Monday morning at 7:45 AM we get to the school yard, but everybody is already inside (German punctuality!). So we ask a teacher in which classroom the children of the study group T. are – the answer is: 3rd floor. We run up the stairs and when we arrive, the classroom door is open and we see the children sitting at their desks and two parents, which are late just like us (thank goodness!). The teacher, Frau K., shows Nicholas his place next to his ‘partner’, that is a 2nd-grade boy who will be his ‘tutor’, because in Germany 1st and 2nd graders attend the same class. Frau K. introduces Nicholas to his classmates and says to us: ‘I’ll meet you here at 12:30 sharp!’
I am happy to know Nicholas is in a cosy classroom, with flowers and decorations, a Lego corner (!), a drawing corner, and a computer workstation. The teacher is a smiling person who speaks clearly, always with a decided but gentle tone. Anyway, I don’t know why, but I am somehow prepared to comfort Nicholas when picking him up from school. When we arrive, the door is closed and we hear the children singing. Then the teacher tells them to put the chairs on top of the desks, to take their schoolbag and to line up. The door opens and I catch a glimpse of Nicholas with a big smile on his face. When he is in front of us, he shouts ‘this school is wonderful! I want to go tomorrow, too!’ – , because that morning he said that if he didn’t like the school the first day, he wouldn’t go again. Then he asks Frau K. to show us the T., a little dragon, which is their mascot. Every day a child must but him to sleep in his box before leaving the classroom. He tells us that Frau K. has a puppet, an animal of an unidentifiable species for me, which is the figure accompanying them throughout the whole year in their schoolbook. The teacher waves goodbye to Nicholas with the puppet on her hand and wishes him a nice afternoon.
We reach the tram stop and Nicholas begins to tell us all the things he has done: writing, singing, painting, playing, having a break, playing (making me think they play a lot). Then he adds that he must do his homework immediately. That’s enthusiasm!
The day after I ask Frau K. how we should deal with homework and she explains that the children must do everything by themselves: pack their things and put them in their schoolbag, check if they have homework and do it. She adds that if we help them she doesn’t understand which information has been received and which not. Then she explains how the lessons are structured: every day there is an hour for playing, then there are at least two short breaks with some ‘refreshment’ (a sip of water or a snack, as many children get up at 6 in the morning and get to school at 7) and the big break. The two days they have gym, there is no play hour, but the children have always the possibility to engage in play-recreational activities, mostly as an award for finishing their tasks rapidly and correctly. German, maths, singing/music, and painting classes are held on set days and hours and all are held by the same teacher. They don’t have geography and history and the activity for those who don’t attend religion classes, is called ‘Lebenskunde’ (literally science of life) and is well structured and very popular (90% of the children).
The first week has passed in the blink of an eye and learning to write with a fountain pen has been a conquest. The first day’s enthusiasm carries on and is maintained thanks to play-educational activities such as a walk around the block with the police to learn how to cross streets etc., or the school photographer who takes a picture of the children with their ‘Schultüte’ and their class. The parent’s meeting with Frau K. and the full-day teacher is scheduled the second week. It’s important to say that 99,9% of the children attend full-day school, where in the afternoon there are only after-school activities (at least for the first and second graders). The children do their homework, play, practice sports, and go to theatre. At the meeting I discover all this and also that in April the children go on a week-long trip (!). These activities are extra and must be paid for by the parents, but they are always affordable. The parents’ representatives are elected as well as the vice-representatives. Frau K. explains that the main objective for her is enthusiasm. She says that as long as the children have enthusiasm, they will have more chances to be good at school.
After the meeting I talk with some parents who have just discovered that Nicholas is a ‘Gastschüler’, i.e. a guest pupil for only three weeks. They show great interest and are proud that their school has given us this opportunity.