Wednesday, 21 January 2015

5 Ways to Encourage a Child to Write in a Second Language

My three boys are bilingual, speaking Dutch as their mother tongue and English as their second language. It struck me recently that even though we talk and read in English at home every day my eldest hardly gets any writing practice in his second language. So I'm making an all out concerted effort to change that and I have been thinking of ways that he'll find interesting to encourage him to pick up a pen to write in English.

1. Letters
Yes, back to basics and the old fashioned way of communicating. I read an article recently about the dying art of letter writing and was hit with a wave of nostalgia. It's unlikely that my sons will ever feel the happiness of receiving a letter whilst away at university for example, the way I did when I suddenly lived hundreds of miles away from my family. An envelope with tales from home appearing on my doormat with the post was enough to make my day. Nowadays it's all email, Facebook and messaging but there's no reason my children can't have a sense of the feelings a handwritten letter brings. My family live in Britain and the USA, so there's no reason he can't start writing in English to them. And hopefully they'll write back.... (hint hint if you're reading this...).

2. Journaling
My eldest owns a book called "Slaapklets" which is full of prompts to get children to think and write about their day before they go to sleep. But it's in Dutch. Luckily someone is one step ahead of me - my favourite journal creator, Katie of Gadanke. She's created wonderful journals specifically for our little people. There are Gadanke kids' journals which encourage creative writing, create a time capsule to treasure for years to come, and get children looking at the world around them. There are also journals for mothers and daughters or mothers and sons. I have my eye on the 'Between Mum and Me' journal. 

3. Story Writing
Another wonderful idea I have started with my son is to write a paragraph of a story and leave it for him to continue. I've added a penguin to the story so he's sure to be hooked. When he's added his creative paragraph he can pass it back for me to add to and then he'll get another turn. My boys love it when we make up bedtime stories about them so I'm confident this will grab my eldest's interest, and when his brothers are older and writing they can join in too. 

4. Mind Dump  
Pick a topic your child is interested in and ask them to 'dump' all their knowledge on that topic on to paper. What they write doesn't have to be in any particular order - so long as they are writing and extending their vocabulary. Or you could ask them to write five sentences about a particular interest if you want to steer them a little. The important thing is to get them thinking and writing in their second language. For mine this would mean a mind dump about penguins, the solar system, Cornwall or dinosaurs. What would your children be interested in writing about?

5. Find a Pen Pal
If you don't have easy access to people to write to in your child's second language, or they want to write to someone of a similar age then finding a pen pal can be a lot of fun. I remember having a series of pen pals as a child, and one in particular became a good childhood friend. Kid World Citizen has some great tips for finding an international pen friend.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Book Review: Expat Life Slice by Slice by Apple Gidley

Apple Gidley is a TCK, a globe wanderer, and therefore perfectly positioned to be the author of a book about all aspects of expat life. And with such an inviting name, how could she not ensure there was eloquent synergy between the author's name and the book title?


In Expat Life Slice by Slice Apple covers the spectrum of a life spent abroad in thirteen bite size pieces, from giving birth overseas to caring for ageing parents, from looking after pets to raising children, and from friendship to food. And then she brings the cycle full circle by ending with retirement and repatriation, about returning to a 'home' that is unfamiliar. She openly recounts how returning to a former life, one you haven't lived for many years, is tough, as difficult as taking that initial step to an expat life in the first place. However, Apple tells us, the magnitude of repatriation is all too commonly dismissed. It's something I can imagine, but am yet to go through.

She also relays how expat life was before the internet, something that I guess is unthinkable to expats today. She talks about groups that served as her lifeline time after time. She writes about the strains of parenting overseas and education choices, of leaving children behind. She discusses cultures and customs that are hard to stomach.

Apple guides the reader through a well-lived expat life with sometimes incredibly heart wrenching personal anecdotes from her own escapades overseas. In 1980 she lived in the Netherlands, and her daughter Kate was born in Emmen.

Her stories are ones that make you smile, or shed a tear, or sit reading with your mouth open in astonishment. In short, Apple shares the real ups and downs of expat life, and also shows just how many types of and aspects to expat life there are.

At the end of each chapter, she shares a tip, or an overview about an element of expat life - a takeaway slice, as she puts it. Like this one:

"Does it really matter where children grow up as long as they feel secure, loved and listened to? The opportunity for young children to benefit linguistically from early exposure to different languages is surely of huge benefit in later life, as is early exposure to different cultures." 

