Saturday, 11 July 2009


We made it.

The boys are speaking both Swiss and High German.

C can do maths. He hasn’t needed to go back to the educational psychiatrist once, and is back to the mischevious, affectionate and lovable little boy that he was before the move.

They have friends in the village with whom they play on a daily basis. They walk themselves to school – and I miss the school run like a hole in the head. They can independently get themselves to where they want to go, within reason.

It’s been an exhausting rollercoaster of a ride. OH’s job takes him away on business a good 70% of the time. When he is working in Winterthur he is often not back until 7.30pm, having left at 6.45am - so I have been mostly on my own during the week, often all week, with 3 voluntary jobs to juggle around the school times. There’ve been times when I’ve laughed in amazement and bewilderment, and times when I’ve sobbed and sobbed in frustration. I’ve marvelled at Swiss practicality and the common sense of their approach, and wondered at the beautiful handwork which they value so highly in education for so many valid reasons.

I honestly think that the children have been more needy and demanding of me this year than they ever were when they were in nappies: sometimes I feel I have been homeschooling, with the amount of support they have needed – combined with clockwatching continuously because of them coming home every day for lunch. But I have tried to look up at the big picture rather than worry about what I’m stumbling over that particular day.

I have had to be very, very tough with the children, which hasn’t always been easy. In the first term in particular, the children were visibly sinking with exhaustion from the language immersion, so I had to insist on bedtime being stuck to strictly – sometimes that meant that by the time homework was finished, there was very little time to unwind before bed. By Christmas, getting out of bed in the morning was a desperate struggle for them, and when they sat at the table at mealtimes looking as if they were too tired to bother feeding themselves, I seriously wondered if we had done the right thing. But they recovered.

I have gone out of my way to foster good relations with all the teachers so that they know we are on their side and supportive parents, but without interfering. The Swiss teachers know what they are doing – so I have refused to take issue with them about anything such as homework volume, marks for tests etc. If the teacher has said that something must be redone, then so be it, even if privately I have wanted to scream.

I am mentally drained, but also strangely exhilarated. This year has taken all my inner reserves and energy, but the children have come to the end of it with local friends, extremely happy, increasingly independent, and with language skills being developed at an amazing rate of knots. So it’s been worth it, even if there have been times when the gin bottle has taken a bit of a bashing.

It’s been what the British term good character building stuff.

The sun is out, the summer holidays are here. Pimms on the lawn, anyone ?

Final week of the year

Well, we’ve made it to the last week of the first year in Swiss school. Where has the year gone ? No, seriously, where HAVE the last 6 months gone ? Time has not so much flown by as rocketed out of orbit.

Private conversations

This week, for the first time, I overhear the boys having a conversation between themselves in Swiss German. I don’t think this is done with a view to impress me – it appears completely unselfconscious – but is this the shape of things to come ? On the one hand I’m enormously proud of them – and on the other hand panicking about what if they start using secret language to make plans and plots to overthrow the parents and lock the wine cellar ?

Holiday homework

J is set homework for the holidays – the vast tracts of vocabulary of which I wrote in the last blog entry, along with continuing his second reading book, which, again, he is plodding through 5 pages at a time.

C is also set homework – they have to borrow 4 books out of the school library and read them in the holidays. No problem. He is an avid little reader, and chooses 4 Asterix books in German. As I write, he’s already finished one of them - but then, he does have a book available in each bathroom.

They both play out after school each day, calling for their friends, sometimes confidently making phone calls in Swiss German to arrange playdates. Their German phone skills are better than mine – mainly because they have had to stand on their own two feet rather than rely on me, although I can now make a phone call to arrange a doctor’s appointment, and next year I plan to work on improving my own German significantly.

They are both extremely tired, but the homework lessens as the week progresses.

School reports

On Thursday we receive their reports, and are pleased to see that they are both doing well. Neither has been given a mark for German, although J appears to have been marked as if he were a Swiss child, but without being given an overall number 1-6. I have to sign the reports and send them back into school for safekeeping.

General observations

One observation of the school that struck me last week when I was “facebooking” with an old friend in the UK, is that the state funded school here in CH does not continuously ask for money from parents for trips, donations, equipment and so on. It’s well funded by the government. The camp that J will go on in September will cost 85 CHF per child – for 5 days of survival skills training.

Another observation is that there are no school assemblies to which parents are invited – the only time we’ve seen the children do any kind of performance has been either through the Musikschule – ie separately from main school, or the school production last week, which I wrote about in the previous blog entry. So yes, there have been fewer opportunities for me to see for myself exactly what they are doing in school, but then there have been the 2 Besuchermorgens and the various parents evenings. It’s just different, that’s all - I have plenty to occupy myself with, without needing parental involvement in school life to fill my time.

Friday is party day. C’s class were supposed to go up into the forest to the adventure park and then cook sausages for lunch, but the weather is pants all week so they have a day of sports at school followed by a packed lunch. J’s class start at 9am (a true lie-in) and then have breakfast, games and lunch together.

They’re home by 2pm.

And then they’re both out again by 2.45pm, off to play with their mates.


Monday, 6 July 2009

Week 37: shooting competition, school production, forgotten homework

Shooting competition

OH takes J to the shooting competition that he had been invited to take part in a couple of weeks previously. The results are, apparently, fairly dire but then what do you expect from a 10 year old who is the size of a 7 year old, trying to handle a full size rifle ?

Apparently it’s a one-off competition, and I’m still not sure of the reason for it. But he has great fun, and it’s conducted in a completely safe environment at the local shooting club. I don’t think there are any plans for a replay so I can breathe easy again.

School production.

All the letters about this production, named “Catwalk Barbie Mix” had baffled me (plus ca change). J had told us that his class were doing a couple of raps. C claimed not to be taking part in it at all, but was instead doing a winter show. ?

It’s certainly nothing like any school production I ever took part in. Co-ordinated by the Handarbeit teacher, it comprises approximately 12 very short sketches, involving different parts of all the classes, and with a finale involving all of them. It’s staged in the foyer of the school rather than the hall, and C is right – he is in a winter scene, which is basically one of his friends dressed as a snowman (poor thing – it’s a boiling hot evening) and all of them dressed up as if in winter and dancing round. J’s class do 2 raps. The other classes do a mixture of catwalk, parading, dance and mime to music. There is very little live music and no singing.

