Living in The Netherlands has been an eye opening experience for me. Not only does our family get to enjoy the beautiful flowers, rich history, and charming small towns throughout this small country, but we are getting to experience the Dutch lifestyle first-hand.
There are so many great things to mention about the Dutch way of life, but one has especially stood out to me in particular as a mother to two young children. Most of the Dutch mothers I have met are just not as stressed out as so many of my friends feel in the United Sates.
The children here in The Netherlands still have school, sports, after school activities just like the children do in the US, but the mothers of these children don’t seem to have a permanent tension line in between their eyebrows like I often felt like I had in the US.
I have thought about why this is the case here and not with so many stressed out mothers in the US. I am not an expert, but I have observed a few things here, which seem to be key in creating a less stressed out mother. One aspect of life here that I have noticed is the way that being outside and getting exercise is a way of life here. Not only do the Dutch people ride bikes most places, but also the children here are encouraged to go outside and play…without constant supervision of parents. I feel less stressed about wondering if I am exercising enough because I am biking most days, and I am embracing the Dutch philosophy of not helicopter parenting my children all the time. I let my 11-year son walk to the toy store near my friend’s house with his two other friends (about a mile walk there), which I would never have done in the US. I would have been worried that something would happen and he would be unsafe. But here, I know there is a risk of something happening if I let him go with his friends without an adult, but somehow, I find myself relaxing and trusting my son just a bit more that he has listened to things I have taught him about staying safe with his friends. At school, the children here have an outdoor classroom where they are learning to garden and plant seeds to harvest in the fall from their school garden. They literally have time to stop and smell the roses! They also only go to school for half a day on Wednesdays in the elementary school which builds in more time for unstructured playtime (outside) with friends. This in turn leads to my children being happy that they have this time for themselves. Being outdoors more and not always hovering over my children, and more free time for my children has also let me shed a few more layers of stress I had felt before we moved here.
One of the things I noticed immediately here is that school is important, but it is not such a pressure cooker of tests and performance grades. I wrote a post a few months ago talking about the difference in testing between The Netherlands and the US. It is a huge difference in the stress level not only of the children, but also in their parents. If one of my Dutch friends’ children comes home and says he or she didn’t do so well on an assignment at school, my friends don’t immediately rush to check their email to see what grade their child got and then look at their average for the class to make sure they are not falling behind depending on if it is a major or a daily grade. As a matter of fact, the parents here can’t do that at all because there aren’t any grades given at the children’s school here until the equivalent of sixth grade. If there is something a child doesn’t do so well on, the parents talk to their child about it to see what they could do to do better the next time. And, the teachers will go over the material again to make sure the students really understand it. The teachers teach in a way that seems tailored to each child’s needs and there doesn’t seem to be so much comparison between the students about who did better on an assignment. There is not stress about moving on and losing a day of instruction because another topic has to be covered so quickly. The kids really understand what is being taught. And, the teachers here have an open door policy with the parents. We can go in in the morning and see what the children are up to in the classroom and then if we have a question, we can stop by and actually talk to the teacher in the afternoon. That never happened at the school in the US. Once my children are in the school, I could only enter through the main office once I have picked up a badge. And, if I wanted to ask the teacher a question I would only be able to communicate through email.
As a former teacher, those safeguards need to be in place to protect the teachers and the students in the wake of the terrible things we all heard that have happened in US schools. No one here is worried about someone coming into a school to harm children here because it just doesn’t usually happen. As an American entering the school for the first time with my kids, I was immediately alarmed about the doors being open and welcoming all the parents into the building. However, after just a few days, I felt the sense of community and the sense that we truly are welcome in our children’s education. That in itself was when I felt a weight lift away.
Please don’t mistake my praise of the Dutch lifestyle for thinking the US lifestyle is in some way bad. I just know that moms don’t have to be stressed out all the time, and moving here has proven that fact to me. As much as I really do love the US, there are a few things we could learn from The Netherlands. I feel as if I can just breathe here…and if I am lucky enough when I take that deep breath, I may even get to actually look around and smell the beautiful flowers here.
This is an original post for World Moms Network written by Meredith. You can read more about her life as an expat in Nigeria and transition back to the US on her blog We Found Happiness and her current life as an expat living in the Netherlands on her blog Getting On The bicycle .
