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from Mongolia to school in Minnesota

"Since we are coming home to Cass Lake soon, I’ve put a lot of thought into how our lives will change, and especially for our two children, how school will be different for them. I homeschooled our girls until the oldest was in fifth grade and the youngest in first. At that time I got a job teaching at the International School of Ulaanbaatar, and they got their first taste of a “real” classroom, though it was hardly typical." go to Global Mothering

Schooling is a transfixing subject. It is expected that we want our children to read and write, to make their way in the world in a manner that will allow them to provide for their families and afford good health and emotional satisfaction. It used to be that a few years of schooling was enough to provide the basic social and business fluency. Now, there are many types of schools, many different models of learning development and government intervention or support. For parents raising their children in a foreign country, chances are that up until school age they felt relatively autonomous, making their choices for food, language, medical care, friends, within a relatively easily comprehended framework of neighbors and work. At some point, the issue of school arrives. Whether that is at 6 months, for mothers who are forced to place their babies in day care to work for others. Or at 3 years, as in Germany when it is expected that children attend Kindergarten, or at the time of the regular school age enrollment.  


Schools around the world share certain things and are also vastly different! Contribute your experiences to Motherlands.

This varies by country, from 4 years in England to 7 years in Scandinavia and until recently Germany.  At some point, the 'outside' world comes crashing through the gates in the form of teachers, tests and cultural expectations.  And at that point, every parent will be forced to take a stance about the majority language and the cultural methods their children are required to learn.

Here is a truly right-on-the-mark lecture about education, with some great laughs and a lovely British accent


The right age to start school

Here is an approach to school readiness I've come to know in Germany:

A child is probably ready for school when he can: cross-lateral skip (swinging opposite arm with opposite leg), jump rope, sit still in a chair and pay attention for 20 minutes, balance on one foot with arms outstretched in front, palms up, eyes closed, for 10 seconds, reproduce geometric shapes on paper from feeling the figure someone has drawn on his back, draw a person no longer in stick form, with all fingers, dressed in clothes.

A child is probably NOT ready for school when: his mouth/tongue move with his fingers when writing, he has difficulty sitting and focusing, has a strong need to move, has difficulty tracking and converging with his eyes, has a tense or fisted pencil grip, his drawings are stick-like, he has a hard time catching a ball. [View source ]

from Johnson, Susan, MD, "How Our Educational System is Contributing to Attentional and Learning Difficulties in Children"

boy writing by Penelope H. Bevan

"I was watching one of my second-grade girls try unsuccessfully to tie her shoes the other day, and I thought, "This is a person who is supposed to be learning plural possessives?" I think not. We've just finished test time again in the schools of California. The mad frenzy of testing infects everyone from second grade through high school. Because of the rigors and threats of No Child Left Behind, schools are desperate to increase their scores. As the requirements become more stringent, we have completely lost sight of the children taking these tests. For 30 years as a teacher of primary kids, I have operated on the Any Fool Can See principle. And any fool can see that the spread between what is developmentally appropriate for 7- and 8-year-old children and what is demanded of them on these tests is widening. A lot of what used to be in the first-grade curriculum is now taught in kindergarten. Is your 5-year-old stressed out? Perhaps this is why." go to the San Francisco Chronicle

People need to be more thoughtful and better informed than ever before. This means education is more important than ever before. Oxford philanthropist James Martin wrote about climate change and the Sisyphean task of capping pollution: "We have reached a time when the understanding of science is vital for our existence. A major concern today is that powerful voices with no knowledge of science often make themselves heard much louder than scientists. Many scientists avoid the public stage. Most politicians haven’t a clue about science. This is a time on Earth when we desperately need to get our act together, but it is an age of dangerous misinformation. Highly skilled PR organisations earn a fortune by persuading the public of anything that will increase the profits of the corporations that hire them. Strong and urgent actions are needed to slow down climate destabilisation, but clean energy would lower the profits of the coal industry. Such PR ought to called ‘PM’ – Public Misinformation. PM copywriters are highly paid."go to Oxford Today


The Middle-Eastern Teen Scene

by Mahnoor S., Islamabad

"School is a whole different ballgame here. For one, our teachers do not give detentions. Also, there is no designated lunch time. Hence there are no “cool” or “dorky” lunch tables. You just grab a bite to eat whenever you can. Third, we have no mascots or (gasp) cheerleaders. There are some groups of people who hate other groups of people, but the worst that happens is generally a cold war.

On the downside, our yearly grade isn't based on a series of exams throughout the year. To be sure, we have tests and midterms, but they don't count toward our final grade. That hinges on one big exam at the end of the year that's created by Cambridge University in England." read whole article on Teen Ink


People need a better understanding of nature (one aspect of which is 'science'), but along with a better understanding of history and literature. And none of this 'better understanding' needs to start in pre-school as the following example: "25 children from the age of 8 weeks will be cared for weekdays from 8am to 6pm on the campus of the Bucerius Law School [in Hamburg, Germany]. Four full-time teachers and assistants will be available. The well-rounded education encompasses scientific and artful-aesthetic learning. Our care is bilingual, with music and movement belonging to the full-time program." How relevant is this when dealing with 8-week-old infants or 1-year-olds just wobblingly learning to walk? [view source]

A good example of mainstream reporting that, though illuminating part of the story, shows how an emphasis on statistics can mislead audiences away from asking the right questions is "Your Child Left Behind" in the Atlantic. The story reports on how low the US education system scores compared to other countries. It describes a hypothetical, presumably corporate, recruiter looking "specifically at the best and brightest" … "the kids most likely to get good jobs in the future—using scores on standardized math tests as a proxy for educational achievement". Consequently, percentage of students performing at the advanced level in math proficiency" becomes synonymous with being the best and brightest potential job recruits. go to the Atlantic

It may not feel as if we have choices sometimes, but there will be very few jobs which do not allow us to take time off (even if it means calling in sick) to bring our children to school on the first day and not, as in this article, give the moment to the nanny.

Nanny bringing a child to the first day of school?

"The first day of school can still be a memorable experience for children and parents, even if mom and dad aren't the ones to drop them off in the morning. For some children it is a simple fact of life; instead of sharing all of their special moments with mom and dad, they share them with their nanny.

If parents have work that forces them to be out of the house and without their children at special occasions, they can still ensure that the kids know that they love them and care about their milestones.

The first day of school is, for some children, one of these momentous occasions. Particularly for students starting kindergarten or grade 1 or for kids starting at a new school." go to Suite101

Two modern styles: Waldorf and Montessori

Teaching style: Montessori believes in following the child. So the child chooses what he wants to learn and the teacher guides the learning. Waldorf uses a teacher-directed approach in the classroom.

Spirituality: Montessori has no set spirituality per se. Waldorf incorporates the myths and stories of saints and the Bible in its early years to illustrate cultural and social values.

Learning Activities: Montessori and Waldorf recognize a child's need for rhythm and order in his daily routine, but support this in different ways. Montessori felt that children shouldn't just play but should play with toys which will teach them concepts. Montessori schools use Montessori designed and approved toys. Waldorf education encourages the child to create his own toys from materials which happen to be at hand. Waldorf posits that using the imagination is the child's most important 'work' in the early years.

Both Montessori and Waldorf use curricula which are developmentally appropriate. Both approaches believe in a hands on as well as an intellectual approach to learning. Both approaches also work in multi-year cycles when it comes to child development. Montessori uses six year cycles. Waldorf works in seven year cycles.

click here for more on Waldorf and Montessori.

Both Montessori and Waldorf have a strong sense of societal reform built into their teaching. They believe in developing the whole child, teaching it to think for itself and, above all, showing it how to avoid violence and build a better world for the future.

Montessori and Waldorf use non-traditional methods of assessments. Testing and grading are not part of either methodology.

TV and DVDs are not popular in Montessori and Waldorf circles. Both want children to develop their imaginations. Watching TV gives children something to copy, not to create. Waldorf tends to place a premium on fantasy or imagination in the early years even to the point where reading is delayed somewhat.

The only way you will know for sure which approach is best for you is to visit the schools and observe a class or two. Speak with the teachers and director. Ask questions about allowing your children to watch TV and when and how children learn to read. There will be some parts of each philosophy and approach with which you will probably disagree. Schools in both traditions will also vary greatly depending on location and type of parents and teachers' philosophy. [View source]



Mindfulness - a tool for today's chaotic schools

Watching these teachers, I get a sense of what life must be like in today's public school classrooms, and how grateful they are to learn a new tool for helping children calm down and raise their 'frustration tolerance' level (as one teacher put it kindly).


Interested in more? Here are other articles:
Waldorf Pakistan
Montessori Mongolia
Middle East England
child development

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