Sunday, June 12, 2011

European playgrounds

Hanging out in Nuernberg, DE
It's true-my family does view all of Europe as our own "private" playground, but the real European playgrounds are for the kids! As a prior Waldorf School employee, I've long admired the European playground. They are designed to be used in a multitude of ways, allow some risk (and responsibility on the part of the parents), and don't dictate the ways in which children must use the equipment.

Amazing playspace with a view, Mellau, Austria
Many of the playgrounds include rope-related equipment, that requires the children to use balance and core muscle strength. You see rope-based equipment frequently in German playground, and it really does demonstrate the German idea of "survival of the fittest"!

Swingin'-Nuernberg, DE
You will also find balancing logs and platforms, teepees, basket-style swings and water features. I know that many communities in the U.S. have fabulous playgrounds, but having living a sort of off-the-beaten path, peripatetic lifestyle, it wasn't until we arrived in Germany that we actually found these creative play places for children. Watching our risk-adverse child scale a rope web or jump off of pylons is a delight, and as parents, we appreciate the child-centered design of the playgrounds in Europe. Also, there is little plastic in the equipment, which provides a certain aesthetic quality to their spielplatzes.

A gigantic fairy house in a playground near our village.

The best feature in any European playground? The food and drink! One of my favorite playgrounds in our area includes a huge water pump with a drainage system and an adjacent biergarten. The shot below is from the Gartenshau Kaiserslautern where, in the fall, you can enjoy kurbis (pumpkin) wine and pumpkin soup. Playtime doesn't get any better than this:

Kurbis delight with JillyBoo playing in the background.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Citizens of the World


One way that you can tell that I'm a teacher is that I go through long periods of quiet on my afterschooling blog! Since my last blog entry, we visited Portugal, Regensburg, Germany, Colmar, France, and Mellau, Austria. Visiting other countries is a unique opportunity for employed expats with only one child, and we take advantage of this as frequently as possible.

When we visited Malta, we learned that JillyBoo needs down time, even on short vacations. Repeatedly dragging her through fields of megalithic ruins makes for a miserable trip for our entire family. For our Portugal trip, JillyBoo's daddy made a creative itinerary that satisfied both our need for some adventure and culture, and her need to have a homebase away from home.

We stayed in Afife, a small town north of Viana do Castelo in an apartment that we found on HomeAway. The bonus of setting up camp in an apartment, besides the price, is that you can purchase groceries and save on meals. Also, we like the fact that we don't have to schlep our bags around, taking a chance on losing our personal items to opportunistic locals.


Afife is not glamorous, not set up for tourists, and features miles of gorgeous beaches that are only lightly used in the spring. For us, it was paradise! We had unseasonably warm weather, and planned our week around alternate days of exploring and lazing about on the beach. Among the towns we visited were: Soajo, Guimares, and Viana do Castelo.

So what makes this trip afterschooling blog-worthy? The entire cultural experience! You might expect that a country that is part of the EU and is just south and west of Spain might seem more civilized. We were pleasantly surprised to find that on many times on the trip, we were the only light-haired people around for miles. For a little blondie, it was astonishing for JillyBoo to realize that, at times, she was very much the minority. And if those people weren't speaking German or English, what the heck language were they speaking?

Also, the food, so new, so salty, so much fish, such excellent bread and pastries. Bacalhau, a salty, dried cod laid out on palettes in the supermarkets, covered with flies, tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, soft white cheeses and pesto slathered onto crusty Portugese bread, the food was divine.

Equally beautiful in form and fashion were the people. They were helpful, curious, helpful, did I say helpful? They accepted our Spanish when Portugese failed. They pointed us in the right direction when our GPS was less than directional. The talked to us at length about their country, their port wine, their food (again, did I mention the food?).

Any time we travel, we try to instill into our 5-year-old the idea that she is on a world journey, on a life journey. She is a citizen of the world, and as such needs to experience, respect, and learn from the people of these cultures. Luckily, JillyBoo likes to try new things...especially if they are covered in chocolate or take place at the beach!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I hate, and I mean hate, bribing children to learn. I attempt to eliminate silly rewards in my classroom-no toys, candy or dog and pony shows to

This all fell apart as we started serious Suzuki twinkling on the violin. Suddenly, we have a bean jar, AND a sticker chart. When the bean jar fills up, I have to scramble to find a decent kids' movie playing at the theatre (and they're always terrible!). Luckily, it's a huge jar. When the sticker chart fills up, JillyBoo will get an ice cream date with me and her teacher (She's at 53!).

So far, the two incentive machines have produced great results. But even the best bribes break down at times. This week, we slowed down on practicing in anticipation of a week-long violin-free trip. Today, attempting to squeeze in a long enough practice to count as a real practice and a make-up, mean mommy teacher actually removed two beans.

No practicing can happen when JillyBoo is balancing her bow ("Bowie") between her toes, but she also can't practice when she's in tears. Bad mommy teacher. It's an interesting phenomenon about JillyBoo that sometimes after a break, she actually comes back playing better than before.

I've struggled with the violin-free trips, and have found some great ways to keep her on task. First, we bring her Theory Time book to keep reading and talking about octave scales. Jilly Boo already reads A-E on the octave scale and can play and read whole, half, quarter and eighth notes using her I Can Read Music book, so it definitely makes a difference to keep talking about theory on vaca. For this week, her teacher also recommended that we bring our rhythm sticks to tap out new twinkles that we invent, as well as practice fingering on the sticks.

