Tag Archives: education in Mexico

Lifelong Learning

Welcome to the August 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Life Learners

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have talked about how they continue learning throughout life and inspire their children to do the same.




Although I graduated nearly 15 years ago, my education is not finished. In fact, I would say that I’ve learned more since finishing formal schooling than I ever did in school. My husband never had the opportunity to attend school for any length of time, so nearly all his knowledge, which is considerable, has been self-taught. The idea of life-long learning is an important concept for our family.


Business learning

For a time, I ran my own online business selling children’s organic and homemade items. There was so much to learn. Things like product presentation, taxes, establishing a customer base, web design, networking, marketing, and Ebay were not new to me in theory, but in practice…well that’s a whole different story. What I didn’t realize at the time is that the things I learned in the 18 months or so that I ran my hobby business were just a taste of things to come. Like kindergarten to the business world.

I closed my business when we made the move to Mexico, 9 years ago. Since then, we have “failed” at a number of businesses here. Although for the most part, they were not profitable monetarily, we did learn quite a bit in the process and therefore, don’t consider these ventures a waste of time. The businesses we have failed at include a produce truck, taco stand, clothing store, bread baking endeavor, tire repair shop, bricklaying, ranching, farming, gardening, essay writing, and blogging to name a few. Currently, my husband and I have steady employment, part-time employees, part-time owners. I run my own Saturday school and afternoon tutoring sessions but also work for a private elementary school during the week.  My husband maintains our mini-ranch and sharecropping endeavors in the mornings and is the maintenance man for the same school in the afternoons. Being gainfully employed doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped looking for ways to expand our knowledge base. Recently I was asked to write essays for a Business English course. (See Failing at your own business–University courses) Not only did it pay well, but I learned quite a bit about Business English which I have now incorporated into my Saturday classes, teaching interested students how to write memos and other office documents. My husband was also offered a part-time position at a liquor store. He comes home eager to share what he learned about types of alcohol, inventory processes, and delivery systems.

So how does this impact our son?  He told me just the other day that he’s decided he’s not going to work for anyone else but be his own boss.  Entrepreneur in training I’d say. (Making a Living Without a Job, revised edition: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love)

cultural learning

Cultural Learning

Besides learning how to make a living, I’ve had to learn how to navigate a different culture since moving to Mexico. This includes not only learning new vocabulary but also learning how things are done. I know that I’m far from proficient, but I think I’ve made some progress. I accredit my minuscule advancement to my willingness to make a lot of mistakes and ask endless questions. Who would have thought I’d have to relearn how to bury a person (See Mass and Burial–Mexican Style) or how to shop for groceries?  How about learning how to wash clothes in the stream?  Or how to buy land?


Natural Learning

As a family, we look for opportunities to learn about our natural surroundings on day-trip adventures.  I’ve recently discovered iNaturalist. Now I can upload all those photos of pretty flowers, and someone somewhere will identify them for me. From there, I can research how the local natural world might be useful (See Natural healing) now that my two main sources of Mexican home remedies, my mother-in-law and my husband’s grandmother, have died.  I’ve learned how to make a tea for stomachaches, use aloe to aid in wound healing, dry feverfew and use agave.  I have so much more to learn!


Cave exploration outside of Cerano, GTO.

Learning in the next generation

Because of our family philosophy, we encourage independent learning of our now 13-year-old son. He wanted to learn how to play soccer, we made sure that became a reality A few months ago, he asked if there were any teachers that I knew that could teach him Portuguese. I asked the Worldschoolers group on FB and was referred to Duolingo. My son has been regularly progressing through the beginning Portuguese course online. He uses it to chat with Brazilian Minecraft players. (See Hey Parents. What Minecraft is doing to your kids is kind of surprising) He thinks he might learn Vulcan after he finishes the Portuguese course.

His most recent interest is in learning how to make Youtube videos. It isn’t an easy thing by any means and one that neither his father nor I can help much with. When an opportunity presented itself for him to make a video of his life (See What is it like to be a kid in your family? ) we purchased an inexpensive mini-camcorder and together made a video that his grandma in the United States is proud of! See it here!

bike repair

Our attitude has always been, if you don’t know how to do something, learn! No one is going to do it for you. Skills that my son has learned at our side include bricklaying, cooking, bicycle repair, and gardening.


