I've got to tell the story of how we found Desmond's kindergarten here in Higashimurayama. Basically, we came to Japan not knowing what school he would be attending and kind of just stumbled upon Seishin Kindergarten, which is amazing. I'll write a lengthy post about it, but right now, I have to document what a crazy physical and emotional transformation Desmond has gone through in the last 6 months.
Yes, those are indoor shoes that they have. These get sent home every weekend to be cleaned. More schools should do this.
During Des's Jardin's summer break in June, we enrolled him in an astronomy camp at the Planetarium in Bogota. It was M-F for one week from 1-5pm. We had been going to a lot of the shows at the planetarium and doing a lot of the kids' projects hosted by the planetarium, so we were a familiar face.
Desmond is really shy. He can barely greet someone he doesn't know, so entering a new situation with new people with him is trying, to say the least. However, the ladies at the planetarium who worked with the kids were extra nice to him and made sure that he felt included, even though his Spanish wasn't as good as the other kids his age.
The very first day we picked Desmond up from the Planetarium, we saw him talking to a little girl. This little girl, Isabela, would be his best friend the whole week. She would give him a big hug and kiss when we would pick him up and drop him off. She was always by his side. I thank my lucky stars that there are little girls and boys like Isabela out there that will happily befriend and take care of a little, shy, blonde boy.
His last day, he received an award and got to launch his very own rocket into the atmosphere. It was probably one of the greatest moments of his life (through my eyes, that is). What kid (or person out there) doesn't love his/her name being chanted over and over?
We had read about Colegio Teizcali online and on some of the expat forum blogs for Oaxaca: for the most part, the reviews were excellent and the school happened to be a short 15-minute walk from our house in San Felipe del Agua.
The school was based on a philosophy that believed that children learn best when working together on a project. Desmond's class had chosen to investigate which animals lived in the plains and which lived in the jungle. All of the traditional academic subjects were tied into this project. Above and beyond this format of learning, Des had several opportunities to learn and be a part of traditional Oaxacan culture. For example, one day we went to see him perform as a "zanahoria" (carrot) in a school play. In that same performance, he had to sing the Mexican anthem along with his Mexican classmates.
We loved his teacher, Maestra Gaby, a pretty, young woman who was so kind to Desmond. Maestra Gaby made all of her students draw and write in their notebooks each evening, so that they could share their pictures with their classmates. At first, we thought this was a bit onerous and too much like "real" school to mesh with our more liberal educational values. However, Des really enjoyed drawing every night and his letters did improve in the 6 weeks that we were there.
For the days leading up to Dia de Muertos, his school organized a comparsa (similar to a 2nd line parade you would see in New Orleans) and a lunch for family. The morning of, we all donned costumes and walked down to the school. We followed his classmates along behind a Mexican band playing traditional Mexican Day of the Dead music. We walked for about 2 miles around our neighborhood and then back to the school.
That same day, Des and his classmates made, from scratch, a huge batch of sweet corn tamales. They then stood at a table and handed them out to all of their families. It was the highlight of my trip to see Desmond surrounded by Spanish speakers, holding his own, offering Mexican food that I loved to strangers. Times like those when I really love our lifestyle.
On his last day of class, we brought some cupcakes for the kids and flowers for the teacher to show our appreciation for how sweet and wonderful they were to our son.
Ever since we spent last fall in St. Louis, Des has been in love with everything superhero related (thanks, McGaugheys!) At first, he just enjoyed putting his friends' superhero costumes on and play fighting (much to my dismay). Then, he started becoming really interested in the superhero superpowers and where they came from and what their backstory was (much to my excitement, because underneath this ballet-dancing, used-to-wearing-high-heels girl, is a comic book fan who loves superheroes).
So, when Des started becoming more and more interested in learning his letters and being able to write, we came up with a way to integrate superheroes with the alphabet.
This is what we love about educating our son. We have the capability of structuring his love of superheroes into something educational (although by loving superheroes, he learns a lot in and of itself). For example, we've also learned about gravity, alter egos, telepathy, and mutations among many other things. So, here is my sweet son Desmond, over the moon and having a great time learning the alphabet, learning about science, learning about social issues through his love of superheroes.
And this kind of learning happens all the time. When people ask me how he is going to learn all that he needs to learn, I direct their attention back to their own children. Who was the one who taught them how to speak, how to dress themselves, how to count, how to be nice to others? You did. Parents are more than capable of teaching their children. And we love that we can tailor his education to his unique little self.
By far, the most common question we get when we talk about our lives is "So, what are you going to do about school for the kids?" Des just turned 4, so "school" is the topic of choice among our parent friends, especially as "back to school" craze is in full swing right now.
A bit of background, while I was pregnant with Desmond, I read as much as I could about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. I came across a series of articles, written by Dr. Peter Gray, in Psychology Today that emphasized the "roles of play and curiosity as a foundation of learning." He is a big proponent of unschooling, which is a subset of homeschooling where children learn by playing and by real-world experiences, instead of through workbooks and textbooks. I forwarded as many articles as I could to Billy (who, at this point, was very pro-traditional schooling). Eventually, he began to see the merits of homeschooling our kids and the freedom it would allow us to live as a family. (Disclaimer: we are not religious nor did we choose to homeschool because we disagree with what is being taught in schools. Just in case you were already labeling as "wackos" and "extremists" in your head).
Already deciding to homeschool made it easier for us to commit to traveling full time. What we didn't anticipate, and what was a major concern for many of the people who questioned our decision to homeschool, was that traveling from place to place every few months didn't allow for a lot of time for Des to build relationships with kids. Sure, we would go to the park and he would sometimes play with the kids there, but it wasn't enough to build friendships.
Just a girl living her dream: traveling this amazing world with her husband and her two awesome sons.