I am not really sure if we are worldschoolers, or homeschoolers, or unschoolers. We don’t solely follow the kids’ interests. I use every opportunity we have to make moments into teaching opportunities. We take the girls to castles to learn history and architecture. We have daily computer programs we work on (focusing on maths and English). We don’t do workbooks, we have other programs we access more sporadically (science, art, computer coding). We travel when we can. What I do know is the huge change we have seen in our children. They have now been out of school for nearly a year and wow – what a difference.
They have grown to be more confident, they reference and draw on their experiences whilst we were away, to assimilate new facts with facts they already know. My eldest particularly likes to start a sentence with “Did you know….”. They are braver and bolder in social situations and more likely to take risks – physically, educationally and socially. Risk taking is important – if you don’t try something new and risk failing then how will you learn anything new? Risks are scary for me as a parent. What if they fail? What if this is the wrong thing. I can’t control a risky situation and I have come to recognise that I feel the need for control regarding many aspects of the girls’ lives…I am learning too!
When we started our European trip we visited my French friend, whom I’ve known for 15 years, we discussed an exchange. She is keen for her daughter (currently 18 months old) to learn English and we talked about the possibility of her coming to live with us in the UK and my girls living in France. Everyone was keen on this idea and it sounded like a terribly exciting opportunity.
Fast forward 8 months and we were back in the UK. The idea of organising a long term stay for my eldest (age 10) seemed like a logistical nightmare. She’d need insurance, an official letter of guardianship, she’d need a school and she’s my baby, could I really part with her? So I did not think any further about it. Then my friend calls me and says she’s talked with a local head teacher and he is keen for Eve to join the school! Not only this, but my friend organised insurance (via her hubby’s current provider), official letters – all I had to do was send her the appropriate paperwork via email (mainly proof of birth and immunisation record).
We made travel plans, I worked hard to encourage Eve to undertake the language course we have – she, reluctantly, made a vague effort! Eve was keen…as our travel date came closer and the whole enterprise was discussed more with family, friends and the girls she became less keen. I advised her that we’d keep an open mind, we would travel with the items she would need for a long stay and then see how it went. I bribed her with the promise of new stationary (unlike UK Primary schools, French schools do not provide pens etc) – she became more keen and even positive!
We left the UK with the car packed with her stuff (including her beloved piano keyboard). We arrived at my friend’s house and stayed with her for a week – increasing her family of 3 to 7 in a matter of minutes (thanks to her for putting up with us all!). September 3rd was the start of school – we met with the headteacher the Friday before and had a tour of the school. Now, my French is not great but, I can understand the gist of what someone is saying – even if I could not reply! The tour with headteacher mainly went over my head! It suddenly dawned on me how very difficult this would be for Eve – her French level is very low compared to mine…how would she manage? She took this tour in her stride, had no fears, concerns or worries – other than wanting friends.
Monday arrived and we got up early and got ready for school – not having school uniform was a novelty. We walked to school, Eve did not seem overly nervous, happily chatting away. We entered the playground and had to wait for AGES whilst past choirs sang a (welcoming?) song. Eve became more nervous, holding my hand and giving me hugs. My French friend talked to some girls from Eve’s class to ask them to be kind and friendly to Eve. They smiled and nodded but did not come over. They walked near Eve and Eve left my side to stand near them – this made me cry, she’s so brave putting herself out there in an attempt to make friends (they ignored her which made me cry more!).
I tried to hide my tears and pull myself together – one of the other mothers came to talk to me and I couldn’t even attempt to speak in French (luckily she spoke English and was very kind!). The kids lined up and we traipsed to the classroom on their heels. The girls in the class ushered Eve to a spare seat on their table and I left Eve, looking very worried, with the knowledge that I’d see her at lunchtime.
Lunchtime collection came – she’d had a great morning, she wanted to stay at school for lunch (2 hours plus for lunch with a cooked 3-course meal!). We ate lunch at my friend’s house, Eve had no worries but had forgotten that she could translate words from the board using a French/English dictionary so she’d try this after lunch. I said my goodbyes at lunchtime – the plan being that I would set off to Brittany with my youngest and my mum for a week, letting Eve settle into her new routine but still being in France in case she changed her mind. Eve was welcomed back to school after lunch – the girls were in a group waiting for her to arrive.
It felt very wrong to be driving away and leaving her behind. I felt a bit sick and my goodbye to my friend was very brief…was I blaming her for me having to leave my child? Perhaps. I know this isn’t the case and that I was projecting my worries on to someone else.
I Skyped Eve that evening – I set up a joint call with my hubby who stayed back in the UK. She was bubbling over! My friend had treated her by going shopping so Eve had 2 new pair of trainers (claiming that the ones I had bought before we left were not new as they were 7 days old!), notepads, backpack and a hairband with little cat ears on it. Being able to see her on the screen was fabulous and much better than only talking over the phone.
It is early days, but she is really enjoying it. She has no idea what is going on most (any) of the time and is often “tested” by the other kids as to what French she knows (they point out items and ask her to say them in French and then congratulate or correct her!), there is a French boy who spent a year in Canada who helps her with translations and, of course, my friend is there to support her. The plan is that Eve stays for 6 weeks (a half term)…I am not sure how much she will pick up in that time but it seems like a natural end to the experience and I am not sure I can manage longer without her (we also have a Christmas trip to Australia to visit family coming up!).
I shall update as we go along – there was talk about me visiting at the 3 week mark but I am not sure if that will happen. I feel like leaving again would be hard. This will dramatically change the dynamic of our family – I now only have one child at home and she is already bored without her playmate – wish us luck!