Coming to the school part, we were apprehensive about how Mantam will cope up with the new environment, culture and walking mid-year in to a class where the kids had already bonded. The major concern was also that they were finding it hard to follow the accent. They had completed their Kindergarten in March and would’ve joined 1st Std in June had they been in India. But here when we approached the school, the Principal suggested to get them admitted to Kindy again. Her point was that the Year1 students had already completed half a year and it would be difficult for Mantam to catch up with them. But if they were to join Kindy, there would be no pressure on them and they could adapt to the new environment within 6 months and then graduate to Year 1. We couldn’t agree more with her and decided to go for it.
We were walked around the school, told about the regular activities that happen and introduced to their class teacher. Their teacher Ms.Mathews is an extremely sweet lady and she warmly welcomed Mantam to her class Kindy Purple (KP). The school timings were from 9 AM to 3 PM. And they had 3 breaks in between: Crunch & Sip at 10 where they had to eat a fruit or vegetable, Recess at 11.15 where they could eat any snacks and lunch at 1. We could send the food from home or order at the school canteen. The school fees were borne by the government along with the transport. We just had to pay for uniforms, books and term fees which included cost of any excursions, photo sessions or any such activities which were optional. All this collectively didn’t even reach 1/4th of the amount that we paid every year for schooling in India.
Mantam were nervous on the first day they went to school. We had been preparing for them for this day for months together. But the previous visit to school had gotten them cold feet. They honestly admitted that they might not understand what the teacher would say to them and vice-versa. We boosted their confidence by saying that there were kids from countries where English is not spoken at all and those kids also studied in this school and there was a dedicated teacher to help them out. We told Mantam that it would a matter of few days for them to pick the accent as they already spoke and understood English. Fortunately, this school is one of the most multicultural schools in Australia with kids from more than 64 countries studying. On the first day of school, I had to stay back home as the fridge was scheduled for delivery at 9AM. So Abbas took them to school in the school bus. We were worried all day but also excited to pick Mantam and hear about their first day in school.
Both Abbas and I went before 3 and waited for the school bell to ring. We heaved a sigh of relief looking at the two bubbly little girls of ours running towards us. Their mood was a total contradiction to that in the morning. They were in love with the school, the teacher and the class. Ms. Mathews had assigned an Indian girl Mishti (who also had a twin sister in a different section) as a buddy to help with their transition. Ms. Mathews told us that they were doing fine but mostly clung on to each other, which was obvious. She asked us if it was okay to make them sit separately and we nodded in agreement. As days passed Mantam started opening up gradually and making most of all the activities conducted at school. As of now, we find it hard to follow their accent and ask them to repeat what they said many times to understand their speech. (I’m not joking, I swear)
Although Mantam had got free passes from the school to travel by bus, we had to buy tickets if we travelled along with them. Abbas used to go in the bus to drop them in the morning and come back by foot while returning home and the other way round while picking them. I would tell Abbas to let them go on their own as all the other kids did but he was adamant to go along. At that point in time, we were spending every damn dollar after much of dilly-dallying after weighing the spend between the want and need. Spending $5.60 per day seemed such a waste of money to me. After a bit a coaxing, Abbas decided to let go. Then we prepared Mantam to make the morning journey to school on their own and slowly after another couple of weeks, they started to do both journeys by themselves. Either Abbas or I dropped and picked them at the station.
Coming to the their life at school, they did find the transition a bit difficult. Because the tables had completely turned for them here. In India, they were taught writing first even though they were hardly able to read and it was the other way round here. They write only what they can read and writing is not given much priority because they believe that once children learn to read well, they can automatically write. The only homework they had was to take a book back home every day and read it along with an adult. They had to record the book they had read in a booklet and there were some awards at different milestone as 25, 50, 75, 100 books and so on. Each book was labelled based on the level of reading. Mantam started from Level 1 while their peers were at level 5 or 6. And I am so proud of them for they reached Level 7 already and are at par with their classmates. They also completed around 80 books.
Apart from this, they would get homework every Friday which had to be submitted on the following Wednesday. This homework mostly had fun activities for them which made them think, learn and explore in an amusing way that it didn’t feel like a burden. For example, “Look at the sky, observe the clouds and note down what patterns you saw”, “Help mum/dad with 3 household chores”, “Go to the park and play with your friends, write about your experience” and many such. They also got homework online on two different websites where they had logins. One day every week they had “Show and Tell” where the kids were either given a pre-decided topic or a free-choice to speak upon. Each kid walks up to the front of the class and wishes the class Good Morning, speaks on the topic and then waits for their questions / comments. The kids raise their hand and the speaker chooses a couple of kids and answers their question. Now this speech is absolutely impromptu and we never made them learn anything. Sometimes they do ask what they could speak on a particular topic. We suggest some cues and they pick it up from there.
On Mondays, the kids are given notebooks to record their journal writing where they get to document about their weekend activities. (We got the journal book back last week and I will share in a later post all that they have written. A few are hilarious and a few amazed us) Every Thursday they have sports, Library and Computers on Wednesday and Music Class on Tuesday. There is a school right on the opposite street for differently-abled kids. The music classes are conducted in that school along with the students there. Hence, they learn singing with hand signs which is called signing choir. Mantam have now learnt some 3-4 songs with proper hand signals. It is so beautiful to watch.
They had a few activities like Pajama Party where they had to go to school in their Pajamas and also decorate their favourite doll and take along. I was surprised to see that all teacher were in their Pajamas too They had multicultural day once where every child along with teachers dressed in traditional attire of their country of origin. It was a visual treat that day to see such an event come alive. There was “Dress like a book character” day. Once there was a mini Fete organized by kids of Year 6 where the younger kids were given the liberty to shop on their own. Mantam were on cloud 9 to go and buy what they liked on free will. (We had given them 5$ each) Manny managed a great and bought so many things and also bought something for a friend who had ran out of money. Tammu didn’t have fun shopping, just like Abbas I guess. She bought a couple of petty things and didn’t even know how they were priced (Typical attribute of Abbas, I tell ya! He always comes back home without knowing the cost)
All in all, Mantam had a fabulous time in KP. We are planning to split them into different sections from next year onwards. Sharing some pictures: