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. 



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