Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Finnish Education for Foreign Parental Dummies - Lesson 4 - Starting Primary 1 at a Finnish school

For Lesson 1 on starting to understand Finnish Primary Education please follow this link.
Lesson 2 on Esi-Koulu (kindergarten) here.
Lesson 3 on Applying for Primary School with a Special Needs Child here.
Lesson 5 on our choice between a Finnish or International school here.

Schools in Finland started last week. And much to everyone's relief Foo was excited, beyond excited to start. He remembered his desk from our visit, the fish tank in the entryway, the fact that he knew two kids at the school. He literally bounced into the school.

In Mouse's class, almost all the parents have come to the first day every year and had a chat with the teacher and each other which has made the first day's hand-over a bit easier. This year because we had both boys starting at different schools, the Chief took Mouse and I took Foo. My practical Finnish is a tiny bit better than the Chief's, though he's done more book learning, so understands how the language works. I'll have to deal with most day to day school stuff so thought it was best I get to know the school staff and routines. Foo and I were a bit early because of both boys starting at the same time, so we sat in the playground for a bit and chilled. When the teachers came out, we went to introduce ourselves and Foo froze a little, but soon relaxed when he saw one of his friends. 

The teacher spoke for a few minutes explaining the first week's schedule and then said 'Time to say good-bye to your parents'. My heart dropped. I wanted a slow exit, take them into the classroom, make sure Foo was at ease. But no, I had to walk home five minutes after the bell rang while the Chief spent almost an hour chatting to the teacher and other parents. My little boy's entering a big scary world where I'm not going to be much help. Or so it feels. 

In reality, the teacher is already making sure I know what's going on and is willing to do a bit extra to ensure this. Schools in Helsinki use the WILMA communication system for messaging between parents and teachers. I already have an account for Mouse, so added Foo to it as soon as I had his information. WILMA is used to send school and city-wide bulletins as well as private and class messages between teachers and parents. Teachers also give you their work phone number so you can message them during the day if anything comes up. The teacher has already said she will organise a translator for an upcoming parent's meeting later in the month which will be a big help. 

I need to backtrack from what I said in a previous entry. Foo has been approved for the school taxi service because of his special needs. I thought I could use it for going from school to his English language lessons and also to his therapy sessions, but it's only for between school and home. 

When I got his schedule at the end of the first week the taxi service sent an email confirming when they would pick him up everyday. I wasn't planning on it at first, but Foo will take the taxi every morning. It makes it easier for when I have my Finnish lessons and it helps for him to have a familiar routine to start the day. He will be attending an after-school club on days when he doesn't have lessons or therapy so they will pick him up from that and bring him home. 

Foo has also been approved to a free student bus pass for going to his English lessons. A lot of kids in Finland take themselves to and from school on a bus from the age of 7. Foo is not ready for that, but it's good to know if we have to take the bus I don't have to pay for him. Though we discovered with Mouse the cards are only for use during the week during school times, so no use for family trips out of school hours. Clever Finns.

Schools in the Finnish system, both Finnish and international, don't set up their lesson timetables until after the first week which makes things a bit complicated for parents, I'm sure. I've already mentioned that classes may start and end at a different time every day, so with 2 boys in different schools things could get very complicated, but the taxi will save me at least one journey a day. 

I'm still waiting for Foo's finalised schedule so still I need to figure out when and where everyone needs to be. I need to include Bump's nursery runs, Mouse's swimming and guitar lessons, Foo's English classes and my own Finnish lessons. I also need to reschedule Foo's therapy sessions and cancel the taxi on those days. I have booked a babysitter for Pudding for when I am at the Finnish classes which stupidly start at 9am on one day and 10am on another, the same time as Mouse starts school on those days. Who does that to parents?!

Foo is entitled to take classes in English because it is his mother tongue. They will teach English in school from 3rd grade, but as it's his native tongue there's no point in him taking it, so he'll do German instead which is his school's other 'second' lanuage. He's so keen to learn to read I want to start this year. We will maybe give him some time to settle into school before I book it but I will contact the organiser once I know Finn's schedule. 

Overall we've had a good start. Bump went happily off to nursery without her big brother on Monday. She may still have days when she's clingy when I leave, but that's how she is and being in an all Finnish environment must be less than fun sometimes. She'll settle in and isn't bothered by the fact Foo isn't there to play with her because several of her friends are still there.

Mouse is an old hand at school and was ready to go back. 

Currently there's lots of juggling but hopefully things will fall into a pattern soon. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer 2015 Wrap-up

We survived another summer!

Though the warm weather finally arrived in Finland this month, I'm going to have to admit that the holidays are over at the Clan household. Kids have gone back to school, after-school lessons start next week. A post-game analysis of our summer is in order, I guess

Last year a friend of mine posted a list of 100 things she and her sons wanted to do over the summer. I couldn't get mine to sit down long enough to come up with a list of 100 but here's our list and what we've accomplished. A lot of these are connected with our trip to the States as the kids were mega-excited and I wanted to give them some idea of what we would be doing. 

