Grundschule for English-speaking child

Trying to find a German school for my 6 year old

Has anyone sent their English-speaking child to a German elementary school? We expect to be moving to Frankfurt soon for a job for my husband. For a number of reasons, I don't think one of the well known international schools will be the right fit for us. I would really like to find a German school that will accept my son into year 1 in August. We have started very basic German lessons here, and I'm happy to get him a tutor when we arrive in the next month or so. I think my husband's office location would be considered Westend, and from what I have read so far, we were thinking Nordend or Bornheim to live, but we are absolutely open to another location if that helps find the right school for my son. I believe the school assigned to our temporary apartment is Schwarzburgschule. I don't think there are any schools that offer bilingual or origin language teaching in English for Grundschule, but it looks like there are some that do promote German as a second language and can provide support for non-German speakers. I know this will be very challenging for my son in the first few months, but I would really like to make it happen if we can. My husband's company is not a big, international firm, but rather one based in Germany, so while they are happy to help us understand websites and make some calls, they aren't a ton of help in this area so far. Has anyone done this? Am I crazy to think we can do this? Any suggestions for schools to contact? Any words of wisdom? Thanks.
Almost everyone on TT with the exception of families whose children were in their teens when they came to Germany, has had kids in German schools, with varying degrees of satisfaction. All of my five did their time in German schools, so we had experience from 1st grade through Gymnasium Abitur. I was very happy. Others haven't been. Use the search button (top right) and search for school, grundschule, non english speaking, etc. You may decide that, rather than read all those words, you'll just plunge your child into the local school. You may want him to attend school until the summer vacation begins, then restart him as a first grader once more. (My own daughter spent 3 full years in fifth grade: US, Grundschule, and Gymnasium). Some will say that even if he may have started school in the US, let him start all over again in first grade - he won't be over-aged for his class. And get him into a sport club (Sport Verein) as soon as possible - fencing, archery, gymnastics, etc. - because this will provide him instant aquaintances, give him goals to accomplish besides the slower-developing language skills, and will also give the parent who accompanies him to the meetings people to talk with.
Hmmm, I see a duplication of ideas up there. I guess it's because I never found any damage done to my children who repeated a year, while those who were skipped ahead definitely were harmed.
Yes I have. I'm not going to lie, I am an expat who is quite at home in Germany and not one of the expats who can't wait to leave (in fact I'm just about to move back) but I did not enjoy having a child in German Grunschule at all. My eldest, because of her age(9) when we arrived and bad dyslexia attended FIS and I was quite happy there, as was she. I speak German and my husband is German, I had lived in Germany previously and I'm an experienced "expat" but Grundschule and I did not get on!

We arrived here when our son was turning 5. He spoke no German despite his dad being German, he was completely americanised after 2 years in the US. He attended Kindergarten for a year and became confident in German very quickly (but many children do not I must stress, particularly those with English speaking parents), and after a few months German took over from English - but I thnk he was quite unusual in this respect. However we had alot of contact with German friends, and we were involved with the local neighbourhood because we were able to integrate easily as for us there is no language barrier.

Our son was 1 month past his 6th birthday when he started 1. Klasse. He could have waited a year to start school but as a typical Brit I was impatient to get him into formal education, which I now see was a mistake as he wasn't ready for the reality of German school (he was pretty lively at the time). It was much more intense than the US school my daughter had been at before our move and very different to the UK private schooling I was used to.

The language for us wasn't a problem ... but if you don't speak good german it is going to be hard for you. Really hard. There was a fair amount of homework daily (and much more in quantity and much more formal homework than in an American school for example) for which you will be needed to supervise/guide. I'd be looking up German in the dictionary for animal names I didn't know, or genders of words and I've been speaking German (imperfectly but confidently) for years.

You only need to find one of the long TT threads about school here to find that German school causes a huge amount of anguish for non Germans (as well as for the Germans to be honest!!). I cringe when a see newbies arriving with thoughts that their child will be dropped into the German system and within a year become fluent and fully integrated. It is rare. My son was happy enough and he seems gifted enough with the language that it was not language that caused our problems ... but the system just drove me nuts! Teacher ill? Your 6 year old child is sent wandering off home. If you are not in ... tough! Luckily my 6 year old was quite streetwise and would wander off to a friend's house in the village. In the UK a school would get prosecuted for doing that!

