Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Inquiring Minds

One of the greatest challenges and stresses I have encountered in our move to Germany is education.  After speaking with many homeschoolers I have come to realize this is sort of a right of passage for new homeschooling parents.  I constantly question what I am doing and what I should be doing.  Days and nights are filled with research on different curriculums, books, ideas, and approaches. 

Needless to say I would have to say things have been extremely successful.  The three older kiddos have been devouring all the Math, Reading, Science, and History they can get their mitts on.  We have thrown all three kids in all kinds of extracurricular activities from STEM classes offered through the USO to dance and sports.  I have truly enjoyed this opportunity that has been granted to us.   I have previously stated that homeschooling is not necessarily our first choice, but for quite some time felt it was the best choice.  I feel incredibly grateful this opportunity was granted to us while we adjusted to life in Germany.  We have definitely met some incredible people and broadened our perspective on life and education.  However, as life goes on, things change.  

As much as we enjoy homeschooling, I cannot help but feel there is something more out there that would benefit our children more than spending their days at home with me.  I like to think I am a free thinking parent who does not try to mold my children to my way of thinking.  I try desperately to expose my children to different ideas, beliefs, and perspectives.

About a month ago Daniel and I started to throw around the idea of enrolling the children in the German public schools.  I have met many people that have done so, however most of those children started in the German Kindergartens and have moved their way up through.  I decided the best idea would be to go and speak with the school and see what their experiences have been. 

The school informed me they have had many English speaking students come and go through their school.  Most English speaking students integrate into the school in the first, second and third grades.  Most first, second and third graders are speaking fluently after six months.   I had one fourth grade teacher tell me she had one child come into the school in the fourth grade with no German language skills under his belt. She said in cases like these, it is more than likely that the child may have to repeat the grade while learning the language.  

The prospect of possibly repeating the fourth grade concerned me as we do not want to discourage Teddy's progress in school, however this is also an opportunity most people will never get their whole lives.  After speaking with the staff, as well as my dear sister-in-law Katie (with an abundance of foreign language education experience and knowledge), we decided to enroll Teddy and Patrick and re-evaluate after 6 months.  Rowan will start next year in the first grade.  

Classes are a max of 20 students.  There are British, Norwegian, Belgian, Dutch, French, Polish, Russian, Italian, African and German students.  School starts at 7:50.  The children get a morning "breakfast" break and morning play time.  Patrick's day ends at 11am where he is served a hot lunch with all his classmates.  Following lunch, the children can either go home or play until 2 on the playground.  "Sports" class (Physical Education) and German second language class are both twice a week.  Teddy's class goes until 1pm.  He is then served a hot lunch and proceeds to the playground.  Both boys could come home at 11 and 1pm respectively, however the school informed me they will acquire the language much more quickly if they stay and play with the other children.  At 2pm the boys walk the three blocks together back to our house.

The first day the boys were extremely excited.  I was incredibly relieved when I saw how welcoming all the other students and the teachers were to our boys.  Both boys were surrounding by all the curious students of their class.  It was heart warming to hear all the students introducing themselves to the boys and see their interest in meeting them.  Some children only speak German, however there are quite a handful that are bi and even multi-lingual.  

I arrived at 2pm promptly to walk the boys home from school.  Patrick told me to come back at 4 (he was having too much fun). There were children playing soccer on the field, while others were jetting around the playground on scooters and peddle carts.  One thing that warms my heart about Germany is the children play for what seems a great deal longer than other cultures.  German culture seems to embrace youth, innocence, and play for just a little longer than what I have otherwise witnessed. 

When the boys and I exited the gate on the playground, several children called from across the school yard, "Bye Teddy!  Bye Patrick!  Tschuss!"  It was amazing how much interest some of these kids had in the boys and how quickly they all seemed to warm up to one another.

The boys told me they had made several good friends on their very first day.  

With any change comes the good and the not so good.  Teddy has told us his class is sometimes boring.  Patrick has not complained about anything.  However both boys are incredibly satisfied with the friends and social nature of the school.  

Patrick came home yesterday singing a German song the class sings every day.  He is slowly picking up the lyrics.  Teddy came home telling me how to say "I am from Weilerbach."  He also said he learned how to say "shit head."  Apparently 9 and 10 year old boy behavior does not vary too much from American to German culture.  He said during German class, the teacher stepped out and a little boy named Dakota in his German class said something that made several other boys giggle.  The boy sitting next to him quickly informed Teddy what was said to keep him abreast of this terminology.  Thanks, Dakota.

The boys are in the middle of their second week.  So far so good.  Teddy brings home a small piece of Math homework each evening.   The nice thing is we just have to translate the directions.  Math is the same in every language. We just pull out our google translate and figure out what we are supposed to do.   We are incredibly eager to see where they are at in 2, 4 and 6 months.  

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