The word in today's post used to make me cringe. I come from the US, where children attend Kindergarten at 5 years old. American Kindergarten is traditionally the first year of school, and is treated as such. I work in a private school here, where until I left for maternity leave, there was more of a preschool, and a Senior Kindergarten. Senior Kindergarten was much like US Kindergarten, and treated as the big push to get kids ready for first grade, get them reading and writing. Coming from my two different backgrounds, I bring a much different experience than your average person living here in Germany. Here, your child goes to Kindergarten, a state run center that is entirely separate from school, at age three. Of course, as times are changing, more and more Kindergartens are accepting children from the age of 1, and I believe that the government is passing laws to require Kindergarten spots from 6 months on. Kindergarten here is not preschool. Academics are not the focus. From talking to many German moms, I've figured out that lots of people view Kindergarten here as a place for social interaction and growth.
I admit, for years, German Kindergarten was a big, scary, totally off-putting idea. After moving here, I thought, "when I have a child, we'll have to look into something private." Then, I started working at an international school. Our school has a wonderful early years program. Its really a place where I would want a child to attend. They had, until recently, small groups run by teachers, a traditional 3 year old class, a 4 year old class, and a 5 year old class. English is the instructional language and there is lots of support offered to children who are not native English speakers. Being an international school, we embrace multi-culturalism, and strive to teach children understanding and compassion, and allow each child to express themselves and their culture constantly. I thought "this is the place for my kid."
Then, we had a kid, and all of a sudden, I realized that the choice wasn't so simple. Yes, the international school offers some really wonderful perks. But, I also realized that the international school is not reality. My child is going to grow up in a town, kind of far from Stuttgart, yet, if he attends the international school, will he get to know the other kids in the town? Sure, he can join sports teams here, but its not really the same. Fortunately, I had a few years to make a decision. Of course, my decision was made a little simpler by the fact that the international school runs like a school, meaning that they use the age cut-off in the state of Baden-Württemberg. In order for Ryan to start at the international school, he would need to turn 3 before 1 October. Obviously, with a December birthday, Ryan will not be able to start at the international school until September, 2015.
With my return to work the day before Ryan's third birthday, we needed another option anyway.
Knowing that there were many factors in our decision, Joern and I visited Kindergartens in our town. I have to admit, I wasn't very confident that we'd find a really good fit here in town. Our first visit was to a more traditional Kindergarten. It was nice. There are 46 kids from age 1- 6 in the first Kindergarten. There are 4 teachers for the 3-6 year olds, who have pretty much free run of almost the entire building. The Kindergarten building is big, with separate rooms for different activities. There was an art/ messy room, room, a pretend room (with dress up clothes and dolls,) and a movement room with construction blocks and a movement area. The outside is large and there was a nice play area. The teacher who showed us around was nice and open, and surprisingly, a man. Ryan said he liked the Kindergarten. And overall, it was good. Plus, this Kindergarten is open all day, which makes life much easier as a working parent.
We heard really good things about another Kindergarten in the town, and I really wanted to visit the second Kindergarten before making any decisions. So, we made an appointment, and visited Kindergarten #2. Turns out Kindergarten #2 is seriously, like Kindergarten Heaven. This Kindergarten has space for 25 children, max, but at the moment has 18 kids. There are two teachers, but since the building is shared with the town's after-school care program, there are always more adults in the building. Although the building is not very large, it is extremely bright and the outside play area is flat and beautiful. There is lots of room for kids to play and the layout makes it simple to watch the kids as they go about their morning. I really like the head teacher in the Kindergarten, she and I seem to have similar views on kids and the approach to Kindergarten.
The day runs pretty much like your average Kindergarten. Kids arrive any time between 7:30 and 8:45, and have time to play. At 9:00, the kids tidy up and move to circle time. This is something else I like a lot about the smaller Kindergarten. A circle with 25 kids is easier to manage than one with 46 kids. Circle time in Ryan's Kindergarten has lots of singing and musical instruments. After circle time, all the kids have snack together. After snack, the kids have: sport on Monday, free play on Tuesday through Thursday, and nature walks on Friday. Its all really nice.
We decided for Kindergarten #2, which then meant getting special permission to start a little early. Ryan's Kindergarten is only for children over 3, but since he's almost 3, and potty-trained, it wasn't too much of an issue. Surprisingly, the approval came pretty quickly, and Ryan was able to start Kindergarten in early October. Its been a fun ride since, but he's going remarkably well! I'm very, very proud of my little boy!