First impressions | School life in America

School commenced for two of our three children yesterday. Our ten year old has been attending school in New Zealand for five years and, apart from a somewhat dissatisfying, unchallenging experience in her first three years, she has pretty much excelled. She thrived at a private girls school she attended for the past two years and performed well above average in all subject areas, even as the youngest in her class.

Our seven year old had a terrible experience in her second term of schooling in a public school and we were all dissatisfied, as a family. As she was under the age of six at the time – and school is only compulsory at the age of six in New Zealand – we withdrew her. Then we heard about the possible move to America and decided it was better to home educate up until the move – little did we then know that the whole deal would take a year and a half to get to a point when we could actually move countries (we were initially given the impression it would be a few months!).

Anyway, here we are now in America.

Our unschooler – as we were enjoying child-led learning in our home with a wonderful group of natural learners – thrived in a home environment, socialising with other home learners. Her reading is well above the average for her age, as is her mathematics. She enjoyed various science experiments, played creatively and freely, without time constraints, along with her natural learner friends, came up with stories, plays and poems under her own drive, and read books with a lot more interest than her traditionally schooled older sister. Also, as she wasn’t confined by ‘time’, if she was avidly into a particular book she would read till midnight, knowing there was no rush for a bell the next day. She thrived.

On her first day at a proper school, here in America, she was naturally nervous – but her natural personality is outgoing, chatty, confident with strangers in shops, cafes, museums, enquiring, unafraid to try new tastes, physical pursuits and so on. She has hit gold with a wonderful, experienced Grade 2 teacher. Further more her teacher is one of those special ones that has always continued with her own learning and is very up to date with modern times, technology and teaching methods. Win, win! It looks like this school experience will be perfect for her, at this stage in her education, and of great benefit to her social nature.

Now, our other daughter, the high achiever, from a traditional, private, girls school, walked into a very different scenario. A mixed class of 10 and 11 year olds, non-uniformed, who all knew one another. There was no prior warning about standing up and pledging allegiance to the flag… (whereas Miss 7 was given prior warning and provided with an explanation as to why students in America did this). Miss 10, in contrast, was surrounded by students that suddenly stood up like robots and hand on heart started singing – she was left thinking, ‘What the f*ck?!’.

She also found herself with a teacher who was aghast at Miss 10 loving snakes and spiders (turns out – none of us knew this – her teacher has a spider phobia – oops!). Then there was the health and safety notices – which Miss 10 found totally over the top – coming from adventurous New Zealand, where calculated risks are a normal part of life – they even have fully equipped carpentry benches in pre-schools for three and four year olds – yes, hammers, saws, nails… (and I never heard of an accident). Children in New Zealand run barefoot, climb trees, jump in water holes, and are encouraged to test their own physical boundaries. The only people that blink an eye when a young child runs on the beach in their ‘Birthday suit’ are the foreign tourists.

Love this video ‘Frosty Man and the BMX Kid’ – sums it up nicely 😉

Plus the teacher was doing the ‘strict’ thing – which is understandable given it was the first day and there were probably a few personalities in the class that needed the ‘don’t mess with me’ message – unfortunately Miss 10 found her style abrupt and loud (and Miss 10 dislikes conflict, loud noises etc.).

Furthermore, Miss 10’s avid interest of watching film documentaries and passion for ‘Minecraft’ was met with disdain and a comment of, ‘Books are best’. Miss 10’s reaction was to maturely bottle in the tears, frustration and annoyance for the entire morning and then, only in the comfort of a private environment, let it out. She was devastated. The whole experience hit her with a sledge hammer of what she’d given up in New Zealand and the amazing friends she has there.

We are going to enjoy our time here (Dan and I would be really loving it, but happy children make happy parents… and until they are all settled, we shan’t feel top notch).

We shall meet with the school, the school counsellor, try and make it work for Miss 10 – but we don’t wish for her amazing education in New Zealand to be undermined and if the wrong teacher for her doesn’t work out, then we will stand by our daughter and ensure she retains her love of learning – even if we have to do online learning (which I am very pro-doing – hubbie a lot less so – as are the grandparents – that live in the UK; it’s not as though they really know what we are going through as we’ve been raising our children entirely single-handedly for the past decade in New Zealand). The biggest concern for hubbie and the grandparents is that ‘Sarah won’t cope’ – because I’m on antidepressants (and have been for over a decade). The truth is, I can cope. With exercise, medication and a happy family I am fine. It’s when I feel, in my heart and gut, that one of my children is genuinely not happy that the mother bear instincts in me cry out – not out of ‘protecting’ and ‘wrapping in cotton wool’, but of being my child’s advocate in an adult world and setting an example that the system isn’t always right and not to be accepted blindly – but, at times, worked around – even if many people see it as ‘radical’.

Of course she will be persuaded to give the school another chance and we will ask her to give us a full ‘pros and cons’ write-up of schooling in America for a year versus online learning – and then we shall discuss further.

We are not dictators of our children’s future – but here to guide them, let them feel confident to express themselves and know that their voices are listened to and respected.


