As most children in the Netherlands prepare to celebrate the period of Sinterklaas, some of us expats can be left overwhelmed with this uniquely Dutch tradition, without understanding the history behind it. Some aspects might be shocking (blackface), others might be endearing (leaving carrots in shoes for Sint’s horse). Join us as Delft MaMa Anitha Raj, hailing from India, shares a little background on Sinterklaas followed by her observations of this annual tradition.
Guest Post by Nina Bogerd and Maya Levi
Although she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) fifteen years ago, Maya Levi has never let it determine her life. She is always full of energy, always optimistic. Even now, as the disease starts to profoundly limit her life physically, she is discovering new spiritual and physical pathways within life’s limitations.
MS is a disease that affects central nervous systems, thus the brain and the spine. Immune cells attack the myelin layer around the nerve cells, resulting in damage to neural functions and an impaired electric signal. The wide range of symptoms—e.g., balance problems, muscle weakness, blindness—vary from person to person, depending on the specific location that is damaged in the brain or spinal cord. The common prognosis, though, is the worsening condition over time. Maya’s symptoms have always included balance problems—but in the last year, the signaling to the legs has been so far damaged that walking has become extremely difficult.
However, the point of Maya’s story is not to focus on her disabilities caused by MS. The focus is on enabling her still existing abilities, thus strengthening her body and soul.
Raising funds to enable Maya
On the GoFundMe campaign started by her friend Lidia Bernabei, Maya tells us that although using a wheelchair might become inevitable, she wants to explore new opportunities to do as much as she physically can, to empower herself. She invites us to financially support the activities that she would like to do, but otherwise cannot afford.
In September, Lidia ran a half-marathon (20 km) in Rome to raise not only funds for Maya but also awareness for MS. Delft MaMa Nina Bogerd ran in Ljubljana, Slovenia in October, and Andrea Ortenzi ran in New York in November. These runs are steadily raising awareness for MS. Maya is currently training at the gym (weights) and on an indoor hand bike as a part of her physiotherapy and hopes to participate in a half-marathon with the hand bike in Rome in September 2019. If you plan to run somewhere the coming year, you can also dedicate your run to this campaign.
Funded: From disable to enable
The funds raised so far has enabled Maya, among other things, to start taking horseback riding lessons. These lessons have had an extensive impact on her body, mind and soul. But more specifically to her MS, the horseback riding forces Maya’s core muscles to stabilize her body. The lessons are taking place in Madurodam Manege, that specializes in horseback riding for people with disabilities. In addition to horseback riding, Maya has been able go wind sailing again, and plans to continue that next year thanks to Sailwise, a foundation that organizes adapted sailing activities for people with physical challenges.
Funds needed: Access to better mobility aids
At this moment Maya is unable to leave the house independently with the kids—she is dependent on her husband, ‘Regio Taxi’ (Municipality Taxi’s), and friends as she only has a manual (borrowed) wheelchair. A mobility scooter has been approved in September by the municipality but is not yet in place. Maya would like to have an electric folding wheelchair for traveling with her family. She would also like to have a hand bike with exchangeable wheels that can be connected to a wheelchair. This would allow Maya, a biologist, to go outdoors and enjoy nature. These are expensive products that can improve Maya’s quality of life.
Delft MaMa High Tea
Maya should not be alone in her struggle. To help Maya further, we are organizing a High Tea on the 9th of December, 2018, at Lunch Café Leonidas Delft. Money collected will go to Maya’s GoFundMe campaign. You are cordially invited to an afternoon dedicated to supporting one of our heroic mothers.
Thanks to Nina Bogerd and Maya Levi for contributing to this post.
by Julia Candy
Delft, like most cities across the Netherlands, plays its part in settling an increasing number of refugees seeking asylum from dangerous situations. To learn how the Delft MaMa community might better reach this group of families, I spoke to Delft-based refugees and a volunteer for the refugee-focused charity DelftseBuur to better understand the story of asylum seekers in Delft. Read more
The Origins of Halloween
Although Halloween celebrations are very popular in The United States, its origin comes far from the American continent. History dates Halloween celebrations as a Celtic festival, Samhain, commemorated with bonfires and animal costumes on the day before their new year, which used to be the 1st of November.
