Last week the Twin Tornados graduated Kindergarten, which is the equivalent to your first year of schooling in New Zealand. We’ve successfully survived our first year in the USA school system, and it’s been an interesting experience.

Jandals and Jet Planes, School
First Day vs Last Uniform Day

Let me tell you our schooling story…

You’ll remember the stressful time I had this time last year when the twin tornado’s preschool told me Mr E wasn’t ready for Kinder (because he was a boy and they believed he couldn’t focus / sit still enough to learn). Well, he proved them wrong, blew all expectations out of the water and we are super proud of both kids’ achievements in their first year of USA schooling.

At the beginning of the year, we decided on two options for elementary schooling: the local area school and a Charter school.

Two of these Charter schools existed in our area, one in our city and the sister school in a neighbouring city (which is just down the road). I was friendly with two twin moms who had kids at the sister school and it looked very interesting, and very different to New Zealand (but then, the whole schooling system here is).

What I liked was the variety they offered (Mandarin and the study of Art Masters, along with Science and Music right from Kindergarten level, and even martial arts from 2nd grade). They also focused on multi-discipline teaching matched to the best teaching style for each individual child. For example if you had a high energy boy (cough) he might learn his times tables while skipping rope, while an artistic girl (cough) might learn through dance, songs or drawing. If there’s anything I’ve learnt about having twins is they are totally different people in all facets of the way they process and retain information.

I also liked the idea of a uniform, the involvement of parents in running things (although in hindsight that’s had it’s own fair share of drama) and many of the other things the school stood for. It was quite different to how a primary school in New Zealand is run and I was keen to give it a go.

To gain a place in the Charter school we had to enter a lottery. Yep, just like wining a raffle. We weren’t successful in winning a spot in the initial lottery, hearing rumours that there were only 10s of spaces with a wait list of hundreds. However, Mr E was placed at number 4 on that wait list.

We didn’t think much of it, and got ready to attend our local area elementary school. 10 days before the Charter School’s year started we got the call. There was a place available in PM Kinder (Kindergarten is only 4 hours a day in this part of California, so most schools run an AM and PM class).

Obviously my initial reaction was “but I’ve got twins and I need a place for both of them”. I was strongly advised to accept the first position. Because of their sibling priority policy in the lottery, by getting one child into the class, the sibling is bumped to the top of the list.

In the next breath the school congratulated me and offered me a place for Miss H. We were in! There was then a frenzy for us to try and get all the info and paperwork done and purchase uniforms. We’d missed the orientation sessions, the used uniform sale, etc but after joining the online networks for the school, and with the help of the administration staff (I think the accent helped) we were ready for our first day of school.

They wear a formal uniform (ties and formal dress) on Mondays, a more casual uniform (polos) Tues-Thurs and either University colours or Spirit Wear (school colours – teal and orange) on Fridays.

Class, Jandals and Jet Planes
The twin tornados and their class

The classes are themed around USA Universities, and our Kinder class were Oregon Ducks for the year. Cute, because to be quiet in line they had to make duck faces and tails, plus Donald Duck is the mascot. Not cute, because the colours were green and yellow (hello Australian colours). Aussies and Kiwis are major rivals (think USA vs Canada) so having to proudly kit my kids out in rival colours once a week was a bitter pill to swallow.

Oregon Ducks Class Jandals and Jet Planes
Ducks on a play date

So how did they go? THEY THRIVED! They made amazing little friends, they learned to read, to spell, to be kind and part of a community. They started spouting ‘ni hao’ (Mandarin for ‘hello’) to anyone that looked slightly Asian and they came home with amazing artwork based on the masters. Here’s a selection of the artwork they created, including Eric Carle (Hungry Caterpillar) and Yayoi Kusama (the same artist who did the Obliteration Room Exhibition recently at the Auckland Art Gallery).

Art Masters, Jandals and Jet Planes
Clockwise from top left, the artists studied were: Statue of Liberty by Peter Max (x2), Piet Mondrian, Yayoi Kusama, Eric Carle, weaving based on Anni Albers, Street Art (x2), I’m not sure who the swimming artist was (sorry), and the Eiffel Tower by Marc Chagall.

They performed in an impressive circus production (we had a ribbon twirler and a dancing elephant).

Circus, Jandals and Jet Planes
Clowns, Elephants, Dogs, Ribbon Twirlers and some Lions performing on stage.
Circus, Jandals and Jet Planes
They ran away and joined the circus. Our Ribbon Twirler and Elephant.

