Book Review: SAFE PASSAGE by Douglas W. Ota

SAFE PASSAGE LowRES COVER
SAFE PASSAGE
by Douglas W. Ota
Summertime Publishing
Regardless how long someone has been an expat, mobility issues are a major part of their life. Many expats can quickly estimate how many boxes will be needed to pack their belongings. They know the routine of good-byes and hellos. From personal experience, they know the grief that trails after them from place to place.  They recognize this grief in their children, and may long for a ‘quick-fix’ to help them cope with this grief.
A new book by Douglas W Ota, Safe Passages:  How Mobility Affects People and What International Schools Should Do About It, might just be the essential resource needed for expats.
If you’d like to read more about this book, check out my review at ExpatArrivals.

School Reports and TCKs

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Believe it or not, I finally unpacked the last two boxes that have remained sealed and stacked in the very back of our closet. We moved over a year ago. Of course it was the two boxes I dreaded to open. They were labeled: “Stuff from top of Desk” and “Stuff from top filing cabinet”. Which pretty much means all the junk I was too tired to sort through before we moved. Tell me you do it too. Just dump everything left into a box and seal it up to sort later.

Yep, I had a box of paper trash – but there was some good stuff, too.

I found mementos to put into the kids’ scrapbooks. Yea, I’m a wannabe scrapbooker – stress on the wannabe. 

I found a couple of books that my husband has been looking for – Oops!

I found school reports from a few years ago. As I put them with the others I remembered when my husband, who by the way has been a school principal for many years, told me to buy a folder with clear plastic sheets. One for each child. This was to be their “book” of school reports. For Ge Ge and Mei Mei, I have their Kindergarten graduation diplomas (I know such a huge deal), all of their report cards for each grade and any standardized test score results filed away in this simple book.

Why?

Simple. It is a clear record for any new school they may attend to see that…

  • They have attended school and which grades they have completed
  • Their scores in each subject for each grade
  • Their behavior and character – from what the teachers have written on the reports

As parents living overseas, most likely our children will not attend the same school they started Kindergarten in. I mean my son has gone to four different schools already – but honestly that is on the low end for TCKs. Many of them change schools every two years or so. It can be difficult to supply all the necessary records for the next school, so having all the reports together helps when it is application time.

As for Jie Jie, my daughter with special needs. I have set hers up a bit differently. Her report cards look different. Some years it is test results from the hospital where they have tracked her physical, cognitive, and self-help development. I also have her IEP (Individualized Educational Plan )from the local Kindergarten, as well as her more recent IEPs. This is mainly for my benefit as I can look back at all that she has accomplished and to plan for the coming year. Though special education classes are rarely found in international schools, this record has also been beneficial for the times that she has had a new teacher.

My school report filing system is simple, but it works ~ so long as I remember to put the report in the book and not just toss it with the other papers piled on the desk.

Your Turn: What do you do to keep track of all the school reports for your TCK(s)? Please share in the comment box below.

 

 

The Transition for the Child with Special Needs

I just wrote about helping your children transition from the summer holidays to going back to school. You can read that by clicking on “The Transition“.

How about kids with special needs? They may need a little more time and creative ways to help them with this transition. Below are just some additional ideas to help them adjust to the transition.

  • Talk about it. Talk about what school looks like. Talk about their friends and what they will do while they are there. Even doing some role-play activities to help them get into the mindset will help.
  • Count down – Make a simple chart with the number of days left until school starts up. Let your child mark off each day. HINT: Don’t start too far away from the first day as it might be too overwhelming. You know your child, so adjust accordingly.
  • Visit the school: If the school allows it, make a trip to the school to go and see the classroom, to reconnect BRIEFLY with the teacher. (Hint: Don’t stay more than 5-10 minutes. Teachers love to see you, but they do need to get their work done.)
  • GRACE: Give your child grace and give yourself grace those first few weeks that school starts back up. Remember that sometimes change and transitions are not always what we hope or dream they will be – but they eventually do adjust.