This celebration marked the end of the summer and the start of the cold and dark winter, a period associated with death and agricultural difficulties. The Celts believed that on October 31st, the spirits came back to Earth and the lost souls could cause trouble; therefore the bonfires, rituals and costumes helped repel the intentions of bad ghosts.
Later on, the Christians celebrated “All Saints Day/All-Hallows Day” on the 1st of November, which was the reason why the Celtic commemoration on the 31st of October became known as “All-Hallows Eve,” and later, “Halloween”.
Halloween in the United States
The Irish and English people brought the Halloween traditions with them during the mass migrations to the United States in the 19th Century, where it became a popular holiday.
It lost its religious and ghostly nature and became a celebration to bring together the community through games, food and costumes. The famous game “trick or treat” then became a fun way of sharing food. Despite the efforts of some community leaders to remove the scary tone of Halloween, this holiday still holds mystery and superstition, especially in the United States.
Halloween in Colombia
In Colombia, many efforts have been made in the last 15 years to diminish the creepy feeling of Halloween. In fact, it is now called, “Kid’s Day.” Schools and community centres promote the celebration of this day by hosting carnivals and kid-oriented shows, such as puppet theatre and magic shows. It is very common in Colombia to see kids wearing a costume to school on the 31st of October.
Funny enough, we don’t have seasons like those in the United States or UK, so pumpkins and spiders are not common at all at this time of the year. And yet, we still use those items for decoration. At the end of the day, kids go from house to house singing something that would translate as, “trick or treat Halloween, I want candy only for me, your nose will grow if you don’t give candy to me.” It might sound aggressive, but it is not taken in a bad way at all. It might refer to the Pinocchio story, were his nose grew longer because of lying. So telling a kid you don’t have candy to share might be considered a lie. My own interpretation!
Halloween in the Netherlands
Not a Dutch tradition?
In the 9 years I’ve been living in the Netherlands, no one has come to my door asking for candy on the 31st Of October. However, when my son was born, I decided I was not going to let this day pass unnoticed. At the time, I was living in Wageningen, a very international town in the east of The Netherlands. That year, I sent my son to daycare dressed as a polar bear and although moms and leaders thought it was cute, they also thought it was a bit weird.
I had also asked around among other expats and found out there was a newly built neighbourhood where many expats lived, and many had decorated their houses for Halloween. We decided to go in the evening with our kids and sing our Spanish Halloween songs, going from door to door to ask for candy. To our delight, we were very well received, even by the Dutch families! Perhaps this might be the only neighbourhood in Wageningen where kids can get candy on the 31st of October.
… how you can celebrate Halloween, Dutch style!
However, more than asking for candy, I wanted my son to enjoy Halloween in the way kids do in Colombia, and I’m sure I’m not the only one! Therefore I have been doing my research and I am very happy to share this info with you:
Halloween shopping night
(Prinses Beatrixlaan, 2284 BK Rijswijk)
Thursday 25th October, from 18:00 – 21:00: dance performances for kids and face painting in de Bogaard Shopping Centre.
Halloween at the Delft Botanical Gardens
(Poortlandplein 6, 2628 BM Delft)
Friday 26th October, from 17:00 – 21:00: Ghost greenhouse, face painting, colouring, pumpkin carving, scary photo booth (DIY), marshmallows roasting at the bonfire, ghostly treasure hunt. You must pay for the entrance and for €2, kids get a stampcard for the various activities.
Halloween at the Stadsboerderij BuytenDelft
(Korftlaan 3a, 2616 LJ Delft)
Saturday 27th October, from 13:00 – 20:00: for kids between 3 and 6 years there are several activities throughout the day, such as pumpkin carving, decorating Halloween cupcakes, making popcorn in the fire pit, face painting, storytelling and a ghost tour through the water playground. See here for more information about the timetable of activities and costs.