I couldn't agree more. Expat Life Slice by Slice is a fascinating read, particularly if you are what I call a traditional expat, or accompanying partner, moving from one international assignment to another.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

My Sunday Photo: The Wondrous Panorama by Mesdag

It took fourteen years of living in the Netherlands before I finally went to see the Panorama Mesdag in The Hague. Don't make the same mistake! If you are in the area, go visit! Here's a snippet.


Monday, 12 January 2015

Liebster Awards: 11 Things You May Not Know About Me

Ute from Expats Since Birth nominated me and this blog for a Liebster Award. I was also nominated by Baby Blues And Rock 'N' Roll and Dubliner in Deutschland but I didn't get round to answering their questions at the time. But better late than never right?

For those who don’t know how this works, the Liebster award is assigned by other bloggers who like your blog and think it’s worth a little hand clap of appreciation.

The nominator poses 11 questions. The nominee answers them and then nominates another 11 bloggers and asks them 11 questions of their own and so the Award merry go round continues.

And here are Ute’s questions, with my answers.

1) How does a good day look like for you?

One that doesn't involve my children bickering but is instead filled with my little boys laughing and enjoying themselves.

2) What is your favourite author and why?
This is a tough one. It's a toss up between Wally Lamb and Khaled Hosseini. Lamb has a beautiful writing style, a way of helping the reader get inside his characters. Hosseini is a literary master.

3) Do you have a favourite plant ?
I love any sort of cactus. Mainly because they need very little attention and for someone lacking in green fingers that's the ultimate plus.

4) Dog or cat? – Why?
Cat. Cats are independent but still come for cuddles. We had two cats but they weren't too compatible with small children it turned out so they were re-homed. Luckily we still get to see one of them as my father in law adopted him.

5) Seaside or mountain?
Seaside. I love reading about the adventures and drama of those conquering mountains (like Cathy Dowd who I once had the pleasure of interviewing) but if I had to choose where I would prefer to be personally I would have to say that a beautiful coastline wins. If it's a Cornish coastline, even better.

6) If you could choose where to live, where would this be and why?
I would love to live somewhere far more rural than where I actually live, but not somewhere so remote it feels cut off and isolated. Being surrounded by nature revitalises me. It brings calm. Busy, populated places are not for me but that's the reality of life - one day! 

7) Are you a morning or an evening person?
More an after 9am person. 

8) Do you like to bake or to cook?
I do love cooking and baking, as long as there is no time pressure and my three sons are not hanging around my legs asking what is for dinner, or whining about how hungry they are. I really enjoy baking with my sons - they have such fun dressed in their aprons, perched on steps to cut, mix or roll things.

9) Which is your favourite mean of transportation?
Train. But then the old, nostalgic steam trains. There's something magical about a steam train. However I admit it's not a common nor practical means of transportation for 2014.

10) Mac or PC?

11) If you could start a new blog, what would it be about?
Actually, I did just start a new blog at the beginning of November, after lots of procrastination and hard thinking! It's called Happy Sensitive Kids and is a blog for parents of highly sensitive children and those parents who are themselves highly sensitive.

And so here are my 11 questions for 11 bloggers who deserve the spotlight.

  1.  What is your most vivid childhood memory?
  2. Favourite take away food?
  3. If you had a day completely and utterly for yourself how would you spend it?
  4. Where do ideas come from for your blog posts?
  5. Best thing you did in 2014?
  6. What one thing are you determined to do in 2015?
  7. Do you have siblings and if so are you the eldest, a middle child or youngest?
  8. Favourite place to go for a short break away?
  9. Best TV series you have ever watched?
  10. Do you journal?
  11. Most amazing thing about your life right now?
And the bloggers, in no particular order:

Sunday, 11 January 2015

My Sunday Photo: Fish Watching

Last week we popped to our local zoo, Blijdorp in Rotterdam (great zoo if you are local and haven't been). Some months it's like a second home as we have an annual pass, but last week was the first trip for a while. 

We spent about three days looking at the fish. Okay, obviously it wasn't three days but it was a loooong time. Something calming about the Oceanium part of Blijdorp isnt't there? We're back there in a few weeks for a special birthday boy treat, so watch this space........


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Year 2015: Finding My Place Again in the Snow Globe

2015. What will it bring? I actually just reread a post I write a year ago called "What does 2014 hold?" and I can honestly say that I could rewrite that post but change the names around a bit. 2015 will be a huge change for me personally, but not until October. October is the month that Mr O, the baby of the family (I need to stop calling him that - he's three for goodness sake), will turn four and then start at primary school too. In October 2015 I will have three school going children. For the first time in nearly nine years there will be no children at home during the school day (apart from lunchtime then). Just me. 

