What makes a school/home away from school/home?
1) Friendly faces:
Being together as a family, of course cannot be underestimated in the opportunities it creates and the safety and love it provides us all… But this is more about creating a homely feel away from home…
We (I actually speak of my experience- the kids and Christos will have to tell their own stories) have fallen on our feet. We met two amazing families through Couch surfing- we contacted Krystalenia and Irini (means ‘peace’ in Greek) & Vasilis in our first two days. These women in particular are locals with a wealth of knowledge on the school system, supports and services around, and politics. We met Gianni’s, a cousin of Leonidas who told us about Agios Nikolaos in the first place, and he found us our apartment, dropped off oil, extra chairs, a mattress, and checks on us often. Then from another source, a sister in law /and daughter in law of a friend of Yiayia Vasiliki’s; Renya in particular has been amazing to us with shopping trips in her big car and friendly beeps and calls on the street as well as two great kids to play with ours.
Add to that a special collection of women from England and Ireland that I stumbled upon some of whose kids happen to be in the same school and you have yourself a lovely connection of friendly faces, people to contact and knowledge that we are not alone.
2) Food: Being able to cook food we like when we want. I am loving cooking. The kids are loving food. Eating many meals in a row saying ‘this is the best ever mum’ – why wouldn’t I like hearing that?!
Do you think it might be related to the increased salt levels I seem to be cooking with? Or is it that I am making so many cakes and muffins to keep the kids in good supply at school hence increased sugar levels?
Having a favourite cheap food location helps too: Giros and pizza at the lake or beach, the Cretan equivalent of fish and chips on the pier.
3) Having a routine that works: I love our routine. Early to school, shopping,
following up on language leads or whatever, then home to cook a hot lunch ready for little kids 12.15pm pick up and big kids for 1.30pm.
It needs to be ready so on soccer days Toby can eat before training. Then it is quiet time for the littles (soon to transform into some constructive English reinforcement) as the bigs tackle their homework. This is not always a happy time of the day… Sometimes there is Greek support (Kristalenia, mentioned in the first section, is a teacher and is doing a great job with the kids Greek reading) … But the thing I love is that I know that all will be done by 4.45pm at which time we all venture to the sports stadium around the corner or the Zumba gym and an hour of exercise gets the happy hormones going..
We have a swim on the way home, left overs for dinner, then bed… I love that I know that the exercise and sea will wash off grumpiness and the next day starts again. I love my kids, they’re great.
4) Language: this is the main aim of coming to Greece; to improve our Greek language. It is possibly also the weakest link at the moment. But that is to be expected at this point. I think Christmas will be a reasonable time to reassess this. I am starting a 200 hour Greek language course run by the council in November- I’m so looking forward to this. I feel awful that the kids are traipsing off to school each day not understanding much at all , and I barely get to hear any Greek (in fact I regularly count nine languages on some cafe menus). Even the radio stations play heaps of English music. I’m advised that Greek soapies on TV are great for learning the language – we don’t have a TV.
A random sharing that will be an image in my mind forever: Salt crystals drying on Emilio’s eyelashes.
Fascinating school observations: Solid metal fences, concrete grounds, pastel coloured buildings, equipment barren grounds and numerous large keys…one entry, one exit.
Homework and heavy, heavy bags.
Perhaps we have been spoilt in our small country school in Australia, but some things seem out of sorts to me if one is trying to promote a lifelong love of learning and enquiry.
Greek culture is something I am obviously still learning about… (I think they cover some aspect of culture in my free language course). However even some Greek teachers and parents we have met outside our children’s education role are horrified with the changes made to the Greek education system in the last 5-10 years. What seems saddest to me, given my children are essentially without language in these early months, is the lack of interactive opportunities. There is not a ball available or a skipping rope, or a swing, or monkey bar, nor even a tree to climb.
So for kids without language especially, this reduces opportunities to interact and make friends.
The three bigs will be communicating more soon- they say about 2-3 months of immersion sees most kids rambling in a new tongue (the pressure is on Christos to keep it going at home) … Anyway, the feeling a parent has when dropping your kids off each morning at 8 am is hard to describe.
One of us walks with the big kids to the school yard, they congregate at 8.10 am in their class lines, do a prayer and, simultaneously as the kids are taken off to their classrooms by their teachers, parents are ushered out of the school gates by the designated teacher holding a key about 12 cm long and the gate is noisily closed behind us. Kids in, parents out. No exceptions. One parent we have met keeps a screw driver in his car for those days they are late and their boy is locked out… He advised me, a very small screwdriver is required. Luckily we seem to be very punctual here. This dad also rightly angrily questions the logic and intent behind locking kids out. ‘They didn’t do it 7 years ago’, he says.
Admittedly, things are still being sorted out in the school, apparently they are without a principal, wages have been cut by half, they don’t have all the teachers they need to run the school, the culture operates around late nights for parents and kids alike….and then they expect kids and teachers to be fresh and inspired for learning first thing.
All classrooms are locked unless a teacher is in there; Yas and Toby’s class were unable to get their snacks the other day because they had computers with another teacher in another room and their room was locked so no mid-morning snack there. The kids already love school back in Australia, this experience is likely to harness even more appreciation of their teachers, the interactive learning styles, the active participation of students in the discovery of new things. As I look on from the outside it reminds me of the independent learning required in high schools and feels ‘huge’ for primary kids.
I can’t believe the life lessons the kids are learning. They impress me every day. Some days we are still the worst parents in the world; they want to go home, other days the participation in activities, chatter with English speakers and special family moments make it all worth it. We are monitoring the general trend, there are (time) milestones we have to determine how long we stay and when we change plans. So far we’re here for now.
Love to you all
Mama Miliking xxxxxxx