I know I need to get started with this transition with Jie Jie. Otherwise she just may think that I threw her into the Arctic Plunge Swim.

If you have a child with special needs, how do you help them get ready for going back to school? Please share in the comments below.

The Transition

The word transition means different things to different people. For instance:

  • Parents bring home their newborn from the hospital
  • Freshman in college (or high school)
  • Soldier returning home from deployment
  • Family moving to a new country
  • Summer to Fall
  • Summer holiday to “Back to School”

Though, expats and TCKs relate the word with “good-byes”, new countries, and new friends, I’m going to talk about that yearly transition from summer holidays to returning back to school. It is an adjustment – for everyone involved.

For the parents: It’s the return of the SCHEDULE – either homeschool or taking them back to local or international school. Either way, we don’t hear the constant two words, “I’m Bored”. Okay, maybe if you’re like a super Pinterest mom and don’t deal with this issue skip this section, I’m not talking to you. If you are like me…well, I’m still trying to “enjoy the summer,” but I’m ready for everyone to get on a regular schedule.

The kids: You remember. Come on, I know you do. Sleeping in just a little bit later (or a lot later) than school days. Swimming, snacking, playing with friends, and swimming some more. That first morning of school was like being thrown in an Arctic Plunge swim. It shocked your system and was just not a pretty site. Times haven’t changed – it’s tough for our kids, too. Okay, my kids can’t wait to see their friends All Day Long, but they are NOT looking forward to early wake-ups and the dreaded homework.

So, what can we do to help them?

  • Start waking them up earlier. It doesn’t have to be the exact time, but definitely maybe trying for a half hour difference. This doesn’t have to be done weeks in advanced either – just a few days before to help their bodies start to adjust.
  • Earlier Bedtimes – This goes hand-in-hand with the above. Same rules, a week before or a few days put kids to bed at their normal “school night” bedtime.
  • Review Math Skills – This tip is more for elementary school aged children, but buy flashcards and a few weeks before school starts have your kids review them. Their brain has had a break, hopefully, so now is a good time to help them “think” school.
  • Reading – If you haven’t had them reading at all this summer, then start. This year we actually are paying our kids to read. They are getting a set amount per book they read and record on their chart. It was an incentive to READ – and I’m afraid that it may just have hurt our pocketbooks, but totally worth it!
  • Collect Meal Ideas/Make a Meal Chart – This one is for the cook in the home. I’ve found that when I take the time to make out a two-week meal plan that I actually feed my kids healthier and spend less money at the grocery store. It’s fairly easy to do this at the beginning of the year, but think about doing 4-6 of these charts and rotate them throughout the year.

What do you do with your children? Do you help prepare them? Do you just “throw them into the Arctic Plunge?” Please share in the comments below. Me? I’ll be doing some of it…I’d like to get to the meal plan, but that all depends on how I do with my lesson plans. Remember…I’m not the super Pinterest mom, though I so wish I was.

TCK Mentoring – Sea Change

Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen in on a webinar given by Sea Change Mentoring. This organization, founded by Ellen Mahoney, is designed for third culture kids from the ages 16-23, although they are open to reaching out to help children as young as 13. Read their mission below:

“Help international teens develop into happy and successful adults through the power of mentoring and our tailored curriculum.”

Ellen is a TCK herself. She shared her story with us of the time she returned to the US for university alone. It was a very hard year as she felt lonely and even depressed. She found out that she was not the only one – that many of her other TCK friends were also experiencing the various degrees of the same feelings. Throughout her life she has helped children. She began as a high school teacher, then began working with an online mentoring group in the US, and now is the Founder and CEO of Sea Change Mentoring.

So what is Sea Change Mentoring?