Halloween in the Wippolder
(Wippolder, 2628 GC Delft)
Saturday 27th October, from 18:00 – 20:00: this has been a big and succesful Trick or Treat walk to the houses along a planned map route. Kids and parents wearing a costume are welcome to join this fun walk. The route to follow can be found on their Facebook page.
Delft MaMa Halloween Party
(Speeltuin Geerweg, Kleine Boogerd 16, 2611 WC Delft)
Sunday 28th October, from 14:00: Hosted by Delft MaMa, there are costume contests for both the kids and the adults. There’s a Pot Luck (bring a dish!) for food, but drinks will be available at the venue. The fee is €12,50 per family, Pay online via Tikkie. Follow the Facebook event here.
Halloween in de Trees!
(Laan van NOI 104, 2593 BX Den Haag)
Wednesday 31st October, from 13:00 – 17:00: Face painting, treasure hunt, trick or treat, surprise activities at the Zorg voor Party Feestwinkel.
Halloween in de Reinkenstraat
(Reinkenstraat, 2517 CS Den Haag)
Wednesday 31st October, from 16:00 – 18:00: This is a very cosy shopping street in the Hague. Children are invited to go dressed with costumes to sing Trick or Treat. There will also be several children’s activities in the street, such as a spooky ghost tunnel, a candy festival and face painting.
Halloween at Duivenvoorde Castle
(Laan van Duivenvoorde 4, 2252 AK Voorschoten)
Wednesday 31st October, from 16:00 – 17:30 for kids from 4 to 8 years old; from 17:30 to 19:00 for kids from 8 to 12 years old. Activities for both age groups include walking through the ancient castle rooms, a super-scary ghost tour, short storytelling in the attic, face painting, Halloween crafts and roasting marshmallows over the campfire.
Have a spooktacular time!
“Moving to a new country is always an adventure. Choosing the right home for a family makes it even more exciting, but sometimes also more complicated.” Delft MaMa Xenia Gabriel starts off our new blog series with some tips based on her family’s experiences finding their home in Delft.
by Lynette Croxford
When arriving in Delft not speaking the language, I spent quite some time worrying about schools for the precious ones. My agitation increased tenfold after speaking to other mamas at the playgroup. The conversations were along the lines of, “WHAT? She’s not on the list yet? You might have to move if you want her to get a place at a decent school”. It never occurred to me to enroll my newborn at a school of my choice. Naturally I then proceeded to contact every school in a 20km radius of my home to make appointments or enquire about open days.
It turns out that the waiting lists for some schools are ridiculously out of touch with anything in the realm of reality, with some as long as 6 years! However, upon further investigation, I found there are really good schools with no waiting lists or at least lists that are in the span of my lifetime, all within the city limits. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the child-led methods where kids determine their destiny, a stickler for structure and direction or an inbetweener, Delft has it all.
On the Education Inspection website, a regulatory body for the assessment and control of schools, there are 34 primary schools listed in Delft. The pedagogic principles range from the Mary Poppins school of thought (hard work, discipline, routine) to the more Hogwarts (without the magic) approach (child-led, independent, non-structured). The website has an English page which is helpful to understand the rationale behind the system. There is a ‘find schools’ option but the search function is only in Dutch with an English explanation of how it should be used.
Depending on your reasons for migrating to Delft and the duration of your stay in the Netherlands, you may choose to keep the kiddos in an English environment. Skipping around in clogs and singing Dutch songs won’t enable their future growth outside of the Netherlands, except for entertainment value or party tricks. The International School in Delft is an authorized school for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, which means settling in Delft will be easier since they don’t have to learn a new language. If, like me, you’re in it for the long run and want your kids to integrate into local culture, habits and language, there is a multitude of Dutch schools to choose from, all facilitating clog-skipping and song-singing.
There are 5 pedagogic methods being used in the Dutch schools in Delft at the moment. Below is a brief explanation on their principles. If you want more information, Google it. There is a whole bunch of information readily available. [Note from the editors: we’ve done some work for you! See the short resource list at the end of this article to get you started.]