No matter, it’s intriguing, and clearly a lot of work has gone into it, and the children all thoroughly enjoy themselves.

J forgets his homework.

Friday morning J is very distressed to realise that he has handed in the book he was reading that he is to give a presentation on this morning, and from which he had to read aloud to the whole class a short paragraph and the back cover blurb. He is exhausted and in tears with worry – his Friday teacher is a tough cookie.

He had been set this German reading book of about 150 pages to read and then tell the class about on a specific day in the future, some 2-3 months ago. We had set about this overwhelmingly huge task in a way that would make Flylady proud: we worked out how many pages there were to read and how many days he had to complete it in, and then factored in a few less days to allow for occasional slip ups in the routine. And then he had set about reading it, 5 pages per day. At the end of each reading session, he wrote a single sentence (in German) précising what had happened in those pages. Somehow, he finished the book 2 weeks early. Woo hoo !

But without remembering that he would need the book for his presentation, he had handed it in, and it had then been taken by another class member. So I suggest that he rings the school friend and asks her to bring the book in. She does. Thank Goodness for the phone tree. But I also tell him that he needs to go and find his teacher first thing and explain what has happened so that she knows.

Test cancelled.

After all that last week, this week’s vocab test is cancelled due to the entire class being absolutely shattered after their production.

But instead they will have summer holiday homework of learning vast tracts of vocabulary. Deep breath………. And exhale…………

Vocabulary aaargggggggghhhhhh

I’m laughing a great deal less, however, on the Friday, when J is sent home with a German test to repeat despite him having achieved a 4 (out of 6). I’m pleased with the result, but if the teacher isn’t and he has to repeat it, then he has to repeat it. Punkt. In fact, I’m furious, not with school, but with him, as we have had a specific argument about vocabulary learning approximately every 6 weeks this year, which has done nothing for my blood pressure and caused a great deal of ill feeling on both parts.

I had asked him every single day of the week whether he had any vocabulary to learn for a test (as we have devised an effective but traditional method for learning it in our household, crafted out of a great deal of struggle and frustration as the year has progressed) – and the answer had been no. So when he comes home having had a vocab test that he had avoided telling me about, there is an almighty explosion from me, as I feel he has, once again, tried to learn it his way, ie the ineffective way, and in so doing has again doubled his work load by having to repeat it. And he has been dishonest with me, in saying that he didn’t have any vocab to learn when he did.

So, blunt (and loud, and angry) words are spoken on the topics of honesty, ineffective learning methods, wasting my time and his etc. He finally admits that he was trying to get away with it.

I stomp out of the house for a girls night out feeling thoroughly fed up and absolutely not in the mood for partying. I’ve had enough of this wretched struggle.

Week 36 - Parents Evening.

OH and I attend a compulsory parents’ evening at school for J’s class, which will be class 5 next year.

There are two topics:

French which they will start next year, taking their language quota, at the age of 11, to 4: Swiss German (spoken only), High German, English and French; and

Class camp ("lager"), which will be Stein Zeit Lager, ie Stone Age camp. More to follow.

The French bit is all very straightforward and basically is just an explanation of how they introduce the language, and the books and other resources they will use. I reassure myself that even though my own French is now worse than my German (hard to imagine, but pathetically true), I should at least be able to help J with this subject. I can still read and understand French, even if the limited powers of French speech that I once possessed left me when I started learning German.

The bit about Stein Zeit Lager is far, far funnier though. Class camp is a regular part of Swiss school life. It happens once a year after they reach a certain age, which varies according to the region, and my understanding was that they went away to a hostel (owned by the Gemeinde) and did outdoor activities.

However, J’s class really are going on camp, in the forest, in tents, with no running water and a bucket as a WC, in September. If they can’t light a fire, they won’t eat. The shower is a bucket, though a different one to the WC I hope. They’re not allowed to hunt (phew) so I imagine they will be taking the food with them, but it is basically an introduction to survival skills. Brilliant - in exactly the same vein as the way that, on the children’s second day at Kindergarten, they get a policeman showing them how to cross the road safely. Never mind all that reading and writing and Key Stage this and that fuss: at the age of 6, they are expected to walk to Kindergarten independently and be in one piece when they get there – so the first thing they are taught is how to cross the road. I digress.

There is a list of equipment that each child will need, which includes things like waterproof walking boots, penknife, warm sleeping bag, ONE (yes, just one) set of underclothes for the entire week (eugh) including long johns, etc etc. The risk of tick infection is high in the forest during the warmer months, so they wear one set of underclothes all week to reduce skin exposure. The temperature might reach -5 at night. The grand cost of this, to each family, is 85 CHF – around £45.00 – which is the cost of sending the teacher. The camp itself is funded by the school.

There is a very funny point when the teacher giving the presentation asks for questions, and gets one extremely irate Swiss mother ranting at her about the camp being dangerous, this is the first we have heard of it, the ticks are rife in the forest etc etc. It's less of a question than a 5 minute shout, during which time OH and I sit trying to stifle our laughter. I indulge in a bit of people watching and observe all the other parents in the room gradually starting to either stare out of the window or at the floor or cringe visibly. The teacher waits until the parent has finally finished, and then calmly states that if a parent doesn't want his or her child to go on camp then the child can stay and go to school normally but in someone else's class. And they've been running this camp for Class 5 for 12 years without any problems.

It sounds just like the guide camps I used to go on nearly 30 years ago – apart from the risk of tick infection and only one set of underwear and it possibly reaching -5 at night. But we had those horrible camping loos and had to dig a sewage hole for them to be emptied into, we had no running water and had to light the kitchen fire 3 times a day. And it was fantastic.

So when we get home I tell J that his holiday reading needs to be the Dangerous Book for Boys. He’ll have a whale of a time.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Family funeral

OH and I have to go to a family funeral in the UK. Events like this are the things that I fretted about having to cope with from a distance.

