Tag Archives: education

School Update

This morning at school drop-off, I almost cried.  This is our last week of the term and then we head into the long Easter break (3.5 weeks off!).  When the kids go back to school at the end of April, it will be their last term in England.

While I knew that was going to be hard to handle, I thought I’d make it until June at least before I started crying about it.

Turns out?  I was wrong.

Last week was the sign-up for extracurricular activities for the coming term.  Instead of jumping on the laptop that night and waiting for the activity portal to open, I didn’t manage to sign the boys up for their clubs until the next morning.  When I checked the activity board at school this morning, I saw that Quinn didn’t get into Athletics club, the number one thing he wanted to do this coming term.  He’s on the waiting list, but who knows if five children will drop out in the first week so he can participate.  I haven’t told him yet.

When I realized what had happened, and that it was 100% entirely my own fault, I felt the tears start to well up.  You see, it’s more than him just not being able to do Athletics club (which is basically like track and field – all kinds of running and jumping and throwing).  I realized that if he doesn’t get to do this club this coming term, he never will.  Cause this is our last term here at this amazing, incredible school that offers multiple free after-school clubs every day of the week.

I made it to my car before I cried, thus successfully avoiding embarassing myself or the children.  I’ll save that for later in the school year, as the end truly approaches, when I doubt I’ll make it a single week without crying over leaving this school.

I am so happy to be moving home, truly, in every way.  Until I think about schools. 

I know there’s no school like this in America.  Even the private schools that charge twice as much as our tuition here aren’t as good.  And I just want to scream because I can’t give my children everything I want: this amazing school, but in the location where we want to live permanently.  I want to pick it up and drag it across the ocean with me and plant it in the town where we’re going to live and go on enjoying the fantastic teachers and interesting curricula and amazing sports programs and afterschool clubs and school lunches better than what I cook for myself at home.  Now that we’ve had this, now that we know it exists, how do we leave?

The answer is that we have to, so we do the best we can.  And we go to our new schools with optimism and open minds and hope.  And a plan to join the PTA and run for school board. 

The End of the School Year

Our second school year in England came to an end on July 5th.  It’s hard for me to believe we’ve already done two years of school here; it has, without any doubt or hyperbole, been the very best part of this move.

I know full well it’s not a typical school that my children go to  – it’s in a castle for goodness sake – and I also know full well that it’s not the only school like this in England by a long shot. 

I know that we are so lucky to have our children go to this school, and I know that we “got lucky” because Matt and I worked our asses off to make it so.

The school day here is organized for the benefit of the children more than any other school setting I’ve ever experienced. 

The days and weeks and academic terms are built with the needs of kids in mind and are centered always around a balance of activity and learning. 

It would NOT be difficult to replicate the school day here at any other school and I am quite sure that it would instantly make school more enjoyable for any child and therefore make them more successful and happy. 

On the last day of school, on the way in in the morning, I asked the kids if they were excited to be going on summer vacation.  To a man, they all said yes AND no – they were excited to be on break, but would be sad not be go to school.  They literally love school that much here.  Never, ever would that have happened before we came to this school.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I’ve learned in the two years we’ve been here:

My kids needed more activity in their school days.  A lot more activity.  Now that they have it, school is a blessing and not a curse.

Having more activity in the school day made my kids better students.  They learn more and enjoy the learning more.

School uniforms make almost everything about my mornings simpler.  The only thing that is slightly complicated is keeping track of all the different things each of my kids need.  But I will gladly take that over fighting with them every morning about what they were wearing to school.

Youth sports IN school rather than AFTER school has drastically improved our family schedule.

The school calendar here – basically 6 weeks of school followed by at least a one-week break – is awesome. 

My kids thrive when they are given more responsibility and more independence.  That rolls over from school into home life. 

It’s incredible to see the transformation my children have undergone since coming here and I’m hopeful that the foundation they’ve built here will carry over when we return home.

We have one year left and we’re going to wring everything we can out of it!

Thoughts on Schools and Education

hooray for school

To me, education is the foundation upon which a successful society is built.  A good education offers benefits you can’t always truly measure, and a bad education or a lack of education can limit a person for their entire lives.

I feel strongly that a quality public education is a right, not a privilege, and I believe that public schools have the potential to provide that if they are properly funded and if they rely on an organizational method and curriculum that is designed specifically to serve the children as the #1 priority.  I do not, however, think that this is always how schools are run. 

It’s unfortunate, because I think that the widespread existence of poor and mediocre public schools is what causes parents to seek alternatives for their kids, which I fully understand and believe is admirable — my priority as a parent is that my children get the very best education possible.  But that leads to parents enrolling their children in charter schools or private schools which then causes money to be diverted away from the public schools, which then causes those schools to become less and less effective.  It’s a bad cycle.

I’ve probably already said it one million times, but the thing that has had the single biggest impact on our lives since moving to England is the kids’ new school.  By far and away the school has had the most positive affect on all our lives, more than any of the other changes and experiences we’ve had.

When we lived in D.C., my kids went to public school.  We liked our schools a lot; there were dedicated teachers and nice classrooms and everything was just fine.  We felt like the kids were getting a pretty good education, although we definitely had complaints.  The kids really didn’t LOVE school, but I thought that was normal — what kids LOVE school???

