All is well until somewhere between 5 and 6 of a weekday evening. We are usually all home and everyone is chilling out after middags, which is family evening meal, Norwegian style. People are dispersed around the living room in various states of lethargy and all is well, everyone is tired after barnehage, school, work and respective full-time course for me.
I usually ask the kids leading questions about the day, in an effort to get any morsel of information out of them. It feels like they claim a right to ignore all grown-ups after a point, having been at the receiving of their teaching and telling all day. The wall goes up indicating “Absolutely No More Output Now unless I need food or a drink or I can’t find the remote”. There is no point fighting it because the most I will get anyway is a concessionary Yes or No. The kids have got selective tuning out down to a shameless fine art. Respect. It took me years to learn how to do this, selectively tuning out to what other people are saying, you know, sleeping with your eyes open if really desperate. It definitely comes in handy sometimes, an underrated life skill I think.
And then if you listen carefully of a weekday evening in our house, you might just hear a low-key conversation between the grown-ups in the kitchen…
Parent 1: “Can you do it with him this evening, I think it’s your turn” Parent 2: “Ah but would you mind doing it, I am really tired this evening” Parent 1: “Well, I was going to do the clean-up, lunch-boxes, paint the bathroom and clear the 4 baskets of ironing”, Parent 2: “Ah OK, then I’ll do it” says the other, giving in gently.
The one exhaling with slight relief after this little exchange is usually the one with the cleaning, painting, and ironing jobs.
The other parent goes off with the 6 year old to the room we now call “The Studio”, formerly known as “The Study”. It’s homework time.
Homework is still a new phenomenon here as my son is in his 1st year at school. They may not start school here until they are 6 but the pace is fast from then on, there is no messing around. They have all of the 29 letters of the Norwegian alphabet covered in no time and they were all reading by Christmas, perhaps slowly, falteringly, but reading nonetheless.
We were told at the beginning of the year that our school had special funding for each of the new-starters to get iPads. It was a surprise. iPads, don’t they use them when they are teenagers (obviously in denial about the level of use at home, that’s different ). First year in school and they were each getting their own assigned iPad, to bring home every day and treat as their own? Nuts! The head teacher referred to research done in schools in Britain with results showing that they really helped with literacy and maths and all sorts.
Of course, our school stands out also because of the number of children who have Norwegian as a second language. Most kids speak Norwegian at school and go home to another language. So there is another case to be made there in terms of having a tool that will help them with Norwegian.
We signed all the paperwork in late December and the iPad arrived home in January. It had a case that would probably withstand a fall from a tall building. Our boy took his duty of care so seriously that the parents could barely touch it. I had to promise that I wouldn’t do anything that was against the rules, press any buttons or use it unsupervised. Oh Lord, the tables were turning already.
And then in January, things got going with the iPad. We moved to electronic lesson plans, so that nice piece of paper that was hanging on the fridge every week, telling us all what to do for homework was now buried in the iPad somewhere and I have to admit, I struggled with this a bit. What else is the wide expanse of fridge for except To Do lists and the odd ridiculous magnet. So there was a gap where the lesson plan used to be, OK, we could deal with this for the good of the trees.
All the reading exercises also moved from paper to the iPad and this is where the fun really began. Soon, he was reading letters, words and little poems as homework, and wait for it, recording his reading on to the iPad. Save, Upload and there it was for the teacher to access and listen to. Because of course, learning letters and how to read words is all about getting the sound right and now the iPad enabled this. There is always a recording from the teacher to listen to if the kids (or parents) need a reminder of what letters or word. Each day, we have practise first ( at least 3 times ) and then the final version is recorded. Ingenious.
Now, our boy takes this incredibly seriously and God only help the person who shouts or turns up the TV during this sensitive process. The Studio, as I mentioned above is short for “The Recording Studio” as there is no-one allowed in or out during voice recording, we are all given due warning that it is about to happen and we needed to behave accordingly. My husband is considering installing a big red light outside The Studio so that everyone knows when it is the time.
If the first recording doesn’t go well, we do it again, and again. And again. There is apparently a concept in the Norwegian education system that all you need is to be ‘good enough’*. You don’t need to be brilliant, everyone should help each other to reach an acceptable standard, to be good enough. It’s all very egalitarian. My son doesn’t subscribe to this ‘good enough’ principle, at all. He needs everything to be absolutely perfect. I wonder how it will all play out for him down the line.
The strange thing about the iPad is that it gives us interaction with the teacher that we wouldn’t have ordinarily. On a Friday, she uploads her voice message to my son with feedback on his reading. The feedback is always great – positive and encouraging. The boy is on cloud 9 getting great feedback from his teacher and it’s reassuring for us. We can hear for ourselves that he is speaking Norwegian like a native Norwegian child. It’s all good and getting better.
And going back to the egalitarian approach in education, it is fascinating as it suggests that there is no real pressure from within the system itself to push kids too hard, they just need to be good enough. It’s all ahead of us here but for now, the hilarious thing is that my much talked about Mom used to tell us growing up that “you are no better or no worse than anyone else”. It now sounds strangely aligned with norsk thinking. I am left wondering if maybe, just maybe, she is a closet Norwegian.
* Julien S. Bourrelle. 2015.The Social Guide to Norway, An Illustrated Addition. Publisher Mondå AS.