My wonderful, kind friend in the next village offers to have the boys but I can’t get my head round the logistics – her boys are in international school and she does a 70km round trip school run at exactly the time when mine are leaving for school and coming back and then needing support with their homework. Also, how would they get to hers for lunch ? She is on the bus route in the next village but my children don’t have the junior abonnement.

I’ve mentioned before that by coincidence, both of my brothers also live in Switzerland, in the French speaking part, and by sheer luck my niece is already home from university in Scotland. I ask if she can come and babysit for a couple of days. She’s been through the Swiss system herself so she understands things like lunch NEEDING to be on the table at 12 precisely or all hell will break loose with hungry children – and the boys NEEDING to get back out again in a set timescale. She is a living saint and comes to take over for a couple of days whilst we head to Lincolnshire.

Apologising for having to email in English, I contact the headteacher and all 4 of the class teachers to let them know that we’ll be out of the country and that my niece will be in loco parentis with the boys.

They email back individually with their condolences. How incredibly polite: I wasn’t asking for their sympathy at all, just letting them know what would be going on at home for a couple of days. In fact, I was half expecting them to email back saying it was illegal to leave the kids with anyone else. But no – they email back with condolences.

I’m genuinely touched.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Week 34 - waving or drowning ?

Unfortunately still drowning - in homework.

J is still drowning in homework and this is exacerbated by his Friday teacher taking over for the week as his regular teacher seems to be on honeymoon. Just when you thought it was safe to get your head up, another wave comes by.

Forgotten homework

On Wednesday he forgets a piece of his maths (of which there are 4 pieces on this subject alone just for one day) and is highly distressed by this. So I ring his teacher and explain that he has forgotten. She suggests that he comes early on Thursday to finish it – I’m quite clear that I’m not asking her to excuse him from it, but just apologising in advance. She is very charming about the whole thing, but I do feel that it’s a very heavy workload.

Thank goodness she’s not the main teacher Monday-Thursday.


Friday sees our second Besuchermorgen as parents in school. The boys are clearly much happier and more confident in their classes now – which is a relief to see. J is joining in putting his hand up when the class are asked difficult geometry questions – and whilst we understand more of his class, he clearly understands all of it. The difference between the 2 levels is extremely noticeable – in J’s class they all sit still and concentrate very hard, whilst in C’s class (grade 2) the amount of movement and motion is non-stop, with children moving from their desks to areas to collect resources and then back again and then up to the teacher’s desk to have their work marked. It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere in Grade 2 and I’m beginning to appreciate why the teachers went so far to explain the stricter rules for Grade 4 and onwards at the beginning of the year.

Different sort of bazooka

J also receives a letter from a Schiessensportverein, a sportsclub in one of the villages in the gemeinde, inviting him to try out shooting, presumably because he is now 10. There are 2 trial evenings later in the month.

Real rifle shooting, not play shooting with toy weapons. Heaven help us.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


J’s Monday-Thursday teacher is getting married.

The class are invited to go “as a surprise” and their attendance is organized by other teachers and staff, with great conspiracy. The wedding takes place in the next village, and the whole class turn up to wish her all the best. Isn’t that nice. We reckon it must be a Swiss tradition – apparently this happened to our next door neighbours when they got married too. One, two, three, aaaaaahhhhhhhhh


Amidst great excitement J receives his copy of the rap disc he recorded with his class. It’s a whole disc of raps about the “umwelt” which I think means environment. It must be a whole Kanton project as the other schools on the disc contributing are from all over the place.

Once more unto the homework breach dear friends, once more

For the unexpected week off J is again drowning in homework, but this time it’s school based.

He is reading a book in German which seems to be based on the Titanic story. He has to finish it by 5th July, and he has 8 weeks to read it from start to finish. It’s 150 pages long, and at the end of each reading session he has to write a sentence explaining what has happened – an aide memoire to help discussion in class. We work out that he needs to do 5 pages per day to get through the book and give himself the weekends etc off. He slowly works through it, and finishes a month ahead of schedule. Result. In fact, astonishing result.

He also has been set the task of learning a whole load of German vocabulary, articles and meanings, on an ongoing basis. This is tough. He’s only 10, can’t we cut him a bit of slack ? But I realize that it might also help us in our learning. After a great deal of argy-bargy and then a little mutual co-operation we agree a strategy based on rote learning (ie writing out the words with their articles 3-5 times per word) and then me continuously testing him on it. We’re in the early stages, but it seems to be working, and his German marks are improving.

He’s also doing a new (improved ?!) and advanced form of Kopfrechnen, which also requires parental help. This involves me saying to him eg “one metre two decimetres times six” and he has to give me the answer (seven metres two decimeters) etc. It’s tricky stuff but you can see that it’s really making his brain work in a very logical, step by step way. I like Swiss maths. At least at this level. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to help him in a year’s time ;-)

Jokertag / Joker days

OH has had to miss 2 local or bank holidays this year for work / travelling reasons.

We decide that when all the boys’ church stuff is out of the way we’ll go to Ticino camping for a couple of days and take the boys’ Joker Days (they are allowed 2 per year) by tagging them onto the Auffahrt weekend Unfortunately, because of the misunderstanding over the unexpected week off, this means that they are then out of school for 1.5 weeks, which isn’t ideal. The camping is great, as is the weather, but they both seriously struggle with the German, concentrating, and being back in a school environment the following week. And they miss sports day, which had been rescheduled following bad weather on its first proposed day in May.

Note to self: make more of an effort to really understand the Ferienagenda next year : 2.5 weeks off school for spring holiday. 3 weeks in school. 1.5 weeks off again. 3 days in school. Another long weekend (Whitsun / Pfingsten this time). 4 days in school. Weekend. Finally back to normal. This is really disruptive and I’m tearing my hair out.

New school system in Kanton Zurich

OH attends a meeting in the village hosted by the Schulpflege about the changes to the school system in Kanton Zurich and which will be introduced by the schools in our Gemeinde from next school year. It's all about integrating children with special needs, special needs ranging from serious physical disabilities to German as a second or third language.

