When Students Went to School in the Open Air

13 October 2017

The old black and white photograph certainly leaves one with an impression: children sitting at their desks, dressed warmly in coats, hats, and gloves, each swaddled in a sitting-out bag, with their eyes turned towards a teacher in front of a blackboard. It’s a classroom without walls, a dirt floor, nature encircling them all around, and clearly cold.  It’s 1918 in an unknown place somewhere in the Netherlands and an example of an open-air school.  Apparently, the current trend of taking the classroom outdoors popular among privileged, crunchy parents in Northern Europe and the United States isn’t a new phenomenon.

The concept of taking the classroom outdoors is old school, going all the way back to 1904. It initially had darker roots – to prevent and treat the widespread rise of tuberculosis. Dr. Bernhard Bendix and pedagogue Hermann Neufert established the first of its kind:  the Waldeschule (literally forest school) of Charlottenburg, a nature area near Berlin. The classes were conducted in the woods to offer a combination of open-air therapy and a classical education to city children with pre-tuberculosis. The open-air school followed a traditional classroom setting with students who sat at their desks and a teacher in the front giving a lesson. Except there was one crucial difference: everything preferably happened outside, rain, snow or shine. 

The pedagogical premise of open-air education is simple: consistent sunlight and fresh air are essential if children are to fulfill their mental and physical potential. Teaching and learning should be conducted as much as possible outdoors.

 

                                                                                   Two open-air classrooms in the middle of the dunes of Katwijk, 1924

An open-air classroom in the middle of the dunes of Katwijk, 1924

A group of students in Amsterdam’s first public open-air school, 1925. 

 

The message resonated deeply with parents and educators, and became a movement, sweeping across the rest of Europe and North America. The Netherlands embraced the idea, establishing the first open-air school – de Eerste Nederlandse Buitenschool– in 1905 in the Hague.

Open-air schools soon were established for healthy children too. By the 1930s, the classrooms were designed for easy access to sunshine and air – outdoor terraces with big bay windows, retractable roofs, sliding doors, and lightweight furniture. The most famous open-air school in the Netherlands is located in Amsterdam, designed by architect Jan Duiker.

Marianne Johnston has fond memories of attending an open-air school in Scheveningen in 1954. “The school was good with amazing teachers. We all had our own garden, grew radish, and some flowers. Some had a porridge breakfast there, and we all had a hot meal. After lunch, we had a rest on stretcher beds. There were also turkeys wandering outside.” says Johnstone. “All the children were there for health reasons. I enjoyed it. I still like being outside and always have the windows open.”

 

Children of the open-air school Oosterpark sleeping outside, Amsterdam 4 October 1950

Undated photograph of an open-air classroom in Amsterdam


The popularity of open-air schools started losing ground in the 1970s thanks to the introduction of antibiotics and improved living conditions for many people. Although most schools in the Netherlands currently follow the model of traditional school buildings, the importance of being and playing outside is still deeply ingrained in the culture. Children get plenty of recess, and part of the philosophy of having little homework after school is to encourage child-initiated playdates, preferably outdoors. And of course, like their adult counterparts, children are expected to bike everywhere – sometimes even experiencing all four seasons on the same day.  

 

As the Dutch love to say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.”

open-air school

 What a dreamy way to learn about the seasons surrounded by trees

Photos are courtesy of the Dutch National Archives.

No Such Thing as Bad Weather: Coping with Winter Blues and SAD

12 October 2017

 

Anyone who has spent some time in the Netherlands realizes that the Dutch, like their northern hemisphere neighbors, have a complicated relationship with the sun. Or more accurately, the lack of consistent sunlight all throughout the year can be downright depressive. The Dutch are avid sun worshippers, taking any chance they can get to sit on a terrace and turn their faces towards the sun, even on days with cool, crisp, bone-cold temperatures. Deep into the winter months, the Dutch start praying under their foggy breaths and complaining out loud in vain for the sun to reappear.

