Category Archives: Seattle

Not a Parent’s Evening but a Goal Setting Conference.

school childrenThis week is school conference week. The kids finish at lunchtime and during the afternoons the teachers meet with parents and students to set goals for the coming term. School reports (report cards) are sent home every term and tomorrow we will meet with my daughter’s teacher to talk about what we need to work on. Each conference is 25 minutes – a far cry from the 10 minute annual slot we had in the UK.

Here are my thoughts on the first school conference:

I’ve just attended my 8 year olds first parents’ evening at school.  It is called a goal setting conference which I expected to be some flowery name for ‘Let’s talk about your child and  agree what they need to work on’. I was pleasantly surprised to find it actually was a goal setting conference focusing on the whole child at home and at school.

The children had already completed a survey deciding what they felt they should work on in both academic and social areas. They highlighted their strengths and chose 3 or 4 things as areas of improvement. Some things were highlighted from work that had been done in class and observations that had been made.  The teacher discussed each of the goals with my daughter agreeing with her how they might be achieved before looking to me for support from home.  My daughter had highlighted that she didn’t always respond to instructions straight away in class. Her teacher commented

You know what I’ve noticed? I think you are one of those people who take a little time to get going.  Maybe then we should turn this one on its head . Think about how you can help yourself to start your work quicker so that you do not feel that you are rushing to finish and late getting on to the next thing.

How great is that; a teacher who actually notices what your child does and how your child learns and wants to help them to find ways to improve.

My daughter and her teacher had talked about the need to be more organised. On a couple of occasions my daughter has forgotten her folder and her teacher discussed ways of avoiding this. Recognising my daughter as an avid reader she immediately asked

Do you read in the mornings before school?

Yes sometimes when I am eating my breakfast.

So why not do everything you need to do first and then have reading as a reward? 

How can we help you not to forget things?

I suggested a check list that she runs through each morning.

And how about we put that on your kindle so you know you won’t miss it?

There was a strong focus on taking responsibility for her own actions and not expecting mum to do everything for her. Mum has enough to do (I may be quoting this a lot over the next few weeks).

What a great parent’s evening and an amazing teacher. I feel like she knows my daughter better in a few weeks than some of her previous teachers did in a year. The focus on the whole child rather than academic achievement was like a breath of fresh air.

Maybe I could borrow her to organise the whole family.

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A Day in the Snow at Hyak Sno Park

hyak sno park

When I was a kid we waited all year for snow, sometimes we were lucky but often we would have a year of disappointment. When the snow came we would head to the local park with our sledges spending hours speeding downhill until we could bear the cold no longer. How amazing it is for our kids to be able to travel to snow within 40 minutes of home.  We headed for Hyak Sno Park for a great family day in the snow. They wore snow boots, salopettes and warm jackets so they avoided  the freezing feet in wellies and soggy trousers that I remember as a kid.

Getting ready to go down the small slope designed for under 5's
Getting ready to go down the small slope designed for under 5’s
Sometimes with dad...
Sometimes with dad…
.....sometimes on their own.
…..sometimes on their own.
Then we all went down the big slope.
Then we all went down the big slope.
The little ones loved it , even when they jumped the ramp at the end and almost ended up in the fence. A face full of snow didn't put them off.
The little ones loved it , even when they jumped the ramp at the end and almost ended up in the fence. A face full of snow didn’t put them off.
There they go
There they go
At the bottom they could wade through snowdrifts.
At the bottom they could wade through snowdrifts.

Then we climbed back to the top
Then we climbed back to the top
to stop for a rest
to stop for a rest
 A snack to fuel more fun. NB. There is nowhere to get food or drink at the snow park so a flask of hot soup and some snacks is a good idea.
A snack to fuel more fun. NB. There isn’t anywhere to get food or drink at the snow park so a flask of hot soup and some snacks are a good idea.
Before heading home we build a little snowman.  Goodbye - see you again soon.
Before heading home we build a little snowman. Goodbye – see you again soon.

Hyak Sno Park can be found in Easton off exit 54 of I90.

Open 8 am to 4:30pm
The parking lot has 150 spaces.  Parking permits are
required, Daily Sno-Park Permit and Daily or Annual
Discover Pass or a Seasonal Sno Park Permit plus Special Groomed Trails Permit
sticker without Discover Pass. These can be purchased at the park.