I am unable to attend so afterwards ask him how it went. He looks a bit baffled and says “wibble wibble wibble”. Therefore I’m delighted when someone posts up the following explanatory link on the Yahoo schools group the following week: und Merkblaetter/2.10 Schulentwicklung/081125_ASO_Schulreformen2009_eng.pdf

How to feel stupid: move overseas

I also receive a phone call from J’s Friday teacher – the one who, in our household, sets “the big whopper” every Friday (in normal terminology lots and lots of homework). She is ringing to discuss J and we have a very good, thorough and positive chat. It seems they are pleased with his progress but he needs more support with his German to achieve his full potential. More support ? My heart sinks. What do they want, a full scaffold ?

I feel like I’m half home-schooling a lot of the time as it is, but in the best traditions of motherhood I grit my teeth and say yes of course, anything to help him achieve his potential. I know this means more arguments with him about how the work should be done, and yet more time spent checking he knows what he’s doing. I thought we would be through with this stage by this time of the year, but at the moment I can only see it getting more and more demanding and I honestly feel like I’m drowning and right back to stage one again.

Gin and tonic ? Or just gin ? Mmmmmmm

And then they have a week off with no notice.....

This is not helped at all by the sudden announcement that they have the whole of the following week off school. What ?! Why ?! How ?! They’ve only been back 3 weeks, what the hell is going on ?! Why doesn’t it say on the Ferienagenda ?

Actually it does, but you have to understand German to realize that’s what it is saying. Probably not unreasonable in a German speaking country, but I feel a right pillock nonetheless. It says Weiterbildung 18-20 May and then Auffahrt 21-22. So that means teacher training 18-20 May and Ascension long weekend 21-22. Ascension translates as “up go”. Such a poetic language. Anyway, that means no school for that whole week. Last time we had Weiterbildung it coincided with Ustermart, and I knew that the latter meant 2 days off school but didn’t realize that it in fact Weiterbildung was the reason for it, rather than Ustermart. So now I know, but it’s a painful and frustrating way to find out.

I recently read somewhere that as an ex-pat, you quickly get used to feeling stupid. Right now, I couldn’t agree more – which is ever so slightly dispiriting after 2 years.

Summer term: back to school.

The first week back at school sees the arrival of the application form for the music school camp (lager) week in October. It’s completed, back on the table ready to go back to school before I’ve even taken off my coat, unpacked the shopping and opened the rest of the post. Desperate ? Ich ? Nie…

However, the following week we have confirmation that the boys are on the list for the camp so we are delighted with this. I’m not just desperate for time on my own with OH simply regrouping and gathering breath: this is a great opportunity for the boys for their musical and language development. Honest. No sneaky thoughts of 3 days in Venice on our own entered our heads, oh no no no sir.

The end of the second week back sees a day of performance activity at the Music School – various performances by various groups, ensembles and teachers, designed to both demonstrate what they have been doing this year and encourage new starters for next year.

Mother’s Day handarbeit

I’m running out of adjectives to describe the handarbeit the boys bring home for me for Muttertag (Mother’s Day). Lovely is overused in my blog but I’m struggling to find anything else, so lovely it will be. A hanging list of loving motherly qualities, which thankfully don’t include “gin addict”, “control freak” or “shouty mum”. Phew.

Spring holiday: drowning in homework

The spring holidays see us drowning in J’s homework.

It’s not that he has loads and loads of exercises to work through, but he seems to have a great deal of reading and Kopfrechnen and generally staying on top of things to do. Or is that me turning into neurotic Alice ? We go back to the UK for 9 days and I’m continuously aware of needing to do “stuff” each day, but in retrospect I realize that most of this is down to his English reading (he has picked himself a book way too hard for his level but is flatly refusing to admit this. It’s an Alex Rider book and he likes the DVDs, so we are struggling through Point Blanc 2 pages at a time :-O) and his homework from church – he is preparing for his First Communion in a few weeks’ time. In the meantime I am attempting to make him keep doing his Kopfrechnen to keep his mental arithmetic sharp.

So, yes, in retrospect I am turning into neurotic Alice – since it’s mostly non-school homework this time.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Week 28. On our uppers.

We’ve got that end-of-term-on-our-uppers feeling again. The boys are shattered and ratty with each other. And I want to run away with the fairies.

The last week before the spring holidays includes:

For J’s class, a trip to the music studio in Zurich to record the rap that has been the cause of so much recent excitement and playground tension……… ;

C bringing home this term’s delightful piece of handarbeit - a wooden kitchen blackboard in the shape of a hen – made entirely by him;


C’s piano “Vorspiel” – which is a concert arranged by his piano teacher allowing all his pupils to play a piece in front of an audience of other pupils and parents. It takes place in the Singsaal of the secondary school, which is a room a bit bigger than a usual classroom but not overwhelmingly big (such as a sports hall would be). Bit like a school concert but with less fuss. It lasts 35 minutes, with 20 pupils each playing a (very) short piece. C is one of the younger pupils, many of them appear to be in the middle and secondary school years. The evening ends with the teacher giving each child who has participated a large chocolate bunny, which is charming and generous and leaves me with a deeper understanding of why the Swiss are the biggest consumers of chocolate in the world. As I write, post Easter, we are drowning in the stuff. Which wouldn’t be such a problem if I had any self control whatsoever…..

Week 27

I forgot to mention the new regular early start.

One of J’s extra German lessons has been moved to early on Wednesday, so he now has to be in school by 07.25 one day a week.


Well, at least I finally managed to find him a little alarm clock that works, so he can help to take responsibility for getting himself up in time.

But leaving for school at 07.15 – that’s the middle of the night, isn’t it ? Praise be that the clocks have gone forward.


Secondly, there have been some problems at school ever since they started this rap project – with differing groups wanting the limelight and arguing about which group of boys was going to deliver particular lines of the rap they had written together as a class. These problems were spilling over into the playground with fights breaking out at regular intervals. Thankfully J has the good sense to stay well clear of all this – as most of his classmates are about twice his size, and despite being small and feisty, I fear he would stand no chance in a punch up.

