I’m going to apologize in advance for the length of this post. To be fair though, I did call it a saga.
By definition, a saga is: a long story of heroic achievement. And that’s what I feel this is.
The upside of living in a great area = great schools.
The downside of living in a great area = everyone else also wants good schools, so all of the schools are full.
It’s not like in America. In America, you live somewhere, and that’s where you go to school.
It’s not like that in London.
In my basic knowledge of the London school system, I have learned this: it is very densely populated here, the schools are small and sprinkled all around, and full (if they are good). If your closest, most desirable school is full then the council has to find you a place at the next nearest school. But, it’s probably also full. And the search goes on. Oh, and also – there’s no such thing as a school bus. So you walk the kids to school, or drive if you have a car AND the school has parking.
There are private options, but they are EXPENSIVE. Expensive to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars PER year PER kid. And that. That doesn’t work for us.
I’m sure there’s a few different ways to get your children into school in London, but here is the bumpy road we took:
We began researching the school system in the summer. We found out that they may expect Harry to go into Year 2 because he is 6. And they may expect Finn to go into Reception, which seems like Kindergarten.
So that means, according to England, Harry is a second grader….? Wait.
We held him back here in Illinois. He hasn’t even gone to kindergarten yet.
Time to freak. Will they really do that to him? What will we do?
Apply for the international private school… ? $$$$$?
Beg for deferment in England….?
To make it worse, we found out that we wouldn’t be moving until after school starts because we have to wait on baby to be born and get a birth certificate, in order to start the passport and visa process. In August we secured a house and then we had a school to shoot for. We emailed, they told us we couldn’t do anything until we were here in person…. Fine.
Meanwhile, I looked up the Year 2 curriculum as much as I could. They’re like writing poems and doing fancy math. Harry won’t even know what they are talking about. At this point, I had no choice. I decided to TRY to home school and make up the difference as much as we could before we moved. We also hired a lovely tutor to help out while we were still living in Casey. I still held out hope that they would understand how far behind he would be and maybe let him defer to Year 1. I had images of Harry sitting as his desk crying because he has no idea what’s going on. If I could just talk with one of the teachers!
The only thing I could do at the time was work with him as much as possible and maybe we can meet in the middle and he’d be okay. And so we began with that.
**Side note on Homeschooling – I totally respect home school people and I always have. When I was in college, I did lots of research on it and discovered that with the right situation it’s just as good and in many cases, better, than a regular school education – even considering the social aspects. Ever since Harry was little, part of me has seriously wanted to home school. But I was too afraid, or too lazy… or too busy having other babies. So I concluded he would be fine entering regular school with all the other kids. But when this WHOLE THING came up, I went back into it and bought a curriculum. When it arrived, I was so excited. It was all laid out in these nice little books with idiot-proof instructions and it all looked so doable and peaceful and pretty. And I was all like “Wow! I can totally do this. I GOT this. I might really like this and decide to just continue on with this instead of doing any public school, ever. We can all just sleep in, and travel at our leisure, and do things on our own schedule, and incorporate the bible, and avoid the germy classrooms at school, and I can cater to the boys specific learning styles. I’ll protect them from all the mean kids. We’ll stay home. We’ll never go outside and I can keep everyone safe all the time! This is such a great idea. It’s gonna be great. ”
And I have to say….. I’m soooooo glad I tried homeschooling for myself. So that I could find out how much I HATE homeschooling. I totally CANNOT do it. I don’t have it. Not even a little. It is such NOT a great idea.
This is the scene:
Me, Harry, and Finn sitting at the table.
Me – nursing Viv, of course. Running on a few hours sleep and coffee.
Finn – happy as a lark, doing whatever activity I’ve given him. Flying through it with ease and joy and then shrieking at me ‘look mom!’
Theo – walking around, crying.. usually. He’s really been unhappy most of the time lately. We hope it’s a multiple-transition-related phase. Fingers-crossed! Anyway – he’s not happy, so I put him up on my other side, opposite Viv.
Harry – crying. Because he doesn’t ‘understand’ what I’m saying, and it ‘doesn’t make any sense’ and he can’t hear me because Theo’s crying. And he’s jealous because he can’t get his work done as fast as Finn and his work isn’t as fun as Finn’s, and he’s hungry, and he wants to go play… and on and on.