Generally I'd say the teachers like round pegs for round holes. We were lucky - my son's teacher was very nice and seemed to have a soft spot for this americanised British/German boy. Bad luck if you don't like the teacher as you are stuck wth them for the whole of Grundschule (they don't change teacher each year as in the US or UK for example) I found the playground etiquitte "different" - much more tolerance (or should I say turning a blind eye?) of rough behaviour for example, and I did notice a change in my son's behaviour that I did not like. When we returned to the UK after one year of Grundschule he changed again back to his normal gentle self.

Maybe look at a school like The Metropolitan which is an Ersatzschule, thus follows a Hessen approved curriculum (so receives gov. funding and is therefore cheaper than FIS, ISF) though I can't say I know anything personally about this school.

Make no mistake - it is much much easier for a German child and their family to integrate into the north american or British system than it is to go the other way around.
Thanks for the replies so far. I have read other threads. I just didn't see any that were quite the same (starting at the beginning of first grade), so I thought I would ask. I do want the truth, and I really do appreciate the advice so far. I know that being older in Germany isn't odd. It's just that he was born in January and is tall and is reading and writing and doing basic math in kindergarten in the US. I'm worried about him only learning German and nothing else if he doesn't start school there in August. I would definitely try to get him in somewhere right away next month, but that wouldn't be first grade yet. I'm also concerned about him being more than a year ahead of his peers if we come back to the US. While the cost of the big international schools is part of the discussion, I'm more concerned that it seems like they learn hardly any German and don't integrate at all. It seems to be the same at Metropolitan, almost everything in English. I worked at an international school in the US, and it was truly bilingual, with learning in both languages, but I haven't yet found anything like that in Frankfurt. Katheliz, was there a particular Grundschule that you did like? Does anyone know if there is any room for movement at all? So if we started him in first grade and it was terrible, could he switch to the pre-school year? Or the opposite, if we didn't put him in first grade, and he does really well with the language, could he move up during the year? I'm guessing it's unlikely. Thanks.
My information I must admit is up to 40 years old. We came to Germany when the kids were 11, 12 and 14. We lived in a village and there was no choice of schools. My oldest son, who'd just graduated from 8th grade in California, was put in 8th in a science and modern languages Gymnasium, but after several months was set back to 7th - he was gifted in language, but couldn't hack 2nd year French without the 1st year. Daughter #2, as said, sluggishly moved through 5th grade but did fine in Gymnasium and got her Abitur. Daughter #1, the former 12-year-old, went from Grundschule to a Realschule that specialized in Business classes, and got her Abschlussreife certificate - she also got her GED after returning to the US. My son Vierling entered 1st Grade in Germany at a different Grundschule, two months after he turned six. He continued through the fourth grade, when we returned to the US. He and Fuenfling went to German schools in the summer time when they visited their father (who isn't German, but who stayed there), V. continuing into Gymnasium and F. going to Realschule.

At the time we came to Germany the only foreign students were ethnic Turks; my children did not get special consideration. They learned German quickly from their playmates and classmates. It's amazing how quickly children, especially small ones, learn a foreign language. I know you're concerned about your boy, but if you're going to be in Germany for a significant length of time, he'll benefit more from the German schooling. It's very intense in Grades 1 through 4, but it isn't unbearable. Be prepared to provide a lot of at-home instruction - parents are considered to be part of the teaching team and it isn't wrong to help your child to do things correctly the first time.

My suggestion is to let your boy go to school as soon as you get here. Give him lots of encouragement. When school vacation starts, talk with his teacher and with him, and get his feelings about the experience. He may want to continue in German school; if he doesn't, if you won't be in Germany more than a couple of years, and if you can afford an international school, they teach kids too!
Thank you again katheliz. Lots to think about. I am glad to have some encouragement to start him on time. He will be more than 6 and a half when he would start.

