Friday, August 2, 2019

Varend Corso - Our Sailing Parade

As Pippin and Bloom and I headed out the front door, we waved to two of our neighbors who were chatting by their doors. "We're going to the Varend Corso," I called. "Do you want to come?" One who has lived here for years laughed. "Oh, I've seen it about thirty times." The other, who's also a recent transplant to Maassluis, said, "I'm busy tonight, so maybe another time. But what is it?" "Um, a boat parade, from what I've heard. Plants, flowers, music, boats?"

According to the website, the "Westland Flower Parade" has been an annual tradition for the last 15 or so years, and I have a soft heart for traditions. Especially brightly colored musical ones where I can take photos and feel connected to this country that has been my home for almost twelve years now.  I decided to bring the kids too, but not my husband, since massive community events are not his cup of tea. (A massive community event like a boat parade, followed by a massive community event like a sing-along, was even less attractive.) 

I hadn't been sure what time the boats would actually arrive on their three-day tour of our region so we left early from our house and had some extra playground time. The playground we chose was just a street away from the main canal at the far end of Maassluis, before the city turns into Maasland. From where we were I could look through the street and see when the boats started coming by. Others in the neighborhood had the same idea, so another family joined us at the playground. An older couple followed the sidewalk carefully and smiled at my kids; a mom came out of her back gate with a glass of white wine, checked for boats, then went back inside for a sweater. When we started hearing music, we walked back to the canal where we could watch the parade pass by, just meters away on the water. People lucky enough to live in the houses along the canal set out camping chairs and brought out snacks; a few even set up in their own boats anchored by the street. Kids dangled their feet near the water while parents kept an eye on them and chatted with neighbors. Cars trying to drive by backed up slowly when they realized there was no way they would fit into narrow streets full of festive people.

The parade started slowly, with an understated first boat checking that everything was clear and safe. But soon the canal leading to the heart of the city was host to boat after boat of dancing, singing, and waving passengers. Some just focused on steering; others did magician's tricks or acted out a song blasting from their speakers. At one point we could hear old Dutch music and shantykoor singers competing with pop music dancers, who were followed by a floating Chinese dragon and Oriental chords. My kids clapped along with the music, and when Pippin found out that some of the boat people would wave to him, he started waving excitedly to each one. Bloom didn't really know what was going on, but she was content to just watch from her stroller and be fed raisins. It had rained earlier, but this evening was windy and nearly warm with bursts of clouds of sunshine. With one hand on the buggy, and often a foot on the brake, I snapped photo after photo of the gabled houses, multicolored barges, and hundreds of spectators who, like us, were out enjoying this oh-so-Dutch event. 

At one point we stood by the open bridge and watched an Italian carnival barge and one with salsa dancers come by, and Pippin asked if we could move on to the singers. "I think I see a few more boats coming," I told him, "and maybe after those?" A woman next to us, holding a program for the event, turned and smiled at us. "There are supposed to be fifty boats. I heard him asking, and just thought you might want to know." "Thank you! Well then, sweetie, I think we'll watch the next few and then go see if the sing-along has started." Our local newspaper had promised a 'MeeZingSpektakel' - a 'Singalong Spectacle' with sailor choirs, and I had mentioned it to Pippin. I'm not sure what he expected, but he loves festivals and events almost as much as I do and was excited about it.

By then it was nearly eight pm, past both kids' bedtime, and Bloom was starting to get cranky. So we pulled out more snacks (always take snacks!) and some water, and walked to the parking lot where market is usually held on Fridays. There we saw a big stage set up for the singalong. One choir we had already seen singing in their boat as they arrived, rumbling in their deep voices to the accompaniment of an accordion. But since the website had said that the first choir wouldn't actually perform on-stage til nearly nine pm, we just stayed for the first song of the warm-up hour. I wasn't familiar with it, but the audience - mostly senior citizens - were clapping and singing along. "He's singing so loudly!" commented Pippin as a vocalist enthusiastically led the group.  "Part of it's just the microphones, but yes, he can sing loudly," I agreed. As we slowly walked away, the rollicking music followed us down the street and all the way home to our neighborhood. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Our (Free) Homeschool Binder Resources

When I first started 'practicing' homeschool with Pippin, I had high hopes but not a lot of context. What could a 2.5 year old learn? What would they enjoy? I read about some children who could read at 3 years old, others who didn't learn until 6 but were strong in other areas. I hoped to use the Sonlight homeschool curriculum once Pippin got older, but the teachers guide and books started from the 3/4 Preschool year. At two and a half years old, he fell more under the category 'totschooling'. So I focused on materials that would be a fun and casual introduction to letters, numbers, and the world around him.