Me – holding Theo, nursing Viv, nodding at Finn, begging with Harry, pushing Harry, snapping Harry back into focus, reading what we need to do next, nodding at Finn, pushing Harry, consoling Harry, bouncing Theo, burping Viv, giving Finn a sticker, helping Harry, Finn needs a new page, Harry’s crying, Theo’s crying….. I’m crying….
You get the idea. Obviously, this whole deal drains my batteries as fast as you can imagine. There IS nap time – we could work during nap time. So, at least we could take Theo out of the equation. And sometimes we did. But generally we didn’t. Because I can’t give up my precious. If I have to give up nap time…. I can’t even. I can’t. I will walk out the door and never return.
And here’s the thing… I know lots of people who home school. I know lots of people who home school with 4 kids under 6. How do you do it people? How? Actually how? Are my kids that much terribler? Are you that much more patient? Do you take something? Do you survive the day and make dinner and are still able to carry on a conversation with your husband when he comes home? Like, a normal conversation with complete sentences and rational thoughts that doesn’t involve you all twitchy and red-eyed with veins popping out of your forehead?
You are better than me. I tip the hat.
Just typing this, and thinking about the past two months that I’ve endured of table-cry-time is raising my heart rate. I love my kids. And, I love teaching them new things. But I will never home school again unless times are dark. ***
Okay, now that THAT’s over with: I did more research about the school and the council, which is where you have to apply. It appeared on their website that all of the schools are ‘over-subscribed.’
Over-subscribed = you’re screwed.
October 2nd, we moved and then promptly applied at the Council in person. The lady at the council tells us that our suspicions are true. Most of the schools are over-subscribed. They will do their best, and we’ll hear from them in about two weeks!
What! Two weeks! British! Is that really how long it takes to call a few schools? Can I work for you guys and do it myself? We’ll knock this thing out in a day…
Oh? That’s not the way it works… I guess I have to wait.
FINE. But I’m NOT going to like it.
And I’ll call you guys every day.
You know, just to check in.
And I did. I literally called them everyday. “Hey guys! Just wondering on the status of Harry and Finn Norman. Oh, still nothing? Like, you guys didn’t call anybody or nobody answered or nobody has openings….? Or what? The person who deals with this specific school only works on Mondays from 1-3:30 and then on Wednesday from 10-11:18? And the other person works the third Tuesday after every full moon from 6am – 7:42? Got it. You’ll be hearing from me again tomorrow.”
On October 12th we got a surprise call from our third choice school. They have an opening! But only for Harry. So, I schedule a visit for the next day.
On the day of the visit, we had a hard time getting there and getting back. I may have cried a little at the bus stop because I was like “Is this how it’s going to be? This long, hard trek to school? We can’t walk this everyday. They don’t even have a place for Finn. Will I have to be two places at once, while I push two other babies in a stroller? Sometimes the bus doesn’t let me on, if there is already a wheelchair person in the accessible area of the bus. What if three buses come and they’re all full? And I can’t get on with the kids and we can’t get to school?? Okay – I can just continue to home school. AHHHH! No I can’t. I won’t survive it. I won’t.”
See?? Cry a little. Despair is maybe a good word.
I decided that the cure for my despair was coffee, and I’ve made friends with the owner of the little coffee shop by my house. Her name is Angelina and we’re besties! I feel like we’re besties anyway. She remembers me and we talk and she makes me iced coffee. Anyway – when I walked in she asked about school and I told her all the stuff. She tells me that the school we put as our second choice (Bishop Gilpin) has a three year waiting list. Great! Not getting into that one! And I know, from previous research, that our first choice (the school closest to the house) certainly doesn’t have any openings either. What will they do with us? Put us at two different schools 3 miles away? Will I really have to resort to homeschool all year? My despair increases and I feel a crushing sensation in my chest. Angelina then suggests applying with another council. We are on the edge of our (Merton) council and the second closest school after our first choice is actually a school in Wandsworth council that’s down the street called Riversdale. It is easy to get to, I know right where it is. I’ve seen it(on my way to the shopping mall). Angelina says that it’s a nice school.
This is getting a little confusing. Here, this will help:
Keep in mind, distance is a huge factor because WE DON’T HAVE A CAR, there is no school bus, and I have to make the trip twice a day. And the boys have to be able to walk it in the event that the city bus is running late or doesn’t have room for the stroller.
(Choice 1= Merton Council = Wimbledon Park Primary) .2 miles from home
(Choice 2= Merton Council = Bishop Gilpin) .9 miles from home
(Chioce 3 = Merton Council = The Priory) even farther
(Dark Horse Surprise Choice 2 = WANDSWORTH council = Riversdale Primary) .6 miles from home.
