Monday, 25 July 2016

7 Places to Explore in the Netherlands Beyond Amsterdam

There is so much more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam, despite the bulk of the tourists heading to the Dutch capital. Exploring beyond Amsterdam is definitely worth it. Here are 6 Dutch places that should be on your travel itinerary if you come to the Netherlands.

Friday, 22 July 2016

5 Dutch Foods You Need to Try

Food is an important part of a country's culture. Every country has different foods associated with it. Think British and you think fish and chips. Think Indonesia and you think nasi goreng. Think Germany and you think sausage. You get the picture. If I say the Netherlands what food springs to mind? Probably cheese. But there's much more to taste than cheese in the land of the Dutch. Here are five Dutch foods worth trying - and some of them you can make yourself at home.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam

The Netherlands has hosted the Olympics once, back in 1928, and as a legacy to that the Olympisch Stadion (Olympic Stadium) stands in Amsterdam and still provides the backdrop for significant sporting events.  

The Olympisch Stadion, designed by Jan Wils in typical Amsterdamse School architectural style, served as the main stadium for the summer olympics of 1928, hosting field hockey (the first event to be played there), football, cycling, athletics, gymnastics, korfball and equestrian jumping. 

Notable about the 1928 Olympics is that it saw the (re)introduction of the Olympic Flame, which was kept burning in the Marathon tower next to the Olympisch Stadion throughout the games.

To say the stadium's use and history since the Olympics of 1928 has been varied and rich is an understatement: 
  • The Olympic stadium served as the home ground for the national Dutch team once the Olympics were over.
  • Amsterdam's football team Ajax used it for games needing floodlights (which their own football ground didn't have) or when the expected crowd was too big for their own stadium, which tended to be the international games. Ajax continued using the Olympisch stadium until 1996 when the Amsterdam Arena was completed. 
  • The stadium was used as the start and finish point of the 1954 Tour de France.
  • Every October the stadium is the start and finish of the Amsterdam marathon. 
  • In 1995 and 1996 the Amsterdam Admirals played at the Olympisch Stadion in the World League of American Football with the stadium hosting the World Bowl of 1995.
  • In 2005, the sports museum 'Olympic Experience Amsterdam' opened.
  • The 2016 European Athletic Championships were hosted there last week - the biggest event hosted in the Olympisch Stadion since the 1928 Olympics!

And to think, in 1987 the Amsterdam city council wanted to demolish the stadium! Thankfully it was saved and given monument status in order to protect it for the future. 

In the same year renovations on the stadium began, to return it to its original state. When it was first built it could house around 31,000 spectators. A second tier was later added to give the Olympisch Stadion a capacity of 64,000 in order that it could compete with Rotterdam's new stadium, which was completed in 1937 (De Kuip, the home of Eredivisie club Feyenoord and coincidentally the venue my family and I just visited to see Monster Jam!) 

After the renovations were complete the stadium capacity was reduced to just over 22,000 and its primary use became track and field events. It was re-opened in 2000 by 'Prince' Willem-Alexander, who is now King of the Netherlands.

There has been talk of the Netherlands bidding for the 2028 Olympics, to mark the one hundred year anniversary of the 1928 Olympics hosted in Amsterdam. The Dutch government, however, put any potential bid project on hold because of the cost implications of hosting an Olympic games. There is still a possibility that the idea will be revived - but we won't know for sure until 2019 when the bidding to host the 2028 Olympics starts.....
Welcome to our Olympics for Kids series! The Olympics are a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about the world and explore cultures together. Today, you can find more about Olympic history and famous athletes from various countries around the world. Judoka: Rafaela Silva - Multicultural Kid Blogs South Africa's First Olympians - Globe Trottin' Kids Chile: Important Names and Winners - La clase de Sra. DuFault  Female Athletes to Watch in 2016 - Use Resources Wisely Jefferson Perez: The Only Olympic Medalist in Ecuador - Hispanic Mama Fastest Man/Woman in the World - Kid World Citizen Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam - Expat Life with a Double Buggy Baron Pierre de Coubertin & the modern Olympics - La Cité des Vents   Don't forget that you can also download our Summer Games Unit activity pack to learn more about the world and have fun during the Olympics.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Football in the Netherlands: The Men in Orange

The UEFA European championship has just finished, with weeks of football matches being played at the highest level. England crumbled, Iceland amazed, France dominated until Portugal surprised them, and Germany, being Germany, just kept winning, until they didn't. And where was the Netherlands? Where was the orange that usually decorates the stadiums at major football events? Nowhere. The Dutch team failed to qualify for the Euros 2016, and that hit fans of the boys in orange hard. 

