We were there with two families both have boys who used to be in JD's Kindergarten class. So the kids played happily in the tents, on hammocks, flying kites, frisbees, gliders and catching fish while the parents chatted or snoozed ...or in my case, went for a stroll and hosted an impromptu English class with a dozen excited kids who wanted to talk to a foreigner! Afterwards, we all shared a meal at a restaurant before saying our goodbyes for the day.
We spent yesterday with our friends at a park in the south of Kunming. Although there were a lot of families (being May Day holiday) it was a large enough place not to feel overly crowded and we pitched our tents, and ate our picnic, by a large lake.
JD has been back at school this week - his final term there before moving to Primary School in September. And with the return we've once again started to get last minute, and seemingly pointless, homework requests. So, for example, we get a text asking us to "...send a photo of your child inflating a balloon by tomorrow morning" which arrives half an hour after JD has gone to sleep. Jiajia and I are getting quite adept at faking this sort of thing by now (the "balloon" in this photo is actually a plastic ball), even taking photos in advance of say, junk modelling or cooking, in case we ever need to show evidence of something similar later on!
It's nice to see JD so much happier about going to school these days and to see how many friends he has and how he is loved by all. Unfortunately he only has one more term to go before moving to Primary School and having to make all sorts of new friends once again. Oh well, enjoy it while you can JD!
On arrival at school this morning, JD fixed me a stare and said, "I don't think I need a hug and kiss goodbye anymore. I'm a big boy now!". It is true that he is making friends more easily these days and is more likely to hop and skip into school rather than be weeping or making up reasons to stay home! Most recently his "best friends" have been Dada ("Big") and Xiaoxiao ("Small") - twins from his class [see above] who conveniently live just five minutes away. then But next week it may be somebody quite different!
What are you supposed to do when you get a text message from JD's Kindergarten at 9pm saying they want your child to do a science experiment (and take a photo of it) by tomorrow morning where you try to pop a water-filled balloon with a lighter? And you don't have any balloons. Or a lighter. And your child is already fast asleep in bed.
Answer? Grab an old photo of JD trying to blow out the candles on his birthday cake and superimpose a suitable picture from the internet. Thank goodness for Google Images, Photoshop and teachers who don't look too closely!
About a month ago, JD decided he wanted to make a little shop "like mummy's" but for selling toys to his friends. So JiaJia went online and bought a variety of cheap toys (£4 total). JD and I decided on the prices and made boxes and signs for the various items.
Then, after school today, JD and I quickly set up shop outside the main gates. Within minutes a crowd of parents and children were surrounding us to have a look at the little foreigner showing his entrepreneurial skills! JD was quick to explain prices and give them the right change. By the end, 90% of the stock had been sold and JD made a tidy profit of just over £10!
JD's Kindergarten do have an annoying habit of sending out homework with very tight deadlines (...almost as if they don't plan their lessons in advance!?)
So last Sunday morning we got a text saying that all students had to visit a "Memorial to student martyrs" in ShiDa University and provide photographic evidence you were there. So JiaJia, JD and I jumped on my e-bike for what we hoped would be a quick "in-photo-out" visit. But we hadn't bargained on the trainee volunteer guides lying in wait. And then, when 5five other students from JD's class turned up, the whole visit turned into a massive game of chase! Still, homework done (until the next one)!
JD seems much happier at school these days. Never a tear as I leave him there anymore - barely a hug these days! JiaJia attended a parent-teacher meeting the other day. They said that JD is academically just above average, but he is much-loved and his "personality" is "top of the class" - he cares, shares and has a strong sense of right and wrong. I'll settle for that. Facts and figures can come later and, after all, he does study in what is, effectively, his second language. This is his last year at Kindergarten and we are already looking at ways to get him into a decent Primary School (not easy when the rules keep changing and everybody wants a backhander!).
Parents were invited to sit in on the last after-school Art lesson of the term, last week. So I sat next to JD as the teacher showed them step-by-step how to make an "Autumn Starry Night" picture. We originally booked JD into these twice-weekly classes because there was one day each week when I had to teach late at my University and wouldn't have been able to pick JD up at the normal time. However, we've been surprised at just how well-prepared and enjoyable the class have been, and JD is always excited to stay behind for his class. JD's finished picture is below...
JD's Kindergarten teachers often post photos of the class doing various activities on the Chinese equivalent of Facebook. Jiajia and I were rather thrown to see this one recently though, with the class seemingly praying (in an enthusiastically atheist country, no less!). We asked JD about it later and he said he couldn't really remember but he thought it was about asking Buddha for something!?
One of the nice things that teachers often do in JD's Kindergarten is to take photos of the class doing something and then send them to the parents' mobile phones. So we were able to see JD and his classmates painting outside during the morning and counter his usual, "Nothing" when we picked him up and asked him what he'd done that day!
