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Old 10.10.2014, 23:10
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First half term of local Swiss school completed for my kids

Following on from my post about life 1 month after moving to CH, I thought I would share another of my experiences for anyone searching (as I did) and trying to work out which way to go in terms of their kids education in CH.

We came here because my husband got a job in a bilingual international school with 2 of our 3 kids (one off the hook at uni in the UK) and had the nail biting joy of deciding what to do in terms of schooling. Our kids are 4 and 5 (6 next week) and so would be in the 1er and 2er classes in Swiss-French public school. We also had the option of them going to my husband's school with a 75% discount - very generous BUT the fees for 2 kids plus all the compulsory 'extras' - ski camp, meals, actives etc etc etc. were still enough to make my (tight Yorkshire) eyes bleed and as I am self employed and initially coming with no work, we didnt feel that would be an option for financial reasons alone.

So! We tried before arriving to get in touch with schools and didn't really get anywhere. We really needed to wait until we arrived and not bother trying to get 'ahead of the game'. In my head I would have loved them to start at 'la rentrée' thinking it would help being a newbie with all the other newbies. In the end I was really glad we got there and decided not to bother contacting schools for the first week. We orientated ourselves a little, let the post move emotions lower and had a well earned break after our summer was cut short by the move and daddy buggering off 10 days before us. And when they arrived a week later the teachers had a little more time for 2 little anglophones finding their pieds.

My 5 year old daughter asked me on the thursday 'mummy YOU SAID I was going to school in Switzerland! When am I starting!?' I took this as my invitation to email the local authority and 'announce' our arrival and ask what our next steps were. They replied on the friday morning and invited us to meet with one of the leadership of the school and a 'doyenne' who would help translate for us - on the following tuesday. Cue excited daughter picking out clothes and grumpy son saying he didnt want to go.

We arrived with a list of questions in my best french* (*google translate). The 'doyenne' transpired to be a mother from the school and a former teacher at my husband's new work. They were super welcoming and we headed for the 'salle de proff' for coffee and proper Swiss chocolate (which my kids (politely) spat out as it was not Cadbury's chocolate buttons....the shame). They explained while they would be in the same class they had different schedules. A bus would collect them from the end of the lane (for free! yes free in CH!! ) and bring them to school and home again each lunchtime unless we wanted to pay for them to go to cantine which is effectively lunch club. My son would only do one full day plus 3 mornings and my daughter 3 full days plus 2 half days....non coordinating..... oh la la....

While this was a pain in some ways they instantly offered to arrange for them to go to cantine if I wanted them to - I did book them in right away thinking this would give me more flexibility in terms of my work (or rather trying to get some work) which involved a painfully embarrassing 'conversation' with the 'direction' trying to pay for the cantine....we are in the boonies and no one speaks english however they have been nothing but patient and lovely throughout the whole thing. I have since reduced cantine as it makes zero difference in terms of my child free / work time as I have to get back for one or the other of them every lunchtime regardless.

I was introduced to the 2 'Maîtresse' and we were shown the classroom. I felt instantly like this was the right place for them to be. It was a mixed group of 17 kids MAX - that's 2 entire year groups! It looked like they were having fun. They told me what equipment the kids needed - a back pack large enough for an A4 letter to be put in it unfolded, slippers and a gym kit (any t shirt and shorts) with 'pantoufles rhythmique' - gym slippers. I found those in the little shopping centre easily in town and had anticipated the other items in my research - we were good to go! They looked at me with cocked brow when I asked about homework.....not for a few years yet.....I like this place even more I thought....

So this was tuesday and my daughter started on.....wednesday! She did half a day (as they all do) and I put her on the bus (nervously) and then followed it up the road like a stalker to the school to watch and make sure she got off at the other end as I this was a big deal for me and quite a culture shift but the staff and doyenne had said just follow up for the first few times and you'll see our systems work They do.

To say she came home FULL of beans is an understatement. She LOVED her first morning. I thought maybe the novelty would wear off but overall (more to follow) it hasn't. My son followed the next day and I was probably more apprehensive about his reaction as he is a little home bod and had said in the UK in unequivocal terms that he would NOT be starting school that year - 'Err how old am I?!!! (Me: 4) Him: 'IS 4 a BIG number - NO!! Then I am NOT going to school!'

He went with his sister on the bus on the thursday morning....I followed...and watched from the other side of the road.....he lept off the bus and ran past his sister into the playground.....phew.....

My son doesnt really read at all. We had this big thing about what a 'C' looked like - Bus C is your bus Sid....only get on bus C.....we picked out letter C....he got it right....about 80% of the time.....jesus is he going to get on the right bus...

The bus was due to drop him home at 12.30 so I sat waiting for it....I can see the school up on the hill and was praying he would be on it as his sister was staying for cantine......

HE GOT OFF!

He had his little yellow necklace on with his details and bus stop...it was all very reassuring Swiss anal retention.....erm I mean efficiency

Without giving you a blow by blow account of the past 6 weeks, basically it's been great. The kids have enjoyed school thoroughly. They have a french lesson once a week and are already blowing me away with their language acquisition. This is 'total immersion' i.e. other than the french lesson and a few things to ease the day along, all they hear is french - all day, every day. My daughter's accent it unbelievable. You can tell a billion miles off that she is learning french in the best and most organic way possible. The way she rolls her Rs is beyond impressive. My son claims to speak no french yet he was playing with a bilingual friend only yesterday and his mum (also 'organically' bi-lingual) said 'he's dropping in french words...listen' I can't hear it all the time but I catch it occasionally.

The down side has been my daughter has felt a little isolated once or twice at the bus stop - but never in class. The local kids are in well formed relationships and obviously speak no english. We've had a couple of what I believe have been misunderstandings but the school have been so good at getting the kids together and 'mediating'. My daughter thought they were being mean but I think they are just missing each other language wise because my boy is fine but I believe he is less self conscious. He has no inhibitions and just chats away in english where my daughter 'knows' she/they are speaking a different language.

If I had been in the financial position to send the kids to my hubby's school (i.e. it was free) I probably would have. As we get to the end of the first half term I am actually really please we didnt go down that route. The total immersion is (as people said here) absolutely perfect at this age. Overall they have very few inhibitions and just soak it up. While I am not so sure about the system further down the line, for now I really couldnt be happier with my kids being in Swiss public school. They are incredibly happy and in the process of receiving a gift that money can buy but in our case doesnt need too.

*hoists massive Swiss flag outside the house*
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