September 14, 2010

Back to School – The German Way

As of today, Tuesday September 14th, the girls have officially started school. We call it grundschule around here – which basically means that it’s primary or, also, elementary school. Before this they were going to kindergarten which has a different purpose than it does in the United States. Kindergarten for us means that it’s the first official year of school and it’s a mandatory part of our education. It’s after preschool but before elementary school. It’s kind of like a buffer – getting kids ready for reading and writing. A pregame to the big party. Woo!

Here in Germany it’s a bit different. Kids go to kindergarten (kind of like an extended preschool) from the age of 18 months until the summer of or before they turn six. And it’s optional. Parents don’t have to put their kids in a kindergarten. Most of them do but regardless, it’s not obligatory. After kindergarten, German kinder go to grundschule where they mingle with the big kids and where some serious learning starts. The twins had been going to their kindergarten since they were very young so I was able to witness their separation earlier this summer from such a beloved place. There were a lot of gifts exchanged, picture books given, parties planned and enjoyed. Fortunately, the twins are now attending grundschule with many of their friends from their kindergarten so there will be some friendly faces at their new school.

The coolest part about sending a six year old off to grundschule is the German tradition of the schultueten. It’s a tradition that celebrates the child’s ‘graduation’ from kindergarten to formal schooling. Each six year old carries with them to their first day of school this massive cone filled with presents, school supplies, candies, and other fun stuff. The children create and decorate them when they’re still in kindergarten and it’s a chance for their kindergarten teachers to kind of send them off with pride and adoration as they help a great deal in the creation of the schultueten.

DSCN5749Ready with their backpacks and their cones.

It’s a big deal to start school around here, not unlike in the States. Back home, however, kindergarten is just approached with excitement (and/or caution) by teary-eyed parents and terrified yet eager five year olds. Of course, the similiarites abound but since I can’t remember my first day of kindergarten being celebrated lavishly, I think it’s safe to say that grundschule  is kind of a big deal and I can live vicariously through my au pair charges.

Take this household, for example. The Frau has been preparing for this day since long before I even arrived. She was telling me about it on the phone in November, just before she officially offered me the job. Mostly so that she could make sure I would be willing to wake up before seven every day but hey, she was planning ahead and working her au pair around the girls’ school schedule. Smart! She’s been back and forth to IKEA buying (or thinking about buying) school desks and chairs and other stores for various school supplies and utilities. She’s asked me at least four times over the course of the summer if I think that the girls will have a lot of homework. The extent of their homework will be coloring learning pages and writing their letters. Hopefully I’ve assuaged her worries with my extensive knowledge on primary school homework loads. Ha. She also bought them fancy school bags. And about two months ago she made reservations at Seehaus for lunch on their first day of school. When she told me about all of this – I was kind of confused, “Why is she making such a big deal? It’s just school. I didn’t get to go to lunch on my first day.”  Now that the day has passed and the excitement is over, I get it.

The girls had their first day of real school! That’s exciting. It’s all new to them – it’s the beginning of their formal education. We celebrated with a delicious and extremely fancy lunch at Seehaus. I had pork medallions with roasted mushrooms, carrots, squash, broccoli, and spaghettini. It came in at 21,50 EUR. Mr. Frau ordered a beef fillet that cost almost 30 EUR. A six year old alone had a 22 EUR wiener schnitzel. This place is ritzy. I sneaked a peek at the final bill – nearly 300 EUR for the nine of us (plus two sets of Oma’s and Opa’s). Fancy pants! And delicious! I am really living the life. I bet my parents took me to Dairy Queen after school. $2 for a hot fudge sundae and a pat on the back. “Good job, Heather. You passed preschool!”

I’m so happy for and proud of die kinder. They had such a fun day and got a lot of fun stuff. They now have the weirdest most unattractive European Ken dolls I’ve ever seen and more candy than they need to consume before bedtime tonight or any night thereafter. After lunch, the four of us (me and the Frau and the twins) took a paddle boat out on the see (AKA lake) and Eenie and Vee spent 80% of the time fighting and crying over who was peddling first or faster or too slow. You know, the usual fun. (Also, note to self: those paddle boats are a good date idea should I ever find a handsome German boy to take me out. Heh.) Their special day is over and I have experienced yet another milestone with the girls and now we move on until the next exciting thing. From now on I’ll be waking up 6:30 everyday and showing them out the door at quarter to eight. Then it’s back to bed for me.

I love back to school season. :)

DSCN5768Me and my girlies and the cracked out Ken doll


Ellen said...

How about a close-up of the weird Ken doll? Can't see him very well...

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