Posted in elementary, dear madeline, ex-pat confidential, madeline vs BKK, preschooler attacks!

madeline’s schools in bangkok

I've almost entirely abandoned my other blog, but today I managed to finish up a draft that I started many months ago. I thought that I'd cross-post it over here as it's a good fit and I figure that if someone is going to stumble across this blog looking for info on moving to Bangkok with young kids, this post about schools may be useful! Here it is:

Things I Liked about Living in Thailand, Part 2

The schools that Madeline went to!

We arrived in Thailand a few weeks after Madeline turned three years old, and she started preschool about a month later. She was a year too young to start Pre-K at the International School Bangkok, which was the school in our community, but when Chris and I were on our house-hunting trip in May 2007, we toured one nearby preschool, the Early Learning Centre (Country School location out in Nonthaburi). It was the only preschool that we'd looked at, but we have no regrets about not checking out other schools because ELC was pretty darn perfect. 

I can't say enough good things about ELC and the experiences that Madeline had there. The classrooms are bright and cozy, with the walls usually decorated with photographs of the little students hard at work at something. The playground has a shaded place for playing and a green space for running around, and the softest and whitest sand that I've ever seen. Madeline probably brought home a kilogram of it over two years, hitch-hiking in her shoes and, inexplicably, in her hair. The little library in K. Pum's office has a better variety of books than one would probably except for such a small space. Madeline had classes with specialist teachers for art, movement, and music. I hadn't heard of the Reggio Emilia philosophy before Madeline started attending ELC, but after a couple of months of watching her class's study of bears unfold, it looked like a wonderful and inquisitive way for small children to approach learning. 

The school puts on a few events throughout the year, but the one that is the biggest deal is the annual charity art auction. The four classrooms and the art studio would be invaded by the parents of eighty-odd students, all bidding on the large group paintings/collages/sculptures that each class had worked on throughout the year. I was usually outbid on my favourite pieces by the parents of Madeline's classmates – the art auction is very competitive – but each year I managed to come home with a piece that her class made, and they are still hanging up in our home. I'm not talking about finger-paintings, either – under the direction of the art teacher, the small children create some really cool pieces. We have a piece that Madeline's class made when she was three, and it looks like they painting textured paper, tore it up into strips, and then put it back together to look like an underwater scene. From her K2 class when she was four, I have a large picture of flowers that are made from a collage of seeds. 

This school is a great community unto itself. It's where Madeline made her friends, and it's where I met my friends for our time in BKK as well. Her teachers (who were dear and compassionate people) were always out on the playground before class and at dismissal, so it was never hard to ask about what her class had been doing. I helped out with reading and cooking in the classroom, and other parents were welcomed into the class to help out similarly. This place meant a lot to me for my first two years overseas, and I think that I was sadder than Madeline was on her last day of school at ELC. 

Then, Madeline started kindergarten at International School Bangkok (about ten times bigger). Gosh, it was different. It was big, it felt impersonal, and navigating the parking lot was hectic. We were a bit overwhelmed on the first day, but now that kindergarten is over, we miss ISB a lot.

I wouldn't be being honest if I didn't say that we chose this school for Madeline because it was a ten minute walk (on clean, dog-free sidewalks) from our apartment in Nichada Thani. As the school year wore on, it became obvious that it had other things going for it, as well. Their playground equipment was fabulous and first-world-quality (not always the case in Nichada or in BKK in general), the elementary library was well-stocked and the librarian was an awesome individual, the school had a great level of communication with parents and had so many opportunities for parents to volunteer in the classroom (Actually, a lot of these things became more apparent after Madeline started school here in Saigon, where she doesn't have equipment in the school yard, the library only welcomes parents on Tuesdays for two hours, and parents generally aren't encouraged to help out). Madeline only spent one year at ISB, but she has so many good memories of her time there. 

