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A home for Alvero

11 Sep

Our friend, Julie, and her family are helping to raise money to build a house here in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua for their friend Alvero and his family. Please watch the video below to learn more and to find out how to help. You can also learn more at Julie’s Blog: Hip Mum

The hermit crab

25 Apr

I used to envy the hermit crab.  Not only does he live at the beach, but he also carries around a hard protective shell.  No matter where he goes, he takes his house with him.  Us Expats, we uproot our lives, our families, and our sense of order.  So the idea of bringing our house, that provides such protection, along with us is pretty appealing.

My parents are moving out of my childhood home this weekend.  They have lived here for almost 38 years, moving in when my mom was heavy with her first child, my sister.  Moving out just a year and a half after that same sister gave birth to a third child of her own.

My mom always wanted our big old house to be not just a big old empty house, but a gathering place for family and friends.  And though she often lamented how rarely we actually used the whole house, I’d say that she and my dad certainly made it a home.

My parents raised two daughters in this house.  They grew a marriage in this house.  They loved and fought, hurt and healed in this house.  They nurtured ailing grandparents back to health and ailing cousins back to smiles.  They hosted my grandparents’ 40th anniversary, my aunt’s backyard wedding, elementary, middle and high school graduation celebrations, work picnics, string quartets, workshops – all in this house.

My mom spent hours in the basement the night before birthday parties weaving intricate spider webs from yarn with a specially picked prize for each child at the end.   My Dad spent hours in the basement helping us to construct elaborate school projects and science fair exhibits (we even got to use the blow torch)!  The basement has served as playroom, classroom, workroom, and storage.  We bobbed for apples in this basement.  Played school with the giant chalkboard.  Created castles out of oversized boxes.  Constructed towns out of blocks.  Wrote plays, performed plays, and argued over plays in this basement.

Together, as a family, we watched the passing of the seasons – tromping thru snowdrifts, leaping into leaf piles, skipping thru sprinklers, and stomping in the rain.  I learned to throw and catch a ball on the garage rooftop while my sister perfected her tumbling thru the freshly mowed grass.  We carved giant pumpkins in the driveway, built birdhouses in the basement, planted vegetables in the garden, and made forts below the swing-set.

We dyed Easter eggs, lit menorahs, decorated Christmas trees, and searched for afikomans. I was a witch, a hippie, a gypsy, and Smurfette.  My sister was a clown, a cheerleader, and a Bounty Paper Towel Roll (no kidding – see slideshow).

I broke my first bone in this house.  Met my first friends at this house.  Kissed my first love near this house. I argued over piano practice, while my sister dutifully whispered tunes from her flute in this house.  We studied multiplication tables and languages, literature and history.   We returned from overnight camp and college to this house.

I equally feared and found comfort in the familiar creaks and groans of this house, running quickly down to the basement, up to the attic and past the closed guest bedroom door.  Planning hiding places and plotting escapes, packing bags to run away.  While my mom found quiet on the back porch, my dad retreated to his office and my sister found peace in her room, I lazed on the plush deep red carpet that ran the length of the house, lingering between the need for solitude and companionship.

We battled with ourselves, with each other, with our friends in this house.  We ached and cried and hurt in this house.  We buried pets and flushed fish.  My dad fought tumors – my mom nursed him back.  My mom hurt her back. My dad held her up.  We said farewell to neighbors and welcomed new families.

My sister and I used to joke that we hoped we would never have to help our parents move out of this house.  There would be 40 years of stuff to sort through.  But as we approach that final meal, that final sleep, and that final turn of the key, I realize that it’s not the stuff that we’re sorting, but the memories.  And though it’s sad and even a little painful to say goodbye to a house that’s been so good to us for so long, I’m pretty sure that we’re bringing home wherever we go.

I used to envy the hermit crab for his ability to carry his house wherever he went.  But that must get pretty heavy over time.  For what it’s worth, if given the choice, I’d choose to carry the home and leave the house behind.

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Adventures in Learning

13 Apr

Julie Speier, Head of School, opened Adventures in Learning as a pre-school after moving to San Juan 4 years ago.  In that time, the school has grown to include a k-2 multi-aged approach to learning, swim lessons, and other enrichment activities.   Originally from Ohio, Julie studied Early Childhood Education at Boston University and later went on to become both a teacher and an administrator at Cincinnati Country Day School before landing in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua with her fiance and two daughters.  Below is info on Adventures in Learning including schedule, philosophy, and rates.

Adventures in Learning Class Schedule, 2012

Benefits of our multiage approach:

This stimulating and multiage approach is geared to meet the learning needs of toddlers through primary age school children.  With two teachers working together we are able to accommodate the learning styles and developmental needs of all the children.

Free play is a crucial time for the ever important task of learning good social skills.  It also serves as an indicator of the children’s interests, which can then be translated into lesson plans by the teachers.  Children learn to be imaginative, communicative, cooperative, assertive and fair with a bit of guidance.  This is where the children are developing their sense of autonomy, their own moral compass, interests, experiences, questions, and problem solving skills!  I find the multiage class especially beneficial in the socialization process of children; it encourages empathy, compassion, patience and acceptance of differences.

