Sunday, 28 November 2010

Cozying Up to the Lemurs

Sometimes family travels take us to places that we never dreamed of.  These photos were taken during a weekend at the Vakôna Forest Lodge in Andasibe, Madagascar.  The lemurs were so used to having people around them that they regularly surprised us by leaping onto our shoulders, head and back and staying there for a bit.  The Bambina was so afraid when a lemur went to leap onto her shoulder that she stepped backward and put her foot directly in the swamp.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The International Family's Never-Ending Dilemma : Is my child in the right school?

The number one question of the international family: Where should we send our children to school?

The number two question of the international family: Have we put our children in the right school?

Basically, the question is always on our minds.

Here in Tananarive, Madagascar, the choices of schools is VERY limited.  You can send your child to the French school or you can send your child to the American school.

Pros of the American School, from our perspective:
- Great way to consolidate my children's English.
- It's close to home.
- It has small classes.
- It is more open to creativity and different learning styles than the French system.
- Thinking with an open and critical mind is just as important as coming up with the right answer.
- It has a great community feel to it.
- If offers lots of extra-curricular activities.

The American School has its disadvantages, too, though.  It's very expensive.  Their pre-K and kindergarten facilities are not great (in fact, they're downright shabby and small), some of the teachers are not native English speakers, and for an natural-mama type like me, their vaccine requirements are a little over the top. 

Pros of the French school:
- Teaching the Bambina to read and write in French is something that I can't do and that the Frenchman won't do.  This is close to being a deal-breaker point. 
- It has an excellent kindergarten programme.
- Truly excellent teachers in kindergarten, first and second grade.

But the French school is a 30 minute drive away in the morning.  And in the long run, French education may be rigourous but it also has the reputation for being narrow, closed-minded and not great for building confidence in children.

We chose the French school because at the time, the Bambina was only five years old when we arrive in Tana and the kindergarten at the French school was visibly better than the one at the American school.  Now that she's in first grade, I'm sure that the American school is just as good, if not better.  Neither school is perfect.  Either one would leave us questioning our choice.

For our next expatriation, my prayer is that not only will we not be in a francophone country, but that we will be in a country where there is no lycée français, at that we will have no choice but to put the Bambina in a reputable international school that offers French for native speakers.  Alternatively, sending her to a local school, should we be living in a developed, anglophone country (Australia, Scotland, the United States  or Canada, for example) would also be interesting.

A Montessori school for the Bambino would be a cherry on the cake.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

7 Globetrotter Family Travel Tips

1. Check everyone's passports once every six months.  You never know when you're going to be on the road and you don't want to discover one week before your ski trip in the Alps that your five year old's passport has expired!

2. Book appointments, dinners, babysitters, kids' clubs, lessons and playdates ahead of time.  This is especially true if you are going to be staying in a large city for any amount of time.  The time that you get to spend in the city is precious.  You don't want to waste hours sitting in an apartment or hotel room because you have no babysitter or because you would like the kids to do something but they've already been to the park today, the museum workshops are all full and your kids friends are in school.  You get the picture.  Plan as much as you can ahead of time.

3. Bring your own airplane food for the kiddies.  The Bambina won't touch airline food and I can't say I blame her.  Aside from having a stale, refrigeration-like taste, it's rarely food that I like and it's full of preservatives.

3. Bring entertainment for the luggage wait.  That Nintendo DS that you've been complaining about since last Christmas when your spouse insisted that your kid have one?  Well, thank your lucky stars it exists just for times like this!

4. Bring a car seat or book a weight- appropriate car seat from the car rental or taxi cab company.  Be sure to tell them that it must be already fully and correctly installed when the cab arrives to pick you up.  We have had the unfortunate incident of a taxi showing up with a brand new, weight-appropriate car seat - uninstalled - and with no manual to show how to install it.

5.  Think twice before you take an only child trekking in the mountains - or anything else that requires physical endurance.   Without the distraction of a playmate close in age to your little one, your child may start to complain that he or she is tired oh, about two minutes into the hike.  Hiking with another family has worked well for us.

The same goes for museums or art exhibits - unless you have a child who is particularly into cultural visits, he or she may quickly get bored and start to complain, thereby ruining the visit for everyone else .  Try to find another family with one or more children the same age for these kinds of visits.

6.  If you have an infant or toddler, bring a mei-tai baby carrier (Ergo, Kozy and Babyhawk are a few brands) on the trip with you, along with the stroller.  It's very handy during when boarding the plane, during a luggage wait and for walking in quaint towns with cobblestone roads that make pushing a stroller difficult.

I don't recommend carriers such as Baby Bjorn, as the baby's weight is on your shoulders rather than your hips, and they therefore only work for small babies (that and the fact that the baby is essentially being supported on its genitals...).

7. Pack a sweater for you and each child.  Always.  Even if it's a beach vacation in the Bahamas!

Bon voyage!