Last October I wrote this post about why my son is in German school instead of the American school on base. http://gap-runner.blogspot.com/2010/10/german-school.html The more I think about the decision that I made back in 2005 to enroll my son in Geman school, the happier I am with it. I think that many American helicopter parents would be shocked at what German kids do in their schools. Some of the things that German kids do in school would be a helicopter parent's worst nightmare. Kids here are encouraged to be independent and responsible for themselves at an early age.
When my son was in kindergarten (preschool), I was required to pick him up. If a friend who didn't have children in the kindergarten was picking him up, I had to write a note informing the teacher. If he was going home with a classmate, I just had to tell the teacher. But once kids get into school, the teachers let the kids go on their own. When my son was in first grade, he was planning to go home with a friend in another class. I told the teacher when I dropped him off in the morning. Her response was, "He's in school now. You don't need to tell me." Kids here walk to school and back home on their own starting in first grade. During their last year of kindergarten they learn about traffic safety and practice crossing streets with a policeman and their teachers. In fact, when I was picking my son up from school today, I saw a group of kindergartners with their teachers practicing street crossing.
In second grade my son's class was studying the "food wheel," which is the German equivalent of the US food pyramid. When the teacher talked about different fruits, the class walked to the Friday open market in the town pedestrian zone. When everyone got to the market, the class was split into five groups. Each group had a list of fruit that they were supposed to buy along with money that the parents had provided. The teacher set the groups loose in the market and told them to meet back at a certain place with their fruit. Imagine groups of 7 and 8-year-olds by themselves in an open market with only one teacher. After the kids walked back to class, they cut up their fruit with real knives and made a fruit salad. A week or two later the class talked about vegetables. Again, the kids went in groups to the open market to buy vegetables. When they got back to class that day, they made vegetable soup. I can't imagine this sort of activity in an American school. I'm sure that each group would require at least one parent supervising the kids. The kids probably wouldn't be allowed to handle the money or the sharp knives. The kids practiced real world math skills by subtracting the cost of their fruits and vegetables from the amount of money they started with. They also practiced reading recipes and handling kitchen equipment. In addition, they practiced being responsible by meeting the teacher at a designated time and place.
German kids seem to take more school field trips than Americans. At the beginning and ending of every school year, each class goes on a hike. From third grade on, only teachers accompany the class. As the kids get older, the hikes get longer. If the weather is bad, the kids still go hiking; they just wear their rain gear. Every year my son's classes have gone to the local theater to see a play. In third grade my son's class studied the history of Garmisch. The class went to various sites in town and learned their history. Next month my son's music class will walk to one of the local churches to see the organ. What's interesting about German schools is that parents don't have to sign permission slips for field trips. The teacher sends a notice home about an upcoming trip which explains when and what it is and if the kids need to bring anything (money, snack).
My son's favorite school activity was a 5-day, 4-night trip to the Schullandheim, which is a big farmhouse somewhere between Garmisch and Munich. Fifth graders in all of the area's Gymnasiums go there. The class is accompanied by two teachers and the five 10th graders who are assigned to that class to help the new 5th graders get oriented to the school. The 5th graders sleep six to a room; the teachers and 10th graders have separate sleeping areas. Each group of six has its own bathroom. The groups are responsible for keeping their rooms and the bathrooms clean. In the morning there were planned activities: different types of hikes, helping out at the farm next door, or baking cookies. Afternoons were for free play or reading. I can't imagine anything like this in the States. Let's see, there are: kids sleeping without an adult in the room, boys tackling each other when playing American football and soccer during afternoon free play time, kids getting dirty and wet, kids staying up as late as they wanted, and only two adults supervising approximately 25 kids.
As I said above, kids start walking to school by themselves in first grade. In 4th grade they have a class in bike safety. Once they pass a written and performance test, they can ride their bikes to school on their own. Secondary school starts in 5th grade. Many of the smaller towns and villages don't have a secondary school.
Secondary school students from those areas either take the train or ride a public bus to school. In larger cities, like Munich, kids ride the U-Bahn (subway) to school by themselves starting in 5th grade. My son's school is about 2.5 kilometers from my house. When the weather is nice, he and his friends meet up and ride their bikes to school and back home. They call each other and make the arrangements themselves.
I like the fact that the schools here encourage independence. When my son finishes school, I can be assured that he will be a confident and competent young man because of his school experiences.