 

Like many around me, autumn and winter in the Netherlands dampen my spirit, making me more socially reclusive, giving me difficulty concentrating, and making me feel anxious and overly sensitive. I indulge more, stuffing myself with Tony’s chocolates while baking apple pies and stewing poached pears.  I also have an insatiable craving for empty calories in the form of bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes, piling on generous portions on my plate. This mild form of malaise is referred to as the winter blues. A more severe form of it is referred to by clinical psychologists as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, but a spectrum of emotional and behavioral issues linked to the seasons. And for a minority of people who suffer from SAD, their reality in the deep winter months can be debilitating.

 

It’s important to acknowledge that winter blues and SAD are real and not some fabricated #firstworldproblem. The shortening days and longer nights make it difficult for some to synchronize their circadian clock to the outside world.  

 

The positive news is that places who experience the highest levels of winter blues and SAD are considered, time and time again, to be the happiest countries to live in. After ten years of experiencing this (one of the side-effects of moving to the Low Countries), I’m empowered to slay the winter blues. Here are some coping tips, inspired of course by the pragmatic Dutch approach:

 

 

Recognize the problem

There is a lot of truth to the old age adage that “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one.” Symptoms of SAD include hopelessness, increased appetite with weight gain, increased sleep, less energy and ability to concentrate, loss of interest in work or other activities, sluggish movements, social withdrawal, unhappiness, and irritability. If you find yourself with some of these feelings, consider going to your general practitioner.

 

Keep It Gezellig

Gezelligheid – the untranslatable Dutch word that embodies feelings of coziness, warmth, belonging and love- helps with coping with the winter blues and SAD.  The emphasis is on human connection. Think of candles, a warm cup of chocolate milk with whipped cream and being surrounded by your nearest and dearest. Call, text, or message a good friend. Try your best not to isolate yourself.

 

Invest in a Light Therapy Lamp

For some people, a light therapy lamp can do wonders to help lessen the symptoms of winter blues and SAD. According to Wirecutter, “Far from being a fringe or ‘alternative’ purported remedy for SAD, light therapy has been clinically shown to work to alleviate symptoms in over 60 studies in serious scientific publications” by helping our bodies stay on a more natural sleep-wake cycle.

 

 

 

 

Get Some Exercise
As Elle from Legally Blonde said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”  I’m embarrassed to admit that old school Jillian Michael videos do the trick for me. Twenty minutes of doing some exercise in the comfort of my living room without bracing the cold always make me happier.

 

Eat Healthy
A healthy nutritious diet can definitely help and actually has a strong influence on your overall mood. Consider eating low-impact carbs like unprocessed oats and legumes and high-protein foods to keep the sweet tooth cravings at bay. You really will start feeling better, I promise.

 

Go On a Sun Vacation
This idea was presented to me by my Dutch general practitioner when I was struggling with unexplainable feelings of sadness and irritability my first winter in the Netherlands. She prescribed me a take a two-week trip back home to San Francisco. Other families go on a ski holiday. Winter sun holidays are such a popular alternative among the Dutch that there’s an entire industry dedicated to offering affordable (read =cheap) getaway options.

 

Find Something to Be Passionate About
Full disclosure: The first time I did not experience winter blues while living in the Netherlands was when I was busy co-writing The Happiest Kids in the World. I was way too entrenched in the writing and editing process. Keeping yourself busy with a project that you are genuinely passionate about can really help pass the time and distract you from the reality of living in what seems like perpetual darkness. This autumn and winter, I have my heart set on improving my photography skills.

 

 

 

 

 

p.s. Come join us on our Finding Dutchland page. We promise we’ll provide enough distractions to help you procrastinate.

Photos courtesy of Niels Weiss, Ehud Neuhaus, and Mitchel Lensink.

Apples and Appelmoes

25 September 2017


“Apple tree! Apple! said two-year-old Matteo as he pointed to his older brother Bram who was preoccupied with picking an apple. “Wow….”

 

We were in the middle of an apple orchard on what was a picture- postcard perfect sunny and warm autumn Sunday morning twenty minutes away from home. We even took the scenic route among the cows, horses, corn stalks, and polders to get there.

 

To our utter amazement, rather than violently shaking the tree and branches, our five-year-old Bram was doing what he was instructed to do by the farmers – twisting the apple gently and slowly in such a way that the branches and leaves stay intact. My husband and I couldn’t have been more proud.

