ROCK STAR! AEB did all the things at the front gate that embarrass a parent on the first day of school, but as a parent you pretend aren’t happening. Clinging, crying, wailing and dragging her feet. The line between being really excited about the chance to learn and make new friends and the terror of not knowing the language and being completely in over your head is blurred. It was no surprise to find that she was super excited at breakfast and then could hardly get herself down the steps of the flat to get to school. Sigh. Anxiety makes this much harder for someone than they might be otherwise. Mum went with us to the classroom door and Huang Yuan had said she could be with us in the morning to help get our girl settled, which was nice of her. The only issue is that Huang Yuan is studying to be an English teacher and has not had much experience as an interpreter so there was a lot that we missed or she did not think to help us with so I still had questions when she had to leave at lunch time. AEB, in the meantime, was greeted with great enthusiasm. Her teacher has set up a desk for her at the back so she could watch and observe and participate as she could with no expectations. This was a relief in that some teachers might have placed her up front and paired her with another student to try and help her out. This was more organic and allowed our girl to take her time in feeling part of the class. There were lots of presents given to her – one from the class/teacher and other little gifts that her classmates wished to give to her to help her feel fully welcomed. Little erasers, pencils, little books which as great since they are in the Zhong wen (the written language) and in pin yin (the writing in arabic script with accent markings for pronunciation). She can read these even though she can’t understand what she’s reading which will help with her ear for the language. I’m also trying to do some translating so she knows what she’s reading. The best part, if getting presents wasn’t the best, is that there are lots of breaks at school. Classes are 40 minutes each and then they have about 10 – 15 minutes between classes to run around, work on homework not completed and other things. At each break AEB was surrounded by her classmates wanting to know about her and speaking to her in a flurry of chinese, which she was so sorry not to be able to understand. I asked if Huang Yuan could be with AEB to translate for her, this is where the interpretation element was lacking in Huang Yuan. The other two girls that work with mum would have be in the thick of it all helping our girl and teaching her a few things to say and doing more to get her adjusted to her new surroundings. But then their personalities are more gregarious than Huang Yuan’s seems. AEB did the maths lessons, they are working double digit subtraction problems and word problems which we don’t do until 2nd grade back in the States but AEB will be ahead of things for her time. Then there was physical education. The coach had them do their warm ups, which she did not know but she had a little girl behind her who put her arms in the correct positions and tried to help her along. After PE there was a break for an all school callisthenics. AEB was in tears for this as she had no idea what to do and a little boy had looked at her and pointed and that sent her over the edge. Poor thing. I told her that she could stand at the back and watch. I tried to get her to understand that they had to learn at some point to and that the boy was probably in shock that she was even trying! It helped, but she won’t be all right until she can fully participate in the activity. Next was Art class. They were looking at sculptures and talking about the different types. They have to bring in their own supplies from home. I was able to make a quick call to mum for her play dough, but a little girl in the class leant her some so she could participate. They made reliefs. While they worked the teacher played music, the chosen piece was Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and they all worked to make lovely pieces. AEB really enjoyed working on hers, I even made one. I was there, so why not? Once they were finished the teacher put them on display on the visualiser (the modern day overhead projector). The lunch break was really nice as it was very long – combination lunch and recess for a full hour and a half of down time. So between the breaks between classes and the long recess the Chinese seem, at least on the primary school level, to have a rather humane day even if they work really hard on prepping for examinations and all the rest that is wrong with educating children these days. Before the next lesson there was a pause for eye exercises. When you’re a people staying up late to study and straining your eyes working so hard you need to stop and give your eyes some TLC. After lunch was Reading and this was fun. The teacher had them watching and English language film with Chinese subtitles! What a great idea. Bonus that AEB could understand. They watched “Tintin” which was perhaps not something I would have thought of showing our girl at this point in her life, but there you have it. She enjoyed it, for all the murder and intrigue, and the students watched and played with play dough or other things and the teacher tackled a stack of homework notebooks that was at least a metre high! Whew! Somewhere in there another callisthenics was taken and this time AEB just stayed back to watch. And the final bit of the day was to practice for the up coming Children’s Day festivities. The class has a little dance they will be doing, she’d played the video for it at the end of the lunch/recess break. There is some sort of recitation by a girl about herself and the dance that select girls have been chosen to do. And then we were free to go.
Last night AEB was talking of being let off at the gate and doing the day on her own, but I don’t think she’ll let herself do it when it comes to actually going off on her own. Mum went with her this morning and I will try to go down later to trade off. As she feels more comfortable and has things to occupying herself with things will be better. Right now it’s all too new and getting settled into the rhythm of the day is the most important. We did find out that one of the girls that she plays with in the evenings goes to school across the road. Maybe we can get her to help her learn the morning group exercises to help with the adjustment.
School – day 2 The Day Mum Gets to Feel Like an Absolute Heel
Well, you take three steps forward and two and three quarters steps back and you do the hokey kokey and that’s what it’s all about – not. AEB flew into a panic this morning, though she couldn’t define it as such to us, as it was near time to go off to school. Mum went with her and it was a drag out until they got to the gate and she went through the school gate beautifully and to her classroom beautifully and then froze up and clung to mum. When they went out for morning callisthenics she wanted to hide behind a pillar but her teacher wouldn’t let her and took her out to be part of the group – yay, teacher! I came over mid-morning while they were doing their Chinese lessons and AEB had use of a book so she could read the pinyin along with the others. But she was determined to not participate, “I can’t understand what they’re saying so I’m not doing it”. Trying to get her to do it along and try to figure out meaning was impossible. I tried to ignore her and do the lesson along with the students to see if she would follow – no such luck. Then the lesson was Morality and Life which I couldn’t understand but could infer what was going on based on the pictures put up on the screen and watching – nope, not having it. Hmm. Lunch came and she was great, all smiles and sunshine. According to the schedule the last half of the day would be extra-curricular activities followed by Pioneers Activities. I’m guessing that means learning about those that began the communist party in China saving them all from Democracy and Imperial tyranny of the past, but that’s just a guess on my part. I called mum during lunch to say that I thought it might be important to try and leave AEB to “sink or swim” without me the rest of the day since the schedule didn’t seem to be too difficult to deal with. She thought it a great idea, so I told our girl (when I could catch her between chases and squeals of glee) that I needed to run some errands and that I would be back later. I know that this first few days will be very difficult for her, but if she can allow herself to get through them I think she will do well and get a lot out of this experience. Fingers crossed for pick up time. Then we haven’t received a call from her teacher, so she can’t be doing all that bad on her own. We’ve also gathered Christina’s help (one of mum’s translators) to come to the school to see if they can get AEB a few of the textbooks for keeps so we can help her work through some of the work and to see if there might be someone who, during a break or recess time can teach her the routines of the callisthenics both morning and afternoon ones. It’s a tall oder for a short girl, but she’s so smart that I know she can if she’ll let herself.