Friday, 23 March 2012

Helmet Therapy in the Netherlands

Helmet Therapy to help children
(c) The Writing Well

Expatica published an article of mine written about a topic which will be unfamiliar to most  - helmet therapy -  but it is a process we stumbled upon last year when the Consultatiebureau (the Dutch well-baby clinic) referred us through to a physiotherapist because my baby had a strong positional preference.

I found it very hard to find much information on helmet therapy (or redressietherapie) in the Netherlands, particularly in English, so I decided to share our story for other expat parents out there.

It is also to enlighten others who wonder why babies with specially designed helmets is such a common sight on the streets of the Netherlands these days.

You can read the full article on

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Naked Snail

A Naked Snail Photo: Antonio Garcia

*I was pushing my one year old in his pram whilst my four year old was jumping over puddles on the pavement next to us on our way back to infant school after lunch. The heavens had opened that morning and the rain had been continuous since I had done the first school run of the day that morning. In front of us was a mother with a four year old girl dressed from head to toe in pink in one hand and her slightly older brother in the other hand. Suddenly the trio stopped before us and the young girl let out a shriek,

"Ew. Wat is dat mama?" she asked, turning to her mother. She pointed at the ground to a slug.

"Dat is een naaktslak," said her mother laughing. The Dutch word for slug, naaktslak, litterally translates to naked snail. Both children were now laughing. The young boy said,

"Yes, he woke up this morning and forgot to put his clothes on." His little sister giggled. As did I. My four year old looked up at me,

"Nee, toch mama?" my son asked, questioning the validity of the boy's statement. The mother continued,

"Yes, he must have been very confused when he woke this morning."

It reminded me just how fabulous the Dutch language can be!

*This article first appeared on my other blog, A Letter from the Netherlands, in June 2011.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

First Day at School: What No Uniform?

When my son started primary school last year it was a milestone. Not just for him, but for me too. Gone were easy, go with the flow mornings. They were replaced with a morning routine that required planning with military precision. Gone were trips to the farm at the drop of a hat. Gone were spontaneous trips to the playground with him. My eldest son suddenly disappeared for most of the day. It was an adjustment for us both. It was tough.

School uniforms
Photo: Tim & Annette
But when he took his first steps into his new classroom something else struck me. I would never experience that proud moment that most British mothers have when their child puts on their school uniform for the first time. Last September, Facebook was flooded with friends' photos capturing their children on that first day at school in a crisp, new school uniform.

School uniforms are very uncommon in the Netherlands. In fact the only place I have seen them since I moved here in 2000 is the British School in the Netherlands based in Voorschoten. An OFT report cites that 79% of junior schools in Britain has a compulsory school uniform, when you get to secondary school this rises to 98%. In short, if you go to school in Britain there is a good chance you'll be wearing a school uniform.

If you go to school in the Netherlands you will almost definitely not be required to don a uniform in the colours of your school. I started doing a little digging to determine why my sons will all go through a school system without seeing a school uniform. It turns out it's easier to find out why British schools advocate the wearing of uniforms than why Dutch schools don't.

Michael Gove - a uniform believer
Photo: London Evening Standard
In Britain there is political pressure on schools to require pupils to wear a uniform. Michael Gove, the Education secretary believes that uniforms in schools are beneficial. He believes that the wearing of blazers and ties contribute to school success. In combination with strict discipline of course. He says that schools with uniforms have better results. It is a hot topic on the political agenda in Britain.

There are more benefits of a school uniform according to supporters: A uniform helps pupils identify with their school and feel like a part of the school community; it evokes pride in pupils; it instils discipline; it dissolves social equalities (as clothes do not differ between rich and poor students), hence reducing bullying.

Some argue that uniforms in schools are just a way of exerting power and control over kids. Heads of schools which have abolished their school uniform say that teachers spent too much time ensuring that children adhered to school uniform rules - time that could be better spent teaching them.

American academic (school uniforms are gaining popularity in the US), David Brunsma, concluded after eight years of research that school uniforms make no difference whatsoever to the standard of schools or their results.

Love them or loath them, the fact is that I grew up wearing a school uniform and somewhere in the photo archives of my parents there is a picture of me on my first day of school, proudly toting my brand new uniform. It's a British thing, but one as an expat parent I will never experience.

What will/did you never experience when your kids start(ed) school because you moved overseas? Is it something you miss(ed) or glad you don't/ didn't have to go through?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Bikes, Kids and the Dutch

Ferrying children around on a bike - as easy as ABC in
the Netherlands
(c) The Writing Well

*A recent article confirmed that it's actually safer to ferry your children around in a bakfiets (a carrier fixed to the front of the bike) than a child seat fixed to either the front or back of your bike. The reason for this is simple - if you are involved in an accident with a car whilst on your bike more often than not your head tends to meet the windscreen. In a bakfiets this won't happen. The other reason cited for it being safer than a child seat is because drivers notice a bakfiets more than child seats. It all makes sense to me when you think about it logically - with a bakfiets the centre of gravity is lower and it is therefore more stable.

With the imminent birth of our third baby I have thought about a fietskar (a child carrier in the form of a trailer that fits to the back of a bike) as getting about would be a lot easier by bike as the kids get a little bigger. It is safer than two children in seats on the front and back of my bike - particularly given my amateurish, shaky cycling skills. The downside of bike trailers or bakfiets is that they are not cheap!

For a bakfiets you can expect to part with more than a thousand of your hard earned euro - but it is a replacement for a car for many. A bike child seat will set you back anything from 50 to 100 euro depending on the model and the price for a trailer for your bike starts around 170 euro (but remember you need to buy accessories to attach your children safely in the trailer....) and rises easily to near 1000 euro.......

Do you cycle around with your children on your bike? Do you use child seats, a trailer of a bakfiets? Which form do you feel is safer? Did you transport your kids by bike before you moved to the Netherlands? I would love to hear your views!

*This article first appeared on my other blog, A Letter from the Netherlands in September 2011.