What to expect when entering Grundschule

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Reading some posts from others on this board has got me thinking about how I can better prepare our family for adjusting to a grundschule. Other posts have hinted about how hard and demanding it is on the parents. Honestly, I am becoming concerned. My daughter (will turn 6 years old in March) attended her first semester of Kindergarten here in California. We are about to move to Munich in about a week. The plan is to enroll her in grundschule in the Fall (assuming her German skills are adequate). Am I in a for a major shock? Here in CA, our K teacher was fantastic, very caring and warm towards the children, and my daughter has learned to read quite well. I did not do much homework with her in the afternoons after school. I did not need to prepare any school supplies on a daily basis, just bring back to school whatever she brought home with her that day, and of course, I had to pack her lunch and snack. Her school day was from 9:05 - 3:35. I don't mean to stereotype, and I honestly know very little about schools in Germany, but the few posts I have read recently are really causing to me be a little concerned. If any of you can share your experiences with me, I would be grateful.

 

A little more info: My husband will be working, I will be at home. I also have an 8 month old daughter.

 

Thank you!

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oh dear, I don't wish to alarm you but yup, you should be concerned. What I've picked up (and of course am open to correction) is that your child would need to be fluent (at an appropriate age level) to go to GS. The regular day tends to be approx 8:30am to 12:30am with an extensive homework load every afternoon. Little or no music/sports/art takes place at school; it's up to the parents to organise those outside of school hours.

 

I presume your husband's company aren't going to pay for one of hte international schools? If you guys are here for only about three years, an international school would be easiest on your child. If you're planning on staying longer, getting into the german system is a good but difficult option.

 

Have you investigated Phorms? It's a bi-lingual school (you'll hear both positive and negative reports on it here on TT) which is means-tested as regards fees but getting places can be difficult. I heard that they were to open a second branch this year.

 

If you've any questions or want to give me a buzz, just pm me. People here on TT were extremely helpful to me before we left Ireland 16 months ago.

 

Good Luck

TSLondon

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Luckily, the general age of entry in Munich is 7 so you should put your child in a Vorschule class, which is a (public- that is state provided) prep class for first grade. She will be fluent by the end of that time. My daughter is also in a ganz tag (all day school), does sports, arts, crafts and music in school (I believe all German schools teach recorder/block flute), and so on. My daughters are in kita and 2nd Klasse, do PM me if you have any questions. I also looked at schools in Munich (we considered moving there this year) and spoke to principals there (headmistresses) and feel confident that I understand the system (which is delayed compared to the US). A good school will be prepared to help her with her German (as my daughers' schools do) and my youngest (4) has Fruh Englisch, which I find amusing but which she enjoys (the older also has it, although it officially starts as a second language in the Third Klasse).

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gail123, as far as I know, there are NO public ganztaggrundschule in Munich -- so your experience may be quite different...

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I am an American expat kid that went to German Grundschule (100 years ago) and I did just fine! So stop worrying. My main advice is that YOU learn German as quickly and as well as you can because your kids rely on you to be well informed. I often felt a bit abandoned when my mother didn’t understand what was going on and would miss out on important information (and I would show up with the wrong stationary or the wrong sports outfit, or in a costume on the wrong day, but oh well it built lots of character!). Just express your concerns to the teacher and then find a “buddy” amongst the other mothers and double check information with her until you get the hang of things. Your kids will learn the language really quickly and will also learn to take care of themselves more quickly, like all immigrant kids do. Schools are a lot more aware of the needs of immigrant children now than they were when I was little, so if you go in an ask for help you will get it, so just speak up! Don’t let people scare you, this isn’t impossible.

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I forgot to mention that with the whole integration process that the Government is trying to get off the ground, your child would definitely get extra help with the language thing. Just contact the school or the city well before the new school year starts and they will help you find a language program. (There are no language REQUIREMENTS as such. Kids immigrate at all ages, but the most help is available to kids right BEFORE they start school.)

 

I just found this, which is where you can get more on language help for children (or any other school related question):

http://www.schulberatung.bayern.de/schulberatung/muenchen/auslaendische_schueler/index.asp

 

Here the contact info of the main office:

Pündterplatz 5

80803 München

Tel: 089 383849-50

Fax: 089 383849-88

Mail info@sbmuenchen.bayern.de

 

I would just call and ask for help in English. Most of these places have multi-lingual employees, so don’t be shy.

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As mentioned above, you should get your daughter into a German kindergarten as soon as reasonable after your arrival. Most (all?) kindergartens have a so-called Vorschule program to help the 5/6 year olds prepare for the first year of school.