 

We spent a good hour just watching the two transfixed by this cherished rite of fall, getting their hands and boots dirty on a simple mission to collect the perfect apple. It was also surprisingly peaceful despite having to jostle through the crowds at the parking lot and entrance. We had an undisturbed lane of apple trees ready for their fruit to be harvested all to ourselves. And at one point, all three of my boys – husband and two sons -were happily eating apples, savoring the taste of freshly plucked fruit straight from the branch.

 

 

Apparently, the custom of recreational apple picking in September isn’t a beloved family tradition among the Dutch passed on from generation to generation. At least, not according to my thirty-eight-year-old husband nor sixty-three-year-old Oma nanny.  Apple picking seems to be a newly adopted tradition here in the Low Countries, possibly inspired by Americans, or the British.

This is quite surprising because apples and all the lovely, delicious treats they make with them –  pies, cakes, beignets, sauces, and jams – are a quintessential part of Dutch cuisine and culture. Dutch-style pancakes aren’t complete without applestroop, a thick, dark, sugary and tangy spread make out of apples. They eat applesauce with everything! I suspect it’s because homemade applesauce is often one of the first foods Dutch babies sample, and never grow out of. And of course, there’s a rich tradition and history of apple cultivation in the Netherlands. Our family’s favorite apple variety and for many people around the world is Elstar, cultivated in the Dutch town of Elst in the 1950s.  

My Dutch husband confessed that when I initially brought up the idea of going apple picking, he envisioned us working alongside farmworkers.  As exhausted as he was from work and desirous of a slow, lazy Sunday morning, he thought it a great opportunity to show our boys the realities of farm life. He was afraid, however, that in reality, it would mean him doing most of the actual physical labor while I took pictures and the boys watched. To his amazement and relief, “apple picking” was a fun, relaxed and wholesome family experience that the boys could actively take part in.

 

 

We left with two full bags – one with Elstars and the other with Goudreinet, a great bargain for only €8 and eight kilograms (eighteen pounds). We have our hearts set on putting these farm-fresh apples to good use: homemade apple pies, apple cakes, applesauce, and plenty of apples to share with friends and neighbors.

 

We look forward to going apple picking every year from now on, come rain or shine.

 

Finding Dutchland’s Recipe for Dutch Appelmoes (Applesauce)

Ingredients

4 apples – peeled, cored and chopped

*Goudreinet apples are the traditionally favored ones among the Dutch. Any crisp and mildly tart variety will suffice.

1 cup of water

*add a little more water if necessary, especially in the end

2 cinnamon sticks

1/3 cup of white sugar

 

Directions

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine apples, water, sugar, cinnamon sticks.

Cover and cook over medium to low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until apples are soft.

Allow to cool and remove cinnamon sticks. If you prefer it soft and creamy, use a food processor or potato masher. If you like it with a bit chunky, it’s ready straight from the pan.

Enjoy!

 

A Note from Yours Truly (And Speaking Event)

13 September 2017

event

Hey Finding Dutchland friends and followers,

I can’t believe it’s Fall already! How has everyone been? When I started blogging in 2012, I had no idea that the ideas jotted down on Finding Dutchland would eventually lead to a book. What was evident, however, was that parents around the world all have a common desire to raise happy, self-aware, independent children. And it happens that the Netherlands is accomplishing this en masse.  To provide a complete story of parenting in the Netherlands, as well as adding another (British) perspective, Michele Hutchison came to join me.

 

As a foreigner raising two young kids in the Netherlands and married to a Dutch entrepreneur, it wasn’t all that easy co-writing my first book. The actual writing happened six weeks after I gave birth to my second son Matteo. And it had to be written in six months. It was a whirlwind experience, and staying true to my words about raising “the happiest kids in the world” – there wasn’t that much time to blog.  

Now that the intense book writing phase is long over, interviews with the press and publicity are winding down, and the kids are back in school (at least, three out of the four),  we’re excited to pick up blogging again and will be doing more speaking events.  Join Michele and me this coming Monday, September 18, 2017, at the International School of Amsterdam as we talk about what exactly the Dutch are doing right when it comes to parenting. The John Adams Institute has kindly decided to host us, and we’re looking forward to such an eventful night. At the very least, you’ll get to meet us, up close and personal. We promise we’re quite entertaining and honest (at least, we’d like to think so).

