Tag Archives: British school

School Clubs and Activities

Every teacher at my kids’ school here in England is required to offer at least one extracurricular  club per term.  Some of the clubs take place during the lunch/recess hour and some take place after school, but just about every club is free.  They’re included in the price of tuition.  And there are so many options, my kids often have trouble deciding what they want to do each term.

This extension of the school day is amazing in a few ways.  First, it gives parents another hour before the kids need to be picked up, which I am sure makes a huge difference for families with both parents working outside the home.  Next, it gives the kids the opportunity to do cool things after school instead of coming home and hanging out with their boring mom.  And finally, it gives the students the chance to try something new in a familiar and safe place, for free.  There’s no downside.

This term Quinn is taking Cookery Club (which is not just cooking class, but the SCIENCE and PROCESS of cooking as well) and Dance Club (where he has already done some ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and hip-hop).  Owen is doing Running Club, which takes place during his lunch hour on Mondays, and Hockey Club, which basically all the boys on the A- and B-teams in their class take and it exists as a sort of extra practice session.  Gabe is also doing Dance club and Hockey Club, and both Gabe and Owen also do Swim Club, which is mandatory for everyone on the school swim team.

Bridget is taking Rifle Club (during lunch one day) with real rifles where she actually shoots live .22 rounds at the school shooting range.  (Yes, the school has a shooting range.  Normally used by the Cadet Corps Force, which is like JROTC.)  She also does Equestrian Club (extra fee for this one, understandably), Drama Club, and last term she did a Ski Club (which also cost extra) where a school bus took the kids to an indoor ski arena about 45 minutes away and they did a 90-minute ski lesson.  The school also provided dinner to the kids in the club (usually sandwiches, chips, fruit & dessert) and brought them back to school afterwards to be collected by their parents.

The number of clubs offered by the schools each term is amazing — Lego Club and Choir and Art Club and a club for every sport you can think of plus some you’ve never heard of unless you’re from England (netball, anyone?). There are Science Clubs and Gardening Clubs, there are Robotics Clubs and Modelling Clubs.  It is unbelievable.

And it’s awesome.  And it’s mostly free.  And it’s another thing I wish they would implement in schools in the U.S. because it’s good for parents and good for students.  The teachers here are accustomed to it – the teacher work day here generally runs something like 8:15AM – 5:15PM – so it’s just part of being a teacher at this incredible school.

I love that my kids are doing cool things and spending more time with their friends and not hanging out at my house playing video games (not that they’d be allowed to on a school night anyway, but you get my point).  Long live after school clubs! (For at least the next 18 months until we have to move back to America.)

School Lunch in England

When we lived in D.C. I packed lunches and snacks for all the kids every day for school.  We do not eat processed food (as much as humanly possible), we only eat organic, and the school lunches that were provided were, frankly, gross re-heated frozen processed garbage.  My kids might have purchased school lunch once in their lives before we moved here.

At the school in England, though, you are not allowed to bring a lunch.  It’s just not even a thing.  The school has a full kitchen and a chef and five other prep staff and the food is made from scratch on the premises every day, and every child eats the lunch provided.  It’s part of the tuition and fees.  And the food is freaking amazing.  The picture above is an actual photo of the salad bar in the Prep school where all three boys eat each day.

Every single day I ask the kids what they had for lunch that day.  I am always jealous.  Here’s a sample menu from this month:

My kids eat this stuff.  Gabe has a salad almost every day.  They are required to take a vegetable AND to eat it.  Every week they have “Roast Day” on Wednesdays, fish on Fridays, and every day there is a soup option, homemade desserts, and bread made from scratch.  The pizza on Friday is made from scratch — even the dough.  Everything is made on site with fresh ingredients.  It is incredible.  My kids have tried and learned they love new foods and have asked me to make them at home, providing me with more ideas and options at dinner time too! (Still working on a good recipe for Yorkshire pudding…or maybe a more skilled baker than I to make them.)

I also then don’t feel guilty if I occasionally have to give them PB&J sandwiches for dinner occasionally since they are eating a full hot meal with veggies and dessert every single day at lunch.

We pay a fee each term to cover the kids’ lunches which comes to a total of approximately $832 per term.  Divided by about 50 school days per term and by four children, that comes out to a cost of about $4.16 per child per day.  I can absolutely guarantee that I spent more per lunch for my kids when I was making them at home and packing them daily.  Do you know how gladly I will pay $4 per day for my children to eat this incredible and healthy food?  Contrast that with the $2.65 it cost to buy school lunch at our school in America and the difference is laughable. 

In addition to obviously being healthier than the lunches provided at the schools in America, the lunch program here makes my life easier because I don’t have to pack lunches every morning.  Instead of scrambling to make sandwiches or fill thermoses, I get to sit and eat breakfast and drink coffee.  It is awesome.

There are a few school districts in the U.S. that I’ve been able to find online that employ an actual chef and provide the students with healthy and high-quality food like this, but they are few and far between.  How much better would it be for all our kids if the food at schools were better? 

Here’s one resource I found for implementing this kind of program in schools: Chef Ann Foundation.

What stops a school from doing this?  I can’t imagine any parent would be against it.  It’s better for the kids, it’s better for the parents (I cannot imagine going back to packing 4 lunches every morning!).  It’s just BETTER.

For now I’m grateful to be sending my kids to a school where this good food is a daily reality.  And when we return to the U.S., I plan to work hard to make this a reality in whatever school district we end up in.  Our kids deserve it.

All photos are from the school dining hall website and used with permission.

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A New School Year

first-day-of-school-2016

After a summer well-spent, we’re back to school.  Thank goodness!  We loved our break, we fully relaxed and enjoyed ourselves and we took an amazing 2.5 week trip back to America, but after 10 weeks off, every last one of us was in need of some structure and time apart.