Our First American Christmas

xmasHaving experienced our first American Christmas, many people have asked about the differences.  Without our family and friends Christmas was always going to be different. In some ways Christmas was more relaxing without rushing off to visit relatives and in others  a little of the Christmas spirit was lost.  The good thing is that with Skype and Video Kinect we were able to talk to family and friends at various points through the day and the grandparents were able to watch the kids open their presents.

The Christmas tradition here is different in many ways, some take a little getting used to whilst others are a breath of fresh air.

Holidays

It took me a while to get used to the American reference to Holidays rather than Christmas. At first it seemed too politically correct. Being invited to a Holiday party and school letters referencing Holiday gifts was very odd. The lack of emphasis on any one festival is nice but still feels a little strange; for me it will always be Christmas.

I took the children to see the switching on of the Christmas lights at the City Hall.  This turned out to be simply turning on the Christmas tree lights, accompanied by a school choir singing songs about snow and jollity but not the traditional Christmas carols I expected.   It appeared at first that the word Christmas was a taboo but over time I began to hear Christmas references more frequently.  I read an article by a Jewish lady talking about how tiresome it was as a child to  be asked what Santa was bringing and have to explain her faith time and again. I’m beginning to see the merits of the term ‘Holidays’ but I’m not a full convert yet.

Decorations

Christmas decorations and lights started to go up in the neighbourhood as soon as Thanksgiving was over. Outside decoration seems to be as important as indoor, yet somehow it’s all a bit more tasteful than the UK . No house looks like it’s been adorned with the contents of Poundland. Lights are put around the roof or to light a pathway, beautifully lit ornaments are placed on lawns and every door displays a Christmas wreath.  Perhaps it’s just that the houses and plot sizes are bigger that avoid them looking like they’ve been spewed on by the tinsel fairy. I’m slowly trying to blend in, I turned my old garland that I made when we were first married into a wreath and hung it on the front door and I’ve put a snowflake light in the window. Next year I think I need to research in advance how to power all the outdoor lights and decorations so we can sparkle with the best of them.

Food

Once Thanksgiving was over I expected the supermarkets to be full of Christmas food. We found Christmas cookies, candy canes and egg nog but where were the beloved mince pies? It appears that Christmas cookies are an American tradition. Not gingerbread cookies or spicy lebkuchen that we would associate with Christmas but ordinary sugary cookies in Christmas shapes. Traditionally they were hung on the Christmas tree and left out for Santa.

My kids love mince pies, we would eat them every day from when they appeared on the shelves until we had exhausted our stack of reduced ones from the January sale. When the cashier at Waitrose told us that their bakery stock individual ones year round, the girls jumped for joy and we would sometimes pop in for a treat. So how would we cope this year?
After searching around and almost going as far as making mincemeat from scratch, I  was relieved to find a jar of Robinsons mincemeat. The girls and I made a batch of mince pies. My pastry was a disaster, even the dog worried he may break his teeth. So I resigned myself to a Christmas without mince pies. That is until I discovered the delights of Cost Plus World Market, where we found mince pies (all be it at $7 a box) along with Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, Cadburys biscuits, pickled onions and other treats like Marmite and Birds custard. We were all set for a traditional Christmas.

Snow

hyak sno parkOne of the best things about living here in the Winter is that a 40 minute drive takes you to snow. You have all the fun and beauty of snow without any of the inconvenience. We had a wonderful time at Hyak Snow Park tobogganing and building snowmen  and the view was just like a scene from a Christmas Card. Perfect for my 4-year-old who believes that there is always snow at Christmas.

Gifts and Cards

Rather than sending Christmas cards, the neighbours left little treats like cookies and chocolate brownies on our doorstep. What a great idea, this is definitely something we should adopt in the UK. We baked a batch of mince pies (they were substantially better than the first batch) and the girls and I delivered them to the neighbours on Christmas Eve.

In all our first Christmas in America was pretty special  and hopefully in future years we will have family or friends to share it with us.

Preserving British Culture #1 Adjectives

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I was reading an article from The Guardian entitled ’My 2 Alien Life Forms’ ,in which the author Emma Beddington, discusses her experience of raising children in Brussels and her realisation that they have little understanding of British language and culture.  One would assume that raising children in an English-speaking country would not be too different from home. Your kids will more than likely grow up with a different accent and some new words for things but on the whole it’s not that different is it?

