Tips for a Fabulous Birthday Party

When it comes to children’s birthday parties, you either love them or hate them. A lot of preparation is required and they can be quite stressful. As you may have guessed by now, I’m a lover of plans, researching, organisation and most of all, a good party. So, it probably comes at no surprise that I particularly enjoy putting together birthday parties, especially for my husband and children. I find the preparation involved in the lead up to the party fun, particularly researching for and discovering new party ideas.

Taking on the daunting task of organising a children’s party and then bringing it all together is no easy feat. So I’d like to share with you some tips on how to create a successful children’s birthday party. Not only will the following tips help you to create a better party, but these tips will also help make the process easier for yourself.

Choose a Theme

I believe that all parties should have a theme. Though it may seem unnecessary, having a theme will help you know what decorations to buy/make, what food to prepare, dress code (if you choose to specify one), and what games to plan etc. So I begin the process by asking my son or daughter what they would like the theme of their upcoming party to be. Then I stick with this theme throughout.

Give Yourself Time to Prepare

Make life easier by giving yourself plenty of time to prepare. I would suggest that you start slowly thinking about the party 6-8 weeks in advance. If you start researching and preparing well in advance, it takes the pressure off you having to arrange everything at the last minute. Especially if you work full time like I do, it’s better to start early so that you can casually browse whenever you have a spare few minutes without any pressure.  You can find endless amounts of inspiration online! After all, you have the invitations, music, food, decorations, cake, party bags, games and activities to think about! It’s a lot, but it’s totally doable, and you may even find yourself enjoying it! If the preparation is done beforehand, hosting the actual party should be a piece of cake…..well, easier.

Keep Costs Down

The pressure to spend and throw elaborate parties is a growing trend – and one which parents are struggling with. However, parties do not necessarily need to be extravagant and cost an absolute fortune. There is no need to break the bank and if you are willing/able to put in the effort, there is no need to hire a party planner. If you plan well in advance, it gives you the time and opportunity to find more affordable options, collect bargains along the way, find fun and affordable games and decorations (balloons are enough really) and keep overall costs down. Dutch shops such as Action, Hema, Big Bazar and Xenos are great, and there are also some fun online party shops with exciting and affordable options. However, in general, the more you can make yourself, the better. Making your own invites and sending them out online will also save you some moolah.

Home Sweet Home

We usually always host the kids’ parties at home. Many parents try to avoid this option and I can understand why. It’s much more work and the clean up afterwards is not enjoyable. However, I prefer this option as I love birthday parties the old fashioned way with the traditional birthday party games we all grew up with. I can arrange these more easily in my own home. It also allows me to decorate how and when I want to (usually the night before) and I feel the most comfortable hosting a party in my own environment. Not to mention, it saves money on hiring a venue. Yes, it is easier to book an indoor playground and just let the kids run crazy. However, I have such fond memories of the childhood birthday parties from my youth, so I would like to now create these wonderful memories for our own children. Memories of them trying to pin the tail on the donkey whilst blindfolded for instance, memories of dancing and laughing with their friends in their own home. If you have a large backyard that you can utilise – even better! So I guess that I am making the most of this possibility whilst our kids our still young enough to want to have their party at home.

Keep Them Busy

An important key to a successful party at home is to have structure, a game plan and/or a rough time schedule. When you have a large group of children in your living room, it can easily become overwhelming and out of control, especially if they are preschoolers or younger school aged children. Without control, they will be running through your living room and most likely damaging your ear drums while they’re at it. You need to have enough fun activities and games planned to keep them occupied and constantly entertained. There are reasons why pin the tail on the donkey, egg and spoon races, pass the parcel and dance games have a long history as party activities – they are actually fun and easy to set up. If you keep them entertained, they will not be running wild. Trust me, you will be thankful you had all those games planned (even if they don’t get around to playing them all).

Consider Frequency

Traditional birthday parties take a lot of preparation. So, in our household, we came to the agreement that our kids were allowed to have a large children’s party every second year. Then every other year we celebrate their birthdays low key with family members and a cake of course. In addition to this being more manageable for myself, I also feel that the kids have more anticipation and appreciation of their big birthday parties this way.

It’s the Small Things

It is important to know that young children do not particularly appreciate (or even notice) expensive and extravagant party extras, it’s the little things that they really remember. This Dutch television ad below shows a boy who attends an extravagant over the top party with elephants, motorbikes, clowns and big rides etc. Afterwards when his mum picks him up from the party and asks, “How was the party?”, he answers with, “Yeah great! We ate hotdogs for lunch!”.

