30 August 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #14 - Kinderboerderijen

I heart the kinderboerderij.

Our local kinderboerderij (children's farm)

The direct translation to English is "children's farm," but these farms aren't just for kids - it's a great visit even for adults. There are a variety of "farm animals" to see (i.e. rabbits, goats, ponies, alpacas, chickens) as well as some more "unique" animals you might see in a regular zoo. Our local kinderboerderij is home to a large owl, bearded dragons, turtles, toads, and Pied Crows (a type of African raven).

Turtle coming through his "turtle door"

One unimpressed chicken

Bearded dragon
The wise owl
The alpacas recently joined the farm. The brown one is pregnant and due in the spring.

Pied Crow
Lovey parakeets

Our neighborhood kinderboerderij is still working on its "finishing touches" since it opened this summer, but it's already offering occasional weekend activities for children, a small library, and a few of the neighborhood kids have been allowed to volunteer and learn to care for the animals. Depending on the rules and staff of each kinderboerderij, some of the animals can be pet or fed by visitors.

A happy Little Man with konijn (rabbit)

Our local kinderboerderij also sports an observation tower to make it easier to get a great view of the facility and the surrounding fields. The Scottish Highlander cows that roam the fields around here can be seen more easily (though every time I think about getting a picture, they're nowhere to be found), and sometimes the different types of geese or ducks stop buy to sample the grass (but not when I'd like to take a picture).

The observation tower

View of the farm from the tower

View of the fields from the tower

The kinderboerderijen are located all over the country and easily found via Google or checking a city's website. Tilburg's city website lists six kinderboerderijen in the city, but one was recently built in our neighborhood hasn't yet been added to the list, making at least seven available in Tilburg alone.

And the best part about the kinderboerderijen is that they are free admission to all. This is a fantastic perk for us because we have been making almost-daily trips since the grand opening; but it also makes it easier for anyone to go and enjoy the animals or excited children and maybe learn something, too.

28 August 2013


I've written at various points before about the nature surrounding our neighborhood. I'm not an "outdoorsy" person, but it's nice that there are so many things for the Little Man to experience in nature. In particular, there is an extraordinary number of bramen (blackberry) bushes growing wild in the wooded areas around Tilburg, and the harvesting season is upon us. This morning I figured it was the perfect opportunity to show the Little Man how to pick the berries, share the story of how I did the same thing with a bush in my yard when I was young, and create his own berry picking story. 

All our picking was done along a long stretch of fietspad (bike path) along the woods, so it's easy to walk right up to the bushes.

In some places the bushes are about 8 feet tall - you can see the same types of leaves all the way up that tree truck.

People have regularly come through and picked the berries, but there are still plenty of ripe berries if you look around the bunches...

And plenty more will ripen in good time.

And even though Little Man had to work through his fear of "pokies" from the thorns...

And I had to work through my fear of accidentally bringing home a spider...

We came home with a good harvest.

Some of which was consumed on site. It tastes the best that way.

27 August 2013

6 Typical Dutch Things We've Adopted

There are some habits or actions that we do automatically, but they're really a feature of the culture in which we were raised. For instance, as an American, loading up on dry groceries and shelf-stable items at a Costco or Sam's Club doesn't make me blink, and I know plenty of people that also stock up after a Costco run. But to someone from another continent, coming home with the 64 roll party pack of toilet paper and an 8 pound box of Cheerios doesn't make sense - because why on earth would you need a pack of toilet paper the size of a garden shed and enough Cheerios to feed a horse for a week all at the same time? And where the heck would you store all of it?

That being said, there are several "typical Dutch" habits that we've adopted in the last year that might turn heads back in the States - especially the instances involving a bike. We've taken these on, and we're not turning back, especially when it involves food.

1. Riding a bicycle in the rain while holding an umbrella. This is with or without the child on the back. It sounds seemingly simple, but balancing a bike well enough to get on it one-handed (especially with the extra weight of Little Man) is not something that comes naturally to me. But forcing yourself to do it is a lot better than making your arrival looking like a drowned rat.

2. Riding a bicycle with one (or more) 24-count crate(s) of beer. This is also done with or without the child on the back. I'd like to point out that a fresh crate is pretty heavy, but when you don't have a car it sure beats walking with it. There's an absolutely hilarious Amstel commercial showing a man acting out this normal action - but I think it's mostly funny to us because this would look like utter madness in the States.