 

Thanks for your continued support. Hopefully, you’ll be looking forward to more of our musings about life, culture, and parenting in the Netherlands.

 

Love,

Rina Mae

 

p.s. If you’re curious about our behind-the-scenes Dutched reality, take a peek on our Instagram accounts findingdutchland, rinamae and michelehutchison.

p.p.s. A perfect place to procrastinate is on our Facebook page where we share random updates concerning all things about Dutch culture, the Netherlands, and parenting.

 

 

(Photo by Rosa van Ederen)

What Finland Can Learn from the Dutch

5 September 2017

We’ve gone Finnish! Our Finnish publisher Siltala translated our book and invited us to come right on over to their side of the pond – Helsinki, Finland. And we gladly accepted!

We even managed to spot our book in a local bookstore downtown, have some honest talks about parenting with new friends, and immerse ourselves in Finnish culture.

What could the Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway) learn from the Dutch? They too have a very similar parenting philosophy – the importance of outdoor play, emphasis on play-based learning for babies, toddlers and kindergartners, and age-appropriate independence.

Finnish Journalist Anu Karttunen’s “Dutch Children are the world’s happiest – 5 things that differ from the Finnish Approach ” lends us her insight. Here are some things that we’ve learned the Dutch do differently, and the Finnish people can get inspiration from:

Mothering the Mother
Nowhere in the world is “mothering the mother” taken more seriously than in the Netherlands. Each mother is entitled to a maternity nurse at home to help her with taking care of her newborn and postpartum recovery. Sorry, Germany and the United Kingdom – though nurses do come by the house to do medical checks on a newborn baby and the recovering mother, they do not go Dutch – cooking, cleaning, teaching parents how to take care of the baby and allowing mom to get some rest.


Work-Life Balance
The Dutch Center for Statistics once again confirmed what most of us already know – the Dutch, by pure choice, work the least amount of hours in the entire European Union. On average, Dutch men work thirty-six hours a week and women work twenty-six. According to the researchers, because of the high productivity of the Dutch, they can work much less. Personally, I also think that the Dutch pragmatic approach to thrifty living and comparatively generous social system (from an American perspective) enables them more freedom from the modern drudgery of work.

“Relaxed” Approach to School
Even though Finland has arguably the “best” education system in the world, they may gain some inspiration from the relaxed Dutch approach to schooling.  According to the HBSC research, there seems to be a lot less pressure and stress among Dutch students compared to their Finnish peers. And somehow, with this relaxed approach, the Netherlands still the highest concentration of world-renowned research universities.

Chocolate for Breakfast
While the traditional Finnish breakfast sausages are lovely, who wouldn’t be happy having chocolate sprinkles on a slice of buttered white bread first thing in the morning? 😉

 

Mind you, life is also fantastic in Finland, especially when it comes to raising families. I appreciate the quirkiness of the culture and local art scene. I also love the ban on smoking in public places.  And even though they have dark, depressing and long winters, they’ve come to embrace light – great lighting design, safety reflectors, candles and cozy get-togethers with friends. I will definitely want to bring my family here to further explore the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” – Finland boasts 187,888 lakes within its territories- and of course, to witness the Northern Lights.

By the end of our trip, Michele said, “I already feel at home.” I echoed her sentiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translated by Terhi Vartia. For more details of the Finnish translation of our book, check out our publisher’s page.

 

 

On Teaching Values Versus the Pursuit of Wealth

4 August 2017

“Do not educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy so when they grow up, they will know the value of things, not the price.”- Victor Hugo (26 February 1802- 22 May 1885)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this platitude making its rounds on social media. It’s hard not to – my co-author Michele Hutchison and me wrote an entire book about why Dutch children are the happiest kids in the world.

My family and I live a comfortable, boring middle-class life complete with all the trappings of first world problems – doing endless laundry, complaining about the weather, and figuring out ways to entertain our boys during the weekend and school holidays.

But it wasn’t always that way. Not for me at least. It was always about the hustle of materializing the American dream – the clothes, purses, clothes, cars – and always dreaming of what it would be like to live in the fancier neighborhood. Rather than pursuing a career that fed my soul and takes the time for self-discovery, I was pushed to prioritize what would provide a more lucrative paycheck and prestige. In other words, I was raised to want to be rich. I don’t blame my parents. They came from an economically disenfranchised country where there was always an imminent threat of poverty. Money, or more accurately, the pursuit and accumulation of wealth was everything. And they come from a society where the value of one’s life is still measured by that wealth.