 

A typical Grundschule day in Bavaria for the first grade is around 8:00am to 11:15 or 12:30pm. There is some homework, but not an overwhelming amount in the first grade. (It gets more each year, and really kicks in in the 3/4 grades.) First grade homework is mostly practicing cursive writing, some vocabulary, some reading, and beginning math - stuff you'll be able to help her with, even if you have virtually no German skills. Remember that kids in Germany only learn to read in the first grade, so your daughter won't be at a disadvantage in that respect.

 

One option you may want to consider is finding a Hort place for your daughter. Basically it is after-school care each day for a few hours. The kids go straight there (or sometimes it is right in the school) after school, get a hot lunch and then have supervised homework time.

 

As a mom not working outside the home, sometimes it can be difficult to find a place, as working mothers get priority. But I know some stay-at-home moms who have their kids in Hort as well, so it is possible. Besides giving you a few more hours with big sis out of the house so you can focus on the baby, Hort programs are great for kids who are still learning German - your daughter would have much more practice with speaking German and hearing it, of course, and it also provides an opportunity for your daughter to socialize with other kids (outside of the structure of school.) Wanting your daughter exposed to more German can be a compelling argument if the Hort balks at having a stay-at-home mom have a kid in Hort. (I have heard stories both ways with this...)

 

Do you know where you will live in Munich already?

 

Also, I second Native Bavarican's points above about finding a mom buddy or such. I always made an effort to meet my son's teacher right at the beginning of the year, explain our bilingual situation, and make apologies in advance for my bad German skills. I have definitely been guilty of missing some important details sent home on notes and such - it happens, what to do. If your husband is not German-speaking, then you'll doubly need to get a helper going.

 

Informal parent get-togethers called Eltern Stammtisches usually happen quite a few times, especially in the beginning of the year. It would be a good idea to go to those, and sheepishly ask if anyone speaks English. I've always had luck with at least a few moms who were enthusiastic to practice their English skills with me. I find that Germans actually are very responsive to helping out English-speaking foreigners if you approach it with a bit of humility, rather than being demanding, etc.

 

Anyway, your whole family is on an adventure now! Of course there will be rough patches along the way, and when they hit, reach out to people either IRL or here on TT. Best of luck to you and your family!

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I'm not in Munich but I have to say my experience with school here in the German-speaking part of the world is not like the one in CA the OP is describing.

 

I loved kindergarten and never, ever had any sort of problem with it whatsoever. I speak German reasonably well and while I make mistakes in my own German writing and grammar never had a problem understanding flyers, postings, etc. at the kiga-- but school has come as a big shock.

 

School days here are short! They begin and end early! However, the kids have homework every day. Friends of mine talk about having "homework-free day" or at least weekends-- but we have it all the time, including during the winter break. I find it ironic that in a part of the world where homeschooling isn't really done it's like we parents are homeschooling, what with the supervising of all of the homework, the helping the kids, etc. (I'm happy to hep and I'm interested in my child's education-- but I find it's at a different level than I think is expected in the States.)

 

Sometimes I feel like I'm back in the first grade along with my 6 year old. Where do I begin? I often get reprimanded about the snack my child brings. (They want all healthy things-- but then even my healthy things get shot down-- for example, she claimed that raisins were candy when sent along with crackers and cheese. I got told that I am never to send a juice box again because they are so bad for the environment!) And I feel like the school takes the attitude of that they can do what they want but we as parents can. Again on the food thing-- they sent home a goodie bag with all kinds of candy. I sent one of the tiny packets of candy from the school goodie bag along with my son's healthy snack and was reprimanded that I am never, NEVER to send candy with my child's snack ever again because it's so unhealthy and bad for children. I'm not saying candy is a health food-- but I think it's hypocritical of the school to send Gummi Bears home with the kids and then get all preachy when I give him a few of them!!

 

Also they are very big on handwriting here in a way that American elementary schools aren't. My handwriting is apparently off of the Schulschrift. Often in school the teacher writes words onto paper for the kids to copy. The teacher asked me to have my son practice writing a certain list of words so I did the same thing-- wrote the list of words onto paper for him to copy-- I got a note telling me I am never to do that again as I don't write with their perfect Schulschrift! Lots of notes with lots of exclamation points!!! (Seriously 5 of them at once.) Also in general I feel they don't communicate well and much info. There's the Elternheft, a notebook that goes back and forth between home and school each day. According to my son's teacher it's my responsibility to check it each day but not hers to check it each day.

