A new school year

Wow, a whole month has gone by since “la rentrée”. I can hardly believe it!
Things have been going quite well this year to everyone’s relief around here. If you’ve been following along, you may recall my struggle to find an adequate school we could afford, and, later on, having issues with the school Sprout 1 actually ended up attending. Well, we’ve finally found our school, and what a difference!

He’s attending a public school with a child-centred pedagogy and an active learning approach. It’s wonderful (albeit suffering from what most public schools suffer – older buildings and such) and Sprout 1 has been going in (and coming out) with a smile from day one. Only exception was a day when I was running a bit late (2min maybe) and he thought I was leaving him for the afternoon and without a lunch. Poor thing – cue mama guilt!

It’s been wonderful to be able to walk to school (he goes on his balance bike) instead of having to drive. And the peace of mind knowing he’s in respecting hands.

So what went wrong last year? Hard to pinpoint the main reason really. The teacher was definitely part of the problem, as she seemed to have absolutely no love for what she was doing. But I think it was more than that. He was too young in my opinion. 32 months is too soon to start nursery school, or preschool, or whatever you want to call it, especially in the format his former teacher was doing it, i.e. sit down, be quiet and do as told. It made me very sad, especially since we had so “carefully” picked his school (from the available to us possibilities) which was supposed to be project based, very environmentally focused, etc. I cannot stress how much more important it is to meet the teachers than the school director (Duh!!!). We came to learn the hard way that no matter how committed a school director is to this or that, ultimately it’s up to the teachers. Sure, they were working on projects… but it was really sad to see how little work the children themselves actually did on those projects. Sprout 1 would come home with something “he” made in school and proceed to inform us madame did this and that and all he did was add some dots or glue some stickers. Ugh. I even once saw her holding the kids hands, one by one, sticking an inked stamp in their little fists and pressing it to the paper. Never a good sign. I feel this has actually put him off to doing many art projects since. Sigh… When he would cry, the staff would just say stop crying and you are not beautiful when you cry, stop making a fuss. Broke my heart. Funny thing is, most parents thought this was ok and that it was actually a very good school with a caring teacher. Cultural difference maybe? Just goes to show not everyone is looking for the same things in a school.

Well, I’m glad to report this school is totally different. I am so happy about it, but most importantly, Sprout 1 is happy and looks forward to go to school each day. He gets to be a 3,5 old little boy, not just someone who has to be formatted into an obedient child whose creativity and personality is not respected.

Another issue other than age and bad luck with teachers that I’m sure played a big part was the language factor. Sprout 1 spoke English and Portuguese, but didn’t speak any French. It must be quite scary to be in a strange, uncaring place and not be able to communicate! Oh, my heart hurts just thinking about what he was put through… Poor thing. I did try really hard to get him acquainted with French, taking him to Les Maisons Vertes (which were great, by the way) story times in French, etc., but the big issue with being an English speaker in Brussels is that everyone is so keen to switch over to English once they realise it’s your mother tongue. It’s really very kind of people, but not so useful when you actually want to practice one of the country’s languages!!! I’m wondering what we can do about that for Sprout 2, although I’m sure his brother and friends will be some help in that department!

And on another note, see that backpack in the picture? It’s still the one I made him last year. I gave him the choice to get a new one and even let him pick from these really cool ones, but despite all it’s faults, he wanted the mama made one. Makes this mama’s heart sing. He did choose this lunchbox though, even though he isn’t staying for lunch yet.

How has the new school year started for you? Anyone else think 2,5 is too young to start preschool? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

The 100 languages of children

Today I’m sharing a poem I’ve come across recently (Sorry, can’t credit where. I tried looking but can’t find the original post.) and that’s been playing through my mind as we’re currently having issues with preschool. It’s been tough on Sprout, and on us as well. I honestly don’t know what the best course of action for this year is. Pulling him out of school brings along issues of its own, plus we otherwise have a hard time exposing him to French language sufficiently given we’re in a very International, predominantly English speaking milieu. It’s such a pity the schools I absolutely loved (namely Montessori and Roots and Wings) are either obscenely expensive or only English language.

The Hundred Languages of Children

The child is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred.

Always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

Toddler Backpack: 2 weeks overdue

This post was written two weeks ago. I was actually finishing it when R got home with the terrible news that my father had passed away, prompting an urgent two week trip to Portugal. I couldn’t bring myself to press publish with all that was going on. We’re back now and life must go on, however hard that may be. I just wanted to say this because I’m not one of those people that can just proceed business as usual when things just don’t feel well, so I felt I needed to share this sadder part too.

I’m a procrastinator. That doesn’t always work out well, and this little backpack is proof of that. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I spend months in advance planning things out, sometimes even organizing materials to get things done. It’s the part where things leave my brain to gain a life of their own which usually gets me. I picked up this lovely Marimekko fabric on our trip to Sweden last June, with the sole purpose of making this backpack for Sprout’s first day of school. I believe I purchased Made by Rae’s Toddler backpack sewing pattern even before that. But you know, I still had soooo much time. So why not just leave it for exactly the week before school starts. You know, with all the other running around to get things. Like a normal, sane person would do. Right?

Oh, I had big plans for this little backpack. I decided I was going to laminate the fabric myself. I bough the vlieseline stuff to do so ages ago. And laminate it I did! What a total disaster!!! I can’t quite say what went wrong. I think I applied it properly. The Marimekko fabric was OK (but not brilliant) but the red fabric (supposedly 100% cotton) puckered a bit. No biggie though, thought I. Until I got to sewing. It was like sewing plastic. Don’t get me wrong, I have sewn oilcloth and laminates before, but this was strange. It felt as though the needle was breaking the laminate. But I persevered, because I’m stubborn  determined like that. Just as I was FINISHING the whole thing, I realized there was no way it would ever hold up. The plastic was tearing in places and it was damn hard to sew the last curvy parts. This was the weekend before school started. So I washed his old backpack and gave up on the idea of having a new one for the first day of school.

It was a very involved process, but I’m really glad I stuck with it. It’s not perfect because the thin cotton fabric stretched a bit when ripping off the laminate

But I didn’t give up on the backpack. Oh, no! And I love this expensive beautiful fabric too much to just cut up a new one. So, I tore it all apart unpicked ALL the piping, unstuck ALL the laminate and started over.

And I’m glad I did. It’s not perfect by any means. The thin cotton fabric stretched out a bit when ripping out the laminate, which threw things off a bit, especially in comparison to the canvas I used as an underlining (the Marimekko was too thin on its own). It’s a bit wonky and still missing the lining, but Sprout wanted to use it asap. Here is the unfinished inside:

I’ll share it again when the lining is finally in. Which, you know, can be next year or something ;)