Sunday, January 27, 2013

Winter Sports

Took the kids out to the local playpark to try out Foo's skates and to enjoy the sunshine. We didn't spend long there, probably not as long as it took us to get suited up, and we took tons of gear but in the end it was fun. 

While we were there a mum who was there with her daughter and partner offered us a chance to try out her daughter's cross-country skis. So all the kids had a short go at them. They were too big for Bump and the experience was enough to put Mouse off the thought of trying to ice skate, so it was really only Foo who tried them out, but he did really well. Maybe he's going to buck the odds and be our sporty one. He also tried out his skates, but wasn't as keen without all his friends around him. 

Mouse did some sledging later on and Foo slid down the icier hills on his bums while Bumpshie got pulled around on a sledge. We then went off for a mandatory lunch at the local cafe. A hard hour's work, but everyone came home happy. 

They'll make Finns out of us yet, maybe. 

A home-made kelkka. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Besides the school and paperwork palaver, it's been a quiet January. We've had our coldest day this year -27C. Luckily it fell on a weekend so we lit a fire and huddled around the telly for warmth. Sad, I know. 

But we're not totally immune to the winter wonders of Finland. Foo has been learning to skate. No, I haven't mixed my children up. Foo, who falls off chairs and has trouble walking across a room, is learning to ice skate at his nursery.  He's only 4 but there are other kids in his class who have been skating for years. Considering how bad his balance is, he did amazing, probably better than me after 15 years away from the ice. 

He mainly used a kelkka, the sled-like thing you see in the background of the first picture below. You use it for support as you slide across the ice. He was getting pretty good after only 2 sessions on the ice at pushing it around. He also had a go at skating while holding a teacher's hand and even by himself. He's ok if he doesn't try to push, if he just keeps his legs locked and slides away from the kelkka, but any sudden movement and he's on his bum. 

Mouse was suddenly jealous when he heard that Foo was doing well with the skating, so he wants a try this weekend. We'll see how that goes. 

Here's Bump to play us out with a little medley she wrote, called 'I'm a total ham'. Take it away, Bumpshie. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Finnish Education for Foreign Parental Dummies - Lesson 1

I will try and update this post as I learn more. Some narrative flow will be lost, but I'm sure this information will be more important to some reader. 

Further posts on my adventures in education in Finland.

Lesson 2 on Esikoulu (kindergarten) here.
Lesson 3 on Applying for Primary School with a Special Needs Child here.
Lesson 4 on Starting Primary 1 at a Finnish school here.
Lesson 5 on our choice between a Finnish or an International school here

I've had a crash course this last week in the Finnish education system, especially primary education. Eye-opening to say the least. I feel more like a crash test dummy. 

In Finland primary and secondary education there is peruskoulu, comprehensive school, and it covers years 1-9 age 7-16, basically primary and secondary level. There are also schools that break them up; ala-aste koulu which is a primary school and is only years 1-6 and yläaste koulu, secondary school which is grades 7-9. 

Children usually start school the year they turn 7. They can be delayed if there are significant reasons to or they can start a year earlier if they can get an educational psychologist's support, but that is unusual. Most children go to a kindergarten type class at age 6, called esi-koulu, see above for a post about this. 

Primary One classes usually start between 8.15 and 10am and each day may be a different start time. And they finish between 12.30 and 3pm. I'm assured by other mums that it's a fixed programme for the year, but I'm sure it's going to take some getting used to. Primary Ones average about 4 hours a day, this increases to 5 in Primary 3. 

There is a 15 minute break outside after every 45 minute class which means the kids get to shake off the cobwebs of sitting at a desk. I think it helps them focus better at each lesson. And a 30 minute break around lunch time.

Most primary school children (but only usually available for Primary 1 and sometimes 2 students) attend an after-school club until 4 or 5pm. I assume this is to make up for the shortfall between school and work ending. I have no idea how working parents manage this mad schedule. Most schools run an afternoon club, but they are also available at some leikkipuistot, playparks which are free except for a payment of about 35 euros for the afternoon snack they provide. There are also culture centres that run them. There is actually a lot of choices out there, if you know where to look. Ask at your school for more info.

