Sending Our Children to a Chinese School

So, you may be rather surprised to learn that we decided to put the kids in Chinese kindergarten, after my first post about schooling in China. Actually, all of my fears are still basically the same, except that I do harbor the hope that however they discipline the Chinese children, they’d hold back on the foreign kids. We decided to enroll the kids because they’ve been here almost a year and know no Chinese, except to understand that someone is saying that they’re cute. And also we found a place near our house that we could actually afford.  I look at this as a 6-month to a year-long situation (not sure how long it will take for them to get a good grasp on the language), but thinking of it as temporary did not help the first two weeks when I had to take my very reluctant and sometimes screaming children to kindergarten every morning.

Piper telling Daddy secrets before heading out for her first day of school.

Back to the beginning, our neighbor was asking me why I didn’t put the children in school, and I said it was too expensive, and we happened to be passing one of the managers of a little food store in our neighborhood and asked him how much he spent sending his son to school. He said it was only 900 kuai ($150 a month), which is significantly less expensive than I expected, so we decided to look into it. We visited, and it’s a small kindergarten in an apartment the same size as our own, with 20 lower level students, and maybe the same amount in another apartment in a neighboring building, for the upper level students–it’s three buildings away from us, in our neighborhood. With the help of my wonderful neighbors and the lady who works at the store downstairs whose son attends the kindergarten (I mentioned her husband above), we worked out a deal where we’ll pay 500 a month for each child to attend half day, and we’ll teach a one hour English class every Wednesday morning. So we pay $240 a month for the three kids to attend.

Piper on her first day, before she really realized that I would be leaving her there.

We didn’t think we could really afford to send all the kids until January, but we wanted to get Piper started sooner (mostly because she seems like she needs something more lately than just her brothers). I took her on her first day, and she was such a good sport till we got there, and oh, the look on her face when she realized what was really happening, and watching her actually try so hard not to cry, I couldn’t bring myself to leave her there alone. I felt like I was leading a lamb to the slaughter. So I asked if she felt like she could stay if I brought the boys, and she said yes, please get them. I left her and went and got Toby (Teddy was the last to get the stomach bug that had run through our house that week), and though Toby wasn’t thrilled, Piper took his hand and they stayed the first day. They seemed happy when I collected them at noon, after the other kids were already down for their nap. They hadn’t tried the lunch, but I wasn’t going to insist on that, since it seems like everything else is so much to ask of them.

The main room.

The next day was okay, too, because Teddy hadn’t been yet and was feeling left out, so he was excited, and Piper and Toby felt important, being more experienced. That was the end of the peace, though. For the next 6 days of school, every day, they would all cry all the way to school (sometimes being dragged or carried), and they ALL had to be pried off of me by the teachers and I’d leave and stand in the hall listening to them scream. I don’t think they cried longer than 7 or 8 minutes, but it broke my heart, I guess because I don’t feel sure it’s necessary or even the right thing to do. After school (they always seem pretty happy when I pick them up and come home with little gifts from the teachers, and amazingly enough, started trying the lunch after the second day), I talk to them and try to figure out what happened, and how the teachers discipline the kids, without making a big deal out of it or giving them any hints about what I might be looking for. Every day (even since they stopped crying, two days ago), they tell me that they hate their Chinese school and their Chinese teachers because “they teach us too much,” and they don’t get to play. Toby tells me that school is “x point” (related to Piper’s making an x in the air over anything she doesn’t like) and that I should never send them back. They are thrilled on the weekend when they don’t have to go.

Like the rat tail?

On Thursday, after a particularly trying morning trying to get Piper out of the house (which ended in Piper standing waiting for the elevator with no pants on, though she quickly decided to put them on because it was cold), none of them cried! I kept waiting for it to happen and it didn’t. I was in awe. Piper even knocked on the door of the kindergarten herself and kissed me goodbye. The next day, Toby cried (the whole way there, actually), but Teddy and Piper were fine! I am still not planning on it being easy to take them on Monday morning but I am grateful for every time it ISN’T  a nightmare.

Having breakfast. Yum? Not so much.

Every day the teachers give me a list of words the children have been exposed to (so far the only ones that have stuck are “pingguo” and “qiche” (apple and car). I really appreciate the effort they’re making dealing with such a foreign situation to them (3 kids in the same family, who don’t speak a word of Chinese and haven’t been raised like Chinese children in preparation for sitting motionless and silent at a table, and who, until the last 2 days, have been screaming bloody murder every morning). I just hope they’re not doing anything, disciplinarily speaking, that I wouldn’t want them to do.

A few days in, Piper showing me a dance she learned that day. The man is the son of the woman who runs the kindergarten and the girl in the foreground is his daughter. He seems to be really great with the kids but I’m not 100% thrilled that there’s a male teacher, because there’s no CCTV monitoring system, and it doesn’t seem like worrying about male teachers with small children is much of a concern in China. I just keep asking the kids questions every day and can pick up on a problem before there is actually anything to be truly concerned about.

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