After great anticipation and excitement, Frankie-Rose went back to Kindergarten this morning as a 'middle child'. In the state system, she would be starting school this year, but in the kindergarten system (the one used by most of the rest of Europe) she is returning to her second of three years of what is essentially pre school. And we are all totally smitten with it.
I could talk and talk and talk about all the lovely gentle things that we love there, but here are a few that spring to mind.
- There is no formal learning (no maths and letters) until age 7.
- Instead the children have a daily rhythm of creating and spending time outside.
- Each day the same things happen. The children know the days of the week according to the snack served; 'Rice day', 'apple crumble day' etc. They seem to really thrive and feel empowered by the structure- they know whats happening when. But it isn't forced either.
- It is deeply rooted in the seasons with changing songs, stories, activities, crafts and displays. (Sending your child to a school because it fits with your blog ethic? Can I add that one?!)
- They spend half a day at the woods every Tuesday and lots of free time in the garden. Apparently Frankie is often the messiest grubbiest kid in the class. That's m'girl.
- The rooms are incredibly gentle and sweet with all natural materials, wooden toys and neutral colours. Sometimes when I see the room on a parents festival day with candles lit and decorations everywhere it makes me want to cry a little bit.
- The mix of ages in the class means that the littler kids are positively influenced by the older kids and the older kids love 'looking after' the little ones. I think this is why Frankie has become so much more confident this year. Her teacher told me she often holds court at lunch time and tells the whole group stories!
- There are no attendance certificates (bit of a pet hate of mine) or pressure to go full time. Attendance is encouraged but they are incredibly understanding if, for example, family are over from abroad and you want to take them out of school for a day to see them. She is with me on Mondays and half a day on Fridays.
- They drink warm fruit tea, have rest time whilst a mini harp plays (i am not kidding! She frickin' loves it!) , each have their own pair of slippers, their own pillow, their own mug, their own peg and hand towel- each personalised with a little drawing (Frankie is an apple).... I mean, my heart!
- The school bazaars and fayres are out of this world. They also make me cry. Everything is handmade (!) and natural and wholesome. So much love goes into the planning, the decorations, the homemade gifts.
- Similar to Motessouri, the kids are encouraged to do domestic chores, so they have songs for each chore and do things like polish the wooden toys. More tears. (Although Frankie is refusing to tidy or help at the moment. Figures.)
- The parents and kids are pretty much all of similar slightly or all out hippy mindset. Frankie now believes that when you lose your teeth you get a crystal from the tooth fairy. For reals (My dad gave me a withering look at that one.) She now collects crystals which is only a good thing in my book!
Frankie-Rose has utterly thrived there. Her confidence has rocketed. She is much braver physically; climbing and swinging etc, and much more confident with wildlife too; she often picks up worms and creatures in the garden whereas before would have let out of a pitiful wail at the prospect. Because creative play is encouraged and all the toys are open ended her play at home is really creative and child led too. She is always singing to herself, and often brings home the sweetest seasonal songs, rhymes and stories.
It isn't perfect- no education system is, and I have a few small niggles with it. Whilst some of the traditional stories are utterly wonderful (A favourite is about a little boy who looks after a sheep, and makes a new suit out of it's wool! Lots are about fairies too which Frankie is smitten with) Some of them are a bit rubbish with their female characters- girls forced to marry, women only ever cooking and child rearing. We more than make up for this at home but... still. The fees are another major issue. I have a bit of an issue with fee paying schools on an idealogical level, and wish this sort of alternative education was freely available to everyone. We got sucked in (!) with the free government hours so spent half of the first year using those, before deciding to pay for a few full days. We rent and live relatively month to month with our finances, and this year the fees double so it's quite a financial commitment (although still less than pre kindy childcare costs). We are currently somehow finding ways to manage the payments and I really really hope we can continue to prioritise it for the whole of kindergarten.
The negatives and niggles pale into insignificance against the love, gentleness, creativity and love of nature that is encouraged there however.
So, we spent the last week preparing for a new season of kindergarten; Getting back to early bedtimes, buying new slippers and wellies, remembering the pre-meal songs and candles, trying to think of healthy lunch box ideas.... I forgot until this morning to label her clothes but managed with minutes to go with the genius invention of sticky name labels (they survive the dishwasher and washing machine. Actual genius!) We have not nailed the leaving the house on time thing yet, and Frankie wanted to bring every toy in her toy box and half her wardrobe in 4 plastic bags, but we're back. And it feels good.
I have written a little more about how we are trying to encourage a love of wildlife and seasonal rhythms and rituals over on the Alex & Alexa blog. They kindly sent Frankie-Rose this gorgeous Stella McCartney dress which we are so in love with! Hop over to read the full piece here.
Frankie goes to Canterbury Steiner school and we love it there and really recommend it to any local parents who read the blog. Happy to answer any question in the comments or on email too.
An important P.S: I discovered this week that my RSS feed has been broken since April. A lot of you had told me this but I couldn't figure out why. I now think i've fixed it! Please could you let me know if this post is appearing in your RSS feed?! If you haven't heard from me since April then HELLO! And sorry for the tech mess up!