Football is a national Dutch sport. It's one of the most popular sports in the country, if not the most popular. And that's saying something because the Dutch are incredibly competent at sports, excelling in a number of different events - such as ice skating competitions and hockey. The Dutch medal count at the last winter Olympics tells you a lot about their sporting prowess on ice. It's all very impressive in a land so small. 

So the lack of orange in this years European football tournament was a massive dissapointment. In fact, it was such a disappointment that the Dutch appeared to try and pretend there was no football competition at all this year...... the oranjegekte was certainly missed!

It's in stark contrast to the success of the Dutch team in the 2014 World Cup finals where they came home with the bronze medal, and in 2010 when they were runners up to Spain. Back in 1988 the Dutch were European champions. 

So since 2014 things have gone seriously downhill with the Dutch national football team and for a country with a rich footballing history, and an attractive top class national football league it's been a time for soul searching and questions.

The national team played their first international game in 1905, against Belgium in front of a crowd of 800. These days the national team can pull up to 8 million television viewers when they compete in the Euros or a World Cup (note that is not far off half the population of the Netherlands). 

The next international games that the Netherlands play will determine whether they qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. And the nation is hoping that this will end more successfully than their bid to play in the 2016 Euros..... Football runs through the veins of many a Dutchman, woman and child.

The KNVB (Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbal Bond (Royal Netherlands Football Association)), the national football union, had 1,227,157 members as of 2015. The union obtained it's royal status in 1929, but the origins of the organisation date back to 1889. 

Paid football was introduced in the Netherlands in 1954 and women's football became an official part of the KNVB in 1971. 

The national league of the Netherlands, the Eredivisie, came to be in 1956, although the national championship had been competed for officially since 1898. Once the Eredivisie was established the best teams from across the country started playing against each other, dispersing with the regional leagues that had existed up until that point. Ajax was the first winner of the Eredivisie, and much to the distaste of football fans in Rotterdam, the Amsterdam based team has also won it many times since.

18 clubs compete for the national title in the Eredivisie, and it has a good reputation in the international footballing arena. It's been a breeding pool for many top Dutch players such as these names:

Johan Cruijff, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Ronald Koeman, Dennis Bergkamp, Philip Cocu, Frank de Boer, Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Dirk Kuijt and Robin van Persie. 

I grew up spending many of my Saturday afternoons, and Tuesday evenings, on the terraces of Vicarage Road, the home of Watford FC in England. When I moved to the Netherlands I didn't start supporting a local club until my eldest son was eight. I'd already taken him to his first English Premiership game to watch Watford, but until last season we hadn't got involved with any Dutch club.

That has now changed. I have the football bug once more and for many of the Eredivisie home games of ADO Den Haag at least one of my sons and I can be found in the Kyocera Stadion in The Hague. We'll be there next season too. We'll be hoping for success for our local team - and for the national team too.

Welcome to our Olympics for Kids series! The Olympics are a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about the world and explore cultures together.

Today, you can find more about other sports/games from various countries thanks to our participating bloggers:

Exploring Indonesian Badminton - Multicultural Kid Blogs
Popular Summer Sports in USSR - Creative World of Varya 
Handball, France and the Olympics - Lou Messugo
Capoeira: a martial art with a great beat - Brynn in Brazil
The big 3: soccer, rugby, cricket - Globe Trottin' Kids
Copa América: We Are the Champions - La clase de Sra. DuFault 
Football in the Netherlands: The Men in Orange - Expat Life with a Double Buggy 
Summer sports in Latvia - Let the Journey Begin
Valuable Lessons From The Olympic Sports to Kids - Hispanic Mama
Fencing with Ibtihaj Muhammad - Kid World Citizen
Puerto Rican Olympians - Discovering the World Through my Son's Eyes   

Don't forget that you can also download our Summer Games Unit activity pack to learn more about the world and have fun during the Olympics.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

5 Beaches to Visit From The Hague

The school holidays have arrived and the beach is surely on the wish list of every child this summer. The good news is that if you live in or around The Hague you have an excellent choice of beaches to explore. So get your bucket and spades, sun cream and a picnic ready and head off to one of these sandy locations.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Monster Jam in Rotterdam 2016

If there were any events I could never have imagined myself being present at before I had children then Monster Jam was probably certainly right up there as one of them. I can take or leave a monster truck. However, I have three sons who would rather be close up and personal to a monster truck than a million miles away from one. So we got 5 tickets for Monster Jam in De Kuip. 

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Parenting Lessons Watching ADO Den Haag

Last August I took my eldest two sons to their first eredivisie match at the Kyocera Stadion in The Hague. We’ve been to most home games since.

