School

School visits

Hold onto your hats, faithful readers: Hattie and Joe start school in February next year!

School has been an ongoing topic of conversation in our house this year. We’d originally planned to send the two of them to the local Catholic school, but we reconsidered it late last year, after realising that said school was slightly more conservative than we’d like. Although I’ve not written much about it, the photos I’ve shared will make our wholesale rejection of gender stereotypes clear: we don’t subscribe to the ‘boys wear shorts all the time and have short hair’ school of thought, any more than we support the whole ‘little girls must be gentle and sweet, and wear dresses every day’ mindset. However, the Catholic school was pretty old-fashioned with regard to uniforms and hair styles. I had a great meeting with their principal, and if it was just down to her I suspect she would have overthrown a lot of the more traditional edicts, but she has a Board of Trustees and a parish to answer to.

So, we checked out our local state school, as per our zoning (schools are very tightly zoned where we live). I did some due diligence online by asking other parents whose children already attended, and only heard good things about this school’s attitudes to everybody from gender-based play and uniforms to bullying and parent-teacher relationships. Tristan and I visited a few months ago and had a good chat with the principal, and then we enrolled Hattie and Joe. We felt pretty confident that this was the right choice – sending them to the Catholic school would have resulted in constant low-key friction, and I just don’t have the energy for that kind of shenanigans.

We’ve had two school visits this week: yesterday morning it was a new parents’ session for the grownups; and today it was an hour-long visit for the kids. We couldn’t get their uniforms sorted out for today (shirts and shorts all round – and ‘skorts’ if you want them for your daughters, but we won’t bother), so Hattie and Joe wore mufti. I helped Hattie to choose her outfit, but Joe’s ensemble was all his own work, as always:

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This seems like a very brief exposure to school before actually starting, but there’s a good reason for it. We have lucked out with our choice of school: they follow an amazing play-based learning approach for all of Year One, and from 2018 they’ll extend this for all of Year Two as well. This means that pretty much everything is child-led. Recently the Year One kids in one class spent the best part of a week replicating elements of an overseas journey: arranging furniture to form a plane; numbering the seats; producing tickets and passports; making luggage; making a security scanner… the teachers follow the children’s interests, and deftly find opportunities to insert core skills into whatever they’re doing. And they obviously still make sure that everybody learns to read, write, add, and all that, but they do it using fun, interactive methods. In other words, it’s a really gentle transition from kindy or preschool to ‘big school’, which makes it less of a culture shock for the kids.

Here in New Zealand most children start school the day after they turn five. Since Hattie and Joe turn five during the summer holidays, they’ll start with a little cohort of summer babies. Their first experience of school will be the Reception class, where they’ll all spend a few weeks before being funnelled out into Year One classes (with the move being dependent on how they progress). It’s just like a kindy room: full of arts, crafts, toys, and dressing-up costumes. Hattie and Joe were so excited when they saw all of the stuff they could do! We were instructed to drop off our children at 11am today, and collect them an hour later.

When we got to the Reception classroom today the kids were clinging to me like monkeys, but their teacher is a lovely woman who is an old hand at separating nervous children from their parents. She had all of the kids sitting in a circle on the mat within a couple of minutes, and encouraged them all to say their names. The first two kids did a great job, confidently announcing themselves to the crowd, but then there were two shy kids who didn’t want to speak, and that spread through the rest of the crew. Joe was the fifth kid in the circle, and did manage to half-introduce himself, but Hattie went completely mute… so Joe announced “And this is Hattie!” Apparently he continued being her spokesperson for the rest of the session, which is very cute. We may have to brief him about her insistence that she will be known as Harriet at school, though… They were both absolutely buzzing when we picked them up, and seem really excited about getting back to school in a few weeks’ time. Fingers crossed that Hattie will actually speak to somebody next time – apparently she barely even spoke to Joe, so he must have just made wild guesses about her wants, needs, and opinions. #twinintuitionisnotathing

Joe’s been somewhat apprehensive about starting school. It’s clear to everybody who knows him – or has even heard about him – that he’s not your typical little boy, and I suspect he’s a bit concerned about feeling like he has to conform (and knowing that he’ll have to wear a uniform hasn’t helped on that front). It was lovely to see that he was reasonably confident once he actually got there today, and I think it will have helped him a lot with his anxiety. I’ve kept reassuring him by reminding him of three things: 1. It’s normal to feel nervous when you do something new; 2. There will be lots of other new kids, and they’ll all feel a bit nervous too; and 3. He’ll always have his BFF Hattie with him.

That last point is somewhat contentious for mothers of multiples. We are all very keen to ensure that our kids are regarded as individuals, and for mothers of identical twins, in particular, I think there’s some concern that people will not bother to get to know their two children separately. However, we know that Hattie and Joe would absolutely hate to be split up. They really are best friends, and are so accustomed to being together. I figure that there are plenty of compromises associated with being a twin, whether the children themselves realise it – very little time to themselves, constant sharing of parental attention, etc. – so it seems only fair that twins should also get to reap the benefits of their unique sibling relationship. Many twin parents work with their schools to determine the right time to split up their kids, and that’s what we’ll do. And some parents split their twins or triplets up from the start, or send them to totally different schools, or keep them together for their entire scholastic career. There’s no right answer here!

I know that this is going to be a real adjustment period for our whole family – we’ve been warned by many people that we can expect the kids to be exhausted (and fairly feral) for the first term, at least. Given that they’re psychotically tired after just two consecutive days of kindy each week, I’m somewhat apprehensive about it all myself! I’ll also start back at uni two and a half weeks after their school year begins, and we’ll have a new au pair joining us during that time as well. I’m intending to crowd-source some suggestions for tips and tricks to make the school transition easier, so I will be sure to write a follow-up point with ideas – and I’ll let you know how we get on!

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