Having only been here a short time I realise it is. There are many things about living in America that give my children amazing experiences but there are some things that I  hear them do or say that set my teeth on edge.

This is the first of a number of posts outlining some of the ‘British’ things I would like to preserve.

Adjectives

Mum, R is talking American again!

This usually means my 3-year-old has said the word ‘Super’.  This seems to be the most over-used word in American English. Meals are ‘super-sized’, kids get ‘super-tired’, cars are ‘super-fast’ and people get ‘super-excited’ about everything.  When I hear the local children describe things, the word ‘super’ appears time and again, as if it’s the only adjective they know.

My 3-year-old has begun to correct herself when she uses it. We talked about it at the dinner table this week.

My friends say that they swing super high on the swing

I know, but we could say something more interesting like really, high or extremely high.

Or very high, … or up to the clouds.

That’s a good one, we could use similes – do you know what a simile is? * addressing my 8-year-old.

Yes it’s when you compare something to something else, like I swung as high as the sky.

Yes that’s it so what else could we say? …..

This became a fun game and seems to have worked to help them think about what they say.

There seem to be certain words that have become such a regular part of American English that they are perfectly normal.  To an outsider like me it simply looks like a lazy use of adjectives.

Yesterday I stood in a queue at a festival whilst my kids made a toy. A mum, who had clearly had enough, came to collect her child. The child wanted to decorate her toy but her mum said,

let’s decorate it at home, there aren’t many  pens here.

Her daughter showed her the toy she had made

That’s awesome

she said her tone of voice clearly portraying how unimpressed she was.

To American kids everything is awesome or super. Everything they do is greeted with ’good job’, I’m certain these words can have little effect.  I love the way the American’s encourage their kids with constant praise, I just wish they’d use a little imagination in their use of adjectives sometimes.

It has taken moving away for me to realise how rich the British vocabulary is. If you ever hear me use the word super, feel free to throw rotten vegetables at my head.

Pick Your Own Pumpkins at Remlinger Farms

Look at all these pumpkins
Look at all these pumpkins

My girls and I have spent a wonderful day at Remlinger Farms.  Considering that it was a full day out alone with my 3 young girls it was probably the least stressful day out I have had in a long time.

Admission was very reasonable at $8 per person (I’m not sure whether this was a special reduced price as  a higher price was quoted on the website) and this included a pumpkin each to take away.  Once we were in the farm everything was free of charge except feed for the animals.waving child

We began with a train ride in a little steam train that took us around the park. My 3-year-old waved at all the scarecrows en route and the horses and the lama.

The playground near the station has an old fire engine and school bus for the children to play in. Some of the stalls selling kettle corn (I assume this is popcorn) and other treats were closed but that stops the kids nagging for food.

old fire truckTo the Far end of the playground is a Pioneer House and inside a lady dressed in traditional costume telling you how she lived.  It was quite amusing to watch my 8-year-old suitably unimpressed by the talk of how they lived before electricity,

‘ I’ve seen these before on one of my school trips and I think we had one of those coffee grinders in a science lesson in my old school’

They also have a great granddad who remembers what it was like before we had electricity so there were no big Wow moments there.  They loved the chickens ducks and geese in the garden however, especially the little chick.

hay jumpMy little ones loved the hay jump and hay maze, they hid away in the middle of the maze and threw the hay around (until it went in my 3 year old’s mouth).

We fed the animals in the barn, the donkeys and goats were a real favourite.

You are not allowed to bring your own food into the farm but lunch in the café was good quality, the portions were generous and the kids meals included a cookie and drink. I had the chilli which was fresh and very good. In the UK we would often pay premium prices for food at tourist attractions but here a kid’s meal was $5.95 and my chilli was less than $5.

After lunch the children enjoyed the fairground rides. All of the rides are suitable for small children.  The attendants at the rides were really friendly and though there are height guidelines they were flexible and  let my 8-year-old (who was just above the height limit) and my 2-year-old (who was just below) go on all the rides together.  When I went on the barrels with my kids and told the attendant I didn’t really like spinny things but would make a sacrifice for my kids, he kept asking if I was okay .  Some of the rides were closed and a new mini roller coaster is in the process of being built , but there was plenty to amuse the kids.

