Most parents of children starting Swiss Kindergarten this year will have attended their schools information event. Since these events are a.) in the national language and b.) offer little meaningful information to parents not familiar with the Swiss school system, Expats parents are left to wonder what to expect. This blog sheds some light on all things Kindergarten.
Walking to school…
First of all the, thorny question about the ‘Schulweg’ (way to school).
Most parents are quite familiar with the daily procession of what seems like very young children on their way to school and might think “not MY child”. They will also have heard about all these horrible Swiss Kindergarten teachers practically forcing parents to let their 4-year olds walk alone to school.
So, do children HAVE to walk to school? Whilst it is true that teachers encourage children to walk to school by themselves, this is by no means compulsory. In the first weeks of Kindergarten, Swiss parents will usually take turns to walk a group of children in the neighbourhood. After several weeks or months, the same group of Swiss Kindergarten children usually start walking by themselves. You might want to find out where children (and parents) meet in the morning and join them. In all Kindergartens, children will have a road safety training in the first weeks the terms. This is not to say that all Swiss parents are happy to let their Kindergardener walk alone if the school is in a busy neighbourhood. However, Swiss parents will worry about road safety rather than stranger danger.
The teacher might tell you that the child should walk alone, but ultimately, this is your decision. So, do not feel under pressure! But do walk your child, don’t drive it! Also keep in mind that the way to school is where children socialise and arrange playdates. And if you are the only parent walking her child, your child might feel like being the ‘odd one out’.
Your child will be taught in mixed-age classes, meaning that first-year Kindergarten children will be in a class with second-year Kindergarten children. The class size may vary between 16-24 children with the average class size being 18 children.
Unlike other countries, Swiss Kindergarten is about social and cognitive rather than academic development. The morning usually starts with circle time, followed by group activities, such as crafts or experiments and reading, singing, morning snack and some free play. Children attend sports classes one or twice a week. Some pre-math’s and pre-reading skills are taught in second year. As one mum from the US puts it:
‘Kindergarten seems to prepare the children for primary school rather than focusing on teaching letters and numbers and so on. The kids learn how to behave on field trips, color, draw, write, cut, sit still, pay attention and so much more. I was pretty amazed by the whole process. Once first grade starts, the kids are ready to learn and know how they (should! ) behave in class’.
What to take
In Kindergarten, children will need a small lunch-bag (‘Znünibag’), a sports bag (Turnsäckli or -täschli) and sports clothes, indoor shoes and a healthy morning snack. In some schools, parents will be asked to provide a painting apron (Malschürze). On their first day of Kindergarten, they usually receive a fluorescent safety ‘V’ to wear on their way to school. Children will have outdoor activities or even a weekly forest morning in all weathers so make sure you have muddy trousers, raincoat and snow gear ready!