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
As one phase of motherhood is coming to an end, another one is beginning. I still remember his huge brown eyes looking up at me and smiling when we would play peek –a –boo., and he would belly laugh when he was a baby. I remember how he went through separation anxiety when someone else would hold him and how he told me he was going to marry me…
Somewhere along the line, that baby grew up into a little boy and that little boy has grown up into an eleven year old pre-teen. When once there was a time when he would beg me to help out; now it seems I need to ask three or four times before he claims to hear me…
He used to love to give me hugs and kisses before going into school, but now we need to give hugs and kisses before school when no one can see us. He still wants to sit and cuddle on the couch during family movie time, but just not in front of his friends.
I admit, at first, it made me sad that he seemed to pull away from me more. He was my first baby, and the thought of him not needing me anymore frightened me. I knew about babies and young children. I was comfortable with young children, and the thought of him slowly going down the path of becoming a teenager was something I almost couldn’t comprehend.
Now, the reality of him journeying towards his teenage years is not a decade away but right on the horizon, I realize how lucky and privileged I am to have had those early years with him. I am choosing to look forward to all the great memories our family will have with him as we enter into this new and unchartered territory together.
He is able to help me carry luggage and understand my crazy jokes now. He can talk to me and discuss one of the many novels he has read. I can see the progress he has made playing soccer since he was four years old. I am able to witness first-hand the compassion and empathy he feels for his friends and those around him. In his short life, he has lived in four countries and visited eleven. Our family has been able to experience so much with him, and I know there are so many more exciting things we will be able to experience with him.
It is a little scary for me to enter into these pre-teen and teenage years along with him. And I know after he goes through them, my daughter will be right behind him.
I feel, as a mom, I am caught somewhere between parenting a baby and a young man who is trying to find himself.
The realization that I have fewer years with him living under my roof now than I have already had with him is setting in. I think he is feeling a type of confusion too: wanting his mom around, but not in the same way as before. I always thought when my children grew up, it would get easier. It doesn’t get easier…it gets different. My children need me but in different ways than when they were small. When they were small it was easier to figure out what they needed: feeding, changing, holding, etc. and I was physically exhausted. Now, they still need me, but in subtler ways,
which are mentally exhausting, and I am learning to take my son’s lead.
I am learning that I need to take a backseat sometimes and let him go. I am learning to respect what he wants like his need to have his hair longer than I would prefer. And, I try very hard to listen intently when he describes the latest saga in the video games he loves.
Sometimes, I feel like I am walking on a tightrope. If I lean too far to the right, I am not happy, and too far to the left, he isn’t happy. It takes such mental stamina to balance on that tightrope.
It does get annoying sometimes, though, with his phase of remembering every single word I say and being able to twist it in a way to benefit him. I think that goes along with the territory of arguing that he is always right and everything can be blamed on someone else. We all went through that phase in our lives when we were trying to figure ourselves out. This time is a rite of passage, and I know it is just that…a phase. I know on the other side of this phase will be an adult. One whom I hope will have had the proper guidance to be a happy and well-adjusted adult.
It is interesting how quickly our children absorb what they have been taught in their short lives. I can already see glimpses of what he will be like as an adult.
There are so many exciting adventures and memories ahead of us on this unknown journey of parenting a pre-teen boy. For the first time in my life, I don’t have a “lesson plan” for parenting. I am learning (slowly) how to go day by day and understand what he needs from me at the time.
I read somewhere that you know you have done a good job parenting your children when you have worked yourself right out of your job. Although I am not ready for that yet, I do understand what it means. I want him to grow to be a happy independent adult. I want him to experience happiness and success in his life along with the failures. But, maybe I also want just a little bit of him to still need me in his life when he grows up. I know there is plenty of time until that happens, and until then, I am going to continue to walk the tightrope of parenting a pre-teen boy. As my Dad says, time is fleeting, and I want to try to enjoy these years as much as I can. And, also, I am going to call my parents and thank them profusely for putting up with me during my pre-teen years!!
Do you have a pre-teen? How did you feel as your children entered into the pre-teen years? Was there anything you did to make the transition easier for both of you?