Traktatie Extras

In the Netherlands, it is typical that the birthday boy/girl take something small to school to share with each of their classmates and teacher(s) on their birthday (referred to as traktatie). Now if your child is in a class of 20-30 students, this can be costly, so I try to come up with some ideas that wont break the bank, but that the kids will enjoy. I usually also run with the chosen theme when deciding on what they can share with their class mates at school on their birthday. You can be as creative as you like, but I usually go with some home made banana cupcakes or something along those lines (with the paper plates/napkins and icing/decorations in the chosen theme). They may also receive a small and inexpensive gift each as well if I can find something fun. For my son’s birthday party this past week, I decided to go with something different. As temperatures remained over thirty degrees Celsius all week, my son shared small ice cream cups (slagroomijs bekers) with each of his classmates (which cost me a whole 4 euros for 20 of them). Then in addition, as his party is monster themed, they also each received a ‘sticky monster hand’ toy (worth 60cents each from Action). They were a huge hit!

Some Birthday Party Examples..

By now, I’m sure some readers would have already said Oh, hell no! and gone back to browsing Facebook. If you are still reading this post and I haven’t scared you off yet, I’d now like to share with you some of the birthday parties that I have put together over the years. So let me begin with my daughter’s fourth birthday party, which was our first large party with fourteen of her friends…

Rainbow Themed Birthday Party

Games included: Colouring Rainbow Bright, Koekhappen, Making Fruit Loop Necklaces, Decorating our own Cupcakes, Stop Dance. Dress Code: Bright Colours.

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Dinosaur Themed Birthday Party

Games included: Pin the Tail on the T-Rex (ezeltje prik), Colouring Dino Cotton Bags, Musical Statues/Stop Dance game to the Dinosaur Roar song, Pass the Parcel, Dino Masks, Roaring Competition.

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Frozen Themed Birthday Party

Games included: Building a Snowman, Pin the Nose on Olaf game, Making an Ice Bead Bracelet, Colouring, Painting our Nails Ice Blue, Pass the Parcel, ‘Elsa, Elsa, Anna’ (Duck, Duck, Goose), Singing Competition to the Frozen soundtrack. The kids were welcome to wear their Frozen costumes if they had one.

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Monster Themed Birthday Party

Games included:  Pin the Eyes on the Monster, Pass the Parcel, Musical Statues/Stop Dance (to the Monster Mash), Build a Monster, Bobbing for Apples (appelhappen), ‘Cookie, Cookie, Monster’ (Duck, Duck Goose), Colouring a Monster.

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So just remember: Choose a theme and stick with it, give yourself plenty of time to prepare, and plan enough games to keep them busy.

One final tip: Before the party begins, ask your partner or a friend if they could take photos. You will have your hands full and most likely won’t get a chance to capture those kodak moments.

Organising a birthday party for your child is very rewarding. It takes a lot of work, but the smile on their faces when they wake up on their birthday and see the decorations, when they see and taste their cake, and whilst they are playing party games with their friends makes it all worth while. We do it all for the kids.

So if you are feeling up for the challenge of hosting a children’s party in your own home, I hope this post has given you some helpful hints and inspiration. Good luck and I’m sure your son or daughter will appreciate all your hard work in giving them a wonderful party that they will always remember.

Kristen x

Free Fruit for Kids

Since last year, supermarkets around the world began giving away free fruit to children when grocery shopping with their parents. What a great initiative! Recently, people became much more aware of this idea when the below photo went viral on social media..

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Millions of Facebook users liked or shared the photo. Never have I been more appreciative of this great initiative as I was today. On the way home from work and school, I needed to pop into our local supermarket to grab some food for dinner and the kids were in their usual post-school ‘feed-me-now-or-I-will-die’ kind of moods. They were on the verge of a massive meltdown as we entered the store. They were tired and hungry (so was I).  The last thing they wanted to do was go shopping.

As we entered the fruit and vegie section, wondering why on earth I chose to put myself through this additional stress, I spotted a large box full of fruit with the sign..”Gratis fruit voor kinderen” (Free fruit for children).  Thank god! I thought. The kids grabbed an apple each, took a bite, smiles appeared on their faces, and what was to be a stressful and embarrassing situation became a pleasant one.

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Even though this idea is not new in the Netherlands, it has definately become more common. Since the beginning of 2016, I have noticed the box of fruit for kids in most supermarkets I visit. In addition to easing the shopping process for parents, it is also increasing awareness of a healthy diet.  A win-win situation!  The idea of try before you buy is also a bonus, though far from a new concept in supermarkets. In the Netherlands, it is common to be able to taste blocks of cheese, pieces of donuts, candy, cake and coffee before you purchase. Fruit is a healthier and much welcomed alternative!