Summer vacation is always lovely and much-needed, but by the end of August the kids have had too much togetherness and they can’t go thirty minutes without bickering.  They’re sick of each other and they need to see their friends.  I’m done with making snacks and lunches and reminding them to clean up after themselves and mediating arguments over stupid things.  I’m tired of spending hundreds of dollars on food every week only to have them all descend like locusts and eat it all in a day, or be told that, despite the full pantry and fridge, there’s nothing to eat. 

We were all ready for school to start.  Clearly.

back-to-school-yay

The children go into this year in a completely different frame of mind compared to last fall.  No longer the new kids, no longer unsure what to expect, they were all counting down the days in anticipation of getting back.  Unlike years past, they were truly excited to be starting back in school.  They couldn’t wait to see their friends, get started on their sports teams, find out which teachers they have for what subjects, compare holiday adventures, and get back into the swing of it all.

I am also excited, because, like the kids, I’m no longer doing things for the first time, unsure of how it will all go.  It felt lovely to walk into the school yesterday morning and greet so many familiar faces, to chat about the summer holidays and upcoming sports matches, to arrange coffee dates with other moms.  I think I’m looking forward to this year even more than the kids.

With a full year behind us and at least that long ahead of us, we’re in a groove and I like it.  Long may it last!


Also, the first day of school last year when my baby went off and left me, and an ode to Back to School.


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Summer Vacation in England

first and last kim

School finally wrapped up here last week — July 6th was the last day.  Although the school year extends a few weeks beyond what we’re used to in the States, I never felt that end-of-the-year slog we always seem to get in June at home.  The last few weeks of school were full of so many activities and events, and the children were still getting homework assigned right up until the last week, so the end of the year felt less like a drag.

Having now finished our first year of British schools, I am overwhelmingly proud of what my children accomplished.  All four of them made good friends, threw themselves into school activities, and achieved impressive grades and phenomenal feedback from their teachers.

Bridget finished in the top three of her class, with such high marks in every subject it seems hard to imagine a way she could improve academically.  She participated in the school production of MacBeth, she did equestrian lessons throughout the entire school year, she joined the Drama Club, the CSI Club, the Football (soccer) Club, and a singing club.  She ran cross-country for the school in regional competition.  She just knocked every single thing out of the park.  And she did it in a school environment MUCH closer to what I experienced in college than in elementary, middle, or even high school at home.  She had 17+ different teachers, 13+ subjects, and had to make her way around a large campus with the correct materials for each class every day.  I was completely amazed by her organization and responsibility and willingness to try new things.  And I am simply astounded by her academic achievements.

Gabriel has blossomed this year perhaps more than any of the other kids.  More than one time in this school year he said to me that he felt like “he mattered” at his school — that his presence there made an impact.  I can think of nothing that I want more for my kids than to feel like they matter.  He improved vastly in his academics from the beginning of the school year to the end, and he worked hard and constantly to do so.  The expectations placed on him here were much higher than those he was accustomed to, and he rose to the challenge.  He discovered a love of history that I would never have expected, to the point where our dinner conversations are often initiated by Gabe telling us about a specific period or event in history while the other kids chime in and Matt and I sit there with big, stupid grins on our faces.  Gabe also made the A-team in every season — all in sports he had never played before (soccer, field hockey, and cricket).  He joined the school choir and sang with them in the play put on by the Year 6 kids.  He loved singing and loved the play so much, again surprising me with an interest I would not have expected from him.

Owen was my toughest nut to crack, not seeming as affected by the major changes when school first started or as engaged in the new environment.  He certainly dove in, joining the running club, the chess club, and making the A-team in soccer for his year, but he didn’t seem to make the connection that more effort was required, particularly in the classroom, for him to be really successful.  Partway through the school year, though, he received a student report — essentially a long-form report card in which each of his teachers from all of his subjects wrote out a few sentences describing Owen’s strengths and weaknesses.  Across the board teachers said that he was doing passably well, but certainly not reaching his own potential.  They said that he rushed through work and didn’t fully apply himself to the best of his own ability.  I made him read it.  He spent the last half of the school year more engaged and trying harder to do well on his assignments than I have ever seen him.  He made the A-team in hockey and cricket as well, and he brought all his grades up and his effort marks up in almost every class.  He was a changed man after reading that report, and I can’t wait to see him get back to it when school starts again in the fall.

Then there was Quinn, who, in his first year in full-time school was thrust into an environment that none of us was familiar with.  When he started the school year, we realized he was a bit behind his peers, who already had a full school year under their belts since British schools start at age four.  He met with a remedial specialist for the first term up through Christmas to catch up in areas where he was lagging.  In those three months, he not only caught up, he surpassed his peers and amazed us all.  He has found that he loves math especially and is also thrilled with learning new languages — his French and Spanish classes are some of his favorites.  He was a Wise Man in the Christmas Nativity play and was completely comfortable and happy on stage in front of 200 parents.  He made friends as quickly and happily and easily as he always has and knew every kid in his grade and the grades above and below him in no time.  Quinn, as always, loved everything he did and made us all love it too because of his enthusiasm and joy.

I know that this school year could have gone very differently; there are more strict expectations within the school here and a higher standard for behavior, effort, and academics.  My kids could have balked and made the year miserable for all of us.  But they didn’t; they embraced the changes, grew more mature and responsible across the board, and threw themselves into their new life with abandon.  I am so grateful and so proud of them all.

The weather is finally hitting the 70s pretty consistently, after the rainiest June anyone here can remember, July has been nicely sunny, and we’re all ready for some relaxation!  On to summer vacation!  


Also, here are some of my thoughts on why the British school system we’re in is so awesome.


 

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