Homeschooling on a budget: Minimum Input, Maximum Benefit

So I am about five months into homeschooling my two little girls: P, now 5.5 and C nearly 3.5. It’s actually been much less since I embrace the international school holidays, of which there are many. In addition, I had a rather stressed and horrid start for a number of reasons I won’t go into now.

Most of the time, I feel I haven’t really started yet. Especially when I am trying to finalise my ‘goals’ for each girl -and here’s a chance to give a shout-out to a most impressive Mama and homeschooler Jody from Mud Hut Mama for providing so much help.

Friends will say I am being too hard on myself. I am sure they are right to an extent. And then maybe not. There are not many days I’ve actually planned stuff ahead. It seems that whenever I do, we go off track. Overall, I’ve just been enjoying time with the girls and often letting them play. But every so often, a little gem presents itself to me. I got lucky today.

If you walk into any toy store or mega market, you will find a number of shape sorting toys. You can opt for cheap and cheerful plastic ones or the posher, tree hugging (that’s usually me) wooden versions. In the end, I’ve noticed it’s almost always the parents guiding the kids. And if feels like a rather futile exercise.

So today, once again I am focusing on life skills (aka fobbing off my homeschooling duties) and by that I mean: help me put away the dishes, brush your hair, your teeth get dressed by yourself, etc., in the hopes we would make it out the door in time for this amazing Friday art class a fellow homeschooler organised at Attic Studios.  Unfortunately the Bangkok protests made it impossible for us to get to the class leaving me with nothing planned as usual.

As I walked back in the house, closing the door covered in Halloween stickers and dropped my bag by the fully decorated Christmas tree, I looked upon the red Chinese Lantern waiting to be hung and realised I could no longer postpone taking down end of 2013 holiday decorations any longer.

While the kids sorted the decorations, It dawned on me that I had a sorting/classification activity before my eyes. There were several groups: salt-dough decorations –from a burst of Pinterest parenting from Christmas 2012, which looked more like the ‘I nailed it’ meme than actual decorations– fragile Mexican figurines, wooden decorations and then the subdividing of my favorites: the traditional swedish straw decorations.

I felt rather chuffed about this and, as I went to take a picture for this post, I noticed that the girls’ morning chore of putting away their clean dishes and my cutlery could also qualify. 

So here you go: a cheap and, in my opinion more important, useful way to teach your kids classifications. Because really, I always try to stick the pentagon in the hexagon slot so why would I expect my 3 year old to get it right.



p.s. Notice how I lump shape sorting/grouping/classification all into one group. I figure they are close cousins and must be developing similar cognitive skills, whatever those may be. #whinging it.

p.p.s. I can’t believe I just hash-tagged within a post. It’s official, I have no shame. 

The 007 Family Part 2: Minority Language and School Choices

In Part II, Mama007 takes us through the German education system, the language approach they now take at home (hint, not OPOL) and the choices they’ve had to make when it comes to picking schools. For those of you who missed part one, click here!


Part II: Growing up bilingual in Berlin

Our four-year-old son had to pass his entering exam for elementary school last week. I mean: he is four, FOUR years old. And the German school system already has its claws on him.

And here is why: Germany is a federal state and all its sixteen federal states have their own school regulations and even their own university systems to become a teacher. Basically, there is the same school system all over Germany: after kindergarten and elementary, you are split up. If you are really clever, you get on to Secondary School (called Gymnasium) which means that you will be able to enter University afterwards, if you like. If you are not so clever, then there are two other school types that offer you the possibility to get into a profession afterwards, but you will possibly never end up at university. And this basic system has its own facets in every federal state.

This said, I have to admit that we never much cared about what awaited us and our son when the time for school would have come. There was so much to do and learn with a child that school was on low on our list. But now, this chaotic German school system is awaiting our four-year-old son, who is growing up with a bilingual German-Spanish background.