3. Airing the pillows and the comforter out the window. This may be done other places, but I can promise that I never saw it in the States. I like it - it freshens things up without taking the time to wash and hang-dry - though I recommend checking the outside of the window for spiderwebs before sticking your stuff out the window, otherwise you may be in for a nasty surprise...

4. Owning a fryer. This may seem counter intuitive because the Netherlands is pretty consistently listed as one of the healthiest countries in the world, but the Dutch love their frites (French fries). Any time we've bought frozen snack foods (fries, chicken nuggets, cheese puffs) they've come with directions for frying, and I can testify from experience that cooking in the pan and oven just doesn't work.

5. Cafe culture. Okay, so this is more broadly a European thing - but what's not to like about eating and drinking outside? There are so many cafes in any city centre that you really should take advantage. Some places in the States have outdoor seating, but there's something special about sitting in city centre and watching the people go by or sitting along a canal watching the boats with a good cappuccino.

6. Hagelslag (sprinkles) for breakfast (or lunch). This is one of the reasons I Heart Holland - it's completely acceptable to give your child candy on toast for breakfast or lunch. Whether you prefer typical ice cream-related sprinkles, flavored sprinkles, or chocolate shavings, there's something for your taste and it makes a delicious and fun breakfast treat. And really, it's no worse for you than most sugar-laden American processed cereals.

What types of habits have you "adopted" from your new home (whether in a foreign country or even a different region of your home country)?

26 August 2013

Monday Coffee Morning, School, and Keeping it Together

It's Monday! Thanks to Molly at The Move to America for hosting the Monday Coffee Morning linky! Check out her blog - she's got some interesting thoughts as she prepares for the actual move to the States!

The Move to America

Our week won't be as exciting as the last few weeks have been, but we're getting ready just the same. The Little Man came home speaking more Dutch than normal after each school day last week, so we're keeping the goal of learning one new Dutch word each day. He's got a great new teacher that really liked the idea of our goal and has been reinforcing it at school and helping him come out of his shell a bit more. When he moves to the kleuterschool (nursery school/kindergarten for kids aged 4-6) after his birthday, it seems like he'll have a better base of the language.

Tonight, we have a general information meeting at the kleuterschool to get an idea of what to expect of the school and other information about the school year. This will be the next step in our education of the Dutch school systems, and while aspects will be familiar to what we know of the American system there are sure to be some differences we aren't anticipating. The meeting will be entirely in Dutch, and while I've been feeling a little more confident about my Dutch lately, I'm hoping for handouts to take home and translate later. Even so, I'm going in with a good and hopeful attitude.

Mark is making a trip to Lithuania this week for a conference. It'll be a good experience for him (an interesting and new place to visit and a chance to meet others in his field), and he's looking forward to the trip. Our job at home will be to ensure we don't dissolve into a Lord of the Flies type of situation without an extra adult in the house.

And if we can maintain some degree of normal at home, maybe I'll finish my little critters as I intended to last week. Making my menagerie didn't quite work out last week as I imagined, so it's time to try again.

Here's to the new week!

23 August 2013

Shear Terror

Yesterday I went and had my hair cut, which was a bit nerve-wracking. Since I left my most favorite stylist ever when I left the Boston area, getting a haircut has been a bit terrifying - I have a pretty high bar set for anyone that touches my head. Now, throw in the fact that my Dutch is only "okay" at best and that even when using English I'm not actually sure what terms will make the most sense to the hairdressers. So going for a trim is a bit more of an adventure than before.


I've found a place nearby that seems to do a pretty good job, so I felt comfortable going back even though I knew I would likely have a different person than the previous times. The first time, I was able to get through using only Dutch and the woman cutting my hair seemed to understand everything I was trying to say, and everything came out fine. The second time, my brain wasn't quite operating on full-power and my Dutch failed miserably, but the woman had no problem letting me carry on in English and was happy to chat with me in English - and it came out even better.

This time, things were... different...

Again, I had a different woman, but she just wasn't as friendly as the other two. First, my stumbling Dutch did me the disservice of accidentally telling her "nee" (no) when she asked me to take off my glasses - I apologized and explained that I'm still learning Dutch, but still... Strike one. Next, I got all jumbled up trying to say how short I wanted her to go and reverted into the English out of desperation... Strike two. Then, I asked her to keep thinning out the back when she was just about finished. She took the extra moment to finish it off as I asked, but was pretty annoyed that I wasn't satisfied... Strike three. She slapped some wax in to "finish" it, took my money, and sent me on my way.