Someone also sent me a pm with a school in Bornheim called Kirchnerschule that has a two-year Eingangsstufe, with children who are both 5 and 6. I think this would be a great solution for us if we can find a school like this that will take him. This gives my son the chance to move to second grade the following year if things go well, but it also doesn't push him into something extra hard when we arrive. Then if he needs two years in this class, we'll know for sure at that point. I'll have to see if they will let us in with plans to moved to the neighborhood, given that our temporary apartment is not in the neighborhood. Does anyone know of other schools that have this same 2-year entry?
The registration form for the Eingangsstufe at Kirchnerschule says die Anmeldung für die Eingangsstufe der Kirchnerschule ist nicht an
Schulbezirksgrenzen gebunden. Am I reading this correctly that we don't have to be zoned for this as our regular Grundschule to request a space in this program? Thanks.
Yes that is what I understand it to mean. Just had a quick look at the website - looks interesting.

1. Klasse in Grundschule moves very fast. If I compare what my son did in Grundschule in that first year from a point of having no letter/number knowledge at all, to my daughters 1st Grade class in a good public school in the north Dallas area, the German children progressed very quickly. And had fantastic handwriting - I swear my son's handwriting was better then than it is now he is 16!! He left the US shortly before he turned 5 (having just done pre-school/mother's day out type programmes and prior to beginning American kindergarden), so had a whole year in german kindergarten before starting grundschule.

How long are you here for by the way? Do either you or your husband speak german already? Children at schools like Metropolitan/Phorms etc are apparently in the main native german speakers, so no probs with integration there - german is the language of the playground in those schools. There are also plenty of native german speaking children in the more traditional international schools (well to do german families are keen to send their children to these schools so that they grow up with excellent English, plus prefer the schooling methods/all day schooling) and the children have near daily german lessons. After 2 years of german at FIS my daughter spoke good conversational german for a 10 year old child. Not fluent but plenty good enough to play with local children and make herself understood if we were ordering in a cafe or restaurant or to communicate with her german grandma/watch TV etc.
Here's my view. I will say front up that neither of my children go to the local German school. After our initial experiences I am very wary of the German kindergarten and primary school system. We have 2 children, and we moved from overseas, back to Germany when my daughter was 5 1/2, one year before she had to start school. My son who is now 6, (he turned 6 in August last year) was 4 at the time we moved back. My husband is German, and I speak fluent German (was on exchange here for 1 year when I was 17 years old, studied it at university and had lived here for 10 years before going overseas for 2 years and now we are back.) Both children still spoke good German when we returned but had vocabulary deficits when compared to a German child. For e.g. my daughter in the school interview which did 2 weeks after we arrived back in Germany got the words for 9 out of 10 pictures right but didn't know what "skipping rope" was in German.

I would very carefully consider your options and have a back up too, because a lot depends on who you are dealing with and how understanding they are and unfortunately you can't tell that in advance.

I agree with your comment about there not being a truly bilingual English/German school in Frankfurt, however if you are not planning on staying here long term then in almost all of the schools there are so many German German (children with 2 German parents) and if you also join some German sports clubs then your son will learn to speak German quite adequately.

If your son turned 6 in January then he is not eligible for Grade 1 before August 2012. The German school system in Hessen makes a difference between "Musskinder" (they have to go to school) and "Kannkinder" they can go school if ready. "Musskinder" for this school year are born between July 1 2004 and June 30th 2005. "Kannkinder" are born between July 1 2005 and December 31st 2005. My son was a "kannkind" for Grade 1 this year and he had to pass the German school test, and then only he only got offered a space because the class was not full. "Musskinder" have priority. If I understand correctly your son is born in January 2006 and therefore wouldn't be eligible for school this year even as a "Kannkind". The good news is that in Frankfurt every child 3 and older has right to kindergarten place and I would put him in kindergarten asap and for the last year before school it is free! We live in Bad Homburg and here is free too.

