Much like how I forgot to tell Dietrich’s allergy story when it happened, I don’t know that I spent much time discussing our reasons for homeschooling, though I talked about the beginning and often share snippets of the challenges and adventures along the way. Dietrich participated in about two years of German Kindergarten – the first year his attendance was very sporadic, which had as much to do with me, my laziness, and my refusal to constantly do battle. After a meeting with the teachers, I decided we better shape up and make sure he went to school most days. Some of you might be confused, “Kindergarten for two years?” Well, let me back up and explain as a native German explained it to me when Dietrich began his second year of Kindergarten:
The word Kindergarten in Germany is just the name for the establishment itself and the literal translation is: Garden of Children. The Kindergarten “grade” that Americans think of is called Vorschule in Germany (literal translation: before school) and takes place the last year they are in Kindergarten, but is very different from what we are used to in the US. They then start Elementary school with the First Grade. In US-terms, Dietrich is finishing his “Pre-school”-year, but all of it is done in the Kindergarten. Kids in Germany have the right to a spot in the establishment starting at 2 years old now (at least in this state). Taxes pay for the services and only German citizens have a “right” to the spots.
Due to the small size of our village, Dietrich was blessed with a spot in the Kindergarten that we never had to forfeit to a German child. During his second year, Dietrich was a Treff-Kinder”. One or two days out of the week, he and the other five-year-olds went to a separate class at the Grunde Schule – grade school – for about thirty minutes. During that time, he went on nature walks, did experiments, and learned to work with different tools. Dietrich even became fluent in German while in the Kindergarten. However, the most important part of his learning happened through play. You see, in Germany, formal learning doesn’t start at age four and five – kids are playing! Outside, inside, exploring their world! Even though many days Dietrich would say he did “nothing” I know that he was having great time living like a German kid.
We cut Dietrich’s last year of Kindergarten short because we had family and friends coming for visits and his big birthday trip to Thomas Land. We also knew we would be moving right in the middle of the semester, with no prospects of where we were going or how long we would be in transition. If we had been able to stay in Germany, I think Dietrich would have excelled in the German school system, staying with the same friends, continuing with several recesses throughout the morning (the school day only lasts from about 7AM until 12:30!). Since that wasn’t possible, we started homeschooling. This had several advantages, the first being convenience, as we were about a thirty minute drive from any of the schools. Secondly, whatever educational environment we created would be consistent for our family. Sometimes, it seems to be consistently chaotic, with a lot of fighting and requests for a day off, but we work through the chaos. Third, learning can happen anywhere! I haven’t fully taken advantage of this one since being back stateside, but I am often amazed at how Dietrich’s mind works. Lastly, we can adapt to Dietrich’s learning style as needed – more work, less work, worksheets, hands-on activities, the list is endless.
At this time, though Peter has a job (post to come) and we know where we will be when the new school year begins, we think it best to continue on our homeschool path. Dietrich is capable of completing many subjects quickly and efficiently. He thrives with hands-on learning activities and practical learning. He enjoys field trips and outings of any kind. Our new home will provide new opportunities for exploration, experiential learning, even as we continue with traditional “reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic”. Dietrich is also very talkative and active. In a classroom setting, he could quickly end up labeled as ADD/ADHD where, I really believe he’s a typical boy.
As the first year of this endeavor draws near an end, it’s fair to evaluate our progress. Dietrich reads at or above grade level for his age (first grade). He is adding and subtracting, often with the help of his fingers or other manipulatives. He is learning to write sentences with proper capitalization and punctuation. We’re going to continue working a couple of days a week even during the summer to improve some of his skills. Naturally, we want him to learn to love reading and that will come with more practice. We are proud of his progress and his resilience – in school and in life.
|going to school in Germany for the first time, picking up from school for the last time, and working at home today|