 

Frankly I'm enjoying my son's winter break-- because I needed a break as well from his school!

 

Personally I'd say if you have a shot at getting your spouse's employer to spring for int'l school or you can afford it-- go that route as it will make your life much easier! (I'd take that route if it was a financial option for us.)

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Thank you all for your responses. International/Bilingual schools are not really an option for us right now.

 

We have not found our apt yet, but that may be a whole other post! Once we arrive in Munich, our relocation agent will meet with us and start showing us some housing options. I asked about starting Kindergarten immediately, but she said it would be better to wait until we find our apt so that we can then enroll here in the appropriate (closer?) Kindergarten. Here in CA, people often pick their homes according to the schools. According to our relocation agent, that is not really how it is done in Munich. I wanted to at least concentrate on areas with better schools, but she makes it sounds like all schools are about the same. I would rather we find a school that is more used to dealing with non native speakers. I really hope we find an appropriate apt quickly, as I really want to start my daughter in Kindergarten/Vorschule soon.

 

 

Your comments have been very helpful and provide some insight into the school system for me. I realize I am going to have to force myself out of my comfort zone to reach out and find some mothers who can help me. The hort program sounds great, and if we can get in that sounds like a great idea. A good point was also made about myself learning German as well. I can relate, as my family immigrated to the States before I was born and my parents missed out on some of the cultural nuances for sure. I remember one day showing up for a birthday party in a full blown party dress, while ALL the other girls had swimsuits on. I will never forget that moment when I walked in (late) and they ALL turned around and stared at in me shock.

 

Thanks again!

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I can't speak on Munich-specific kiga and school things as I don't have personal experience dealing with those institutions there. However in general that relocation agent is right-- in my experience people in general in the GAS (Germany Austria Switzerland) region don't really pick neighborhoods based on these things. Sure some areas are more posh than others-- but it's not like the schools as a whole in Town Part A are going to be really better or worse than Town Part B or another city even (whereas where I grew up in the States there could be vast differences.)

 

You will probably want a kiga near to where you live as it's just easier, plus it's a way to meet people in the area and maybe some of the kids will go to school along with your daughter the next year. And speaking from experience (I used to work in a kiga) your child will probably pick up German quickly in kiga.

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I don't have experience (yet) with the public school system, and I have heard German's don't tend to pick their neighborhood based on schools BUT have heard from expats that the school you end up at can have a huge impact on your success in the public system.

 

As you have already heard about some of the horror stories, I won't repeat them but some schools/administrators/teachers seem to be more helpful to non-native speakers, etc. It may be worthwhile to make an appointment at the grade-schools in the area where you are interested to see if you get a better reception/have a better repor with a particular school. I have been fairly hesitant to enroll our daughter in an all-German public school, but after the advice of some expats I have met here, I am going to visit our neighborhood school before I make any decisions (she's only 4 so we have a little time to figure out what we will do in gradeschool).

 

Good luck with your move!

Emily

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Just a point to consider when picking where you want to live - there are no longer any "Vorschule" programmes in Munich city (the mid-way school between Kindergarten and Grundschule). They did away with it a few years ago for financial reasons. So it may make sense to live a bit out of town if you want to take advantage of this option (one which I would have loved to have had for my son, who is now 7 and in his 2nd year of Grundschule - he went v. early but only because he would have gone up the wall if he had spent another year at Kindergarten with 3 yr olds and upwards.)

 

Good luck and feel free to PM me if you need to know anything about schools in Neuhausen.

 

PP

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There are parts of town that are easier for schooling and more understanding of bilingual kids. One of the reasons I live in the part of town I do is because of that. Maybe your relocation agent can keep the reputations of the neighborhoods in mind when she looks around?

 

An example of what we dealt with - A good portion of the kids in my kids' classes have been bi-national - from America to India and Asia with everything in between. A few years ago the local grade school had a principal transferred in from a more outlying area - her opinions on "foreigners making unreasonable demands" stemmed mainly from the part of town she had been in before. Short story, she made life difficult for non Germans. Needless to say, within 4 years she transferred back to "her" sub-urban neighborhood (a more working class area) and the new principal (transferred from a school in a different nice city neighborhood) doesn't make being foreign an issue at all.

 

Schools offer extra German lessons for kids who speak a foreign language at home as well as those who speak German at home but are having difficulties. They basically tell you if your kid needs to/gets to (depending on how you look at it) be in them.