This is an original post to world Moms Network by Meredith. You can read about her life as an expat in The Netherlands on her blog, and her life as an expat in Nigeria at www.wefoundhappiness.blogspot.com/
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
When your family makes a move to another country across an ocean, one of the main priorities of a mom is making sure her children are having as smooth of a transition as possible to their new surroundings. When just walking down the street to get in the car can be an experience in hearing a new language, it can be a very intimidating experience for children to adjust to their new surroundings. School can be one of the hardest adjustments to make no matter where you move.
A year ago, I had a fourth grader and a second grader in a public elementary school in the U.S. Their typical day was to get to school before the 8:05 a.m. bell and then have seven hours of constant instruction all day long with the exception of a 30 minute lunch and a 15 minute recess. Then, they would come home, and we would hurriedly try to get the homework done (30 minutes of reading per night with a reading log to sign, 15 minutes of math practice per night with a math log to sign, and then whatever other homework was assigned for that evening by the respective teacher). Most days the homework was interrupted by running to after school activities, trying to eat together as a family, and getting to bed at a decent time.
To most parents, this sounds pretty typical…at least for the U.S. But, what I am not including here is the attitude my kids had towards school in the U.S. I did not mention that on top of the work and instruction and the meager 15 minutes of recess they would get a day that they were also taking a four hour long bench mark test for one subject about every week (yes, even my seven year old second-grader!). They could lose their little 15 minutes of recess and have to sit in silence because they talked too much in the cafeteria at lunch. They were being constantly assessed and assigned (major or daily) grades, and then tested again. They HATED doing their homework and they begged for just some kind of free time to just chill out.
I couldn’t blame them, their days were jammed packed, and if they didn’t perform and take the benchmark tests, then there was no telling what kind of score they would get on the STAAR standardized test given in Texas. The test which is supposed to prepare the students for academic excellence. During the battery of STAAR tests, the walls were covered with black bulletin board paper, and labels were taken off of water bottles in case the students may get any answers from the walls or water bottles….water bottles, really!!??
Yes, they take the labels off the water bottles so the kids can’t even see any numbers during the tests. They sit for hours on end and cannot even read a book when they are finished in case someone who hasn’t finished may see a word on a page and give them an answer on the test. They cannot talk during lunch during the testing time for fear they may exchange answers. All of this in the name of academic excellence and getting my children ready for the “real world”.
As an educator, I understand the need for assessment of students. There has to be a marker to know the level of understanding of a child. I do believe there is a time and place for assessment, but not all the time, and not taking up so much of the very precious finite time of elementary students. I understand how the high stakes standardized testing began. The idea was a good one. There were schools that were performing very low in contrast to schools which were performing very high. The concept was simple: give the same test across the board to all public school students and that would get everyone on the same page. However, somewhere along the way, high stakes testing turned into scrutinizing teachers, pressuring students, and increasing the rigor of these tests every year. This led to more practice testing in the classroom which led to less recess time and more stressed out teachers, students and parents. It is as if the testing is a runaway train that I fear no one will be able to stop.
My third grade daughter had a panic attack here at her new school the third week because she didn’t know if her presentation at school with three classmates was going to be for a major or a daily grade. Her teacher had to call me, and I had to go to the school to pick her up. That is when I explained the type of system we came from where the children were literally graded on every. single. thing. Her teacher explained to me that the children are formally assessed here a few times a year, but the majority of the time is spent with hands-on activities, and cooperative learning and interaction with one another in the class. The children are mostly graded informally through demonstration of knowledge on a topic. The teachers actually take the time to get to know each child as an individual…not just how to get them from point A at the beginning of a school year to point B at the end of the school year. I felt myself let out a huge breath that I didn’t even know I was holding. It felt as if the pressure I had felt for my children lifted, and it also lifted from them as well. Imagine, elementary education given in an age-appropriate manner!!!
Last week, my son came home and told me he had to finish his spelling homework. Without me telling him to do so, he went to his back pack got out his book and sat down to complete it without complaining and without any nagging. My daughter came home with a project about an author study. She had her snack after school and immediately sat down at the computer and began to type in her author’s name to do a computer search for information. Who are these kids? They can’t be mine…my kids were getting burned out in fourth and second grade. They hated homework and school. This fifth and third grader here in The Netherlands are completely different children. I have two children who LOVE to go to school here and who are learning and who are not having so much pressure to perform…
The school my children are attending here is an international school which follows many of the Dutch school guidelines. One of the things both of my children love the most here is that the school offers them TWO recess times per day. A 15 minute recess in the morning and a 30 minute recess after lunch where they have unstructured play time, and no one is having them sit inside and finish work they didn’t complete (like our old school). They have time to be outside in the fresh air and run and play or just talk…it doesn’t matter…there are no right or wrong ways for the kids to have recess.
