Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lost Boys

Another story that may expain why Germany isn't doing as well as they would like in the international scholastic rankings.

Background info: Kids here start kindergarten when they are three years old and continue until they are six. Although German kindergarten encompasses that last year most other countries consider kindergarten, the year before first grade, children are not taught ANY letters, reading, writing or math.

Our kindergarten is very proud of a program they carry out about once every three years.

They take away all of the toys, all of the previously scheduled activities such as circle time, singing and arts and crafts, and basically all of the daily routine and structure that the kids have gotten used to. All of the toys, including paper and crayons, wooden blocks, dressup and make-believe.

Then they just sit and let the kids run wild.

The first year Ryan and Andrew participated in the program (because its either that or keep them home for three months) I went to the parents night and watched a film on the successes of the program. The film showed children eating their snacks on the floor, building forts out of the furniture, stacking the chairs to reach the ceiling (these were three and four year olds) and jumping off the tables.

The teachers were beaming with pride.

I was more skeptical. All I could think was that five to six year old children in the USA and England and just about everywhere else in the world were sitting and learning the alphabet, counting, early reading, and basic manners. And my six year old was going to learn how to jump on the furniture. Honestly, she could do that at home!

Germans are really really scared to let the kids learn anything at all in kindergarten. It is strictly taboo. Ostensibly this is because they want the kids to be kids a while longer. They don't want to pressure them too soon. Problem being that most of the five year olds I know are INTERESTED in learning; what a perfect time to start. And hey - news alert to Germany - learning doesn't have to be boring, drudge work. IT CAN BE FUN.

I don't see the point of letting the kids run around wild until first grade and then - bammo - smacking them with how hard school work has to be. Great, you bought em that extra year. How about making the next twelve more liveable too?

I honestly think the main reason they won't introduce the alphabet and reading and math preparedness into the German kindergartens is because they don't have the money. The kindergarten teachers are not certified teachers. They are nursery school providers. And to restructure that system is going to cost a lot of cash.

Instead, German kids start at least a year behind the rest of the world, go to school half the day, and have a two week vacation every 6 weeks. Yeah, that's working.

I digress. Back to the kindergarten with no toys and kids jumping off the tables and stacking chairs. I actually agree with the basic premise of the program. It is meant to foster independence, creativity, improve language skills and prevent drug addiction. This later because the kids are forced to use their minds and really on themselves, not on external substances (the toys) for enjoyment. It's very 70s, very free-thinking liberal hippy-type stuff. So I SHOULD really like it.

Problem is that the kids run wild. For THREE months. And the teachers sit and drink coffee. Because, you see, the kids are supposed to be doing all this on their own. The teachers are supposed to step back. That's apparently the whole point.

Tuesday Aidan and Matthew both came home in completely different outfits than they left home in because they were discovered - too late - playing in the bathroom sinks with their two best buddies Lukas and Baris. All four boys and the entire bathroom floor was soaked. They must have been having a blast in there. Frankly, I'm proud. Certainly creative. Certainly independent. And lots and lots of fun. Whose fault is it that nobodly missed FOUR three and half year old boys long enought to notice they were flooding the bathroom?!

Today we were informed that Aidan and Matthew went missing for a bit and were the subject of a frantic kindergarten-wide twin hunt. Until it was discovered that they had both taken off their slippers, put on their winter boots and winter jackets and marched out the front door to play on the playground. Once again, independent and creative. The boys saw nothing wrong with it. After all, they had't sneaked out. And they have had all the usual rules thrown out the window. And, once again, where were the SIX adults in the building when TWO of the children were able to take the time to change outfits in the central lobby and march calmly right out the door?

I'm pretty impressed with the project.
Can't wait to see what my creative, independent spirits come up with next.


  1. I remember that! Yes, it was a bit hippie-ish. But have you listened to the radio stations here? They have FINALLY stopped playing ABBA every 20 minutes. Today I threw the radio out the window. I endured Pat Benatar, but drew the line at the Bee Gees. (They sound like chipmunks... actually maybe they were chipmunks.) But back to the STUPID "P├Ądagogische" no toy thing.
    One kid managed to tip over a HUGE wardrobe onto several other kids. Luckily, they were building a fort out of the furniture cushions.
    And Patrick (surprise, surprise) went more than outside to play. He and Philip (yes, the one that helped him "Tag" the town with my Sharpie markers) Left Kindi and came home. After an hour I called them, since they hadn't called me... to say he was home. He was three. THREE! Holy crap.
    We had French exchange students here last week. It was a PARTY VACATION for them! Party, party, party. They have to go to school until six o'clock - then do homework. and if they play a sport...
    Okay, I guess it goes to show you how desperate we are to just get those little darlins out of our hair for a few hours. Enjoy the kindergarten years. They are only in School until 11:20 on some days!

  2. Wonder why they are so against home-schooling when they really don't seem to want to teach the kids themselves!!!