They only do about 20 lessons per week in Primary One, much less than most countries. But that is two languages a week at the international schools: English (Swedish, French or German depending on the school) and Finnish. By the time they're 16 years old they will have a choice to take on a 3rd European language (usually in 2nd or 3rd grade) and Swedish in 6th grade. 

Added with hindsight after 3 years of experience in Finnish schools: there are lots of viral articles out there claiming that Finnish children don't have homework. This isn't true, at least in the two schools we use. They do have small amounts of homework from Primary 1, maybe 5 or 10 minutes a day. Most of their homework is classwork they haven't had time to finish or reading small amounts, but they do have up to 20 minutes (without tantrums and avoidance techniques) in Primary 3. 

Most Finns they tend to just go to their local school, no stress. But if you're interested in going to an international school: parents can be competitive, even at Primary One level. Certain schools set the bar high and parents are willing to send them to another town or send them a year early in order to get into the best school or to have a better chance at doing well later in their education. Outside the English language entry exams we attended parents were quizzing kids on the language, having them play educational apps. It's all a bit overwhelming. Parents' information evenings are intense and I felt a bit under-prepared or under-concerned for my child's future. 

And maybe I am, considering getting into lukio (the academic track continuation of secondary school after 9th grade, there are also more vocational tracks) which prepares students for University is difficult even for Finnish students, English speaking ones have the odds stacked against them. Required education goes from years 1-9, until the child is around 16. After that they can attend lukio for 2-4 years. Yes, that means that some 20 year olds are still studying just to get into Uni. And even though you can get lukio classes in English, the final exams are in Finnish so if you want to get into a Finnish University from the Finnish education system, learn Finnish and learn it well. 

So we've sent off Mouse's application to an English international school today and yes, I've sweated a few hours over it this weekend. Not filling out, it's been one of the easier forms I've tackled this month, but just worrying if we've made the right choice. 

In the end, we've decided Mouse's, and all the Weans', future is unwritten and we are adaptable. We will do what feels right now and if that fails to continue to be the best move for him and us, then we will adjust our course accordingly. 

So the English entrance exam is in about 2 weeks. He'll do fine, his spoken English is brilliant. The exam is in 2 parts: oral and 'written'. For Primary Ones they aren't expected to write, but to draw following commands - so 'Draw a red table, put a cat on the table, under the table draw a blue flower.' The oral usually involves the child bringing a toy and the examiners asking simple questions about the toy and their family. It takes a whole morning though part of it is waiting around for the child's turn at the oral part. 

But I can't help feel that we're being tested as well. 

The bilingual schools in Helsinki spend the whole day with tests because the children have to test in both Finnish and English (or the other second language). From what I've been told the classes start off mostly in Finnish and then move more and more to teaching classes in English. So if your child doesn't speak both languages to a passable level it's best to either go in the international schools or Finnish mainstream with extra help. 

I'm sure there's much, much more I haven't learned yet and we will flounder getting settled, but we will figure it out. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jump into January

I don't think I've taken a photo all week, must be unheard of in the past few years. I've been a bit preoccupied. It's been a busy week getting back into routine, starting some new projects, settling down into a new year. 

I started a writing group with some expats mums I've met online and we had our first meeting this week. It has been a very long time since I've been in a group or run a class, so it felt like I was dipping my toe into familiar but uncertain waters again. It was really nice to mix a bit of friendly chat with creative writing. Our first meeting was intimate, only 4 of us, but it meant we could spend plenty of time on each piece and still have some time for a blether at the end. I hope it's a stepping stone to getting back into work this year. Already putting out some feelers. 

My big job this month is getting Mouse and Bumpshie into school and nursery. My big boy will start primary school next August and Bumptious will start at nursery. So I spent last weekend filling out application forms for all three Weans, in Finnish and English. Turns out I didn't need to apply for Foo again as he has a guaranteed place until he's ready for primary school at 7. 

I took his and Bump's form into his nursery on Monday all proud of my accomplishment, only to be called back into the office on Wednesday and told that I'd filled out the wrong one. I constantly get päiväkerho (dayclub) and päiväkoti (dayhome) mixed up. Päiväkerho is a part-time day care system and päiväkoti is full-time nursery, pre-school. Foo goes to päiväkoti and I filled out a kerhohakemus. Well, I tried. So I filled out another form and was told she'd be pretty sure to get a place as Foo is already there. She's so excited already and dying to go. 