So when I stumbled upon Hugo’s words, it deeply resonated with me because of its haunting familiarity. Growing up in such a superficial environment left me an insecure, shallow mess which took years of reading self-help books (psychologists were beyond my means) and sympathetic ears to recover. And though I am immensely grateful for all the sacrifices my Filipino immigrant parents made for me, I want things different for my children.

I’ve decided, instead, to teach my children how to be kind, self-aware adults who value experiences and human connection rather the pursuit of material possessions. And I happen to live in the Netherlands, a culture that values virtues such as a kindness, pragmaticism, self-awareness, helpfulness, gratitude, and honest, hard work. It’s through these virtues, from my unscientific, casual observations, which fosters genuine happiness and well-being in children and adults.


And upon closer examination, the Dutch way of raising children isn’t unique at all. It’s how many of our grandparents and generations before us that were raised – a universal common sense approach to becoming kind and decent people. So how does one who is raising children with so much abundance – love, time, and material wealth – teach children to value what’s actually essential?

Embracing Connection with People
Create an atmosphere that values relationships with one another rather than the pursuit of material things. It’s as simple as starting the day together with a family breakfast. Focus on the conversation over a simple spread of bread, fruits, cheeses, etc. Or simply spending twenty minutes on the floor playing with your child, free from distractions from your phone and/or the television. It’s about making a concerted effort to be present and connect. And it isn’t about making memories for all those “special times” but rather in the everyday monotony of our daily lives – making dinner together, cleaning up, getting ready to head out.

Household Chores

From what I observed, there is no reward-based chore system in Dutch households. Children are expected to help out in the house because they are part of the family. There is no monetary value assigned to each completed task. Rather, Dutch children are expected to pitch in with daily household chores simply because they are part of the family. My five-year-old is responsible for setting up the table and helping clean up afterward, and my two-year-old removes the wash from the washing machine and into a basket. And both of them are expected to clean up their toys after they are done playing. They are assigned daily chores that are appropriate for their ages.

Fostering Curiosity and Learning Over Grades

The Dutch, like many other Northern European countries, have one expectation when it comes to school – it’s a place of learning, self-discovery, the fostering of curiosity, and learning how to get along with other people. I’m convinced that it’s important to nurture our children’s innate curiosity rather than stressing the importance of grades, class ranking and prestige. The chances are that our children may not be valedictorians, but we have a much better shot at helping them discover what they are interested in and developing the skills, insight, and self-awareness.

 

Being Kind to Themselves and Other People
Fostering and nurturing emotional intelligence can’t be emphasized enough. We need to be mindful of teaching our kids how to be kind to their siblings and classmates, to be able to fail and get back up again, to show concern for other people’s feelings and most importantly, to be kind to themselves. And a gentle reminder to be kind to yourself to as a parent – children, after all, have a special intuition for these things.

 

 

 

 

The Simple Message Behind Miffy, the Beloved Dutch Character

14 June 2017

Father’s day is around the corner, and I can’t help but think of the unofficial Opa (grandfather) of the Netherlands: Dick Bruna. With nothing more than a blank piece of paper, a pencil, and a desire to entertain his young son during a rainy, seaside holiday, Bruna created Miffy, known as Nijntje (pronounced nein-che, “little rabbit”) in Holland. With his signature gray hair and mustache, round glasses, and soft-hearted nature, Bruna reminded me of a real-world version of Mister Gepetto from “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” As Gepetto-incarnate, ever so humble and kind, Bruna’s brought so much happiness to everyone who stumbled upon his work.

Bruna had an innate understanding of the world of children, creating characters, settings and rhyming storylines that were as simple as possible.  Like a wise, kind grandfather figure, Bruna celebrated what we as adults often take for granted and consider insignificant minutiae of life but are held dear to small children – getting ready for bed, preparing breakfast, celebrating a birthday, going to the beach, visiting the zoo, and riding a bike.

