This post was meant for Mid-August, as it is about the first day of school! It did not happen then, because my Grandmother passed away around that time. You read it right, my American readers. School started again -in this region of Germany- 12th of August, after the traditional six weeks summer break! In Germany, every state has a little variation in the timing of summer, fall and spring vacation to avoid traffic. To compare, in Belgium, it is eight weeks, with schools ending last day of June and starting again first day of september for the whole country, causing major traffic jams when everyone starts driving to France. Compared to Belgium, spring and fall vacations are longer in Germany. And for my European readers, summer vacation in the States lasts up to three full months, driving mostly moms insane.
And while I am comparing countries, let’s add the question of how to entertain those children, while mommy is working. The first two weeks of summer vacation, Janne’s school organized day camp with local clubs each taking care of a day program. As a result, Janne enjoyed street dance, cooking class, archery and crafting classes. Two more weeks were filled with day camps in a nearby town: a canoeing and crafts week and a bug week. Forty euros a week, breakfast and lunch included. In the States, I remember the incredible variety of day camps, but so were the prices. (Please share in the comments how much summer camps set you back this year just to shock my European readers!)
All this as a prelude to write about a traditional German celebration: Einschulung! It translates as the ‘School Enrollment Celebration’. But this is not a party for the poor exhausted mom who had to entertain her kids for weeks on end. At least, not exclusively. This is a party for the six-year old newcomers who are finally enrolled into the new big school where they will learn how to read and write.
Preschool in Germany runs from the ages two until five/six (and as such including the American Kindergarten year). They are often set at a different location than ground school. In their last year of preschool, the oldest kids are getting ‘prepped’ to transition into the new ‘big’ school. But it does not involve learning how to read and write. It means making them excited about learning. And as a parent, you do your part by buying a completely overpriced school bag with all its accessories and by making a ‘Schultüte’, a school cone, which is a ridiculously big and decorated cone, filled with candy, toys and school supplies. I didn’t know this yet when Janne started school here, but by now I had learnt that a true mom crafts this school cone herself.
The very first day of a new school year, all students prepare songs and sketches to welcome the newcomers, while the newcomers enjoy their last day of ignorance at home. And then, after weeks, months of anticipation, the big day finally arrives. Parents and family have taken time off for this very special day and get all dressed up. And the school newbie finally gets to wear his new school bag. He also finally gets his hands on his school cone, which he carries around all day like a trofee.
Around nine, we headed to church to enjoy the ecumenical service with the whole school (which is by no means obligatory). After that, we walked to the playground where the newcomers and the parents sat down, while every class presented a song. After the show, every new kid is guided by a second grader to his or her new class room, where they stay for an hour and are welcomed by the teacher. In the meantime, the parents socialized having snacks and drinks offered by the fundraising committee. And then, all kids came out again and the school part was over, but all families continued to celebrate on their own.
We went to Frankfurt to enjoy some real Japanese food and go to Willem’s favorite museum: the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt. For Willem, it is simply the Dino Museum and he showed Grandma Sjia all the dinos at the speed of light. It was a delightful day. For all of us. And I wanted to write you about it, because I think it is a wonderful tradition to celebrate starting school and learning. And apparently, we will be doing it again to a lesser extent next school year, when Janne is off to middle school.
How long did Willem’s excitement last? For about three days. About a week in, he told me he wanted to go back to preschool, summing up all his complaints about the big school: too much sitting still, too strict of a teacher. “And, believe me, I am sitting very still, because she is very scary.” Thank God for him, we are already enjoying two weeks of fall vacation.