The way the wax went on my head, I walked out looking like I just had an oil shower, and the crazy thought of, "Maybe I should just shave my head" popped into my mind without invitation before I could talk myself down. But as a friend once said, you walk out of a haircut "salon-ified" - you just need to wait until you shower and dry it yourself the next day and things won't look so unnatural. So I kept my cool and waited.

Thankfully, as morning came and I "Ace-ified" my hair, things were better, though it will still take a few more days for it to feel "normal." I'll probably still go back to the same place, but next time I think I'll wait for someone else.

So, now I put to you: What are your terror-inducing "every day" errands in a new/different country?

22 August 2013

Following Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum

Yesterday was our excursion to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to follow the path of the characters in one of Little Man's favorite books, Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum (the original Dutch title is Aap en Mol in het Rijksmuseum), by Gitte Spee. Mole accidentally tunnels into the museum and is so impressed by what he sees, he brings his friend, Monkey. The two start to explore but attract the attention of an unhappy guard and are chased around the museum. While trying to hide, they bump into the director of the museum, who happily shows them that the museum is home to all sorts of animals, and invites them back for another visit. It's a perfect story that follows a child's imagination but also introduces them to famous works of art at home in the museum. Our goal during our visit yesterday was to use the book as a "scavenger hunt" guide and see all of the items that Monkey and Mole saw.

The day worked out even better than I could have hoped for - this was definitely one of my better field trip ideas. It takes about 2 hours to get from our home to Amsterdam, and Little Man

couldn't wait to be there. We brought the book with us, to be sure that we saw everything that Monkey and Mole saw, and read it several times on the trip up, which only increased the anticipation of our visit.

The Rijksmuseum from the Museumplein

We arrived mid-morning, and set right into the adventure. And just to prove we did it, we took pictures of everything that we found. (Though I realize while typing this that we forgot to take a picture of Vermeer's The Milkmaid. Whoops.)

Floor as designed by the museum architect, Pierre Cuypers in 1885

Rembrandt's The Nightwatcht, 1642
Jan Asselijn's The Threatened Swan, 1640s - already a favorite of Little Man's

Delft tulip vase towers, 1692

Petronalla Oortman's doll house, 1686

FK-23 Bantam designed by Fritz Koolhoven, 1917

Amor by Etienne-Maurice Falconet, 1757
And for the record, Little Man posed himself without my suggestion.

Meissen porcelain monkey, 1733

Kangxi period (1661-1722) Chinese porcelain vases

The only really difficult items find were the two Kangxi period vases with the gilded lions on top. They were tucked away in the "Special Collections" room, surrounded by hundreds of other pieces of Chinese porcelain and other ancient "pretties." And Little Man's only complaint about the visit: We didn't get to meet the director or find Mole's tunnel - otherwise he also declared the trip a success.

We ate lunch at a snack stand on the Museumplein - some lekker (delicious) hotdogs and icecream - when Little Man remembered that the Van Gogh Museum is also on the Museumplein and asked if we could go inside. I was a bit shocked, but if your three year old asks to go into an art museum, you don't ask questions and go straight into the art museum. The line was down the block, but this created another opportunity for me to praise the amazing-ness that is the Museumkaart. Because we had the Museumkaart, we skipped the entire line, which would have been a 30-45 minute wait just to get in the door even for the e-ticket holders, and sauntered in like regulars.

As it turns out, the Van Gogh Museum also has a children's scavenger hunt available at the Information Desk. It's really designed for kids around ages 9-12, but we tried our best and Little Man was able to do some of the activities. And at the end, the kids turn in their clipboard and get to choose a free postcard of a Van Gogh painting. We took advantage of our time, saw the "highlights" - a self-portrait, irises, skull, sunflowers, and Little Man's declared favorite: tree roots - before heading back to Tilburg. 

This trip was such a success, that I'm amending What I've Learned about Taking My Kid to Museums and adding a tip about scavenger hunts. This was a fantastic way to engage Little Man and show him other things while searching for the items on the list. *Pats self on the back*

And now I'm taking suggestions for future field trips - Any good ideas for making typically "grownup" activities fun for kids?