For many Dutch children, the Miffy books are their first introduction to reading. Ina, the ten-year-old daughter of Michele Hutchison – the co-author of our recently published book, The Happiest Kids in the World – says, “my favorite book when I was little was Miffy at the Zoo. I like how the stories rhyme.” “The writer Dick Bruna died recently and that’s really sad,” she said, clearly still remembering the sense of loss that was felt across the nation, and reverberated around the world. My husband Bram often reads the Miffy books to our two boys, and bedtime wouldn’t be complete without a stuffed Miffy doll in our almost two-year-old’s arms.

 

Bruna’s stories evoke nostalgia in parents, highlighting common, everyday experiences all children are familiar with. Getting lost in the world of Miffy and friends gives us the opportunity to re-realize that childhood (and life in general) is really all about the small, simple everyday pleasures. “I always loved the drawings; they are so simple and colorful. They made the books really special,” says Ina’s eleven-year-old friend Noor.

For children around the world, especially in Holland and in Japan, Miffy is very much alive. Her influence extends beyond the pages of the books she’s featured in.  Miffy is everywhere young children can be found: nursery decorations, street signs warning drivers to slow down, schools, museums, parks, beaches, zoos, and airports. And for many Dutch children, childhood isn’t complete without the joy of Miffy. And as grown-ups, many Dutch people can still quote their favorite Miffy books off by heart.
It isn’t hard to imagine Bruna as an honorary grandfather figure in his home country, especially in Utrecht where he was born and where he lived most of his life. Despite being a world-renowned artist who sold over 85 million copies of 100-odd Miffy books, Bruna remained an unassuming familiar fixture at a local neighborhood café in Utrecht for decades, greeting fans and familiar faces. He would also randomly appear, unannounced to the delight of children and parents, to Miffy-related performances and events. Bruna knew the secret to living a life well lived, having once been quoted, “For me, happiness is cycling to my studio very early in the morning.”


Rina Mae Acosta is the co-author, with Michele Hutchison, of “The Happiest Kids in the World How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less.”

 

 

Reclaiming Summer Vacation, the Dutch Way

1 June 2017

Summer has (un)officially arrived, or is just around the corner. Images of lazy days of children playing at the beach and bright blue skies at some exotic destination or summer camps in pristine nature come to mind. Yet the reality is, for many families, summer is a “financial and logistical nightmare“.

Most of us cannot afford to take the entire time off – ten to eleven weeks for American children and five to six weeks for the Dutch.  There’s also this unspoken, often self-imposed pressure to give our children an amazing, magical summer experience. And if we’re fortunate enough to be able to take a week or two,  there’s this pervasive idea that a ” fantastic family summer vacation” is synonymous with plane tickets, hotel stays, and (exotic) exciting destinations. Think a trip to Disneyland, lounging around Aix en Provence, an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, or doing some island hopping in Hawaii.  And with that naturally, comes the feeling of guilt and jealousy of others if we fall short of living up to these expectations.

But for the Dutch, summer is something that they all seem to look forward to without that emotional and financial baggage. After doing some (Google) research,  interviewing dozens of Dutch families, and reflecting on my own personal experience as a child and then a mother, I think I’m onto something. And I am convinced that the secret lies in embracing three complementary things: low-cost, down-to-earth activities, boredom, and Dutch gezelligheid.

 

Embracing low-cost, down-to-earth activities

What’s admirable about the Dutch is that they take pride in being cheap. They’re able to have wonderful, memorable moments without feeling compelled to break the bank. In fact, the less they spend, the happier they are and the more bragging rights they have. This summer, my family and I decided to have a staycation in the Netherlands. Be prepared for regular pictures of us at the local beach and eating our homemade sandwiches.

Some suggestions are:

Camping

Nothing screams a Dutch holiday than camping. Whether it’s doing it the classic way of pitching up your own tent, going all out on a caravan, or glamping. Camping is a beloved Dutch institution that crosses all socioeconomic lines. There are even camps in France, Spain, and Italy that cater to the Dutch clientele, providing them with Heineken, Dutch farmer’s cheese, peanut butter, and their favorite brand of toilet paper.

Playing Tourist in Your Homebase

I love playing “tourist” in the area of where I live. A trip to the local ice-cream shop, library, park, nature reserve, beach,  a museum can be glorious.  

