If your children are school-age, you'll probably be heaving a sigh of relief at the same time as biting your nails as your precious little one(s) go into their new classes, ready for a new school year . If you have younger children, you're probably thinking about where to send them. School continues to be a hot topic for so long, and has so many issues associated with it. Have I chosen the right school for my child? Is my child happy? How can I make friends with those nice-looking mums over by the gate? Is my child oversensitive? Is my child actually learning anything? Do other children really have donuts for lunch? Why is that mum carrying a tray full of penguins made of liquorice? How can I rustle up a nutritious lunch at 8.15 out of a rind of sweaty cheese and a woolly apple? Why didn't I sit on my hands when it got to the Nit Mum rota?
As one of very few Foreign Mums in our school, it sometimes feels as if there's a list of Secret School Rules that hasn't been shared with me. I know I'm not the only one to have had this feeling, or to have experienced the accompanying tears/ horror when realization dawns that your children are the only pupils in the school not wearing orange (Holland was playing in the World Cup) and you have to do the Pastel Walk of Shame across the playground.
I am certainly not an expert and it's still a learning curve, but at least I'm getting better at working out whom to ask!
- Choosing a school? Check out the Schools section (written by Jessica) and go and visit lots of schools - and if your child is already at a school, write a review and send it to email@example.com
- Make an effort with the teachers - be friendly, and respect the times when you can discuss your child (e.g. by appointment after school). Working with the staff will really help your experience of the school, and will make them more willing to help you.
- Keep a file of school notes and newsletters - and if you don't understand them, ask another mum ASAP! It's much better than puzzling in silence, and avoids awkward misunderstandings.
- Don't be intimidated by groups of mums ! They may seem like they know everyone and everything, but if you just keep on plucking up the courage to walk over and say hi, even if your Dutch is not confident, you'll be fine! In my experience, you find out they are all feeling the same, only your 'foreignness' can make them more shy of speaking to you.
- Do volunteer for things at school - after years of freezing Herfstpad and exhausting museum and farm trips, I actually recommend the dreadful job of Nit Mum (funny how there are no Nit Dads) as you get to be warm, sit down, and chat to other mums. I've made several friends this way. Ok, I'm also now intimate with the anatomical details of a headlouse, but you can't have it all.
- If in doubt, ASK, ASK, ASK! After many occasions of 'doing the wrong thing', unaware of the Secret School Rules, I decided to pick a couple of mums at the school with older children to use as my sources. Sources are vital for those questions about the norms: presents for the teachers at the end of the year, or how much pocket money they give their children on school trips, or what kind of sports kit their children have. You'll still get caught out sometimes, but don't beat yourself up about it! My children seem to be surviving their various traumas. Marianne's blog (www.likeasponge.nl ) often has posts on this subject and is always good for a giggle!
- Get inspired for lunchboxes. If you are like me, and find yourself thinking wistfully about countries where they have school dinners, get some inspiration from the internet. Some good sources are: http://www.netmums.com/family-food/food-for-kids/lunchbox-ideas and http://www.mumsnet.com/food/lunchbox-dos-and-donts and http://www.freshforkids.com.au/lunch_box/lunch_box.html . Not that it always works - while one of my children chows down daily on lunches that would have a nutritionist grinning with delight, the other one often comes home having literally eaten nothing at all. So I just keep on trying. Strawberry sandwich, anyone?
- Feed and water them as they walk out of school! I have discovered that if I give the children something to eat literally as they walk out of school (crackers and cheese, grapes, banana, some breadsticks, a biscuit, whatever) and a beaker of water, it pre-empts the way home bickering that happens otherwise. Mostly.
HomeinLeiden have been talking with Debbie van der Hofstede, (www.oudersenschool.com ) who gives individual and group advice on choosing schools. I'm meeting her next week, and hope to be organizing a talk by her on this subject soon - watch this space for an upcoming event. If you have any ideas for this or specific topics you'd like to be discussed, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The wonderful Alison Sutton, of www.childrearingmatters.com is also a fount of information on working with the school to bring out the best in your child - visit her website for information about new courses coming up or individual consultations.
