An experimental excursion

An ugly ancient Egyptian demon monkey god. What’s not to like.

Just checking the waters here: Maybe it would be nice to visit museums and exhibitions more. But school time is limited, and not every exhibition is interesting or relevant to every student. Furthermore, our field trip competence is now a little bit low after corona.

To cut through this Gordian knot, I thought we’d start with a voluntary excursion to Glyptoteket on Sunday, August 15th to check out the current exhibition on the ancient Egyptian god Bes. We meet up at the entrance at ten o’clock, parents are very welcome to join. Entrance is free for kids under twelve.

I realize ten o’clock on a Sunday morning might seem downright evil to some, but at this time Glyptoteket has few other visitors and after we’re finished we still have almost a full Sunday to do other things.

A reason for choosing this particular exhibition is to gear up for our ancient Egypt theme week. Glyptoteket has a marvellous permanent exhibition on ancient Egypt too, but that’s for another occasion.

There’s a lot to see and do at Glyptoteket, but the school-organized excursion will only focus on Bes, otherwise we will wear each other out. The café is insanely expensive and absolutely off-limits. Bring a water bottle and a sandwich.

We will start with a small snack (provided by me) and a short introduction in the lounge by the wardrobes, see the exhibition, and then meet up again for a quiz by the fountain. Depending on weather and the parents’ wishes, we either then go home or head for Islands brygge to let off some steam and eat our madpakke. Maybe even take a swim, depending on the number of adults.

There will be some pestering on email, the parents’ group on Facebook and when you drop off and collect your kids.

You can sign up on Facebook, or by emailing me.

Some words about the school library

Still not showing what the new, redecorated library looks like. But we’ve named it “Le jungle”. You’ll find out why. (Picture: Source.)

I have sifted through the entire library upstairs at school and culled quite a few books from the collection. This made me very philosophical about the state of school libraries in general.

When I was a kid, books were restricted resources while time to read them was almost unlimited. I could either read books, or run around with a mullet on my head and a rusty pocket knife in my pocket. In rain or snow. Alone.

For most kids today, the relationship is inverse. They have plenty of access to colourful books of excellent print quality but not a whole lot of time to read them. The amount of books available is simply so large, it’s impossible for a child to feel much excitement about books as objects. This is no fault of their own, of course. They observe that books are insanely plentiful and they have judged, correctly in my view, that most of them are not very good.

Our school library at EFD had, for example, an enormous amount of books based on Disney movies. These books might have made sense when they were issued, when the films themselves were extremely hard to come by. (Where I grew up, they were screened in cinemas on a seven year rotation schedule. If you missed La Belle et le Clochard, tough luck. You had to wait seven years to get another chance.) Today these books, hastily thrown together in some Franco-era Spanish sweatshop (Spain had commercial art as an export industry), just don’t make much sense. On top of that, they’re boring, trite and ugly, even when the movies themselves were excellent.

I never saw any child at school look at these books with even the slightest flicker of interest.

Too many children’s books, I’m sorry to say, have been made with no love whatsoever. It’s very easy to see which books might spark a passion for reading in a child, and which will make a child think: “This is bullshit, I’m off to see if Lucia has any rugbrød I can eat instead.”

I’m not absolutely positive about this, but it seems as if the school library has become the depository of books parents didn’t want at home. Maybe the family received these books as gifts from clueless, childless uncles, bought in a mindless, frothing panic before visiting. There were very, very few classics in the selection. Some abridged versions of Mark Twain and Jack London, one and a half book by Astrid Lindgren.

I kept all the books in the “Martine”-series, they are priceless windows into a previous age. But there was no Dumas! No Jules Verne! And I totally understand. I don’t want to give away my kids’ nicest books either.

There are still quite a lot of books left in the library. Much more than any kid will ever read while attending school. Quite a few collections of fairy tales, a whole bunch of novels, some very nice picture books and reference books. In my view, the only things that has been lost by reducing the number of books are obstacles to finding a volume actually worth reading.

A few of our kids faithfully bring their own books to read at school. Teachers have previously tried to encourage more to do the same, but with little long-term success. I think there are several reasons for this, one of them being that reading is a much more social activity for children than adults often realize. For many kids, bringing a book from home that nobody’s heard about just feels weird.

I have some plans for what to do about reading, to be revealed with the rest of the school program in August. Until then, permit me to post a reminder that research indicates reading aloud to kids gives them crazy advantages on almost every level. School is all very nice and good, but the real magic happens at home.

Renovation update

Not showing real pictures of our redecorating project, because we want the results to be a surprise. But we have looked almost exactly like this the last weeks.

One parent commented to me once, in a fragrant French accent: “When I first came to the school, I thought it was so cool. And also so ugly.”

We are extremely proud to announce that we are now less ugly. We have upgraded the entrances, cleaned and tidied up the school’s wardrobe beyond all recognition and even made that scary room between the gymnasium and the school quite nice. We have cleaned the outdoors aluminum staircase, rinsed and applied oil to some of the outdoors furniture. We have upgraded the school’s workshop and even created an entirely new workshop for the jardin d’enfants. We have made a new napping room for the smaller children. That recurring source of endless joy for all parents, the cleaning room, is now actually clean itself, and thouroughly reorganized. We have also installed Linux on a bunch of computers, fooled around with lighting and sorted out the library, among other things. We have used half a kilometer of painter’s tape.

