I do not think it means what you think it means.

27 Nov

The other day youngest’s teacher was (once again) helping me figure out where to put away one of the elements of her school bag.  “Oh don’t worry about it,” she smiled.  “We’re very informal, here.”

I just about died laughing.

Daughter’s winter uniform includes:

  • blue felted hat
  • blue fleece hat
  • blue tights (not the socks, those are for warmer weather)
  • blue tunic (I’d call it a dress or a jumper)
  • blue jumper (I’d call it a sweater)
  • school blazer
  • school coat (must be a school coat)
  • blue fleece gloves
  • blue trainers (I’d call them sweatpants)
  • blue gym shorts (for under the sweatpants)
  • blue sweatshirt (I don’t even know what they call it)
  • blue polo shirt (for under the tunic)
  • gold polo shirt (for under the sweatshirt)
  • plimsols (I don’t even know what these are, some kind of inside shoe for gym?)
  • black school shoes
  • school wellies (boots)
  • uniform bag for books and papers (can NOT be decorated)
  • school bag (can be decorated!)

In the sense that her older siblings’ uniforms also include dozens of different socks and more complicated sports uniforms, I suppose, if you were completely insane, this could be considered informal.  Did I mention that youngest is in Reception, which is equivalent to US pre-K?

Equivalent may be too strong a word.  Reception and pre-K occur at the same age range — other than that, it seems very different.  I’m finding the Reception program is far more academic.  For one thing, it is a full day of school.  Also, daughter has homework — reading and sound-recognition, but still, homework.

Letters are taught (in this school, anyway) using the Jolly Learning Phonics system.  Letters are not taught alphabetically and by name, but rather 42 letter sounds are taught in several non-alphabetic groupings and paired with motions.   Letters are also taught lower case first, which is tricksy for someone who has been learning A, B, C from birth.  So instead of seeing “N” and saying ‘”That’s ‘En’ and En says ‘Nnnnnnn’,”  daughter is meant to see ‘n’ and call it “nnnnnn” while making the motion of a flying airplane (because an airplane goes “nnnnnnn”).  It’s been disconcerting to get notes home saying daughter doesn’t know her letters when, of course, she does — but she doesn’t know the Jolly Phonics system.  “A” is “ants on my arms”?  And “a” is not “ay” but “ah”.  It’s an adjustment, and sadly she is stuck with my flat American accent which is no help at all in figuring out the sound the letters are meant to make during our nightly homework sessions.

Or I may have misunderstood the system entirely.  Since it doesn’t seem to be the English way to let someone know when they are doing something all wrong, except through allusion or metaphor or by ignoring you, I may never know.

There are plenty of similarities between the US and UK early school experiences, of course.  Mothers and fathers feeling frazzled and fraught as they drop off or pick up their children; the sometimes-awkward, sometimes-party atmosphere of waiting for the doors to open at the end of the day; the child who weeps and children who careen like rockets from parent to classmates; the bathroom that smells like pee; the strange discipline systems that leave one head-scratching (at home it was green-yellow-red light, here it is ‘The Cloud’); the cycle of packing snacks and desperate search for clean socks; the happiness of finding a teacher who seems to genuinely like children; the heart-squeezing pride of watching school plays and songs; the anxiety, hope, and love as you watch your child step in to a new world and find her own place.

Daughter seems to thrive.  She totally gets the uniform and she knows where everything goes — from her peg to the seventeen different boxes for the contents of her school bag.  (Okay, not seventeen.  Only five.)  She likes being challenged all the time and enjoys doing well and getting stickers to show off her accomplishments.  Everyday as she leaves class she shakes the teacher’s hand, looks her in the eye and says “Good Afternoon Mrs Smith.”

You know.  Informal.

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15 Responses to “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  1. Karen McCully November 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    From the uniform I’m guessing that this is a private school, and their notions of formality are always going to be a little warped. In the regular schools down in Kent I don’t think we have a school uniform shop anymore as ASDA seems to sell everything for £1.

    When I went to Grammar school the uniform was of the utmost importance and the first day of school each term we were made to kheel on the ground for our hems to be measured, no more than 1″ off the ground allowed.

    Glad you are enjoying the UK

    • Monique November 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

      “ASDA seems to sell everything for £1.” I’m weeping in envy over here. I honestly had no idea what we were in for! We picked the school based on how welcoming they seemed (and are) to international students and the focus on happy children and strong community. No complaints there but still such a culture shock. And yes it’s fair to note this is what I’d call a private school — um, an independent school? Oh, kneeling on the ground to have your hems measured, reminds me of: http://www.shorpy.com/node/1070?size=_original !!

  2. Sarah November 27, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    This is because you chose to have your children go to a PUBLIC school. My children attend a PRIVATE school and it is truly informal. LOL! *wink*

  3. Ruth November 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    As a veteran of British schools, I smiled and nodded the whole way through this.

    • Monique November 27, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

      Yay! I like to make you smile!! =)

  4. Zazzy November 27, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    English as a second language?

    • Monique November 27, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

      Ha! Sometimes I think it is!

  5. georgia November 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    have to agree with sarah there… you only picked one of the poshest schools in one of the poshest towns… ;>

    there’s always wynstones……

  6. Cynthia November 28, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    Oh, I love your description of the wonderful uniforms! At least they have a lovely color of blue to them, and they sound warm and made of cotton & wool… unlike my older dd’s uniform at what we’d call a public school, which was horrible and polyester, cold in winter and stifling in summer, and no cold-weather gear allowed. Seriously.

    And it sounds like your daughter is thriving, learning all the details and enjoying knowing all the bits that you don’t – which is a goodly part of the attraction of it all. Just keep explaining to the teachers that she’s not had their system before but you’re sure she’ll pick it up quickly and all will be well. You may not realize it yet but the playground games are mostly different to the ones here too, so your children are learning new group games during their (probably 3 per day?) outdoor recess as well. This is truly the way to raise multi-cultural children. Enjoy it!

    • Monique November 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

      The tunic/blazers are very polyester blend, but at least that means I can wash them at home. No cold-weather gear??? That is horrible, and it was so much colder where you were, too! You are right, I would so much rather that they have uniform hats and gloves than none. Wow.

      Yes, the playground games have been an issue for the older kids … indeed the adjustment overall has been more complex for the older kids. Perhaps it’s easier in Reception, when everyone is new and learning their way around, anyway.

  7. Venus November 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    Wow! I had no idea… that style of schooling seems somewhat “inconceivable” to me. 🙂 But, it sounds like your little one is thriving anyway, and that’s what’s important. Kids are so much more adaptable than we parents tend to be, eh?

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