They also are dismissed from school each Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. This is another HUGE perk for my kids. I have seen with my own eyes their attitude about school changing and their engagement in their school work go up. I have seen that their teachers are actually learning about my children here. Social skills here at their school are just as important as the academic skills. They both have homework, but it is assigned if work was not finished in class or if there is a special project to do for a particular unit. There are no logs to constantly sign or meaningless worksheets coming home.
Some may say, how are they going to be prepared?? Are they learning enough? I would have thought that also coming from the system we were in last year. I would get daily updates in my email about test grades and classwork. Here, the grades are not entered into the computer, and I have found that I have taken a step back. In turn, my children, have felt that pressure ease as well. They are taking tests at school, but they are meaningful, and not four hours long every week. My daughter gets to go to the school garden to see science in action with her class and learn about fungi and insects.
There have been many articles written about the correlation between recess and academic achievement. Almost all of them say that more recess and break time for children equates to better learning and attention in the classroom. This particular article is written by an American teacher who taught in Finland and found that for every 45 minutes of instruction, the students (and teachers) would get a 15 minute recess. He was skeptical at first but saw the results with his own eyes. And really, isn’t this common sense? We as adults, need to step away for a few minutes and have a coffee or talk with friends. We know when we have been pushed too far and need a break. Why do schools constantly push students even when the students have reached the point in a lesson where they are not paying attention anymore?
As a former teacher before I stayed home with my children, I have seen the public school system in the U.S. change in the 10 years since I have left education. I have seen more stressed out children, teachers, and parents (myself included) since I was an educator. Seeing education in practice here at the school my children are attending, I see what elementary education was supposed to be. The way elementary education is taught here is what I was taught it was supposed to be in my university courses, and how I implemented it in my own classroom.
After moving here and seeing the attitude change so much in how my own children view school and how much they have learned, I am convinced of a less pressure-based environment, I feel that the meaningful instruction which takes place when the children are truly engaged in the lesson is so much more valuable than powering through a lesson in which the students are not paying any attention to because of no down time and constant pressure to perform.
Having time at school for unstructured play for my own children has made a world of difference in their academic lives. They are developing their social skills and problem-solving skills during their guaranteed recess time (which is not taken away from them as a punishment). Even when we are going to after school activities, we are not as stressed about long bench mark tests the next day. They may still have homework when we get home, but the feeling of all the stress and pressure seems to have lifted on all of us. And, they actually WANT to do the work because it is meaningful to them.
The conferences I had with their teachers last week reflect exactly what I am seeing at home. Both of my children are well adjusted and happy, and are performing at or above grade level in their classes. THIS is what I wanted for my children. I want them to enjoy learning. I want them to have friends, and develop into people that other people would actually like to be around.
Childhood is such a precious time when so much of one’s personality is developed. That time can never be given back. I fear that the lack of downtime and recess time at school is hurting elementary children. There will be plenty of time for hours of homework and test stress in high school and university level education.
I know that our time in the Netherlands will eventually come to an end because such is the life of an expat, but until we have to leave, we are ALL enjoying the lack of overload we were all feeling at our old school.
Does your child’s school give regular recesses? Have you noticed if it helps or hinders your child? Do your children have regular testing in their school? How does they handle it?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Meredith. You can check out her adventures as life as an expat in The Netherlands on her blog www.gettingonthebicycle.blogspot.nl
Seven years ago, we moved to Lagos, Nigeria with a sixteen month old and a three year old. When we came back to the U.S., we suddenly had a four year old and a six year old!
We have been in the U.S. for four years and this summer, our family has embarked on our second expat assignment outside the U.S. Last week, my children and I arrived in The Netherlands. My husband’s job has brought us here, and he has been working here for the last few months while my children finished up school, and I squared the sea shipment away.
