I’m originally from England and lived there for the first 23 years of my life. I did all my schooling in the UK, moving to the US in 2003 for an internship that ultimately led me to the job I have today. I feel very Americanized now after 17 years here, and I made it official by getting my citizenship in 2014. I work in arts education, so I thought I was pretty familiar with the educational system over here, but I was wrong! My eldest child started Kindergarten this fall and it has been quite an eye-opening experience. Here are a few observations I have about the differences between US and UK schools and some of the surprises I have encountered along the way.
First of all, I couldn’t quite believe that you let 5-year-olds ride buses! On their own! This terrified me but was really our only option based on where we live and my job, so we went with it. It honestly felt like we were living in a movie on the first day when I waited with my son for the bright yellow bus with its flashing yellow and red lights to stop in front of our house (right by our very American mailbox)! It turns out my son absolutely loves riding the bus, and the teachers and bus driver do excellent jobs to make sure every kid gets on the right bus, so I didn’t need to be worried. But it still feels a little surreal.
- Where are your uniforms? I wore a uniform at school until leaving high school at age 16, so it’s mind-boggling to me that kids can wear whatever they want!
- Why did no-one warn me about the Scholastic monthly book thing? Hmmm? We’re two months in and I have already spent so much money on books! They found my weakness for sure with this one. Why yes, I would love to get that set of 10 great books for only $12, and please do add that holiday-themed book with the free toy and of course I need to get those books with the monster truck on the front because my son saw the catalogue and I can’t ever refuse him books, right?
- Speaking of spending money, what’s the deal with the spirit shirts? Are they related to a sport? No? They’re just celebrating the spirit of the school? Okay, then yes, I think I do need one of those for every family member, please. Go Falcons!
- Early release! Why is that a thing? I know it’s on the same day every week, but you can’t honestly expect me to remember that my son gets home an hour earlier on Wednesdays when I’m already struggling to coordinate meeting him from the bus on a regular day! In the third week of school, I managed to completely forget about early release so that no-one was home to meet my son from the bus. He did what we told him to do if he ever needs help and can’t find us: he went to a neighbor’s house. Great, right? Except that they weren’t home. And they’d left their door unlocked. So he just let himself in and wandered around for over 45 minutes before he finally remembered that he could call me from the watch that we’d bought him for exactly this purpose and I could try to explain why we don’t just wander into other peoples’ homes. Goodness.
- What’s this Middle School business? In England we have primary school from ages 4-11, then high school from 11-16, followed by an optional sixth-form college from 16-18. Middle school sounds to me like you’ve just isolated the worst of the tween/teen years and put them all in one place, and maybe that was the point?!
I didn’t realize how challenging it would be to raise kids in a country where you are not personally familiar with how things work. There are so many aspects that people just expect you to know! I’m pretty sure I’m already labelled as the annoying mom who asks a bazillion questions at my kid’s school, but I’m okay with that.
Now, excuse me while I go browse the new Scholastic catalogue…