Giving homeschoolers a good name, and You Can Too!

If that sounds like an offer you can’t refuse — it is! But first a story. ***** Along with all the difficult moments of starting school in another language and culture there are some bright spots and some surprises. In Artemis’ science class the teacher has been reviewing some basic biology facts, but it turns out they are not so basic. In one instance she asked the class which were the Five Kingdoms of Living Things. Plants and Animals everybody knew. With some prodding she got someone to come up with bacteria – the Monera Kingdom. But no one knew the other two – except, you guessed it: Artemis!  The Kingdoms Protista and Fungi, of course! Then, next class while discussing Fungi, who alone knew that besides mushrooms and toadstools, yeast is another very important kind of fungi?  Yes! You are right again: Artemis! Five_king After class her teacher stopped her to ask if she had taken a lot of biology last year. “Well…” says Artemis slowly, “we did have a science coop with some friends last year, and we went over a lot of this stuff.” “Ah, yes, because you did school at home?” The teacher has heard about our homeschooling ahead of time, apparently. “Yes, and well… My mom and another friend made up a bunch of songs to help us remember science facts. That’s why I know them.” “Really!” exclaims the interested teacher. “Just for you and your friends?” “Well, actually they made a CD that should be coming out sometime very soon.” The teacher exclaims some more and professes interest in having a copy of the CD when it is ready. WELL, PEOPLE, IT’S ALMOST READY!!! ***** It’s true! And here you thought I was just sitting around communing with the cows and making hot meals for everybody. No way! I, and my scientifically musical partner Julie, are scientifically musical recording artists! This was actually a project that came together just before we left the States. It’s been in production since, and while I always meant to tell you about it, now I think it’s better this way, anyway, because now it’s almost ready! I can create excitement in the market! So if you would like you and your kids, homeschooled or no, to effortlessly learn the names of the planets, the five requirements for life, the continents and oceans, the five kingdoms of living things, kinds of rocks, the classification system, the families of vertebrates and Much Much More, you need to get our CD! It is called All Around Us – Singing Science, and when the moment has definitely arrived when they are available for purchase, I will tell you here how to get your copy. I could continue, and tell you how when we went to see nearby dinosaur prints last weekend, all of my kids knew without a doubt that those prints were embedded in SEDIMENTARY ROCK! but that is another post. Until then, watch this space and get ready to sing!

Do you speak soccer?