This is not the first time our family has moved so far away from our home, but it is the first significant move for both of my children. When we moved back from Lagos, they were practically babies ( ages 4 and 6). They were a bit sad at the time that their playmates weren’t coming back with them, but honestly, all they cared about was that Mom and Dad were with them. This time, was a bit of a different story…
When we first told the kids we were moving back in December, they were almost panic stricken. My son (who is going into fifth grade, age 11) immediately said he didn’t want to leave all of his friends. My daughter (who is going into third grade, age 8) worried about what our new house would look like. What if no one would like her in her new school. They were both worried they wouldn’t understand the language around them. I completely understood how they felt as I had moved around a bunch of times while I was growing up because of my dad’s job. I knew the feeling of worrying about fitting in, a new house, new school, new friends. All the things that are so very important in a child’s eyes. And, I was asking my own children to do just that, and also to go live in another country all together!
It wasn’t easy at first convincing them it was ok. I tried to remember my own feelings about moving every two years while I was growing up and feeling like I had no control over what was happening to me. I knew I didn’t want my own children to feel as if their own feelings and thoughts about the move didn’t matter. My husband and I talked with them A LOT. He was going first, so he would talk to them about what they wanted in our new home. He made sure to bring things in the first shipment and in his luggage that they would already see in our new home when we arrived for a visit earlier this summer. I made sure to let them know that it was ok to talk to me if they were feeling unsure or anxious about moving. The good news for them is that we are going to be moving back to the U.S. in a few years, and many of their friends that they are saying good bye to now may still be there when we move back. My husband and I wanted them to know that their thoughts and feeling did matter to us through this transition and that we were going to listen to what they had to say.
They both talked to me and wanted a going away party with their closest friends, and we did just that. They got to pick exactly what they would want to do with their friends. (My son had a game truck come to our house, and my daughter had a p.j. and movie party with her friends). All of their friends signed a matte frame for both of them and we made sure to take a picture of them with all their friends that we could take with us and hang it in both of their new bedrooms. Most of all, I wanted them to know that friends are friends even if you don’t live in the same place at the same time.
And just like the song, “Make New Friends” says, we also talked with them about the importance of being open to making new friends in our new home. We approached our new move as an adventure…not an end to something.
Last week, we arrived in The Netherlands, and both the kids were extremely nervous about a new place to live. Happily, we have discovered how much the Dutch people LOVE riding bikes EVERYWHERE!!!! Biking is something my kids love to do. They have also discovered that the stroopwafel may be the BEST thing ever invented. They observed their own mother falling off a bike in an intersection, and watching me laugh at myself!
Tuesday was their first day of school, and as we biked to the school that morning, they were both very nervous as they heard so many children speaking Dutch. They didn’t understand a word, and neither did I. I don’t think anyone has ever felt the most unsure feeling in the world until you are among everyone who is speaking a different language than you.
I looked at both of them and told them that we are in The Netherlands, and people will speak Dutch most of the time. Just like in the U.S., people speak English most of the time. I explained to them that they would be taught in English, and it was ok to feel uncomfortable in a new place. But, most importantly, they needed to remember to be open to new things and to focus on the adventure we are on.
Preparing for this expat move with my school age children has taught me that my attitude towards the move is contagious. If I can laugh at myself and show that I am willing to accept the differences and the uncomfortableness in our new home, so will they. (I’ll have to talk about forgetting my shopping bags every.single.time. I went to the store last week another time!) Our children watch everything we do, and if we show them that we are ok, they will follow suit. Just like getting back on a bicycle when you fall off, as an expat, you pick yourself up when you are uncomfortable and make mistakes in a new place and get right back “on the bicycle”.
I am happy to report that they both had great first days of school this week. Both of my children are the only ones from the U.S. in their classes, and they are both so excited about that! We may have many falls off our bicycle here but we will always, always remember to get right back on! There are just too many news things to see and do here. We can’t let little things get in the way of our adventure. We are so excited for this great new adventure in The Netherlands, and I can’t wait to write all about it on World Mom’s Network.
Have you moved with older children? How did you ease their fears and anxieties about moving?
This is an original post for world Moms Network by Meredith. You can check out her adventures in The Netherlands on her blog here. You can also check out her adventures in Lagos, Nigeria here.
When I think of my own elementary school experience, I remember recess games and lunch time chats. I remember “round robin” reading and math fact drills. I remember class time and spelling tests, but I also remember having time to play with my friends, and that was one of the highlights of going to school. We were able to have two times a day where we had unstructured recess time to just go outside and have time to play with our friends. (more…)