Category Archives: Family Fun

U.K. Schools: Uniforms, Hymns, and Fish & Chips

With all of my kids in school now I can finally sit down and write about it.

They are LOVING it (not really) and I am so pleased with the way they are getting used to their new environment. At the very least they are getting their exercise! I walk Naomi and Levi about .5 miles to school every day, while Scott bikes with Dan to his school (2 miles away).

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Sophia and Syrena win the prize for distance–they walk 2.5 miles to school AND back. That is five miles a day for them . . . and if you include our Sunday trek Sophia and Syrena walk 30 miles a week.

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The main reason we wanted our kids to go to school here is so they could experience school life outside the United States and gain a broader perspective of the world. We came to the right place . . .  I went to a parents meeting on Friday and the parents were from Poland, Italy, France, Hungary, India, Japan, Brazil and Africa. The true Brits were actually in the minority, and I was the only North American. This is the nature of Oxford.  People come from all over the world to attend or work at this world renown university. (In fact, I just found out that Malala Yousafzai just started at Oxford this month! We will be on the lookout for her.)

My kids have noticed a lot of differences between their British schools verses their American schools, and we have complied a list. But first an important disclaimer: This is not a list to compare the quality of the education between US schools and UK schools. There are good schools and not-so-good schools here, just like their are good schools and not-so-good schools in America, so it would be impossible for me to compare the merits of the education as a whole (plus we are not here long enough to do that). This is simply a list of the minor cultural differences in every day school life.

  • There are no school buses here. Kids walk, bike, bus or are driven to school by their parents. I was told that British kids think our yellow American school buses are “cute” . . . probably the way we think red London phone booths are cute.
  • There is no such thing as paper lunch bags. We have looked everywhere for them. They don’t exist. Or perhaps they reserve them in the back of the grocery stores and only sell them to kids who go to the private schools. I have no idea.
  • Children are taught to do all of their school work in pen–no pencils allowed–even for math (or “maths” as they say here). Apparently British children do not make mistakes.
  • Many (but not all) public schools in Oxford wear uniforms . . . and some uniforms are more appealing than others. For the most part uniforms are not that expensive, unless you are buying for four children. I probably would have spent the same amount of money on school clothes shopping in the US as I did on uniforms. I’m sure some of the private schools here have more expensive uniforms. Also, not everything is “compulsory.” For instance, at the secondary school (high school) that Sophia and Syrena attend, the jacket with the crest on it is compulsory, but you don’t have to buy the sweater to go with it unless you want to. IMG_6656
  • In North Carolina the schools would sometimes have a fundraiser called “Hat Day” and if you paid a dollar you could wear a hat. Here, instead of Hat Day they have No Uniform Day and you can pay one pound to wear your normal street clothes and leave your uniform at home! Woo-hoo!
  • Recess is called “break” and my kids get a lot more “break time” here than their public schools in NC.
  • Naomi, Dan and Levi all attend church schools. Naomi and Levi go to a Catholic school and Danny goes to a Church of England school. During school they have prayers and sing hymns. At Naomi’s school they even light candles at the school, and every week “Father Daniels” comes and prays with them and gives them a little sermon. Even though Naomi’s school accepts Christians as well as Muslims, the children get little awards for memorizing things like the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Lively Virtues and the Apostle’s Creed. Naomi received her first award last week, proving she is on her way to becoming a good Catholic.IMG_6944
  • Kids seem to go on a lot more field trips here. Every other week the kids are going somewhere. Sometimes the school doesn’t even tell me. (The other day Levi *said* that he went on a field trip to an island and they handed out swimming suits to everyone . . . but I don’t believe everything Levi tells me about school.) Right now Naomi is in Wales on a school trip. She’s been there for a whole week! We will all be so happy to see her when she gets back.
  • Children start to specialize sooner here. If Sophia and Syrena were going to be here for the entire year they would have a chance to have work experience in a field that they intend on pursuing and all of their classes would start to focus on this field.
  • Danny goes swimming as part of school. On Wednesdays he spends the entire morning swimming laps. He doesn’t think it is great, but I think it is AWESOME.
  • They start kids a year earlier than we do in the US. That is why Levi gets to go to school.IMG_6947
  • They feed all the younger kids *free* school lunch. A friend of mine who lives here says that that is how the government gets the kids hooked on eating hot lunch. Some of the menu items: Yorkshire pudding (kind of like a German pancake or popover, but you eat it with meat and gravy instead of powdered sugar and syrup) and Dan’s favorite: fish and chips.

Those are few of the most noticeable differences. Since wearing a uniform is probably the biggest change for my kids, I will do a future post on the pros and cons of uniforms after my kids have been in school for a while. But for now I love love love love being here. I love walking my kids to and from school every day, I love that they are out of their comfort zones, and I love watching how they adjust to these new experiences and make new friendships.