100 Summer Ideas

1 - Dance outside - in the rain even

2 - Go to dinosaur museum. The Chicago Field Museum fit the bill exactly. 

3 - Go to the pirate ship beach which is what the kids call the Merikylpylän or Kasinoranta beach. We went there in the spring for a friend's going away party and the kids loved it. They even went into the water though it was really cold. We haven't made it back. My knitting group meets there in the summer, but things just didn't work for us and we never made it. 

4 - Have a tea party - no photos of this, but Bump had a friend come over for a princess tea party. I should have arranged more playdates for the kids, but I'm an idiot, no other excuse. 

5 - Go fishing. This was Mouse's request and it turns out he's a natural.

6 - Catch fireflies. We did try this on the 4th of July but kids were too distracted by glow sticks and fireworks. 

7 - Visit Grandma!

8 - Play with doggies.

9 - Go to petting zoo. The kids meant this place, but we spent lots of time at animal parks this summer. 

10 - Pick peas and strawberries. We enjoyed picking the peas at the nearby fields planted by the city, but I won't go into this summer's horrible strawberry experience again.

11 - Go to beach. 

12 - Pony riding. This was Bump's choice, but the boys are starting to enjoy it as well. This is where we've been going. 

13 - Go to an island. We did this recently with Pihlajasaari. We enjoyed it, really. 

I really liked this idea of making a wish list of things to do and hope repeat it next year with maybe more suggestions. It gave us things to aim for on our big family holiday, but also ideas of what to do when no one seemed to have a preference. 

I had 10.5 weeks of summer holidays to cope with this year. The beginning of summer I planned things pretty well. Mouse finished school end of May and though I really wanted him to go to a summer camp, he wasn't up for it. He went to a swimming class first thing in the morning for 2 weeks which got us up and going and then we could get some errands done before everything shut down in July. The little ones finished nursery the third week of June and we had our holiday to the States booked for the following week. So the first 5 weeks of our holidays flew by. 

It's been the last 5 weeks that have been a bit harder to fill. There were a few days with someone injured or ill that we had to stay at home for and, believe me, that only works for a day or two, even if you break it up with splashing in a pool in the back garden or a trip to the local park, leikkipuisto. 

I can't praise the leikkipuisto system in Helsinki enough. In July they have a summer programme of entertaining kids that is well-thought out. Everything else closes up, but a lot of the parks offer a hot lunch and some activities every weekday. Some even have small splash pools they fill up with ice-cold water every Monday. For rainy days they hold indoor activities: my kids made hedgehog bread one day which they loved and I need to do again sometime. Our expat play group moves to a city centre park in the summer and it's great to let them run riot in safety with their friends. 

Our local park arranged trips to the two local farms which are free and we'd been to recently so we didn't go, but also to the zoo which they paid for and with my 4 that is always appreciated. They also had a morning of pony rides and the area ice cream truck has figured out it's really profitable to come to the park after the lunch is served. We've spent a few days a week there in the last month and the staff are brilliant, making sure I know what's going on. I even managed to leave Bump's bike there for almost 3 weeks and they put it away safely and then announced they had it on their FB page which I'm not a member of but I am now. I'm hoping Pudding and I will be able to pop in this autumn as they often have activities organised for the little ones, but still figuring out my school-time routine. 

I'm hoping the summer weather will stick around for a while, but our activities will now be at the weekends. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Island Adventure - Pihlajasaari

We've been a little lax in trying new things this summer. We've mostly revisited favourite haunts, but last weekend I decided to follow through on a friend's recommendation to try the island of Pihlajasaari (try saying that 3x fast) Rowan Island just off the coast of Helsinki. It's a quick 10 minute ferry from the Merisatama launch near Cafe Carousel to the island, you can also go via Ruoholahti. 

The island has all the typical summer attractions of beaches, play parks, forest trails, grilling areas and a restaurant and kahvila (kiosk cafe which was closed on the Saturday we went). It also has some pretty scenery and buildings like the colourful beach huts, We got lucky with the weather that day as it was sunny and warm. On the restaurant half of the island the wind was quite strong and a bit cold, so it's worth walking around a bit to find the less windy side. The island is not as crowded as Suomenlinna and has nice sand beaches rather than the big boulders that Finns like to lie on. The water was too cold for most of the kids to go in, but Foo braved it. We made sand castles and just messed about, then went for lunch at Ravintola Pihlajasaari. The food was typical Finnish and not fancy: meatballs, sausages, salads, but it was filling, the staff were quick and friendly and there was plenty of space. Always bonus points to speed when you have a Foo to feed.

After lunch I then took the kids to one of the play parks while the Chief sat in the sun while Pudd napped. And then we walked across the island on one of the paths which was just about the right length for the big kids. I only had to carry Bump the last bit. 

Overall the day was lovely. We didn't make it over to North Pihlajasaari which is connected to the main island by a bridge, but it's an excuse to go back before the last of summer vanishes. 

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