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August has taken us from Canada to Japan and back to Australia, so it has been a busy month. We wrapped up our 6 week trip to Canada, had 10 days to explore Japan for the first time and happily returned to our life here in Melbourne. You can read our July update to hear all about our time in Canada.
Japan is somewhere I have wanted to visit for a long time, but it has always seemed out of our “backpacker” travel style budget. We decided to bite the bullet and add a trip to Japan to our visit in Canada. We only had 10 days and went for the classic Kyoto and Tokyo experience. It was an exhausting trip with each day filled with sightseeing, getting over jetleg and dealing with the crazy Japanese August humidity. But, it was a wonderful trip and I really feel like we had the opportunity to sample Japanese culture, see lots of wonderful sites and eat tons of delicious foods.
The highlights for the kids were the unique food venues like the sushi bar where you ordered your sushi and it was delivered on conveyor belts to your table. Note, this is a huge step up from your regular circulating sushi train! I am planning a whole post about all the fun Japanese food we ate. The kids loved the individual ramen booths, cooking savoury pancakes at our own table and tasting all the unusual ice cream flavours.
They also loved our day at the Disney Sea theme park in Tokyo, a totally unique Disney experience. The karaoke bars were a total hit; why they don’t have these in Canada or Australia I am not sure. They are so much fun and our voices would be hoarse after an hour of belting out top 40 songs. I am also so glad that we splurged and spent a night in Kyoto at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. We wore yukata robes, slept on futons on the tatami mat floors, ate special kaiseki meals in our room and used the onsen (shared baths). It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Kyoto is the cultural centre of Japan and we spent our days seeing the many beautiful temples and gorgeous natural sites there. Temple hopping can always be challenging with kids, but they really did come to appreciate the beauty of these sites. Japan is all about rituals and the kids liked mastering how to properly wash themselves before entering a temple.
We rode the bullet train between Kyoto and Tokyo, which travels at over 200 km/hr and is an experience in itself. We caught a quick glimpse of Mount Fuji as we passed on the train. In Tokyo we loved learning about the Edo era and seeing this high-tech, populous city. There is an interesting blend of old and new in Tokyo
We did find accommodation and transportation expensive in Japan, although food and attractions were reasonably priced. As far as traveling to Japan with kids, I found it to be moderately challenging. Japanese culture is very reserved and orderly and I found it stressful at times to keep the kids quiet on the trains and our Airbnb apartments. Everyone was really friendly and I think there is a high tolerance for foreigners, but I was on edge about the kid’s behaviour a lot. This trip was really all about city exploring and that can be tiring for the kids. We tried to change things up with stops for ice cream, karaoke and Japanese gardens, but it was a lot of sight-seeing for them. We did find Japan difficult as vegetarians as there is meat in almost everything. Luckily we eat fish, which gave us more options.
Returning to Australia
After almost 8 weeks away, we were ready for some routine and it felt really good to be back in Melbourne. Everyone quickly settled back into their routines and it was so nice to be welcomed back so enthusiastically at the school. In our last update, I mentioned the soul searching that being home in Canada provoked and of course that continues being back in Australia. We know our time here will go quickly and we flip back and forth about how ready we are to return to Canada next year. As hard as the initial few months here were, I thrive on change and new environments and I love soaking up all the new experiences that living abroad gives us. I still am not sure if I am ready to give that up and return to a more settled life in Canada.
Our Aussie School Reflections
When the kids started school last year in Australia, I wrote a post about our Aussie school impressions. I am constantly reflecting on their school experience here and the longer we are here, the more convinced I am that we stumbled upon a wonderful school. I am so impressed by the direction of the school, the focus on child-centered learning, the willingness to try new things and focus on developing the whole child. Schools here are going through a shift, just as schools in Canada are. However, I feel that the rate of change that I am seeing here is quicker.
What impresses me:
- Less emphasis on assessment of learning – here our kids don’t have tests or receive a grade for their work. There is lots of formative assessment and feedback, but no grades. Even their end of year report cards report by progression points (“working above”, “working at”). The focus is on learning and not grades. They are also starting to do continuous reporting throughout the terms (via an online portal), instead of two intensive reports to make it real time and increase communication between parents and the school. Another example of this is the 3-way conferences that they have mid-way through the year. The student, parents and teacher meet, but the focus is not on reporting student achievement from teacher to parent. The student prepares a reflection that they present to the teacher and parents where they talk about and show examples of the work they are proud of and their goals and areas of focus for the next semester. I love how they are building reflection into kids at such a young age. Even the Preps (6 years olds) do this.
- Real inquiry-based learning – the kids never do worksheets here or memorize “the 5 forces of…”. The focus is still heavily on reading, writing and maths, but in an engaging, student-led manner. For example, Ella worked on maths by planning next year’s swimming school carnival where they had to calculate bus costs, volunteer ratios, etc. They determine as a class what problem or issue they want to research and how they will do it. They even research field trip destinations related to their project, pitch their ideas to the class and vote on where they will go.