There were a few things that were mildly irritating, like the reminders that the school's worked closely with the US Embassy for security advisory purposes (why not other embassies as well?), and how the extracurricular events seemed to take over the whole community (like the time that my kids and I were trying to walk to the store and their parent volunteers for a race were hassling us over using the public bike lane for our tricyles). This stuff I could live with, though, and if we had the chance to enroll Madeline at ISB again in the future, I'd leave in a heartbeat. 

NB: If anyone wants to read Things I Liked About Living in Thailand, Part 1, here's the link. It's about the compound where we lived!



Posted in preschooler attacks!

it’s been a great two years

This past Wednesday, I took my camera with me when I dropped Madeline off at preschool, just like I did on her first day in August 2007. Wednesday was her last day of preschool. I snapped photos of Madeline swinging on the swings in the schoolyard, marveling that she doesn't need a grown-up to push her anymore, and feeling quite nostalgic and sad. Madeline's preschool has been such a constant part of our life here in the suburbs of BKK. Both she and I met the majority of our friends in that schoolyard, and though we'll see them across the courtyard in the kindergarten wing of big international school, I don't think that it will feel the same as this tiny little Reggio preschool down the soi with all of the stray dogs and the insanely smelly garbage trucks that take up 1.5 lanes on the narrow road. This is where my little girl learned to pump her legs to swing all by herself, where she learned to write the alphabet and spell her name (which she thinks is overly long, with eight letters), learned to read me books about a funny British kid named Kipper, made me laugh two years in a row while watching her on stage in her class plays. 

There is something that I am really looking forward to about kindergarten though: uniforms.
Posted in preschooler attacks!, Quotable Madeline

omnivore’s dilemma

Mid-game, Madeline brings her Candyland card a little closer to her face and scrutinizes the little rectangle of cardboard. "This card has chew marks!" she exclaims.

I reply that there's only one person in our family who tries to eat cardboard. She nods, and then to my dismay adds, "and fingernails and toenails and my hair!"

Oh yum.

Posted in preschooler attacks!

number cruncher

I try very hard to avoid those "my kid can do X" and "well, my kid can do Y" conversations of oneupmanship that I read about in parenting magazines and elsewhere in the blogosphere. However, there have been many times in the past two weeks in which I've wished that Madeline would show early signs of mathematical genius because for some crazy reason she thinks that the equation

ten minutes of afternoon sleep = sixty minutes of extra bedtime delay tactics

actually computes. Ugh. It's really wrong that I feel like going to bed sooner than my four year-old does.

Posted in preschooler attacks!

cultural anthropologist

Earlier this week, Madeline started lecturing me on the language and customs of Egypt. The first time she started talking about Egypt, I didn't think much of it, but last night she chattered on about things Egyptian the whole time she was getting dressed for bed (which is a decent duration for my four year-old).

I saw her teacher out in the schoolyard this morning, and I asked if they've been learning about Egypt in class, and he was stumped as they haven't been. When I picked her up, he told me that she'd spent snack time telling her classmates random Egypt factoids that she'd learned from watching the (imaginary) tv in her bedroom with her (also imaginary) cat. He mentioned in particular, how she was quite certain that "Thai food" was popular in Egypt! All I could do was chuckle and vow that I'd find a real book on Egypt to read with Madeline …

I can't help but wonder if Chris and I have been watching too many travel programs in front of Madeline lately?

Posted in preschooler attacks!

foot-in-mouth disease

morning as I was combing her hair, Madeline asked me what I was going to do while she was at
preschool. I explained that I was going to work on making the next photo book
that I've started, and I was going to have two copies of it printed when it was finished.
One for Chris and I to keep for ourselves, and one for her to take with her when she
was grown-up and living in her own house or apartment.

Oh, I had no idea how traumatizing my words were. I thought that Madeline would think that it was thoughtful of me to have a duplicate book, but she must have thought that I was going to abandon her on the streets of Bangkok later today, with her little arms clutched around a book of photographs! I have never seen a sadder and more worried face on my little girl!

What else could I do but say, "Oh, Madeline, you can always live with us if you want to!" and give her a big reassuring hug.

But she's not going to really want to live with us forever, right???