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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