- More teacher collaboration – classrooms at our school here are more fluid with kids moving between classrooms in the middle school throughout the day. For example, kids are divided into targeted math groups with different teachers so that learning can be tailored to their level and learning style. Teachers across grade levels collaborate extensively on programming.
- 21st Century Teaching – I think there are lots of teachers in Canada that are incorporating these ideas into their teaching, but I also think there is a significant amount of teachers that are still teaching the way we have for 50 years. Our school here doesn’t seem to tolerate mediocre teaching and there is a whole school focus on moving the school to 21st century teaching practices.
- Integration of IT – kids from grade 3+ at our school are required to bring an ipad daily to class. I was skeptical in the beginning, but truly have been impressed with how the use of technology elevates their learning and allows for new learning to occur. Ella has become a tech wizz and often presents her work as iMovies, pic-collages or collaborative written pieces.
- School Autonomy – schools here seem to have more flexibility to pursue their own direction
- Moving to high school at grade 7 – high school here starts in grade 7 and I really think that kids are ready for that move up in grade 7. It gives the grade 6s wonderful leadership opportunities and grade 7s more independence in high school.
- School Community – it is amazing! I know most of the parents in the kids’ classes, I talk to their teachers almost every day and there are so many community building activities (coffee mornings, Father’s Day breakfast, bi-weekly (fort-nightly as they say here!) assemblies that parents attend).
In summary I see the seeds of a lot of these teaching pedagogies at our elementary school in Canada and my high school, but here in Australia I see these pedagogies taking off. It could be the strong leadership at our school here and maybe it isn’t representative of all Australian schools. But, I am impressed.
Winter in Australia
After the intense heat of Japan, we didn’t mind coming home to winter in Melbourne. However, now we are ready for spring. With highs of 14 and lows of 6 being typical, we have had to “rug up”. It is definitely weird to have this cool weather in August and to be headed into Spring at a time when every one in Canada is starting school and heading towards fall.
Politics in Australia
Australia has had a lot of excitement this month politically. There are at least three big issues going on right now:
- Marriage Equality – did you know Australia doesn’t have it? Shocking, I know! There is meant to be a big postal vote in October, but that is loaded in controversy.
- Dual Citizenship Members of Parliament – for some reason this is a huge deal and has become a huge scandal.
- Refugee Debacle – the Australian government has controversially been sending asylum-seekers to this island in Papau New Guinea for years. A ruling today awarded the detainees $70 million in compensation.
- Australia Day – there is lots of talk about moving Australia Day to a different date. Currently it is celebrated on January 26th, which is the day the first British fleet landed here. Understandably the aboriginal population detests this day. Thankfully change seems to be in the air.
The weather really hasn’t been that great for weekend exploring, but we have still managed to see some new parts of the city on the weekends. We visited the nearby Dandenong Ranges and enjoyed a nice spring hike through Sherbrooke Forest. The massive trees are spectacular and we spotted some colourful lorikeets and even our first lyre bird.
We continue to take advantage of the amazing Melbourne food scene. You really never do get a bad meal in Melbourne and there is so much foreign food eateries to try.
Miles’ Weekend Excitement
Miles had back-to-back Saturday excitement. While Ella and I were at swimming, Miles cut his knee badly at home and needed five stitches. He was a total trooper and even watched the Doctor do the sewing. The next weekend again while we were at swimming, Paul and Miles were wrestling and Paul knocked out his two lower front teeth (which were a bit loose). Again Miles didn’t mind in the least and was quite happy to have the tooth fairy visit. The following week Paul was sent to swimming to avoid any more excitement!
I post almost daily on our Instagram account and here were our best performing posts from August.
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The photos don't lie; Arishiyama (near Kyoto) is spectacular. Luckily due to our jet leg we had the place almost to ourselves. Finally a benefit of 4am wakeups! I try so hard to minimize jet leg with the kids but it never seems to help. What are your secrets? #arashiyama #arashiyamabamboogrove #explorekyoto
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Last night we stayed in a ryokan in Kyoto (a traditional Japanese inn). It was such a neat cultural experience. We chilled in our yukatas (robes), slept on the floor, ate lots of mysterious foods, shed our inhibitions and bathed in the hotel's onsen (baths) and tried to keep the kids quiet and serene (ya right!) A splurge for us but so worth it! #ryokan #kyoto #japan #kyotojapan
There are only two more weeks of Term 3 here in Australia. We have a two-week school holiday break at the end of September/early October. I am looking forward to exploring some of the sites in the city that we haven’t visited since January school holidays. Gavin goes to a 5 day Cuboree camp through Scouts for the second week. Before returning to school, we are off on our Papau New Guinea cruise from Cairns. Mid-October brings a visit from my brother’s family and we are really excited to show them around Melbourne and spend some time on Great Ocean Road.
With every one back at school I have just started to have more time to write. I am also doing my first freelance writing gig, preparing Canadian study city information for an expat website. It is by no means lucrative, but a good opportunity.
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