Olivia ist ein Schulkind!
I feel like I should write this blog entry in German, since so much of what we experienced with Olivia’s “Einschulung” or “entry into school” was wrapped in German tradition. But I know that nearly all of my (dare I say “faithful?”) blog readers are English speakers, so I’ll spare you the pain — not to mention sparing my German friends the pain of my not-quite-so-perfect German 🙂
Well, first off, kids officially start school here in the first grade. From about 3 to 6 or 7 years of age is the time of Kindergarten which is similar to pre-school and day care mixed together. Olivia said good-bye to her friends of three years at the kindergarten with some sadness, but with the promise of seeing them again–it’s a blessing that her younger brother is still there as an excuse to go back and visit!
It’s hard to summarize everything, but I’ll give you a short list of things to expect when your child starts school (at least here in Saxony):
Registration: You must register your child nearly a year in advance–there is a special time to register your child with a school in your area. A list is sent to your house and you choose. Or you go through the process of “unregistering” with your area and choosing a private school or, in our case, a state run school that is open to all areas of the city. We chose a school recommended to us (we know a teacher there) for their good reputation, fine arts program and the fact that they emphasize French instead of English.
Schulranzen: During this year you have plenty of time to pick out what is called a Schulranzen or state-of-the-art backpack. But don’t let Olivia hear you call it a mere backpack–she corrects me every time I do this–and in all fairness, it’s much more than a backpack. And buying one is rather like picking out a car. There are many factors to consider–according to the sales people, teachers, veteran parents and the like. This is not to be taken lightly! The weight of the backpack must be between 900 and 1200 grams, depending on the weight of your child. The height and width must fall between the base of the neck, the top of the hips and be in line with the shoulders (no, I’m not kidding). Reflectors must be on the backpack by law. There should be padded straps, molded backing and …and, and… I also received advice such as “don’t go with pink! It’ll go out of style and you’ll be stuck with it!” “Order it online, it’s cheaper!” “Order it at this store, it’s cheaper!” “Buy her the one SHE wants, it’ll be easier on your relationship” “Buy her the one YOU want, you know what’s best anyway.” And so on and so forth. In the end, Olivia’s Kindergarten teacher solved this mess for us for better or for worse–she sent her home with a catalog. By the time she got home, she had picked out the one she wanted and no matter how many times we discussed different options in the months to come, she did not change her mind. In the end we all agreed–it was the chosen Schulranzen!
Zuckertüte: We were also informed that every child MUST receive a Schultüte or in Saxony, a Zuckertüte. It’s the big cone thing that you see in the pictures. As the name Zuckertüte implies, it’s mostly filled with sweets. We opted for the more modern idea of filling it with presents that weren’t all sweets 🙂 A Zuckertüte is REQUIRED!!!! Not by law but by the forces of nature that govern German society. I heard of a Korean family who was not aware of this most important tradition and upon hearing this a week before school started, our friend Sarah insisted she take the mother to the store to pick out a Zuckertüte and stuff to fill it! We got enough hints from Olivia (stores were saturated with them) to pick out the right one. She was not allowed to see it before the official “welcome day.”
Elternabend (parents’ evening): Parents are invited during the summer to a meeting to meet the teacher and get “everything-you-need-to-know” speech. We got a number of hand-outs (some of which we understood), lots of advice (some of which we used) and a general knowledge of the school’s program.
Schulanfang (beginning of school):It’s traditional that the school holds a welcome day the Saturday before the Monday of the first day of school. On this day, we dropped off the Zuckertüte in the designated area (you can see it above), then made our way over to the auditorium where we left Olivia outside to enter with her class. She has 24 classmates and her teacher, Frau Weisse, knew everyone’s name by sight! Over the summer, she had requested pictures and a letter from each student. She obviously had studied them and I was impressed. We went in and sat down for the show. The paparazzi in the form of overenthusiast parents was present up front and center. I took my fair share of pictures, but due to low batteries and my reaction to how crazy all the parents looked, I took shots from my seat. The older students did a show, the principal said some words and then they had each kid come up on stage by name to stand with their class and receive a rose. I thought that was pretty cool. Olivia’s school is called “am Rosengarten” or “at the rose garten” since it’s located at the end of the Rose Garden in Dresden. It’s close to the Elbe and has a wonderful view of the Dresden skyline. Afterwards, the kids went with their teacher to tour their classroom while the parents heard some more unsolicited advice and then went to await the release of their children. The kids came out, paused for a photo op and then went to search for their Zuckertüten which had been placed outside in a special arrangement on the ground (traditionally they’re hung from a tree, but they were too heavy!). Olivia found hers no problem-she has a magnetic attraction to princesses 🙂 – and we went home to prepare for the big bash. I must also mention here that as soon as Olivia heard she was to dress nicely for this big day, she picked out her butterfly dress that Oma made her-way to go, Oma!
Schulanfangsfeier (beginning of school party):In the afternoon, traditionally the extended family comes over and celebrates, but since we unfortunately don’t have any of our beloved ones on this side of the ocean, we invited friends! We had a great time playing games, grilling, eating and Olivia received way too much candy in the form of more zuckertüten! You can see all of our photos on our flickr site.
On Monday, Olivia arrived and settled into her class really well. Her fears of not finding friends were relieved on Wednesday when she met a classmate named Emma and by Friday, she barely looked back when she entered the class. She’s been telling us she’s having a great time at school and we’ll see if it lasts when she gets home work next week 🙂
So, to all of those great kids out there, starting school or going back to school, we wish you the best on your learning adventures this year!