20 August 2013

Our Moving Day Suitcases: A Reflection on Packing

A friend from college recently made a transition from the States to Norway a contacted me for any advice I could give about making the big move. I offered some (what I hope was helpful) advice based on our own experience of arriving in Amsterdam; and it got me thinking about the good, bad, and stupid packing decisions we made for our suitcases.

When we flew to the Netherlands for the move, we used IcelandAir because of the ease of adding the cats onto our itinerary. Since it was a trip that originated in the States, each passenger was allowed 2 checked bags and the carry-on - in my experience since then, trips (even round-trips) from Europe to the US only allow one checked bag per ticket, and a second bag is charged. Our moving day suitcases were based on the 2 checked bags expectation.

Some of our moving day suitcases.
Not pictured: 2 additional medium sized suitcases,
 1 additional cat carrier, 3 carry-ons, and stroller.

The Good:

  • Cat food and bowls. Since we were moving with "the boys" we had some cat food in a 2 gallon ziplock bag and their dishes. This ended up being great since they could eat as soon as they settled their nerves AND we didn't have to figure out buying cat food for a few weeks. With all the other things we had to think about, delaying this detail was helpful.
  • Bed sheets and towels. We didn't have real beds when we arrived, but our very kind relocation company provided a blowup bed and toddler bed for us while we made our furniture purchases. They also provided sheets, but it was great to have an extra set "just in case" and while we washed and dried a set. We also brought a towel for each of us, so we could take showers when we arrived. Thanks goes to my mom for thinking about these items before we boxed them up for the shipping company.
  • Adapters and universal power strips. When we arrived, we were able to plug in our computers and iPods, so we knew what time it was. At first we did this with standard plug adapters. But as we slowly acquired European electronics, we used the power strips so we could have the computers (with North American prongs) and the CD player (with European prongs) plugged by the same area without too much confusion of cords. And since we bought the "universal" style, when we ended up with a clock for Little Man with UK style prongs and could plug that in with the lamp we shipped from America. NOTE: Check the voltage and Hz capabilities of your electronics before packing. Plugging in something that doesn't fit the requirements of your new home will "blow" and possibly provide a few exciting moments in your electrical education.
  • Winter clothes. Because we live further north now, it started getting cooler earlier in the year. Our shipped items hadn't arrived yet, but we were already digging into the suitcases for sweaters and sweatshirts. This probably isn't necessary if you're moving to on/near the equator.
  • E-Reader. Our stuff (including all of our books) didn't arrive for nearly 2 months after we did. During that time, we also hadn't bought a TV or most of our furniture. Since Little Man was still taking 2 hour naps in the afternoon and Mark was at work, I read during nap time. I made it through the first four books in the Game of Thrones series, three Jane Austen novels, Jane Eyre, and the Anne of Green Gables series before our things arrived. Despite your feelings towards the "classics" this was far better than twiddling my thumbs and staring at the cats during nap times.
  • All the sippy cups. We had five sippy cups at the time. We didn't have to worry about finding a new one if one was lost, and we could let them "air out" after being washed before the next use. 
  • Travel toy train case with built-in track. This was a bigger item to shove in the suitcase, but I'm glad we did. We bought it before we left Chicago specifically so Little Man could take some of his trains without having them scatter all over the inside of a carry-on and make a nuisance. We also didn't have to deal with loose pieces of track since it's built into the case.

The train case. One of the better purchase- and packing-decisions I've made in my lifetime.

The Bad:

  • We didn't pack the shopping bags. I was participating in my own small scale "SAVE THE EARTH!!!" campaign in Chicago and I had a bunch of reusable shopping bags, which I shipped. In Europe, they've already transitioned to charging you for purchasing plastic shopping bags to cut down on waste and costs. I already knew this, but it slipped my mind when packing. I ended up buying another reusable bag upon arrival, and added it to the collection when the rest of our stuff arrived.
  • We should have brought more cash. We knew there were differences between North American and European debit and credit cards, but we had no idea how drastic those differences were. In addition to the strip on the back of the card, European cards have an extra chip on the front of the card that is typically what the debit machines are reading when you make a purchase. You can use your North American debit card at the ATM, but not in the stores. Likewise, without the chip on the front and a PIN code, many places cannot process a North American credit card. This was an interesting realization at the register at IKEA when trying to make a big purchase. We made it through the wait for our European debit cards to arrive, but navigating the money differences was a bit stressful.