 

 

@Penelope - I didn't realize they'd cancelled the Vorschule program, both of my kids had a few hours a week of it in the local kindergarden. My youngest also had to sit in extra Vorschule Deutsch lessons because we speak English at home, which they didn't even have when my oldest was there. (The teachers took him out as soon as they could because he didn't need them and a little German girl did for some reason). He's in 4th grade now, so that change must be very recent. I honestly think the kiga we went to still does it.

 

They have "Schulkindergarden" for kids too old really for kindergarden but deemed "not ready" for school. (Or maybe this is what has been cancelled?)

I only know of one kid who went - his mother held him back to give him that edge of being older and more mature for grade school. A big help come 4th grade - but that's a different topic.

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There are parts of town that are easier for schooling and more understanding of bilingual kids. One of the reasons I live in the part of town I do is because of that. Maybe your relocation agent can keep the reputations of the neighborhoods in mind when she looks around?

 

 

 

 

I don't mean to re-hash anything on other threads, but can you tell me what some of those areas are? It would be good to see if my relocation agent is aware of these as well. Thanks!

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They have "Schulkindergarden" for kids too old really for kindergarden but deemed "not ready" for school. (Or maybe this is what has been cancelled?)

 

Yes, I think that Schulkindergarten = Vorschule - it's (or it was) a part of the German school system. They used to have it where we live as well but it has also since been cancelled. The language assistance they get in kindergarten is a different program.

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@westvan - Schulkindergarten and Vorschule are two completely different things (in Munich at least).

 

Vorschule (for us at least) is additional pre-school activities offered to the "big" kids their last year of regular kindergarden before they start first grade. This can vary depending on the kindergarten, but generally involves learning to sit still, concentrate as in school, write their names and other "academic" things. The local kindergartens generally know what the local grade schools will be expecting.

The German lessons now required the last year of kindergarten are supplemental for kids who didn't speak German in the home and are newly mandated as part of the integration requirements to make sure these children could speak sufficient German to survive first grade.

 

Schulkindergarten is something totally different, a special year between normal kindergarten and school. When my oldest was about to start school I was told it was something "not to be desired for one's child" as they would get a reputation for being "slow". Then again, the only child I know who did go was German and is now in Gymnasium so maybe it did give him that 'edge'.

 

@defg - if your relocation agent has lived in Munich for more than a couple years then she should have a general idea of which neighborhoods are preferable for young families, depending on if you want urban up and coming, or slightly more sub-urban, etc. If you have any questions, send me a PM.

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Hi there!

 

I completely understand your concerns. We're from the bay area, and we have lived in Munich since July 2010. Both of my children (7 and 4) did not start school until September. My son did very well in school in CA (reading, writing, speaking) . When we got here, and after reading threads from TT (very informative and helpful btw) about German public school vs. private school, we decided to send both our kids to a public school. I was scared, worried and more nervous for my kids because I didn't want them to get lost in the system. Both are very talkative, friendly, bright and made friends easily in CA. Anyhow, to make a long story short, after two weeks in school, my son started speaking German (not perfect of course), but he was able to communicate with his classmates and teachers. I have to constantly encourage him to try to speak to his teacher, it took a couple of months, but he tried and wouldn't stop since!:)

 

I am a staying-at-home mom right now because I knew it would be a huge transition for them, and wanted to be available for them as much as I can. Before my son started school, I would let him watch German cartoons everyday for 20 min only -- to help him get used to hearing German. I also have German CDs ( short audio stories) that both my children and I listened to. I encouraged my kids to teach me new word(s) in German and letting them know that I am learning as welll, which helped them to not be afraid to try to use German words more. I tired to make learning new German words fun by turning it into a game.

 

As for not getting the right school supplies, you just have to laugh at it! Part of learning is from making mistakes, right?! I was on top of their school info back in CA, and now I am somewhat not because of the language barrier. I had a list of school supplies, and had no idea what the heck was a hefter. I took the list to Galeria Kaufhof (dept. store), and mustered up what little courage I had at the time to ask for help... like..."Entschuldigen, können Sie mir helfen. Ich lerne Deutsch jetzt, so mein Deutsch ist nicht gut. Hier ist die Liste". I wanted to say that, but it came out completely broken. LOL I realized now that having the courage to try to speak is so important to learning. I didn't want to be laughed at and was so afraid to make mistakes. I am not the assertive type, so it's even more harder for me personally. I feel like I am a student all over again. So now I am learning to be a student again!