I wasn't ready to commit to a curriculum or materials that would be expensive or exhausting, especially if homeschooling didn't work well for us. I also didn't have much of a budget, or access to homeschooling communities from our home in the Netherlands. What I did have was plenty of free time, a working printer, and fast internet. So I started searching online for what was available, and then we tested out at home what worked and didn't. And, as always, we went to the library a lot, and tried to go to playgrounds, stores, and the market so Pippin's active little self got plenty of exercise and new experiences.

Eventually I figured out that collecting papers and fun worksheets was all well and good, but I needed some sort of structure to hold it all together. I did a lot of searching online for how to organize all the loose papers and ideas. We had extra binders in the house, but what could I put in one?

Then I found someone had already created the structure I was looking for in the form of 'monthly themes'. I enjoyed reading their blog post about how they were in the same situation, of wanting to teach a child (or more than one) but finding that too much organization just frustrated everyone.

I happily printed off their comprehensive Monthly Preschool Themes Monthly Preschool Themes list  and added a few of my own ideas. For example, in their family they celebrated the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo in May; my family lives in the Netherlands so we celebrate King's Day in April. It's easy to note additions and to be inspired by their list of ideas, but I tried to stick with one or two main themes per month.

Then I created a preschool/totschool binder for Pippin and started adding the monthly sections.

This person posted a cool 'Preschool Planning Page' with spaces to fill in items like crafts, gross motor skills, books, and field trips. I used it more as a monthly plan so that I could jot down ideas for each category that reflected our monthly theme. For example, in our space month (August), I wrote down "Read library books about space" in the section "Picture Books". In the "Screen Time" section I wrote down "Watch Magic Schoolbus episode about space". I didn't always accomplish everything I wanted to, but having notes and ideas was really helpful. It would be easy to adapt the page for different children; if Bloom turns out to be a baking or crafts fanatic, we could add "Bake star cookies" or "Craft a cardboard tube telescope" to the list for the space month.

This Monthly Bin Labels printable wasn't strictly necessary, but was so much fun! Having a cheerful A4 picture as a section header helped me easily flip between months in the binder. Eventually I expanded my system and printed two of each labels per month; in my master binder I kept all my prepared and 'to do' papers, neatly labeled, and then each month I pulled out the consumables for the monthly section I needed (leaving the monthly paper in place for the next year). As I finished a month, I moved the header page, worksheets, coloring pages, and crafts to the year's 'finished' binder, and returned any repeatable pages (weather songs, dice or duplo diagrams, etc.) to their monthly section in the master binder.

This Books to Read printable was one of my favorite printables. It wasn't even meant as a homeschool resource, but I liked the simplicity of it. As with many resources, it was easy to adapt for my homeschooling; we only used the start/finish date section for longer books, and just wrote the date for picture books we read. I printed 12 of these per year, and I fill them in every month before filing them in my yearly binder of completed schoolwork. A lot of books fall through the cracks as we forget to write their names down, but the easiest way I handle that is just to go through the list of 'titles loaned' on our library account and list the books we checked out every month.


Together, those four printables form the backbone of my homeschool binder. I add a fun binder cover (searched for 'free printable binder cover') and let Pippin decorate it. Once those elements are in place, I add in whatever resources fit the theme, our interests, and the learning level.

For the earliest learning resources, these are some of my favorite printables.

These Duplo alphabet mats are a simple and fun for little kids to learn to recognize the letters, plus have the fun of moving around duplo blocks.

Here is a similar set of Duplo counting mats. I printed these off and put them in plastic sleeves for in the binder, but laminating would have worked as well.

There are so many adorable alphabet crafts out there, but I like the Nemies alphabet for the simple, cute letters in both upper and lower case. Nothing needed besides the printables, scissors, and glue or tape.

Pippin enjoyed these Roll and Cover games, rolling dice and then figuring out what number matched the amount of dots. Along the way I explained simply about the different holidays or seasons represented by the background picture, like Valentine's Day, spring, Christmas, summer....

My mother - a homeschooling mom extraordinaire herself! - has bought all of the best manipulatives for Pippin, which means that he gets to grow up with my old favorites like Pattern Blocks, Interlocking Cubes, and Counting Bears. So of course we have printables for those too. But if Oma hadn't brought them, we could order them from Amazon or, as one friend did, we could print out paper versions. Besides being so much fun to play with, these blocks and bears help teach spatial awareness, colors, and counting.

This set of pattern block mats come in animal shapes, but a quick search online will pull up mats for holidays, letters/numbers, or more intricate challenges like rockets and racecars.