 

 

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And Then There Was One

Last night we found out some big news for Naomi: she will be going to the St. Aloysius Catholic Primary School. This must have been meant to be since she is always telling me that she wants to learn Latin. She will also be wearing a uniform which is welcome news for her since she has been coveting her older sisters’ uniforms.  Luckily, there was also a spot there for Levi, so they will both be there together, and when they come home they will be able to say secret things to each other at the dinner table in Latin.

Now that Sophie and Syrena, Naomi and Levi are all assigned a school and that leaves me with one: Danny.  But he does he feel left out? Ooooh no. He doesn’t want to go to school and he definitely does NOT want to go to Catholic School.  Mostly because they pray, and praying is one of his least favorite things to do. In that case, I told him, he needs to pray really hard to NOT get into that school.

Maybe after all of his siblings are gone and he is left with me all day he will change his mind.

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Danny, still imprisoned in the stocks of home school

So it looks like my home school will dissolve as of next week.  Doing home school for the past three weeks has been very humbling. I have a new respect for home schooling moms (although I had a lot of respect for them before). We had a lot of fun, though, and I *think* my kids learned some things from me. Here are a couple things we worked on:

I had each child memorize a poem by a British poet. I chose poems that went a long with their personalities, and I am very pleased with how much they enjoyed learning their poems. Dan and Naomi have their poems memorized, and Levi almost has his. Sophie and Syrena have been slacking (they each have a Shakespearian sonnet), but it is because I’ve had them do a lot of other things so it is okay.

The other major thing we did was “World Building.” Each child invented their own country. They drew a map of their country, made a flag, created a government, and today we discussed what natural resources they have to buy and sell with other countries. It has been a fun project, I think, and something to help fill up the time.

That has been the hardest thing–to fill up the time. There are A LOT of hours in the day!

 

I’m looking forward to next week and seeing most of my kids start schools. It kindles a little nervous feeling in my heart, but I know they will have an amazing experience. I’ll keep you updated.

Here are the photos of the week:

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The girls and I went to a choir concert this week at Exeter college. We found this piece of music on the pew left over from the boys choir that reveals Steven’s true feelings about this song. 

The following photos are of the Radcliffe Observatory that I can see from my bedroom window:IMG_6003.jpgThis is the ceiling inside the observatory:IMG_6013.jpg

And the stairway:IMG_6015.JPG

We got to visit several of the colleges. This is a dining hall. Remind you of anything? IMG_6076.jpg

 

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Home School, Bribes and a Ghost!

This has been a great week, if you don’t count the ghost.
But first I’ll tell you about school.
I started “school” with my kids and is how it goes: We sit down at the kitchen table and I pass out their journals. They spend some time writing about a topic that I have chosen for them. Then we do math, then penmanship, then some vocabulary. And then school is done!
This takes about 8 minutes.
As you might guess, my kids are loving this school. But I’m afraid their teacher is lacking. I have decided that my music/English degree did not train me for this and I am having a hard time coming up with meaningful projects. . . Naomi’s current project is to draw and identify every plant in the back garden.
But good news–! I found out that two of my kids will get into Oxford schools! Sophie and Syrena have been accepted into a very good school . . . and they will wear UNIFORMS. When I broke the news to them, Sophie and Syrena, who had been bubbly ever since we got here, became graveyard-silent. They didn’t laugh for 24 hours. We went to London the next day to sight-see and they walked around all day as if they were on their way to the gallows. There is a lot going on in those two heads right now.
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I think that if those two made it into school the others have a good chance, but we shall see. I will have a more clear picture this week. I don’t think Chelsea’s 8-minute school will last forever. . . but Naomi has already identified two plants!
Now . . . about the ghost.
Remember I told you that my closet door keeps opening when my back is turned? Well, so does an attic crawl space door above Naomi’s bed. At night. And it creaks.
Not only that, but a couple days ago I was on the phone and I heard a tremendous crash. Not just one crash, but a series of crashes. It sounded as if someone had fallen down the stairs with a mirror. But no one was on the stairs (either stairs) and nothing seemed amiss in the house. Danny thought it might have happened outside, but no one was in the alley. It was a mystery . . . until we went into Syrena’s room. And there, in a catastrophic heap on the tile floor, was Syrena’s collapsed desk and all of her books and pens and pencils and a broken mug.
No one was in the room when it happened.
At least no one . . . living.
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And speaking of living, on goes the struggle to keep my boys alive. I decided that boys are born without a common sense gene. I’m sure they develop it later, but they are definitely NOT born with it. Somehow they can’t comprehend that every time we go out for a walk we are inches from death with all the zooming cars. Scott keeps reminding me that the cars are only going about 20 miles per hour, but to me that is fast enough. 
Since the boys still resist holding my hand I have resorted to bribery. I keep a package of Skittles in my pocket, and every time the boys willingly hold my hand to cross the street I put one in their hand and say “thank you for holding my hand.” It is working grrrrreat. I make sure Sophie and Syrena also have skittles in their pockets.
Of course, Scott doesn’t need to have any skittles because the boys *love* to hold his hand. Grrr.
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Here is a parting shot of a street near our home and one of the sweetest kids I know:
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Our First Week in Oxford