It is just that – mentoring third culture kids through all the change that they go through. The mentoring is currently being facilitated through Skype by professionally trained mentors that have overseas experience. They use a tailored curriculum for TCKs that was developed by a TCK. Some of the “units” that are covered are Building Strong Relationships, Healthy Good-byes, Career Exploration, Career EQ, Becoming Independent, and much more.

Why is this so important?

We all know that the expat life is much like sea waves, coming and going. Children may have a difficult time adjusting or connecting with friends. This program is designed to be a 2-3 year commitment allowing the mentor time to help the child go through changes, nudging them to build heathy relationships, as well as other issues they may be facing. And for those that are older, to help them begin to think about being independent BEFORE they are independent. We as parents can help, yes, and we should be involved in this process – but sometimes a third party that is standing on the outside can see the whole picture. Possibly even better since this person understands all the emotions that our children are going through. Sea Change works with the child, but they also communicate with the parents – which I found, as a parent, to be comforting. Sea Change was founded in 2012 and launched their first pilot program this past January. So, it’s fairly new – but I don’t believe there is anything like it out there for TCKs. If you have children in this age range and wondering how you can help them with adjustment, this might be a really good option. If you would like more information, you can click here.

**I just want to note that I did not receive anything for this review, but that it is solely my own opinion from what I learned about through the webinar.

Field-Trip Madness

We’ve been sick around here for the last few weeks, but I think we are now coming out of it. Finally.

A few months ago, I was thrilled to be asked by Carole at The Expat Child to write an article for her site. If you’ve not heard of this site, you need go and check it out. She has a wealth of information for parents relocating with their child(ren).

I had just survived a couple of field-trips with Jie Jie when I wrote this article. I shared some tips that I learned from the good, the bad, and the could have been ugly.  Here is a clip from that article.

Though staying home would have been easier, new experiences are good for her development – no matter how hard they may be for me. So, I took a deep breath, said a prayer and entered the pottery shop.

If you want to read the rest of the article you can click on the link: “Surviving Field-Trips with Special Needs Children”

Here’s some of my favorites from The Expat Child:

Jet-Lag and Children

Where is Home?

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Language and TCKs

“Which language should we speak at home with our children?”

“Which school should we send our children to? Language is important, but I’m afraid my child will forget or not master our ‘mother tongue’.”

As an expat parent, I’ve asked those same questions. As an international elementary teacher, I’ve heard those questions from parents about their own children.

They are legit questions, ones that should be addressed from the get-go when deciding to live abroad with your family. When I was pregnant with our first child my husband, being German, and I decided that I would speak English and he would speak German. Let me just say this, in theory it was a great plan, but for our family it didn’t happen. My husband rarely spoke German anywhere. His working world was in English and Chinese. His world at home with me was in English. He didn’t think about speaking German unless he was talking with his parents, but even that was a mixture of English, German, and a bit of Chinese. Please know that I do know of families that spoke dual languages and it worked wonderfully for them. It just wasn’t for our family. If you have a mixed family, this is definitely something you need to discuss as a family – which language(s) will we speak at home with our kids?

Schooling affects language as well…

Yes, which school do we send our child to? Local? International? Home-school?  These are questions that you definitely need to discuss with your spouse. Something to think about though, is what language do you see your child using as an adult? Is it your mother-tongue? your husband’s? English – if that isn’t your mother-tongue? As an educator, I can’t say this strong enough – Whatever language(s) you decide your child will be educated in make sure your child masters a language – and what I mean is they have mastered both speaking and writing. If your child cannot fully function in one language, they may never be able to fully express their feelings.

Once GeGe was almost pre-school age, Uwe and I discussed what language we wanted him to be educated in. We wanted him to be able to speak Chinese well. We had planned for him to attend local school until Grade 2, with me home-schooling him in English to keep up his writing. We chose this grade level because we knew that he would most likely go to an English speaking university. The English writing begins to expand quickly to paragraphs in grade 3. We didn’t want him to fall too far behind and not master English. Well, this plan didn’t workout for us. He attended only Kindergarten at the local school, then in grade 1 we switched over to the international school, but requested that he be in the same Chinese level as the native speakers in his homeroom. This worked out well for him. Our decision to pull him into the international school was due to the fact that Jie Jie needed to start school and her school was not at the same school. They were not really even close to each other and there was no way for me to get them both to school. GeGe could go in early with my husband, and I could take JieJie.