er….I mean football? Making new acquaintances has been difficult for the children. Not by any means discounting the inclusive group of girls in Athena’s class, our kids are now in that peculiar stage in between making new acquaintances and making friends. Now matter how inclusive they are, you are still the new kid amongst a small group that has been together for from five to nine years and you don’t really always understand what they are saying. We try to do our part, like giving Artemis and three classmates a ride back from the pool this morning so they wouldn’t have to walk in the rain. Or buying an inordinate number of overpriced chocolates from Athena and her classmates for the Swiss Historic Foundation. I even kept a lid on it and did not share my personal thoughts on making captive public schoolchildren do your fundraising  dirty work. Just smiled and opened the wallet.  But still, it’s tough and awkward when you can’t express yourself. When you are trapped behind words that won’t appear on your tongue. Or maybe they do appear and you are brave and try them out and still no one understands what you are trying to say. Or worse they make fun of what you say. I am grateful at least that I know what it feels like and can commiserate. Who is having the hardest time depends on the day, but at the beginning Apollo was definitely in a funk. He is at an age where the concept of being from somewhere else and speaking a different language and yet still being a person worth knowing has yet to enter the group consciousness. (Artemis has a different story: the girls with who she rides the train think it is just so exciting that she is from Seattle, where Microsoft is, where Bella from Twilight went shopping!! ooo la la!! But, they wonder, do we like living in a house here? Don’t all Americans live in apartment buildings?) I got the impression that the other kids in Apollo’s class just didn’t know what to do with him, and he, feeling awkward, responded somewhat sullenly to the overtures which were made, which led to more awkwardness and frustration. Arg! And this was before one of the kids started calling him Teacher’s Pet every time her back was turned (new vocabulary: “chou chou” – now you know.) Apollo is also a boy, and boys need to do stuff. Girls, if they have the right vocabulary, can make friends talking over the various merits of different kinds of candy wrappers, but boys need an activity upon which to base their relationship. So good heavens, praises be for soccer…or rather, football, or better yet le football. The first week when Apollo was feeling very low, Zeus took the boys to the playground, and then who should they see arriving for practice but the soccer team! Zeus had just that day been trying to find out information about it, so he ran over and talked to the coach who was very accommodating. It was only their second practice of the year and most of the team hadn’t made it to the first. So my boys zipped home (about 2 minutes away), changed into soccer duds and cleats (brought from the USA for such a time as this), and zipped back for Apollo’s first practice. Here it is – he is in green on the right. This picture also tells another story. I keep telling you how close we are to the French border. Here you can see: the soccer field is in Switzerland, the corn field is in Switzerland, and the houses are in France. soccer practice After that practice one of the other boys kept saying, within in our hearing, and about Apollo, “Il est fort, eh? Il est fort!” He’s really good, huh?! He’s really good!  I don’t know whether or not he really was, but I so appreciated this boy’s saying so. Made me want to kiss him on the nose. (but I didn’t) The following Saturday was the team’s first game. It was very hot and Apollo was exhausted from a week of school in French, but he did alright. Hurray for soccer where it doesn’t matter if you don’t say a lot – just have to work to get the ball into the net. IMG_0164 After that game the coach remembered that Apollo really is not allowed to play an an official game without his “soccer license.” No joke, we had to get a passport sized photo of him and send in a form to some high authority, and now we are awaiting his “license.” Wouldn’t want to kick that ball without a license now, would we?! IMG_0169 The practices are long – two hours on Wednesday afternoon, but only once a week, except for this week when there are two. I don’t know why. However, the practice field is about a 7 minute walk – an under 5 minute scooter ride. So Apollo can scoot himself over there on his own. He scoots home more slowly two hours later, exhausted and famished, stumbling into the kitchen and immediately inhaling anything in sight that’s edible. But it’s worth it; he is a part of something and he belongs to a team. 