It’s reminiscent of my own footballing childhood; from the age of seven I stood on the terraces of my local football club at Vicarage Road. Up until I left England in 2000, at the tender age of 27, I was a serial season ticket holder at Watford Football Club.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

3 Lessons Brexit Could Have Learnt From Sinterklaas, Yes Sinterklaas!

It struck me today that the whole Brexit thing is rather like the whole Sinterklaas thing here in the Netherlands - and there are lessons the Brexit camp could have learnt from the Dutch. Bear with me: it's June and we're talking Sinterklaas so I know you're wondering where the hell this is going.....

Lesson 1. Outdated, Insulting and in Need of Change

For many a year now there has been a huge discussion about Sinterklaas's helpers and the fact that they are outdated, insulting and in need of change.

As it is with some of the EU institutions, those in the "Leave" camp have said, (and not many would disagree). Outdated, insulting and in need of change.

So you see, Brexit and Sinterklaas - same thing.

Did the Dutch throw Sinterklaas back to Spain and leave him there to rot? Did they stamp their feet and abandon the whole party, casting a bewildered Piet and his friends aside? Did they involve the whole world in their conundrum? No.

No, what they did, and are still doing, is shout a bit, argue amongst each other, and then let the NTR (Dutch television company who makes the Sinterklaasjournaal) gradually and subtly make changes that neither offended nor riled any particular side. The talking continues. Eventually everyone ends up happy without even realising it. Eventually.

Lesson 2. Not Logical for Modern Day Society

Many Dutch children have been screaming for years about the fact that most modern houses (i.e. the ones they live in) don't have chimneys so how were the Piets getting in to fill their shoes?

You see children are getting smarter, they are more informed than they once were, and they ask questions. They pose questions that parents can't answer, because no, none of it is logical. It's all based around an ideal, an ideal that isn't quite ideal. Sometimes it means parents have to lie to their children; it means they have to make shit up.

The situation is very much like the electorate of any EU nation. People are asking questions. Some of them are very intelligent questions, other questions not so much. People are getting much more information than they once did and social media allows that information to be spread easily. Lies, made up stuff and facts. The questions asked aren't necessarily met with the right answer. For example:

Q: Will that 350 million that we pay into the EU each week be paid to the NHS if we leave the EU?
A: Yes, we've even put it on a bus for you.

The question is based on misinformation, and the answer is an outright lie. Exactly the same as when our Dutch children ask:

Q: How does Piet get in our house if we don't have a chimney?
A1: Magic.
or A2: I don't know, I'm asleep when Piet comes into the house.
or A3: Piets have special keys that open all doors.

So what have the Dutch done to solve this chimney question? Did they ban shoe filling? Build chimneys on every home in the Netherlands? Abandon the whole Sinterklaas thing? Air their dirty laundry in public?

No, the answer is magic stones. Seriously, it's ingenious. Suddenly the Piets have magic stones to get into our homes. Methods change. Things evolve. The Dutch found an answer that fits today's problem. Children happy. Parents happy. The Piets are happy (those chimneys were a bit of a buggar to go down) and most of all Sinterklaas is happy. The Dutch now have a solution that fits with our modern day houses. They didn't knock the houses down.

Lesson 3. Who is it all for?

Ok, so there are lies told. There's an awful lot of stress involved around November and December whilst the children bounce around for weeks with excitement about the fact that Sinterklaas and his helpers are in the country and the older children hand over their surprise project to their parents out of frustration and reluctance. There is frantic shopping. Frantic planning. Lots of sugary snacks that are incredibly bad for you. There's a bit of arguing (see lesson 1) but we muddle through and then heave a sigh of relief when the man in red totters back to Spain on the 6th of December where he remains until the following November. 

It's not perfect. But wow, there are great things about it too. Seeing the pure excitement, joy and happiness on your child's face when they come down and see a present in their shoe. The sheer joy of watching your kid running out the house to look for a magic stone, or a special Sinterklaas coin. The culmination of all your hard work on 5 December and the most gezellig of all gezellig evenings.

We do it for our children. We do it so they can look back and cherish those memories, and pass those traditions and experiences on to their children one day.

We do it for our children. We are thinking about our children. And the generations to come.
You can make the connections yourself there I am sure.......

Monday, 27 June 2016

How to Get (and Keep) Your Bilingual Child Writing

I've been living in the Netherlands for more than fifteen years and although my daily life is conducted in Dutch, writing remains the weakest area of my Dutch language skills. I need to really think about every single word and sentence I write. So it's no wonder that this is also the area I find hardest whilst raising my children to be bilingual. And it's the topic I have chosen for the Multicultural Kid Blogs carnival about raising multicultural children.