Part of me is dancing a very energetic happy dance at the thought. Part of me is a little mournful. How fast they grow. However, I have another nine months with my youngest at home before those child free hours are upon me. And I plan to make the most of them with him.

There are some other things I plan to do in 2015 too, and when I stumbled across this "Imagining the New Year" blog link up I decided to put those plans down on virtual paper. I also created a Pinterest board called the Year 2015 to keep me motivated. So here goes! Three main things to focus on in 2015.

1. Be More Comfortable in My Own Skin

The last eight years have been a collage of new motherhood, sleepless nights, pregnancies, breastfeeding, weaning, applauding firsts three times around - like crawling, talking and walking, nursery school starts, first school days, learning how to parent a highly sensitive child and parenting as a highly sensitive person and going through a huge career change. It's been an intense time.

From the moment we welcomed our first child to the world it was like a giant hand was shaking a snow globe around me - and it feels like it is only now that the snow is beginning to settle. Things feel stable around me. But I feel out of sorts. Like I have been left hanging a little off kilter in my snow globe world. I'm not quite where I should be. And this year I want to work on changing that.

I want to feel more comfortable being me again. That's both physically and mentally. More mindful eating. Eat breakfast (a small tweak that will apparently change my year). More physical movement, but something that works for me instead of another failed gym membership. A wardrobe overhaul. More sleep. More time with my husband, letting him know just how important he is. Our marriage was put on the back-burner whilst we learnt the parenting ropes. It was put low down on the priority list whilst we struggled with the ups and downs of parenthood. We have more time and the chance to change focus now.

2. Calm My Mind

I saw this gem about a woman's mind being like an internet browser with a whole host of pages open at the same time and it summed up perfectly for me how my mind is constantly busy. I'm always thinking about all the things that I 'need' to do. If the children are at school and my youngest is napping, I am always doing something - and that has been the way it has been since I became a mother. I remember a friend saying how wonderful her son's nap times were because she could read her magazines in peace and I was perplexed as to why I could never consider that to be something I could do without feeling guilty, without feeling I should be doing something else more 'worthwhile'.

A few weeks ago, in the height of the December madness, I sat down one morning, whilst all three children were in school, and I watched an episode of Downton Abbey. And I switched off. Ignored the nagging in my mind that I should be doing one of the things on my bullet journal list. Or cleaning some part of the house, which was quite frankly way overdue. I stuck two fingers up to my own thoughts, drank coffee and slobbered over watched the lovely Hugh Bonneville instead. I can count on one hand how many times I have taken this kind of time alone since my first son was born in 2007. And now I know I need to give myself permission to take time for myself. Just to do nothing. To switch off. To calm my mind. To read. To watch something. Just because.

2015 is a year I vow to invite less stress into my life. Instead, there will be more calm and I will have more patience - with myself, and with my children.

I plan to calm my mind with more creative journalling, by emptying my thoughts onto blank pages. I plan to breathe more consciously - be more mindful of my own breathing. To practice what I preach to my sons. To calm it down. To nurture my inner calm. To enjoy the little moments more instead of constantly planning for the bigger ones. A happiness jar will help with that.

I want to close some of these internet pages that are constantly open in my mind. Open one page at a time, deal with it and then close it down. More focus. Less energy wasted. Less chaos. More calm in my mind.

3. Explore My Home

A few years ago, I had a vision board and one of the items was about exploring the Netherlands. The plan was to see something new in the country I call home every month. And then two more children came along and the good intention fell by the wayside. This year, I am breathing new life into it.

Last weekend we headed to the Veluwe for a walk, instead of going to one of our usual walking destinations. My husband suggested it, and usually on the Sunday before the kids are due back at school after a holiday I would have dismissed the idea of venturing out a little further. This time I embraced the idea, let my husband lead the way and I just followed.

I'm planning a list of things I want to see in the Netherlands. I made a Dutch bucket list last year, but this is a real places to see list. What should be on it? What is a must see in the Netherlands?

And another little thing that I really want to get under my belt is driving. I wrote about this before and even made some progress taking lessons as a refresher, but then I fell down the stairs and was out of action for a while. This morning I drove a little in our car for the first time. Hopefully I'll keep building on that...... keep asking me!

So that's my 2015 plan in a nutshell.

What does 2015 hold for you? What one thing are you determined to do this year?

