Allons au château!
January 28, 2014 § 6 Comments
It’s called classe verte, and it goes like this: nearly all elementary school classes take a trip away—whether it be to the countryside, the coast, or the mountains—that lasts several nights (or in our case, a full school week). Yes, this starts with first grade: in other words, six-year-olds. In fact, these trips often begin in the Belgian equivalent of preschool. It is not unheard of for four-year-olds to pack their bags and get out of town. This is madness, right? I have certainly spent the past months thinking so. As Sebastian’s own trip drew closer, things got a little tense around here. While of course not participating was always an option, it is considered a week of school, and there is a lot of pressure to make sure the entire class goes.
Not much arm-twisting is generally needed, however. The whole idea is very normal here. The parents of Sebastian’s classmates did it when they were this age, and probably their parents did as well. I asked countless people their thoughts. I was mostly met with shrugging shoulders and promises that they have an amazing time. The more people I talked to, and the more I learned about what they would be doing, I started to get it. In addition to some classwork, they would be playing outside, feeding the farm animals, enjoying spectacles (and, it turns out, going on an evening scavenger hunt with flashlights, having dance parties, and eating bread sprinkled with sugar for dinner). It did sound like fun.
Still, I couldn’t fathom pushing a terrified child onto a bus to do something I was only just coming to terms with myself. We told Sebastian—who kept asking if he could be sick that week—that if he really didn’t want to go, we wouldn’t force him. Then we set about bribing him with everything we could think of. Darth Vader slippers were purchased. He got a sleeping bag and long underwear that made him look like a ninja. We told him he’d get a letter from us every day. We talked it up endlessly. And ultimately, it worked. He started feeling excited himself. He told people he was going to a “castle.” He wanted to pack his bag three days before they left.
Now he’s back. He did have an amazing time. He sounds different. He seems more confident somehow. After such a hard transition to this new school and new language, maybe this is exactly what he needed—to feel independent, to cement new friendships. And I really do respect the philosophy behind it all: that kids, even young ones, are capable and curious; that not all learning happens in the classroom; that it’s just as important to learn how to bake bread and feed the goats (and Big Mama the guinea pig) as it is to study addition and proper handwriting. It wasn’t easy—we worried, we wondered—but in the end it was absolutely the right thing to do.