Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Homework time challenges both of us!

It has now been almost 2 months since Makaila started school and quite a few people are keen to follow her schooling. Friends, family and people in my greater network are curious not only about a Waldorf education, but about schooling in Sweden in general.

Before I go any further I can say she is loving every minute of it so far, both the school part and at the after-school-care. And her teacher tells me she is not the shy, reserved child that many of us knew a couple of years ago, but one who is active both in the class room and out of it. She is truly blossoming.

Even though I had planned to keep people updated and informed through the blog I haven't really felt able to compile my thoughts and observations into a single post and my girl is not the kind to come home and volunteer lots of information about her education - its more the blood out of stone style of communication!!

People at school seem to think there is a big difference between Waldorf education and mainstream Swedish school, not something I can respond to never having gone to school here. There are however plenty of similarities it seems, and I notice how different vastly different this school is to my experience - a lot of which has to do with the Swedish culture as much as the methodology. But I already touched on that in my last school post.

Her school day is a pretty short one, starting at 8.15 and ending at 12.40 (yes that's just after noon!) and in those few hours they seem to have quite a bit of break time - not quite like the long 9-3 days I knew as a kid. Lunch is as early at 10.15am and is eaten in the main cafeteria. They are served a hot meal each day and have a choice of two dishes plus salad. The big difference from daycare, apart from the choice, is the lack of dessert. Gone are the days of Klara's apple pie and all the other treats whipped up for the little ones. While on the subject of food I can also mention that they get a second lunch at about 1pm, once they get to after-school-care. While the "snack" there is not a hot meal it is substantial enough to sustain them until later in the afternoon.

Each Tuesday the homework books get handed out and in our weekly email the parents are also informed as to what the task is. Over the last few weeks they have been working on the letters of the alphabet, a couple each week and the homework is often to draw something starting with the letter they have been working on.

Going from what my girl has described the letters are taught in a way that gives as much feeling as possible to the letter. During our recent parent-teacher meeting we saw a beautiful bear's profile drawn on the board in the shape of a B. Wish I'd taken a photo of that to show you. Another letter that easily mimics an animal is an S. While snake is orm in Swedish, a snok is a common type of snake, so the Sammy snake concept still works. And so on, and so on. The idea is to involve all the senses, and both halves of the brain. Although Ty's teaching colleagues tell him that this is a pretty standard way to teach the alphabet in Swedish these days.

And those of you from the non-Swedish world might wonder if an almost 7 year old already knows her alphabet and the answer is YES, in English. Makaila is learning her alphabet all over again, this time in Swedish. And somehow its all different too. She also seems so much more eager to learn. I imagine the combination of learning in a group, longing to be able to read, and the methodology make it so much more tangible than the workbooks I have put before her over the years.

This week's homework is to practise writing the letters that have worked on so far - A, B, D, F, M, O, S, U and Ö as well as to try and use them to form words. She sat at the kitchen table tonight vigilantly working away while I cooked dinner.

The alphabet tree that Mormor gave her when she was little is now more useful than ever. It helped her visualise the letters while practising saying the alphabet in Swedish, and reminded her how to write them. Mind you she was careful not to press any letters, hear the spounds in English and completely confuse her brain.

Supporting a child with their homework is not always an easy task, something any parent knows, especially those with children much older than mine. Supporting a child in a language other than your own makes it all the more challenging and already I feel challenged, despite my fluency in Swedish. I looked at those letters and the only words that came to me were English ones. Dad, mad, sad, mum and bum just don't cut it as Swedish words! This is a concern Ty expressed long before Makaila started school and I didn't expect to feel the pinch as early as this. Saying that we did manage together to come up with quite a few words, it just took us some time.

Will be interesting to see what more challenges lie ahead of us!


  1. Oh she is getting to be so grown up! I'm hoping Lauren gets into a Waldorf school next year too.

  2. B&N both learnt the alphabet at school one letter at a time but R is learning by the sounds the letters can make, i.e. e or ee or ea can all be the same sound, even ie as in babIEs. And the letter E can be eh or ee, depending on which word it is in. So each week, rather than focusing on a single letter they focus on sounds, which could be represented by a number of letters. For example she learned c and k in the same week because they both can make the hard K sound but she also learned c when she learned s because they can make the same sound. It has been an interesting shift and I feel like I notice R can identify words that I wouldn't expect her to recognise after such a short period of time at school. She'll identify all the different sounds in a word she sees (like on a shop front) and make a really good guess at what it says. Who would have thought there could be so many ways to learn the alphabet??? And who would have thought I would be writing about learning and not be sure if I should be writing learned or learnt!!! Sorry if I got it wrong :)

  3. @Michelle
    Haha - I think that's actually an American vs British English difference. Can't remember which is which tho.

    Interesting to hear how B&N are learning - I have really wondered how it is done in English.

    M's class is also learning about the sounds they make but there is not the difference in saying and sounding the alphabet in Swedish that there is in English - and there is not the variation in sounds either - the language is simpler and more ummmmm - what you see is what you get - if you know what I mean.

    I will be very interested to see how they do it when they get to English. It sounds like a great way to teach it.

    There are a ton of theories about how to teach language, spelling, pronunciation etc. I think each school, country probably goes through phases or changes as research takes place and different methods evolve.

    One thing that I think is typical of Waldorf is to give them a book without lines in it - one of my earliest memories is being taught about positioning and proportion when writing letters.

    Have you enrolled her at our school too? Altho from what I understand there is quite a lot of interest and lots of kids born in 02, 03 wanting a place. Hope she gets a spot, she should through the daycare.

  4. Wow! Great job on the homework ladies! My little 3-year old isn't quite there yet. I've heard about the Waldorf learning method and it sure is attractive. The little guy recently came out of a "regular dagis" and is blossoming at his Montessori school. He's certainly had a host of challenges assimilating but is surprisig me daily with his eagerness to speak and learn Swedish. Time to figure out how to add your blog to my blog list :-). Thanks for sharing!