Bonus if you live in the Netherlands or have easy access to the Low Countries
One of the best-kept secrets in the Netherlands is its white sand beaches. Castricum aan Zee, Zandvoort, Bloemendaal, and Scheveningen are our favorite, family friendly beaches to go to

 

Embracing Boredom

In an ideal world, I would love “boredom” to be the next parenting trend (second, of course, to going Dutch).  According to research (http://www.bbc.com/news/education-21895704), ” Children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.” Boredom, or more accurately, unstructured time facilitates this.

 

Dutch parents believe in the gift of boredom. For them, it means allowing children to simply play outside in their living rooms or the garden, or with neighborhood children out on the streets left to their own devices.

 

Dutch Gezelligheid

“Gezelligheid” is an untranslatable word that encompasses the feeling of coziness, warmth, love and belonging. It’s similar to the trendy Danish Hygge in that it embraces the idea of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. What puts Dutch gezelligheid above its Danish cousin Hygge is that gezelligheid is primarily focused on relationships, on spending time together. Gezelligheid is done with other people, not on your own. Let that sink in for a moment. Gezelligheid is really is about relationships and nurturing the ties that bind. Think sharing stories over a campfire, running around the sprinkler on the grass, baking a birthday cake, having pancakes for dinner.  It’s all about the quality of time spent together as a family.  And though we all live busy lives, if we can give them at least twenty minutes of our undivided attention regularly, it goes a long way.

 

Children, especially in the early years, won’t remember the details of their summer vacation but rather how they felt when they were with their parents. Recently, British child psychologist Oliver James even went as far as to suggest that taking your children on foreign holidays is bad for their mental health. Though I don’t personally agree with him in that regards, I do think there is a lot of truth when he argues that “children are easily pleased by the simple things”.


And more often than not, it’s the simple things – often that are free or don’t cost too much – like playing hide and seek at home, dancing and singing along their favorite songs, or having a picnic in the backyard, are what children consider magical. In fact, it’s all about simply spending time with each other. Dutch parents place a lot of emphasis on family togetherness, on simply being present with their children. This is what the concerted effort goes into – not the details of the actual vacation.

 
P.s. Does this resonate with you? Any chance you may be inspired going Dutch, parenting-wise? Well, we wrote a book about it.

 

 

Where There Are No Valedictorians

24 May 2017

 


Being class valedictorian is an honor for most families around the world. Graduating at the top of the class seems to be every parent’s dream come true – an official title bestowed to being the best and the brightest, with promises of a wonderful, successful life ahead.

Everywhere, it seems, except for the Netherlands. There simply is none. There is no broadcast system (award ceremonies) at school assemblies. Children and teenagers here are not ranked.  As my co-author, Michele Hutchison writes in our book, “In the Netherlands, however, it isn’t all about getting straight As and getting into the right university. Education here has a different purpose. It is traditionally seen as the route to a child’s well-being and their development as an individual.There are two kinds of higher education qualifications here: research-oriented degrees offered by universities and profession-oriented degrees offered by colleges.” Hutchison explains that in Dutch high schools, there is constant testing and grades, but they are not comparative, i.e., no ranking or position in the class.

So imagine my surprise and amusement when I stumbled upon Eric Barker’s Time article “Wondering What Happened to Your Class Valedictorian? Not Much, Research Shows.” Barker posits: “But how many of these number-one high school performers go on to change the world, run the world, or impress the world? The answer seems to be clear: zero.”

According to Barker, there are two simple reasons: “First, schools reward students who consistently do what they are told. Academic grades correlate only loosely with intelligence (standardized tests are better at measuring IQ). Grades are, however, an excellent predictor of self-discipline, conscientiousness, and the ability to comply with rules.”

Granted, the sample size of the research study to make such a sweeping statement is quite small – only 81 high school valedictorians and salutatorians were involved. Yet, the conclusions intuitively make sense. The current school system, after all, has clear rules and set expectations of accomplishments. Life and the real world is a lot messier with a lot more uncertainties and variables. Academic achievement in school does not necessarily correlate to achievement in life.

