Too Much Homework

Two of the curriculum books at Emma's new school.

The middle of July is an odd time to be writing about too much homework, but our oldest, Emma, has just begun summer school and is having her first experience with homework.

This all started because we missed getting Emma into the school we had chosen for her last year.  In Egypt, the schools follow a British system where the children attend two years of kindergarten, KG1 and then KG2.  At many schools, children can begin as early as 3½, although the average age is probably 4.  At the school we preferred, however, they would not accept Emma last year even though she was 4 in September. Due to the high demand for that school, they accept only older children, only going as low as 4½ for KG1.  We didn’t mind this since our American system starts kids at age 5, we preferred waiting.  The problem came this spring when I went to register her at our chosen school.

We had left Egypt for a few months due to the revolution and shortly after we came back, I went to the school to confirm which papers I would need when I came to register her in the month of June.  It is well-known that the kindergarten registration in schools here is in June, so I figured going in May was getting a good jump on things.  However, when I went to the school, the secretary told me that the registration was done and closed; there were no more places.  I was so surprised and told them I thought registration was in June!  They seemed to confirm that that was the norm, but this year they did it in March.  They told me I could try calling them sometime in June, and if someone has withdrawn their registration, maybe Emma would have a chance.  I left the school wondering what we would do now!

I talked with many Egyptians in the next few weeks, all of whom confirmed that registration should be in the month of June.  Many questioned whether I understood the secretary correctly and encouraged me to return to the school.  Others asked if I knew anyone important who might help us get in even though they said classes are full.  The only people we knew were other parents at the school, but this was not good enough.  I went there three times and each time was told the same story.  The last time I went, the secretary told me to bring our next daughter in March if I wanted to register her for the following year.  It looked like we had to give up on that possibility, at least for this year.

In the meantime, we continued to look for other possibilities, but quickly learned that we had a problem.  Since we had “held Emma back” from starting due to the requirements of the one preferred school, she was now a whole year older than her potential classmates at most other schools we would choose.  I was told it would be best if she could skip KG1 and enter the second year of kindergarten in the fall.

Being a foreigner and having no experience with what KG1 entails, I had no idea if Emma could really skip a grade.  Our main concern was the Arabic that she would already be behind in.  The schools we were looking at were called “languages” schools and basically taught most of the subjects in English, while reserving the Arabic language for the subjects of Arabic, religion and social studies.  At the same time, we were trying to choose schools where the language of the kids would be Arabic.  This way Emma would be immersed in Arabic during recess and in the lunchroom with the goal of her being comfortably fluent in Arabic, as well as making Egyptian friends.  So she had a great advantage over most children as she would excel in the English-language subjects due to that being her native tongue; but we didn’t want her to immediately fall behind in Arabic.

One of the schools we found, and the one we are planning on her attending this fall, is called Degla Valley Language School.  One of the great benefits of this school is that it is one block from our house.  Not only does this make it easy to drop her off and pick her up, but it will hopefully make it easier for me to be involved in her school in some way.  I am not looking to teach anything, although being a native English speaker I could easily get a job. I want to be able to interact with her teachers and really be on top of what is going on in her school.  Of course location is only one factor to consider.  We visited the school and felt the facilities were not as good as the preferred school, but were decent.  We liked that the kindergarten section of the school is separate from the older grades which will help with kid-traffic as well as be less intimidating for the little ones.  The program and curriculum looked modern and thorough, and the staff was friendly.

Another benefit of this school was the built-in possibility for Emma to skip KG1 by doing one or two months of a summer course.  For some reason, this school offers the option to parents to enroll their children in the summer course in lieu of KG1.  I haven’t had a chance to ask the other parents why they would choose this route; we are only doing it because of extenuating circumstances.  But Emma has about 10-15 kids in class with her, all seemingly looking to skip their first year.  And this is where the homework comes in.

It seems that the children learn the Arabic and English alphabets as well as their numbers, colors and shapes, during KG1.  Learning the letters means writing the letters, and that is most of the homework that Emma has brought home.  She is not so overwhelmed by writing the English letters, but every day that she has Arabic class, she has to write a new letter along with the three vowels of Arabic, and it turns out to be a bit much.  I am trying to learn what motivates her to help her push through and finish her homework each day.  It has been an adjustment going from the carefree life of preschool to five days a week “real” school with homework.  And it may not help that the weather is usually in the 80s or 90s by the time we are finished lunch and ready to begin the homework.

All in all it’s been a positive experience, but I’m sure we have just as much to learn as Emma does.  She will be learning her ABCs and 123s while we learn how exactly this Egyptian school system works.  For example, I was impressed when I saw the school assignment book that Emma brought home the first day, but a bit amused by the way they wrote her name on the front.

Should read: Emma Jayson, but foreign names are difficult.

In Egypt, everyone, girls included, uses their father’s name as their second name.  Therefore, Emma is known as Emma Jayson in her school.  Both names are foreign to them, but now they have seen them written by me, and at least spell Emma right on her crafts.

Emma’s daily schedule was posted in her book and it let me know which subjects and which “specials” she would have each day.  She has English, math and Arabic three times a week as her subjects, and then other things like swimming, cooking, music and art.  However, I’ve learned that cooking and art don’t mean the kids do anything in those areas.  Rather, on Art day, Emma brought home a really cute Elephant bag which the teacher gave her at the end of the day. She didn’t even watch them make it.  And when Emma complained that they didn’t do any cooking on the designated day, I asked the teacher the morning of the next cooking day what was in store.  She said they would be making pizza that day.  I asked if the kids help make it or if they just eat it, and she confirmed my guess that they just eat it.  So really it should be called “special snack” day, rather than “cooking.”

Teacher-made elephant bag.

So we are only beginning our journey here, and I am sure there will be more blog posts on the subject of school as we go down this road.  For now, we are working on the alphabets and trying to keep cool as Emma completes her first year of school in two months.  Guess that justifies all the homework!

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