At the moment, free fruit is not consistent in supermarkets throughout the country, as is up to each local store whether or not they choose to take part. So I do hope that all supermarkets will follow suit and join in with this fun and healthy initiative to promote healthy kids and sane parents!

Does your local supermarket(s) offer free fruit for kids?

Kristen

The laid back approach to raising bilingual children

We all know that learning a language as a child is a hell of a lot easier than learning one as an adult. Their little brains are like sponges and children can make learning a language look like a stroll in the park. That is why exposing our children to a second (third, or more!) language is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

However, parents of bilingual children and professionals in this field can be quite opinionated in the correct method of raising bilingual or trilingual children. What is the best way to ensure your children are able to speak more than one language?  There are so many strategies. Do you go with the “One Person, One Language (OPOL)” approach, meaning that one of the child’s parents always speaks one language, and the other always speaks a different language? Or maybe the “Minority Language at Home (ML@H)” method, where everyone speaks the same language at home which is not the dominant language in the surrounding community?

There are also so many questions that are expected to be answered when you are preparing to become parents to bilingual children; Who speaks which languages, When specific languages are spoken, and Which languages the child is expected to use. Should you always speak only your mother tongue language to your children? Simultaneous language development or sequential second language learning? It can all be quite overwhelming if you let it. I really do not believe that it needs to be so cut and dry, so black or white. So I’d like to tell you my story and explain our laid back approach to raising our bilingual children.

I am Australian and therefore English is my native language. My husband is Dutch, so Dutch is his native language, however his English is just as good as mine. Since we first met fifteen years ago we have always spoken our common language with each other, which was English. Even though we now live in the Netherlands and I am learning Dutch, we still automatically speak English with each other. It is comfortable for us both and a habit that was developed early on. Although we have tried several times to switch to Dutch, we always automatically fall back to English. So we continue to speak English with each other.

Our two children were both born in Australia and when they were aged 2.5 and 9 months, we immigrated to the Netherlands. So my daughter was already speaking English well at the time. Around our daughter’s third birthday, we enrolled her into a Dutch peuterspeelzaal (playgroup). We wanted to expose her to more Dutch and ‘get the ball rolling’ so to say on building her second language. Peuterspeelzaal was just 2.5 hours, two mornings per week and she was able to begin learning Dutch in a fun environment as she played with other children her age. We were informed early on during a routine check up at the consultatiebureau (child health centre) that as Dutch was not our daughter’s main language at home, we were entitled to a special language subsidy program. She then began attending the playgroup for four half days per week and amazingly the government subsidised the majority of the cost — I believe we paid just 10 euros per month!.

She immediately began picking up Dutch words and within a couple of months, her sentences were made up of both Dutch and English words. At home, we watched children’s television programs in Dutch and my husband would read bed time stories in Dutch. After about four months, she knew the difference between Dutch words and English words, and would ask the child carers or her dad what the Dutch word was if she didn’t know. Within a year, she had completely switched over to speak Dutch 100% of the time (at both playgroup and at home). I continued to speak English to her at home. She understood what I was saying, but always responded in Dutch.

At 2.5 years of age, my son was also enrolled in the same subsidised program at the peuterspeelzaal. To be honest, I am not sure what my son’s native language is. His first words were a combination of both English and Dutch words. He grew up speaking Dutch with his dad and sister, and English with me. However, as soon as he began at the peuterspeelzaal, Dutch quickly became his dominant language.

My daughter began at a Dutch elementary school (basisschool) at four years of age and my son remained in the peuterspeelzaal for four half days per week. Actually, for about two full years, I did not hear my children speak English. For both children, Dutch had become their main language of choice and they would not answer me in English anymore. Even though I dearly missed hearing them speak English, I was extremely proud of how well they had picked up their second language. They still understood everything I said to them in English and I mostly continued to speak English at home in the hope that one day, that ‘English speaking switch’ would flick back on again. Switching back and forth between the two languages was something they had not yet accomplished at this stage.

Then I began working at an International school. At the ages of three and five, our children were given the opportunity to begin attending that same school. At this particular school, classes were taught in English. Within six months, both children were speaking English again. It was liberating to hear them speak English and wonderful to see them being able to switch back and forth between the two languages when needed.

