Saturday, April 04, 2009

What a Week!

My Sunday night prediction wasn't wrong; there were a "few things" that made this week busy, much more busy than normal. Here I sit on Saturday afternoon, tired out and wondering where all the time went!

The week started with some big changes for Clara Anne. For quite some time now we have been sensitively evaluating whether Clara Anne's kindergarten was the right place for her. More and more, we began to realize what kind of an environment she was in each day, and here was the picture we were getting: her class was doing a lot of sitting and listening, a lot of classroom time, a LOT of memorization of ancient poems (that make no sense in modern vocabulary, but are used just to exercise the memory), and the whole approach was VERY heavy on language. Initially this seemed ok--after all, we are trying to get her to learn this language. However, the goal of the kindergarten was not basic, simple, survival language; their goal was to be systematically teaching more and more characters in order to have six year olds be able to read 3,000 characters. In March they studied almost 100 new characters (not basic ones, either, like "milk" or "child" or "happiness" that would be more understandable to a child, but complex ones that I am not familiar with in my 5-plus years of living here). They also worked on about 20 new four-word idioms and memorized a whole bunch more poems and one song.

It's not hard to imagine that all of this was over Clara Anne's head. She is still at the level of learning to speak in sentences, like, "Please help me wash my hands, ok?" or "Thank you for the good meal." But previously, we thought that since Clara Anne was only going to kindergarten three to four mornings a week, as opposed to her classmates who were there every day from 7:30 am to 5 or 5:30 pm, the pressure on Clara Anne would be lessened. However, we started seeing signs that exactly the opposite was the case. We started to notice Clara Anne really withdrawing in her class. She would often want to go and look at a book while her classmates were doing something else, and it was hard for her teachers to convince her to participate. She began to resist going to class in the morning. More significantly, she was really resisting speaking the language even in settings (like at home, with guests here) where she was more comfortable.

The final straw was a week ago Thursday. The teacher sent home three books--a math/numbers book, an "essay" book, and a book of poems and stories. The book of poems and stories was 35 pages long, and the teacher said, "You really need to work on this with Clara Anne. All of her classmates have already memorized the whole book and she is way behind. Also, she needs to prepare an essay each week that she thinks up herself and then memorizes to present to the class, but you can help her with writing it down. And don't forget the numbers--Clara Anne isn't as familiar with numbers beyond 50, so really work with her on that." Hello people, she is four years old!!!!! Remember this is all in a foreign-to-her language!

I was dismayed at this, but John's reaction was immediate, saying we needed to pull her out of there, that it was just too much studying for Clara Anne and where she is at in life and language learning. I was a bit more hesitant, especially because I didn't know how we could find a kindergarten that better suited her or if it even existed. With almost all families here only having one child, the pressure is on early to make that child have every intellectual and social "benefit", extra classes on Saturday, etc etc etc. Especially for wealthier parents who can afford such things, the sky's the limit in what they'll enroll their tiny children in! So I didn't even know if we could find a less "study-focused" kindergarten, though I was hopeful since we had heard from others that this kindergarten was noted for its lofty goals for its students.

But I am so thankful; the next morning my helper went out on her bike and asked around in the neighborhoods near here, and found a kindergarten which seemed like it might work. They had a much different schedule and philosophy compared to the old one, much more focused around structured play rather than studying. It is an older building and on first impression, seemed a bit rundown, but the classrooms were nice and more importantly, filled with toys! I am so happy to say that we went and visited Monday, Clara Anne and I spent the morning there on Tuesday, and on Wednesday she went to her new kindergarten and stayed the whole morning all by herself!

So here's Clara Anne's schedule at her new kindergarten: Arrive at 8:30. Morning exercises in the courtyard (complete with music) until 9. Then, depending on the day, various structured play activities like jumping rope, playing in a playground with slides and climbing equipment, a large sand area that has swings and a little house, rollerblading, etc. After the outside activity is an inside activity--the day I was there it was paper folding to make whatever you wanted. Then before lunch there is one more indoor activity where the children divide up and play in various areas--playing "house" in a little corner of the classroom set up for that, Legos, play-doh, etc. Lunch is at 10:40am! So Clara now stays to eat lunch. Then after lunch there is one more outside activity and then they come back in to rest at 11:30 and rest until 1:30. We will pick her up at 11:30 each day, giving her a good three hours to interact and play with her classmates.

The most encouraging thing to me was the relaxed atmosphere in this new class. The day we visited, I was struck multiple times at how things just seemed to go at a nice slow pace. There was plenty of time to enjoy the activities. There was no hurry to "get it done" and move on to the next thing. There was no big agenda. Instead, there were lots of opportunities for creative, interactive, free play.

Already, it has been so encouraging to see how the relaxed atmosphere has encouraged Clara Anne. The first morning that she and I went together, I was amazed to see her smiling, (I had NEVER seen her smile at her old kindergarten), enjoying herself and even speaking the local language unprompted by me! Amazing! I am so thankful!

We are hopeful that this new kindergarten will help Clara Anne learn more basic language in a fun social setting, and I have also resolved to speak it more with her at home. I am thankful for Father's care and His plan which helped to ease my heart this week as we made this big change for Clara Anne. We'll see how it goes!

Oh, and one added benefit--the new kindergarten is about a 10 minute bike ride away, it takes about 30 minutes to get there, get Clara Anne to her class, and get home again. Nothing like some biking exercise first thing in the morning!


sandra said...

Yeah for toys in the classroom. I've never seen any toys here! Never! And I've looked.

Yeah for a 10 minute bike ride!

Yeah for Clara Anne's smiles!

Kellie said...

Oh Rachel! I'm so glad you did not fall into the ways of this country! Yeah for you - memorization and learning will come soon enough - that is for sure! And double yeah for the new kindergarten! What a blessing! Hope that everything continues to work out well!