Four weeks of bilingual school
We're just about at the end of four weeks of bilingual school for the girls. There are so many things I want to say all at once. Let's see if I can be organized. Observations:
1. We actually put Magdalena in the English-only class for a week, two weeks ago. In Grade 2 (her grade), the kids in the bilingual classroom hardly speak any English yet. It was hard for her to jump straight into Finnish like that. We decided to try out the English-only for a week to make sure we explored our options thoroughly. After the trial week, we decided to put her back in the bilingual class, with a few tweaks.
First, she will go to the FSL (Finnish as a Second Language) classes with the English-only group. That way, she's supported in building a good language foundation in Finnish even as she is immersed in it for most of the day. And second, she will go to some English literacy classes with the English-only group. This is so she continues to build skills in academic English on a native-speaker level.
This was all decided in a meeting with the principal and teachers, who I can hardly say enough good things about. The level of flexibility and dedication they've shown to our family's needs is commendable.
2. It's been fascinating to see how the girls are acquiring Finnish differently at ages 10 (Miriam) and 7 (Magdalena). Miriam is comfortable talking about language - verb endings, word equivalents, etc., even as she's able to observe and absorb. In other words, she seems to be able to learn Finnish and acquire Finnish at the same time.
Magdalena seems to get confused when we try to talk about Finnish in meta terms. Talking about verb endings explicitly does not make sense to her. But she does a good job mimicking and repeating things she's heard in the classroom. In other words, she's too young to be really learning Finnish as a foreign language. Her brain is trying to acquire it and so the startup time is a little slower than Miriam's.
This is different from what I expected to observe when we moved here. I thought for sure Magdalena would pick up the language faster. Not that it's a race, at all, and I bet by the end of a year the girls will be about equal in their proficiency. But Miriam's had a three-year head start on life in general and on learning strategies in particular, and right now, she's applying them to Finnish like a boss. I did not anticipate that but it makes sense now that I think about it.
3. In all the talk about the Finnish education system, I don't think anyone ever mentioned to me that the kids' schedules are different from day to day. They start as early as 8:25 and (at my kids' ages, anyway) are dismissed as late as 3pm. But it's rare that any given schoolday goes that long for either one. Miriam starts at 8:25 three days a week and 9:15 the other two days. On different days, she gets out at 12:30, 1:20 (most days), or 3pm. Magdalena starts at 8:25 all days except for Thursdays (10:15, but she goes at 8:25 anyway to join in the English classes). She gets out at 12:30 (two days a week) or 1:20 (the other three).
Overall, compared to their British-curriculum school in the UAE, the girls are in school for fewer hours each week. Magdalena goes to school for 23 hours a week and Miriam for 25.5 (would be 24 except she stays longer for the Finnish classes). In the UAE, they were both in school for 30 hours a week.
They have two main recess breaks of 15 minutes each, except on the longer days, when they have three. There are 5-minute breaks between each hour of classes, too. Magdalena says she runs outside during that five minutes, but Miriam says she doesn't. They also have a lunch break.
The difference between the girls' schedules also makes it a little tricky for them to ride the bus together. Miriam can manage the city bus on her own and carries an emergency mobile phone. Magdalena accidentally came home by herself (successfully) on the city bus today, but otherwise Jeremy takes her or goes to meet her.
4. In Finland, you take off your shoes in an anteroom before entering the classroom. So in the classroom, there are a bunch of kids wearing socks!
5. The school-provided lunches continue to be pretty awesome. Sometimes it's fish soup and two out of my three kids complain (Sterling gets mostly the same food at päiväkoti), but most days they say the food was good. And every single morning, I am happy to not be packing lunches.
Whew, I think I got it all!