Moving them to an International school was not an easy decision by all means. I was keen to hear them speak English again, but it was also just an important to us that they were able to speak Dutch fluently. However, not only did the school offer Dutch classes every day as a core subject, it also split the Dutch classes within every grade level into ‘Dutch as a Second Language’ and ‘Dutch at a Native Level’. Our children were able to join the native level classes, so we decided to give it a go. We also made the decision that any after school activities such as swimming lessons, football and ballet etc. would always be in Dutch with other local Dutch children, rather than in English at the school. They also play with their Dutch neighbours most days after school. So outside of school, they still receive plenty of practice speaking Dutch.

At home we speak both Dutch and English. We alternate in watching movies in both Dutch and English (thank you Netflix audio options!). Sometimes I read them their bed time story in English, but most nights, their dad will read them a story in Dutch. Sometimes we play CDs in the car that are full of Dutch children’s songs and sometimes we play English ones. Around the table at dinner time, the four of us go back and forth between the two languages constantly. Sometimes my husband speaks Dutch to them, sometimes English. Sometimes our children will speak Dutch to us, sometimes English. We have no set rules and just go with the flow. But I don’t believe that this combination of languages is confusing for them. On the contrary, they seem to be thriving!

I had always assumed that one must first learn to read and write in your native language before it would be possible to begin learning how to read and write in another. However, my daughter is proving me wrong. Currently at school, she is learning how to read and write in both English and Dutch simultaneously. Every day she receives literacy lessons in English from her native English classroom teacher and in Dutch from a native Dutch teacher. She is now able to read, write and speak in both languages even though vowels are sounded out so differently and sentence structures couldn’t be more dissimilar. Much to my surprise and delight, during her daily Dutch class she even seems to be keeping up with Dutch children attending Dutch schools.

We can only hope that we continue to witness both of our children thriving in both languages, which I am sure will be the case. My greatest dream is that they mature into young adults that are confidently and fluently able to communicate, and complete further studies if they desire, in either or both of their two languages. Our laid back approach may not be right for others and obviously attending an international school is not possible or the right choice for everyone. I figure, as long as our children are exposed to both languages enough on a daily basis, it will happen naturally. As they like to say here in the Netherlands, “Het komt wel goed” (everything will be fine).

Kristen

 

What my parents taught me about parenting

My parents had four children by the time they had reached 25 and I was the oldest. I look back at how they raised us girls and I can only admire them. They raised us to be honest, well-mannered girls with good morals and we always felt loved. I had no idea just how difficult it was to be a ‘good’ parent, until I was trying to be one. Here are the valuable parenting techniques that my parents have taught me along the way.

Always back each other up

My parents made an agreement with each other early on in their parenting ‘career’, that they would never disagree with each other in front of us kids. If, for some reason, one parent did not agree with a particular parenting tactic/method used, then it would be discussed later on – in private. In front of us kids, they ALWAYS backed each other up. No matter what.

Consistency

Parents behave differently and children quickly learn what “works” with one parent and not the other.  They learn which parent they can manipulate and which one they can’t. Not once can I ever remember asking dad for somthing and if he said no, then going to ask mum. I knew from a very early age, that if one parent said ‘no’, then both parents meant ‘no’. They were aways consistent with one another. ‘No’ always meant ‘no’. Consistency between parents is so important. My parents’ love and attention was also equally distributed between us four girls. This also applied to gifts; my parents had the agreement with each other that what was given to one child, had to be given to all four. This rule remained consistent throughout my childhood and still remains in place to this day. Also with consistency, comes routine. Children love routine. Simple things like always having dinner together at the dining table each evening or always reading a story before bed. They thrive on it, expect it each day and love it.

Manners

Such a basic one, yet so important. This one, I do just as my parents did. Right from the start, I began to teach our children these basic, but necessary skills. Every time I passed a toy or spoon etc onto our first baby, I would say ‘ta’ and every time she gave me somthing back, I would again repeat ‘ta’. Eventually she learnt to say ‘ta’ on her own (this was one of her first words) and this then went on to become ‘thank you’ as she grew older. Same goes for our son. Next step was to get them into the habit of saying please when they wanted somthing, which sounded more like ‘peeease’. Consistently throughout their toddler years I drilled the Thank you’s and Please’s into them over and over again and now, finally, they do it all on their own at the appropriate moments. Never interrupting while my parents were talking and being quiet while they were on the phone were also big rules in our house when I was a child – Still working on these ones with our kids..