Keeping it real, they also passed on many Kiwi elements to their class, it’d be hard not to when these two big personalities make up a 15th of the class numbers. At the end of the day Miss H lead the charge for picking up ‘rubbish’ and putting it in the ‘rubbish bin’ (Americans put trash in their trash cans).  And because it was a great way of getting the kids to clean up, she was encouraged by her teacher!

Literature Day, Jandals and Jet Planes
Literature Day: Felicity the Fairy and a Wonky Donkey

We also couldn’t resist dressing as ‘The Wonky Donkey’ for Literature Day – a Kiwi classic! Mr E enjoyed writing his book report about Donkey flatulence (he used more kid friendly terminology). On ‘tacky tourist day’ we selected a kiwi themed shirt (they didn’t specify what sort of tourist and perhaps being a ‘loud walk socks and bum bag wearing’ American tourist might have offended).

Mr E even tried to ‘pull one over’ on the teacher the other day. They were drawing a swimming scene (see above) for art class and with a straight face he had everyone believing that New Zealanders wear ‘swimming diapers’ on their heads, instead of a swimming cap. The teacher pulled me aside at pick up to check facts. He played her!

I’m sure those other Kinder students know more about New Zealand and the Kiwi way of life than the average American 5/6 year old!

There was also plenty of American themed things we had to get our head around. Like ‘hiding the turkey’ homework projects for Thanksgiving (apparently a classic here), and sitting ‘criss cross, apple sauce’ on the mat (the USA version of sitting with your arms and legs folded on the floor – we don’t eat apple sauce as kids in New Zealand).

Turkey in Disguise, Jandals and Jet Planes
How would you help hide the turkey?

Hubby and I are very proud of their achievements. They both received a trophy (that only a third of their class achieved) for:

  • Perfect attendance (or having completed Independant Study if they were sick or when we visited New Zealand back in Feb).
  • Being a model citizen (good behaviour in both the classroom and playground).
  • Completing their homework and assignments (every single piece – and there was loads – on time).

Lets face it, this is a joint effort with parents, since it’s our job to get them to school on time and we’re the ones supervising homework and juggling assignments at this age. The behaviour is all their effort though!

The whole school system is very different than New Zealand, here’s a few comparisons:

NZ’s school year starts at the beginning of February and ends just before Christmas, while in the USA it begins at the end of August and finishes early June. This makes sense since Summer is at different times of the year and everyone likes to end the year with a summer break!

New Zealand school runs over 4 terms – each 10 weeks long with a two week break in between. This gives kids a 5-6 week summer break over Christmas and January before the year starts again.

California has a week break for Thanksgiving (end of Nov), another week (or two, depending on the school) for Christmas/New Year and Spring Break.

Our school has a ‘minimum day’ (half day of school) once a week, so we have a short day (finishing at lunch time) every Friday. Other schools in the area have their half day on a Wednesday, so I’m guessing it’s up to the school to decide.

In California (well in our school district, anyway), a child has to have turned five years of age by a certain date to enroll for Kindergarten, with everyone starting together at the beginning of the school year. Often those on the borderline do an extra year of TK (Transitional Kindergarten) and start actual Kindergarten the following year as a 6 year old.

In New Zealand you start school the day you turn 5 years old, usually as a ‘new entrant’ in the same class as other new entrants and Year 1 students.

Interestingly there is a lack of school sports in USA, especially at the lower grades. In NZ there is usually as many teams as required so any kid who wants to play rugby, soccer or netball (I’ll have to write an entire blog to explain rugby and netball and their rite of passage as a Kiwi kid another time). But here there’s just the top team for everything, and if you don’t get in, you go and find a city team or it’s ‘too bad’. Schools play schools in California, whereas in NZ you’d all play each other, as well as local schools. There are no school sports on offer for the younger grades at our school.

The last day of school we celebrated with a Luau party.


They got their certificates, we ate Kona Ice (ice shavings with sickly sweet flavouring) and I face painted 30 kids with sunsets and flowers.

Graduation, Jandals and Jet Planes
Graduating Kindergarten – it’s a team effort!

We’ve successfully survived the first year in the American school system and are now bracing ourselves for a 10 week summer holiday (or vacation, as the locals say it).

Yep, 10 … one zero … ten … whole weeks off school. Gulp! Yeah, I’m not sure how I’ll keep them occupied without losing my sanity for that period of time either. We’re planning the 2018 edition of the Jandals and Jet Planes Summer Road Trip, there is a 6th birthday to plan, a kids dance party to host and have a few other things booked in, but it’s going to be long and it’s going to be HOT!

I’ll be keeping the wine rack fully stocked!

How would you keep two ‘almost 6 year olds’ entertained for that long?


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