We speak English in the home, so these questions were not so difficult to answer, but for those expat parents whose language at home is not English this decision must be weighed out carefully. And many times a sacrifice of the mother-tongue happens. The language spoken by the parents is learned, but not fully mastered.

When raising kids abroad, the question about language is huge. It’s one that every expat parent must think through and discuss with their spouse. It is a question that my in-laws had to make over thirty years ago when they decided to send their very young children to the American school versus the German boarding school that was located in a different country. And it will be the question that probably my children will have to make should they choose to live abroad with families of their own.

Your Turn: What language do you speak at home? How did you make the language decision about education? What school do you send your kids to or did your parents send you to? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’m really interested.

This post was inspired by a blogpost I recently read about raising kids overseas. She is a TCK herself and understands the advantages and the disadvantages of living abroad. She listed questions one should ask when they begin to think about raising TCKs. The one suggestion that she gives to expat parents is to READ. Read books, articles, and blog posts about and authored by adult TCKs. If you are not currently following DrieCulturen, you should. Great resource!

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Keeping the Culture: US Independence Day

"Uncle Sam's Birthday. 1776- July 4th 1918. 142 Years Young and Going Strong."

Have you ever worried that your TCKs are going to forget or not know your home culture? Are you afraid that they are missing out on all the cultural festivities and knowledge about where you are from? That they are just not going to understand their heritage?

My kids are third culture kids(TCKs). Most of you have read my bio so I won’t bore you with details. In case you haven’t had the chance here is a shortened summary. I’m from the States, my husband is a German MK, and our kids are growing up in Asia.

Sometimes I wonder about the above questions. I know they are getting a great education. I know they are learning so much about the world by living overseas and going to school with children from all over the world. I’ve read books and have attended conferences to learn more about these resilient kids. I’m following blogs of top experts on the subject and even blogs by adult TCKs to gain more understanding. I do all of this and still I wonder.

I’m sure you do too, or you wouldn’t be reading this post.

So, what can you do to pass down your heritage to your kids?

Celebrate the holidays. Yep, this is one way I am doing it. Independence Day for the US is in a few days. I’ve had the opportunity to read part of this book to my girls. I’ve planned crafts and activities to do with them as well.
Since we are in the US, we will get with family and grill and celebrate together. We might even be able to shoot some fireworks off ~ I say might because it is so dry it might not be safe.
The years we have been out of the US for the 4th of July, I have had to be more intentional in celebrating. Sometimes, we’ve been able to attend parties hosted by the embassy. Other years we celebrated with just a few friends around the grill. And there has been a few years where it was just our family. But, no matter what, we brought out the red, white, and blue.
If you are a US citizen and wondering about some free simple activities that you can do with your kids, here are some ideas that I did this year with the girls.
1. Printed out simple readers that they colored and made into books. Click here for site.
2. Printed out some worksheets of the flag and the eagle. Click here for site. Note this site has some things for older kids as well.
3. Free coloring sheets here.
4. Glitter glue fireworks.                                                
Click here for the website.                                5. Blow-Paint fireworks here.
Super Easy, little messy. 

Your Turn: Do you celebrate your home country’s holidays with your children? If you’re a TCK, did your parents teach you about specific holidays from their home country? Was it helpful, why or why not? Please comment below. I would LOVE to hear your ideas, thoughts or if you have other activities to share, please do!

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KID$: Teaching them about $

The Envelope System

Ever since my TCKs were cuddled into the front pouch and brought to the market or store, they have witnessed how money can give them “stuff”. They understood all too quickly how this system of money or plastic card works.

