Archive for the 'Schooling' category

Zoe, Going for the Gold!


Immediately after we returned to Buenos Aires in August, there was a track and field competition at Zoe’s school amongst 4th and 5th graders to qualify for a country-wide International School athletic competition in Mar del Plata.

Zoe was among the top performers, so off she went to the popular coastal resort this last Thursday and Friday. She wanted to go on her own, in other words, sin familia, because it was a big-girl, overnight trip. So, although we were willing to attend and be her track and field groupies, Zoe was not having any of that. *sigh* Such independence!

She returned late last night with puffy eyes, a serious case of exhaustion (late to bed, early to rise), a slight sunburn on her face, and a gold medal for the throwing competition! She was the only kid from our school, boy or girl, to bring back a medal.

When Zoe disembarked from the bus after midnight outside the school, a cheer went up for her amongst the parents. Zoe was surprised and shyly ducked her head while mumbling a few “thank you”s — that girl does love the limelight. *smile*

We’re glad she’s home. Well, Tom and I are…I believe Zelda may really have enjoyed being an only child!

School’s Out For Winter


I guess the rumors were right.

It’s now official: Starting Monday, all schools will be closed for the remainder of July. That means BA schoolkids get an extra two weeks of winter vacation…though there’s talk of canceling the week-long spring break in September to make up some of the missed days.

English readers can check out the WSJ article, while Clarín provides more details for Spanish readers.

Photo by Flickr user The Artifex used under a Creative Commons license.

Swine Flu at School Update


This evening, Tom will be running out to get some small bottles of hand sanitizer and travel tissue packs for the girls — a requirement at school now apparently.

Over the last week, the rumor mill has been really churning, with parents worried that the Ministry of Health was going to close down primary and secondary schools after the elections because of Swine Flu fears, essentially moving up winter vacation.

Sure enough, we did get a notice today, Tuesday, but it was a cancellation of all extracurricular activities, parent events, and conferences.

We’ll see what comes next. Speculation is rife that Swine Flu numbers are much worse than the government has been reporting and that after the election Sunday, it would all leak out and result in Mexico-like restrictions on public events, schools etc.

We’ll see…

Homeschool Report Card


Tom and I are taking a very parent-centric approach to homeschool, as in we like the Zs to study subjects that interest us! We do have occasional twinges of worry that we are screwing up the girls’ education, but then we figure, hey, they do a lot of old school readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic in the a.m., so hopefully the Argentine education system will make up for the crazy curriculum we’re throwing at them. In case you were wondering, here’s what we’re working on now…


I chose this country because it really touches on everything. We have covered: the rise of Christianity and how it helped leaders solidify power in Europe in 1000 AD, the incredible strength of the Catholic Church during colonial times, colonialism in general, the Jesuits, the Indian slave trade in South America, the Guaraní Indians, the missions for the Guaraní developed by the Jesuits, the expulsion of the Jesuits from all Spanish colonies, the decline of the missions… . The girls are also creating a scaled timeline of the period we study (1500 to 2009).

Now we are taking a break and watching the movie, The Mission. They are a somewhat concerned because they know it’s not exactly a happy movie.


Tom has been working on arithmetic, fractions, measuring, and some basic geometry with the girls. (Remember planes and lines and points?) Tom was using some of the tests from Indian Math Online, but has since moved away from their coursework because it was boring and didn’t really adjust well to the girls acquiring skills.


As I’ve blogged about before, the girls attend classes twice a week with a private tutor from Beijing utilizing video over Skype. How cool is that? The school is called E Chinese Learning and we love it!

We also use an online tool called Skritter, which is currently in beta and free to try, for the girls to practice their characters every day. The software comes complete with an alogrithm that notes which characters you know and keeps track of how often you need to review them for maximum retention. Really fab.


We are using video for the girls to learn poise and confidence with their communications, especially interactions with adults when they are embarrassed or shy. Some early tasks involved a mock interview for a babysitting gig, and telling stories about themselves or family members as prompted. I don’t give them any idea of what we’re going to do before we are on camera. The girls have developed a newfound respect for Barak Obama, “Wow, he’s really good at answering all of those questions on TV, Mommy,” they have observed.