- Learning takes place in a context that is meaningful to the children;
- Class life is organised in a democratic/cooperative way between teachers and children;
- Learn by experimentation, discovery, doing and discussion;
- Learning from the experiences of others, adults and cultures;
- Teachers, children and parents all contribute to an optimal learning climate.
- Students are active in a prepared environment;
- Students are given the opportunity to develop their talents;
- Let students do a great deal themselves and thereby learning from each other;
- Teach responsibility by letting students make their own choices and their own plans;
- Trust the students;
- A continuous concept throughout the school years.
(Based on Anthroposophy, a human oriented spiritual philosophy that reflects and speaks to the basic deep spiritual questions of humanity, to our basic artistic needs, to the need to relate to the world out of a scientific attitude of mind, and to the need to develop a relation to the world in complete freedom and based on completely individual judgments and decisions.)
- Students become rounded individuals and is conscious of daily and yearly rhythms;
- It doesn’t refer to the freedom of the students but the freedom of the school to work in their own way.
- The subject matter is derived from the living and experiential world of students and important cultural objects from society;
- Teaching is carried out in educational situations and with pedagogical means;
- Education is shaped by a rhythmic alternation of the basic activities of conversation, play, work and celebration;
- Students of different ages and development levels are placed together in tribal groups. This stimulates learning and caring for each other;
- Independent play and learning are alternated and supplemented by controlled and guided learning. The pupils’ initiative always plays an important role;
- World orientation occupies a central position with experience, discovery and research as the basis;
- Behavioral and performance assessment of a pupil takes place as much as possible from the pupil’s own development history, and in consultation with the student.
Regular education is the collective term for education that does not address special target groups, such as special and special education. In a regular school there are therefore predominantly children who go through a normal development. These schools might have a religious affinity.
After deciding on the pedagogic method you prefer for your child, the next step is to go and see the schools of your choice and to meet the people. My first call was made with a mental image of a fire-breathing dragon on the end of the line, speaking to me in Dutch and condemning my lack of linguistic ability. I was pleasantly surprised by polite and friendly people who were more than willing to struggle through a conversation in English. The appointments were made with little hassle and followed up by email confirmations. I really enjoyed seeing the schools in action and meeting some of the kids and teachers. Taking your child along is a good idea since they’ll pretty quickly show you how they feel about the place. Some schools have open days to facilitate choices and there is a fair once a year, De Delftse Onderwijs Markt, where all schools in Delft showcase themselves. The exact dates and times are usually advertised in the local papers.
One thing that I didn’t appreciate the full extent of when making a choice was the distance from door to door. In the summer it’s all fun and games getting to school on the bikes or walking, but in the winter, it can be a real challenge if you’re some distance away. Dragging babies out in the freezing rain to get their siblings to class on time is no fun and can add significant stress to an already frantic time. Although none of the schools have catchment areas (geographical areas served by schools), take a good look at the schools closest to your home. Most schools are close to daycare facilities (kinderopvang) to help (working) parents before, during and after school. They can pick kids up from school, take them to activities and are open during school term time.
A place in your school of choice will be confirmed with a formal letter inviting the little one to their first day, usually the day after their 4th birthday or in that same week. Prior to the actual start date, the schools arrange for the newbies to come in and get used to the class and environment (wennen). Usually it starts off with a couple of mornings and then a full day or two to see how they cope. Depending on the school, parents are sometimes permitted to stay for the first hour if needed. Some schools are even flexible in the first year of school to have kids for 3 days instead of 5, or a combination of shorter and longer days, since compulsory attendance (legally) only starts when they turn 5 years old.
When your baby puts that little backpack on and runs down the road for the first time you may very well shed a tear or 10. They grow up exponentially in their first year of school and the baby-ness become kid-ness. It’s a true milestone in their young lives and one that they relish once everyone settles into the routine.
*Pedagogic methods (translated by myself)
*All photos are mine (with the exception of Vrijeschool Widar, the image came from the school website).
Originally from South Africa, Lynette moved to Delft from New Zealand in 2011. The majority of her time is spent working in Rotterdam in the Healthcare sector, but she also has 2 young daughters, both in school in Delft. Lynette’s background is varied, including creative and people-related experiences.