The Stupid:

  • We didn't pack any plates, cutlery, cups, or a pan. We should have kept a cheapo-reusable plastic plate and cutlery setting for each of us instead of donating them all. Likewise, we should have packed at least one mug for each grownup. And we should have packed at least one pan and cooking spoon. We realized upon arrival that we had no way of cooking or serving food. So after the kind relocation folks escorted a dazed and jet-lagged me to the grocery store for some essentials, they took me to another store to buy some cookware so we wouldn't go hungry during our first few days. Why I thought of it for the cats but not for us is still beyond me.
  • Five children's books wasn't enough. Seriously. After 2 months of reading the same five books over and over, I think I can still recite them nearly a year later. Even Little Man had no interest in them for months after all his other books arrived. 

Any thoughts from those that have made the "big move" before? Your good/bad/stupid packing choices, advice, and stories are welcome!

19 August 2013

In the Groove Again and Monday Coffee

Now that Little Man has made it through a week of being back at school, I feel like we've mostly gotten our groove back. But even while we're back in the routine, we setting some goals again this week, and we're linking back up with Molly at The Move to America to join in her Monday Coffee Morning Social.

The Move to America

Firstly, I'd like to say that last week I DID get that blanket and my book finished, so a small hooray and pat on the back for me. And we did make a point to do some monolingual play with Little Man every day (meaning we didn't push the Dutch words) which I think he appreciated, so I feel like last week was rather successful. 

We've discussed with the Little Man starting a goal of learning a new word in Dutch each school day. Since he's figured out how to ask "Wat is dat in 't Nederlands?" (What is that in Dutch?), we're going to work on then retaining the information, and hopefully get some more verbs in his vocabulary.

This Wednesday, Little Man and I will take a trip up to Amsterdam and head into the Rijksmuseum. When Grandma and Grandpa visited, they gave Little Man the book Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum after our visit to the museum. Since we didn't see everything that Monkey and Mole find in the book, we're going to go back and try to see each of the pieces in the book. I know that Little Man will be especially happy to see Jan Asselijn's The Threatened Swan again, and I have a feeling that seeing the little angel Amor will be exciting, too. This may be one of my best "field trip" ideas yet, but I feel like we should do it before Little Man moves to full-time school, so we're taking advantage of his usually plan-less-Wednesdays.

This week, I started up with a new crocheting project - making tiny stuffed animals... They're relatively quick to put together, so I'm hoping to create a little menagerie and get a few set away as gifts. They're cute and the design is versatile, so with any luck, this will work as well as I think it will.  

I'm also cooking up a week's worth of posts about Dutch food and recipes for sometime in the near future (10 points to you if you caught that awful pun). This should be both delicious and informative, but I need to do a little more homework before putting my plan into action. More updates to come!

Hoping your week (and ours) will be good and productive! 

16 August 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Fixa Zelfklevende Meubeldop/Stick-on Floor Protectors

School's back, and so is IKEA Vrijdag!

After our summer holidays, we started to realize that it was time to replace some of the furniture pads on the bottom of our Vilmar kitchen chairs, and since the opportunity for taking photos of nice, clean pads presented itself, the Fixa Zelfklevende Meubeldop/Stick-on Floor Protectors (20 pack) is being featured in this week's IKEA Vrijdag review.

We rent our home, but we don't own the flooring. The owner will come back to the house at the end of our lease, so we're keeping things in as good a condition as possible. So when we started to assemble our furniture, we felt obligated to give the flooring a little more TLC than we have in the past, and purchased more Fixa Zelfklevende Meubeldop/Stick-on Floor Protectors than we had furniture legs to stick them on.

Fixa Zelfklevende Meubeldop/Stick-on Floor Protectors (20 pack)

It's a simple product: It's essentially a fuzzy sticker. There are plenty of other companies that produce these types of products. But IKEA conveniently places these things in a giant bin by the display kitchen chairs and tables, so you grab 10-12 packs (and there are 20 pads per pack, mind you) "just to be sure" you don't forget all together and "just to be sure" you have enough for all your furniture legs. Speaking from experience and 10 or so packages later *ahem*, please trust me, you will have plenty.

Since these Fixa pads are just fancy stickers, they will need to be replaced, specifically on things like kitchen chairs that get a lot of movement. I should have replaced ours on the kitchen chairs 3 months ago - half had fallen off and the other half were beyond help. It's not really the fault of the product - they're heavily used and also have daily encounters with spills (by children and adults) and more cat hair than I care to admit.

