerns or school choices.
Also, as the former director of Holy Family Children’s Center (HFCC) in Half Moon Bay, Hinshelwood is recognized by the community for single-handedly revising the school from academic-based to Reggio-inspired, and today the school still runs the Reggio Emilia program instilled by Hinshelwood’s initial implementation and direction.
Indeed, it seems that everywhere Hinshelwood goes, she is often barraged with “the same questions from parents about raising young children,” she said. So when she became a parent herself, she realized that these concerns and questions were quite common and that “not all parents had child developmental training like I did and might be empowered by having some of this important knowledge,” said Hinshelwood, who describes herself as “loyal, open-minded and detail-oriented.”
Inspired to share her perspective on raising children based on real situations she has encountered in her career and personal life, Hinshelwood decided to write a book. “Empowering Parents: Real-Life Strategies for Raising Children” took her 10 years to write, raising her own children along the way, and is a thoughtful compilation of the most frequently asked questions and issues that she's encountered, packaged in short chapters for easy accessibility for busy and tired and quite often overwhelmed parents.
“I believe that it is really important to understand what is developmentally appropriate for a child and what are reasonable expectations so that the whole family can thrive,” said Hinshelwood. “I also was not very pleased with many of the parenting books on the market that seemed to make parents feel guilty or suggest that there is one ‘right’ way to parent one’s children. Therefore, I decided I had to write about my knowledge and experiences to hopefully help parents feel less stressed.”
Hinshelwood hopes readers come away feeling happy and empowered after reading the book. She also wants readers to learn some important information that may help them parent their own children.
“Mostly, I hope that parents feel reassured that they can figure out what works best for their individual children,” she said.
Hinshelwood’s professional experience includes Consultant/Interim Manager for Stanford Arboretum Childcare Center, Executive Director of GeoKids in Menlo Park, and Educational Consultant for KTEH in San Jose.
As a Graduate Student Researcher at U.C. Berkeley, Hinshelwood collaborated with Head Start administration, teachers, parents, and students to conduct a successful project, Sociodramatic Play Behaviors in Head Start Children. She designed original assessment instruments and coding schemes and received a $20,000 research grant from the Administration for Children, Youth and Families based upon her original research proposal.
Over the years she’s presented papers at various conferences from the National Conference for the Association for the Education of Young Children to the Head Start Conference in Washington, D.C.
When it comes to childhood development, her interests and passions are with the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, documentation and observation, early intervention, parenting education and consulting, and family nutrition.
In 2007, for two years before departing for Spain, Hinshelwood took a job with Google as their Curriculum Specialist/Manager for Google Children’s Center, the first children’s center for Google employees. She trained more than 80 staff members in play-based and Reggio-inspired curriculum practices and worked with executive staff on the architecture of the school, room design, curriculum for all ages, and hiring.
“I was responsible for helping develop the first children’s center for Google employees,” explains Hinshelwood. “This entailed developing all policies and procedures, hiring criteria, interviewing, and staffing the center. It also involved ordering supplies and materials to start up a brand new center and developing the guiding philosophies and practices. Once staff was hired, I did a lot of teacher training, and then after the center opened I was the manager of the young preschool program, which entailed managing and directing eight classrooms of children and about 20 staff members.”
Her experience as director of Holy Family Children’s Center, starting up the Reggio program there, was instrumental in preparing her for her position at Google, she said.
“My time at HFCC was enriched by working with all of the different parents, children and teachers. When I started working at HFCC, I had to focus much of my time on teaching and helping the teachers transition from a previously academically based preschool to one that was more play-based and emergent,” she said. “This was a great experience for me and built my skills as a teacher educator, which was a huge part of my job at Google.”
Here’s what else Hinshelwood has to say about her life in Spain and Half Moon Bay, raising children, and what her plans are for the future.
What do miss the most about living in Half Moon Bay?
I miss the ocean, the natural beauty, and my friends there.
What do you think you’ll miss the most about Spain when you return to Half Moon Bay?
On a basic level, I will miss the changing seasons, the sun and warmth, speaking Spanish, being able to walk everywhere, the metro system, and traveling around Spain and Europe. On a more profound level, I will miss much about the European lifestyle. Things are slower and more relaxed here, and our choices of how to spend our time are much more open. I will miss my children’s school, which is the type of school experience I have always hoped they would have without any program cuts we experience in California. I will also miss the deep friendships we have formed, and mostly, the family experiences we have created here.
What are you working on now?
I have been consistently documenting our three years here with a blog and journal. So, I spend a good amount of time writing and organizing photos. I am also finishing an online degree in nutritional sciences in order to add these skills to my repertoire upon returning to the job market.
What is a typical day in Spain like for you?
