Will’s first day in German Kindergarten was yesterday. While he and I waited at the bus stop for Elise to be picked up, one of the German moms asked me what Kindergarten was in English. I explained that it is the same word in both languages. But despite the fact that we have taken the German’s word for Kindergarten, I do not think that our US Kindergartens resemble the ones in Germany.
I was scheduled this morning to go with Will for a shortened morning and stay with him from 10-11:30 to make sure he was comfortable. But by about 10:15, after I had been given the tour, the teacher told me she thought Will was doing fine and I was free to leave. She gave me a full report when I came to pick him up at 12, including a list of all the things he had done and what he had eaten. Even though Will doesn’t seem to need the extra slow start to get acclimated, I do appreciate that they are taking the care to make sure both mom and child are feeling good about the transition.
German Kindergarten appears to be closer in likeness to a US preschool or daycare. The normal Kindergarten hours are from 9-12 each weekday. But they do allow extended hours for a higher price for parents who wish their kids to be watched all day. The Kindergarten hours have very little structure to them. From what I can gather from observation, the intent of Kindergarten is to give kids a safe place to explore their world by themselves with very little intervention. I assume the expectation is that they will learn social skills, creativity, and self-expression.
Shortly after 9 when the majority of the kids are dropped off, there is a circle time which includes songs and some structured learning, such as the calendar. This only last for about 15 minutes I believe and then they are all free to explore any of the rooms in the building. I got the tour today when I took Will for his first day. His group officially starts in the toy room (it’s not actually called this, but I don’t remember the name). Basically the room is filled with all sorts of creative building and imaginative toys. The other rooms are the role-playing room (full of costumes, toy kitchen, etc), the painting room, and the game room (which includes games and books). There is also a gym, but I think the use of that is more scheduled. Last, but not least is the kitchen, which is open until 11. The children are encouraged to go to the kitchen when they are hungry and fill their own plates with a snack. There is always adult supervision in all of the rooms and each “group” of kids has two teachers assigned to them. But in general it seems that the kids are allowed to order their own play.
There is also a large playground outside called the “garden.” I think that was Will’s favorite part as there was lots of slushy snow this morning to play in. The children are all required to have snow or rain gear and boots if they want to go outside, which is nice because otherwise I am sure Will would have come home very wet, based on the stories he was telling me from his outdoor play.
Our hope for Will in Kindergarten is that despite the fact that this is not very like “school,” the scheduled away time from home each morning will help prepare him for 1st grade next year. We also hope he’ll start picking up some German from the teachers and the other German kids. And of course, as our kids get involved in the community, it gives us a chance to meet German families and get outside of our little circle.