The List

Monday, 5 January 2015

Expat Life Means Throwing Your Plans Out the Window

It won't be news to anyone but life doesn't always turn out like you expect it to. If someone had told my seventeen year old self that I would end up living in the Netherlands with a Dutch husband and three children who are way more Dutch than they ever will be British, I would never have believed them. I would have been intrigued, but convinced? I don't think so.

Whilst I was making plans for my future, fresh out of university with a degree in European Studies, someone, somewhere was sniggering saying, "Well, I doubt you'll be needing any of that - maybe you should have tried learning Dutch. That's a language you will be using daily when you are 27." But how was I to know?

Expat life is planned for some, it sneaks up on others. Either way, it probably means life as you envisioned it doesn't quite become a reality. Expat life changes things - and sometimes that means a huge adjustment. Expat life can throw a spanner in the works. All the things you imagined for yourself in life can turn out so differently, in the blink of an expat eye.

It's a feeling I touched upon in a chapter I wrote about my Dutch wedding in the Dutched Up!: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style anthology. I had visions when I was younger of me trying on wedding dresses with my best friend at my side. I always figured my mother would also be a part of that build up to my wedding day. Together we'd be sipping bubbly while trawling through a range of dresses to find the perfect one for my big day.

My final choice of wedding dress
The reality was very different. Both my best friend and my mother were in England and I was here in the Netherlands. I actually put off looking for a dress for a while, and I guess it should have been one of the first things on my mind. At the time it wasn't a conscious decision to keep putting the visit to the bridal shop off, but looking back, I understand why I was more reluctant than I should have been to try wedding dresses on. It's the little things that suddenly slap you in the face and make you realise that expat life means sacrificing some things to gain others.

Having my first child was another reminder of how expat life changes things. In a non-expat life I had visions of my mother waiting outside the delivery room, eager to see her grandchild. I guess I figured I would have her to lean on, as the voice of experience, whilst I was pregnant in a different country. The reality was a million miles from the ideal. If I look back now I can't say whether there would have been more interest in my children from my mother had I not left England. It's a question I will never have the answer to, but I do know that my expat life changed our relationship for the worse. And I can't change that.

When you opt for an expat life things change. It is inevitable. I wouldn't change my decision to move overseas for all the tea in China, or all the fish 'n' chips back in England. But maybe, I could have been more prepared for the changes that expat life brings about. I don't mean the daily, practical things; I had envisaged those. I mean how expat life changes how the little things turn out, how it challenges the plans and visions you had for yourself, how it strains relationships with those left behind. How it puts turns in the road you hadn't seen coming.

To thrive as an expat I've needed to throw everything I saw for my future self out the window, and start with a clean slate. Make my plans from scratch. I've had to deal with the unexpected, and recover from being blindsided many times. Expat life means a pay off. That is the only certainty.

But I'm glad I've had the chance to find my way through my expat life. The journey was worth it.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

My Sunday Photo: Happy New Year Breakfast

To welcome 2015 in we had a special, feestelijk breakfast of pancakes. It's the little things that create childhood memories, I'm sure.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy 2015: Nieuwjaars Duik

Nothing says Happy New Year like a New Year's Dive into cold water. And so it was with intrepidation that we set off to the Noord Aa in Zoetermeer. 

The band was playing. The orange hats were bobbing in anticipation. The clothes came off. The rescue workers took to the water. Pumped up music started playing. The warm up began. 

And my goodness it was cold. Cold with a capital C. Cold enough to freeze the .... you get the picture.

Next year we may even go in the water ourselves.....

Happy 2015 to all of you - may it be all you wish for.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year: Scheveningen and Oliebollen

When it comes to New Year's Eve in the Netherlands the Dutch seem to like to either blow things up or burn things. A good example of this is in Scheveningen, which is where we headed this afternoon to take a peek.

There, on the beach, pallet mountains are being built to burn at midnight. As a Brit my health and safety alarms were ringing like they have never rung before but hey, their pallet pile, their risk...... right?

It's nuts and I have never seen anything like it - but I guess at midnight it is a fire and a half......

Turning the other direction on the beach, away from Scheveningen,  the view was spectacular. A beautiful image to end the year with.

And in other news today I made oliebollen. From scratch. I have been in the Netherlands now for fourteen years so I thought it was about time I gave it a go. Oliebollen are a doughnut like treat and more traditionally Dutch and New Year's Eve you cannot get. The ones I made looked like oliebollen. They tasted like oliebollen. They were lekker

So on that note, I wish you all a wonderful evening and all the best for 2015!!