However, we fully realize that my son needs more opportunities for learning than we can provide him. With this is mind, he attends the local middle school, where not only does his Spanish continue to improve, but he also is learning quite a bit about carpentry. So far he’s made a clothing rack and lidded box, quite useful items actually.

We continually stress that even if he is soon to finish his formal schooling, there is no limit to the things he could learn. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer in our home. Is it in yours?




Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • The Financial Advice That Saved My Marriage — Shortly after they got married, Emily at Natural Parents Network and her husband visited a financial planner. Many of the goals and priorities they set back then are now irrelevant, but one has stuck with them through all of the employment changes, out-of-state-moves, and child bearing: allowances.
  • Lifelong Learning — Survivor at Surviving Mexico–Adventures and Disasters writes about how her family’s philosophy of life-long learning has aided them.
  • Inspiring Children to be Lifelong Learners — Donna from Eco-Mothering discusses the reasons behind her family’s educational choices for their daughter, including a wish list for a lifetime of learning.
  • Always Learning — Kellie at Our Mindful Life loves learning, and lately she’s undertaken a special project that her family has been enjoying sharing with her.
  • We’re all unschoolers — Lauren at Hobo Mama embraces the joy in learning for its own sake, and wants to pass that along to her sons as she homeschools.
  • My children, my teachers Stoneageparent shares how becoming a parent has opened doors into learning for her and her family, through home education and forest school.
  • Never Stop Learning — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses her belief that some of the most important things she knows now are things she’s learned since finishing “formal” schooling.
  • Learning is a Lifelong Adventure — Learning has changed over time for Life Breath Present, and she is more excited and interested now than ever before.
  • Facebook: The Modern Forum — Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains why Facebook is today’s forum – a place where people from all walks of life can meet to discuss philosophies, debate ideas, and share information.
  • 10 Ways to Learn from Everyday Life (Inspired by my Life in Japan) — Erin at And Now, for Something Completely Different offers tips she learned while living in Japan to help you learn from everyday life.



Filed under Carnival posts, Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Why we chose to send our child to elementary school in Mexico

first grade

Then there was the decision to send our son to elementary school. We live in an isolated rural area so small that it doesn’t even qualify as a village. Although there are inhabitants in La Yacata despite the difficult living conditions, there were not any children our son’s age. He is also an only child, so socialization was one reason we opted to travel the 20 minutes to town every day.

A secondary reason, although somewhat related to the first, was the fact that we felt that schooling would help him learn what was necessary for successful interactions in the community. Although my husband is Mexican, he is not from this area, and his difference in speech and custom is often remarked negatively upon. I am not Mexican and would therefore not have been the best teacher in this regard for my son.

Registration for Primaria (Elementary school) takes place in February before students finish preschool. There are often long lines of parents waiting to register since there are always more students than cupo (available seats). In most public schools, there are two turnos (sessions), matutino (in the morning) and vespertino (in the afternoon.) Everyone seems to want the morning classes insisting the students learn better and the teachers are more qualified than the afternoon classes. However, the morning teachers are just as likely to be the same as the afternoon teachers since many teachers teach 2 turnos (sessions), teacher pay being what it is in Mexico. Furthermore, studies have shown that students actually perform better and retain more in the early afternoon than in the morning.  The morning class typically begins between 7:50 and 8:10 am and ends at 12:30 pm. The afternoon session begins between 2 pm and 2:10 pm and may end at 6:30 pm or as late as 7:30 pm depending on the school. Private schools have somewhat extended hours and only one turno (session) which runs typically from 7:50 am to 2:30 pm.

We opted to send our son to the afternoon session. Why waste the best part of the day cooped up in a stuffy classroom? Therefore, while I went to work at a private elementary school teaching English, in the mornings, for 6 years, my son stayed with his dad, taking care of the animals, working on the house, or just riding his bike. Then when the day became too hot for outdoor activities, (this is Mexico after all), he went to school. He spent 4 1/2 hours in the classroom with perhaps 15 minutes of homework each day.

