July 13th, 2011

We have the Small Boy’s first grade class schedule – called the Studenplan – and classroom assignment. There are two first grade classes here in the village, and SB will be with the teacher he wanted (he wanted this teacher based on the second-hand information that a friend’s brother likes this teacher) and is staying together with his entire Kindergarten class minus one child who for some odd reason is the only one from his Kindergarten class going to the other teacher, which strikes me as awfully unfair for this particular child. (The life, it’s all about the unfairness right now.)

The first grade curriculum looks like this: he’ll have German (reading, writing, literature – this is the same as a US first  grader having an English class); math; “Natur-Mensch-Mitwelt,” which I’m assuming is basically social studies with some physical sciences thrown in; P.E., which they just call Sport here; art (including textile work), and music. There’s still a lot of down time – he only goes to school five mornings and two afternoons a week – though I confess I have no idea what the Swiss homework situation looks like in the first grade. I’m willing to find that out as we go along and if there isn’t a lot of homework all the better since he’ll have hockey practice twice a week and an extra “class” outside of school, from me.

I’m looking through first grade curriculums this summer – at the moment I’m reading What Your First Grader Needs to Know – to figure out what U.S. history Small Boy would get in the first grade, if he were going to the first grade in the U.S. and I’m going to put together a little extra class for him outside of school. I hope to be able to expose him to the highlights primarily through stories, especially in the early grades, so that it doesn’t feel like I’m sitting at the kitchen table tutoring him. Neither of us take to that particularly well, but he learns remarkably well  – and I pass along information fairly well – in the context of a walk, outing, or adventure. But him sitting there listening to me tell him Something Important? Not so much. I can imagine if I took him on vacation to Boston, for example, he would have a blast and eat up all the stories and learn ten times more about the Revolution than if I tried consciously to sit down and teach him about it. So I’m hoping for some good children’s books to lay the ground work.

Sooooo, American readers of young children, here’s where you come in. What should a first grader learn about US history? What are some good age appropriate books or movies? What did your first grader learn? (I’m thinking specifically US history here. I’m perfectly happy to have Small Boy learn world history in the depth and order the Swiss kids do. It’s just the U.S. stuff that he obviously won’t get here that I’m interested in.)

Aaand, expat parents of children of all ages, I’m looking for your advice too. Did you teach your kids about your home country? How? How much? How often? Which subjects were the most important to you? (For example, given time constraints, did you teach the literature of your native country on top of what they were getting in the local school?) Did you present it clearly as learning about where you came from, or did you just try to sneak it in in the form of stories and vacations? When did you start, and how long were you able to keep it up? Did your kids rebel against this extra workload? I’m looking for information galore here, so please feel free to pass a link to this post along to your expat friends.


And spare a thought for the Small Boy, who is about to be confronted with another of life’s little unfairnesses: he has to learn the history of two countries.

10 Responses to “Homework”

  1. Polish Mama on the Prairie on July 13, 2011 9:14 pm

    We aren’t an “ex-pat” family (who turned our home country’s citizenship away) but an immigrant family from Poland to the US. My parents spoke Polish to me and would randomly talk about things about Poland, either news, language, history, culture, etc. They gave me books, pictures, had me continue contact with our family. But the BIGGEST thing they did was save $$ and send me there for 2 months as a young teenager (with my brother and mother) to SEE. H-U-G-E turning point in my life. It became a place, people.

    Now, I read Polish books at bedtime to my girls, speak some Polish to them, have a picture map of Poland hanging predominantly in our living room as a reminder, play some music from there, take them every other year (or as can be done financially) to there, talk to my family in front of them weekly on the phone, and just try to keep it something everyday in their lives.

    I wish you lots of luck, I know it’s a hard battle. But as a girl who came to America at 2 years old and who still loves both countries, I know it can be done and is worth it.