I’m sure your kids are the same. They don’t just watch us. Toy manufacturers have caught on to this years ago. They sell fake money and plastic cards for pretend shopping. I’m not bashing toy companies, I actually think it is a brilliant way to teach kids about how money works IF taught intentionally.

As kids grow and mature, we need to teach them how to manage their money.

We do give our kids an allowance…sort of. They get paid for certain small jobs around the house like taking out the trash. They get paid for the work they do. If they don’t take out the trash, they don’t get paid. Then there are jobs that they have to do just because they are part of the family, like setting and clearing the table. Those they don’t get paid for.

Our youngest got bright eyes and a huge smile when she got her first paycheck. She was ready to go to 7-11 and buy some gum. It reminded me the first time our oldest got his first paycheck and we made the decision to teach our children about money management. It was time to teach Mei Mei.

We use Dave Ramsey‘s ideas because we like them. I’m sure there are other ways to teach your children, but here is what we do.

Each child has three envelopes.

  1. Saving: this is for large items that they need to save money for like skateboards, iTouch, dolls
  2. Spending: this is for the small fun stuff like gum, drinks, or stickers.
  3. Giving: Because we are a Christian family, we’ve taught our children that they have to give at least 10% to God. This envelope can also be for charity giving, which we’ve told our kids that they can put in more and use it towards that as well.
Our rules are simple. We give them the money and a calculator. We teach them how to figure out how much is 10%. They put that in their Giving envelope. Then they decide how much they want to put into the Savings and the Spending envelopes. We let them choose.
*We do this system all with the monetary bills of whatever country we are living in. If they get money from family in other countries, then we get out a calculator and figure the conversion rate with them, and then we exchange it for them. After that, they figure out what amount goes in each envelope.
**When we travel to other countries, we do allow them to take their Spending envelope (if it’s worth the amount). They can exchange it at the airport for fun.
***We also do this system with Jie Jie, our daughter with special needs. She doesn’t have a “job” yet, so she doesn’t get paid, but she gets money for lost teeth and birthdays. I do believe that we will soon be giving her a “job” that is suitable to her needs in the near future.  This all depends on maturity levels though.
Like I said, there are other ways to teach kids about money and how to manage it. How have you taught your kids? Please comment below.
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“Extreme Schooling”: Article Review

by flickr (The Commons)

If you haven’t had read the NY Times article, “My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling” by Clifford J. Levy, you need to do that now. It is insightful, well written, and will help make sense to the rest of this post.

After I read his article, I felt like he had some really good points for parents who have children attending schools where the family’s first language is not taught.

1. He mentions that his oldest daughter had an inner struggle with not being able to learn the language “effortlessly”. I think as parents we need to remember that though kids do learn languages quicker than adults, it does take effort and time. Also, we need to make sure our children understand this so they do not see themselves as the “dumb foreigner.”

2. Mr. Levy and his wife researched schools online and then had the opportunity to visit the school before enrolling their children. They met the founder of the private school and learned about his philosophy. Most families are not able to actually go to the school beforehand, but research is definitely a possibility now with the internet.

3. Mr. Levy and his wife didn’t force their children to stay in the Russian private school. They gave them the option of leaving and starting at the international school. Interestingly, though, none of the children took them up on this offer. They all stayed in the Russian school and began to survive, then thrive. The Levy’s, I believe, were fortunate to have this option. Not every family has the option of schools available with their first language taught.

4. It seems that the Levy children noticed their own personal academic strengths. They put their energy into those subjects to show some success. The strength was math. I’ve witnessed this when I taught at the international schools. I noticed that the favorite subject of almost every ESL student I had was math. It was the one subject they could really succeed and even be at the top of the class in. As parents, we need to watch for this and encourage our children in their strengths.

So, I’m curious to hear from you. What are your thoughts about this article? If you are sending your child to a school that is not taught in your native language, how have you helped your child(ren) cope? Please share in the comments below.