Tag Archives: expat

British Children Learning to Read and Write in the US.


I knew my youngest children would learn to read and write in the US and as a result I would have to accept that they would spell differently and use American phrases and grammar.  There are some unexpected differences however that I hadn’t considered.

A few days ago my 4-year-old remarked,

“Mummy, all the other children at preschool don’t write t’s properly”

“Really! Can you show me”

It is a bit like an x, like this……


My youngest is 4, I taught her to write her name but it never crossed my mind that letter formation might be different here.

I asked my kindergartener

” Do you write a curly bit on the bottom of the letter t at school?”

“No we do it like a cross”

I checked with the teacher and she explained that they use the ball and stick method where  letters such as t, w and y use straight lines rather than curves as they feel it is easier for the young children to master. It is one of many differences that I hadn’t anticipated.

alphabet ball and stick

I always believed the transition would be most difficult for my eldest, who went  to school in England until she was 8, so learned to read, spell and write ‘the English way’. The first thing she noticed, was that punctuation had different names; full stops were periods and brackets became parentheses.  We were really keen that she wouldn’t lose her knowledge of British spelling, so school agreed that she could learn both.  As an avid reader and proficient speller this wasn’t really difficult.

Choosing books wasn’t simple either. Most books by British authors are rewritten for an American audience.  When we borrow books by British authors from the library or buy books here, they are American versions.  My daughter is really eager to maintain her ‘Britishness’, so we often order books from the UK. This way she can still read books with British spelling and vocabulary and is able to read literature from both cultures. Tonight we read an American translation of Pippi Longstocking. This was my daughter’s favourite book for many years, so she knew much of the text by heart.  Every time she spotted a difference, she would quote the British text. In the end we got her old battered copy down to compare. I was surprised that though the meaning remained the same, the texts were very different. The monkeys name was different and the language in the British version was more detailed and poetic (although I am sure that the original Swedish is even more rich).

“A remarkable child” said one of the sailors, wiping a tear from his eye when Pippi disappeared from view. (British translation)

” A remarkable child” said one of the sailors as Pippi disappeared in the distance (American translation)

My daughter’s desire to maintain her British identity isn’t without its pitfalls.  Once she was marked down in a piece of writing because she referred to a ladybird rather than a ladybug (which I felt was a little harsh).

I thought things would be simpler for the younger ones because they started school here but they have been faced with different challenges:

1. The alphabet ends with zee (my daughter has decided that it makes more sense the American way because the song rhymes).

2.  What sound does a short ‘o’  make? To us it is o as in fox, box and top but American pronunciation is different, instead it makes the sound a as in fax, bax or tap. Confusing but also a little amusing to the girls who still have perfect English accents. I think I was fortunate that my daughter was beginning to read when she went to school and had already learned basic phonics so this wasn’t too much of an issue.

3. School reading books have American phrases which to a Brit’s ears sound totally wrong and often make me shudder. An examples from today’s reading book is :

Let’s go find Leo.

The omission of “ly’ at the end of adverbs is common as in ‘We need to be real quick’. I suppose one positive is that the girls generally notice and remark that it sounds different.  When my daughter reads a word that we don’t use, she substitutes it for the British word “I’m just going to say mum not mom”.

4. Sometimes they complete worksheets where they have to circle pictures that begin with particular letters. This can be confusing if the British word is different from the American or if it is something traditionally American like baseball equipment.

On the whole I think the girls awareness of the differences gives them a far richer experience of the written word.  It certainly gives us a lot to talk about.


Two Mother’s Days: One for Remembrance and One for Me

vase of daffodilsI never really enjoy Mother’s Day, for me it is a day of sadness mixed with guilt. If I don’t have a good time I’m not recognising the love of my own children and denying them a day of spoiling me and making me happy.

I lost my mother before I had children so Mother’s Day has always been  bittersweet. This year for the first time I had the opportunity to change that. Mother’s Day in the US is not until May, so on Sunday (Mother’s  Day in the UK) I was able to remember Mum without feeling guilty that I wasn’t getting into the spirit of the day for my own kids.

I wasn’t able to visit Mum’s grave with flowers but it was fine to be sad and reflective.

In fact my children now appreciate that Mother’s Day is tough. My husband and the girls brought me breakfast in bed, with a vase of daffodils from the garden. They went out shopping and came back with proper Cornish pasties for lunch and my favourite sweets in a Welsh mug. It was really lovely to feel that they had bought them to say, we know it’s a tough day but we love you and want to make it better. I could even spend the day cleaning the house because it made me feel better.

I’m so glad that I no longer need to wrestle with my conscience on Mother’s Day and when US Mother’s Day comes, I’ll make sure it is a special, happy family day.