As an aside, it was interesting to watch JillyBoo attempt to invent a twinkle at lessons last week. She HATED it. JillyBoo has always wanted to be good at something without having to work at a skill. Her stubborness in this area ("I don't want to practice tying my shoes, I'll just do it when I know how.") is one reason that I insist that for at least the first year, we practice almost daily. I am not willing to have her involved in 4 or 5 different sports/dance/art activities, I'd rather have her work hard at something challenging, and then see how playing violin is easier when you break down a problem into managable parts.

For now, we're looking forward to a relaxing vacation in Portugal, and hope to meaningfully work learning into our trip!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Fine Art of Fasching

Fasching is a wonderful, but totally incomprehensible, German holiday. It starts in November, rolls to February, coming to a head around Mardi Gras season. Fasching seems to be mainly marked by a larger-than-life presence of totally inappropriate adult "costume" wear just adjacent to the children's toys in Globus (German Target). The children even get to participate in Fasching at school, which involves eating remarkable amounts of candy and kuchen at school, whilst your parents, dressed as pirates, etc, drink champagne and eat appetizers. Sounds perfect, right?

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A few months prior to our school's weekend and weekday Fasching activities, the kinders started a unit on...pirates. The extra bonus of this unit of study is that JillyBoo started dressing up like Keith Richards, and we read a lot of wonderful books, such as Peter Pan and the Eyewitness Pirates book. The latter elicited the response, "Uh, mom, aren't there any nice pirates?" No, not so much. I did learn that Blackbeard used to make himself primitive beard extensions that he lit on fire, resulting in a frightening smoking effect. He was punk before punk was cool.

Overall, Fasching seems to be an opportunity for the locals to let loose before lent. It is refreshing to be part of a community that allows people to have fun and be raucous...with in reason, of course!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


We've been so busy lately that even sitting down to listen to JillyBoo read has been a seemingly overly exhausting task. Finally, this weekend, things slowed down enough for us to do some laundry and consider what topics inspire us to learn. For the last 3 weeks, JillyBoo has not been inspired by her achievements in violin, groaning when I even mention a Twinkle.

After a long weekend on the island of Malta, we were relaxed, but our house was in chaos. While visiting the Mediterranean island nation, we had the totally unexpected opportunity to explore a site described in Homer's Odyssey. Really? I couldn't believe it!! I've often lamented that I didn't attend a public high school good enough to present senior with the Iliad and the Odyssey. I do appreciate, as an adult, that I can earn the education that I feel I didn't receive in my youth, and that my enthusiasm for learning can serve as a springboard for my daughter's education.

On one of the Maltese islands, Gozo, there is a site called, "Calypso's Cave." Calypso was a goddess so entranced with Odysseus that she socked him away in a cave for 7 years, only letting him go after Hermes informed her that Zeus was not too thrilled with their living arrangements. The word cave makes you think of a, you know, cave, so it would surprise you to know that the Gozitan cave, one of the six possible sites for the location of Calypso's cave, is more like a hole in the ground!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Money and Children

I remember riding my bike to the Sprouse-Ritz to buy my first tape-Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell." I was never great at saving up for a desired item, and would generally reserve my shopping interests to items that I could afford that day. JillyBoo's dad and I are bound and determined to raise a money-savvy child, and as such, we opened a savings account for her roughly the day after she was born. This was a brilliant idea, however, we have yet to find this account a useful tool in helping her understand money. "Hey, JillyBoo, you have some imaginary money in a bank that only exists online. Woo hoo!"

During a recent sick-day at home with JillyBoo, I realized that I had nothing to read (read that last line with dramatic flair). JillyBoo's dad had left a copy of SmartMoney magazine on the table, and so I decided, with a sigh, to flip non-committally through its pages. What a great magazine, even though I understood only 1/10th of it's articles!

By far the most impactful article was called Financial Literacy for Kids. It offered tips for teaching kids about money, which for me, tied in well to my recent desire to teach JillyBoo about the value of individual coins. I followed a few of the links from the article, and was pleasantly surprised by what they had to offer. First, I found ThreeJars Allowance tracker. I was introduced to the "three jars" concept in Arizona by some wonderful friends. JillyBoo already had "three jars," however, they had no connection to financial education or a plan. I decided to pay the $30 yearly fee to try out the ThreeJars website, which they only charge after you've been a member for the first month.

JillyBoo loved that she gets her own page on the site, and quickly designed a background and personal logo that only Prince could love. Really, how is it that five-year-olds have the same taste as circa 1970s pimps? Together, we picked a reasonable distribution for her weekly allowance-Save $1, Spend $0.80 and Share $0.20. I appreciated that the website let you input an initial "deposit" to the jars, as I was not anxious to calculate how we would divvy up the money that JillyBoo already had amongst the three jars.

The website, as near as I can tell, is worth every cent. It includes video clips from the "Today Show" financial advisor, Jean Chatsky, who shares advice from the point-of-view of a mom. I also love that you can assign tasks to your child, or that he/she can email the parent and say, "Hey, mom, can I do the dishes for a few extra dollars this week?"

Also, they recommend places for kids to donate their money. Inexplicably, JillyBoo decided that she would like every "sharing" cent to benefit dolphins, "Because I love dolphins, mom." Okay, can't argue with that. After a little research, and some reflections on the horrors of the movie, "The Cove," mommy has decided to help JillyBoo direct her money to

As JillyBoo grows, I realize that the routines that we institute when she is younger seem to be the ones that stick. Just as this afterschooling website keeps me honest, so to speak, I also find that using will keep us on track as a family in helping educate JillyBoo about smart spending.

Here are some other sites they recommended in the article:
Secret Millionaires' Club Entertaining cartoon clips of enterpreneurial children receiving advice from Warren Buffett (yes, that Warren Buffett)
FamZoo Another family savings site, somewhat like
For older kids: WallStreet Survivor
Here's the original article from