If you can peel a sticker, you can peel and apply these pads. Your aim is dependent upon your own skills. Some IKEA items are perfectly suited for these pads. The legs of our Tullsta Fauteuil/Airchair and Urban Juniorstoel/Junior Chair are the perfect fit for these pads.

Perfectly sized for the Urban Juniorstoel/Junior Chair

But, our Vilmar Stoel/Chair is not sized for these pads (or maybe it's the other way around?). It may be hard to tell from this picture, but the pads are bigger than the chair legs and hang over exposing some of the sticky side, and so in combination with the heavy use, they fall off of the Vilmar easier than any other IKEA product we own.

Not well-sized for the Vilmar Stoel/Chair.
And yes, those are my own legs in the shot...

The pads generally work, and they're cheap, but there's no reason to purchase these from IKEA if it's going to take a special trip. There are other companies that make the same exact product. We give the Fixa Zeldklevende Meubeldop/Stick-on Floor Protectors 3 Swedish Meatballs on our 5 Meatball scale. They work, but I feel like IKEA should have sized these better for their kitchen chairs, since that's the type of item that will really put these pads to the test.

Life in Dutch Rating for the Fixa Zeldklevende Meubeldop/Stick-on Floor Protectors:

15 August 2013

Birds of a Feather

I've written before about how great it is that our neighborhood is surrounded by nature and how accessible it is - but there are some days that it really continues to astound me (being the city kid I am) and how close we can get to some of the animals. We've especially taken to the ducks that live in our neighborhood. There's a small pond just a street over with more ducks living in or near the pond than you would find "in the wild." There's no way that the natural environment would support such a huge number of ducks in such a small area.

It's possible here because the neighbors all at some time or another throw a bunch of stale bread out to the "wildlife." And the ducks stay around, because, who doesn't love free food?

There are about 38 happy ducks (and one ECSTATIC Little Man) in this picture.
About 12 more ducks didn't make it into the frame.

But the story actually goes a little deeper for the ducks than just, "Hey, look, bread! Let's hang out here."

One of our neighbors is a very sweet lady that might be described as "the duck lady." She has names for some of her favorites, she knows the mated pairs, and she knows which duck is the mother to somebody else. She knows these ducks. We got to know her because of Cathrine.

Cathrine with her 3 week old ducklings.

Cathrine is (you may have guessed) a duck. She's distinctive because she has very light brown feathers in comparison to the other ducks, and we saw a lot of her because she hatched 13 ducklings earlier this spring in the pond. While feeding Cathrine, we met the "duck lady," who proceded to tell us how she rescued and raised Cathrine as a duckling, released her into the pond, and helps Cathrine out by feeding each crop of ducklings. This turned out to be great for us, because Cathrine stuck around and we watched the ducklings grow and talked about how different kinds of birds care for their young.

Cathrine with ducklings at about 8 or 9 weeks old.

Cathrine with her grown ducklings.

It's also great for us (and the ducks), because the ducks are half-tame. They know who the "regulars" are that come with a snack, and a few of the braver ones will eat out of your hand. Cathrine even comes when she's called.

Our favorite - the "Dalmatian Duck" - one
of the braver ducks that eats from the hand.
And he's easy to identify.

Generally, this is all good fun. We have fun watching some ducks, the ducks get food, and I feel like Little Man has developed a healthy respect for the animals. We'll see if they all stick around during the fall and winter. But until then, we'll keep taking the time to "visit" and make sure we bring a snack along.

13 August 2013

Odd Kid Out: Secondary Language Concerns for a Monolingual Family

It's no secret that we're all attempting to learn Dutch in this house. Some days it goes better than others, and some days it seems as if it hardly happens at all. Little Man went back to school yesterday and I've been taking Dutch lessons since March. Mark took a class back last autumn, and we found what looks like a decent program to reinforce what we already know and build off of that. We attempt to read Dutch children's books with the Little Man. There's a purposeful, daily attempt to expand our knowledge.