When you only have a little bit of time and you have to decide whether you are going to write a blog post or write to your mother, always write to your mother.
But I will let you eavesdrop.
Hi Mom–
Please excuse the spelling and grammar of my letter. I wanted to send you some photos of our trip so far and tell you what we’ve been up do but I don’t have much time (Scott is down stairs streaming Indiana Jones with the kids). But now that we’ve been here for almost a week I wanted to write and let you know we are alive and things are going better than I expected.
We have a great house. It is super old (200 years?) but sturdy. The stairs slant and the floorboards have cracks and creak REALLY LOUDLY (good thing, too, because there is no lock on the master bedroom door). I also think a ghost lives in my closet because no matter how often I close the door it opens when I am not looking . . . but it is perfect for us because there are enough dents in the floors and walls that the ones we add will not be so noticeable. It is furnished, so we have everything we need, pots and pans and spoons and a washer-dryer contraption that I’m not sure I understand yet. We have enough beds for everyone, and most of the rooms are light and airy. I love the skylights! The rooms that are in the basement are not light and airy but at least they are cozy. There is a big sticker down stairs that says “IF YOU SMELL GAS CALL THIS NUMBER.”
That sticker keeps me up at night.
We live in a great part of the city–everything is walkable–the post office, the health center, all of the grocery stores, lots of restaurants, it is wonderful! Scott and I had a very romantic date at a nearby pub that claimed they made “proper hamburgers” which were absolutely delicious. I think we have walked about 15 miles this week. I am glad because this means I can eat more proper hamburgers.
. . . and Cadbury chocolate. YUM!
Church is a little out there–2.5 miles–but we did it anyway. I’m not sure that is sustainable, though. We might have to figure out another way to get to church. Or go to another church . . .the Scientology church is much closer. And the Quakers.
But going to church really was wonderful. I told the kids before church how you always told me that every time you go to church in a different country you feel like you are coming home. It felt like that here, too, only this church has an ELEVATOR. Danny was excited about that. Too excited.
It is so funny how small the world is. I met someone at church whom I knew in the BYU married ward when I was RS pres. That was a great surprise!
I am trying and praying really hard for the kids to get in school. Sophie and Syrena will be fine if they don’t get into school because they can do BYU Independent Study. But I MUST GET DANNY IN SCHOOL. Not for my sake, but for his. He needs a break from his nagging mom. But I am not trying to be naggy…I am only trying to save his life. (That is the only stressful thing about walking everywhere, is that 7 year old boys think they can walk across streets and not look both ways and that cars will just magically halt. Kind of the same way Dad thought, only Danny doesn’t old up his hand and grin at people. PLEEEEZZZ pray for Danny EVERY NIGHT.)
It has been so fun to have Scott around. Usually he is at work or doing church stuff, but he has been with us 24/7 and we’ve done so much–punting on the river, walking around parks and ran a community scavenger hunt (“orienteering course”) and it has been so great to have him around. He really is an amazing man. He is positive and optimistic no matter what. I know that this trip has gone so smoothly because of him. That will end tomorrow, though, when he goes to Oxford to work and I am on my own.
*trying to hold in the sobs*
I wish I could write more, but I have to get my home schooling stuff organized just in case I have to teach my kids. I can’t remember how to do fractions. Or division. Or spelling.
Did I mention you need to pray for Danny?
Love,
Chelsea
PS Mom, every time I see lace in the windows I remember how much you loved that. I wish you were here. It would be fun to go on a walk with you. Adelaide street is where we live. The street sign is much prettier than our front door. 🙂
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The Year We Changed Our Lives

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After months of deliberating, strategizing, decision-making and then fine-tuning those decisions, Scott and I are finally on the brink of a dream we’ve wanted to achieve for many years: we are taking our family to England.

We gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, put our house in beautiful North Carolina on the market and just finished driving across the country. All of our things are going into storage, and now the only obstacle between us and the biggest adventure my family has ever had is 8 days.

Scott will be working at Oxford for only a semester, so we will be back to the States in December, but it will be enough time for us to have a wide range of experiences in the United Kingdom and surrounding areas that we would not have if we were simply tourists. To make things even more interesting, we won’t have a car and we will be living in the middle of a city.

If you are wondering how we are feeling about all of this, imagine you are about to jump off of a bridge, step into the gladiator’s ring, or are standing on a street in Pamplona, Spain just before the bulls are released and you will have a good idea.