Here in England though, my kids go to an Independent school (which would be called a private school in the U.S.) and it has been eye-opening.  Because here, my kids actually, seriously LOVE school.  The school days are absolutely designed with children in mind — as I’ve said, there’s far, far more activity in their days and weeks — and the school community is really strong.  There are tons of extracurricular activities, they have far more responsibility and independence, and school here is just FUN.  Because they look forward to going to school now, they are getting better grades and learning more than they ever did before we moved.  There’s no downside.

Frankly, though, they only go to this school because Matt’s company pays for it — it costs more than we could probably realistically afford on our own.  Although having now seen what a difference it makes in all our lives, I would bend over backwards to try to provide this to them if his company didn’t pay.  What’s more discouraging is that the school here actually costs about HALF as much as a comparable school in America, so it would be even harder to make it work when we move back home.  It’s really, really disheartening to think of eventually leaving this school and going back to the way things were before.

But, on the bright side, I don’t think that the things that make our school in England so amazing are actually based on the school’s budget.  The way the days are organized and the focus on what’s best for the children in terms of scheduling, curriculum, activity, and community have very little to do with funding and very much to do with priorities.  All of what we love about our school here is achievable without spending almost any extra money, to be honest.

I don’t have solutions for everything that ails so many public schools in the U.S., but I do have some pretty strong ideas now about how small changes could be made that have nothing to do with money that would make any school – every school – a better experience for a vast majority of the students.  And I think that’s a goal worth working toward.  In fact, I’m writing a book about it.

I’d love to hear what you like and don’t like about the schools your kids attend, what types of schools they are, and your thoughts on everything I’ve said about our school here.  And please, if you work in education, share your views from that perspective.  Or if you know anyone who does, please share this post with them.  The more points of view I can learn about, the better!

As parents, we all have a strong interest in doing what’s best for our kids, and improving schools can only help us all.  Change often starts at a grassroots level…let’s get the ball rolling.

What On Earth Happened?


Last month we went to a presentation one evening at the kids’ school called “A History of the World in 20 Objects”.  The presentation was given by author Christopher Lloyd, who wrote the book “What on Earth Happened”, and it was nothing short of amazing.  The kids loved it, Matt and I loved it, and it’s actually resulted in multiple family discussions on historical events that have been both fun and interesting. 

As devout history nerds, Matt and I both wanted to see the presentation as soon as we read the email sent out by the school.  The kids were so annoyed when we announced that we’d reserved tickets: “Why do you make us do stuff like this?!?” was the general, moaning consensus among the children.  Undeterred, Matt and I both looked forward to it.

We didn’t realize, however, that Gabe would be seeing the presentation that morning during school.  It turned out to be great that he did, though!  A budding history geek himself, Gabe SO loved the school day presentation that he could. not. wait. to go see it a second time, and he convinced his siblings that it was going to be so fun and so cool

The idea behind the presentation is that many (most) of us know bits and pieces of the history of the world (going all the way back to the VERY beginning with the Big Bang), but that we don’t know it in a complete, chronological narrative.  The other point was that many (most) people also know bits and pieces of history, but we don’t make the connection between concurrent events to be able to see the relationships between them (i.e. it’s hard to reconcile the the “Wild West” portion of American history was happening at the same time as the Victorian Era in England).  I love this whole concept — viewing history from this perspective makes it so much easier to see the inter-connectedness of multiple different events. 

Gabe insisted we get to the auditorium early so we could get seats right up front.  And then he spent the entire time practically leaping out of his seat, hand raised, bursting with the desire to answer every question because he was SO EXCITED about all of it.  At one point I actually had to hold my arm across his chest to keep him from jumping up.  Later, I had to make him promise not to raise his hand for at least 3 or 4 questions to give someone else in the audience a chance to participate.  It was comical.  I almost felt badly that he was SO into it that he was barely giving anyone else a chance to speak up, but it’s hard to get mad at a kid for being that excited about learning important historical events.  Although Gabe was by far the most enthusiastic of my kids, all four of them paid rapt attention, answered questions, and were kept completely engaged for the entire presentation.

Christopher Lloyd, the author and presenter, was absolutely great with the kids (and the adults) in the audience, and he really, really made the topic just incredibly interesting and unique.  We ended up leaving the presentation having bought not just the full book, but several of his “wallbooks“, which are ingenious fold-out timelines depicting different perspectives on history.  I don’t doubt that we will eventually end up with the full collection.  To make it all even cooler, we were able to get our books signed by the author, who wrote a note to the kids to “Never stop asking questions!”.  Gabe was absolutely OVER THE MOON about it, and it all took place on Gabe’s 10th birthday, actually, so he was simply beyond thrilled.


Matt and I have both read at least part of the main book now, and on several occasions, I read excerpts out loud that I found surprising or enlightening and we ended up having family discussions on the size of the universe, the evolution of man, and Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection.  Anything that gets my kids thinking about that kind of stuff is good with me.  My kids will randomly flip through the books (which I leave out on the coffee table in the living room intentionally) and ask about stuff they see.  It’s been such a great conversation-starter.

If you’re into history at all, or if you’re not but you want to be, or if you want to show your children an amazing way to look at the interdependence and connectivity that exists between seemingly separate events going back pretty much as far as history goes, this is simply one of the best ways to do it that I’ve seen.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  This isn’t a paid post, I’m not being compensated, I just really, really love this whole line of books and activities and think they’re an amazing tool for teaching kids and adults alike.  Check out the website, watch the presentation online, get the books, and see history in a whole new way.



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