The academic needs are met during group time and work room time.  The Focus program teaches phonics, listening skills, vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing for all levels, each child is encouraged to remain in “Group Time” with the teacher until the lesson lasts too long or becomes too challenging for their stage of development.  Singing, reading books, asking questions and reading the note of the day encourages whole language understanding as well as providing countless opportunities for mathematic concepts and practice.

One of the greatest benefits of a multiage classroom results when students remain in the same class for more than one year. When children have this opportunity, there is a minimum of beginning-of-the-year transition time because most of the students know the procedures and the teacher knows the students so well. Instead of spending weeks getting to know all the students personally and academically each year, our year round, multiage approach allows for real learning year round. Encouraging continuing students to mentor the new ones or younger ones in classroom procedures makes for even less transition time for the new students. Procedures do not need to be explained repeatedly because many of the students already know how the class “works” and are able to teach the younger students where to find supplies, how to write, how to use the tape, where to store personal items, how to collaborate during work time, and so on.

The familiarity of students with each other is another benefit of having students continue on in the same multiage classroom. When students work alongside each other day after day, even the youngest, shyest children become comfortable asking for help from older students. As older students teach younger ones the procedures, read them stories, and help them write their names, they develop valuable leadership skills and nurturing behaviors.  The multiage philosophy accepts that students of a particular age or grade will be working at a variety of academic and developmental levels. This acceptance is supported by the set-up of an environment which offers materials and learning strategies which include individual as well as group needs. Thematic lessons and concepts may be presented to the group as a whole, with different expectations for students of different levels and abilities. Students may work in flexible, ever-changing small groups based on ability rather than age or grade, so cross-age collaborations are accepted and encouraged. As a result, the lines between grades and ages start to become invisible. Students sometimes work in groups delineated by age, grade, or ability, but the overall structure is one which looks at the children as one group of learners with varying levels of needs. The success of this combination of individualized learning, small group collaborations, and whole group interactions is dependent on the development of self-direction and independence in the children. This may be acquired by setting up centers with task cards, bins of individualized learning games, a classroom library of leveled books, shelves of math manipulative materials and games, a science discovery center with task cards, an art supply shelf, and a supply shelf with paper, staplers, tape, markers, and pencil sharpeners which children can access as needed. When students are not dependent on their teacher to meet all their needs, they are empowered to take ownership of the classroom environment and to develop individual responsibility for the classroom community. The interplay between older and younger students in the same classroom can facilitate this development of self-directed behavior as older students provide models for younger students.

The whole language philosophy is a wonderfully compatible fit with the multiage classroom, especially in relation to the ring of authenticity brought to the classroom. In the real world outside of the classroom we seldom, if ever, find ourselves working with people who are all our same age. In any work environment, there are those who are more experienced and those who are still learning the ropes. In a multiage classroom, the older, more experienced students become mentors for younger students who are still learning what school is all about.  In this way we will continue to meet the needs of all of our students.

How much does it cost?

Well, as the children grow and develop, so will our school.  We will now be offering a whole day program, which can be broken down into two sessions: morning program and the afternoon program.  We do understand that cost is a consideration to everyone and to that end we have not increased our tuition in 3 years. We are paying additional teachers and employees in order to keep student/teacher ratio low.  In order to do this we also have to ask that parents volunteer their services and outside expertise to the school…more on that later.

The cost of the year round, full time program is $250 per month. At this time the full day and afternoon programs are for children ages 4-7 years old. If your child or family is not ready for the full time school day then we also offer the following options, which may best suit your family’s situation:

Option 1:  $80 per month for 2 morning sessions or 2 afternoon sessions per week

Option 2: $120 per month for 3 morning sessions or 3 afternoon sessions per week

Option 3: $175 per month for 5 morning sessions or 5 afternoon sessions per week

Option 4: $120 per month for 2 full days per week

Option 5: $180 per month for 3 full days per week

Option 6: $250 per month for 5 full days per week

The drop in rate for children who are not enrolled in the school is $20 per morning or afternoon session or $30 for the full day.  The drop in rate for enrolled students who just want an extra morning or afternoon here or there is $12.50 per session or $20 for the full day. There is also an enrollment/registration fee of $100 for new students.

The fee for late pick up is now one Cordoba per minute late during the lunch hour, if you want lunch given to your child it is an additional $2.  We will not feed your child lunch without being asked to do so by you.  The late fee for pick up of students after 4pm is two Cordoba’s per minute. If you are late, you will need to pay the teacher whose schedule and time has been disrupted as result of your tardiness…this money should be paid directly to the teacher who remains to monitor your child at the time of pick up.

We do understand that many of our students have the opportunity for extended vacations throughout the school year, however we have our monthly commitments that do not disappear because a student is not attending.  For this reason we shall allow up to 1 month vacation per calendar year. Beyond 1 month all fees you have registered for are due.

We require that parents read and sign the parent handbook (which will be provided on the first day of school, Jan. 9, 2012), so that everyone knows and is aware of our schools policies.  We will then total the annual tuition for your child, which can be paid in full or broken down into 12 monthly payments, due promptly and in full at the start of each month. Payments can be made by cash, local back check or PayPal.  There will be a 10% discount for multi-children families.

For more information, please contact Julie Speier at

Students at Adventures in Learning had an "Agua de Coco Stand". They learned about fundraising then cut down fresh coconuts from the trees in the yard for their stand.

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