We've also been talking to Kate Berger of the Expat Kids Club, who offers ' cultural consultancy and mental health coaching for expatriate children and adolescents - so-called "Third Culture Kids" - who are challenged with day-to-day issues surrounding life in a non-native country.' She sounds lovely, and she says she'd love to work in Leiden too. See her website www.expatkidsclub.com for more information.
There'll be lots more on this to follow, but I'm too excited to contain myself any longer. Marie Vijendran's fabulous book on decision-making for families is OUT!
It's an amazing book - Marie has used both her experience with mindfulness (she runs www.mindfulbirth.nl) and her training as an engineer to develop ways in which a family can work together to make decisions. As someone who dithers a lot and tortures herself constantly about whether I've made the right decision, this book is a godsend. It's particularly brilliant in the way it gives concrete and practical tools to help you progress, which appeal to most dads. Combined with her compassionate and gentle approach, these mean that you can use the book to work together as a couple. It's definitely helped us examine what our goals are, and made us realize that behind a decision we were facing there was another quite different issue. It's not in the shops yet, but you can beat them all and buy it on Amazon. There will be a book launch in the autumn and we are also planning a HomeinLeiden event, at which Marie will be giving a talk on decision-making, and signing copies of her book - so we'll be looking forward to that! Watch this space for details.
Jenny's brilliant music group will be starting again this September - contact her quickly to reserve a place as it fills up really soon. A great way to get your little one moving and to make new friends. She says:
Rhythm and Movement class for the under 4s who need to get jiggy!
Tuesdays, 2.45-3:45 at Buurtcentrum De Pancrat, Middelstegracht 85, Leiden.
Starting Tuesday September 11 , and running for 10 weeks non-stop!
There are 16 places available. First come, first paid, first served. The others will be put
on a waiting list in case there are drop outs. The cost is €45 per family , which
the rental of the room, musical instruments to play with during the
sessions and other items which may be required.
Official wiggling begins at 3pm, and soft restful music will be played towards the end
so please feel free to bring a blanket for the kids to lie on, and a small drink and snack
(your child may need it after all the excitement!).
Please dress appropriately : Dance clothes, ballet costumes, tutus, sweat pants and yoga
wear are all clothing which are encouraged to be worn.
Contact Jenny ASAP on email@example.com to book your place!
I've just been talking to Emmy McCarthy, founder of Amsterdam Mamas (www.amsterdam-mamas.nl) and recent winner of Expat of the Year award . This is a fabulous site, based on the same premise as HomeinLeiden but super smart and professional. There are loads of interesting articles, reviews and sections on it, lots of which are relevant for everyone. I love the series 'A Day out in.' which gives great inspiration on where to go in various cities. In fact, I might even be tempted to leave Leiden for once. but in the meantime, they've asked me to write an article for them with ideas for a day out here. If you have any brilliant suggestions, get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org
In the last few months, I've met a lot of brilliant women who have recently moved to Leiden and would like to meet other people, and who have spare time during the day but would rather hang out with their partner in the evening. However, if you don't have kids or indeed your kids are at school, short of coming along to a baby group without a baby, there's not much daytime fun around! I've been thinking of organizing a morning meeting point for international people (it may sound a bit WI coffee morning, but still, new friends are new friends), say once a month. If you would like to come along, to host it sometimes, to help me organize it, or have any ideas, contact me on email@example.com
For the past years, Jessica has had the unrelenting task of managing the What's On section of the website. Thanks to her, we have been able to find inspiration for a bored Wednesday afternoon, or family fun on a Sunday. We have now, however, decided that the work it requires is too much, and will be removing this section from the website. An enormous thank you is due to Jess for her dedication to this section, as well as lots of other work on the website, while juggling family and work commitments (and of course being the Hostess with the Mostess). If, however, you have your finger on the pulse of Leiden and would like to take over, please do contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org!