I have posted about this here, so I won’t repeat myself, suffice to say that we do this as a family to restore a love of art in children who are getting frustrated by their inability to draw perspective.


The girls and I are working on writing a chapter book. (So far we have an outline for our story and are now working on the first chapter…it’s about a magical world that features a planet that is half in light and half in the dark. The two protagonists are children, of course, who live in the dark part of the world and who also happen to possess strong magical talents, which makes them a target for kidnapping by the monsters who live in the light…) It has been funny to hash out a story between the two of them. Zoe wants something with fighting, dragons, blood and glory; meanwhile, Zelda insists that there must be a royal family involved. *laugh*


We are currently implementing our landed gentry exercise program, complete with horseback riding and tennis lessons.

Tomboy Update

I thought I would give everyone a quick update on Zoe’s progress as the resident Tomboy at her school.

She has implemented a new strategy: bringing a small all-purpose ball to school that she can break out when on the playground.

I’m happy to report the new strategy is working!! In order to have the right to play with the ball, the boys let Zoe join in on their soccer games. It goes something like this: the boys and Zoe play a keep away-style fútbol game (which is very dribble intensive) until the head of the primary school comes out, yells at them, and takes the ball away. The children collectively clamor for the ball to be returned, and when it is, they practice penalty kicks. (For some reason they aren’t supposed to play soccer, but they can practice penalty kicks…who knows?)

Tom took the girls out to the park the other day and commented that Zoe’s dribbling has really improved from having to play with the harder-to-control smaller bouncy balls.

For her part, Zoe says that some of the boys have amazing ball control and she really relates to their moves in a way she can’t from watching the adult players on television. Sort of an “if these boys my age can do it, then I can too” kind of thing.

(P.S. Still no Internet access at our apartment, but I’m working on a two-part guide to renting a temporary apartment in Buenos Aires, which I’ll hopefully be posting soon from home!)

Homeschool — Learning to See

Worldschool around here means studying the brain and art, mostly through the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Betty Edwards’ theory is that people don’t need to learn how to draw, they need to learn how to see. And in order to learn how to see, you must be able to freely access the visual/spatial right hemisphere of your brain while simultaneously managing to mute the verbal left side of your brain.

To help you accomplish this, she gives you tasks that the left side of the brain hates and will abandon to the right side. For instance, she has her readers sketch a line drawing by Picasso upside down, so the budding artist doesn’t begin naming objects and parts of the body (left side function) and instead, just draws lines.

We do these projects together as a family and they’re really quite entertaining. Below are the Zs’ first attempts at an upside down line drawing (this was the Picasso). Zoe’s is on the left and Zelda’s is on the right.


It’s China Calling!

Whenever our land line rings in the house after 10:30 or 11:00 pm, I always shout, “It’s China calling” before answering the telephone.

Why would China be calling me? Because the girls are taking their Mandarin lessons from a school in Beijing!

The marvels of modern technology are spurring very interesting businesses. There is a school in Beijing called eChineseLearning. They offer one-on-one classes at a very affordable rate, the catch is, you use video over Skype to meet with your teacher.

So twice a week, the Zs park their pale butts in front of my MacBook Pro and answer a Skype call from Beijing for their Chinese lesson. The teacher has a whiteboard behind her for drawing characters, she interacts with Zoe and Zelda using props and games, and she also writes words in the Skype chat interface using both pinyin and characters.

I was skeptical at first, but it’s really almost exactly like one-on-one tutoring. A side benefit that we didn’t anticipate: because we are using Skype in our own home, there are no other time sinks associated with the lessons — no transportation to another location, no showering and getting dressed nicely, no straightening up for an in-house tutor…it’s great!

Lastly, I must wax enthusiastic about my FAVORITE online Chinese dictionary. They present clear, large characters (both simplified and traditional) that can be played over audio if you aren’t sure how to pronounce the word. There also are animated stroke-by-stroke videos for how to draw every character. Wow.

