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.