  1. Aaaah! The Pledge of Allegiance – I still struggle with my girls having to do that. I told my oldest that she didn’t have to take part but her teacher told her she had to 😦
    Sorry to hear that your oldest has struck a not so inspiring teacher – it’s very hard when your children aren’t happy – even harder when you are away from all your support and all those people who say “oh the kids will be fine, they are so resilient” have no idea what they are talking about! You know your children best and I’m sure you’ll make the right choice for your family.

    1. Thanks Christina and glad I’m not the only one who struggles with the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’!! I also think our children, not being American, should naturally respect the culture they are in and stand out of respect – but they shouldn’t have to pledge their allegiance, unless they make the decision in their lives to become American citizens. I also laugh at people saying ‘kids are so resilient’ – they either haven’t been through it, or are very lucky with their children!! Most parents I know have to put in a lot of extra hard graft to ensure their children’s emotional well-being is taken care of in a big move – whether it’s across town or different countries – but of course the cultural differences moving countries – even between ‘English’ speaking ones – add an extra stress.

      1. Sometimes I think moving to another English speaking country masks some of the stress and people have that view “oh well you speak the same language so it will be easy”. Moving to the US was just as hard as moving to a non English speaking country – I still feel very different but am trying to hold onto my difference. I feel kind of sad when I hear the girls slip straight into their American twang! Hope school goes well today.

  2. I aim one day Sarah, to be as great a mum as you are. I hope by this time in a couple of weeks you will have worked through all of your family’s schooling disputes and settled into your new ‘temporary’ home. Moving around it never easy – heck I should know, I am and have been a travelling gypsy basically since birth – for me it is second nature. Adaptation is hard, and like you said, “We are not dictators of our children’s future – but here to guide them, let them feel confident to express themselves and know that their voices are listened to and respected.” Looks as though you all need to come together as a family unit (like I know you always do) and work this speed bump out.
    I support everything you do Sarah. You are incredible, strong and inspirational.

    Get back to running and yoga when you can. I have been so stressed in my final semester at Uni at the moment I feel I, ‘Don’t have time.’ I will start again and I know it will make me feel better.

    All my love and hugs to you all!

    1. Bless you dear Aimee for taking the time to write such a kind and lovely response to my post (and by the looks of it you wrote it twice, as the comment takes a while to appear with the moderation settings I have on! – so a double ‘thank you’!). It’s so hard going against the grain and forging ahead in a new way at times. I am fortunate to have met some very inspirational, highly educated home schooling families that are trusting their instincts in this new world. They have given me the strength to do what is hard to do. It’s even harder doing it without the support of extended family – but we are living in a new age, with information at our finger tips, and our children are learning in such a new way.

      I’m looking forward to getting back to regular jogging and yoga once we’re settled into our house next week – it’s close enough to a beach for me to start jogging from the house again, rather than having to ‘get in the car’ first! Plus there just hasn’t been the time these past weeks – Dan and I have been busy from morning to bedtime keeping everyone happy and getting all the necessities done. I have been doing morning sun salutations though and playing in the swimming pool daily with the children!

      Thanks again for your support and I know we’ll get there eventually! We’re not alone of course – staying on this housing estate at the moment and hearing other children coming home shouting about how they hate school too! Lots of love, Sarah xx

  3. You are the most incredible, strong, and inspiring mum.
    I hope that in the next couple of weeks you and your family can come together and work out these speed bumps and that you become at least mildly settled into your new ‘temporary’ home.
    I support everything you believe in, and wish all the best for all of your miss’s and Mr too. Most of all Sarah, I hope that you can be settled and happy. Start to run and practice yoga again. I have been slack of late because, ‘life is too hectic’ but I know I will begin again too and I will feel all the better for it.
    When all else fails I look to the sun!

    Warm hugs and best wishes for a good outcome for you all.
    Love Aimee xx

  4. What a beautiful heartfelt post Sarah. Isn’t it amazing the impact teachers can have on our kid’s lives – both good and bad. So happy that Sophie is so far enjoying her back to school experience, I know it doesn’t seem fair that both can’t be happy at the same time but that’s often the way isn’t it. I know that you are so determined to give your girls the best opportunities and you will make the decision that’s right for you all for the season that’s in even if that means a period of online learning. Bless you hon – pray that week ahead brings more settled times for you all xx

    1. Thanks Meghan. It’s Friday morning here and Miss 7 has gone off to school again – with nerves in her tummy, but determined and getting confident by the day. She’ll do great. We’ll get there with Miss 10. Everything feels brighter today, knowing we have a lovely, long three day weekend and move into the house near the school next Wednesday (finally!) xxx

  5. (((((((((((hugs)))))))))))

    You handled Miss 7 with grace, love and compassion and did what you felt was right for her at the time – and look at her now!

    You’ll do the same for Miss 10 – whatever comes, you’ll do what you have to do for her… and she’ll thrive!

    Hang in there, first days are always hard – even in the same school with the same class; adjusting to a new teacher can be difficult; so a whole new country and education system must be overwhelming for her…

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