.6 of a mile is totally doable if we need to walk it. But there’s also a city bus we can take right by the house. A few stops and it takes us right to the school, it’s even on the same side of the street. After my talk with Angelina, I decide that I will try to apply with Wandsworth. Wimbledon Park is obviously our best choice, but if Riversdale has an opening it would be very doable. It doesn’t hurt anything to try. It’s not like we’re getting anywhere with Merton. I get back home and call Wandsworth Council.
* Side note on talking to British offices on the phone. At the suggestions of my neighbor, you must be pushy, I guess. They will not offer any information or tell you any additional things that might be helpful. You have to ASK and force the issue and call everyday. *
That’s what I did anyway….
On the phone with Wandsworth, I force the issue and make them tell me if there are any openings at Riversdale. And you know what? There is. Yep. They are within easy walking distance, and they have openings for Harry AND Finn. WHAT???
The sweetest words anyone has ever uttered to me: Riversdale has openings for both of your boys.
Just thinking about the moment now, still gives me goosies.
I went from such a low that day to such a high.
The normal process is for them to mail me (in the real mail) the forms, then I mail them back, then they review and mail me back, then I accept and mail them back, then they call the school, then the school calls me…. Blah blah. For my desperate-mom-American self this was not good enough. So, again, I forced the issue, and they agreed to fast track things over email. Whew! It appears that we are in a school. And, I want to throw a party. But until we get all the papers worked out, and actually go to the school, and they confirm will I feel complete relief. Since we don’t live in their council, they are not obligated to give us one of their spots. Things progressed anyway. We visited, we loved it, we sped up the application process and we were in. This happened the Thursday before mid-term break. Mid term break is a whole week off the week of October 26th! That’s fun right? So, my boys will start after the break on November 2nd. Or – as it was known to me, 6 more days of homeschooling.
I would like to briefly summarize our visit to the school: we toured with 6 other parent couples. Two of which were pregnant. As in their babies weren’t even here yet. Because apparently that’s how it works here? I don’t know. Angelina did tell me about the massive waiting lists at all the good schools. She also told me that people go to a certain church for years in order to get their children into the church’s school (church schools are public here), and we know that one of the guys that Rich works with has a four month old daughter on a waiting list for school.
This all seems preposterous to me.
But… maybe I should just admire their dedication and commitment.
Our school, Riversdale Primary, is *quite* lovely in my opinion and is complete with a real-live secret garden. Each grade has two classes of about 25 students each. There is a fall term, a spring term and a summer term. Each term has a WEEK OFF in the middle. Then there are two weeks off for Christmas between Fall and Spring, two weeks off for spring break between Spring and Summer term. Then after summer term, there is six weeks off until the start of Fall term in September. I think I’m really going to like this format. Giving everyone more frequent, solid breaks seems more conducive to learning.
We found out that the school had recently expanded and that’s likely why there were openings for us. It went from one class per grade level to two. Lucky, lucky us. Besides all the regular school-y stuff, they get a swim lesson once a week. Love that.
The lunch menu is interesting. Take a look:
Be warned. If you want to pack a lunch, there are rules:
And if you don’t eat your lunch, school tells on you:
The down-low on the curriculum gap. Turns out it’s not as big of a deal as I had imagined.
Can you believe that?
Me imagining something to be a bigger deal? Never.
I looked around the classrooms and talked with the teachers. They were not concerned. The stuff on the wall is the stuff Harry and I are working on. The things they are doing in class aren’t that much ahead of where Harry is. He’s going to be just fine in Year 2. Crisis averted. Year 2 seems to be a mix of first and second grade concepts and we’re working almost right along with them. I think he will be prepared enough to step in and not cry everyday. Not cry is the goal for him.
Thank goodness I had the thought to home school him.
Thank goodness I was able to survive the 8 weeks of it.
It was just what he needed to make up the gap, and he’ll only be a tiny bit behind.
Pretty good, I say. Worth it.
And in my conclusions, Reception is a Kindergarten-Preschool hybrid.
So, Finn is totally good. Smarty pants. Harry is a smarty pants too, but his emotions sometimes get in his way. Hence our decision to ‘hold him back’ when we were in Illinois.
During the school break, we continued to do school work.
I bought, labeled, and ironed their school uniforms. We bought the PE pack, we got their trunks and swim caps.
