Tag Archives: school

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!

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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Thoughts on Schools and Education

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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.

A School Update: Sports, Sports, Sports

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We went into this school year with far less anxiety than last year and even more anticipation, if that’s even possible.  The school here has quite simply become the thing we love most about living in England, much to my surprise. And while I certainly thought the school looked amazing before we moved, the kids love it even more than I do (which is a lot).  About two weeks into this past summer break, Gabe remarked that he wished summer weren’t so long because school is so fun.  When a 10-yr old boy says that, you know you’ve got a good thing going.

The thing is, the kids love school because school here IS fun, in large part because they get to play sports during the school day almost every day of the week.  And what’s not to love about that?

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As I’ve said before, there is far more activity built into the school day and week here than the kids had in the States.  Twice a week for 90-minutes each, Gabe and Owen have a Games lesson, which is essentially sports practice for whatever the sport is that season (and that is in addition to the hour of P.E. they have every week, too).  Right now we’re in football (soccer) season.  In addition to the three hours per week they spend in games lessons, they also each have football club after school once a week for another hour.  Plus they play games against teams from other schools every few weeks. 

Quinn, in Year 2, also has Games once a week this year, which is basically the most exciting thing EVER if you ask his opinion.  He shares every little detail of his lessons with me when I pick him up on a Monday afternoon.  What a difference it makes in all my boys’ attitudes about school to have a bit more sport thrown into their days.

In addition to football (soccer), all the kids in the school have a one hour swim lesson every week.  Both Gabe and Owen are on the school swim team, so they also have after school swim practice once a week and a swim meet against another school just about every other week.

And, on top of all that, the school also has a cross-country team that competes against other schools periodically throughout the year.  Gabe and Owen are both on the team, and Owen came in 2nd in his last meet out of a field of 72 kids!  And then, as if that weren’t enough activity, there is a school-wide cross-country race once a term in which every child participates. 

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It almost sounds like with all this sport, there’s barely enough time to be in class, but the truth is, it’s spread out so nicely over the course of the week and throughout the terms that it creates just the right balance of school work and physical activity.  It means that, instead of dreading going to school, my boys actively look forward to it.

In which case, I say: Long live school sports! 

(Also, I feel like I should add that all of these activities are at no additional cost — they are simply part of the school program!  You know what’s EVEN BETTER than sports for kids?  FREE SPORTS FOR KIDS!)


Also, here are the main differences between our American and British schools, and here’s why I love school uniforms!


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