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Expat Kid: Adjusting to a new life

Expat Kid: Adjusting to a new life

I think the question most people ask me these days is, ‘How is your son adjusting?’

It’s a funny one, moving countries with a child. You’re forced to get a lot of things sorted out with them standing right there, but you also can’t lose it in front of them. This whole moving to another continent was your idea, you can’t freak out. Obviously there were times we were all tired, there was more iPad and Netflix than was probably good for anyone, and I think there was a two-week period where he ate mostly brezel. But, he turned seven a month after we moved to Germany, and I think it was a good time to do it.

Does he ask about ‘home’?

No, actually. We talk about Vancouver, the last city we lived in and the only one he remembers, but we don’t call it home. I was careful not to do that right from the beginning, for several reasons. Firstly, while I love Vancouver, it is only one home to me, London being a very close second in my heart. Secondly, I’m not sure when we will move back, and I don’t want to spend our entire time in Germany with him waiting to leave. This is our home now. He tells stories of things that happened when we lived in Vancouver. There were a few instances of, ‘Why did we have to move here?’ but relatively few. Thankfully.



The food is a big one

Even when moving to a different Western country, the food changes will feel huge to a smaller person. To be honest, they are huge to everyone, but most adults can manage it. My son is a moderately picky eater – he has about 10 foods he likes and most variations on those he will try in good faith. But sometimes the local version just doesn’t fly – Käsespätzle, the German analogue to macaroni and cheese, was a flop. I love it, but the eggy, odd-shaped ‘noodles’ didn’t fly with a seven year old. Thankfully, broccoli and carrots are on his list, and I can steam those anywhere. Maybe it’s because he transitioned to solid foods when we lived in the UK and sausage was one of his first, but he’s pretty game to eat most wurst. This is key, as he doesn’t like potatoes. I know. I KNOW. You gotta love at least the pig or the potato in the Deutschland, or life will be tough.

School is school

The school situation is an interesting one. I have met other expats who think I’m crazy for not putting him in the International School, and others who think I’m equally nuts for not just going for the local German state school. We split the difference, and found a bilingual private school that runs the local curriculum where he learns German and English. The students are 80% local German kids, so the playground language is generally German, and we pay for extra German classes twice a week. It’s an interesting mix of kids of expat parents who have moved here for work (about equally split from English-speaking families and families from India who speak Hindi and English and probably two other languages as well), German families who have lived abroad and want to keep their children’s English up (Singapore, Japan, the US), local German families with one very fluent English-speaking parent, and some local German families who just want more English instruction. Our son went to French immersion school in Canada, so he’s very used to his whole school experience being in an language he isn’t fluent in. He’s thrilled that some of his classroom time is in English now, and he’s made a good friend, which has had more impact than any of the language stuff. The settling-in period with school has been about as rocky as it was when he started French immersion, and in some ways less difficult. He’s still a bit hesitant to speak German, though I hear him shouting at his friends in German when I come to pick him up. His aural comprehension is amazing though, I’m jealous.

Elementary school kids go to Grundschule, and it starts when your child is 6 years old. No school is mandatory before that point, but most kids go to Kita, which is a bit of a kindergarten/preschool situation. School runs through the morning, with different school starting at different times, but our school begins at 8:45am, and goes until 1pm. I have the option of letting him eat at school, and then staying for ‘homework time’ afterwards, where they do their homework while a teacher supervises. When they’re finished homework, they can play inside, and at 3pm, they can go out and play. There are various after-school clubs at the school that run from 3:30pm, which our son participates in, includes things like astronomy, cooking, table tennis, skateboarding, and judo. I pick him up at 3pm most days, and 4:30pm twice a week when he does his clubs. He eats a hot lunch at school, for which we pay separately. His extra German classes are in the homework time, twice a week.

Communications from the school are usually bilingual, but his report card, for instance, was entirely in German. His main teacher does not speak English well, and communicating with her can be a challenge, but thankfully it hasn’t been an issue yet.

IMG_3588 DSC_0049 (1)

Being out in the world

I see kids my son’s age and a year or so younger, walking or taking the tram home from school on their own. Heidelberg is a very safe little town, but I get the sense this is not unusual anywhere in Germany. I let our son look at things on the other side of the grocery store a long way away from me, and let him come find me when he’s ready. In a North American store, I know someone would ask him where I was, but here, no one even bats an eye. In the playgrounds, parents are sitting on benches, or picnic blankets hundreds of yards away while their kids play – and it’s fine. I’ve had very polite German children come to ask me for help, because another, unrelated child is having troubling getting down and their parents aren’t nearby. It isn’t a panic, just a request. I definitely see a lot less helicoptering. Interestingly, I very rarely see kids pushing ahead in the queue for the slide, or not letting other kids have a turn on the swing – but they manage it themselves. It’s not that they are all quiet, not at all. I haven’t quite put my finger on it… maybe it’s this society’s heavy emphasis on the common good? I’m not sure. I like it though.

