Schooldays… finally

Back to School

Nine weeks of summer holidays has flown past (no, really), and here we are in the “OMG One Week Left?” phase.  The Weasels are either going to try and pack in everything they thought they would like to do 10 weeks ago, but have been too lazy to organize, or they are going to lie about like dead bumblebees, complaining of boredom.

Laurel is going into Grade 9, her second year of high school, so she is looking forward to sneering at the terrified Grade 8ers, but still junior enough to be a newbie herself.  Katie will be in Grade 6, two years off graduating from elementary and still very much at home in the laid-back lifestyle of the junior school.  Lily is in Grade 3, with years before she needs to worry about anything much.

At dinner tonight, Dim asked where Laurel would have been if we had stayed in England, and we were all brought up short by the answer, once we worked it out.  She would be Year 10, her final year of intense tuition before her GCSE year which is mostly revision and exams from January onward.  She would be one year off the magical “Sixteen” when, according to UK 15-year olds I have spoken to recently, the Government recognizes you as an adult, you can leave school, leave home, get married, legally smoke, and generally put aside all childish things, including any pretense at respect for your parents.  Phew.

Katie’s friends in the UK are preparing themselves for their first day at Secondary School; all those tiny, skinny, prepubescent kids, mixed in with the giants of Year 11.  I look at my little girl and shudder at the thought of her trying to find her way in that world.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not overprotective, but I want my weasels to enjoy their childhood, to play and have fun for as long as possible.

So, when Laurel’s friends in the UK are finishing their A Levels, she’ll just be graduating from high school, ready to start 2 years of college courses, followed by at least 4 years of university.  While she is doing that, she will volunteer for charity organizations, take leadership roles in summer camps, find work in retail and sports, and develop a (hopefully) impressive resume.  We also hope that she will continue to spend time with us and her sisters, waiting to fly away when she, not society, feels the time is right.


Babysitting Basics

Babysitting dolls is much easier...

Today I had the rare and wonderful privilege of seeing my eldest daughter in action as a babysitter.  I occasionally deliver and collect her from her assignments, but I don’t see her “at work”, as it were.  I see her arriving at her client’s house, shy and surly, and I see her fleeing the scene, shouting “Cheers!” as she shoves $5 bills into her pockets, but I cannot imagine that this little girl, my sulky barely-teenager, is in any way to be trusted with another family’s precious children.

Laurel completed the Babysitter’s Basics course, offered by her school at a ridiculously low price, when she was 11 years old (grade 6).  It was a 6 week course and she had to complete a work book and various tests.  When she showed me what it covered, I was a little worried – if they ever introduce a parenting test even close to as thorough as this course, we’d fail for sure.  She was now, essentially, an 11 year old paediatric nurse with a good grounding in nutrition, exercise techniques and could probably cover for any of the Kindergarten teachers if they were sick.

Of course, this did not stop her bullying her younger sisters, and we began to wonder what kind of babysitter she was going to be.  We decided that, at 11, she was still too young to be trusted with anyone else’s children, but if we could get 30 minutes uninterrupted conversation while we walked the dog alone, so be it.  We introduced a mantra before we went out…

“Laurel, until we get home you are no longer a big sister, you are the babysitter – what are you?”  “The Babysitter”

“Weasels, Laurel is no longer your sister.  She is the babysitter until we get home.  What is she?”  “The Babysitter.”

“How do we treat the Babysitter?” “With respect.”

Sometimes it worked, but as we all grew in confidence, Laurel started to get jobs around the community.  When we lived in England, we would never have considered using a babysitter younger than 16 years old.  Everyone seemed vague about the law about leaving children unattended, but we did not feel comfortable with any younger.  Here in Vancouver, the babysitting course is offered to every child in school and as a source of income, babysitting is highly sought after.   A friend’s 12 year old daughter spent the summer holidays providing full day care to 2 children, aged 2 and 4 years and nobody blinked.  The nearly-teens who complete the course are simply preparing for the next phase of their professional lives – life guarding at the pool, teaching swimming to tots, or teaching skating or working at summer camp.  They have a knowledge and love of smaller children which makes them careful, respectful and accepting of others younger than themselves.

Today Laurel was asked to babysit 2 young brothers from 11am to 4pm – she was expected to supervise nap time, meal times and fun time.  After taking them for a walk to the park, she found she could not open the door with the key she had been left, and was trying to figure it out for herself when I called to check up on her.  I drove over, opened the door and left her to it, but not before I had seen her calmly and confidently pick up the baby, move the stroller and chat to the toddler about his preference for lunch.  She is, of course, his favourite babysitter ever.

For F.S.Ake, Get A Grip…

This week we are gearing up for FSA tests.  These are like SATs in the UK, and our Grade 7er and Grade 4er will both be taking them.  Like SATs, we are told they are not a measure of the child’s progress, but an assessment of the school, and the results are published in The Fraser Report, which is described as the schools’ report card.  And, like the SATs, everyone is getting very hot under the collar as the annual event rolls around.  As a parent, I’m not really bothered.  I think tests are all very well if kept in perspective; good practise in coping skills for the students and a welcome snapshot of how they are doing in comparison with their peers.  We haven’t heard any strong reactions from other parents either, but oh boy, you should hear the fuss from the teaching unions.  We even received a very political style campaign leaflet from our local union, reminding us that we can withdraw our child from the test, and that FSAs prove nothing and are a waste of time and resources.  I heard an interview with someone from the Fraser Institute on my way into work yesterday (CBC Radio) who presented the view that the teaching unions are against anything which might point out that their members might not be working as hard as they should – a union protects its members first, after all.  They are concerned that the results will be read in isolation and misinterpreted, while the Institute strongly pushes the message to read all the results over the last 5 years and look at influences on each result (number of ESL students, percentage of special needs, social conditions in the area).

When we arrived, we used The Fraser Institute rankings to research areas to live.  We would often find a house on MLS that looked like a bargain, get all excited, then check the schools in that area.  Think about the trends in the UK – the school results often reflect the conditions of the local area and, although I believe that any student who applies themselves can shine in even the worst-ranked school, it helps a less motivated, more easily led child to be surrounded by more eager learners and less distractions like friends who prefer to play truant, smoke and experiment with drugs. 

Anyway, the Fraser Report Card is a guideline – a useful resource to give you an idea of standards in the area.  Our school is very average, but improving, and all the schools in this area are average or above average.  That told us that something good is happening here, and we have found that the cross section of different cultures in this area really helps; our Asian neighbours and our Eastern European neighbours all have very high expectations of their children both in and out of school, and the competition drives ours to better things.