Thursday, 8 October 2009

Homework, with cultural adjustments

Two weeks into preschool, and Littleboy 1 is still keen on doing his homework. I can't complain. I, however, am struggling slightly.

One problem is his timing. He wants to do the homework either as soon as we walk in the door after school, or while I am trying to make his sandwiches for his lunchbox in the mornings. In other words, just at the point when there are a million and one other things to be done. Meanwhile, Littleboy 2 is understandably frustrated at all the attention his brother gets while doing it. So he sits with us at the dining room table and demands help with his drawings at the same time. Trying to explain to a four year old that he's supposed to colour the little 'a's red and the big 'A's yellow while simultaneously drawing a penguin for an insistent two year old is definitely a multi-tasking step too far for me.

Then there's the cultural issue. As a Brit parent, it's sometimes a little hard to work out what's going on in the homework book. It doesn't help that Littleboy 1 is remarkably uncommunicative about what's happened that day at school. (Example: for the past two days, he has barked like a dog whenever asked a direct question about school, with a look of wide-eyed innocence.)

This week he had been asked to 'draw a picture of 'Christopher Columbus and his three ships'. I presume they must have been discussing this at school, in relation to Columbus Day next week (another one of the frequent 'public' holidays here that are followed by the schools, yet not by The Doctor's work, leaving me with another whole day to find entertaining things to do. Grr.).

Littleboy 1 asked me, not unreasonably, to help him draw this picture. Now, never having been educated in American history I have very little knowledge of Christopher Columbus other than a vague memory that he sailed from Genoa. I don't think I even knew he had three ships.

"What does Christopher Columbus look like, then?' I ask Littleboy 1.
He considers, head cocked. "Fat," he finally decides. "With a big hat."
We proceeded by drawing a stick figure with a very large belly, as I wondered if he really had been shown a picture like that at school, or whether we were insulting America's revered founder by portraying him as obese...

Another piece of homework asked him to name 'three things you should do if your clothes catch on fire' and then 'draw a picture'. Now, as Littleboy 1 had come home wearing a paper fireman's hat, I thought it reasonable to assume that they had been learning about this at nursery. But when I asked him, he looked completely blank.

I racked my brains - three things? Jumping into a bathful of water? Dialling 911? Praying your clothes aren't cheap flammable ones from Primark?

I ask The Doctor when he gets home - surely he, a trained medic, would know.

He doesn't. So, we Google it.

It came up immediately, on websites everywhere- 'Stop, Drop and Roll'. Stop running, because the air will fan the flames. Drop to the floor, so the fire doesn't burn your face. And roll to put the flames out.

Now, neither of us have ever heard of this mantra (although it seems like an eminently sensible thing to learn). But clearly this must be something that all Americans are brought up with, a bit like the Green Cross Code. History has not yet related whether Littleboy 1 had in fact been taught this at school, (when asked, not a spark of recognition crossed his face) or whether we as the parents were just Supposed to Know.

It's hard, being a stranger in a strange land....

12 comments:

Mwa said...

I'm trying very hard to memorise the "stop, drop and roll". I was told you can't memorise these things, though - you must enact them. Considering it, but probably too tired.

Almost American said...

As pre-schoolers, both DD and DS went to a summer camp called Safety Village where they learned a song called "Stop, Drop,and Roll". (Not my kids in the video!) They practiced it every day and performed it at the camp 'graduation'. (!) Both loved the camp so much that they went two years in a row!

'Green Cross Code' would be similarly baffling to Americans.

I'm trying to remember if I learned about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria here or in the UK. Here I think. Of course in some circles, Columbus Day is terribly politically incorrect.

Muddling Along Mummy said...

Suddenly the fact that the Dutch make the expat parents go to classes on learning to be Dutch and try to fill in these gaps seems like a good thing ...

You have my sympathy (I'm finding navigating the English system hard enough and I was born and bred here)

Iota said...

I thought I knew the three fire safety things. But I could only get "drop" before I read to the end of your post.

In emergency situations, I'd probably start trying to shake, rattle and roll, which wouldn't be very effective.

The cultural bridge too far for me was when my kindergartener came home and told me about the visit they'd had from a police officer, who'd told them about safety, and what to do if they found a gun. Yikes.

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Isn't it worrying that first year of school you don't understand the homework? At least you have the US/UK thing to blame, I on the otherhand sometimes have to read the instructions several times to make sure it sinks in. She is 5. Poor girl. I like that Stop, Drop and Roll. I wonder why they don't teach it here. The fire service came in to daughters school, and all they discussed was their uniform and let the kids have a go on the big hose. Some silly mum asked if the fireman still had big poles. Who could that have been *whistles innocently*

Expat mum said...

Wait until they start coming home with Algebra and Trig. I a) could never do it the first time round, and b) was taught it differently. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

nappy valley girl said...

Mwa - I tried to enact it to get Littleboy 1 to understand before we took the homework back to school. He just laughed...

Almost American - it is clearly a way of life here.....thanks for the video!

Muddling Along - I wouldn't be surprised if such a class exists here - I've just sat through a five hour driver safety class in order to get my NY licence....

Iota - the gun thing does indeed sound scary. What was the answer?

Confused - I'm sure I made a similar comment on my Facebook page about poles recently when we went to see the local firefighters giving a display....oh dear.

Expat Mum - that'll be The Doctor's task, thankfully. I never was any good at maths.

Iota said...

The answer was "tell an adult" - which assumes a level of responsible behaviour on the part of gun-owning adults.

Lorna Harris said...

I'm struggling with the same things but at least we have an American in the house to explain things like Stop, Drop and Roll.

We also have Duck and Cover - the earthquake drill.

And the boys came home having experienced a Lock Down the other day. That's when you hide somewhere in the class room in case someone comes in to kill you all.

Nice!

Mom/Mum said...

Cheeky spent all summer siging about Stop, Drop and Roll after his Safety Town summer camp. Show him a picture of a British police car though and he is baffled as to why it's white. (our local cop cars are bue and the sherriff ones are black).
She tuts and shakes her head.....
Just wait until the big school homework comes I'm panicking already.
btw- he gets a lot of pre-school homework...?? (Am now panicking that our pre-school here is rubbish. We had one piece of homework in 5 weeks.)

Almost American said...

Mom/mum - don't worry about the lack of pre-school homework! Neither of mine ever had any homework from pre-school and both are well ahead of their peers in many ways academically. Things like what they're actually doing at pre-school, and whether you're reading to them and enriching their vocabulary as you talk to them, and taking them to interesting places matter far more than pre-school homework!!! Though I do remember reading a newspaper article some time ago about how in some places there is huge pressure on little kids to achieve academically because the competition is so intense to get into a good private school.

nappy valley girl said...

Mom/mum - agreed, he does seem to ahve a lot of homework. I'm sure it's just competitive New York parents demanding it, and I'm sure it won't make any difference in the long run. I don't mind it, because it gives us something constructive to do at home and mainly seems to involve drawing, though!

Almost American - see above- in fact I've just seen on BBC website about a study that says children don't need to start formal learning till age 6.