L’ecole – Week Three

I was going to post on Monday that we were starting week three of school, and now suddenly today is Friday and we are nearly at the end of it! We’ve been working mostly on survival. I am happy to say that my homeschool mom career is far from over – or I can say, at least, that it has morphed into super-hands-on-homework-helper mom: translating, explaining, figuring out: here’s how you say ‘direct object’ in French; when you have a direct object in German it takes the Akkusativ case;  here you must plot these points on x,y axes and then color the ensuing picture, Yes, I believe 47 is a prime number; conjugate the verb ‘etre’; here’s how to say ‘crustacean’ in French; Latin? – who knows, you’re on your own. Good grief! My head spinneth. I am glad to say though, that yesterday was a pretty good day. I cannot say that there were no tears, because I have just had a confession that there were some upon awakening. But everyone made it through the day in decent spirits and didn’t have as much of that hit-by-Mack-truck look about them that they have had. Maybe, just maybe, we are finding the first inkling of a system in the midst of the big, tiring mess of school. They don’t really like it, but at least they are finding it. Or maybe they are just learning to be stoic. One of the biggest challenges is logistics. If Artemis leaves the house by 7:25 she can catch the 7:36 train and have time to lock her bike. She arrives back in the village for lunch on the train at 12:21, and if she hasn’t appeared at the house by 12:27 we’ve agreed that I’ll go drive and look for her, because she’s got to be back on the return bus which leaves at 12:59. If I drive her, we can leave the house at 12:53. If she’s biking, she’d better leave by 12:50. And it goes on and on — times four! We’ve got things worked out to the minute, and I’ve become a chronic watch checker. Now this is quite ironic, to which anyone who knows me well can attest. I’ve always been a believer in a healthy cushion of about 10 minutes either way. Which makes me often late, but hey, if you are 10 minutes late to my house, that’s fine too! Hope you feel the same way! 10 minutes doesn’t really show up on my radar! Until now. One day in the first week of this, as I sat with the kids around the table trying to work out the logistics and feeling my head starting to burn, one of them exclaimed, “Now we know how Papa got the way he is!” It’s an interesting thought: are Swiss people naturally punctual or are they forced to develop that way because of The System? In any event it is good for me, because I’ve been convicted the past few years of the annoyance my lateness may cause in my social circle. I really do believe that chronic lateness is the theft of other people’s time, and I want to change. So like Puddleglum I am thinking that these are the just the chaps to get me to take a serious view on life. My, will my acquaintances back home ever be surprised! We’ve got time for exactly three more inhalations of air and then I’ve got to scoot! On a completely other note, today I biked to France! Because I could! In the exactly 105 minutes that Hermes was at preschool, I hopped on a bike and rode to the pedestrian/bicycle border crossing. It took about 5 minutes. No one was there – just surveillance cameras – and so I crossed unencumbered. It’s the same small town where we often go grocery shopping; I was there by car this morning in fact; I had just never gone on a bicycle. I did not take my camera, so no pictures this time. It’s a sweet small French town complete with remains of medieval ramparts as well as examples of unfortunate French architecture of the 1970s. But a nice looking cafe in a town square where I shall return someday for coffee. It would be nice to bike there with a friend. Anyone? On another note, amidst the travails of the school start and life in general, we have been greatly encouraged by our visits with friends and family via Skype and similar media. It’s not quite like being in the same room, and yet it is so much more like it than a phone call. You can make silly faces, for one thing. Last night, as I was preparing dinner, we got a video call from Uncle Chip who after giving greetings, put on a puppet show for Hermes and kept him occupied while I put things on the table. Then we sat down to eat and put the “him” (the laptop) up on the microwave where he could be at the head of the table. Then Uncle Chip said grace for us and drank his morning coffee while we ate our dinner of soup and salad. Skypeing always makes me think of the Jetsons. We are video-calling like George Jetson! The future is now! How grateful I am for the technology that make it possible, that makes sharing our life via this blog possible, that makes your comments and encouragements possible, that makes us feel not quite so lonely, and our loved ones, though far away, not feel quite so far away. I want a life that’s got the best of all worlds, old and new: high on electronic communication, low on mindless internet drivel; high on handmade art, but also high on digital photography and photo sharing; homegrown food, but a big fridge and a good dishwasher; travelling to see the world, but being able to walk to school. I feel very blessed; I feel like I get a lot of what I want.

They Survived!