Wish us luck. Updates to follow.

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Rowing Off Into the Sunset

So there once was a mom who was jealous of her kids.

She was jealous because they got to have piano lessons and violin lessons and swimming lessons and soccer and tennis and etcetera.  The mom watched them learning all of these wonderful things and she wanted to learn something, too. So she decided to sign up for lessons of her own.

IMG_9127She had had her eye on rowing for a long time, and finally a friend told her about a nearby masters crew club that had lessons for novices. The only requirements were that you have to be fit, know how to swim (no one wears life jackets), and you have to be able to lift 40 pounds over your head and walk 75 yards. (The team carries the very long and heavy boat from the boathouse to the water.)

She had the first two requirements down, but she was a little nervous about the last one. (Have you seen the size of her arms? They are like broomsticks!) IMG_9105

Fortunately for her, she was not as tall as the other rowers and once they had the boat over their heads she couldn’t even reach it. A lucky break!IMG_9111

The coach was a fountain of rowing knowledge, and most of the other women were experienced rowers so there was nothing to fear. (Except catching a crab, which she did on the third day of practice. Yikes!)

There were lots new things to learn. Anyone even casually familiar with boats knows that when facing the bow the right side is starboard and the left side is port. But in a row boat you are all facing backwards. So your left side is starboard and your right side is port. It took some getting used to.

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The coach was careful to teach by degrees . . . Sometimes only two rowers would row while the other rowers kept the boat set with their oars. Then the coach increased it to four, and the six. When it wasn’t her turn to row the star of our story would close her eyes and pretend like she was Cleopatra going down the Nile.

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I am in seat number 5, right in the middle with the white hat.

It wasn’t until the third practice that the coach allowed all eight rowers to row and she could now understand why her coach had added rowers by degrees. Eight people rowing with no one to set the boat was quite exciting! And a little chaotic, at first. But eventually she got the hang of it.

IMG_9113The whole experience was a little dream come true and definitely one to repeat in the future. But now it is back to taking the kids to lessons, and watching them grow and learn. Which is not so bad, especially when you have a view like this:

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200 Miles: My 2015 New Year’s Resolution Report

I am a fair-weather runner, which means I only like to run when it is between 50 and 65 degrees, with no rain or snow, no dogs, and no hills.

Until last year when my crazy runner siblings told me that we were all going to run a New Years 5K. That means you start your run sometime after 11 pm and you try to time it so that you cross the finish line at midnight. I will also mention that this 5K was in Idaho and it was 13 below zero. I am from North Carolina where it only goes 13 below zero every ten years. But I am all for trying new things. We dressed for the occasion.

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Surprisingly, it was a great experience. And I thought to myself, if I can run in the middle of the night in Idaho when it is negative 13, I can run in any North Carolina weather. I need to stop being a pansy.

So I made a goal to run 200 miles.

That sounds impressive, but it isn’t really. It is only about four miles a week. But that is the beauty of goals, isn’t it? A big goal is simply the sum of a bunch of tiny ones.

I bought new shoes, since if I was going to run 200 miles I wanted to be as comfortable as possible, and I made a card and taped it to my kitchen cabinet so that I would be reminded of my goal.  Every time I ran I marked how many miles I went. As the year progressed things were going pretty well. Slowly but surely the tally marks increased.

But then I got sick . . . for the entire month of October. This put me behind, and I agonized that I would have to make up all of that running during the coldest months of the year.

By the time November came I still had 30 miles left to run and I was doing everything I could to catch up. My 6-foot 17-inch African brother who came for Thanksgiving said, “I’ll go running with you and help you catch up. We could 10 miles in one day.” Ha, ha, dear brother.  Remember you are from Kenya, where running was invented.

Instead I had him run with my husband so that they could wear each other out.

Then a week or so later my husband asked, “How many miles do you have left?”

“Twenty-four,” I said.

“Oh, that is easy! That is a little less than a marathon. You could do that in three hours.”

Another good joke.

But I was making progress, even if it was little by little. By this time I was running very regularly and I felt better than ever. The time I spent running became a sacred time to think and problem solve and to watch the stars.

Plus, it felt so satisfying to watch the tally marks increase on my card.

By the second week of December I had six miles left. Ironically, it was the week my husband surprised me with a 15th anniversary trip to the Bahamas.

So guess where I ran my last six miles.

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(We didn’t actually run on the beach. We ran on the roads, but this makes a better photo.)

It was a perfect ending to my year of 200 miles. I started in frigid Idaho and ended in the breezy Caribbean.

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Now what to do this year? My running sister told me I should run a 10K. I told her I would do that if she memorizes the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. A kilometer for an amendment. She said she would think about it.

We’ll see who is the most ambitious. And, in the end, the most rewarded.

Now the question is whether or not I will go running tomorrow morning . . .

 

 

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