Why I'm Grateful My American Children Are Receiving A Very British Education

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“I forgot my kit for the fixture. It’s fine, the match was total rubbish anyway,” my son tells me in the kitchen whilst enjoying his after-school snack. Sometimes it all feels very foreign for an American “mum” in London to hear her “little poppets” sounding “cheeky” or feeling “poorly.” This is life with children growing up in the British school system.

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My children are still in the very early years of their education (they range in age from three to seven), but I can already observe some pronounced differences in how children are educated here vs. in the US:

1. Routines Are Established Early

Formal, full-time schooling is required the year a child turns five in the UK. This is known as the reception year.

In the US, the age of compulsory schooling varies on a state level, but all states require full-time school by the year a child turns seven (first grade). Reception is a critical year where the foundation of reading, maths (as they refer to it in the UK), and personal care is laid.

Attention is paid to teaching children fine motor skills early. They must write in a careful script (pencil control), learn to eat with a knife and fork, and be able to dress themselves in their school uniform (which often involves a proper tie).

2. Value Is Placed on Concrete vs. Abstract Knowledge

The UK system thrives on early reading and comprehension. Letter sounds are learned before names (the reverse takes place in the US) and words are quickly formed and memorized. Understanding vowels vs. consonants is not deemed critical for early reading proficiency.

In terms of comprehension, young children are expected to sit with tremendous focus and recount what they have heard with a high level of detail.

In math, children must have a very concrete understanding of number relationships and begin counting in 2’s and 5’s very early on. They become well-trained to partition numbers by breaking them down into tens and units such that more complex numbers can be easily manipulated later on.

3. Critical Thinking Is Promoted

Homework has a purpose. It does not involve endless worksheets of rote memorization. Instead, homework in the early years tends to be brief and thoughtful.

It often comes in the form of a short story or questions that require a child to recount key takeaways from a lesson. These questions will often challenge the child to draw further inferences from what was learned in class that day.

4. US education can often feel very team-oriented and focused around the collective group

The heavy focus on sports culture at schools further emphasizes this “team” mentality.

In the UK, there is heavy academic competition at the individual level. Students are often grouped by ability (“streamed”) in maths and reading early on even if this is not explicitly mentioned in class.

5. Feedback from teachers to parents is formal yet direct

If you are able to ask incisive and specific questions about your child, you will most often receive a fair and thoughtful response. It is a fairly objective process whereby parents are not simply told what they want to hear.

6. Regular Breaks Are Given Throughout the Year

Students tend to break for summer in mid-July and start up again in September, which is a shorter holiday than most US schools provide. Throughout the year, there are longer breaks of two weeks or more at Christmas and Easter.

This allows children to recharge, try camps and even travel but can be a challenge for working parents.

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When my children do travel back to the States and catch up with their American friends there is not much difference aside from the accents — both systems value creativity and discovery through play.

And of course, there are elements of the above to be found across both systems. Personal experiences often come down to a specific school or even a teacher.

But yes, for these early years, I am totally “chuffed” that my three children are in the British school system.

They are establishing a very strong academic base that translates well across the globe while growing in independence and confidence along the way.

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Erica Jalli is an American ex-pat raising three global citizens in London. She works in finance and tech.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.