Starting school

atg-sarahThis summer our daughter will be starting primary school in Germany.  Studying about the culture of this country,  I thought I had learnt quite a bit about the school system, but now the more I learn about it first hand, the more I sometimes despair and long for the English school system that I once knew.

Let’s start with the age difference.  I started primary school in Kent at the age of 4, although I believe I was in the last intake where this was possible.  Other children that followed were always 5 years old.

In my part of Germany, children start school at 6. And only then if the school doctor considers them to be ready.

My primary school day used to be from 9am until 3.30pm. My daughter will start her lessons at around 8am and be finished by 12 noon.  I did not have any homework until I was 11, but my daughter will have homework from the first day.

I was taken to school on the first day by my mother.  But in Germany, a large part of the family comes along on the first day. A first day that does not start in the school, but in a local church. Not our church, by the way. To sweeten the day, children receive a Schultüte. More about that another time.

A big part of the build-up to the big day is buying the Schulranzen – a large rucksack that primary school children use to carry all of their books, pencils, painting set and sport clothes.   German schools do not usually have a uniform, but they do tell you what sort of pencil your child needs, and even what make and size of painting set to buy.

Yes, buy.  English primary schools may supply their pupils with books, pencils, paint brushes and, of course, paint.  But in Germany this cost – and the task of buying the right things – is left to the parents.  It is not usual for the rucksack alone to cost over 100EUR.

Even social activities cost money, like singing in the school choir which will cost 8EUR per month.  Who says that German education is for free?

Unfortunately, we have already missed our first parents’ evening in the new school.  We only found out about it, because one of the other parents told us about it when we met them the next day.  For some reason we did not receive an invitation from the school. I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

It has been frustrating in the last year, not to be able to buy books in England for our daughter that are targeted at 6-year-olds. Because, of course, being from England the books assume that 6-year-olds can read a certain amount of words after a year of school. My daughter, although she knows her alphabet and a small amount of arithmetic, does not know enough words yet to be able to understand the book without us reading it to her.

Imagine, then, my amazement during a recent visit to Madrid, that children there start school at 3, and can read by the time they are 5!

In my daughter’s Kindergarten there is a so-called Vorschuljahr, or “pre-school year”. But right from the beginning of that year they told us that they would not be teaching the children to read – they leave that to the school.

About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

Comments

  1. The so-called Vorschuljahr (last year in kindergarten) is not worth much. Sometimes one morning a week is set aside to teach pre-school but most times it gets canceled, so I have heard.

    Most German elementary school teachers do not like to see children knowing how to read and write. Teachers want the kids starting at zero and not have them bring any bad habits, or get bored, etc.

    This might also stem from the fact that kindergarten teachers have neither a formal teaching training nor a college education. To become an Erzieher (kindergarten teacher), one needs to go through an apprenticeship/ vocational training. Elementary teachers, on the other hand, have a close to 8-year college education and feel they are the only ones qualified to teach.

    Last, but not least -children are supposed to play only until the “Ernst des Lebens” (Seriousness of Life) begins. And Germans, on the most part, are really good at this..:)

  2. The so-called Vorschuljahr (last year in kindergarten) is not worth much. Sometimes one morning a week is set aside to teach pre-school but most times it gets canceled, so I have heard.

    Most German elementary school teachers do not like to see children knowing how to read and write. Teachers want the kids starting at zero and not have them bring any bad habits, or get bored, etc.

    This might also stem from the fact that kindergarten teachers have neither a formal teaching training nor a college education. To become an Erzieher (kindergarten teacher), one needs to go through an apprenticeship/ vocational training. Elementary teachers, on the other hand, have a close to 8-year college education and feel they are the only ones qualified to teach.

    Last, but not least -children are supposed to play only until the “Ernst des Lebens” (Seriousness of Life) begins. And Germans, on the most part, are really good at this..:)

  3. After reading your story, I was somewhat surprised. I heard different stories about the schoolsystem in Germany. Perhaps the people who told me live in another part of Germany?

    I’m in The Netherlands. When your do not take your child to daycare, you might want to bring you toddler to kind of a ‘toddler care’. (don’t know what to call it: peuterspeelzaal) That way they can get used to spend a few hours away from home, sharing attention with other children, to be social in a group etc. They can stay there till the age of 4 or 5. Children here have to start school at the age of 5 (lawfully). However, most children start already on their 4th birthday in ‘group 1’. You might say group 1 and 2 are sort of a kindergarten. (In my time we used to go to kindergarten and start school at the age of 6)

    Children in group 1 and 2 play just like in kindergarten, however, group 2 is somewhat prepared for school (group 3). They learn some basics (‘have-to-do-work’ they call it here) and read and write a few words. But most of the time they learn by play. There are some schools that are more into testing and preparing, but I believe that puts too much pressure on a child. When a child shows special interest (or advance) in reading, they’ll stimulate only stimulate it. My youngest is 5,5 and he’s provided with books (level group 3-4) he likes to read at home. He was in group 1, the beginning of this schoolyear but was moved to group 2 (same classroom, group 1 and 2 are mixed). In september he’ll start together in group 3, just like his older brother. (6,5) Children that show an advance or a learning problem or any other disorder, are monitored individually and provided with extra guidance.