Why Bother with Writing in a Second Language?

The first question you may be asking yourself is why bother. Gone are the days when we hand write everything; we have computers now. We have auto correct and spelling check. Why spend so much time trying to teach our children to write in a second or third language? The Russian Step by Step team sum it up:
"Yes, everyone will agree that in the modern world we have a lot less opportunities to use handwriting than even 50 years ago. Everyone, even toddlers, use the “screens” and start typing at a very early age." Russian Step by Step
But there are still many reason whys handwriting is today still an important tool to help your children improve their language skills. Russian Step by Step give four great reasons in their post Why Learn the Russian Handwriting? which apply to other languages too.

The European Mama also points out just how far handwriting is cultural - it differs across the world, and not just because of the different alphabets:

Writing is something special!

How Do Children Learn to Write

Bilingual Avenue has a whole podcast dedicated to helping you understand How do kids really learn to write, as well as this one to support you in teaching your child to write in the home language.

Of course, to be able to write in a language a child also needs to be able to read, which is the theme of a great post on Spanish Playground, tips to help teach those first steps to reading: Spanish Syllables: Learning to Read.

Multilingual Parenting shares tips in a post called 'From bilingual to biliterate':
"What you can do as a parent to nurture this interest is being a great role model for literacy. Read lots of books to (and later with) your child. Following the words with your finger while reading allows your child to make the connection between the sounds, letters and words. Write notes, cards and letters. If you have nothing else to write on a day, make writing the shopping list something that you do together." Multilingual Parenting
Use day to day chores to practice writing, make use of technology and get your children writing emails to family members in their second language.

Make Writing Fun to Keep Children Engaged

Being able to write in a language is important and there are ways to encourage, motivate and help your children develop an enthusiasm for writing in a language that is not their native tongue. 

Adam Beck (Bilingual Monkeys) advocates making literacy development fun - and as far as I'm concerned keeping it fun is one of the best tips for parents raising multilingual children. His idea of Silly Stories is a sure fire way to get children laughing and learning! 

Another idea over on the blog Family Life in Spain is to use story cubes to create stories that can also be written. My children love story cubes but we have only used them to make up verbal stories so I love this idea of taking it further and actually writing down the little tales we make up.

Fun is also the key to this post by Raising a Trilingual Child - not just fun but food too!
"Apparently there is nothing as easy and fun as teaching your child letters using an aromatic Italian mortadella! One evening I was preparing appetizer for kids, I took a big piece of  mortadella, the Italian heat-cured meat sausage,  and started slicing it and cutting it in cubes and sticks." Raising a Trilingual Child
There are eight more creative tips on Discovering the World Through my Son's Eyes to keep your children engaged in reading and writing from bingo to mini books. She realises that as parents raising bilingual children we sometimes need to think out a little outside the box:

There are other ideas and tips in the post "Easy way of teaching your bilingual kids to write in a minority language" on how to get your child writing in their second (or third) language over on Raising a Trilingual Child, who also reminds us of something important:

Just Start Writing

I journal. I write daily. I read daily. I read with my children on an almost daily basis (if not me then my husband does so we alternate between Dutch and English books). And I hope by doing these things the importance of reading and writing, in both languages, becomes engrained in my children - that practicing these skills just come naturally to my boys.

Writing can be in many forms:

Journaling - I am currently exchanging journal entries with my eldest boys using The Time Capsule and Between Mom and Me, journals that have been made especially for children. I have written before about how to use journals to encourage writing in a second language - and it's a tool that really works for us.

A Pen Pal - Read why everyone should have a pen pal here.

I have five more ways in this post: 5 Ways to Encourage a Child to Write in a Second Language

And finally, in his blog post "Do This One Simple Thing and I Guarantee You Greater Success On Your Bilingual Journey" Adam Beck explains just how important writing is as a tool on your bilingual journey, not just for our children but for us too, to help us raise our bilinguals:
"Just start writing: No matter who you are, or what your circumstances are like, if you make writing about your bilingual journey a priority in your life—a firm and regular routine—you will inevitably strengthen your awareness and your actions, and accordingly, your children’s bilingual development." Bilingual Monkeys

Friday, 24 June 2016

Being a British Expat In the Wake of Brexit

I woke at 5am this morning and the first picture in my head was a map of the United Kingdom. The British referendum on the EU was weighing on my mind. Nearly two hours later I saw the BBC headline that it forecast that the 'leave' campaign would win the referendum. Britain is leaving the EU.

33.6 million people voted. 16,141,241 cast in favour of Remain and 17,410,742 in favour of Leave. Interestingly, the older Brits voted for Leave whilst the younger citizens opted for Remain.