So, the Sozialarbeit people (social workers - I assume) have been into J’s class to talk about behaviour and how to get along with each other – and this appears to be working. I suspect that growing boys and testosterone has a great deal to do with it. Much as I suspect that testosterone and alpha male behaviour is the root of many of the world’s problems, but that’s a whole different blog.

We also seem to be getting about one letter a week abut this “incident” that happened recently at the secondary school, but still haven’t got the details, other than what our neighbours told us after a great deal of red wine enjoyed together in the garden on the Friday night - which was that the “auslanders” had been continuously wound up by some very provocative Swiss children, and that it was no surprise that there had been a problem. And that the neighbours’ children had always steered well clear of any of that, and hadn’t had any problems with anyone. At least, I think that’s what they said :-)

Grade 2 maths

C’s maths work (grade 2) has suddenly gone up a notch in terms of difficulty, but that’s OK, he seems to be coping with it now. It’s a very step-by-step approach, which is giving him a lot of confidence, and you can almost see him making the connections mentally now. So we are onto the 8x table, and his homework this week includes addition and subtraction before the actual multiplication and then the answer being a key to a word – and then some colouring. He works through it methodically but understands the concept. Phew. I still feel relief every time he understands something new and a little more complicated without my intervention.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Weeks 25 & 26 - All as quiet on the western front as it gets with 2 boys

I realise I’m in danger of posting for the sake of it at this point, but I want to continue the blog to the end of the school year for two reasons:

1 So when I’m old and decrepit (next year) I can look back and laugh at my worries
2 Because who knows what has yet to happen that is new and unusual and will send me running either round the block in frustration or straight to the wine cellar …. ?

Well, very little to report in terms of our household and anything new with school. Our routine continues busy and at times manic, but hey. I think that’s life with kids.

Two things of note elsewhere in the gemeinde, however.

The first is that a 16 year old girl is shot dead in the car park at the local shopping centre, on a Saturday evening. The most gist I can glean from the paper coverage is that it’s something to do with Balkan drug gangs. Apologies for my ignorance – but the paper’s gone out for recycling now so difficult to check. This is pretty shocking for Switzerland, I know, but before here we lived in Manchester; in broad daylight, I used to drive through certain areas not far from where we lived, as fast as possible and with the car completely locked. It's not like that here.

The second thing is that we have now had 2 or 3 letters about some sort of sexual incident involving a 15 year old girl at the local secondary school. Obviously this is of more immediate concern. The letters are rather complicated, though, and we haven’t seen the neighbours to try to get to the bottom of the story. However, OH has managed to work out that the letters refer to the accused’s nationality (ie not Swiss) and are trying to explain that not everyone of certain nationalities (whatever they are....) should be tarred with the same brush. Seems an intelligent and pragmatic reaction.

And the third thing, on a wider note, is the business about Lucie the au pair from Fribourg who was found dead in Baden. You just don’t hear about these things as often as in the UK, so it’s really shocking – and of course devastating for her family and friends. A stark reminder to tell the kids that they mustn’t talk to strangers. Difficult when they’re taught at school to greet everyone they see with “Gruezi” – I guess it’s a question of teaching them boundaries.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Week 24 - J goes to judo

Little to report this week – everything normal, no major dramas involving falling off play equipment, usual volume of homework, etc etc etc.

But on Wednesday, I take J to the judo club in the village. Luckily this is in his school, otherwise I would be facing the real prospect of becoming a whirling dervish on Wednesdays, what with trying to get C from his English lesson at the WAC and back to the village for 5pm. I’ve just worked out that J is now doing 5 out-of-school activities, and, ever conscious of not wanting to become Alice from May Contain Nuts (or have I already ? am I paranoid or are they after me ?) I am thinking that that is quite enough thank you, given that he’s still learning to cope with being educated in a second language and play with his mates in a third. C is doing 4 activities, and may decide that he also wants to do judo - we’ll see. The problem isn’t the interests they have - or I’ve imposed on them - but the fact that with one exception they’re all at different times, and I don’t want them scooting or cycling round the village on their own in the half light. It’s noticeable that drivers seem to be switched on to be aware of children at crossings at the standard school times (8ish, 12ish, 1.30ish and 3.30ish) but not at others. So yes, I am paranoid about road safety out of school hours, particularly since our neighbour’s son was knocked off his bike last September coming home from football training - he’s OK (the bike was wrecked) but it was a nasty shock.

Anyway, unfortunately OH was away on business on Wednesday, so I took J down to the club – we had made a deal that I would take him but he’d have to do the talking. And I was right - the chap in charge spoke a completely incomprehensible Schweizerdeutsch that left me with the familiar cringing feeling that I wonder if I will ever shake off. My understanding of Hochdeutsch isn’t bad now – but Schwiezerdeutsch is a different kettle of fish altogether.

But no matter: J LOVED it. And I must admit, it looks ideal for him. He has a great deal of physical energy (show me a boy who doesn’t) and it’s a licence to do everything he’s not allowed to do in the house – run round, jump, physically handle people - but all the while teaching him how to control his energy and aggression – and learn some self defence.

So, we will go back next week and hopefully within a couple of weeks time I will be able to leave him there and go and collect him later, rather than sit and watch, twiddling my thumbs and wondering how the hell I’m going to have enough time to get dinner on the table and get myself out to rehearsal at 7pm.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Week 23 - bullying on the way home

Week 23 sees J bring home another beautiful piece of handarbeit – a sewn notebook and pencil case. At this rate, I’m going to be putting him on the street selling home made craftwork – he’d make more than I would selling anything.

The Thursday sees C have another little friend round to play in the afternoon - good !

On Friday J is bullied on the way home at lunchtime by the two lads who approached C a few weeks ago. They seem to be following classic bully behaviour – there are two of them, they wait until they are not in sight of anyone, and are a good distance from school. They try to block his path, make fun of him for needing to go to extra German lessons, push him off his scooter and refuse to believe that he’s in Grade 4, because of his size.

J is very upset – understandably. So after lunch we look on the CBBC website and search for “bullying” and how to cope with bullies.