And the pillow room for the jardin d’enfants, which some parents previously had painted in a colour hideous beyond belief and other parents thought was a room for some bizarre form of Franco-Danish punishment, now finally looks presentable. (The kids helped repaint it. They were crazy adorable, all in turbans, while doing it.)

A hearty thanks to all parents who have contributed. The opportunity to talk with parents and colleagues about the school, about teaching and learning, feels as essential as the physical upgrades themselves.

Looking forward like crazy to see you all at the beginning of the school year.

No screen-SFO

Ok. Being without screens doesn’t solve everything.

For a month now, we have had no screens during SFO in the mornings. And with the advent of real summer temperatures lately, no screens during SFO in the afternoons either.

This has partly been to raise awareness about screen use for our “Internet topic week”. The no-screens policy has been almost astonishingly easy to implement.

All things considered, the students’ screen use during SFO was pretty wholesome before the restrictions. Mostly scratch or chess, occasionally the music editing software lmms, or searches for videos of cool kick bike tricks.

Writing in a totally personal capacity here, I still think restricting the screens has been warranted.

  • The oldest group is on the brink of puberty and will soon be drawn to a wider variety of content, much of it created for nefarious reasons. Some schools deal with this through censorship and play-acting the Communist Party of China – this does not seem like an attractive option.
  • As of yet, the constant use of smart phones among students teachers at other schools report, has not been an issue here. Creating a culture that values face-to-face communication and real life friendships seems like a good way to keep dodging the bullet.
  • None of the children are seriously facing an immediate future where they will not be exposed to screens often enough.
  • Some of the most enthusiastic computer users during SFO are also very dedicated computer users during project hours. They need opportunities to do other things.

This no-screen policy is not set in stone. But simply removing the computers from SFO has offered an opportunity to better assess when they are useful, and when they’re not.

Some small changes

Some parents have commented on how their children have become decidedly one-sided in their academic pursuits. Concentrating on one subject at a time is not problematic in itself. And as many parents discovered during lockdown, alternating constantly between subjects can actually be seriously inefficient.

But there’s a limit to everything.

We previously had STEM-subjects upstairs and HUM-subjects downstairs, a system that created an intuitive sense among the teachers about who was doing what. “Hm, Jean-Luc and Mogens have not been downstairs for a while, let’s sort this out.”

The re-assignment of the classrooms (again, because of Corona) removed what in retrospect was a very handy navigational tool for the teachers.

After discussing this with the kids at the réunion du matin a month ago, we have now divided the days into “STEM-days” and “HUM-days”, thus creating a managable distinction between the subjects. Students who are really motivated for, say, maths, still have the opportunity of solving math problems on “HUM-days”, but only after completing agreed-upon assignments in humanistic subjects.

It turns out none of the students were completely one-sided in their interests, after all. Having decided together to ensure everybody gets to cover all subjects was all it took.

We have also asked those who study “exotic” academic subjects (German, Spanish) to move these pursuits to “project hours” after lunch, rather than studying this during “work hours”.

We have also upped our game in the ticket-department, by formalizing how they are posted and how they are double-checked. As so often at this place, the older kids help the younger ones, but now in a more structured fashion. An added benefit of our new system is being able to systematically give approval to students who have reached their goals. The school’s focus on independence and self-motivation sometimes comes at the cost of not appropriately acknowledging when a task has been completed to satisfaction. We feel we are on our way to remedying this.

Those tickets might be a boring subject for parents, but utilized correctly they offer the teachers (and parents!) a reliable method of gauging what the kids are doing. The ticket system is crucial for a system where everybody works at their own pace. We still have some distance to cover, e.g. how to register participation in teacher-led “capsules”.

But we have plans for this too.

Towards normalcy

Today’s réunion de matin.

Ever since corona, we’ve had the morning meetings in the gym. This has been decidedly sub-optimal. The acoustics there are horrendous, and many kids have had to start the réunion du matin in a state of exalted, but abruptly interrupted horseplay.

But now we’re back in the kindergarten, in the sweet, calm atmosphere many parents remember fondly as their first introduction to the school.

The EFD prides itself on not being hung-up on compulsion, but the morning assemblies are not just fluff and sing-alongs. Attendance brings the kids up to speed on what’s going on at school, and gives everybody some sense of direction. For parents, getting kids out of the door in the morning can demand the logistics of invading a medium-sized country, but efforts to come in time for the réunion du matin really might be worth it.

All aboard

Today, we could finally hold a morning assembly with both the kindergarten and the school kids at the same time.

Age integration is an important pillar of L’école franco-danoise. Smaller children get approachable role models, larger kids get experience in helping smaller ones and the chance to demonstrate competence and responsibility.

Maths lecture

Mathematician, tree climber and friend of EFD Adam dropped by to hold a maths lecture about traffic. In French.

Not everyone who attended was mathy or francophone. But even some kids outside of the presumed target demographic could give a decent outline afterwards.

Just paying attention even while not understanding everything is a skill, too.