The tough parts…

Of course, moving a child to another culture, halfway around the world is going to be difficult. There were sleep regressions, eating regressions, and sometimes every. single. thing. was a battle. I think because not-so-deep down we all felt like kicking and screaming some days, it made it less scary. I felt like that, why wouldn’t he? I mean, I still felt like I was losing my mind when he was screaming, but I wasn’t worried about his overall sanity. Much. After a couple months, the tantrums dropped off, and school was a great distraction. I was careful to tell him when I was struggling sometimes, because I wanted him to know it was normal and completely justified to be feeling overwhelmed after this kind of move.

Not being able to talk to his main teacher much, and getting his report cards in German is a challenge. There are other teachers he has at school that I can talk to, but not being able to have a nuanced conversation is a challenge. Also, there is no quick chat with the teacher after school, appointments must be made a week in advance.

Although my son’s German is coming along in leaps and bounds, he still doesn’t feel comfortable in a fully German situation, so pretty much all after-school activities offered anywhere that isn’t his bilingual school are off the table for now. Often young people who are running these activities can speak English, but it’s hard to tell ahead of time how willing they will be to suddenly conduct a gymnastics session bilingually. There are some English-language or bilingual activities around, but it takes some serious digging.

Overall, it’s been really good

I’d definitely say he’s settled down well now, and has made several friends. He really likes school, and all his teachers. His German is coming along well, both reading and speaking. He’s a really good sport about being dragged around castle after castle, and seems to enjoy it now. We worked hard both before we moved and afterwards to make this as smooth as possible, however, so it’s definitely not a case of just hoping it would work out. I wrote about what we did to prep for the language change, and it was a similar path preparing for the move. We talked lots about Germany, what the food would be like, and looked at lots of photos online. We read books and started following Bayern Munich. Though I think what helped more than anything was the Bayern Munich shirt with his name on it my husband brought back from a business trip…! The education he’s getting, both in another language and from our traveling around, has made it worth all the headaches and stress to get here, for sure.


A really good paper airplane book

A really good paper airplane book

This post contains affiliate links, this means when you click through and purchase, I receive a fee. This helps defray the cost of maintaining this blog. 

paper airplane book

If you’ve got a small child between 3 and, well, I’m not sure there’s an upper age limit here, paper airplane construction becomes a critical life skill. I wrote about a great online resource for paper airplane plans here, and it’s one of my most popular posts. As my son’s appetite for paper airplanes only grows, I decided to invest in an actual book. The [amazon_link id=”0761143831″ target=”_blank” ]World Record Paper Airplane Book[/amazon_link] is a pretty good one.

Along with plans for many different types of planes, there are pages to cut out that produces really cool looking planes, and a hangar to park them on. There is also many pages of seriously deep information into why each model flies and how, discussions of drag and lift. So if you have an older child who is into Knowing Everything, this is great. You can safely ignore those chapters otherwise.

I particularly liked the troubleshooting tips that go along with each plane model. After you’ve finished following along with the clear diagrams, they provide some help for diving planes, planes that go up quickly and then dive, or veer in a particular direction. This is handy when your child wails, ‘Mummy! This plane DOES NOT WORK.’

What are your best paper airplane resources?


The Easiest Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

The Easiest Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins


I’m not feeling imaginative in the cooking and baking departments these days. Maybe it’s the hungry gap, maybe I’m just sick of thinking up meals three times a day. Whatever it is, these simple banana chocolate chip muffins are quick to make and satisfying to a horde of kindergarteners despite the lack of sugar (choc chips aside, obviously). The browner the bananas, the sweeter the muffins, so leave them as long as you can.

Super easy banana chocolate chip muffins
Makes 12 muffins

  • 4 large ripe bananas
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cups wholewheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare a 12 cup muffin pan with spray oil or muffin cups.

Mix the bananas and other wet ingredients until the mixture is mostly smooth and only slightly chunky.

Add dry ingredients on top, gently mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

Fold in chocolate chips. Fill prepared tin with the mixture.

Bake at 350º for 20 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

Adapted from mama papa bubba.


Lovely things: Holiday photo cards from Minted

Lovely things: Holiday photo cards from Minted

I know, how did it become the last week in November? I’m pretty sure it was October yesterday.

As we do the scrabbly and panicky slide down into the Christmas season, let me simplify one of your problems: Christmas cards.

When we lived in England and all our family was back in Canada, the Christmas cards were a critical part of the holidays. That’s also when I first discovered the photo card companies. It made everything much easier – there was no printing photos on expensive photo paper that I would waste because I never get on with my printer. Only to find out that the photos were about 2cm bigger than the card and envelopes I had bought, followed by rum and eggnog fuelled x-acto knife wielding.