    School here starts at 08.30 and lunchtime is usually 12.00 or 12.30. They have lunch at home or at school. After lunch they start from 13.30 – 15.30. My two boys (5,5 and 6,5) have two free afternoons on Wednesday and Friday. But each school has a differen schedule.

    Books are for free and all parents ‘may’ (read must) donate an amount (about 25 Euro) to a fund for social activities and school excursions. And no need for a rucksack (poor children). Books stay at school in the classroom! 🙂

    Funny detail: most children start with English lessons at primary school now. (when I was young we started with foreign languages at secondary school; English, German and French)

  4. After reading your story, I was somewhat surprised. I heard different stories about the schoolsystem in Germany. Perhaps the people who told me live in another part of Germany?

    I’m in The Netherlands. When your do not take your child to daycare, you might want to bring you toddler to kind of a ‘toddler care’. (don’t know what to call it: peuterspeelzaal) That way they can get used to spend a few hours away from home, sharing attention with other children, to be social in a group etc. They can stay there till the age of 4 or 5. Children here have to start school at the age of 5 (lawfully). However, most children start already on their 4th birthday in ‘group 1’. You might say group 1 and 2 are sort of a kindergarten. (In my time we used to go to kindergarten and start school at the age of 6)

    Children in group 1 and 2 play just like in kindergarten, however, group 2 is somewhat prepared for school (group 3). They learn some basics (‘have-to-do-work’ they call it here) and read and write a few words. But most of the time they learn by play. There are some schools that are more into testing and preparing, but I believe that puts too much pressure on a child. When a child shows special interest (or advance) in reading, they’ll stimulate only stimulate it. My youngest is 5,5 and he’s provided with books (level group 3-4) he likes to read at home. He was in group 1, the beginning of this schoolyear but was moved to group 2 (same classroom, group 1 and 2 are mixed). In september he’ll start together in group 3, just like his older brother. (6,5) Children that show an advance or a learning problem or any other disorder, are monitored individually and provided with extra guidance.

    School here starts at 08.30 and lunchtime is usually 12.00 or 12.30. They have lunch at home or at school. After lunch they start from 13.30 – 15.30. My two boys (5,5 and 6,5) have two free afternoons on Wednesday and Friday. But each school has a differen schedule.

    Books are for free and all parents ‘may’ (read must) donate an amount (about 25 Euro) to a fund for social activities and school excursions. And no need for a rucksack (poor children). Books stay at school in the classroom! 🙂

    Funny detail: most children start with English lessons at primary school now. (when I was young we started with foreign languages at secondary school; English, German and French)

  5. I was shocked too at the initial outlay and ongoing cost of primary school and I wonder how poorer families cope. My son started school at 5 but was discarded (and I do feel that) within two weeks because he wouldn’t sit stil and concentrate on the exercises in hand. Those exercises being, to draw a full A4 page full of straight lines, sometimes differing the length, sometimes making them wiggly… My son has been able to produce reasonable lettering for about a year and was quite simply bored by the content of his day.

    The solution offered to me was Forderschule, a special school as we from the Uk would know them as. Luckily the headmaster of said school asked what value would be gained by putting an intelligent child into a group of children that were finding the simplest tasks difficult. He agreed with me taht this was madness. At this point, I was told that the Schulamt (the local schools dept) were no longer able to help me as they weren’t legally required to until he was of school age (7) and I should find him a kindergarten. Matter closed.

    I’m climbing the walls here, but I will find a solution that suits my son, not necessarily one that complies with the local insistence that I put up, shut up and fit in. That WOULD be the easy option, but it wouldn’t be the right one for my child.

    Wish I had the money, I’d exercise my right in the European charter to set up my own school. From what I’ve heard from other mothers of all nationalities there would be a demand for a school that focused on providing bright children with stimulating and educational surroundings, allowing each child to develop to its ability in a structured environment.

  6. I was shocked too at the initial outlay and ongoing cost of primary school and I wonder how poorer families cope. My son started school at 5 but was discarded (and I do feel that) within two weeks because he wouldn’t sit stil and concentrate on the exercises in hand. Those exercises being, to draw a full A4 page full of straight lines, sometimes differing the length, sometimes making them wiggly… My son has been able to produce reasonable lettering for about a year and was quite simply bored by the content of his day.

    The solution offered to me was Forderschule, a special school as we from the Uk would know them as. Luckily the headmaster of said school asked what value would be gained by putting an intelligent child into a group of children that were finding the simplest tasks difficult. He agreed with me taht this was madness. At this point, I was told that the Schulamt (the local schools dept) were no longer able to help me as they weren’t legally required to until he was of school age (7) and I should find him a kindergarten. Matter closed.