Over the last two years our binders have been a brilliant resource that have grown with us and are now slowly being replaced. We still use them for fun 'extras' like crafts and holidays and projects, but Pippin is moving on to read-alouds and workbooks that give him the range and depth of information that he needs as a kindergartner. I have a bigger budget, and more confidence that we're on the right track with homeschooling him, as he really enjoys learning with me (and I enjoy teaching him!) He's making good progress, already able to read and constantly adding new information to his brain (then wanting to discuss how it applies to his world). I also have less hours available to hunt down fun, free printables, but I still have these resources bookmarked for when Bloom is ready for them. I hope this post was helpful if you're looking for resources, or even just for encouragement that it is possible to start homeschooling without buying tons of expensive books and tests and materials!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Wobbly Steps

This house is full of wobbly steps these days. Literal ones, in the form of my walking one year old who melts me with her hazel eyes and determination and the occasional casual THUMP as she lands on her little butt, gets up, and starts toddling off again.

But there are more wobbly steps. Like me trying to clean the kitchen while avoiding the painful infection on the sole of my foot where an infected splinter punishes me for walking barefoot in the garden in one of the sunny days last month.

Wobbly steps as D and I try to navigate the piles of junk in our attic because, as hard as I've been trying, I just can't clear it out. And every time I organize it (or, you know, take TEN GARBAGE BAGS to the kringloop in one week), it still spreads out again. Or I undo my previous organization so that I can move all of D's super cool, super manly power tools to a new storage room, and never put away what I moved out of that storage room.

Wobbly steps as my big boy Pippin rides on his new bike and occasionally lands in the grass and has to get himself and his bike up and back onto the bike path. No training wheels, no problems.

And so, so many wobbly steps in the metaphorical sense, as I tell myself that every blogpost doesn't have to be perfect before I post it. Trying is good; perfectionism is not good. Stalling out in the middle of an intersection with a patient driving instructor is better than being too nervous to drive here at all. Asking to meet up with busy, beautiful, successful friends is better than shyly staying home and being lonely. Eating gluten-free, dairy-free lasagna is not as good as an authentic Italian lasagna eaten at a trattoria in Naples (bucket list?) but is better than not having any lasagna at all. 20 minutes of editing my backlog of novel drafts is better than not editing at all.

Wobbly steps are better than not walking at all. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Day in the Life - Homeschooling a 4 Year Old in Holland

A Day in the Life - Homeschooling a 4 Year Old in Holland

As introduction, homeschooling in Holland is a tricky business. Homeschooling anywhere is a tricky business, but in the Netherlands the educational stance on homeschooling is complicated, which adds an extra layer to the daily challenges of stimulating a child's mind and building their knowledge base (and maintaining personal sanity).

Currently we have a (second) official letter processing at the City Hall, and within the next month or two we hope to get official confirmation and acceptance of our notification of homeschooling. More information on Dutch laws here.  It is possible that we would be denied (technically illegal, but possible), in which case there will be discussions at home, negotiation with the city hall, and who knows what after that. Other homeschool families have been denied and then negotiated their way to success, or given in and enrolled their children in school, or moved to Belgium, which has a more tolerant homeschooling approach. We're praying for success and for 'good coffee' for whoever's handling our case. The mandatory education age is five, so we still have a few more months of enjoying this legally, and then hopefully more years after that with acceptance!

For now, this is what a typical kindergarten day looks like. Times vary, but this is a rhythm that works for us while D is at work and baby Bloom (recently turned 1 year old!) crawls around.

7:30-8:30: Wake up, eat, tidy up. My children are devoted to oatmeal, and occasionally even ask for it for dinner; we adults are devoted to coffee. (I have been trying to substitute green tea. Less effective but better for my brain and patience.) We wave goodbye to Papa D and he leaves for work as we finish eating. After breakfast, I often turn on kids' Bible songs or nursery rhymes on my computer while we clean up. Pippin's chore is to put away all plastic dishes from the dishwasher, while I handle the dirty dishes and wash sticky little cute faces.

8:30-9:00: Calendar time. Depending on the day, I may have five different calendars on the table; my personal agenda, our family calendar, Pippin's whiteboard calendar, his wooden calendar, and my online Google calendar. This is when we talk about the weather, the date, and any plans. Playdates, grocery order, library days, city events, whether D is studying at home or working til late. (On magical, super-efficient days I note down meals and housework too.)

9:00-10:00: Schooltime. This is our most productive time of the day, when our brains are still sharp and energy is high. First I set out 'Explode the Code', 'Brainbites', activity books, and Pippin's binder. These workbooks and pages focus on handwriting, reading, and math. I let him choose which order to do them in, and he has his own special pencil case so he doesn't lose anything (plus it has the Minions on the cover so everything feels cooler :D). Sometimes Pippin blazes through page after page, and beams when I tell him how perfectly he shaped a "T" or "Z". Sometimes he grumbles and barely does the minimum. Most days he's in between the two extremes.

I write the amount of pages and subjects down in my teacher's notebook, as well as any school or learning activities we do throughout the day. When Pippin is done with his writing work (how fast it goes is his choice), he sometimes pulls out a board game or starts to paint. During schooltime, I switch the music from upbeat kids songs to classical music because, A, it's soothing background noise and, B: "because leading experts say Mozart makes babies smarter." Who am I to argue?