 

Okay, now back to your question about location. Ask your agent to show you Gern. Dom Pedro Grundchule is a good public school. Location is great for families! You can google to see where Gern is. From what I have heard, a lot of German parents have been trying to get the kids into this school. They also have Vorschule Deutsch lessons for about an hour to help kids who are having difficulties with reading and writing. My son was in that class for about 2 months along with other German kids, and then he was told that he did not have to go there anymore! But he asked to be there, so I thought that was hilarious! The homework are so much easier and a lot less than his school in California. I think you will manage, like I did.

 

As for my 4 year old, she's in kindergarten and is making progress with speaking more German now. Kindergarten here is more play than kindergarten in the US. She will be five this year, and her kindergarten will send more info about Vorschule program to prepare her for 1st grade. I am working with her on her ABCs and numbers right now both in English and German.

 

If you still need more info let me know. I know how hard it can be to not have support like in Ca. Munich is a beautiful city, and I think you and your family will benefit from it, so I hope you'll enjoy your staying here! Best of Luck! Jen

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After living in many parts of the city we recently moved to Maxvorstadt (near the Technical University). If you like urban life (though nothing in Munich is truly urban) then I highly recommend living here. It’s near the city center, near the English Garden and near both Universities, which means lots of cafes and shops. It’s VERY international, because of all the big companies in the area. You hear a lot of English in the shops and I really feel that it is one of the friendliest and most easy going neighbourhoods in the city (I think this comes from having so many students around).

 

There are lots of minorities, so you won’t stick out if you are one (my husband is Asian) and the schools are totally prepared for foreign kids (ours will be the one on Schwindstr.). While I do speak German and can navigate the system pretty well, it was important to me that our daughter isn’t the ONLY foreign kid in her class (the way I was when I went to Grundschule out in the countryside) so this area is perfect for us.

 

The suburbs can be a bit tricky, because it can be pretty lonely out there, since making contacts is much harder (even if you DO speak the language). But there are lots of English speakers in the Starnberg area because of the Munich International School as well as in places like Ottobrunn because of the European School families.

 

Someone already mentioned Gern, and I agree, it is a lovely area and was on our list of possible neighbourhoods when we were looking for a new place.

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In 2002/03 we lived in Gern and both our girls (ages 12 and 16 at the time) went to the school on Schwindstr. At the time the headmistress, school secretary and both their teachers spoke English. Apparently most teachers do since they do learn it, the question is will they! It seemed this school was the one that had 'auslander klasses' for those who were not German speaking. Both girls learned a lot and enjoyed the multicultural aspect of the school. At the time there were over 30 nationalities represented.

 

It was quite a hike from Gern, especially coming from Canada where everyone seems to go to the local school, but you do adapt. The Dom Pedro Schule was almost around the corner, but because they didn't speak German they sent them to Schwindstr. It always surprised me that children as young as 6 seemed to be taking the U-bahn or whatever alone. The 12 year old wasn't confident enough to do the trip on her own for a while so someone went with her until she built up the confidence. Then there was no looking back.

 

I wish I had a school buddy at first as we went through some traumatic times in the beginning, but we persevered and more than enjoyed the year. Both neighbours upstairs and down would gladly translate papers for us (Although Babelfish was extremely useful). One of them even went shopping with me so we had the right supplies.

 

Good luck and enjoy your time. It is a beautiful city, full of history. I recommend looking into the Munich International Women's Club. They have a website and lots of activities for mom's with kids. That group kept me sane. Any questions PM me.

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Just wanted to add that based on our experiences, a lot will really depend on the individual teacher your child/children get. Although there are some wonderful, nurturing German teachers (i.e. American-style), there are many more who are not. I still haven't figured out if some of these teachers are unhappy with their lives in general or just don't like children despite dedicating a career to teaching them, but if you have the misfortune of getting stuck with one of these types of German teachers, your life and your child's will probably be miserable irrespective of the school or neighborhood. Fortunately, we've only had one extremely negative, passive-aggressive, psycho German teacher, but my eldest still remembers the experience very well three years later.

 

Some German families we know try to ascertain beforehand, through friends or neighbors, which teachers in a particular school are "good" and which ones to avoid, and try to influence the school director either beforehand or after class lists are published. This may be difficult in your situation, but perhaps you will meet some international mothers who may be able to help you gain some insight for a specific school. At the very least, you should be able to discern what to expect with your child's particular teacher.

 

Otherwise, Munich is a great city, and there will be many wonderful experiences for you and your children. Good luck!

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