School Days, School Days
Dear old golden rule days
It’s official! Two weeks ago, Q started school. Real school. No longer in kindergarten (the kiwi word for preschool), we have a real school boy. That means a 9 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday kind of routine with morning tea (snack) and lunch to pack and reading homework in the afternoon. It’s all new for us.
In so many ways, it’s the most nostalgic school experience imaginable. Our neighborhood school is on the next block over—just a short walk or scooter through an ally pathway. Kids attend this school from year 1 (kindergarten) through year 8 (7th grade).
Not a cafeteria in sight, students chatter as they eat the morning tea and lunch they’ve brought with them on simple benches under awnings outside their classrooms, which open directly to the outdoors, or put on their sun hats and sit in the grass before hurrying off to play. 30 minutes for morning tea. 45 minutes for lunch.
Jaron and I both confessed to each other just yesterday morning after school drop off that we may have been known to test our own speed on Q’s scooter on the way home. Empty scooter to return home? Wouldn’t you?
The morning scooter ride is fun, but pick up times are simply the best.
As 3:00 pm nears, parents gather on those same benches outside the classrooms. Some push strollers while others share tips on strawberry picking and commiserate on yet another rainy weekend. The kids bound out of the classroom barefoot, dragging backpacks and jerseys behind them. I absolutely cannot wait to see our boy’s great big smile and hear the words, “Hi Mommy!” It’s the best part of every single day.
Then, everyone from our neighborhood walks home in a big stream of independent big kids with muddy legs from playing in the field and little kids with mums and dads in tow, all chattering about the adventures of the day.
For convenience sake, some of our friends from church who live further than walking distance park on our street for school pick up as well. It’s one big community building revelry every afternoon.
All of these things evoke a Leave It to Beaver sense that all is right in our world, but there are some unusual idiosyncrasies about our education situation as well.
Kiwi kids typically start school when they turn 5, no matter when that is in the school year. Then, everyone moves up when the new year starts in February. As it works out, some kids have more time–up to a year and a half of new entrance/year 1 (the American equivalent of kindergarten), while other kids have only 2 1/2 terms or quarters of their first year of school. It’s one of those things that can make your head spin if you didn’t grow up with this system.
Q turned 5 in May. Had he started school then, he would be starting year 2 (1st grade) in February at the ripe old age of 5 years 9 months, having had 3 quarters of year 1 (kindergarten). That’s a wee bit young and there’s no need to rush things if you ask me. This educational philosophy of mine jived perfectly with delaying his school start until we returned from the US. As it stands, he’ll have 5 quarters of year 1 (kindergarten) and start year 2 (1st grade) when he’s almost 7. Sounds like the makings of a great educational foundation if you ask me.
I’m in full on cultural translation mode when it comes to about everything else at school as well. Take these examples:
- Stationary can be purchased through the school. It is generally the same price as the stationary at the store.
I think: That’s nice. They must be encouraging the practice of formal letter writing by selling fun stationary. Or maybe it’s a fundraiser? Great idea, either way. Maybe Q can use it to write a letter to some friends in America.
What it means: Stationary = school supplies. You can purchase your school supplies, which consist primarily of various notebooks (see picture), through the school so you don’t have to hunt for them at the store. Supplies like scissors, pencils, crayons, etc. are all purchased through the additional school fees and shared. This is a socialist education system, after all.
- The notice in the school newsletter said, “Please make sure your child has suitable shoes and clothing for wearing on the field and/or courts for PE, as well as every other day.”
I think: Make sure your child is wearing tennis shoes (not the kind that will mark up the gym floor) and play clothes on PE days.
What it means: No shoes are necessary. Don’t bother sending your child to school with shoes. They just take them off anyway. Kids must wear shorts (not pants) on the field. The rule is “shorts for sports” (Comfort? Mobility? Holes in skin repair more easily than holes in pants?) and they must wear a hat for sun protection. Sunglasses are o.k. too as they protect the eyes.
- Another notice in the newsletter said, “Whanau Hui Agenda as Follows: Karakia, Mihi, Whakawhiriwhiri, Karakia, Kai.”
I think: I would definitely benefit from Maori language school.
What it means: The Maori Curriculum Team held a meeting for families at the school. Family meeting Agenda as Follows: Opening prayer, Introductions, Discussions, Closing Prayer, Food.
All in all, we’re adjusting. There have been relatively minimal tears. And, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t even cry on the first day. In fact, I was feeling quite proud of myself until an older lady in the line behind me at the post office said, “Look at this perfect card I found for my son. It says, ‘I was proud of you the day you were born and I’ve been proud of you every day since. You are a treasure.’ My son is turning 50, and this card says it all!” I smiled and nodded and tried to swallow the sudden lump in my throat and hurried to the counter for my turn. Sheesh. But truly, we are so proud and so grateful that our little guy is becoming a strong, healthy big guy and navigating this new “school days” phase of his third culture kid life so seamlessly.