I’ve had mixed success with photo cards. Some are beautiful but cost a small fortune if you get a small number. Others are affordable but show up on shiny, flimsy paper, or all the design options are terrible. However, I’ve been eyeing the Minted selection of holiday cards for a couple of weeks now, and it was serendipity that they emailed me about picking out my favourites. There are so many really lovely options, as well as some neat ones with fancy shapes. There are holiday postcards which has got to be one of the best ideas ever. Forget the envelopes, and why does a card have to fold anyway?

The shipping is $10 to Canada for 3-5 business days which is really quite reasonable. And incredibly, they will print your recipients’ addresses for free. No writing hand cramps. Or fighting with my printer to do the envelopes.

I have tried to confine myself to five of my favourites, you don’t even want to see my ‘maybe’ list.

2014 in a nutshell

2014 in a nutshell by Spotted Whale Designs

Merry little chalkboard by geeking design


Handlettered fa la la la la by linda and harriett

instant camera

Instant film by Olivia Kanaley


Simply joyous by carly reed

This mini-book option is a bit more, but it would be a lovely gift for some relatives you don’t see as often.

Insta-book holiday by up up creative

So pull up your stockpile of family photos and pick your favourites.



Robotics and electronics for kids: where to start

Robotics and electronics for kids: where to start


Wouldn’t it be cool to ask your child: ’Do you want to build a robot that feeds your fish?’

The answer is clearly yes, but that’s going to take a degree in engineering and a large workshop full of tools you don’t have to sort out isn’t it? Actually, no.

There’s been a cool scene brewing out there, sometimes referred to as ‘maker culture’, all about getting down to brass tacks and building something cool. Parents have been at the forefront –  making neat stuff with and for their kids. I’m sure you’ve done the same, really, whether it’s involving your kids in baking cookies, feeding the chickens, gardening, crocheting, tie-dying, and whatever else you happen to know about. This particular corner of the maker universe is all about electronics, coding, robotics, and wearable technology.

What I find fascinating about this whole scene is the positivity. There are loads of companies focused on enabling everyone to build Cool Stuff. The sheer volume of creativity is stunning. Frozen cosplay? Totally, here are 27 tutorials on everything from Elsa’s tiara to using bits of glass to truly capture the idea of that glittery cape. Light up your shoes with flexible LEDs? Sure. Stitch lights and sensors into your skirt so it lights up when you move? Yep.

If you’re looking to get started in the world of electronic stuff, there are a couple routes to take. Key things to know here: as the supervising adult, you will have to help if your child is younger than about 8 or 9, but my 5 year old is perfectly able to get in there and do a project with adult assistance. You don’t need any previous electronics or coding experience to do these beginner steps. The documentation and videos that go with these kits are excellent and easy to follow.

There two main companies that make beginner kits for kids: Snap Circuits and littleBits.

Snap Circuits is electrical engineering for kids. You get a basic breadboard (that flat thing you attach wires and components to) and things like resistors, LEDs, and sound-producing components. The Snap Circuits Jr kit includes 100 different experiments to build, including a doorbell, flying saucer, and alarm. Everything is in plastic holders, and it requires no additional tools. Snap Circuits is all about the technical elements of electronics: how parallel circuits work, how resistors work, that kind of thing. The basic 100 experiments kit costs $30.

littleBits, however, is more like programming for kids. Each piece snaps to another, which you can attach to a person, a playdough sculpture, a LEGO car, a windmill made of craft sticks… really anything. The base kit includes things like a DC motor, a pressure sensor, a light sensor, and a bright LED. It’s much more 3D than the Snap Circuits, and would be a good entry point into robotics. However, it’s more expensive. The littleBits base kit is $100 US, and it’s a challenge to get in Canada without paying their (starting at) $37 shipping charges. It seems expensive when you think of it as a toy, but when viewed as a beginner robotics kit, it seems more reasonable.

If you have older children who are really keen, the world of Arduino is like peeking into Narnia through the wardrobe. This is where you get into the really cool wearable tech, complicated robotics, and, it should be said, requirements for more tools. Though all you really need to start out is a $10 wire stripper. Arduino is an open-source electronics platform that was designed to make building robots and things like that easier for hobbyists. There are countless books, blogs, instructions, and plans out there for incredible things you can build with Arduino components. Start with the Arduino site, then move on to Make: magazine, and adafruit to see what’s possible.

Electronics shops sell Arduino kits and components, and it’s easier to find in Canada than littleBits. The Official Arduino Starter Kit is about $125, and includes instructions (and all the bits) for projects like a light theremin, a lamp that responds to touch, a colour-mixing lamp, and a motorized pinwheel. It does require some basic coding, so this wouldn’t be very fun for kids much younger than 12. The sky’s the limit with additional components. You can find cheaper base kits at about $50, and if you know exactly what you want, you can buy the Arduino microprocessor itself for about $30. However, I can’t be held responsible if you’re pricing out 3D printers by next Christmas.