JD's Kindergarten class had an Open Morning today for Father's Day. The class had a presentation about Fathers [left] and then we made fancy cameras with our child [right]. After that, there were Father+Son running races and a Tug-of-War between the Dads of different classes. Our class were the Tug-of-War champions after 4 wins and one disputed loss. My muscles ache!
Today was Children's Day in China and JD's Kindergarten took over the Kunming City Stadium for the morning to allow each class to perform their well-practised dances.
One parent of each student had been drafted in to perform with the children and Jiajia made her excuses. So I was one of four Dads along with twenty-five Mums! We've been rehearsing for 6 weeks.
Our performance today was 11th out of 16, so a certain amount of tedium had crept into the audience as we began to strut our stuff. We started with some hip-hop and then transitioned into traditional ethnic dances. JD did his part this time (having refused to do anything at all at the dress rehearsal, probably because I wasn't able to make it to that practice) and afterwards Jiajia said, "It was beyond my imagination" which I think is a compliment.
My good wife brought our video camera with us too ...and then completely forgot to use it! But they say there will be a professionally put together DVD of the whole event in due course.
Apparently we won first prize ...as did every one of the dance troupes. This is socialist China after all! Altogether it took four hours to get through and then we were told not to bother taking our kids back to school for the afternoon. I'm not sure UK school would get away with that sort of thing!
For the last month, JD's Kindergarten class have been practising a complicated Ethnic Minority dance involving students and parents. With Ava being away fairly frequently, I got volunteered to participate and attend the dozen or so practices so far. JD got his dancing clothes through the other day, but they were far too big [see left] so Ma-in-law got her needles out and resized them all [see right]. My clothes were so small I couldn't get them on, so they have gone back to be changed. The performance is early June, apparently.
JD's Kindergarten don't seem to plan things very far ahead. We often get SMS messages late in the day telling us to provide something for the following morning. Yesterday evening we received a text message at 8pm instructing us to "experiment with our child to find out whether eggs float in water", and then provide photographic evidence this morning to show the results. We had to drag JD out of bed and fake a couple of photos after which I spent an hour uploading them to the school website and creating a collage to hand in. As I passed it to the teacher this morning, I rather cheekily reminded her that Ava and I do both work full-time and in MY teaching job, I'm expected to plan my lessons at least a week in advance! She just laughed.
For the first 40 minutes JD cried non-stop - so much so that the teacher told him she would send me home if he didn't calm down and cheer up. Cue a rather astonishing transformation from JD who instantly managed to get a grip and show just what he's made of. He was first to volunteer to give a talk about "My Mum" up the front of the class [see photo, left], served all the other students with their snacks and lunch, took part in my mini English lesson and led the class in dancing [see photo, right]. I've only ever seen him be sullen and stand still during class dances before. And no tears as I said goodbye. Wow!
When I showed Ma-in-law the video of JD dancing for the first time she said that he was getting it all wrong and the teachers were not good dancers. Ma is an ex-professional Beijing Opera performer.... with a huge chip on her shoulder!
Last week, JD's kindergarten announced that every parent had to "volunteer" to help in class for two ½-days this term - not the meaning of "volunteer" that I have always understood. Ava promptly left for Shenzhen on business, so I have found myself doing mornings yesterday and tomorrow (before my University classes kick back in next week). JD was a bit bewildered to see me hanging around (despite forewarning) but held it together for the first hour or so. Then it was all tears for an hour, before calming back down for my last hour.
The class had breakfast, did some craft, dancing, singing and then lunch, plus multiple toilet trips. Most of the time there was only one teacher in charge of the 30+ kids, which was a bit worrying, and a lot of the time the kids were just doing nothing between fairly dull activities. But I've seen worse. They suddenly asked me to do a short English activity towards the end. Unprepared, I just fell back on "Head and Shoulders". I'll have something more interesting up my sleeve for tomorrow, just in case.
JD really enjoyed digging holes with his classmates, putting in the tree and watering it afterwards. Then there were snacks for the kids followed by some fun runaround games with little prizes. And thankfully the rain held off until the drive home.
I've spent most of this week doing demonstration classes in various Kindergartens in and around Kunming on behalf of my old employers at Robert's School. It's not really the age-group I'm best with but, as it was the same lesson six times over, it got fairly good by the end. There was a big difference in the look, resources and students' ability levels between the various schools, with the private ones in the city centre looking spotless with focused and talented students. The countryside schools, less so. It was a fascinating, if exhausting, week.
JD's school had a Chinese New Year fun event this morning. Each child was allowed to pick three activities to try, before having a picnic in the playground. JD chose the "bow and arrow balloon pop", the "lion obstacle course" and the "plate painting". I was struck again by just how well-known and popular he is in the school, with frequent call-outs and hugs from teachers and classmates, as well as cooks, cleaners and guards!
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