Bullying behaviour is outlined, along with strategies for dealing with it. So the boys have some ideas now, and understand why I want them to walk to and from school together wherever possible – they are less likely to be approached if they are together. J also wants to join the local judo club, so we’ll be doing that next week. I send him back to school, asking him to tell his teacher and ask her what he should do, so that he gets the Swiss “take” on what his next step should be rather than just mine. Luckily she says the same as me – get their names and what class they’re in (we know they are at the school next door rather than ours).

We need to keep practising what they need to say to bullies if this happens again. OH and I are both of the view that you can’t protect kids from bullies – bullies are everywhere, school, the workplace, you name it. But we want to help them learn to deal with it, not become victimised. Luckily we seem to have supportive teaching staff at school – and at least we know that the kids involved are not at the same school as ours, though that could potentially make the situation more complicated to handle. I hope not.


Sportferien passes, seeing us in Austria for a week with friends, which is fantastic. Almost too much snow – if that’s possible. The transition between last year, when the boys were terrified of ski school and were dragged there almost kicking and screaming every day (very relaxing, I must say) because “we don’t understand German” and this year, when they leap out of bed and can’t wait to get started every day, is remarkable. Of course it helps that we are on holiday with their best chums, but they are not in the same ski school groups together. They are no longer frightened of an “all German” situation. And in any case, all the ski instructors speak English. In fact at one point J lapses into Schweizerdeutsch, to his Austrian ski instructor’s utter confusion.

The second week of sportferien sees an argument with J about his German homework for the holidays. He’s convinced it’s a huge piece of work. However, we break it down into small steps and all of a sudden, it’s finished, and he is no longer in an argumentative mood about it. Funny, that.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Week 22 Aha ! Ich verstehe the handarbeit

It’s a week of handarbeit in our house.

J brings home a lovely little card heart for me, for Valentine’s day. Oh, how sweet.
Then he brings home a folder that he’s made, which is really lovely and very individual – artwork on both covers, inside and out.

Then he brings home another folder that he’s made – the card work on which is really very beautifully done. I’m posting some photos here but I’m not sure the detail is really caught. Hey ho. The spirit was willing even if the photographer was weak.

And then – on Thursday, C brings home the result of his 20 lengths of crochet, and it finally all makes sense. The crochet is the fringe on a really gorgeous scarf. His teacher had already stitched a felt smiling face onto it, and he had to push the crochet lengths through holes that had already been punched, and then tie them. So he’s very proud of his work, and I’m very proud of him. He can’t wait to wear it.
Again, I apologise for being unable to turn these pictures round, so sorry about your cricked neck. I must be missing something very basic - if you know how to "flip" photos on please do let me know.....

The other exciting news from this week is that J’s class do a rap workshop with some musicians from the city, with a view to creating a rap about the environment and how we should all look after it - or something like that. If it’s good enough they will record it and maybe post it on youtube…… so now he has stars in his eyes. But he thoroughly enjoys the experience and is looking forward to working more on the project after sportferien.

On the Friday afternoon I suddenly realise that we’re half way through the school year already and am amazed at how much has happened, how much the children have adapted, how quickly they are picking up the language, and how well they are coping. Yes, they have been utterly knackered at various points. Yes, we’ve had tears (all of us, perhaps apart from OH), yes sometimes it has felt completely alien and lonely and sometimes I have missed seeing other mum chums in the morning for a chat and a coffee. But I miss the school run like a hole in the head, I’m more than happy to see the boys off from the front door each morning and afternoon and am thrilled in every respect that I only use the car perhaps twice during the week. We’ve definitely turned a corner, and the fear factor has almost completely disappeared.

Hurrah !

Monday, 9 February 2009

Their friends are real !

Thursday sees J have a friend round to play – skateboarding, out in the street.

Saturday sees C have a friend round to play - inside this time as it’s tipping with rain.

A good sign: their friends aren’t imaginary, or made up to reassure me that they are doing OK at school, honest. They are real ! And they come round, all on their own, to play ! It’s just like it was for us in the 1970’s ! But without the inflation and the power cuts, thankfully.

Cookery lessons

No, not at school, at home, but I’m posting about it because I had agreed with the boys that I would teach them to cook. I am determined that by the time they leave home they will be able to cook, manage their money, operate a washing machine (and iron), keep their room / home in some sort of reasonable state, and organize themselves. There’s nothing less appealing than a bloke who still can’t boil an egg at the age of 25, and no excuse for it either in these enlightened times. Just in case you’re wondering, yes this is completely one-sided on my part, so please feel free to throw things at me. I have no intention of picking up a power drill or using the lawnmower. Readers who know me personally may – rightly perhaps – question my motives. Surely I just want to be waited on hand and foot and as soon as possible, princess style ? Damn, rumbled again. In fact I really do rather like the idea of pottering round the kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, glass of wine in hand, having some bonding time with the boys and giving them a useful life skill, especially for our household: how to use the corkscrew.

Seriously though, I’m fully of the opinion that the decline in the health and increase in obesity of the UK population is due to a complete inability to cook for many people, after cookery was taken out of the school curriculum. The whole of my year group had cookery and nutrition lessons for the duration of the third year at secondary school – but that was 1982, it’s no longer on the national curriculum in the UK, and hasn’t been for quite some time.

I have no idea if the boys will learn cookery at Swiss school – there are teaching kitchens on the lower ground floor of the school, but I don’t know who uses them – perhaps they are for evening classes. But it doesn’t matter – the boys wanted to get started right away and I didn’t want to dampen their enthusiasm. I dug out all their childrens cookery books and sat looking at the pile, utterly baffled, trying to figure out how to put together a meaningful, structured course. I didn’t want to just teach them “this is how to cook pasta”, I want them to be able to understand the food science and nutrition behind it – appropriate for their age group of course – and be able to put together a balanced meal so that they can take care of themselves when they are old enough. Then I realised that some clever person somewhere might have already done all this, and so I typed I want to teach my children to cook into Google, and lo and behold: came up.

