Back to school for graham crackers and apple juice


The summer holidays officially ended this past Thursday, the first day of school for most pupils in the Czech Republic. For my small but growing family, it was a momentous occasion: certainly for my son Oskar, who is a few months shy of the minimum age of three, but was admitted to materska skola, or nursery school, on his charm and good looks. That and with the understanding that he drink his juice not from a bottle, but a proper cup (no problem there) and is able to nap without nappies (we shall see).

One thing you discover as a parent is that just about everyone has a hat full of advice, for just about every aspect of raising a child; never mind if they have one of their own or not. Oskar is at the peak of what we in the States call the "terrible twos", when the ego has fully established itself but the ability to express what exactly your little heart desires, has not. This can lead to tantrums in public—which invariably leads to the 'tram face'.

The tram face is the face of general disapproval. Unfortunately, its use isn't restricted to the public transport system. I mention this because one rabbit that never fails to get pulled from the magic hat of advice is that Oskar—my son!—could do with a bit of good old fashioned Czech discipline; and boy will he get that in the Czech schools! At this point, a smug smile begins to spread across the tram face.

The stereotype here of 'Western' parents is that they spoil their children rotten, allowing them to run riot in filthy clothes and talk back to their parents. Czech parents, on the other hand, and teachers, like a bit more order --and they get it. Children here rarely fail to greet an adult with a "dobry den," good day, and know the meaning of corporal punishment.

Looking back to my own time at nursery school of graham crackers and apple juice, blue cots and backrubs at naptime, finger-painting and designated unstructured playtime - hallmarks of a freewheeling Montessori school - I am glad to hear that the Czech educational system is undergoing a minor revolution, away from rote memorization and quiet, disciplined study.

In a couple years time, schools will have more leeway to take a creative approach to the standard curricula. Teaching methods will be more tailored to the need of pupils - and to teachers, who, as we all know, are underpaid nearly everywhere in the world. The new system is also meant to encourage parents to take a more active approach in choosing the right school for their child.

I, for one, am looking forward to my first "back-to-school night." I'll bring the graham crackers.