Languages at home:

We speak Spanish at home because my husband is a native speaker and I speak it fluently too, but when I am alone with my son we speak in German. His Kindergarten is German-speaking, as the alternative would have been to stay at home until he could attend the only option  Spanish Kindergarten which takes kids from the age of THREE! Sorry, but we have to earn money too. We also wouldn’t change him just for the language. He has been at his nursery since his first birthday. I mean – what’s the point of changing the child, taking him from his friends and everything just so he can attend a Spanish-speaking Kindergarten? This was out of question for us. Right now, he speaks Spanish with his father when he likes to. He understands everything and his German is also just great.

Schools, Admissions and Test Prep:

On his third birthday, I was first confronted with the German school system. One of his best friends was moved to another Kindergarten because she will attend a private school for which a special private Kindergarten between age 3 and 6 is a pre-requisite. Okay, so that was that friend gone. The next year after that, I heard a lot about preparations bilingual parents from his group were giving to their children: language vacations, prolonged stays with their French/Spanish/ African relatives, special language courses for children in the respective language. And let´s be frank: we are talking about three and four-year-old kids. When I asked the parents, I was told that they did all this because they wanted their children to attend bilingual elementary schools in two or three years.

Bilingual elementary schools are a specialty of Berlin. Berlin demands that you send your child to school at age five. There are almost no exceptions to this rule. If you like, you may choose a bilingual school, there are more than twenty of them: German/ English, French, Spanish, but also Turkish, Greek or Vietnamese. The classes are held in both languages and in most schools the child leaves with a special language certificate, which makes it easier to get into a bilingual Gymnasium. The thing is: your child has to pass the test. Which test? The bilingual German/ whatever-language-you-choose-test. Obviously, we looked up if there was a German/Spanish school near our home. There was. So what test has our son to pass to get into this school? No one knows, but everybody suspects.

The other parents were sure that the test was vital, super important and had to be prepared extensively, hence all the vacations, courses and the like. But really, nobody knew what the test consisted of and the schools won’ t tell. So you are left completely alone, relying on information from other parents with children who have passed the test last year or the year before. And this information is doubtful at best because NO parent is allowed to be present at the test. Its only your child and two teachers. That’s it. That’s what we were informed.

So, as there was no information about the test, we prepared our son only a little. We talked more Spanish, we told him that his future teachers would like to get to know him but that they speak only Spanish so he had to respond in Spanish. But we did no courses and no extra vacations. We just hoped that he would do the same as at home: speak and be himself.

The Big Day: taking the test!

Last week the big moment had arrived. They took our son inside a room, he is not even five years old, and asked him questions in and Spanish about visiting a piscina. Is there no other possibility? Has it to be a nearly elitist activity as swimming? What about children whose parents don t have money to got swimming with them? Why not pick anything normal as shopping groceries or going to the park? We live in a flat; there is no pool. Nor do we know anybody who has one. We have not gone to a piscina until now because there are so many other activities: climbing, cooking, reading. But the school decided that every child interviewed had to have knowledge about swimming. I don’t get it….

When they were finished the teachers came out and told us that it was over, and the result would be available in six months and they were not allowed to tell us anything about the test and how our son had done. We phoned other parents, the French-speaking, the Spanish-speaking. Some children had failed. Some had resisted to speak to a complete stranger without their parents. Some were able to communicate but couldn´t form complete sentences with grammatically correct conjugated verbs in their second language. And were thus criticized or failed. And all of them were treated like we were: in a cold, impersonal manner. One teacher even told us that our son was “still small”. What does that mean? The federal state Berlin urges me to put my child NOW into school. Now, at age five. Which means, that he has to pass his exam at age four. Yes, he is small, but there is no real alternative and anyway: shouldn’t the teachers be prepared for small children if they teach at elementary school?

I was so upset. And felt helpless. If we want our child to attend this school we have to do all this. But we resolved to be patient and made a reservation at another elementary school. If he can´t get into this bilingual school, then they will accept him and he will go to a nice, friendly school just around our corner. And everyone there speaks: German. I wouldn´t mind that.