Read-along time: Growing Up Global

It’s time for our read-along to begin! I hope others have been reading the book as well and I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments, even if you haven’t been reading along.

Expat Parenting book read-along: Growing up Global

Growing Up Global: Raising Children to be at Home in the World, by Homa Sabet Tavangar

I have so far only read the Introduction and Chapter 1: Be a Friend, so I can truly limit myself to commenting on only these two.

I’m enjoying the book so far, but I do have to point out that this book is very much aimed at an American audience (as in USA, not American continent). I’ve been reading the Kindle Edition bought from the US Amazon site, so I’m not sure if the UK version has any differences. There are many references to the United States and how cultural differences are perceived there (such as references to the way Muslims are viewed post 9/11) and some of the resources presented are specifically for the US. This book was clearly meant for an American audience with a more or less ethnically  and linguistically homogeneous background. This seems natural considering the author is American and this book is very much based on her experience and aimed at those who can not easily travel overseas to have first hand contact with other cultures.

That said, most of the information and tips can be interpreted and applied elsewhere as well.

The introduction tells us what brought the author to want to write this book (you can find out more about that on the book’s website as well, here: Growing up Global), basically to help parents raise children with a global perspective, whether or not they can travel overseas.

The book is structured like a recipe to make a friend – a global friend – and that’s clear in the Chapter’s names. It is also strongly based on the Golden Rule – one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself – which exists in most world religions in one form or another. (I will not argue here any quibbles I may have with the Golden Rule, but let me just say, I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to assume others would like to be treated the way we would like to be treated. But that would be a philosophical question, and I do think as a general principle the Golden Rule does have it’s merits and is simple enough for a child to understand.)

In the first Chapter there is a list of “10 things to do now”, which you can also find on the book’s website here, which I find is very useful. Many of these tips I already have incorporated into our daily life already, such as having a World Map over Sprout 1’s bed (we chose the Peters World Map because the representation of the size of countries is more accurate than the more widely used Mercator Map).

Peters World Map

Peters World Map

We also have some of her recommended books (that’s a surprise, huh!) such as Children Just Like Me, a Unicef publication by Anabel Kindersley, Barnabas Kindersley  and, Sue Copsey.

Children Just Like Me

Children Just Like Me, by Anabel Kindersley, Barnabas Kindersley and, Sue Copsey

The part about exposing children to other languages and cultures is almost a given for expats. However, it has made be thought quite a bit. While my children have constant contact with many different languages and cultures, do to the very international community they are living in here in Brussels, I do find they don’t have enough (in my opinion) contact with the national culture.

I find we don’t have many Belgian friends. Acquaintances yes, but friends – not so much. While I do find language to be one of the barriers (my French is fluent, but nothing compared with a native speaker and sadly I have yet to learn Flemish),  I do find cultural differences to be the biggest obstacle. It seems to me people are a bit weary of making “international” friendships. I don’t really blame them;  it does seem people are coming and going constantly, which leads to inevitable good byes, so investment in a friendship may feel high risk. Or maybe it’s just me and I have to find a way to better integrate into Belgian culture. I would love to know how others have been handling this, especially if you’re here for the long run like we are.

Homa Sabet Tavangar, an Iranian growing up in the US herself, shares her own stories of hidden prejudice towards others, as well as prejudice from others, which I personally found I could relate to. As much as we don’t want to be prejudiced, it sometimes does seep in without us even being aware, or wanting to acknowledge!

I’m really looking forward to the rest of the book, especially the hands-on suggestions promised in the next chapters.

The next installation of our read-along will be on Wednesday, 17 April. Get reading!

In and Around Brussels with kids: Technopolis

Spring is definitely in the air, which for most families means more time spent outside. Hurrah! However, there are still many rainy days to come  – we are in Brussels after all! It’s always nice to have an indoor alternative for those rainy days when you don’t want to be stuck at home, but don’t want to venture outside either.

In and around Brussels with kids: technopolis

Technopolis

Technopolis is one of 3yo Sprout’s favourite spots for a day out. It’s just outside Brussels, in Mechelen, only a 20 minute drive. It is a truly hands-on science centre which caters to just about any age group.

Inside the big complex (which is currently undergoing expansion) you can find The Children’s Science Centre (TCSC), advertised as being for ages 4-8 – but don’t let this put you off if you have younger children. I would say your average 2yo would get a kick out of it, as would their parents.

In and around Brussels with kids: technopolis

Construction site

Inside TCSC you find an entire town, with a working crane to build a house, an ambulance with working sirens, a vegetable patch, a pizzeria, a garage and a bank where you can even print your own money with your picture on the bills!

In and around Brussels with kids: technopolis

Pizzeria

The best part? This area is closed to visitors without small children and the button to open the doors from the inside is out of children’s reach, meaning they are in a safe, age-appropriate area where they can wander freely without the fear of getting lost.

In and around Brussels with kids: technopolis

Garage

Within the area there is also an adapted restroom with little toilets and sinks (along with the bigger ones), and a changing table. If you would like to stay for lunch, there is a small cafeteria with healthy-ish kids’ meals (currently undergoing work, so check before you go).