Primaria (Elementary) begins when about half of the students are just 5 years old since the same age requirements apply as preschool. Half enter reading Spanish, and half are still learning their letters. The pressure for reading and general learning eases off in primaria (elementary) since teachers are not allowed to fail students unless they make a personal appeal to the school board in Guanajuato. This educational reform has only been in practice 3 or 4 years. It is now just fine for students to finish second grade without being able to read, write their names or do simple mathematics. It seems that the shame in failing a grade outweighs any educational rationale although the debate still wages as to whether failing a grade does more harm than good.  Perhaps if there were more resources and support available for teachers in Mexico, more children would be better educated. But then again, maybe the government isn’t interested in having well-educated citizens.

Schools are required to teach Spanish, Mathematics, History, Exploración de la Naturaleza (Earth Science), Formación Cívica y Etica (moral values), art, music, physical education, English, and Computer Literacy. Yes, English is now a required course even in the public schools. However, there is a decided lack of qualified teachers. Many teachers have been certificated as English teachers on the basis of being able to pass the TOEFL exam. (See Getting Legal–Working Papers) Unfortunately, there is a world of difference in knowing a language and being able to teach it effectively.  But fortunately for my son, I am a licensed English teacher, so no problem there!

elementary school

Grading is done on a scale of 10, 10 being the highest grade and 6 being the lowest passing grade. A 5 indicates the student has not passed, although, with the ban on failing students, it is rare that any student receives a 5 anymore. Each classroom has anywhere from 24 to 40 students, making it a challenge to meet every child’s learning needs.

Up until 2014, students were required to take a standardized end-of-year exam called ENLACE. The current president, Peña Nieto, has disbanded the ENLACE exam. However, his educational reforms have been clearly modeled on the current U.S. standards, and now teachers can be dismissed on the basis of their students’ grades. I think that there will be another exam issued nationally to take the place of the ENLACE in the very near future despite fervent protests and marches by the teachers’ union.

The extended school year is interspersed with random vacation days. Every month, teachers are required to attend a meeting, and school is canceled. 2014 marked the first year that these required work days were tacked onto the student calendar, which meant summer vacation didn’t start until July 15, well into the rainy season in our area. As the 2014-2015 school year began on August 18, that left less than 5 weeks of summer break. The academic year currently runs 200 days.

elementary school inside

There is an extensive Christmas vacation in December, that begins December 19 or 20, but since Las Posadas begins on the 16th, the vacation isn’t nearly long enough. School starts back up typically on January 7th, just one day after Los Reyes Magos deliver gifts. Seems a bit unfair that the kiddies only get one day to enjoy their gifts after having waited the entire vacation period, but, hey I didn’t make the rules. Semana Santa is also a long vacation and actually lasts 2 weeks in March or April. May is the most tiresome month to get through as a teacher, but fantastic for the students. Not only is it the hottest month in our area, but there are a number of special days commemorated. Beginning with April 30 there is El Día de Los Niños. (See Cultural Apathy) Then May 1 is El Día del Trabajo (Labour Day), May 5 is the commemoration of La Batalla de Puebla (The Battle in Puebla day), May 10 is El Día de la Madre (Mother’s Day), and May 15 is El Día del Maestro (Teacher’s Day).

Exams are administered bi-monthly and are usually taken over the period of a week. Early on in this segment of schooling, we discovered some issues. My son’s lowest grades and highest frustration levels were in Formación Cívica y Etica, which is something along the lines of Mexican Moral values. Even the kids that weren’t passing any other subject were getting 8s and 9s in this subject, so why not my son? Upon examining the exams, I discovered that many questions had to do with Mexican dichos (sayings). For instance:

Lo que empieza con gran coraje termina

1) con gran orgullo

2) con gran vergüenza

3) con gran ventaja

The answer is 2, but I wouldn’t have known it, not being a Mexican and all. My husband had no formal schooling to speak of, so wasn’t much help in exam preparation either.

How about this one?

In Mexico la muerte nos…..

The answer is …pela los dientes.

Come again?

