An Estonian Childhood

One of the most common questions I get asked by folks back in the UK is, “what’s it like bringing your kids up in Estonia?”. My answer is always a very positive one as I think there is a lot going for this country. We have three children, two boys and one girl aged, 10, 8 and 6. Our first born was ten months old when we moved here and the other two were born in the Viljandi hospital shown below,

20130414-081304.jpg It’s a rather austere, soviet looking building but actually a very happy and peaceful place to enter this world. Having been born here, our kids have never really known anything other than life in Estonia except for extended trips to the UK during the rather long three month school summer holidays. Belonging to two countries definitely adds a bit of extra flavour to their lives!
Neither my husband or myself are native estonian speakers, so we’ve had to, ‘learn on the job’ as it were, while our children have been thrown in at the deep end by entering the estonian kindergarten system at three years old and learning the language while playing along side their friends. There is no question about it, children take to language learning much more easily than adults. They are like little sponges who just absorb all the information; while us adults struggle to get our heads round grammar rules, they just use it! Not fair!
So two of our children have graduated from kindergarten and taken the huge leap of 40 meters across the road to the local school. Both buildings can be seen in this picture, the kindergarten being the large building at the back left and the school on the right where they stay until they are sixteen years old

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Not a very large existence to grow up in but a secure one. We live in a town where everybody, knows everybody and you still find unattended babies sleeping outside shops in their prams!

I like the estonian education system. Starting pre-school at 6 and real school at 7 makes much more sense to me, allowing younger kids to learn through play and just be ‘young’! The school day is short, allowing time for other activities like craft and music school which is really big in Estonia. And guess what, even with this low key approach, Estonia does really well in the international statistics for education! So a good system all round I say! And where else would our kids learn to cross country ski from seven years old…

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Having said that, five months of snow is way too much for anyone and the kids get fed up being cooped up for so long during the coldest months and long for spring and warmer weather. There are only so many snow men that one can be bothered to build…I rather liked this one, though not our own!

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But summer does come in the end and the long days and three month summer holiday lend themselves to happy family camping holidays in unspoilt nature, bike rides along quiet roads and time to swim in the lakes…..bliss!

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Isolation

In Estonia you can feel like you live in a remote and desolate outpost.

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The scenery is at times breathtaking…

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Yet in Estonia, wireless internet, e-banking and e-everything are considered as ordinary as breathing. You can never truly get away from it all…

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The flag

The Estonians love their flag which is flown proudly on the many official flag days during the year, be it independence day, midsummer, mothers day, estonian language day or simply ‘just because’….! Who can blame them when during the long, hard years of Soviet rule the Estonian flag was forbidden. Many Estonians kept their flags hidden under floorboards or in attics for many years until the unforgettable occasion during the ‘singing revolution’ when one bold soul rode by the crowds at the festival ground on his motorbike carrying the flag for everyone to see. This was the cue that everyone was waiting for and suddenly thousands of estonian flags appeared throughout the crowd flown for the first time in 50 years…what a moment that must have been for those who had waited so long!

I can’t say I have ever been so patriotic, be it because of my mixed blood, or simply because our generation hasn’t had to fight for it’s freedom in quite the same way. There was one occasion when my husband did fly the english flag from our apartment window which aroused a lot of interest amongst the locals who assumed it must be an important day on the English national calendar, only to be told that it was in fact England’s turn to play in the European cup!

Estonians love nature and even their flag is taken from the colours of the surrounding countryside. During the winter months the crisp blue sky, black trees and swathes of bright white, untouched snow that enfolds the country, all contribute to the colours of the Estonian tricolor. Beautiful.

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I love this little token to the flag on a snow pole…

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Where in the world is that?!

It all started twelve years ago when a friend told us about his recent visit to Estonia. I have a confession to make…I thought to myself, “where in the world is that!?”. I mean how could anyone not know where this precious jewel of a country is on the map? If you are like me, then let me explain to you that Estonia is one of the three baltic states located just south of Finland (divided by the gulf of Finland) and bordering Latvia and Russia. It is roughly the same size as Denmark and has a population of approximately 1.3 million…no, I haven’t omitted any zeros, that is the population; about one sixth of the population of greater London! That’s small but neat!

‘And though she be but little, she is fierce!’… Known as the ‘baltic tiger’, Estonia experienced an economic boom from 2001-2007 with an average economic growth of 8%. Now a member of the European Union and eurozone, Estonia still has one of the highest GDP growth rates in Europe…Go Estonia!

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