Always Follow Through

If you say it and mean it, always follow through with what you say. Children know when you mean what you say and when you don’t. They are cleverer than you think! If you tell them a consequence for being naughty, always follow through with that said consequence. For example, if you use the 1-2-3 method. There is a consequence if you reach 3. If you have told them that this consequence is the naughty corner for example, and they are still misbehaving once you have reached 3, be sure to follow through and do it. I must admit, this has been surprising difficult for me. I give way too my warnings before following through with a consequence. Just how slowly can one count to three? I think because I work full time and I am always tired, I have less patience and give in easier. But it is no excuse and I do realise that this rule is very important and I am trying my hardest to follow through with everything I say. This applies to both discipline and promises.

Honesty

This was a big one in our family home when I was growing up. Lying was NOT tolerated. Full Stop. My parents also made me feel comfortable enough to be able to speak openly and honestly to them whenever I needed to, no matter how awkward the topic.

Never fight in front of the kids

During my entire childhood, right up until I left home at 18 years of age, I can only remember mum and dad having an argument with each other less than a handful of times. They always kept their disagreements behind closed doors. It was never in front of us kids.  This is so important. Kids are so sensitive to tension and other emotions, so do your kids a favour and keep them out of it.

Teach your children the value of money

My parents were farmers, so we were far from rich. Us kids were not given everything we wanted and we never took money for granted. If we wanted somthing, we had to earn it. We took on chores around the farm, such as milking the cows, washing out the dairy, cooking dinner or massaging dad’s feet. We were paid 50 cents per hour. I earnt enough to buy my first CD this way, 50 cents at a time with a tally sheet up on the fridge. I knew from a very young age that ‘money didn’t grow on trees’. Some parents give their children everything they want and rarely say ‘no’. Maybe out of guilt or maybe they believe that their child will suffer trauma if his every desire is not met. Children will suffer much more throughout their lives if they develop the belief that love means others should give them everything they ask for. Teaching our children that money needs to be earned is such a vital life lesson that they will thank us for as adults.

Love Unconditionally

This one almost goes without saying. Showing (and telling) your children each and every day that they are loved is a priority as a parent. Simple things like always giving them a kiss goodnight, playing with them, hugging them, spending quality time with them and praising them when they do well. Make the effort to make your kids feel loved every day.

Parenting

Parents sometimes believe that giving children what they want, and not burdening them with rules, will show them that they are loved. However, I have learnt that children thrive when those rules, routines and the above tips are in place.

I do not claim to be an expert. Far from it. I am still learning how to put these above rules into practice myself. If, eventually, I can be even close to the parent for my children that my parents were for me, then I will be a very content mum with well brought up kids, ready to take on the world….politely.

I Can See The Light!

For years my days were scheduled around feeds, nap times, nappy changes etc. Our kids are now 5 and 7 years old. They now both sleep a full twelve hours through the night without waking!. They now both sleep without nappies or have any ‘accidents’ in bed. They now both dress themselves for school and feed themselves at the dinner table without assistance required. They now both shower themselves, go to the toilet themselves and brush their own teeth. So you see, I can see the light!

Life is indeed becoming easier for my husband and I, as our two kids have now passed the baby, toddler and pre-schooler ages, and are now two independent school-aged children, who love to do things for themselves. In fact, they thrive on being able to show us how well they can do daily tasks on their own (and we love to see it!).

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved being a mum of little ones. I loved being pregnant and loved having a baby in the house. Sometimes I do miss having a little teeny baby in our home and I do miss the miraculous feeling of a human moving inside my tummy. I had always wanted four children. I grew up in a family of six, and loved having three siblings to play with. Our house was always fun, loud and busy.. and I loved it.

When I hold someone else’s baby, I always get extremely ‘clucky’. I’m only 35, I think. I could easily have another baby. I toy with the idea for a bit. Hmmm that would be nice… Then I tell myself to snap out of it! Life is so easy now! Going back to do that all over again; the two-hourly feeds through the night, the constant nappy changes. No, I’m just not going there again. Now I just have my dose of baby cuddles with my friends’ babies, and then I can hand the little bundle of joy back to his/her mum once the crying starts :).

My daughter was born five weeks early. She was a tiny, skinny little 2.5kg baby and now she is such a little lady. She is the tallest in her class and growing up so fast. At 7 she can now read, write and speak both Dutch and English. It is so wonderful watching her grow and develop into the bubbly, friendly and caring girl that she is. Our son was always a mama’s boy and I still get plenty of hugs, but now that he is getting a little older, he is more interested in playing outside with his mates on their bikes or with a soccer ball. He does however, love to help me cook dinner and sets the table for me every night. We are so extremely content with our two happy and healthy children.

I can finally say that I am no longer sleep deprived ..and I am loving it.

Kristen

 

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