Brick and Mortar

Our first year in the UAE, Sept 2012-August 2013, the kids were homeschooled by me.  They LOVED it.  I actually got sick of hearing, “Mom, you’re the best teacher ever!”.  It was NON-stop…in my head.  Actually I think that was my mantra over the year.  It may have sounded a bit more like this though, “You’re a good teacher, you’re a good teacher.”

First day of Kindergarten.  Smallest & Youngest in his class.
First day of Kindergarten. Smallest & Youngest in his class.
Jaron (far right) cuts the ribbon at the opening ceremony for the new single track French Immersion school.

A little background.  Our last few years in Canada the kids were split up into different schools.  When we moved to Prince George, there was only 1 open English spot, and 1 open French spot in a English/French immersion dual track school.  Kirsten stayed on track with English for grade 4 and Lilli got the French spot for grade 1.  The following year the French Immersion track moved to it’s own school down the street, and Jaron started Kindergarten in French Immersion.  Jaron actually ended up doing two years of Kindergarten.  Not because he was behind academically or socially (Jaron’s birthday is right on the line for early admission to school so he was actually 2-6 months younger than most of his class mates) he just wasn’t ready for the serious classwork that comes with grade 1 i.e. he needed more time to just play.

Back to starting homeschool in the UAE.  I wrote a little blurb about our first week here so this next part is the Reader’s digest version if you don’t want to read a whole other post.

At first I thought I was pretty amazing and I could just Pinterest cool stuff for them to do.  Lilli had done really well within the French program and we didn’t want her to lose that.  I can’t speak French.  Well I can, but I’m sure it’s usually offensive or incomprehensible.  So strike one to my plan.  We’ll find a tutor I thought…that’s just what we’ll have to do.  Then I gave Kirsten a worksheet of math.

She looked at it blankly, “How am I supposed to do this?”

I replied, “I don’t know.  You don’t recognise any of it?”

Learning break.
Learning break.

Strike two.  I was going to have to learn how to teach grade 7 math.  I don’t remember what strike three was for me, but it certainly didn’t take long for me to get there.  The end of the first day and I was already completely overwhelmed.  I hadn’t even gotten to Jaron yet, who was happily playing on an iPad avoiding me.

My first thought was that we needed to get them into school.  Being expatriates though means shopping around at Private Schools for the best deal.  I went to two schools.  Sharjah English School and Australian International School.  I had also heard about K12 icademy (an online American curriculum school with an office in Dubai).  When the two private schools were not within my idea of affordable or available I turned to K12 as a trusty backup plan.  We signed up immediately and had the books and supplies on our doorstep in a matter of weeks.

Circle Monsters
Circle Monsters

Jaron then started grade 1 homeschool in an English only environment after having 2 years of French immersion.  He had a hard time with matching English sounds to the letters of the alphabet.  4 months we struggled with learning new sounds, him fighting me every step of the way.  It was such a struggle that we actually had to walk away from it all together and focus on his other subjects so not to get too far behind.  He excelled in counting blocks and completing equations.  In fact that was probably the only homework I didn’t have to twist his arm into completing.  There were lots of fun games, and apps on my iPad that I considered good practice so that is probably what made it easier.

Lilli and Kirsten remained fairly independent with pushing themselves through and I was really impressed.  Self motivation is something I continue to struggle with.

Then Christmas came, and cool camping weather.  We were off exploring and experiencing our surroundings what felt like every other weekend.  We had the freedom to go whenever we wanted because we weren’t bound within the walls of a “brick and mortar” school.  Or so we thought.

Kirsten dissecting a chicken breast.
Kirsten dissecting a chicken breast.

The kids started to get behind.  Our good routine of getting up early being done early, turned into sleeping in and being done early…I think you can see where this is going.  We couldn’t translate our cool adventures and exploration into credit for the curriculum.  They still had to go through the motions of completing their modules, and handing in their assignments.  They didn’t answer to me, I was merely the bullwhip pushing them to complete the work.