Note from the editors:
Want to read more about education in the Netherlands?
To get an overview of the Dutch education system, start with education in the Netherlands from Nuffic: the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education. (There is also information about bilingual schools at the primary and secondary levels, in Dutch.)
To get an overview of the Dutch education system in an international context, read Education Policy Outlook Highlights: Netherlands published by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Delft MaMa’s very own Parenting in Delft: School Age has some general information. The link to a list of schools in Delft no longer works. Use the one listed in this article.
Dutch school types: primary and secondary education – a good summary of the different types (based on pedagogy) of schools in the Netherlands.
Education in the Netherlands: A guide to the Dutch education system – also a good comprehensive guide, the article also contains useful information regarding school fees, holidays, and contacts for more information.
Some other good/fun articles to read:
Dutch schools: What to expect when you go “local” – article published in July 2018 on iamexpat.nl
Are you sending your kids to a Dutch school for the first time in September? Read How to deal with being the new parent at a Dutch school, published this month on iamexpat.nl
The Dutch school system for dummies – a guide from one parent to another – article published in March 2017 on Dutchreview.com
See also past DMM blog posts about education and after school activities:
by Gaelle Fourcade
with Onica King
Mom-1: I heard “Swim Like A Fish” has a really good swim program.
Mom-2: Yeah, I’ve already registered Katie there.
Mom-3: Isn’t your Katie just 4 years old?
Mom-2: Yes, but there’s a waiting list and I want to make sure she gets a spot on a day we can be there. Your Jacob is turning 4 right, where are you thinking of registering for swim lessons?
Mom-3: Ahhh, um. . .
I first discovered the importance of Dutch swim lessons for children just as I began asking around for information about schools for our eldest daughter. At first, I thought it was a bit early to start thinking about swim lessons, yet alone already registering my 4 year old for swim class. But ongoing conversations and the evident parental stress associated made it seem just as important as choosing a good school.
Out of my depth
You see I’m initially from France. There, schools still provide swim lessons to students. So of course, I had no idea what to look for and what to expect with respect to swim diplomas in the Netherlands.
Diploma A, B, C, badje 1-2-3, colored armbands, etc. I quickly became overloaded and confused with this new vocabulary on swim lessons. Oh, and of course, it‘s all in Dutch — a language I understood very little of at the time. It took me months before I understood ZWEM-ABC (literally SWIM-ABC) referenced the various diploma levels. Diploma A was the first swim diploma that included basic swimming techniques and specific swim distance requirements. The progression to Diploma B adds more techniques and longer distances. C indicates the most advanced level of the diplomas in this category.
Letters, numbers, colors and more
After a bit of research and experience (we’ll soon be taking my 3rd through the process) I quickly became intimately acquainted with the mysteries of the ‘badjes’ A1 through A6, and its associated color armbands, red, blue, green, yellow orange and bronze. All beginners start in badje A1 with red armbands. As they begin to better coordinate their movements and master the required skills and techniques of each badje, children receive the ‘reward’ of a new colored armband — much to their pleasure and excitement — before progressing to the next badje.
All this culminates in their ability to swim at least 50 meters using both breast and back strokes and swim 3 meters underwater through a large ‘escape’ hole. Those requirements increase to 75 meters and 6 meters under water for the B certificate. The C diploma requires 100 meters of surface swimming with a few additional obstacles.
The NRZ (The National Board of Swimming Safety) publishes a list of requirements (in Dutch) for each diploma.
Time and money
When we decided to inscribe our daughter, we had no clue how long it would take to achieve completion of ZWEM-ABC. It took us almost 4 years!
Ok, we did not attend during summer holidays (which can be a really good way to speed up your diploma). Our daughter also had ear tubes, so she suffered intermittent ear infections. Either way, I shudder to calculate how much her diplomas cost in total. However, be prepared to invest some time and money. The swim school we attended suggests, “the average duration to obtain the A-diploma is 50 hours, for B- diplomas it’s 10-15 hours and for C-diploma it’s 12-15 hours.” DMM’s recent “Get Out!” blog lists the various swim schools in Delft. Check around to find out more about various types, times and costs of swim programs.
