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.

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