American Valentine’s Day Traditions: Things Every Expat Mum Should Know (or Ignore).

valentine's day traditionsA letter came home from school last week asking us to decorate a shoe box and make a hole large enough to fit a greeting card. My daughter dutifully created her box ready for the school Valentine’s party. I expected the box to come home with a few cards from her closest friends, until  her younger sister came home from pre-school with a bag laden with goodies. Her bag contained lots of little cards with sweets attached from both her teachers and all of the children at pre-school. Had I missed something somewhere? Was there a letter asking us to bring in Valentine’s treats? I think there was an assumption that we would know what to do – now I feel like the mean, lazy parent.

My eldest went off to school today armed with her box. She returned laden with gifts.

American Valentine Traditions

That explains why we were given a letter with the names of all the children in the class. I assumed it was so we would know how to spell a name if we wanted to send a Valentine to a special friend.

If you want to avoid being the odd one out you need to :

  • Send a card to every child in the class
  • Attach a sweet or small gift to the card
  • Sign your child’s name.

Hold on a moment

Isn’t Valentine’s Day meant to be about showing appreciation for those you love or sending a message to someone you admire? Isn’t it about giving not receiving?

My children came home excited about what they had received. There was no sentiment attached to any of the cards, nobody said ‘I’m giving you this because I think you are a great friend.’ It strikes me as another example of greed and an expectation that we load the children with lots of stuff because no child can be left out. I think my 4-year-old got the sentiment right when she decided it would be nice to send a Valentine to the friends she misses from home to tell them she is thinking about them.

I’m sure next year the girls will want to send Valentine’s to the whole class to fit in with their friends. I’d like to think that they will at least find one nice thing to say about each person they give them to. Isn’t it bad enough that adults are driven to spend 4 times the usual price for flowers just in case their partner is offended? Let children believe it is about love and friendship at least for a little while.

Moving Abroad with Children – What Do My Children Think of Their New Home in America?

It is difficult to know what my children really think of their new life in America. They seem happy and my 8-year-old says she enjoys school. I know she misses her friends but I sometimes wonder whether she really fits in with her loud American classmates who chatter endlessly about One Direction.

We have recently allowed her to have her first laptop so now for the first time she can check email on a regular basis. In some weird late at night moment, I decided to email her some questions about life in America to share here and asked her to think of some questions for me that she could post on her blog. I’m still waiting for those but here are her thoughts.

  1. What do you like best about living in America?

The best thing is the fact that I have my own bathroom. (Yes she does spend a lot of time in it, a taste of things to come I fear).

2. Are there any things that annoy you here in America?

Adverts ie. bla bla bla very fatty pizza 🙂

3. If you could bring one thing from England to America what would it be?

My friends  (ditto).

4. What do you miss most from England?

I miss my old school.

5. If you were to go back to England, what would you miss from America?

I would miss laughing when people try to do a British accent

6. Are American children different from English children and if so how?

Children are different mainly because of the words they use i.e. perenthusees.

7. What advice would you give to someone moving here?

Be prepared for the adverts.

What I found interesting about her responses was her focus on the immediate, day-to-day aspects of life. I expected  places we had visited or new activities to feature in her answers.

I tried asking my 4-year-old the same questions. We had to spend additional time talking through the questions and she was keen to see what her sister had said before answering but she gave some interesting responses.

As expected the things she misses most are friends and her old playgroup. When asked whether children were different here she thought for a while before saying

They don’t know how to share. All the children in my old playgroup shared their things but none of the children here do.

She found it very difficult to say what she liked about America because she couldn’t think of anything she  likes to do here that she can’t also do in England – she likes learning to do cartwheels with her imaginary friend, playing nail salons with her big sister, making up shows and playing Mastermind.

Homeschooling and Expatriation

Thank you to the  The Expat Hub for providing today’s guest post. The Expat Hub is a website with lots of useful tips for those who are considering a move overseas or those like us who have already made the move.

Homeschooling isn’t something I have considered for my own children, we are fortunate to have good schools in the area and my children are happy. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone but the article below outlines the pros and cons of homeschooling both generally and from an expat perspective.


homeschoolingHomeschooling is a subject which always seems to inspire debate.
It might not be for everyone but with the number of children being home schooled on the rise it’s clearly a viable option for some families.
But is it a good choice for families who have emigrated?

Before we talk about homeschooling in specific relation to expatriate children here are some of the most commonly argued pros and cons of homeschooling.