A tropical oasis
So every Thursday afternoon we gathered the swim gear, our daughter and her little brother to head to the swimming pool.
Now that’s some heat and humidity for you. It is literally like entering a sauna!
During the winter, you have to remember to dress in layers, and then proceed to unload yourself of those endless layers as you enter the tropical environment that is the swim school. Then in the summer, you observe the children with envy wishing you too were able to spring in the water to cool off just a bit.
Oh, and let us not forget the entire pre- and post-preparation and seating to contend with. Parents and children alike converge upon the changing room entrance 5 minutes before class time in anticipation. Once the green light flickers to ‘signal go’, everyone enters to help their little 4, 5 and 6 year olds change into their respective swim clothing. Should your session start as another ends (or vice-versa), that means there’ll be as many as 30 – 60 little swimmers and their parents — some like me with younger children in tow — trying to find a corner to maneuver.
Finally, after 5 minutes of rushing to get little arms and legs in and out of clothing, you emerge (more often than not, sweating) from the changing rooms in search of a place to sit and observe your budding swim aficionado, while in my case — also entertaining another toddler. Thank goodness for the well-positioned contained play areas on offer at most of Delft’s swim schools, provided specifically for the welcomed distraction of non-swimming little siblings.
Oh the pomp and circumstance
“Afzwemmen” another Dutch word one becomes well acquainted with in the journey towards ZWEM-ABC completion. Once your child progresses through their respective swim lessons, they are then invited to ‘pass’ for their diploma. Time for them to demonstrate their newly acquired swim prowess before receiving each of their swim diplomas. It’s also time for fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings and the entire list of proud friends and family members to come together in a hot, humid swim school to celebrate the accomplishment (and let’s not forget freedom) of completing a swim diploma.
The whole event is actually a bit of a show. By the time your little swimmer gets cleared for afzwemmen, they have already passed everything necessary in the lessons. Afzwemmen just serves as a final step to acknowledge the investment made by all.
To be honest, despite the sarcasm and slight inconvenience, I have been impressed by the way my children learned and mastered different swimming techniques at their individual pace. The instructors were nice, some very funny and popular. They always had a little time of “grappig” (fun and laughter) during the lesson, and they knew our kids well. I could always ask information about their level and their competencies.
I admire the kids being so strong and courageous for such an intensive hour, and I am so pleased that they learnt to swim in clothes, which in this country — maybe more than others — makes absolute sense!
by Amanda de Souza
Motherhood is contradictory. It simultaneously unites and divides between the haves and have-nots, between those who go to work and those who chose to stay at home, between the free-range, the tiger and the helicopter parents. But perhaps nothing divides and unifies more than when writers question the beatified view of motherhood as fulfillment of women’s role and its cherished place in society.
Writers have long used their life experiences in their novels. Good writers use those experiences to tackle topics explored with a mixture of intelligence and forthright argument. Yet those who seek to honestly document experiences of child rearing often run the risk of being controversial, or at the very least, provocative. This week’s blog explores the work of two such accomplished, provocative writers — set almost 50 years apart. Both cast a wry and cynical look at motherhood in all its wonder and horror. These are not childcare nor self-help manuals. These authors wrote to maintain their sanity or for financial reasons — often one and the same.
A Life’s Work – On becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk
A dark memoir and a relentless lament of the author’s early experiences with mothering. Its compulsive reading with a familiar cast of characters (mother, father, baby, doctor, health visitor, a few friends) and plot (pregnancy, birth, colic, sleepless nights). As with the first few months of a baby’s life, the time scheme in the book is unchronological, as if to convey the disorientation of early motherhood. Rachel feels like an exhausted prisoner and even questions sadly whether her daughter likes her at all. What makes it so compelling is her masterful prose and the bravery that others will find some solace in her experiences.