Yes they did! IMG_0101 Artemis with a bit of residual deer expression in front of  College Thurmann in Porrentruy. She had to be there at 8:10 a.m. It was very rainy. Notice how far away we are from the door and the other kids – wouldn’t want to be the dorky mom taking a photo. Parents were invited to join the students for the welcome meeting. Then the different class teachers came to the front, student names were called and then they all left in a clump, while the parents stuck around to ask questions and go on a tour of the school. Of the seven home-room teachers for her grade, two of them greeted each student with a handshake and an open gaze straight in their eyes. Artemis’ teacher, Madame Quelquechose was one of them. I liked her immediately. At the end of her day, Artemis managed the train home, and when I picked her up at the village train station she wore a big grin and was pleased at having figured it all out. 1:30 Monday it was time for Athena and Apollo. Their first school day was only an hour and a half in the afternoon, which seemed like not very much for all the dread that had preceded. But we walked them down and helped them each find their coat hook and classroom.  IMG_0102 IMG_0103 In front of the village school. When I picked them up an hour and a half later, they seemed a little dazed but okay. Athena even was walking out chatting with another girl from her class. This morning when we walked across the playground, I recognized the group of 6th grade girls headed out away from the school. It took me a little while to realize that they were headed for us – they had come to greet their new classmate. They whisked her off merrily with them, and I almost cried for joy at their sweetness. After I walked them inside, wished the teacher a good day and left the school, I really did cry a little. For the last three years, I’ve been my kids’ teacher and responsible for their education. We spent our days together as a family. In that moment it felt like I had given up my identity. I know that it is for a season, and that I am still their mama and that there is a little relief mixed in there too at the weight of some of the responsibility being lifted. But still, that feeling in that moment was overwhelming. But, no time to be pensive! At 11:30 they have their lunch break and come home. And did this mama have their hot lunch all ready to go? Yes, she did, thanks for asking! Thai curry, too, yum. Then time for clean-up and a little lego playing. Then at 1:30 they went back until 3. IMG_0114 This is Day 2, walking to school. IMG_0118 Apollo sporting his new soccer ball slippers! In Switzerland, you wear slippers to school! You leave them at school, and there is a place to change out of your dirty shoes and into before class. Those shiny clean floors stay shiny and clean. But honestly, I don’t know how the children learn in slippers. I don’t think I could. When I put slippers on, my brain goes flopsy – time to relax. IMG_0123 This afternoon, it was Hermes’ turn. Yesterday he was quite miffed that his school didn’t start until today, and today he couldn’t wait until after lunch. IMG_0124 Hermes has slippers too. IMG_0129 At 3:15, out came a parade of preschoolers, all wearing new reflective thingabobs for safety. He’ll goes back tomorrow morning. Tonight everyone is tired – me too – and feelings are all over the map. One is nearly giddy with mentally categorizing tomorrow’s classes and the people who she met today who may well be in tomorrow’s math class. One was quite discouraged at the long school day and feeling behind and classmates who were taking a little while to warm up. And Athena is almost perplexed at the friendliness of the girls in her class. At every turn they make sure she has understood what to do and has the right pencil to do it with. That girl has spent her life reading books about kids who are unkind to the new kid in school – Anne of Green Gables, By the Banks of Plum Creek, Bridge to Terebithia – I think she must have geared herself up for that. But these girls are nothing like that! Well, praise God, I say! Let us hope that is a foretaste of the year to come.

School Starts Tomorrow

Nerves are running a little high this evening. I just gave another round of kisses to children who should be sleeping by now but are very wakeful. Bangs have been trimmed, outfits have been laid out, logistical plans for the day have been gone over. Many prayers have been said.They are scared and nervous. I would be too. Actually, I am too, on their behalf. They are understandably anxious about beginning school not only in an unfamiliar school with new kids and a new town, but in a new language. Not entirely new, granted, but it’s never before been their main language of education. There’s a lot of missing vocabulary – how exactly do you say #2 pencil in French? Apollo is particularly concerned because, as he rightly points out, he’s never really even been in a real school just homeschooled. I’ve tried to encourage them: Courage is just Fear that has said its prayers. Sometimes I wonder at my own year abroad that began all this business. I somehow worked up the guts to do a year of university in another language, especially amazing since my French at the time really wasn’t very good. (Which is why I had to find a private tutor, HA!) Seriously though, I recall that panicky feeling the week before classes began, when all of us study abroad students fretted and fumed and tried to find classes together. I remember a lot of not sleeping at the beginning of that year and feelings of deep seated dread. But it was, in the end, one of the most wonderful and formative years of my life. It changed it and formed it for the better, at some point French phrases started coming out of my mouth, and I am still hangin’ with that ol’ Swiss boyfriend. Obviously, my kids’ own lives were shaped by that year as well. So, I tell them, the things with the most fear attached are usually the things with the biggest payoff. Feel the fear, say your prayers, take a deep breath and jump in that pool. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, of power and of self control. Amen?Now then, what should I wear tomorrow?