  2. Phantom Scribbler on July 14, 2011 1:20 am

    BB just finished first grade, and didn’t really get much US history in class — it’s still mostly learning about US holidays, rather than history per se. But she’s a HUGE American history enthusiast on her own, and highly recommends Jean Fritz’s historical fiction early readers. She also loves the old Step-Up Readers biographies. What really got her bitten by the American history bug, though, was seeing the play (and then the film based on the play) “!776.”

  3. Phantom Scribbler on July 14, 2011 1:21 am

    Whoops, “1776.” Not “!776.”

  4. Jennifer on July 14, 2011 8:39 am

    @Phantom – Thank you and thank BB for me – how brilliant to get an actual first grader’s (well, first grader no more) suggestions.

    @Polish Mama – Welcome to the blog and thank you for your comment. Lots of suggestions in there. I agree with you about traveling to the other country – Small Boy is 6 and has been to the US 3 times already, and this past trip, the first one he was really old enough to remember and engage in on a different level, really seemed to cement for him the idea that the US is home too.

    I am going to quibble with your description of an expat as somebody who “turned her home citizenship away”, however. I fell in love with a Swiss man, we had to live somewhere, and right now it is here. I have not, however, turned away my citizenship nor do most expats. We merely live abroad. And work hard to hand on our culture and traditions to our children. Although I see the point you were making – I think there is a different between expats and immigrants if only a difference of self-identification, even though we face many of the same issues as families. Perhaps I should have addressed my question to “dual-cultural families” rather than “expats” specifically. Hm. You’ve given me an idea for a blog post, thanks!

  5. Claudia on July 14, 2011 10:10 am

    Ooh, good one! I’ll be reading for tips as well.

    I talk generally about leaders of countries and what countries are right now (she’s five), and we have a world map on her wall for reference.

    I intend to do some sort of “study” on U.S. history with her, but hopefully it will be fun for both of us, too. We will do some normal trips to the states, too, like see Washington D.C. and other historical sorts of places.

    I’ve enjoyed your last few posts, Magpie, but just haven’t commented.

  6. CoryQ (funkomatic on twitter) on July 14, 2011 7:36 pm

    I chatted with a couple teacher friends of mine (none are teaching elementary age at the moment, I should clarify) and this is roughly what I was relayed in term of what first graders in teh US are taught for history:

    “My basic understanding is that at the K-2 age, the concepts would include: Very introductory US geography
    Using stories/picture books/coloring pages to teach general concepts and legends/historical stories about US History. These could include George Washington, Pilgrims/Thanksgiving, Pocahontas/Other Native American stories, Washington DC (= president, capitol, government headquarters, US Flag), frontier/settling, other historical figures, etc.”

    “I believe the general idea is to expose them to some foundational concepts so that when they are ready to learn about presidents, they’ve already had a little background as to what is a president and what he/she does. Or, when they go on to learn about the different states, they’ve already seen that there are different states and where they are. I don’t think much is done regarding any of the wars or specific dates of events.”

    “I think she could find some resources on line by searching for home-school materials for that age . .. they usually have some free stuff out there.”

    Hope that is some help.

  7. Jennifer on July 18, 2011 8:38 pm

    @Cory – thanks so much – tapping into the homeschool community is a great idea!

  8. christina on July 20, 2011 6:59 pm

    (Finally getting around to answering this!)

    Well, we really didn’t do any kind of formal schooling at home – they had enough on their plates with regular school, but I did introduce the culture and language through stories of my childhood and various experiences I’d had. The real learning came through visiting Canada for 6 weeks at a time and being totally immersed in the culture. We did and still do celebrate the major Canadian holidays and the history behind them, but I really haven’t delved into it further than that, figuring that they can pick up a book if they’re so inclined.

  9. Jennifer on July 21, 2011 9:30 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Christina. It does seem that the travel is going to be the key component.

  10. kristen Spina on August 4, 2011 2:58 am

    It wasn’t as young as 1st grade, though probably not inappropriate for a 1st grader… but my son and his classmates adored the Liberty Kids series from PBS. One of his teachers introduced it as a “Friday Movie” and they drank it up. Try Libertykids.com for more info. He absorbed a ton of information about the American Revolution this way.

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