At the peacock enclosure we collected feathers to use for a fairy garden we are building for my daughters’ birthday party.

The children chose a pumpkin each to take home and then we took a drive to the pumpkin patch to see where they grew.  The girls tried to push the big wheelbarrow and found it very difficult. They chose a pumpkin each to pick from the field. We were surprised to find that the leaves are spiky and my youngest found it difficult negotiating her way around the leaves. I would imagine that for American children a field of pumpkins is fairly commonplace but for us it was a first and therefore very exciting. We are going to build a fairy house from the large pumpkin and cook with the smallest ones – I’m not sure about the others as they probably won’t keep until Hallowe’en.

The day was rounded off nicely when we spotted horses to the other side of the field. The girls fed them grass and stroked them.

I’ll definitely be returning to Remlinger farm (I think my eldest thanked me about 10 times on the way home for taking them out) and can highly recommend it for families with young children.

Why Hallowe’en is Really Scary

Call me a humbug but I’ve been a little relieved in the past few years that Hallowe’en isn’t that big in the UK.  My kids would dress up, sometimes go to a party, we’d carve a pumpkin and may go trick or treating to a few friends’ houses. We didn’t have many trick or treaters in our street so I could usually find something to give them without going mad.

Now we are in the US it is a whole other ball game.  The shops are filled with Hallowe’en decorations, costumes, crafts and sweets to the same level as Christmas in the UK. I’ve been told I need to stock up because we will get loads of kids at our door at Hallowe’en.  The idea of it all fills me with dread. Do I need to spend hours and money decorating my house? How many treats do the kids expect? What can I get away with without looking like the miserable British Family? Will a talking pumpkin suffice?

Can anyone help me understand what is socially acceptable?

Then there is Thanksgiving…….. What on earth is that one about??

Argghhhhh! It’s fun being the new girl.

Starting School the American Way

schoolMy 8-year-old started 3rd Grade this week.  She would have been starting Year 4 in the UK but they start school a year later here.  Finding a school place was simple as schools are allocated according to where you live, if you live within the school bus route you automatically get a place.

Preparation for school in the UK usually meant buying uniform and new shoes, labelling P.E kits and backpacks and organising dinner money.  Here it is different.  There is no school uniform. Children arrive at school on the first day in their new ‘school clothes’, a concept I don’t really understand. My children have clothes; they may wear them to school, to play in the garden or to go out at the weekend, they are not categorised into school and non-school. We don’t need to provide anything for P.E apart from a pair of ‘sneakers’.  Life should be easy, with very little to prepare but ……..

  • There is a huge list of school supplies to buy. Each year is given a list of stationery items to provide including ring binders, pens, pencils, glue and notebooks. Each item needs to be labelled and taken to school on the first day.
  •  When registering at school parents have to complete a form to prove that their children have received all the required vaccinations.  This meant that my daughter had to have a Hepatitis B vaccine before leaving the UK and another on arrival.  We also have to provide a letter from the doctor to prove she has had chickenpox or she will need the vaccine.
  • We attended an information meeting where the children were photographed for their records and we were given copious amounts of forms, signing us up for things I didn’t understand.

We visited school to meet the teacher the day before it started.  It was highly structured and organised. The teacher presented us with a list to follow, including finding a library book, completing an ‘about me’ form, reading through the rules together and finding various things in the classroom. As the meeting time came to an end a tannoy announcement told parents that it was time to leave the building.

On the first day my daughter came home with a folder inside which any correspondence is placed. It also contains her homework diary and reading record, a behaviour chart and a calendar that is completed each day at school showing both homework and things the parents need to do that evening.  I’m hoping this will help us both be a little more organised.

At curriculum evening the teacher outlined all the things they would be doing this year.  The teacher gave all the parents her email address and encouraged them to share any information about their child by email.  There is a website you can sign into as parent to check on your child’s progress and all work comes home at the end of each week marked with grades.  This open communication between parent and school is a very welcome change for me, I can’t imagine any school in the UK being quite that open.

I feel a little like a rabbit caught in the headlights as I begin to understand a system that is alien to me but we have had a good first week.  My daughter loves her teacher and gave school a 10.5 out of ten.