    I’m climbing the walls here, but I will find a solution that suits my son, not necessarily one that complies with the local insistence that I put up, shut up and fit in. That WOULD be the easy option, but it wouldn’t be the right one for my child.

    Wish I had the money, I’d exercise my right in the European charter to set up my own school. From what I’ve heard from other mothers of all nationalities there would be a demand for a school that focused on providing bright children with stimulating and educational surroundings, allowing each child to develop to its ability in a structured environment.

  7. @Maria: I have to agree with you in some points about the pre-school year. I did not feel that we had much benefit from it, and a lot of what I may have expected had to happen in the first few weeks of the “proper” school.

    However it did not get cancelled much, it just did not take place during the normal school holidays.

  8. @Maria: I have to agree with you in some points about the pre-school year. I did not feel that we had much benefit from it, and a lot of what I may have expected had to happen in the first few weeks of the “proper” school.

    However it did not get cancelled much, it just did not take place during the normal school holidays.

  9. @Conny: I know that there are differences between the school systems in different parts of Germany, because schooling is the responsibility of the states (Länder), and so not the same across the whole country.

    My personal opinion is that starting school at 6 is too late, and that the school day is too short. Although I must admit that the children here have a lot more homework than I ever had at that age! So that places some of the learning burden back on the parents who effectively do the “teaching” in the afternoon.

  10. @Conny: I know that there are differences between the school systems in different parts of Germany, because schooling is the responsibility of the states (Länder), and so not the same across the whole country.

    My personal opinion is that starting school at 6 is too late, and that the school day is too short. Although I must admit that the children here have a lot more homework than I ever had at that age! So that places some of the learning burden back on the parents who effectively do the “teaching” in the afternoon.

  11. @LauraM: our daughter had a similar problem with colouring boxes in the first couple of weeks for Maths homework. Thankfully she did it in the end, but she was taking her time because it just wasn’t interesting.

    Now they are learning one number and one letter per week, but doing that thoroughly, ie. words that start with it, sounds it can make; different forms of the number, and she finds that much more interesting.

    I feel that children start school so late in parts of Germany (Hessen is 6) that some already _can_ write letters and numbers, even read certain words. The first year at school lets the rest catch up but also trains them all to do their letters in the same way.

    I have since found a local school offering the chance to start a 5 but then spread the lessons out over 2 years, ie. the children spend two years doing things from Year 1 and then go directly to Year 2. On the one hand this sounds interesting, because the children can start earlier and because the rules in the classroom are not so strict at first they don’t have to adapt quite so quickly.

    On the other hand, a child that finds the normal year 1 to be uninteresting (because they can already do more), may not get on in that sort of environment either.

    What do the Jugendamt expect you to do for the next year? And what will happen when he starts school, albeit at 7, and is even more ahead of the class, especially if you spend the next 2 years effectively teaching him at home?

  12. @LauraM: our daughter had a similar problem with colouring boxes in the first couple of weeks for Maths homework. Thankfully she did it in the end, but she was taking her time because it just wasn’t interesting.

    Now they are learning one number and one letter per week, but doing that thoroughly, ie. words that start with it, sounds it can make; different forms of the number, and she finds that much more interesting.

    I feel that children start school so late in parts of Germany (Hessen is 6) that some already _can_ write letters and numbers, even read certain words. The first year at school lets the rest catch up but also trains them all to do their letters in the same way.

    I have since found a local school offering the chance to start a 5 but then spread the lessons out over 2 years, ie. the children spend two years doing things from Year 1 and then go directly to Year 2. On the one hand this sounds interesting, because the children can start earlier and because the rules in the classroom are not so strict at first they don’t have to adapt quite so quickly.

    On the other hand, a child that finds the normal year 1 to be uninteresting (because they can already do more), may not get on in that sort of environment either.

    What do the Jugendamt expect you to do for the next year? And what will happen when he starts school, albeit at 7, and is even more ahead of the class, especially if you spend the next 2 years effectively teaching him at home?

Trackbacks

  1. […] weekend we went to buy a Schulranzen, an essential part of starting school in […]

  2. […] preparation for our daughter starting school I have had to start looking into another German tradition.  Not only does she need her […]

  3. […] The first day at School The big day finally arrived yesterday: our daughter started school. […]

  4. […] do you address a German teacher? With our daughter starting school a few weeks ago, I have had an interesting thought: how do children address a teacher in […]

Speak Your Mind

*

By continuing to use this website site, you agree to the use of cookies. [more information]

This website uses cookies to give you the best browsing experience possible. Cookies are small text files that are stored by the web browser on your computer. Most of the cookies that we use are so-called “Session cookies”. These are automatically deleted after your visit. The cookies do not damage your computer system or contain viruses. Please read our privacy information page for more details.

Close