Starting School the American Way

schoolMy 8-year-old started 3rd Grade this week.  She would have been starting Year 4 in the UK but they start school a year later here.  Finding a school place was simple as schools are allocated according to where you live, if you live within the school bus route you automatically get a place.

Preparation for school in the UK usually meant buying uniform and new shoes, labelling P.E kits and backpacks and organising dinner money.  Here it is different.  There is no school uniform. Children arrive at school on the first day in their new ‘school clothes’, a concept I don’t really understand. My children have clothes; they may wear them to school, to play in the garden or to go out at the weekend, they are not categorised into school and non-school. We don’t need to provide anything for P.E apart from a pair of ‘sneakers’.  Life should be easy, with very little to prepare but ……..

  • There is a huge list of school supplies to buy. Each year is given a list of stationery items to provide including ring binders, pens, pencils, glue and notebooks. Each item needs to be labelled and taken to school on the first day.
  •  When registering at school parents have to complete a form to prove that their children have received all the required vaccinations.  This meant that my daughter had to have a Hepatitis B vaccine before leaving the UK and another on arrival.  We also have to provide a letter from the doctor to prove she has had chickenpox or she will need the vaccine.
  • We attended an information meeting where the children were photographed for their records and we were given copious amounts of forms, signing us up for things I didn’t understand.

We visited school to meet the teacher the day before it started.  It was highly structured and organised. The teacher presented us with a list to follow, including finding a library book, completing an ‘about me’ form, reading through the rules together and finding various things in the classroom. As the meeting time came to an end a tannoy announcement told parents that it was time to leave the building.

On the first day my daughter came home with a folder inside which any correspondence is placed. It also contains her homework diary and reading record, a behaviour chart and a calendar that is completed each day at school showing both homework and things the parents need to do that evening.  I’m hoping this will help us both be a little more organised.

At curriculum evening the teacher outlined all the things they would be doing this year.  The teacher gave all the parents her email address and encouraged them to share any information about their child by email.  There is a website you can sign into as parent to check on your child’s progress and all work comes home at the end of each week marked with grades.  This open communication between parent and school is a very welcome change for me, I can’t imagine any school in the UK being quite that open.

I feel a little like a rabbit caught in the headlights as I begin to understand a system that is alien to me but we have had a good first week.  My daughter loves her teacher and gave school a 10.5 out of ten.

6 thoughts on “Starting School the American Way”

  1. that was really interesting Rachel, however the e mail system is in place at Gordano but I would have welcomed it at High Down. Let us know any more details soon x


  2. parents had access to us on email too. unfortunately some parents loved to spend hours on a sunday writing a novel and expect you to get back to them by monday morning break! the system has its plus points but some parents forget that there is more than just their child in the class to deal with.


    1. I’m glad to see Uk schools have the email policy. I think the difference here is attitude from parents and teachers. Teachers email parents regularly and parents see it as a way of sharing good news rather than nitpicking. I could never imagine our old school adopting it because the teachers would spend all their time replying to parent emails in the manner you describe Karen. It will be interesting to see how it works here and if and why it works better. I would love comments from any teachers in the US with their experiences.


  3. Sounds very similar to school in France, for the clothes, equipment you need to buy and vaccines. Do you need insurance too, in case your child breaks something like someone’s glasses or school equipment ? We do here but it’s not expensive. I’ll be intrigued to hear what school lunch is like too. What are the hours like? It’s 8am-4.30pm for primary & infant school in France, but my 11yo has class right up to 6pm on Thursdays which seems like an incredibly long day. Good luck with settling in xx


    1. Hi Cheryl

      We don’t need insurance here though I am surprised that we don’t .

      Lunches are on a cafeteria basis, they have some odd choices but plenty of salad and veg. Burgers and pizza are available every day which can be a problem for healthy choices. Maybe we need a visit from Jamie Oliver.

      School starts at 9 in elementary school and finishes at 3.30 with an early finish on a Wednesday. Middle school starts at 7.45 and High school at 6.45. This is because the school buses are used for all schools and they take an hour to drop off each age group. Once they get to High school the finish is earlier because there are lots of sports and team activities after school.

      The French school day is long, I hope they have longer holidays to compensate.


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