Just a small pile of some of our "homework"

Yet even with all this learning time, we're not totally immersed. We continue to speak English at home (though sprinkled with as much Dutch as we can manage). TV shows (for adults) imported from America and the UK are not dubbed, instead subtitles are added to the bottom. So many people speak English that it's very easy to fall into the habit of, "Sorry, mijn Nederlands is niet goed. Spreek u Engels?" (Sorry, my Dutch isn't good. Do you speak English) and getting a fully conversationally fluent answer back in English. Even the older kids on the playground often know enough English that they can hold a decent conversation. But we continue to work on it - for us, but more importantly, for the Little Man. Sure, every parent wants their kid to succeed, but we've developed a different sense of urgency about it since moving to the Netherlands.

As a monolingual parent, you want your kid to fit in when surrounded by a different language. Little Man will always be a buitenlander (foreigner) to some extent - his birth in another country and his American parents will ensure that. Gaining a solid understanding of the language while growing up within the culture will lessen that "otherness."But for now, I can see when he plays at the playground that the kids his age don't really know what he's doing. Part of that is being three and not being self-aware enough to introduce yourself to someone new, so why would you also think to say "Ik ben draak" (I'm a dragon) when you run up to a new friend, growling and flapping your arms? But if the other kids are talking to him about what he's doing, he's not getting it. At least not yet.

You also want your child to have as many opportunities for success as possible, and much of a child's success is (for better or worse) determined by their school performance. The better the child's grasp of the language, the more successful they will be. Having parents actively participating in the learning process is another indicator of a child's academic success. If we want to be able to help when he's struggling with homework or when he has new material, we have to know what the instructions say or what the teacher may send home for classroom notes. We don't want Little Man to be "labeled" or put at a learning disadvantage because his (or our) language skills have held him back.

You want to be able to communicate with your kid's friends. Parents of other children might not be comfortable with you watching their kid during after school projects or play dates if you can't communicate with them, and it's not necessarily fair to rely on your own child to translate.

We keep in mind that he is "only" 3 years old. We know that he has friends that speak English and Dutch. We know that he has many years of school before him. Our own understanding of Dutch is improving. But the concerns will continue to be there - so we all continue plugging away at our Dutch.

12 August 2013

Back to School and Monday Coffee

Do you hear that? It's the sound of a tiny angelic chorus singing... The occasion? School is back in session, and it is glorious.

This morning, I'm linking up to Monday Coffee with The Move to America:

The Move to America

Every Monday, Molly at The Move to America sets up this blog hop for folks to share some goals for the week, and the former teacher in me finds it appropriate that with school starting I share some of our goals for the week (and a little longer term). And Mark was kind enough to brew me up a whole supply of iced coffee over the weekend, so I'm all ready to participate.

Don't worry, I'm not drinking my way through breakfast.
This was the best container we had for the iced coffee process.
And I think it's funny.

Little Man is heading back to peuterspeelzaal after the 6 week long summer vacation. He still goes 4 days a week, but this is still only about 10 hours total; and since he'll be moving to regular full-time school after his 4th birthday, we're anxious for his Dutch to improve further. He's got lots of nouns and some verbs down, but not too many phrases or sentences. In preparation for his return to school, we've coached him on saying "Wat is dat in 't Nederlands?" (What is that in Dutch?) in hopes that he'll be more comfortable asking his teachers when something is unclear. And, of course, we'll continue to do what we can at home.

Ready to go back to school!

And while we're pushing the Dutch, also remembering to have some monolingual playtime every day, just to let Little Man be Little Man. Sometimes the phrase, "No, do it in English," is uttered because, like the rest of us, sometimes he just needs a break.

Some before-school Matchbox Car action.

The start of the new school year is also time for me to work on my Dutch. My goal, now that I have a few hours to myself again, is to dedicate an 1 hour every school day to my studies. I've been trying this over the summer, but more often than not the hour didn't work out like I thought it would and I would scramble after Little Man's bedtime to get just something accomplished.

I'm nearly done with my recent read, Decartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason, and I'd like to get it done this week before heading into the next book. The book is rather interesting and a relatively easy read, following the history of how Rene Decartes' bones (his skull specifically) has been used physically and symbolically by philosophers and scientists through the centuries to prove a point or to push an agenda. So far, I recommend it.

And I NEED to finish this blanket. I've been working on this blanket for about 6 months now... It's one giant granny-square, and I am oh-so-close to finally finishing it. There are just about 4 more "tails" to tuck in and then it is complete. And I've been saying for the last 3 days that I'm going to finish it "today." So, I should get on that...

It's finally complete... or nearly so...

Here's to the new school year, and a new week of possibilities, and completed projects!
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