• Testing has shown that homeschooled children are good self-directed learners, do as well in exams as their public/private school counterparts and are well received at colleges and universities.
• Although the national curriculum has to be covered (and the children must prove their competence in specific subjects through testing) generally speaking there is far more educational freedom at home then in the classroom. What can be taught, how it can be taught, and where is much less prescriptive.
• Bullying is a sad aspect of mainstream education, something which can have a negative, and in some cases incredibly serious, impact on a child. In a homeschooling environment bullying isn’t an issue. Consequently a child may be less likely to suffer from low self esteem or condition their behaviour to ‘fit in’. Homeschooling can also be a fantastic way of gradually building up the confidence of a child who has been a victim of bullying in a traditional school.
• By not having to stick to traditional school hours homeschooled children and their parents can work out a schedule which benefits everyone. Children can also stay in bed a little longer, allowing for better rested (and more intellectually receptive) students.
• Homeschooling can also help build stronger ties between family members. Parents of rebellious children have often noted how destructive behaviours lessened or disappeared following a period of homeschooling. Spending more time with their children allows parents to know them better, giving them the opportunity to witness important life changes they could otherwise miss.
• One of the things many parents have commented on is how, without schoolroom distractions, children are able to accomplish more work in a shorter space of time. This often means that the concept of homework going on well into the evening, a major stress of many parents, is no longer an issue.
• During difficult times like illness, bereavement or moving children in traditional education are prone to experience disruption and can find it difficult to focus. The natural flexibility of homeschooling means that it is much easier to work around a family issue.
• Going to a traditional school can also be a costly business. There are school uniforms to buy, PE kits, packed/school lunches, lunch boxes, pencil cases, bus fare/petrol costs and school trips. Some or all of these expenses can be eliminated with homeschooling.

• Whilst homeschooling is more flexible than having to stick with a school timetable it does take up a lot of time for parents. As well as the actual teaching involved there’s marking, lesson planning/activity organising and lunch making, and a dozen other things besides!
• Some people consider homeschooling to be ‘weird’ and those who do it are in the minority. Parents, and children, must be prepared to experience criticism and negative comments.
• Homeschooling is a full time job, one which requires a serious investment of time and effort. For those parents who have to work alongside to supplement their incomes life can be very busy and tiring.
• Further to the point above, homeschooling can severely limit your household income, particularly for single parents. Even couples can find it a struggle to make ends meet if one of them has to give up work in order to make homeschooling a possibility.
• Although spending more time together as a family is something which sounds like a pro in theory, the reality can be difficult and littered with ups and downs. Parents have to be prepared for the occasional tantrum or argument, and children have to understand the way they’re expected to behave during ‘school’ hours.
• If you have just one or two children to teach the group and team activities you can enjoy together are going to be severely limited. Many homeschooling families find it necessary to enrol their children in extracurricular activities, particularly sporting ones, so they don’t miss out.
• In some instances children who are homeschooled find it difficult to interact with others outside of the home environment. Whilst the loss of social interaction is the main point raised by homeschooling detractors, parents who want to home school can arrange activities, take their children to public events and encourage them to make friends within their local community. Social isolation can be a problem, but it’s one that’s relatively easy to work around.


So those are the pros and cons of homeschooling, but what different things do you have to consider if your family is emigrating?

Firstly, although children tend to adapt to new environments more easily than adults, how well they are able to acclimatise varies hugely according to their age, confidence levels and previous experiences, and can even be affected by whether or not they have siblings.
Generally, the older a child is the more fervent an attachment they will have developed to the home they’ve left behind and the more resistant they’ll be to all the changes in their lives. Homeschooling can be a good option in this case, and it can also help you overcome the initial language barrier older children often face when entering the schooling system abroad.

Choosing between a pricy international school and a cheaper (but often more culturally challenging) local school can be a real headache for parents. Deciding to home school can alleviate some of the stress!

If your move abroad is temporary sending a child to a mainstream school can be a real upheaval when you have to leave. Home schooling is a great way of making sure your child doesn’t miss out on their education without the issues of them having to adapt to a new school only to leave soon after. If you talk to the teachers at your child’s school before you move you may even be able to pick up their curriculum exactly where they left off, making the transition smoother.

The Big Con
If you’ve emigrated for good it’s important to get the family integrated into their new environment as quickly as possible. Homeschooling might be a sensible and attractive option but as a family you run the risk of spending too much time together and not enough time getting to know your new home and meeting new people. When it comes to homeschooling abroad social isolation is as big a problem for parents as children. If it is something you want to pursue ensure that you and your children are involved in separate activities which will encourage you to make your own connections. Building a life for yourself beyond the family home can be the most challenging thing about emigrating and making your family a self sufficient unit really won’t make things easier in the long run!

No payment was received for this guest post.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.