Life Among the Savages and its sequel Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
Both written around the late 1950’s, Shirley Jackson’s books seem very modern and relevant today. Primarily known for her macabre “horror” fiction, these novels about her family life — originally serialized in magazines — portray a more human side of her writing. These books established Shirley as an unlikely predecessor of today’s “mommy bloggers.” She removed the traditional sugar coating around motherhood. Her writing serves as an intelligent and insightful chronicle of perennial issues on raising children, while questioning if every woman belongs in a traditional role.
Somewhat antithetical, motherhood has the ability to both empower and disenfranchise women. All too often, the initial respect and responsibility women experience nurturing young lives becomes diminished by reduced income and influence when they switch to part time employment, chose to work from home, or eschew paid employment completely in favor of child rearing.
Rachel Cusk’s and Shirley Jackson’s writings shine a spotlight on that dual aspect of motherhood, and calls for new inclusive definitions of power. Definitions that recognize both the joy and sacrifices required to perform that “mother of all jobs”.
Women and Power by Mary Beard
Mary Beard’s manifesto — timely in the light of the #MeToo movement — reinforces that need for change and inclusivity in the language and definition of power. It proposes, instead of appropriating male definitions, women break societally imposed silence and create their own language and means of wielding power in order to effect a semblance of modern equality.
One aspect of a changing definition of power is the power of individuality. The acceptance of differing views on long cherished ideals about women and motherhood. The acceptance that we as women do not all fit into one mould and knowing that WE are not alone.
Last weekend I sat down for tea with Carolina Nesi, the easy-going Brazilian woman who started up DULI. For those who haven’t discovered it already, DULI is a unique concept, and a gem for expat families in the heart of Delft. Part international bookstore and part birthday party venue, the English-language workshops — for both kids and adults — sit at the heart and soul of DULI. In this article, I share the fruits of my conversation with Carolina: what DULI is and how it was created. Read more
Success of the “Muziek op schoot” workshop, initially hosted by DelftMama in March, convinced me yet again that music is a universal language — a cross-point where mothers and children from all around the world can meet, sing and make music together. How great that was, proving that no barrier, not even language, can stand in the way of musical play.
Thus, the purpose for this article, an opportunity to offer some basic information about age appropriate musical instruments to help you and your child embrace the joy of that universal language.
My name is Zdenka Prochazkova and I come from the Czech Republic. Ten years ago, after finishing my music studies there, I came to the Netherlands to continue with a specialization in early music in Utrecht.
A couple years ago, I then decided to enroll in a postgraduate program to become a “Muziek op schoot” teacher. Literally translated to “music on your lap”, Muziek op Schoot is a foundation for early childhood music education in the Netherlands. I currently give lessons in Delfgauw, Spijkenisse, and teach regularly at daycares in Delft and Delfgauw. I am also a member of Krulmuziek — an ensemble dedicated to bringing classical music to children of early ages.
The importance of music to our children
Experience as a teacher and as a parent of two young children has shown me firsthand the positive influence singing and musical play has on child development. Not to mention the simple joy it brings to their daily lives.
The songs we sing to our children at bedtime are part of the transitional space where parent and child are present together. A moment where children feel safe and can overcome fear and anxiety. Through songs and musical play, we can also turn chores and everyday activities such as getting dressed, tidying up, eating, or even brushing one’s teeth into play.
Age-appropriate musical toys
The first, and probably the best, source of rhythm, melody and musical feeling that children encounter is the human body. In fact, children experience music best through hands on engagement with their parents and care givers. Our heart beats in the most wonderful rhythm; our voices can both soothe and entertain, while bodily sounds like clapping, snapping or whistling always seem to catch children’s attention.
The child’s body develops as a unit; it is therefore important for children of all ages to use both of their hands simultaneously, such as clapping and using shakers and jingle bells in each hand.
Consider sound quality and the ease of producing that sound when introducing an instrument to your child. Children should be able to use and bring out sounds from the musical toy; otherwise, it would be hard to hold their attention. For instance, if you give a xylophone and a mallet to a 1-year-old, the child at that age would not have the precision to hit the bars. The instrument would not make noise, and the child would soon lose interest in it.
Toy stores offer various sound/musical toys to entertain children. However, if they have a low-quality sound, are monotonous or lack dynamic possibilities, they do not contribute much to the musical development of the child. Offering varied good quality sounds enrich the child’s experience and even prevents negative reactions to encountering new sounds in their surroundings.
