2nd Grade in Bavaria

Last month Big Sister started 2nd grade. After all the fanfare of becoming a 1st grader, the quiet start to 2nd grade was a relief.

She walks to school with a friend from her class. They already know the way so they can make it on their own and I know most of the parents and some of the staff from last year, so I can too. She knows her teacher and has the same classroom as before.

Apart from a few things that needed to be replaced, she already had her supplies and so the first day of school was like a reunion instead of a plunge into freezing cold water.

In Bavaria 2nd graders have about one more hour per week of learning than they did as 1st graders. In our elementary school they stay mostly in one classroom with a main teacher, which is similar to my own elementary school experience. They have art, music, sports and religion during the week but usually there is not a specific teacher employed to teach those subjects as it was when I was in school.

Religion is a normal public school course required for elementary school children in Bavaria. Children can be enrolled in a religion course for Catholics, Protestants or they can opt for Ethics. I laugh when I imagine the uproar in the USA but I have to admit I kind of like it. It gives a jumping off point for talking about big issues—life, death, violence, history, faith and truth.

School ends between 11:30 and 1pm daily, depending on the schedule for the class. Because the day is relatively short, most kids stay for an afterschool program. There they have lunch, a chance to play, a homework period and activities like sports, art or gardening, depending on the season. Parents can choose whether they stay until 2pm or 4pm. Mine stays til 2pm and comes home to do her homework.

2nd graders have homework every day. Their teacher says homework should not take more than an hour and that really it shouldn’t even take an hour. “If they sit there for an hour and it’s not done, they should go outside and play,” She told us. “There will be plenty of time in life to be forced to stay inside and do work—2nd grade shouldn’t be it.”

Compared to what I hear from the parents of young children in America, some things about our school and schooling seem a bit old-fashioned. I wonder if that is actually true or if this is purposeful. Either way I can’t complain.

The kids learn cursive in 2nd grade and it seems like a really big milestone. Big sister has been looking forward to it since last year. They begin with pencil like we all did but then learn to write with a real ink pen—like a calligraphy pen. She is already hoping that she will get a pen with real ink for Christmas.

Something that struck me is that they still use mostly pencils and paper to do their work. At back to school night we heard about a special event when they will get to use touch screen tablets for some kind of game learning but mostly they are training their eye-hand coordination continuing with coloring, drawing and putting pen to paper.

Last year they learned about 20 different ways to add and subtract numbers 1-10. This is fascinating to me because I don’t remember learning that. I contacted a friend who teaches middle school math in the state of Maryland and she confirmed that we didn’t learn that way but that is the standard now. I think its incredible. Math can be fun for some kids because it’s concrete—as in –there is only right answer– but I think it’s world’s more fun when kids are taught that there are endless ways to get to the right answer. This gives them numerous tools to solve a problem instead of feeling like they are the problem. The curriculum says they should learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of numbers 1-100 this year. 

They don’t start getting real grades until 3rd grade. In 1st and 2nd grade they get happy and sad or neutral faces as grades. My favorite thing that they do is have a mid-year evaluation. The parents are invited to observe but the meeting is officially between the teacher and the student. Prior to the meeting they each fill out a form evaluating the progress in different subjects, then they discuss it. It was fascinating last year to see that both the teacher and Big Sister had the same opinion of her progress.

In Germany there are no school related extra-curricular sports. Instead it’s a club culture where you pay a yearly fee to be part of a sports club in your area. Each club specializes in something different so you might end up going to a different town if they focus more on what your kid is into. There are lots of soccer clubs. We are discovering that there are also gymnastics, handball, swim and ice skating clubs. I love that it creates interesting circles of people. School friends and sports friends in intersecting groups.

It won’t surprise you to hear that Big sister takes ballet. The ballet school is not like a sports club, it’s exactly like a ballet school in the USA–A school where people pay a monthly fee for a certain hours of ballet lessons per month from a professional teacher. Sole Germans are pretty appalled at the idea of having to pay monthly for a kid’s activity.

I have heard that for all their talk of work-life balance, Germans are actually obsessed with their children’s educations. I have yet to find out if this is true. For now, parents seem pretty laid back but I’ve heard that long about 3rd grade lots of kids drop out of ballet to concentrate on school.

Yesterday Big Sister, who usually loves doing the math problems asked,

“Why do we even need math?”

 “Do you really want to know,” I asked “or are you just frustrated?”

“I really want to know.” She said taking off her shoes.

“Ok. Well, lots of my favorite things require math—baking, cooking, knitting, quilting, even gardening. And if for example you want to design a building, you’ll need math so that you can make sure the walls are straight and the building doesn’t fall down.”

“Yeah mom, but you know,” She turned to me as she started walking into the dining room, “Eventually all buildings fall down.”

So there you have it, I’m not sure if we have a world class debater or a philosopher on our hands…but this is 2nd grade. 

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