Organising a study period abroad, primary school – part 4

In the three weeks Nicholas attended the school in Berlin, he studied 3 letters, i.e. one letter of the alphabet per week. This may seem not much but the way Frau K. introduced each letter was really appealing: a mandala containing words beginning with the new letter of the week, collages with letters cut out from newspapers, writing exercises with words having that first letter (‘Anlaut’), distinguishing right from the beginning the capitalised first letter and the small letters inside the word, as in German all nouns begin with a capital letter. Everything written with a fountain pen from the first day.

The main book used is the Duden Fibel Arbeitsheft mit Druckschriftlehrgang (workbook in uppercase and lowercase block letters). The figure guiding the children throughout the book is called Lexi and is a sort of kangaroo-giraffe. Frau K. has a Lexi puppet, who talks to the children pronouncing each word distinctly. One of the first days (s)he explains the sound ‘m’ associating it with the word ‘Mama’ and tells the pupils that the sound ‘m’ is pulled out from the mouth by the ‘a’, and the children laugh.

At the beginning they match words with the images in the book, write simple words such as ‘Mama’, ‘Mimi’, and ‘Lili’, and complete the sentences in the book: ‘Mama am Zaun’ (mum by the fence), ‘Mama am Auto’ (mum by the car), ‘Mama am Haus’ (mum by the house), and then at home they write similar sentences with their name: ‘Nicholas am See’ (Nicholas at the lake), and so on. After a few days the booklet ‘Erste Wörter – Schreiben zu Bildern’ is introduced, in which the children must write what they see. On the first page there are a deer (Reh), a cow (Kuh), an egg (Ei), a watch (Uhr), an ear (Ohr), an arm (Arm) and a foot (Fuß). All somewhat difficult words in German and in fact Nicholas got most of them wrong: Re, Cu, Ei (correct!), Ua, Oa, Arm (correct!), Fus. The teacher explained that it isn’t important to correct the mistakes, she prefers to put the date on the bottom of the page in order to track the progress. It must be said that it isn’t easy explaining to a child that the sound ‘e’ in German can be written ‘i’ but also ‘ieh’ or ‘ih’ – at least at this point.

Very nice is also ‘Duden – Spitze in Deutsch’, a booklet for assessing the progress. The child must match images of objects which rhyme, for example ‘Turm’,’ Tasse’, ‘Wurm’ – the first and the last rhyme, whereas the first and the second begin with the same letter – or they must recognise the correct form of a given word, for instance ‘Herz’ among the following: ‘Helm’ – ‘Herr’ – ‘Herz’ – ‘Heft’. Then there are two books which Nicholas had not yet begun: ‘Duden Schreiblehrgang – Schulausgangsschrift’ for practicing handwriting and Lies mal!’ for reading, replying to questions and drawing the meaning of words.

At this point I would like to mention another Duden book which I bought to prepare Nicholas for school: Duden Das Abc – Mein Mitmachbuch. This book is gorgeous, colourful, and has plenty of stimulating activities. There is also a game called Spiel dich schlau! Abc – Das Memo-Spiel’, a sort of memory but in alphabetical order. The child must stack pictures of objects beginning with sequential letters, like Ananas, Banane, Clown, etc.

Talking about mathematics/geometry, the pace was faster compared to the German lessons: after three weeks they had already reached number 9, using collages, writing, and playing, but also learning the equivalent value in Euros. There are three books of the series ‘Flex und Flo’ (a ball and a spring): Geometrie’ with form and colour matching, Sachrechnen und Größen, where numbers are matched with quantities of daily use (money, time, watch, sequences, etc.), and Rechnen bis 10 (and the following ‘Rechnen bis 20’) with number writing exercises, and a workbook calledMein Trainingsheft Mathematik plus the assessment booklet ‘Mein Lernplan Mathematik’.

The difference I noticed between the materials (books) used at the school in Berlin and the Italian school is that the German books are more and more appealing. They really make you want to do your homework!

Talking about homework, Frau K. doesn’t want parents to interfere, because the child must become responsible and take his own decisions when it comes to homework: parents are not allowed to correct, even when they see mistakes. The teacher does all she can in order to build self-esteem especially in those making more mistakes and keeps enthusiasm high, because enthusiasm and self-esteem are the two key factors of success at school – so says Frau K.

During the weekend the parents are asked to collaborate and to do some work with their child, for example collages with the new letter of the week. For us, having the ‘problem’ of a father who did not understand what Nicholas learned at school, the teacher prepared also homework for the father, as required by Nicholas who yearned for teaching his father.

Summarising what this experience has given us, I can say that first of all Nicholas learned to integrate in a completely new environment and to get to know something different. He discovered he was proud of his bilingualism when A., a second grader asked him to teach him Italian. Of course he made also a lot of progress in German and improved his pronunciation, learning the ‘s’ pronounced as ‘z’ — something I being South-Tyrolian don’t use — and ‘qu’ pronounced as ‘kv’. Another important aspect is that he discovered to be an interpreter and translator, for example when he sent with his father to buy roses for me and he explained the shop assistant that his father did not understand and that was why he was talking on his behalf.

Therefore I would say that we have fulfilled and overcome our expectations: beginning school, integrating, language full immersion, and entertainment!

Back in Italy Nicholas discovered that every school is different. At the beginning he didn’t like the school in Italy, because he was used to Frau K.’s method, who made the children do many extra activities, like watering the flowers, caring for Lexi, cleaning the blackboard, giving every classmate a sheet, creating decorations, playing lego or helping others if they finished first. To tell the truth I don’t know why in 3 weeks Frau K. had never punished a child, whereas in Italy after 3 weeks many had already been punished and had received bad written remarks of various kinds. Maybe it’s the German authoritarian style making German children behave better, but also the creative and manifold activities, which keep children always interested and let them never be bored, must help a lot. Anyway now Nicholas adores his Italian teacher and has gotten used to this system obtaining good results with great enthusiasm.

At the end of October we received a letter from Frau K. with the photographs taken by the school photographer. One shows Nicholas with his ‘Schultüte’ and the other one the whole class with Frau G. (the teacher of the afternoon classes) and Frau K. Nicholas replied to the letter and put the envelope with the pictures on his desk near the pictures of his pets and the postcards from his globetrotter aunt.

From time to time we look at the photographs and remember those beautiful three weeks and feel a little bit melancholy…

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