Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Importance of Being Playful

My girls are genius's. Obviously! Today J came home from school with a very nice certificate for being a "caring, friendly and hardworking member of the class" and A came home with her record book from Kindergarten full of photos of her exploring water, sand and ice.

They have settled in so well into the system over here I cannot fault it at all - so far.

J went to maternelle for a short time in Belgium where the kids start at 2 and a half. They troop in there at 9am with their little ruck sacks on their backs and stay a full day until 3.15. They sit in a classroom environment from such a young age it seems like their childhood ends far too soon. I am so happy the A has the opportunity for free play at Kindy. She seems to spend most of her time there dressed as Dorothy the Dinosaur and being chased around the sandpit by her best mate Noah who likes to dress up as a Tiger. That's what childhood should be about.

It has been a busy few weeks for us as J has been going swimming with the school three times this week and will be going three times next week as well. She has also been having swimming lessons each week after school as well this term. So she has been rapidly turning into my own little mermaid.

The way our school has handled the swimming has brought home to me some of the differences between schools in New Zealand and the UK. J's amazing teacher (for the purposes of this blog we will call him Mr X) has developed a class blog which he updates daily describing what the class has been doing. He has put pictures of the kids at the swimming pool this week which is great not only can we see what J has been up to but so can her Grandparents in the UK.

This would just not happen at a school in the UK. Taking pictures of other peoples children and then publishing them on the net would not be allowed. The ubiquitous and media hyped fear of the wrong type of person taking advantage of our children in the UK has meant that things that would have at one time been thought of as perfectly normal have now become unacceptable and dangerous. One dad in the UK was questioned by police after he was taking photos of his own children on the swings in the park. Another parent had reported him as she felt that he shouldn't be taking photos of children in a public place. I find this so sad. I hope New Zealand does not go down this route.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Residency and the Outdoor Life

So far this Sunday, myself and the other half have been sat around the dining room table attempting to fill in our Expression of Interest for Residency. I think the decision to stay in New Zealand was made last year when we sat on a bench above Eastbourne looking across the bay to Wellington and P turned to me and said that he could imagine living and growing old together here. Bearing in mind it was rainy, cold and incredibly windy at the time I am not sure what prompted my other half to make that particular statement at that point! We have lived in 9 different houses together all over the UK and in Europe and this is the first place that we have really wanted to stay.

So this week we have been getting organised and started filling in the applications for residency. Blimey it is complicated. We completed our Work Visas is a huge rush as P had to start his job as soon as possible. These forms are far more complicated. We are currently surrounded by birth certificates, passports and academic certificates. I find the whole thing incredibly stressful knowing that (however unlikely) they might well turn around and say we are not welcome in this country!
Yesterday we decided to make the most of the late summer sun and headed to Otari-Wiltons Bush. Its apparently the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to native plants. It is quite beautiful and some of the information boards dotted around the place provide some really interesting facts about the weird and sometimes quite bizarre natural plant life of this country.

Walking through the tree canopy is spectacular.

The girls insisted on searching for Goblins in the roots of all the trees. It took us ages to walk any distance.

Otari-Wiltons Bush Stream

A Northern Rata

The information board that J is hiding informs you that the large tree shown above started life as a windblown seed that lodged high up in the branches of another tree. It then grew, sending shoots down towards the ground which eventually grew into a separate trunk that would support the new tree when the original hosting tree died. Amazing to think that such a large tree develops in this way!

This plaque was placed overlooking the gardens and surrounding bush.

I don't think Leonard and Maud should worry too much. Judging by the amount of people at the gardens this Saturday - this sanctuary is very highly prized indeed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Whitby

Our little town of Whitby will be 40 years old this year. Its is really weird to think that when I was born this area had only a few houses built on it and the shopping centre had only just been completed. Photos in the local paper taken during the early 60's show open bush and bare hill. This town, like most of New Zealand is extremely young in comparison to any village, town or city in the UK. I can only really compare NZ towns to places like Milton Keynes in the UK, which were planned settlements and have only been around since the 1960's. I have to say the town planning in New Zealand is far more impressive than in the UK (unless you like the concrete cows and multitude of roundabouts in Milton Keynes). Whitby has masses of open spaces and walkways, the roads are wide and the development still has many mature trees and areas of natural bush.

Our Whitby in NZ was named after James Cook the pacific explorer who came from Whitby in Yorkshire. All the roads in the area have a nautical theme. According to the article in the local paper Whitby was intended to be a large settlement of 100'000 people with large commercial and industrial areas. Thankfully this never materialised as there was a sharp decline in migration from the UK and the local economy shrunk. Now Whitby is a much smaller settlement of just 11'000. That's the way I like it!

It was the Kindergarten "Wheelathon" this week. The children were sponsored to ride around a small course as many times as possible in order to raise money for a new conservatory. They also had their faces painted, ate lots of sweets and generally enjoyed themselves in the late summer sun.

Waiting for the starting gun!

J having her hair sprayed a variety of different colours.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kindness of Strangers

So my baby has turned 3 this week. She has started Kindergarten and seems to be growing up more and more each day. There is no trace of the baby she used to be and almost all her toddlerisms have disappeared. She is fast maturing into a little girl.

Last year we arrived in New Zealand 12 days before her birthday. We were so busy finding somewhere to live and sorting out those sort of practicalities that her birthday was postponed for two weeks and even then it was rather a subdued affair. We knew no one and had no furniture so couldn't exactly throw a party.

Well this year couldn't be more different. We have been to a friends house this morning where A and her three best friends have had cake and ran round the house, back garden and up and down on the trampoline. All at very high speed.

We then popped into the library where the lady who does the Toddler Music group admired A's Tiara and gave her a little pressie and stamp. (hand stamps are highly prized by three year olds!)

Then in the local supermarket we bumped into the "Nice lady on the till" as she is collectively known in our house. Once again A's new dress and Tiara was admired and she got another stamp for the other hand.

At pick up time at the school several of the other Mums came up and wished A happy birthday and she paraded in front of all the other toddlers and generally enjoyed being the centre of attention. As we walked past Kindergarten she yelled at the top of her lungs to get the attention of her Kindy teachers. They gave her a wave and once again wished her a happy birthday. All in all she has been thoroughly spoilt.

We haven't even celebrated her birthday yet at home. We still have all the numerous presents to open that have arrived in the post from the UK and France. She is a very lucky little girl.

I guess the point that I want to make with this post is that in only a year we have been made to feel a real part of this community. We can't visit out local shopping centre without bumping into someone we know. People are so friendly and welcoming that it continually shocks me how willing people are to help you out or just have a chat.

I lived in our last house in the UK for a year and in all that time I didn't know any of our neighbours names. I gave birth to my youngest in that house and didn't even receive any congratulations from any of the people in our cul de sac. Here our neighbours have popped round to borrow flour and the kids come round to play. People lent us furniture when we had none and friends offer, at the drop of a hat, to look after each others children. Its a community rather than just a housing estate.