Other ex-patriots and I talk about this all the time! There seems to be no typical day. Things can just get thrown in your way when living abroad. There are days when you have to go to the immigration office to renew your residence card, or obtain some paper somewhere to get your car registered. Since I am a mom, I do the mom things. I take kids to school, grocery shop, fix meals, help with homework, and deal with home management and repairs. What is very different here than in the United States is that absolutely everything takes twice to three times as long to accomplish. I think it’s a combination of factors such as a relaxed culture, two hours in the middle of the day when everything is closed, and a culture without many practices in place for customer service. On other days, I might have the opportunity to visit a museum, go on a city history walk, have some social time with friends, or attend a talk on a topic. Because of the long lunch hour in Spain (two hours), sometimes I get a nice opportunity to go out to lunch with just my husband and sometimes I get to eat lunch and have quality time with one daughter at a time. In addition, whenever my family and I have the opportunity to travel, we do, even if it’s a day trip to explore areas outside of Madrid.
What will you do career-wise you when you return to Half Moon Bay?
I am hoping to combine my expertise in child development and education along with my new degree in nutritional sciences to work in nutritional education and developing programs to help families. With my newly developed Spanish skills, I hope to work with the Hispanic community.
How would you generally characterize the children that grow up on the Coast?
I think children who are raised on the Coast are very lucky. They are surrounded by a beautiful natural environment, while still being close to cultural opportunities in a large city. They are being raised in a relatively small community with neighborhood bonds where people all know one another and watch out for one another. Children can run across the street and play with neighbors, bike around their neighborhoods, walk to friends’ houses, and run off into nature to play. I think this is rare in America today. Because the Coast is relatively small, children all seem to be connected to one another through school, sports, or just seeing each other downtown. I think the Coast is a safe, beautiful place where children can be free to explore and play. Whenever we have visited Half Moon Bay from Madrid during these past three years, my husband and I have immediately noticed how everyone comes out of their houses and chats while the kids all play together.
From your own parenting and professional experience, what helps a child develop high self esteem and confidence?
I believe that children develop high self-esteem and confidence when they are provided with unconditional love, support, limits, and open communication. I am a strong advocate of allowing children to really have a childhood. Especially now in our society, children grow up too fast, do too many activities at early ages, and are often overscheduled. I believe children should be encouraged to lead their own learning. When children are allowed to play freely and are able to explore their own interests, they can develop their own ideas about the world and become confident individuals.
What makes you truly happy?
Truly, I am happiest when spending time with my family — that includes my whole family. I am from a family of nine, so I love having lots of people around. My best times are when all of my extended family are together for holidays. Since I can’t always be with all of them, I am also happiest when I am with my immediate family. I love when the four of us are out and about experiencing new things together, or staying in playing a game or watching a movie.
You feel at home when?
Well, since I moved abroad, I have discovered that you can actually feel at home in unexpected places. To me, it’s all about how you live your daily life wherever you are. So, I feel at home in any place where I have created routines, rituals, and memories with my husband and children.
Is there a book or movie or life experience that’s changed your life?
Two books that have inspired me are Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones Into Schools.” Seeing how one individual really did create change in whole communities inspires me to try to help others and make improvements for children and families even in small ways. I also really believe in the author’s premise that educating girls provides opportunities for economic growth and paths to peace. I was also highly affected by a recent trip to Morocco. I took a day trip into some remote villages in the Atlas Mountains, and observed the way of life there. So many people have lives that most of us cannot begin to imagine. I am really motivated to dedicate my time and resources to populations in need.
If you could change something professionally, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change the paths I have taken or the jobs that I have had. I would not even change the choice I made to leave my career behind and move to Spain. Every experience has enriched me. Looking forward, I am at a crossroads of professional change, and I hope to work with children who might be at risk for educational, nutritional, or developmental problems due to their socio-economic status or other factors in their lives.
What is the cause that you are most passionate about?
Basically, I am passionate about children and their futures. I am passionate about preserving nature and having an Earth that is clean and healthy for the future generations. I am also passionate about helping all children gain equal access to resources and opportunities that enable them to develop to their full potentials.
The household chore you secretly hate doing:
There is no secret about it! Everybody knows that I do not like doing laundry! But I have survived almost three years with a teeny washing machine and without a dryer. I am hoping that laundry may not be such a huge burden when I get back to Half Moon Bay.
What do you love to do when not working?
I love being outside as much as possible. I love walking, hiking, biking, skiing, gardening, and playing tennis. I also enjoy reading, especially when I am involved in a good book.
What TV shows or channels do you like to watch?
I’m not current on a lot of American TV shows right now, but I do watch Survivor, the Daily Show with John Stewart, and I’ve just started watching Glee. My absolute favorite show is The Amazing Race.
If you could jump on a plane tomorrow, where to and why?
I think I would choose to go to somewhere I have never been because I really enjoy experiencing new foods, cultures, learning the history of a place, and observing and meeting people in all of these cities. When I first looked at this question, I realized how lucky I am because I actually did jump on a plane the next day to Prague in the Czech Republic. That was a new experience for me.