Karen Arnold, a researcher involved in the study Barker quoted, says,  “Many of the valedictorians admitted to not being the smartest kid in class, just the hardest worker. Others said that it was more an issue of giving teachers what they wanted than actually knowing the material better.”

Not all of us can just pack our bags and move to the Netherlands. What we can do as parents, however, is start seeing our child for who they are. So chances are if your child isn’t going to be valedictorian – which is highly more like the case because there can only be one – don’t be disappointed. What’s most important is helping your child discover their interests and passions. And isn’t having a happy, self-aware, resilient and curious child the best way to help them lead successful, happy lives in the future?

Foto above of my two boys at the University of California Berkeley, my alma mater 

This is Thirty-Five

23 May 2017



I welcomed my 35th birthday listening to the wise words of rapper 50 Cent, “Go shawty, it’s your birthday. We gon’ party like it’s yo birthday.” Except, you wouldn’t find me at the club. I  spent it by having coffee at my favorite local café with a dear friend, going to the village farmer’s market, stealing some time to write, and cooking and enjoying an elaborate dinner for a party of six.

I’ve also just gotten home from a whirlwind, four-week book tour and family vacation to San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., and a farm in England. There’s nothing like a life-changing trip (first book tour ever) and a landmark birthday as the impetus for doing some serious soul-searching and taking an honest inventory of my life.

So since it was my birthday, I’m taking this opportunity to share what I know being thirty-five years young:


Less is More

There’s a reason why Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” continues to spark a decluttering craze around the planet. Her tough love approach to only holding on to what’s essential and what sparks joy is transformative. Having less stuff really does lead to genuine bliss – I’ve made going Kondo a yearly endeavor.

Not Giving a F*ck (Valuing My Time and Mastering the Art of Saying “No”)

Sarah Knight’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want To Do” sums it all up. I’ve learned to value my time and no longer feel socially obligated to being around people and situations that do not bring me joy. In a world of saying “yes” and the real fear of missing out, it’s no wonder that people find it nearly impossible to have a work-life balance. I’ve learned that being able to say “no” helps me establish clear boundaries and to accomplish the goals I have set out.

Finding Joy in the Mundane and the Ordinary

A large part of my reality involves managing the household – laundry, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping and random errands. Rinse and repeat. There’s also being a mother to two little boys. I’ve learned to see the daily grind as signs of privilege and blessings – that we have clothes to wear, a roof over our head, more than enough food on the table, and the luxury to have a boring reality that requires maintenance, love, and care.

Being Grateful and Acknowledging My Privilege

It’s easy to count the strikes against me: I’m a person of color (Filipino ancestry), a woman, short, and not born with a trust fund. I also acknowledge my privilege as a middle-class, highly educated American married to a Dutch citizen and raising my children in the Netherlands. I am immensely grateful for this lot I have in life. And though the creative life (author) is rife with a lot of insecurity (personal and financial), inklings of self-doubt, brick walls, and frustrations, it is a privilege to be able to pursue it. Whatever successes I do have in life, it is also not something I accomplished alone. It’s because of all the love and support of kind souls, friends, family, and strangers that have helped me get to where I am today.

Saying What I Mean and Meaning What I Say

Horton, the elephant in Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hatches the Egg”, once said,  “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent”. Dutch directness is one of my favorites aspects of Dutch culture. Though it might at times be challenging when speaking to American, British, and Asians and basically everyone else who are accustomed to more indirect and polite way of communicating, I love no longer having to second guess and wonder what people mean. There’s definitely a lot less anxiety and stress over it.

Loving the Skin I’m In

It took my thirty-five years to genuinely love and accept my dark complexion and my wobbly bits. With regular applications of sunscreen, I’m showing my children not to be afraid to turn their face towards the sun. Generations of backward colonial mentality stops with me. And since this is the only life that I get to have (that I am aware of), I might as well enjoy the only body given to me. Part of that, of course, is eating relatively healthy with foods that feed both my body and soul, and regular exercise.

Being a Work-In-Progress

I’ve come to realize and accept the fact that I will always be a work-in-progress. I’m only human after all. And that part of being alive is self-discovery. I hope never to stop wanting to learn, to always discover new things and let my curiosity lead the way.

Kindness and Love

Always choose kindness and love in whatever you do. It’s essential to living a life well lived.