Technopolis 4

And of course, don’t forget to have a look at the rest of the centre; one of my son’s favourite attractions is the water elephant near the cafeteria (very handy if you’re still eating and they are done, or you’re busy feeding a smaller one. Even my 8mo baby had a blast the last time we were there!

In and around Brussels with kids: technopolis

Baby water play

It can get pricey though, and if you plan on going back, I definitely recommend getting an annual subscription. It also comes with additional discounts and perks, such as a free entrance to the Boudewijn Seapark in Brugge.

The best time to go? I would definitely say school holidays and weekends since it can get pretty packed with school visits on school days.

Don’t forget to vote for your favourite book for the read-along! We’re at a tie at the moment and I’m looking forward to announcing the winner this weekend!

Home is where the heart is…

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…which for me is a bit all over the place, so I suppose I’m a citizen of the planet (cue Paul Simon music) in a sense. As an expat, and especially as an expat or immigrant child, it can sometimes be hard to know where exactly home is, and your heart seems to be constantly pulled in all sorts of directions. Is my home the place where I was born? Is it my parents’ homeland? Is it my passport country? Is it where I’m living now? For many expat children, each of these places is in a different country. Maybe even a different continent.

This has been on my mind a lot lately after getting back from 3 weeks winter break in Portugal, the land of my parents, the land I lived in for 17 years, my husband’s land, the place where my children’s grandparents live. Having family living far and wide always made me hurt a bit inside as I grew up, and to be honest it still does. And now I’m starting to see that in my oldest child (3 years, 9 months). It starts with simple questions: Why does (insert relative) live in (insert city or country)? Why do we live in Brussels? Why don’t they live here too? Why do we have to leave? Why do I miss home (Brussels)? And on and on. Transitioning back to Brussels, where we have no family, has been hard for him. He misses the attention, he misses the people, he’s having a hard time with all these big feelings. He’s taken to playing a game where we make believe a family member is waiting in the car for him when I pick him up from school. Yet sometimes, when we’re “skyping” with family members he refuses to speak to them. Sometimes he visibly chokes up. It’s hard to see, especially since I know how it feels.

This seems to be quite common with expat/immigrant children, the not knowing where we’re from, which can sometimes lead to not knowing who we are. There’s not much we could do about relatives being spread far and wide, however there are things we do to try to make this a bit less difficult and to help our sons maintain some identity. One thing which has helped enormously is Skype. Even my computer illiterate Mom is able to use Skype, and while it doesn’t replace being together in the same room, it definitely does help maintain a certain connection with family which just doesn’t happen on the phone.

Other things we do is look at pictures, hear stories recorded by far away family members, and talk about them (a lot!!!), about the countries they live in, about their customs and traditions, about who we are as a family.

Because maybe home isn’t a place on the map. Maybe home is family.

How do you handle being away from family? Any tips?

Fans of Flanders

This post was originally written for the Fans of Flanders website, where you can find me and many other great contributing bloggers. Go check them out!

Weekend links from around the web

I keep finding interesting information from around the web, so I thought it would be nice to do a weekly post with weekend links. Here goes the first; feel free to add any interesting links you’ve come across in the comments!

Oh, and don’t forget –only 2 more days on the baby signing giveaway! If you haven’t done so yet, enter now!

Snow Art

We’ve been enjoying playing with snow. Here’s some of Sprout1’s Snow Art.

Belgium- “Researchers at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) have found that the concentration of hormone-disrupting substances is 20 times higher in pre-schools with plastic furniture and toys than in classrooms with only natural materials, such as wood. Researchers examined the air quality in classrooms at 12 Flemish pre-schools. The substances don’t pose an immediate toxic danger but do increase the risk of diabetes, infertility and prostate and breast cancer in the long term. The quality of the plastic is also an important factor.” (source: http://www.flanderstoday.eu – unfortunately couldn’t find link to the actual research paper)

If you have boys, you MUST listen to the Raising Playful Tots Podcast this week – Calmer Easier Happier Parenting of Boys, with Noël Janis-Norton, author,teacher, trainer speaker learning and behavioural specialist.

Snow day activities- With the wonderful snow we’ve been getting here in Brussels, it’s time to get outside and enjoy it!

Juliet from I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here has a few ideas for outdoor activities in her post Snow Fun

Amanda of Not Just Cute has a Thematic Unit on Wintertime for indoor and outdoor learning activities for winter

Nicole from Life of Bear and Dragon has been out watching people sledding at Parc Woluwe and has some beautiful pictures to show for it!

sledding in Brussels

We’ve been out sledding at the less spectacular but less crowded slopes nearby 😉

Indoor winter activities with kids- If going out in negative temperatures isn’t your cup of tea, have a look at The Artful Parent‘s latest e-book with wintry crafts – The Artful Winter

For more wintry inspiration, why not have a look at my Winter Play and Art Pinterest board?

Enjoy the winter wonderland!