Another Forgotten School Picture Day
How did this happen two years in a row? We didn’t know it was school picture day, again, and Jonah wore the exact same Captain America T-shirt he wore last year! It was a size larger; his brother’s hand-me-down, but still. And his hair, oh my goodness…we were rushing this morning and he didn’t get it combed with gel. He ran out the door looking like an overgrown Chia pet! Sorry grandparents, no school picture to put on the fridge (again). But those static, blue background sky shots are a little overrated, right? They do, unfortunately, make it into the yearbook, and that is a memory for a lifetime. (I won’t post a picture of Jonah today, but here’s one of Maggie.)
Picture snafu aside, today was Maggie’s first day of pre-school! She was so excited. I stayed with her the entire morning, as I will for the next three days during her transition period. It’s a Swedish thing, sort of easing children into new situations and structure in general. Most children start school when they are 2 or 3 but they don’t begin formal education–learning to read and write–until they are 7. That pushes the graduation ages up to 20 years old in some cases, but it’s not considered unusual. Kids here are allowed to be kids and in school they play a lot (I mean A LOT).
Maggie spent most of the morning playing in the “pretend room” with atomically correct dolls she insisted were all girls (I didn’t debate) and making tea for me with the set of tin china. Her teacher, a well-traveled girl from England, paid close attention to Maggie, talking with her as she played. For the remainder of the week Maggie will have the same teacher, speaking to her in English, then next week the teachers alternate and Maggie will be taught entirely in Swedish. The teachers alternate throughout the year, one week English, the next Swedish. Most of the children seem to understand both. There was one little Swedish girl, with startling blue eyes, who every time I spoke to her immediately counted from one to four. I suppose that was all she could say in English, but she was proud of it.
My favorite part of the day was lunch. We walked to the dining hall in single file, hands held behind our backs. I followed the rules too and sat in our assigned table, the teachers alongside the kids. We dined family style, passing the salad, pasta, beans and Wasa crackers with butter. When the meal was over, each child cleared their plate into a waste bucket situated low to the floor then put their dinnerware onto a cart. One child got to carry the small metal bucket to the table filled with soapy water and everyone got a tiny yellow rag to wipe up the crumbs. It was amazing. I’ve decided I’m buying a tiny cleaning bucket for my house too! Everyone will get a rag after dinner and wala! Done! Clean!
After lunch it was outdoor time. Children here spend amazing amounts of time outdoors, sometimes 4-5 hours during the school day, playing, painting, doing circle time if the weather is good—barring pouring rain and thunder the weather is always good. If it is raining, the children wear waterproof suits called Welly’s and go outside anyway, having the time of their life sitting in puddles, splashing around as much as they want; paradise for a kid:)
When the weather gets really cold, the kids still go outdoors…in ski suits. I had trouble believing it, but there is a preschool on Lidingo that is entirely outdoors—the children eat outside, sleep outside under a canopy overhang and of course play outside. (It’s like Viking training.) “Fresh air is very important for growing,” they say, and it must be true because Swedes are about the tallest people I’ve ever met.
Frankly, I’m fascinated by all their outdoor time. I lived in California with all that sunshine and I didn’t see Californians spend half as much time outdoors, certainly not the school children. Jonah had all of 15-minutes of recess some days. Spending an entire day outside, no matter the weather, is not something that would have ever occurred to me as a possibility really. But I’m starting to enjoy it more and more. It’s like my friend who lived in Moscow used to say, “There’s no bad weather, just bad gear.” It does make a difference, being warm, staying dry and there’s something empowering too about braving the elements, not letting the weather dictate your destiny. I think there’s a metaphor somewhere in there—the storm, life, facing challenges—but my brain is too tired after my busy day at school. It’s definitely nap-time for me.