So it stands to reason that Formacion civica etica was a trial for my son throughout his elementary years.

Since this sort of schooling was not enough for a well-rounded education, we augmented part-time unschooling. (See Homeschool variation) There were and continue to be so many opportunities for learning in our area, or perhaps we just look for the possibilities. My son also often accompanied me to my private English classes, sometimes as an additional student to the class, other times with his own activity book. After all, he may decide that this place we call home is not for him and set off on his own adventures one day, English might be beneficial when that time comes.

school days

My son did well in the traditional classroom and besides being in the honor roll all 6 years was part of the escolta (honor guard) in sixth grade. As only the best and brightest are chosen, (See Independence day) it was quite an honor. He was also selected by his teachers to read a despidida (farewell) poem during the graduation ceremony. His high achievement led to his being recommended into the better of two secondary schools in the area, and a shot at the matutino (in the morning) session.




Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Why we chose to send our child to preschool in Mexico

parade marching

Marching in the Kinder parade for Independence Day.

Before you get all up in arms, our choice in formal education was made with the idea of finding what was best for our son. We live in rural Mexico, and the educational system is a bit different here. Not better, just different. Our ultimate goal has been and continues to be adequate life-learning for our son, and that has included sending him to school.

In Mexico, kinder (preschool) starts at 2, yes 2. The little tots typically attend school from 9 am to 1:30 pm Monday thru Friday, with no nap time. Children must be the minimum age for a grade the December of the year they begin school. This means that children born on January 1 are more than 12 months older than their classmates born December 31. Talk about classroom diversity!

We arrived in Mexico when my son was 4 years old, which was just as well because starting school at 2 was not in my plans. I kept him at home with me until August, so he actually was 5 when he began school. We opted for a private, bilingual kinder, mostly because I was able to get a position there and teach my son half a day, along with 20 other 4 and 5-year-old Mexican children. Overall, it was a good experience for him (though not so much for me). (Learning and Teaching Year 1) It allowed him to improved his Mexican Spanish in both formal and informal situations and keep up his confidence in the process since he was the top English student.

Kinders (preschools) typically offer music, art, some sort of physical education, math and reading. Students are given homework daily in the hopes that it will instill a sense of responsibility in them. It seldom does. There is an almost unholy quest for students to be able to read before they finish kinder. Fortunately, Spanish is a bit less complicated than English in regards to reading (The Easiest Language to Learn) and most children are able to master basic Spanish language reading skills.

kinder parade

Marching in the kinder parade!

Quite a lot of time is spent on events, Grandparent’s Day, Christmas, Day of the Dead, Children’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Carnival, Independence Day, etc.. Most of these events require the little ones to learn some sort of dance and memorize some poem or song. There are several parade marchings as well. The kids usually ride in floats, but it’s hard on the teachers and parents marching alongside.

tree planting

Planting a tree on Father’s Day.

There were some worthwhile activities as well. For Father’s day, dads and kids went to Los Areas Verdes and planted a tree together. For Children’s Day, several parents and teachers took a collection of toys to the remote villages of Los Amoles and Santa Gertrudis, then a clothing donation to La Ciudad de Los Niños (a local orphanage) and another children’s shelter in Uriangato. As the trees were donated, the toys were used, and we volunteered to drive, it really wasn’t much of a sacrifice on the part of the well-to-do parents whose children attended this kinder, but hey, something is better than nothing.


Kinder graduation

When the 5 and 6-year-olds are ready to leave the kinder, there is a graduation ceremony. At the private school we attended, the boys wore a little tux and girls wore mini-prom gowns to perform a bas (formal dance). They received diplomas and shook hands with the mesa directiva (school board). It seems quite excessive unless you take into consideration the comparable hoopla for first communion ceremonies.


Saying goodbye to the Kinder.

During this school year, we found a little bit of land to purchase, and my husband began working on our home. My son and I would head to school in the morning, then out to the construction site in the afternoons. Saturdays he and I would make the private English class rounds on the moto. He had his own “English” activity book and was an incredible incentive to students just starting out. It was an exciting, but exhausting, period in our lives with all the planning and building and just getting adjusted to the way things go here in Mexico.




Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms