Friday, 30 October 2015

Halloween Dutch Style

Halloween tends to get bigger every year in the Netherlands. Fifteen years ago when I arrived on Dutch shores the word Halloween was barely uttered in the month of October. Now it's common to see Halloween related goodies in the shops and the odd spookily decorated house towards the end of this month.

A few years ago my neighbourhood started organising a spot of trick or treating for the children and for the last two years our school has also marked Halloween in some way. It's growing in popularity, that's for sure.  

Does your Dutch neighbourhood mark Halloween? Or do you join in celebrations for Sint Maarten on the 11th November? Did you do anything for Halloween in your home country? I'd love to hear about your Halloween then and now!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Starting School in the Netherlands - Little Steps to the Basisschool

As I mentioned in a previous post all of my children are now of school going age. *Gulp* As soon as a child turns four they may start attending primary school in the Netherlands - a big step for such a little person.

"There have been tears. There have been bursts of anger because he doesn’t want to go to a new school. Through the eyes of my highly sensitive three year old all that change is bad, scary. 
Te spannend!” he shouts through his tears."

For my youngest it was a bigger step than he could handle in one go, so we broke the transition up into baby steps to help him get used to going to school every day. We're still busy with that transition, but so far, so good.

Starting School in the Netherlands - Little Steps to the Basisschool

You can read more in my latest article, Little Steps to the Basisschool, written for Passionate Parenting, which shares how we have dealt with the latest big change to hit our family as well as tips and info about starting school in the Netherlands.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Traktatie Time Again: Fruit Peacock

Last week was traktatie time again in our house. My little one turned four and this treat was popular with both children and teachers in his school. And it's healthy!

You can find lots more traktatie and birthday treat ideas on my Pinterest board.


Friday, 16 October 2015

Dutch Primary Schools Lag Behind with Foreign Language Teaching

Platform Onderwijs2032 is looking at the future of the education system in the Netherlands. One of the conclusions drawn from their work to date is that English should be taught from group 1, from the start of a child's school journey.

According to an article on Expatica, just over half of Dutch children are taught a second language in primary school. This falls below the European average.

The government is busy with measures to rectify this situation. It is well acknowledged that children learn languages more easily from a younger age. The reality though is that many of them are not formally introduced to a second language until they are in secondary school.

It's a story that surprised me when I first read it. Lagging behind in foreign language teaching and the Dutch isn't something that struck me as going hand in hand. Let's be clear, the Dutch, on the whole, have excellent foreign language skills. Most of the population can hold a decent conversation in English.

"Amongst nations where English is considered the best-known foreign tongue, the study noted that the Netherlands also had a high proportion of working-age adults "proficient" in the language (36 per cent). This places the Dutch fourth in Europe, with only Malta, Sweden and Cyprus boasting more proficient English speakers. An additional 45 per cent of Dutch adults rated themselves as "good" speakers of English. This means that over 80 per cent of the Netherlands' working population has good English skills" 
(Taken from a 2013 I Am Expat article)

But the content of the Expatica article certainly doesn't contradict my own personal experience with three children in primary school.

My eldest son is in group 5, is eight years old, but as yet has had no formal second language lessons in school. My youngest son recently had a morning of singing English songs, and my middle son has had exposure to a few words of English vocabulary in the classroom. Their English skills are certainly not attributable to their hours in school.

However, they have classmates who are also adept at speaking some English despite not having the benefit of a British mother as my sons do. There are many five year old walking the school corridors with more than a sprinkling of English vocabulary - picked up from their parents, radio and TV. There is exposure to English outside the classroom, even if it is minimal. (I'm pretty sure you'd be hard pressed to find an eight year old who doesn't know the word shit for example...)

The debate at the moment is about the teaching of a second language at primary school level, not about the overall ability of the Dutch to speak foreign languages. Somewhere along the way it comes good. There's no mistake about that - something echoed by the Dutch respondents on my Facebook page to this issue.

My only concern is that if English was taught to the Dutch from group 1 by the time they reach adulthood their English would be more proficient than the English language skills of most English people.......

So over to you: at what age do children start earning a second language in school where you are? What language(s) do they learn? At what age do you think children should start learning languages in school?

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Times, They're a Changing: More Writer, Less Mother?

This week my youngest son turned four. Four. That means he gets to go out into the big, wide world on his own. Well, it means he starts primary school. It's a bittersweet moment. It means my role will change. It will be the first time in nearly nine years that I will have been at home during the week without any children around me. My sons will continue to come home at lunchtime from school and for a little while at least my youngest will be home in the afternoons whilst he builds up his school hours to full-time.

But it's a big change for me. As a mother. As a writer. Hours suddenly open up to me to work more. The projects I have been planning and scheming for the past few years may actually come to fruition. More time to get out and about. More time to work in locations other than my home. 

And as if by magic I received an email from Scaramanga* asking if I would like to take a peek at one of their bags. After squealing a little with delight (shoes I can take or leave, but bags....whole different story!) I realised that the request was perfect timing. I was on the look out for a 'work' bag, one to carry my laptop, countless pages of incoherent notes that come to me as ideas for blog posts, articles and book chapter ideas and all the other things I lug around simply because I have three children.

The large messenger bag I picked out turned to be the perfect choice. Last weekend all five of us headed to the beach to blow the cobwebs away. Through September one son after another has fallen ill with one virus or another, and then head colds hit me and my husband. We needed to get out and get some good sea air in our lungs so we headed to Wassesnaarseslag

I loaded up my beautiful bag with my folders and notes, a notepad, my copy of The Whole-Brain Child book I'm currently reading (which I thoroughly recommend!), pens and the bits and pieces that always sit in my bag. There's plenty of space for everything I could possibly want to take out with me. I planned a bit of writing and reading whilst the boys dug up the beach, as they are prone to do when they get anywhere near the sand.

We had a great few hours. We left home wearing coats, jumpers and even a scarf or two as the weather was cloudy and a bit chilly. By the time we headed home the boys were stripped down to their t-shirts. And their jumpers and scarves? Yep, tucked away safely in my bag........... 

The hours I have to write may be on the rise, but there's no changing the fact that I'm first a mother, second a writer. And I wouldn't have it any other way. 

*I received a free bag of my choice from Scaramanga in exchange for a review on this blog. All views are my own.