CONTRIBUTED BY KARI MARTINDALE
Note: This is part two of Kari’s explanation of German Kindergarten and guide to help you figure out if it’s a good match for your child. In Part One, Kari shared some points about German Kindergarten to take into consideration when making the decision about where to send your child.
FINDING A KINDERGARTEN
Fortunately, if you don’t have someone who can help you, it’s as simple as just googling “Kindergarten” and your town name. You should be able to locate the address, phone and email address even if you don’t read German. If you do not speak German, you might be better off walking in, because emails are not always answered in a timely manner and might not be answered at all if sent in English.
Costs vary among Kindergartens and locations.
There might be a waiting list. If you have to get onto waiting lists, get on as many as necessary—and if you don’t hear back for a while, don’t get too discouraged. My friend had already placed her son in a Kindergarten when three months later, a Kindergarten where he’d been wait-listed called back! It might take some time, but you never know when your name might come up.
Questions to ask might include:
- Free-play or curriculum?
- Half-day or full-day?
- If full-day, is there an available lunch slot (no, it is not a given that a child in both morning and afternoon Kindergarten can stay for lunch).
- Is breakfast included or do you need to pack breakfast?
- What is security like? Do you notify parents when leaving the school property? Are children supervised when playing outside? (The answer is not always yes!)
- Are children separated by age, especially the Schulanfanger students?
ENROLLING IN KINDERGARTEN
Once you’ve found the right Kindergarten for your child, ask what they need from you. If they ask about any documentation that is unfamiliar to you, seek help from your base support system. The German liaison in your legal department can help answer questions about what kind of information you are/are not required to register with the German government.
Note: if your child is a Schulanfänger and your Kindergarten is located in a state that contributes to the Schulanfänger year Kindergarten fees, contact your German liaison office to inquire as to how to handle this.
Next comes the physical. In our case, we decided to use a German pediatrician (who speaks English) because we wanted to stay local and because we knew that it would be easier dealing with things like Doctor’s notes when it came to my daughter’s asthma. The doctor just verified which immunizations Sequoia did/didn’t have and gave her a routine physical, then filled out a school physical card that I turned in to the Kindergarten on Sequoia’s first day.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A SCHULANFÄNGER?
A Schulanfänger is a child who is going to start the first grade in the coming fall (now referred to as a “rising first grader” in the States, the English translation of Schulanfänger is ‘school beginner’).
Being a Schulanfänger is a very exciting time for a child in Germany. As first grade approaches, everyone in town treats the child with the due respect such an important milestone merits.
As my daughter approached first grade, the Kindergarten sent home notices about events taking place. Some of these were informing me of upcoming Schulanfänger activities, whereas some outlined important dates such as parent night at the elementary school or the school physical and interview.
Although typically the children in the Kindergarten are not separated by age, Schulanfänger in our Kindergarten were sometimes pulled aside to spend time together, often learning from their environment. In the spring, the Schulanfänger took walks and enjoyed activities just for Schulanfänger, and at the end of the year, the Schulanfänger took a field trip to the zoo in Darmstadt.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL INTERVIEW
Schulanfänger can be scheduled for a physical and psychologist interview to ensure they are ready to enter first grade. It is a very typical testing situation.
Hearing, eyesight, height and weight
Drawing the same image you see on the paper, etc. – similar to development tests some pediatricians give; other typical developmental tests.
Linguistic test (the most significant for a non-native speaker just learning German). This involved naming pictures as well as more difficult tasks such as figuring out what sound was missing in a word. In the simplest of terms, an English-speaking psychologist might say “ungry” looking for the child to pronounce the H. The missing sound could occur anywhere in the word.
THE END OF KINDERGARTEN
At the end of the year, the children in my daughter’s Kindergarten made their own Schultüte, which is a large cone that a family member (e.g. parents, grandparents, or Godparents) fills with candy and treats. You can see hers in the picture above. Although you can buy a Schultüte at the store, it is customary for one to be homemade. Not all schools have the kids make one; I have heard that this is a new trend.
Toward the end of the year, they held a Schulanfänger sleepover at the school. It is a long-standing tradition in our town. It is not unheard of for children at young ages to participate in activities that require more independence than the activities in the States.
Just before my daughter left Kindergarten, I attended a parent-teacher conference, at which time the teacher told me about my daughter’s progress and gave me a portfolio of her time there. It was filled with some of her drawings, pictures of class activities, and stories about some of the Schulanfänger events. The teacher had typed a full-page letter about my daughter’s time with her, and there was a clear insert for sliding in the yearbook-style page of photos of her teachers, all signed with their best wishes for first grade. (On the last day of school, all the Schulanfänger ran around collecting signatures.)
On that last day at my daughter’s Kindergarten, it was tradition to physically throw the Schulanfänger out of Kindergarten. The teachers were done with them!
The Schulanfänger experience is unique—one a child is lucky to experience if they spend that period of their childhood in Germany. But one of the best parts of sending your child to a German school? Your child will get to participate in community activities instead of being a bystander or not even knowing the events are taking place. During Martinstag, Sequoia carried her lantern in the procession in the Marktplatz with all of her classmates (then we all went back to the Kindergarten, where we sang songs and drank beer and gluhwein because that’s how the Germans do). She was too shy to participate in last year’s children’s Karneval parade, although she will this year—how exciting, for your child to be a part of Karneval and not just watching from the sidelines!
We personally experienced several months of frustration and feelings of loneliness—both Sequoia and I—as we muddled through not knowing the language or anyone around us. But after Sequoia made a breakthrough with her language and then began making friends, it was worth the first few months of heartache. For our family, the decision to send Sequoia to German Kindergarten was right for us. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision.