It’s been two weeks now, and the boys are pretty well settled in to school. Probably more so than Mom and Dad due to the fact that unlike in their U.S. school, they have a different teacher for each subject. And which subject they have on any given day varies. Some days they have music, some they have I.T. To even further complicate things, some days music is learning about music theory while on other days (at least for Quin), it’s playing the violin. Now, this would not be a huge deal if they didn't have all of their books at home for homework time. So it’s up to us to figure out which books should go to school on which days. As our boys are not particularly attentive to what’s going on around them or communicative about what’s going on at school, this is not an easy task. Quin, in particular, is really bad about this. Some days he comes home with his completed homework still in his bag. I guess they figure that by 3rd grade, students should have their act together about these things, but clearly he doesn’t, so it may be that Quin’s getting no credit for all the hard work he’s doing on his homework. Maybe I’m wrong, and Quin knows exactly what he should be doing, but if not, it will be an important lesson for him.
Despite this complication, we’re very happy with the school and the curriculum. As I mentioned above, the music curriculum is excellent as the boys are not just singing songs, but learning actual music theory. And we love the fact that they have an actual I.T. curriculum; as an example, the other day, Quin learned how to use Windows Explorer to locate files on a computer. This probably stems from the fact that they have specialist teachers in all of these subjects. Rather than relying on a generalist teacher to instruct them in how to use computers, they have an I.T. teacher who only teaches that subject and who seems to be doing a great job. In addition, since they have different classes each day, their homework differs each night. So rather than doing the same thing over and over each night, they have something new and engaging. We’ve found the homework to be a good mix of comfortable and challenging too which really helps with their attention to it.
There have only really been two issues. The first: Mandarin. When we interviewed with the principal, he asked us if we wanted the boys to take Chinese; our response was of course. Now we understand his hesitation. Cantonese and Mandarin share a common “alphabet” (really – it’s more apt to say characters), so the Putonghua (the official name for the official language – really Mandarin) lessons are conducted in Cantonese, not English. Students simply look at the characters they already know (since they speak Cantonese) and learn the Mandarin pronunciation. This works great for the Cantonese speaking students, but not so great for Quin and Berkley, who obviously don’t know Cantonese or the characters. For the first Chinese classes, they didn’t do much except sit around. However, we’ve now done some back and forth with their Chinese teachers, and they’ve developed some specific instruction for the boys. Perfect – except for the fact that Quin and Berkley now have to do Chinese lessons during the time all of the other students are doing their extra-curriculars like table tennis and computer games. Amazingly, we didn’t hear a complaint about this until this morning.
The second real issue is that Quin doesn’t seem to be making friends. The first week or so of class, he seemed to be playing tag with a group of kids, primarily girls. Now, he says he goes and reads during recess as the boys don’t want to play with him. He hasn’t said much about this (despite our questions and assurances that he can talk to us about it), but I’m thinking it may have to do with the hair. As I noted earlier, people around here don’t know what to make of a boy with long hair; I think that may be true of the boys in Quin’s class. Of course, this is breaking my heart all over again, but we’re going to keep our eye on the situation to see if we can help at all. All in all though, we have to say we're really happy with Gigamind (and the boys seem to be too); let's hope we have just as much luck in Shanghai.