My Facebook timeline is filled with shock, confusion and upset.

Of course, my network comprises British expats, Europeans and expats from other countries - many who could not vote or had no say in British matters. I wasn't eligible to vote as I have been out of Britain for over fifteen years. I had no vote yet the result today will have an impact upon me personally, and my family. Some of my husband's colleagues are today wondering what their future holds - in all likelihood they may lose their jobs. I see my friends who are EU citizens living in the UK also wondering how things will pan out for them in the future.

It feels like a hangover from a party I never went to. There are condolences being handed out to British expats left right and centre. It's a strange day.

But what does this actually mean for British expats in EU countries?

David Cameron touched upon the issue on British expats minds this morning from outside the Downing Street property he will shortly vacate,

"There will be no immediate changes in your circumstances."

Nothing we'll notice straight away. But there will be changes in the future. My British passport will potentially have less weight in 27 countries in the future than it does now. There will be bureaucracy and paperwork to face that I currently don't need to worry about. In the future I will have a different status than my husband and children in EU countries. Maybe.

But they are all things that will work themselves out. They are an inconvenience. Minor issues. I hope.

What I do have more of a problem with is that Nigel Farage is today the British face of victory (yes the same man who went on record this morning as saying "we won it without a bullet being fired' obviously forgetting that Jo Cox lost her life on Britain's streets last week, and withdrawing the Leave campaign claims that the money not paid into the EU would be paid into the NHS).

What I do have a problem with is the hatred and the negativity that has flooded my social media timelines over the last few months, and particularly the last week.

What I do have an issue with is the sudden increase in armchair politicians spouting their views about immigrants, public money and making Britain 'great' again. I have seen members of the British public interviewed on Dutch news programs who were asked which way they were voting and their reasons for doing so. Some of the answers made something shrivel up and die inside of me.

I have seen friends arguing on Facebook with each other over the referendum and the issues involved. I have seen ignorance and fear. I am also happy to have seen those who have read every possible thing they could to make a decision they were comfortable with. Informed decisions - whichever way their vote went. I have seen those who chose to abstain because they really don't know enough to make an informed decision.

Today the pound's value has plummeted, the Euro has declined against the dollar. Stock markets across Europe are falling. Will there be a recession in Britain? Across Europe? Will the divorce be a messy one, or a friendly civilised affair?

The British PM has resigned and there is a motion of no confidence agains the opposition leader. Immediate political turmoil. Will Boris Johnson become the future prime minister of Britain?

Will other EU countries call for a referendum on their EU membership too? Geert Wilders (yes, that man again) has already staked his claim for one. (Note that he does not have parliamentary backing so no need for alarm as yet). The far right in France is also making noise for a referendum. Far right. Europe. Is that really where we are heading? I seriously hope we have learned that lesson by now.

What is also evident is that the United Kingdom is one of divisions. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, England and Wales voted out. I saw someone thinking aloud on social media that this may well be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. It's anyone's guess where it all goes from here.

"For one thing, there is now a genuine question over the shape of this kingdom. Scotland (like London) voted to remain inside the European Union. Every one of its political parties (bar Ukip) urged a remain vote. Yet now Scotland is set to be dragged out of the EU, against its collective will." The Guardian

Sure, things will settle down. Things will balance themselves out. It will take years but there will be a road forward from here. Britain will carry on, with its stiff upper lip it will survive. Will it be better? That's a question for the future. A question we will have to ask our children. The only certain thing is that things will be different.

What won't change in the future is my sudden loss of identity. My teenage self studied European Studies at university. I opted to learn European languages. I chose to exercise my right of movement and make another EU country my home. My husband works for an EU body. I will lose my EU citizenship but my life remains in the Netherlands.

My two youngest sons are clad in their Dutch football shirts today and a Dutch friend asked if that was me making a statement. It wasn't, it was pure coincidence - they chose their tops themselves today as they do every day. But she did get goosebumps from my reaction to the Brexit result.

Today I am feeling rootless. I am feeling a lot less enthusiastic about being British than I was yesterday. I plan to give myself time for a 'period of mourning', to wrap my head around this momentous decision that my countrymen have made. Meanwhile, I am planning ahead. I know for sure I am not the only Brit in the Netherlands today looking at the option of obtaining a Dutch passport. (There's a great article about the consequences for Brits living in the Netherlands here if you are worried about what Brexit will mean for you in the future.)

I've talked before about how I feel like I am living life in the middle - not quite Dutch but no longer wholly British. Today I am being pushed out of that void. Today I realise just how European I feel.