Epic of Gilgamesh Battle: "They win and they chop him"
10:00-10:30: Snacktime. Of crucial importance. Provides us all a break and some nourishment, because some days two large bowls of oatmeal and yogurt just aren't enough to last til lunch. I do 'Mystery of History' readaloud during snack, and then afterwards Pippin sketches a picture of what the history lesson was about. Since January, when we began the book, we've studied the major points in history from the beginning of time to about 1000 B.C., and have had lessons on the Great Wall, King David, and the Trojan Horse. It's probably my favorite part of the morning. When we have questions, or when a lesson seems too abstract for a 4 year old brain,  I can open my computer for extra help. The Internet has free coloring pages on so many subjects, and we've even done a virtual tour of the Mycenaean palace in Crete and the Kom Ombo temple in Egypt.

Sometimes I look ahead and check out library books on what we're studying, like the Pyramids, weather, or community helpers. We have multiple awesome professionals in our family - doctor, fireman, policeman, teacher, architect - so that was a fun theme to learn more about

11:00-12:00: Free time. Sometimes we're still having fun coloring King Tutankhamen's golden coffin at this point, sometimes I'm ready for laundry, a second cup of tea, and some breathing space while the kids play. Bloom and Pippin are actually good friends, despite the 3+ year age difference, and I think much of that is because we choose to homeschool. They both have their own friends, of course, but at home they happily play hide and seek, push around cars, or take turns on the mini-trampoline. One day Pippin came home from a playdate, realized his sister was napping, and complained, "But I miss her!"

12:00-14:00: Lunch and rest time. Pippin, my big boy, makes his sandwich all on his own, since I keep all supplies at his level. I also let him choose from the SciShow Kids channel on YouTube; he loves the quirky videos that teach him about asteroids, allergies, and animal fossils. That gives me time to feed Bloom, get my own lunch, tidy the kitchen, and message with my friends (yay, grownup conversation!) If the weather's nice, we may take our lunch outside and talk about how the garden is doing. Later, while Bloom naps, I set a timer for him to look at books or play quietly by himself, and after that he's allowed to watch one of his pre-approved shows on Netflix.

His shows are usually in Dutch, since most of our schooling happens in English, my mother-language. I'm fluent in Dutch, and we have occasionally discussed doing more Dutch-language learning, but there are VAST amounts of free English materials available and comparatively few Dutch ones.

Pippin and I also try to work on reading, which is going great thanks to his foundation of alphabet games and 'Explode the Code'. I recently bought a lightly used box of 'Hooked On Phonics' materials from a Dutch homeschool mom in my network, and Pippin loves the little books and the sticker chart. He can already read short CVC readers about cats at bat (which required an explanation of the game of baseball) and pigs who wear wigs. Whatever works, right?

14:00-17:00: Library/playdate/free time. This block of time varies per day. Wednesdays are our regular library day, because most primary schools let out at noon and the library is a popular place. Once a month there is read-aloud afternoon at the library, where we see friends (and sometimes Pippin's cousin) and do crafts. Pippin's library books are all in Dutch, and we check out storybooks as well as informational ones on weather, animals, construction etc. so that he also builds up that vocabulary.

Because of the schools' schedules, Wednesday is a good day for playdates with neighborhood kids or friends from church. We also do two child-swaps per week with a good friend and her son, so sometimes I have three kids running around and giggling, sometimes it's just me and Bloom here while Pippin is off playing there. We Skype two or three times a week with family in America, often while I peel potatoes or as Pippin helps me with mixing pancake batter.

17:00-18:00: Dinnertime. My husband often arrives home to the sound of cheers and hugs, which is good for his ego if not for his eardrums. I love that we get to eat together as a family every day, even if it's chaotic. We swap stories of what we've done and achieved ("Bloom took three steps! Pippin and I learned about the Great Flood of 1953!" "They still haven't fixed the metro line - surprise!- but I got a seat on the bus today.")

18:00-19:30: Clean up and free time. Pippin washes the table, I load the dishwasher, and Bloom practices licking things and people. Sometimes we go to the playground if the weather's nice, sometimes D joins us at the table and we play games like Uno and Skip-bo Junior, which are great for Pippin's math skills. Sometimes Pippin gets time on the tablet, which has a mix of educational and just-for-fun games.

19:30: Reading and bedtime. I cuddle with Bloom, try to read her a board book, and then put her to bed. D reads a Dutch book to Pippin and then puts her to bed. Then we parents do a victory dance, share a hug, and have a snack by ourselves in the kitchen. It's great. After that D often studies for a while, I go on a run, or do any more cleaning or laundry that didn't happen earlier. Then it's bedtime for us too. And then we wake up the next day and (get to) do it all over again.