We coached them on eating lunch at school, which neither of them has ever done.
And we practiced getting dressed in full uniform with shoes, then into swim trunks with caps, and back again.
The day came, and we sent them off. Rich walked Finn to his room and I walked Harry to his. The only thing I could think of to say was “try to eat a good lunch” then the sweet teacher practically pushed me out: “Okay! We’ll see you at 3:30 MUM!”
I wanted to stay SO bad. You can relate, I’m sure.
I walked out, Rich held my hand and laughed about the words I said to Harry, and I had to cry a little. Relief, sorrow, elation, worry, happiness. All the normal mom-first-day-of school stuff.
It got me. It did.
We did it.
We moved here and we got them into a good school.
In my mind, with this move, there were four major hurdles we had to jump:
1 – sell our house and get a new house
2 – move out of our house and into my parent’s in Casey
3 – the travel day
4 – school in London
We cross the last hurdle off the list and things can now continue on at more normal rate. Our home school days are over for the foreseeable future and I get to go back to just being mom.
How great is that?
****UPDATE**** (January 25th 2016)
In late November, we got a call from the council that our first choice, Wimbledon Park, had an opening for Harry.
Did we want to take it?
This would require separating the boys.
Harry just got settled in at school.
He loves his teacher, and is making friends.
He’s catching up on the school work and really thriving.
But, Wimbledon Park is where we want to be…. It’s super close and it’s super great. If we switch Harry, it would move Finn to the top of the waiting list. If we don’t take the spot, who knows when the next opening would come up? But it’s going to destroy him to switch. He’s never been easy-going, and change is hard for him. He’s going to hate it. He’ll have to start all over after he’s just gotten used to everything. I really didn’t want to put him through it.
But we decided that we couldn’t pass it up. We told him he would be switching and he literally cried about it for days. He was sad and angry. He begged us not to switch him. He would tell me that he was going to be mean and RUDE at his new school. Then in early December we went for a visit to Wimbledon Park, he stayed in his new class for the afternoon. Afterward, he had to admit that he liked it ‘a little bit.’
Nevertheless, his last day at Riversdale looked like this:
And I still had doubts if we’d made the right call. It’s not like I’m not happy with Riversdale. It’s purely about location. Wimbledon Park is a 4 minute walk, and Riversdale is a solid 16 minute walk (20 minutes with Finn in tow). During Christmas break, he warmed up to the idea and I helped soothe him by telling him that if he really hated it after 20 days then we could think about switching back to Riversdale.
It is currently day 18 and he is doing awesome! He talks about Riversdale with happiness, but doesn’t ask to go back. They’ve made him feel incredibly welcome. Everyday, he tells me about his day. He’s excited, involved, and thriving. He’s learning and growing. He’s making friends. He got invited to two birthday parties.
We had some real lows with him, worrying about this transition. It was scary for him, I know it was. And I’m proud of him for being brave. Starting over again in a new place is always hard. Being the new kid is always hard. We loved him through it and told him it was okay to be sad. I hated to put him through it, but it had to be done and it’s turned out wonderfully. Next up…. We need a spot for Finn!
****UPDATE**** (May 2016)
Sometimes I have a sense about things and I can’t explain it. It occurred to me one day in early May to call the school and check on Finn’s status on the waiting list. I don’t know, it just popped into my head that I needed to call that day.
I call Denise, one of the school secretaries, who I’m a little friendly with. And I say “Hey, it’s Emy Norman. Just wanted to check on a spot for Finn, in reception. Just check in. Make sure he’s still on the list and everything.”
And she says “Well actually I just heard today that there is going to be an opening, but it is unofficial.”
And that’s the end of it.
We went ahead and did the paperwork that day. We had to wait for the child to officially transfer out, and then wait and make sure we were officially offered the open spot. He was supposed to be first on the list, but there are always other factors.
Anyway, it was there and I knew it.
We started the year in green uniforms. Half way through we switched Harry. Then we had one red and one green. Now – we are finishing the year together again in two matching RED uniforms.
It takes a huge weight off of my shoulders to have them back together because it now means that I can do the school runs by myself. With Finn at one school and Harry at another, the drop offs and pick ups had to be done by two people every day. We had to RELY on our Au Pair or a friend. It really forced us to host an Au Pair. But now, it’s not as necessary which is great for us moving forward.
We’re al together at the same school, and everyone is happy and awesome.
Full steam ahead.