Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Friday marks the end of Term 2 at the girls' school. Reports (report cards) will be sent home. Then we will enjoy a full two weeks off (school holidays) before the beginning of Term 3 on July 21st. Having a full term of the Kiwi education system under our belts, it made me reflect and appreciate the many differences between the two school systems, both for the girls and for myself.

For starters, the school day begins at 9am here. It started at 8:30 at home, and you wouldn't think that 30 minutes would make such a huge difference, but it does. I used to do morning playground supervision at our old school, so we had to be there at 8:10. To drive to school in morning traffic, park, and walk in it took us 20-25 minutes. Getting ready for school used to be a scramble, where I often felt like I was yelling at my kids to hurry up all morning, then trying to make it up to them by listening to music or being silly in the car all the while driving as fast as I could to get there in time.

Now, we have a leisurely 10 minute walk to school. Sometimes we freeze. Sometimes we get rained on. But we always get good exercise, fresh air, and 10 peaceful minutes to be together before we go our separate ways and begin our days. Our walks to and from school are my favorite times of my day and when it's just too wet out (think horizontal sheets of rain and hurricane winds) and I have to drive us, my mornings just don't feel the same.

Once inside school, there are even more differences. For one, back at home much of my girls' work was done in workbooks. They had several colorful workbooks for the various subjects, and the girls did a lot of filling in the blanks. Here, at the beginning of the year, we went school supply shopping and purchased several blank notebooks of varying layouts, as proscribed to us by their teachers.

At my conference with Haley's teacher, we purused these notebooks, viewing page after page of Haley's writing, both words and numbers. I don't think I have ever seen this much of my children's writing all in one place. Her teacher said she asked Haley early on if it was done this way at school and Haley said no, they had workbooks. She seemed very surprised at this, and put the question to me as if surely Haley had been mistaken.

I like this way of doing things. For one, I think it's less wasteful of resources. Don't get me wrong, I don't think they do it this way because it's cheaper and they couldn't afford to make workbooks for each child. As Haley's teacher pointed out, having the children write out the problems for themselves gives them further opportunity to practice their writing. Another benefit is that it is not standardized, so the work can easily be adjusted to the needs of the individual child, or small groups of children. Haley's class is a mix of ages and levels, as young as age 7, and as old as 9 and ranging in levels.

Something else that has changed our lives indubitably, has to be the homework. If you know me at all, you know my on-going frustration and discontent for the way we did this at our old school. Like I've said before, I love our old school, and miss it very much. But this is an area where education in America is really getting it wrong. The homework here is technically non-compulsive. That said, the expectation is that the student will read at home daily, and memorize their hand-picked, personalized list of spelling words. And unlike at home, if you spell a word incorrectly at the end of the week, guess what? It's going on your list for the week after. This is something so simple that has boggled my mind for years. In all my girls' years at school in the States, only one teacher ever did any retraining after the test to make sure that the student ultimately learned to spell ALL the words on their list.

The homework situation here has completely changed our lives. Homework is not a drudgery. The girls have a variety of games and puzzles to choose from to learn their spelling words or practice their maths. They don't feel defeated or crushed under the weight of a mountain of work they have to do at the end of an already long day at school. And amazingly, my girls seem to be doing much harder maths and spelling than at home and performing better on their tests. The whole system here has made for a much more harmonious home. The girls have time to cook with me every night, or do artwork or read. And at the end of our meals, we all do the dishes together, a chore I never would have dreamed of having them do at home because I felt so sorry for them and they needed a much deserved break after all the homework they had done.

I just looked back and realized this has become a monster post, and I haven't even gotten to what the changes in school have meant for me. Very quickly, I'll let you know that they do not need all the volunteers here that we needed at home. Teachers get aides if they need them, and there is actually funding for this. When I've volunteered for things here, I've actually been turned down because there were so many offers! This means I have way too much time on my hands. So, for this next term, I will start as a teacher's aide at the school, assisting a 7-year old boy in the classroom next to Haley's. This job will fit into our lives perfectly as I will work during the school day and be off for school holidays. It should be a challenging new experience for me. Wish me luck!


Dr. Cathy Ezrailson said...

Great, Joanne. I predict that you will have a great time and find it a rewarding endeavor. I am so glad for the girls, for you and Steve that the pace of life there has been refreshing and uplifting.
Miss you but think about you, daily.

MLW said...

Ahh, harmony.
That we should all be so lucky as to find this balance.
Good for all of you.
I couldn't be happier or love you all more.
I hope you have many warm winter nights of fun together with this new relaxed schedule.

Sarah said...

Just wanted to say I like your blog and came across it today. I've been living here for ten year's (from the UK) and my oldest daughter has just started school here. It's really great to hear you positive comments about schooling here as I'm in the process of 'letting go'... I have absolute confidence in our local school and have been so impressed with the warm welcome, genuine care and community spirit. They seem to do everything possible to make schooling an exciting, happy time, where the individual is really given a chance to flourish.