One of the biggest cultural experiences for us has been to have the kids in local Spanish speaking Schools. This year the kids go to separate schools, Tanner to a private preschool/grade school and Laura to a public grade school. Next year they will both transfer to a small public grade school just down the dirt road from the orphanage where I volunteer. This will allow us to spend more time at the orphanage and the kids can become part of the "family" there as well. They are pretty excited!
Laura is currently in first grade at "Escuela Central de Atenas", in the center of Atenas. She is in a class of 25-30 students and there are 3 other first grade classes with the same number of students. It is the biggest and oldest school in Atenas and I believe is for grades k-8.
The school has a very nice theater, library, computer lab, kiosks that sell food and drinks, and a cafeteria that serves free rice and beans with occasional meat or fruit as well. It also has a playground but Laura says that it is always too hot to play on and no wonder since it's all made of metal! Classrooms open to covered outdoor walkways that surround garden areas with trees and flowers.
The school year starts in mid-February and ends in mid-December. Each school day (at least at Escuela Central)starts at 7 am each day. This means an early morning for our family, but we are used to it by now. Tim and I take turns walking Laura to school each day (about a mile one way)and after school either Tim or I pick Laura up from school in the car, usually on the way to get Tanner from his school.
We never know when school will get out until the day before when Laura comes home with that information, but it's usually at 11:30 or 1:30in the afternoon. They don't use substitute teachers here so if the teacher has a doctor appointment or a meeting to go to then classes are cancelled. The kids get two morning recesses and on the longer days they also have a 40 minute lunch break/recess combined. We can even come have a picnic with Laura on her lunch break.
Laura studies many subjects at school: Science, Social Studies, Math, Spanish, English, Music, Religion, Art, and P.E. She has learned to read, write, spell, and dictate in Spanish and she speaks Spanish very clearly and without any accent (or so I'm told, I can't tell). Of course English is her easiest class and at times she gets to help the teacher. She has a different teacher for English, Music, Religion, Art, and P.E. and a homeroom teacher for the other subjects. Laura has been doing great academically, getting straight A's all year. Her teacher says that she is a good student and classmate.
Laura has easy homework on most days that she finishes in a few minutes and more difficult homework called "extra class" work just before exams that can take all evening to do. She has exams about every 2 months in all subjects except Art, Music, and P.E. Catholicism is the national religion of Costa Rica so there is open prayer in school, Biblical teachings, and before assemblies there is prayer and a praise song or hymn is sung.
Laura's only textbooks/workbooks are for her Spanish class, but she has a different colored notebook for each subject. Daily the teacher writes things on the blackboard for the kids to copy into their notebooks or she gives them photocopies to glue into their notebooks. This takes the place of any textbooks.
With all those notebooks, her book bag is heavy! For this reason she only brings home the notebooks she'll need to do her homework on a daily basis and on Fridays she brings home everything for us to review together over the weekend. This is how we also catch any work she didn't finish in class or loose papers that need to be glued into notebooks.
So homeschooling has become more or less supplementing what the kids are learning in school to give more hands on experiences plus we do English studies and some Math. Just for fun and as time allows we also do art, music, science, and history using curriculum I brought with us from the States.
Laura has adjusted very well to Atenas and has seemed quite at home here. She seems to have adopted the food, culture, and language of Costa Rica and has made some great friends here. If you ask Laura on any given day how school was she'll give a thumbs up and reply "Fantastic!" or "The best day ever!"