As foreigners in China we hear horror stories of foreign kids’ experiences in Chinese school. The mildest response being “I just don’t like it” to stories of being publically shamed in class because you flunked a test by a few points; a preschool child disciplined because their picture was colored a little different from the original drawing shown by the teacher; classroom size: 50 students to 1 teacher, etc. These are the worst of the worst. The normal or good stories we don’t hear. There’s always hope that the fast-paced development of China is also reflected in the education system. Because of these stories can you understand my hesitancy to put our six year old (or any of our children) in the Chinese school system?
(Notice I use “my” because Kevin’s perspective has been different than mine.)
I do want them to learn Chinese and I did want to try Chinese school, but my plan was to wait until all three children were in elementary school and they could go together and, if necessary, defend each other against evil teachers intent on ruining them. Oh, the desire to control… On top of this I was really enjoying homeschooling; it was a challenge and stressful balancing all three children here at home, but enjoyable. We had an awesome Kindergarten year and I saw Kai come to love learning (especially reading and science).
In February a fellow worker from the US told me of two conversations she’d recently had with other long-term workers. One mom was very glad they had put their kids in Chinese school for the lower grades. This particular family tried to put their kids back in Chinese school after an extended home leave but the kids couldn’t keep up. The advice was to start with lower grades and go as far as you can. The second conversation was from a mom who has homeschooled all her children all the way to high school.
She was feeling burnt out on homeschooling and wished they had put their kids in Chinese school when younger.
I resisted the idea. I fought the idea. Giving up homeschooling was hard, but I realized that Kai and I were beginning to butt heads every day and he needed more challenges than we could give him. After all, Kev and I are both oldest siblings raising an oldest son and a daughter who acts like an oldest sibling. Only Kian is free of the “older sibling” syndrome in this house (and he is definitely the baby!).
Our neighborhood friend, Qun, has a son a few months older than Kai. Chao Chao and Kai have become good friends over the past year and a half. Last year Chao Chao attended all day kindergarten. The times he and Kai could play were late evening or weekends. I don’t like the busy lives of Chinese children. There’s little time to play and relax, BUT if you want to relate to Chinese families it needs to be done on their time and with their schedule, right?
Qun was researching appropriate elementary schools for Chao Chao. His kindergarten uses a German education philosophy. I don’t know exactly what that means, but the kids spent a lot of time playing; different from normal Chinese preschools. Qun and her husband, like all parents, want the best education they can provide for their son. We became intrigued with their processing and decided to jump on the wagon and pursue sending Kai to a Chinese first grade.
There were two school options…
The first is across the street. We went one day to inquire. They wouldn’t let us in the gate. “We don’t take foreign students because our teachers are not equipped to handle Chinese Second Language students.” A very warm, hospitable welcome! Another foreign family was looking into putting their daughter in that school. Her father works for a local university connected to the school and with a letter of recommendation from his boss, she was on the list. They offered to ask about getting Kai in as well. We just couldn’t decide.
Second option: a school that’s further away (12 minutes by electric bike), but they were very welcoming when we went to visit. Yes, they take foreigners. Yes, we could do half days. Yes, we could pick and choose classes. What a difference! Qun had chosen this school for her son. It comes highly recommended because the kids don’t have as much homework. Plus, as part of the normal curriculum (which is not as important to us) they learn traditional Chinese poetry (san zi jin), calligraphy, and art. If we decided to send Kai to the school, could we carpool with Qun? She was willing to carpool, especially on the mornings Kevin teaches. (Well, she would carpool; we would electric bike pool.)
What if Kai hates his class, teacher, school…?
What if he absorbs some crazy teaching that will mess him up for life?
What if kids pick on him?
What if he gets made fun of?
What if the teachers think it’s a bother (ma fan) to have a foreign student?
What if , what if?…
They would not give us a discount for half days; we would have to pay full price. Why not send him full days? The day I went to pay tuition I was freaking out. What are we doing?!?!?!?!? Kevin looked at me calmly and said, “It’s just one semester. He doesn’t like it, we pull him out.” A voice of reason! OK, we can do this.
The day we registered I asked Kai if he wanted to stay at school for lunch or did he want me to pick him up. He wanted to stay because Chao Chao is staying. For first graders they also have a dormitory where they can take a nap. Convenient, huh? There’s a two-hour lunch break for eating and resting. Kai leaves the house at 7:30 in the morning. We pick him up at 4:20 pm. And then there are special weeks like this one when they go to school Monday through Saturday, so he can have a week off for Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day.
I never, ever thought this would be the path for our family. Never thought my six year old would be fully immersed in the Chinese school system. He is and for him right now it’s the best thing. I know it’s hard and he gets tired. I know the teachers do not always use discipline methods we approve, but he is thriving!! We are very proud of him! Very!
For now it’s good all around. I have some time to get projects done. My pr-yr life has benefited! I’m learning first grade Chinese characters. And Kai is excelling in English and Math. ? It’s only by grace and His guidance that we’re surviving at all. I’m so very, very, very thankful!
P.S. Below are a few pictures of the entrance to Kai’s school. I was too distracted to take pictures. If you haven’t seen it yet here’s the video of how we get to school.