I’ve bought the kids cooking lessons package and set it all up. It looks brilliant, and perfect for gradually introducing techniques, science, nutrition from age 3 right up to age 18. We started at the weekend and are racing through the age 3-6 lessons. We enjoyed some fun snacks in front of the opening matches of the Six Nations on Saturday, and on Sunday, C prepared most of the vegetables for dinner. Result !

Week 21: Never be late home from the doctor's.......

I am 5 minutes late home from an appointment on the Monday morning and find C home from school for lunch faster than usual, hammering on the front door and in floods of tears. I don’t know how long he had waited- probably only 3-4 minutes but I hadn’t told them that I was going to the Doctor at 11am, as I had assumed that I would be back well before 12.00. C is absolutely howling, and frantic. I am chastened and reminded that the independence they enjoy in walking themselves to and from school comes with a responsibility on my part to always either be there or warn them of a possibility of being late or give them a key - or all three. I feel dreadful, but he calms down eventually and goes back to school for the afternoon in good shape.

(The doctor’s appointment was a somewhat different experience to anything I had had in the UK recently– but here is not the place for recounting my surprisingly and alarmingly thorough checkup with the Frauenartz. I’ll leave that one for a bawdy girls night out sometime.)

Friday, 30 January 2009

Week 20 - first playdate

First playdate

J comes home on the Monday from school bouncing with joy because he has been invited to a friends’ house to play. This is a major breakthrough. OH and I likewise bounce with joy. J is a very sociable child and has tried very hard to make friends. He seems to have a lot of “mates” and frequently mentions the friend who has issued the invite and another lad, but this is the first time he’s been invited to anyone’s house in his class. So off he goes. We are thrilled – let’s hope this is the sign of him really settling down now.

1/18 for a German test….

Unfortunately on the Wednesday he has an unexpected German test in oral comprehension and scores only 1 out of 18. This is a shame but I’m not worried about it – he clearly worked as hard as he could at the time. They weren’t given any notice of the test, and he said that the teacher spoke very fast. He’s OK about it by the time he goes to bed. I remind him that his teacher told us only two weeks ago how pleased she is with him – and after all, we all have our off days.

Postponed ice skating finally happens

C finally gets to go ice skating with his extra German class on the Wednesday, and announces that he wants to go ice skating at the weekends now, not skiing. Hurrumph. No chance, sonny Jim. The slopes beckon.

Ponies revisited

He also comes home with the news (I’m relieved to share) that the jugendchor are now pronouncing pony as Bonnie. Phew. I will be able to enjoy the concert without being forced to sit in the back row for fear of a teenage-style giggling fit.

More extra German

C has been scheduled one more extra German class, in his “free period” on a Friday morning: what this means is that his late start no longer exists. This is great - I’ll grab any extra free German tuition I can for them.


The icing on the cake is that C’s class start working on times-tables. I have been dreading this, and start checking his first piece of times-tables homework with a heavy heart, fearing the moment of having to re-explain it all and the inevitable frustration that will follow. Will he have grasped any of the concept at all ?


It’s about 90% correct.

He is completely unfazed by it – in stark contrast to his reactions in previous years when a new concept has been introduced to him.

The very pedantic method of maths teaching here is paying massive dividends for him. I daresay to some children it’s too slow and dull, but, from what I can work out, they take a single, simple concept and gradually build it up.

Whooppee !

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Week 19: Oh bring back my pony to me

“Mum, we’re doing a new song at jugendchor and it’s from England.”

“How lovely darling, you’ll be able to help them with that then won’t you. What’s it called ?”

“My pony lies over the ocean.”

(sounds of tea being spat all over the computer followed by choked laughter)

“I think they may have got muddled up with how you pronounce Bonnie, darling. Perhaps you could help them with that ? It’s a very well known song, but the name of it is My Bonnie lies over the ocean”.

“No, no, it’s definitely pony, Mum”.

“No, it’s not, trust me, it’s definitely Bonnie.”

(this continues for a while and then I give up)

Nothing exciting, interesting or tedious to report this week. A normal week: well, as normal as it gets in our household, anyway.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

School "brother" system

I mention this because I realise I haven’t until now and I’m reminded on Friday when J says hello to his “school brother” when he passes him in the street.

The school run a mentor system, whereby new children are allocated a “school brother / sister”, ie one of the Grade 6 children who has been in the school for a long time. It’s only J who has the “school brother” so I assume that the individual is assigned our family rather than just J. But it’s encouraging that they do this to help children settle, and I’m aware once more that whilst the school might not wear its pastoral care on its sleeve, it’s definitely there in the heart of the place.

Parent - teacher meetings.

Tuesday sees the first of our individual parent – teacher meetings with J’s teacher. She is very very pleased with him and his progress so far – and so are we. In fact J comes with us and that adds an extra dimension to it. In the UK our parent – teacher meetings were just the adults, discussing the children without them being in the room. This time, it is a 3-way discussion. J is very happy to hear all the complimentary things his teacher is saying, and is very encouraged by them. He also can hear for himself what she said rather than relying on our interpretation, so he knows what he still needs to work on.

Thursday sees the first of our parent-teacher meetings with C’s teacher. He doesn’t want to come with us, but that’s OK. She is also very pleased with him, and confirms the things that he still needs to continue to work on. The difference in level of expectation between Grade 4 and Grade 2 is noticeable – and I am again reminded that the level of strictness, punctuality, difficulty and presentation of work etc is an intentional leap between Grades 3 and 4, so we are relieved to have more time to get C adjusted to the system. That said, he’s doing very well, considering his “problems” last year, and we are really very thrilled with how they are both progressing.

Week 18. Bullying ....... ?

C comes home on the Tuesday with news that some lad or other tried to block his path and pushed him into a bush on the way home. This is not the first time it’s happened.

My hackles rise. Is he being singled out because he’s small, sometimes he walks on his own, he’s English ? Memories surface of my own walk home from primary school, straight into the path of (what felt like) hundreds of oncoming secondary school children who walked up the lane past the road where I lived as a child. I felt frightened, self conscious, vulnerable. I think it comes under the British heading of “good character- building stuff”, though it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

Anyway, I give the boys the stiff talk about what to do with people who behave like that: ignore them, walk round them, and if they lay a hand on you, you damn well push them back: defend yourself. But don’t push them into the road or any where near traffic. And in the meantime always try to walk home with either the little friend round the corner or each other.