Early February we decided to try private school again, not for this year but early admission for the following school year.  My first two choices turned me away before I even made it to the desk to ask for an admission application.  So I tried a 3rd school recommended to me by dear friends of ours, Scholars International Academy.  Kirsten had decided that she liked making her own schedule and would stick with K12 the next year.  She came along anyway for Lilli and Jaron’s scheduled admissions testing.  Before the test we had a quick tour.  We even peaked into a few classrooms packed full of students.  When Kirsten poked her head into the gr. 7 class all the students instantly shouted for her to come to this school.  When we returned to the office, Kirsten pulled my sleeve and asked, “Can I take the test today too?”.

Angry about math day.
Angry about math day.

Lilli and Kirsten both tested really well.  Jaron did really well with the math, however, he could not read.  Facepalm.  Right, we had put that off.  He would have to be put in to grade 1 (again).  I completely understood, but I asked anyway…”Can Jaron be retested before school starts?”  I explained that he had only begun to learn to read and understand english sounds and perhaps with the rest of the school year something would click and he would be prepared to enter grade 2.  The admissions clerk agreed, but admitted to me that she didn’t think it would be likely that he would advance.

After that meeting WE (I say “we” now because I finally realised I was just as much responsible for their success) were at 35% complete where we needed to be at 50%.  Everyday we were playing catch up, we set new goals, did extra modules when we had time, and pushed through harder when we were struggling.  Kirsten got behind a bit when she tried to cut corners with her math.  Skipping over crucial learning modules that would have helped her understand her test questions better.  Frustration came on hard and there were many outbursts and walls put up that made learning nearly impossible.

We got through it.  Even though some of us had to stay up until midnight every night for 3 weeks writing essays.  We got through it. Kirsten completed all her courses at 90-100%, Lilli still understands French really well, and Jaron could read.  Success.

First day of grade 2.
First day of grade 2.


First day of grade 5
First day of grade 5


First day of grade 8
First day of grade 8







Jaron was retested the day before school started for Kirsten and Lilli and was advanced to grade 2.  The admissions clerk was blown away and asked what we had done to help him, surely I must have hired a tutor.  Proud parent moment (PPM), “Just me and him, and a lot of hard work.”

So how are they liking their “brick and mortar” school?  Let me tell you, the adjustment was a rough one.

Christmas decorations on Jaron's classroom door.
Christmas decorations on Jaron’s classroom door.

Jaron is in grade 2, and LOVES his teacher. She is pretty amazing, and adorable.  He has all his classwork in one class, but attends music in the music classroom, and PE on the pitch or in the gymnasium like he would anywhere else.

Lilli is in grade 5, and also has an excellent teacher.  However, Lilli doesn’t stay in one classroom for all her subjects.  She has a homeroom and must take her books along with her to her other subject classrooms.  Kirsten and her share a lot of the same teachers.

Kirsten is in grade 8, her teacher is nice though I hear far more about her drama teacher.  The top grade of this school at the moment is grade 9.  So Kirsten is a senior, and has a lot of freedom to move around the school.  She also changes classrooms for every subject.

The school is based on British curriculum.  Most of the teachers are British or british taught.  Muslim teachers instruct the kids in the language, culture, and history of the area.  This is on top of  their compulsory lessons of science, math, english, geography, P.E., world history and culture, and for some another language (so Lilli and Kirsten are learning two languages, French and Arabic).   Then of course there are their electives, Drama and music.  Jaron has all that as well but no French or Drama.

Some of the teachers are frustrated easily.  They demand respect, compliance, and attentiveness in children that don’t have those same demands on them outside of school.  The teachers sometimes yell or speak firmly to get their point across and my kids take it so personally.  They had a hard time understanding that they weren’t always in trouble.  We spoke about this to their teachers when we met for Parent/Teacher meetings mid-Fall.  Each one expressed their love and appreciation for our kids (PPM).    This term has gone much better, and I sense now that they are possibly even excited some days to go to school.

IMG_7101The one thing that most excites me for them to be in a “brick and mortar” school is the friends that they are making there.  The kids they are meeting and hanging out with are from all over the world.  I think they literally know one other Canadian at their school, and he’s a teacher.  Today I talked with some of Jaron’s friends about what games they like to play.  A boy from Africa, another from Pakistan and one from Jordan.  They get to learn things about different people and cultures that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.  They have learned not to judge without knowing.  They have learnt to accept differences.  Their minds are open.  For me that has been the biggest success in bringing my kids half way around the world.


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