Friday Fiasco

It has taken us about a month to transition the kids to our new worldschooling schedule:

06:15: Get up for school.
07:15: Leave for school.
12:15: Pick them up from school.
14:00: Worldschool begins.
17:00: Worldschool ends.
18:00: We eat dinner.
20:00: Bedtime for the Zs.

The basic idea of the schedule is to secure the girls enough rest so they can be happy little non-growly citizens of our home. “Hooray, we have achieved our goal.”

But this Friday night, Tom saw the downside of “hooray.” It seems that our daughters have acclimated to our weanie American schedule so completely that they can no longer make it through a regular Argentinian meal!

Poor Tom has been dying to go out to a genuine restaurant (which means it opens for dinner at 8:00 or 8:30 pm) for the last few weeks. Unfortunately, it is pretty much out of the question during the week, or we ruin the aforementioned worldschooling schedule. Tonight though, he managed to wrangle Zelda and I out the door (Zoe was at a sleepover) for the real deal. After wandering around our neighborhood, we ended up seated at a nicely decorated little joint staring across the table at a passed out little girl who had completely lost her appetite and her ability to form coherent sentences.

Tom is now in mourning over the loss of eating out at nice restaurants as a regular family option in our lives, probably even on the weekends. But, he is perking up over his new plan: attempt finer dining at lunch on the weekends instead!

Luke, I am your Father

rogueshadowZoe’s 4th grade classmates have the most fabulous parents, who collectively save our ass on a regular basis as we muddle through the ins and outs of school: parties, musical instruments, school supplies, field day, hockey equipment, transportation problems, holidays, etc.

On the birthday party front, these amazing parents mobilize and collect $25 pesos per classmate per party, giving the total cash haul to the birthday parent to spend at their discretion for something big that the birthday child actually wants.

When the fabulous fourth-grade parents discovered that Zoe’s birthday occurred over the summer holiday in December 2008, they banded together and raised her gift money (and the kids made her a card too), which they handed off to us last week. It was such a lovely belated birthday surprise.

The result, she got a Star Wars Rogue Shadow Lego set, which she spent all weekend putting together! (The actual craft she assembled is pictured above with space background.) She adores it.

Most Ridiculous Shopping Trip Ever?

bookbagkelThere is a chain of English-language bookstores that we frequent here in Buenos Aires called KEL. (We normally only buy the Z’s books there because it’s really expensive and Tom and I peruse most of our reading material on the Kindle, which we continue to love.)

Since Zoe recently ran out of books to read, it was clearly time for a run, so off to KEL we went. (Today, it was homeschool in the taxi.) Imagine our surprise when we showed up at this normally sleepy shop only to be greeted by a mob scene. All of the shelves and books were cordoned off, there was a huge line, and they had implemented a see-customer-by-number system.

It seems that in February and March, when school starts back up after summer break, the KEL locations have a higher volume of customers. In response, they have devised a novel system for dealing with this uptick — they make ALL of their clients take a number. When a customer’s number is called, they must tell an employee which tome they want, and said employee retrieves the book for the client. NO SHOPPERS CAN BROWSE ANY BOOKS ON THEIR OWN.

Needless to say, this is a ridiculous system — the store is a mess and people wait forever to buy their one English dictionary that they seem perfectly capable of choosing on their own.

I tried explaining to the store clerk, who spoke great English, that we wanted to look through chapter books for the girls and that I didn’t have any specific titles in mind. She got really shirty with me, and her “solution” was to stand behind a shelf barrier and hand us every chapter book they had in Zoe and Zelda’s age range. (Which really struck me as a great use of her time.)

Of course, she brightened up considerably when she realized that we were going to buy a boat load of books. And, even though we were a royal pain in the ass from her perspective, she did throw in this hot book bag, modeled here by Zelda.

This ranked as one of my most ridiculous shopping trips ever! If we hadn’t needed the books so badly, I would have just waited until April.