I was then asked to get Foo a referral for his place in the specialist unit. Turns out he was given a place without an official referral as the local head special needs teacher and his OT recommended he needed a place. Now we need a proper referral from a psychologist by March. And she of course wants to meet with him three times before then and see all the paperwork I have on him. So more running to appointments. 

I also applied to the European School for Mouse. It's not our first choice, but he gets a guaranteed place due to the Chief's new job, so we our using it as a fall back place in case our other two choices don't come though. It's a good school, but it runs the International Baccalaureate program which I'm sure would stand him in good stead in the future, but the Finnish education system is the best in the world, so it seems a shame not to take advantage of our life here. 

Our top two choices are international schools that run on the Finnish system but in English: Maunula and Ressu Primaries. We have information evenings this upcoming week and then we'll have to decide which is our first choice. Ressu will be easier to travel to as the Chief could take Mouse in the morning when he goes to work, but it's very popular among the Finns who want their children to have an English education, so we may struggle to get in even though Mouse will do really well on the English language exam. Maunula is further away, but we'll probably have a better chance to get in as it's not as desirable to the Finns. 

I think I'm more excited about Mouse going to primary school than he is. But I would like it settled soon as I'm nervous as well. We all want the best education possible for our children, and even though it doesn't end with getting them into a school, it's a big nerve-racking first step. 

So big moves into 2013, hope they bear fruit. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

End of the Holidays - Good Madness

Tomorrow everyone's back into our routine of nursery, work, playgroups and appointments. Mouse and the Chief went back at the end of last week, but I had the two little Weans home and struggled to get things done when out in about, so I'm kind of looking forward to just one that can sit in the buggy or shopping trolley and not two determined to run riot or fight over the child's trolley or carrying the basket. 

It's been nice having a holiday with everyone home, but back to reality. But not without a catch-up. 

After all the snow over the Christmas period the run up to the New Year and well after it was rain and temps floating around zero. So all that snow began to melt and then refreeze at night and get rained on and and melt some more and refreeze. So now that it is about -5C again rather than a meter of fluffy dry snow, we have about 30 cm of hard snow and ice. But the wet snow while it was raining meant only one thing to my kids. Snowmen. Well, in this case a snowman and a snowdog. Somehow I ended up doing all the work though.

Hogmanay, New Year's' Eve, Uudenvuodenaatto was a quiet affair at the Clan abode as it always is. We got some sparklers for the Weans and took them out in the snow before bed to play. This unravelled into a snow ball fight between me and Mouse. I don't think there have been so many photos of me in a long time. Don't know how the Chief got a hold of the camera. 

The Chief and I were in bed before the Bells. With 3 littles it's just not worth staying up until crazy hours partying, they get up way too early regardless of how much you've had to drink, so we haven't bothered with a NYE party in a long time. 

Bumptious got a special present after Christmas. A fabulous fairy outfit made by the lovely Richelle at Ella Dynae. Bump was over the moon. I had to make her a wand right away. The outfit is wonderful and made so precisely that every bit that touches her skin is made to be as soft as possible which is much more comfortable that the skirt I tried to make. Bump is just adorable in it, her hair is made for that hairpiece. Richelle was lovely as well and consulted us on all aspects, so the outfit fits perfectly with room to grow but also suits Bump's personality. The wings are taking a bit of getting used to as they are big, but she loves to put them on. 

She's totally into her dressing up just now, the only one who loves getting dressed in the morning, so she will do a wee fashion bit for you. 

Jammies with tutu and crown. Mixing it up. 

Super princess with a dirty vest. 

And the ultimate in spinney dresses. You have to get the full swirl and flourish here to appreciate it. 

She's a character, no doubt. 

Hope 2013 has started out well for you and that it holds lots of wonders and surprises. 

I've stolen this from the writer Neil Gaiman, but it sums up what I hope this year will hold for the Clan and for you, Oh, Best Beloved. 

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art - write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself!

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