0 to 1 year old: Discovering the world through multiple senses
Safety and quality are essential when identifying appropriate toys for children this age. Another consideration is the ability to stimulate different senses at the same time. A soft, colorful ball with a bell inside is an ideal tool for a musical ‘massage’. A pleasant-sounding rattle stimulates children’s senses as they try to locate the origins of the rattling sounds and begin to train their prowess of concentration.
Singing, along with various other uses of the voice (varying between high and low pitches, different volume, “glissando”), dancing and bodily sounds also occupy a central place during this period. At this age, children follow singing for a longer time than speech. They also have very limited or no control over their movements at this stage. It’s therefore important to choose instruments that are easy to manipulate.
Choose from shakers (e.g. egg-shakers) and maracas to various kinds of ‘jingle’ bells that attach to fingers, wrists, or even favorite toys and sticks. Homemade shakers like these music bottles can also bring a lot of fun and extra visual or thematic stimulation. Bottles with child-safe closures are available to order from Kijk op spel.
1 to 2 years old: Rapid gross motor development during which children learn to sit, walk and run.
Little ones this age enjoy exploration and relative independence as long as parents remain at an easily reachable distance. They enjoy playing on parent or caregiver’s laps, can combine different movements while clapping to songs, and seemingly have the ability to absorb a fundamental sense of rhythm. Children at this age spontaneously find objects such as tables and chairs for impromptu drum sessions. Give them even more opportunities to explore those percussion talents. Provide toys already on hand such as wooden blocks, boxes, or objects from nature (chestnuts or walnuts for example) for use as sound-making toys.
Fill a bottle with sand, rice, lentils, beans, wooden pieces, stones, and even feathers to offer a large spectrum of rattling sounds. Suitable instruments are shakers, jingle bells, rhythm sticks, and rainmaker tubes. The harmonica is ideal for this period as a stimulant for voice development. Children this age also really enjoy dancing with some material in their hand.
Language skills are also fast developing and any musical play and songs with language forming texts are very suitable. Let children listen to different genres of music and you will soon notice them developing a musical taste. Similar to hiding and revealing objects, pausing and resuming music can also be very entertaining. This principle keeps the child’s attention and teaches them to react to the music.
2 to 4 years old: The start of vivid imaginations
Musical instruments that trigger fantasy are very appropriate. Offer different types of drums, xylophones, metallophones. They stimulate hand-eye coordination, which is important for writing. Toddlers are interested in different aspects of music such as piano/forte (soft/loud) or slow/fast (speed). As a result, they can learn basic principles of music making.
Choose music and instruments that offer dynamic possibilities at this age. There are various songs, which incorporate the contrast of slow-and-fast or loud-and-soft. Integrate these elements when playing with instruments as well as in singing, dancing (with or without material) and parent-child lap play. Additionally, for stimulating the development of the larynx, kazoos, ocarinas, and slide-flutes are ideal.
DelftMama music workshops
Music workshops within the DelftMama group has been a great initiative of Ildigo Wooning, Marie Kummerlowe and Tatjana Lisjak. The first series drew many participants and proved a big success. During the sessions, we exposed children to hearing and trying the violin, viola, guitar and melodica, as well as egg-shakers, tambourines, metallophones or bells for themselves. The theme of the first workshop series was spring. The current series, which started on May 28th, has a summer flair.
While the general language used in the workshops is English, participants will be exposed to many songs in Dutch (many of which children already hear at daycares). The sessions are a perfect opportunity to enjoy fun time together with your little ones, learn new songs and get some ideas for music making at home.
Not able to make the current series of workshops? Fear not, we’ve already begun exploring options for scheduling additional sessions after the summer holidays.
Embrace the joy of music
When you make music with your littles, it’s a great joy for you both. The interaction makes you learn about each other and the positive effects of music — stimulation of concentration, motor skills, emotional and social development — turn the learning process of children into play.
I wish you many beautiful (musical) moments with your little ones.