It’s hard, this bit. We try so hard to turn the other cheek, to ignore other peoples’ bad behaviour, to walk away from bullying and intimidation, but when push comes to shove then that’s just what you have to do. Literally.

Week 18: C homework struggle

C is struggling to get back into the homework routine despite his shiny new beautiful desk. So we spend the week working together to teach him to concentrate for 15 minutes at a time and by Friday we’ve more or less cracked it. He’s certainly not got stuck straight back in this term, though he’s very happy so I’m not complaining.

Week 18. Handarbeit - any takers for crocheting a rabbit ?

Monday lunchtime C arrives home with the (hilarious, in my view) news that he has won a prize for being the first child in his class to finish the crochet homework. He assures me that he didn’t tell his teacher that a portion of the prize should be mine…… however he’s now been set the task of crocheting a rabbit.

A rabbit. Any ideas on how to crochet a rabbit ?

I’m completely flummoxed. I’m not getting involved in this. He can do the stitch himself now. I’m not crocheting a rabbit for him. (And Ma, if you’re reading this, you might be in Warwickshire, but I can hear you laughing all the way to Zurich.)

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Week 17. January. To crochet or not to crochet ? That is the question

The boys go back to school, happy to see their friends. First day of homework is a real struggle to get back into the routine. J then comes down with the symptoms of his allergy and I realise that he has had a reaction to a particular brand of sunscreen used on him on the Sunday whilst they were skiing. So he spends 2 days in bed, with a face like a balloon, fever and rash. Poor child. We’re now on the case and working out the next steps with the kinderartz, who we manage to see on the Friday.

J’s teacher rings on the Wednesday to see how he is – which was very kind of her. She is concerned that he might fall behind with his work, but I assure her that he had already done all the homework from Monday. I explain that he doesn’t want to come in to school until his face has gone back to its normal shape and size because he’s worried that he will be teased. She understands completely, but is concerned for him not to miss a particular lesson on the Thursday – the start of their new project, on electricity. So she says that she will explain to the class that they must be kind to him if he still looks a bit strange and says that he need only come in for that lesson if he's still rough.

Thursday dawns, and, whilst his face is still quite red, the swelling has reduced significantly so he goes to school, thrilled to be able to do so after 2 boring days at home with me. Hurrah for both of us. He finally remembers to take in the third of the “Secret Santa” presents for the girl who he sits next to. Not very secret, but it must be a bit hard to keep it quiet when you’ve been allocated your desk-mate.

All week C goes to school as usual, and on the Monday comes home at lunchtime declaring that that he understood his class teacher. Hurrah ! But I’m not convinced : at teatime he comes home with what seems like a crazy volume of handarbeit homework – 20 lengths of 25cm of simple crochet to be done by next Monday. Now, whilst I was a keen dressmaker in my misspent youth and still enjoy making things with my trusty sewing machine, I never took to either knitting or crochet – to my mother’s despair, naturally. So my heart sinks at the thought of struggling through all this wretched needlework. I have no idea where to start, and no idea where my needlework bible is. It must be here somewhere, I know I’ve seen it….. but C is struggling to get back into a routine with any homework at all this week, and spends most of the time having a fit of the sillies. It must be the moon. Or the wind. Or the gin.

By Thursday he still hasn’t started this damned crochet and I am losing patience – partly with myself as I’m struggling to understand the instructions I’ve found on t’internet. However, after a few tears of frustration from both him and me we finally have a breakthrough and he’s off. By Saturday night he’s managed just 11 lengths, so I – very naughtily – turn into the crochet fairy and knock up a further 7 lengths for him so he’s only got 2 to do on Sunday. I wouldn’t normally do his homework for him but I’m not convinced he’s right about 20 lengths of it. We’ll find out next Monday. I just hope we did the right stitch.

Anyone know where the devil fits into the Christmas story ?!

In the pre-Christmas chaos I had forgotten to mention that J had brought home a piece of handarbeit that he had been working on for a few weeks: a wooden devil and sheep, which he claimed were Christmas decorations. In fact he had brought home some knitting a few weeks prior to this, saying it was part of a handarbeit project, but I had forgotten to ask him about the rest of it (and when asked what his homework was on one particular day he had replied: “nothing - just me knitting” – which I had met with gales of laughter).

Now, I understand where the sheep fits into the Christmas story, but I’m struggling to understand the wooden devil. No matter……. J had really enjoyed making them and they are obviously encouraged to work to their best ability. He’s never really been pushed in terms of arts & crafts at his previous schools, and his enjoyment of the creativity is clear. I’m beginning to understand why the school place so much emphasis on it – it’s enjoyable, it’s good for their motor skills, they can be sociable whilst they are learning, it’s creative, they finish with something physical which they have made in their hands, and they learn real skills while they are at it – measuring, cutting, making decisions, giving them responsibility, using power tools. J loves it: a wicked little glint comes into his eyes on Wednesday mornings in anticipation of using the power tools (at which point I get on the floor and pray he returns home intact at lunchtime), and of course, for the non-Swiss families, whilst it’s still a lesson in German, it’s time away from the super-intensive Deutsch-immersion-in-the-classroom.

And as far as I’m concerned if I have sons who leave school able to create and then put up a shelf then I think that’s pretty useful.


On the Sunday after term ended the Gemeinde music school gave an Advent concert, in the local catholic church.

The childrens’ choir led the audience in singing about 12 carols from different countries, and the instrumentalists played some really lovely arrangements of some early/Baroque style pieces – effectively arranged for light wind instruments and including one wind instrument I’ve never seen in my life. It was situated in the recorder section and looked like something off Dr Who. And there I shall stop my description for fear of revealing myself as a complete ignoramus, it’s probably a well known instrument over here. The musical standard was very impressive, and it made a charming end to the term and start of Christmas week.