Thursday, 14 June 2012

School's (Not Quite) Out for Summer

As a child, I remember eagerly (and impatiently) counting down the days till summer vacation. I looked forward to sleeping in, spending lazy afternoons by the pool and evenings enjoying summer barbecues and catching fireflies with friends. Things didn't change when I became a teacher. I still looked forward to that sometimes elusive-seeming summer vacation with just as much (if not more) anticipation as I had when I was a child. When times were stressful (which was often), I would simply remind myself that I only had x number of weeks/days/hours left until I could totally switch off for two months.

Well, despite the British weather, which honestly feels more like March than June (don't even get me started!), summer is (very nearly) upon us. But unlike her American peers, Crumpet still has another five weeks of school left before we can belt out any Alice Cooper.

Our little Crumpet has nearly completed her first two terms at nursery school, which is the British equivalent of preschool. It seems like just yesterday that I started this blog, before she was even born, but here we are reaching the first milestone in her school career. And it's gotten me thinking about one of the big differences between the US and the UK: the school calendar.

On the surface, the biggest difference is that British school children get a much shorter summer vacation than American children (about six weeks compared with two and a half months), but don't go feeling sorry for them. The Brits are also blessed with several vacations throughout the year, and, in the end, I think I prefer the British school calendar to the American, both as a parent and as a teacher.

Let's compare the two:

In the US (at least in NC, which is what I base my comparison on), children start school in late August. They get one day off for Labor Day, one day off for Veteran's Day, three days off for Thanksgiving, a week and a half to two weeks (if they're lucky) for Christmas, one day for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a week for Spring Break, and one day for Memorial Day, plus a few odd teacher workdays. They finish for the year in early June. I think I've remembered everything (although suddenly Columbus Day comes to mind for some reason; is that actually a holiday?).

Here in the UK, the children start in early September and have the following holidays: three week-long Half-Term holidays (one in October, one in February, and one in June), two to three weeks for Christmas, two weeks for Easter/Spring Break, two Bank Holidays in May, and a few odd teacher workdays (called INSET days). At my school, we don't have a June Half Term holiday, but we do have three weeks at Christmas and finish for the summer three weeks before the rest of the British schools, so we come out trumps in the end.

As a parent, I like having the holidays spread more throughout the year because it gives us a chance to travel and do things outside the busy summer season (though, trust me, travel companies over here take full advantage of all of the school holidays, so it's not necessarily always cheaper to travel in February, but at least a ski holiday is actually an option). As a teacher, I think having a shorter summer break benefits children more because it gives them enough time to unwind and refresh themselves without forgetting everything they learned the previous school year. It certainly makes for an easier start to the new school year because teachers don't have to spend a month reviewing last year's material. I also like knowing I only have to work a few weeks at a time before I get a good break of at least a week or two to refresh myself. The last three years, I have actually been ready to return to work after the Christmas holiday, energized and ready to plow through the rest of the school year.

Since our lives will be revolving around this calendar for the next 18 years or so, we'd better get used to it. Otherwise, the school days may turn into a school daze.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Simple Pleasures

For as long as I have lived in the UK, I have avoided baking chocolate chip cookies. I've baked cakes and pies and other types of cookies and even learned to bake scones and Yorkshire pudding, but I have never baked chocolate chip cookies... for one very good reason. Chocolate chip cookies require shortening, and until yesterday I had no idea what the UK equivalent was. Finally, in an effort not to have Crumpet miss out on one of childhood's simplest pleasures (after all, she is half American, and the chocolate chip cookie is an American childhood staple, much like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich), I Googled my quandary (honestly, what did we do before Google?) and found out that Trex is about as close to Crisco as you can get here. So I sent The Other Half on a mission to Sainsburys. The result? Yummy scrummy... even though I had to substitute "milk chocolate chips" for the semi-sweet chocolate chips the recipe called for. At least it's a start, and I can now sate my nostalgic cravings.