The whole applying for your local school is also not straight forward for non-Germans. The way it worked where we live and I gather from friends that it more or less worked like that for them too, is that you enroll your child in your local school. Your address determines which school that is. The school does an interview with your child. In your case they are going to want to put your son into a course for non-German children. At least our local school offered one. Your child also needs to go to the "Schulamt" (loosely translated school department) where they have about a 1 hour test, things like hearing test, eyesight test, urine sample, basic logic (continue the pattern) draw a person, then a physical check-up (hopping on one leg and things like that) and last and not least a language and vocabulary test. If your child does not pass the language test in German (regardless of whether they speak their native tongue fluently etc.) depending on the doctor you can have problems. (Hence the back up.)

One of the good things is that German grade 1 moves very very quickly both in maths and German reading and writing. Primary school also finishes at 11.45 am so the children have plenty of time for activities in the afternoon, or just playing with friends. I personally do not find that German schools have much homework but then I don't know how much is normal in an US school. The comment about the playground behaviour is definitely true and my children had a tough time adjusting.

Maybe also consider a private German school like Anna Schmidt which is not nearly as expensive as Metropolitan never alone FIS? There is also a new one in City-West/Bockenheim called Mundanis I think, which you could look at. Most schools will have a waiting list by now but it is suprising how many places come up at the last minute!
I'm worried about him only learning German and nothing else if he doesn't start school there in August.
Don't worry about that. Learning German will be the most important thing for him. He will be able to do the Math but he won't know the German terms and way of setting it out. Good language skills are really essential before he can make use of the other lessons. My advice is always this - talk to the school in advance about how they support non-native speakers. Most Grundschule have some kids who speak another language at home. If the school offers extra German for these pupils then your son will obviously benefit.
Thank you so much for all of the replies and messages. Our stay is indefinite, so it may be two years, it may be 10. We have to see how it goes. I did talk to one school that offers Eingangsstufe, and they suggested instead that he do Vorlaufkurs from April through the end of the year and then join the first klasse.They said they have students from many countries and can support those who don't yet speak German. I need to follow up and get more information. I will reply more later to all when I have a little more time.
Sent you a PM.
Have you though about sending your children to a bilingual school? The IBMS (where my kids are) has an English and a German branch in reception and first grades (with children from both branches mingling on a daily basis). It turns more bilingual in grades 2 -4 with children working in their main language but picking up as much German as they are capable of. (however, it's a private school so you'll have to pay school fees).

It's a Montessori school with 20 years of experience, in the Westend, and we are very happy there. Have a look at their website and feel free to ask any questions.
Massachusetts Mom
This is my first post, I have read everything I could find on this site I have even been copying and pasting. But I still can't make decisions about where I want to live and send my son to school.

We are moving to Darmstadt for 6months (Jan-June) for my husbands job; I could not be more excited. We are all learning German with Rosetta Stone and Muzzy (a BBC character show for little ones which is strange and funny).
I have a July 6 year old. He will be starting 1st grade in a week in US and is not "compulsory age" for 1st grade in Germany, but is pretty smart, but also easily stressed out. My 3 year old boy is a home body, but keeps inviting friends to his birthday party in Germany! He'll probably do a local preschool. It would be cute if they were together.
Want vs Reality: What I want is a little house with a garden in old German architecture but clean. I want my son to go to school in English but with lots of German for under 5,000 euro for the 6 months. Until reading the Darmstadt threads I wanted to live in Frankfurt and make my hubby commute (he doesn't want to). But now Darmstadt doesn't seem so stark. But there are many more bilingual schools in Frankfurt. One place mentioned was sort-of in-between.
At the moment we are putting some eggs in the Seeheim-Juggenheim basket but that seems foolhardy with their fickle acceptance criteria and long response times to emails.... If we live in Darmstadt mostly for that school and don't get in (and won't know until Jan) then we are without many options other than German kindergarden.

@BThimm the Montessori above looked great, the application was 300 euro, but there was no monthly fee that I could find on the website??? I am assuming it is about 300 euro also that seems the going rate for montessories.

Strange question- Is the north east a bad-ish area of Darmstadt? the kindergartens all seemed to be for "troubled youths"? Am I reading Welfare kita- something website wrong?

Anyways, thank you all for your posts I hope I can contribute something meaningful, in the meantime I leave you with Ich Ben Dien Gummibear which my kids and I love (I found it while looking for nice lullabies in German
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