Education Tips

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What activities can I do during the fall holidays?

Activities for the fall holidays

The fall holidays are coming up in Germany in September, and you might wonder what to do with the kids all day long. Here is a fun activity for kids ages 4 and up (under supervision), as popular in German Kindergarten and first grade: Build a chestnut zoo:

You need:

- various big and small chestnuts
- acorns (optional)
- toothpicks
- glue (UHU)
- pipe cleaners
- pieces of string or wool
- small handdrill
- permanent marker
- large sheet of paper, crayons (optional)

Drill 4 holes into a big chestnut (bottom). Drill one hole on top (for neck). Do not let kids use drill unsupervised. Coat toothpicks with glue and attach into bottom holes for legs. Coat ½ of a toothpick with glue and attach to top. Drill a hole into a small chestnut or acorn. Attach to toothpick/neck. Coat end of big chestnut with glue and attach wool or strings for tail. Attach more wool for a mane, if desired. Paint face (eyes, nose etc.) with permanent marker. Glue on whiskers (optional). You have your first chestnut animal.

If you want to create chestnut animals with bendable legs, use pipe cleaners instead of toothpicks. Or build an elephant with a pipe cleaner trunk. You may also want to encourage your kids to paint a large sheet of paper with paths, trees, houses and fields for your animals to play in. There is no limit to your imagination.

Tip: if you cannot find any chestnuts, use potatoes instead.

Which university is right for me?

Numerus Clausus and the university

Certain fields of research require a certain level of previous education. If your high school diploma does not meet these demands, you will be excluded from this particular branch of studies. "Medicine" is such a "Numerus Clausus" (closed number) field, meaning that only a particular number of new students is accepted per year. The better your diploma, the higher the chance you will be accepted. It is also possible to get your name on a waiting list. This means you will get notified if a university has room for you. Note: that way, you cannot choose your university and might end up where you feel uncomfortable. Since this procedure changes all the time, it is wisest to go to 'study counselling' (Studienberatung), which is offered for free at most universities and get the latest details. You ought to expect a waiting period of several months until you can get the necessary papers together and reach a final decision about your studies.

What is a "Nachhilfezirkel"?


A Nachhilfezirkel is an independent institute, in which kids with school problems receive extra tuition. The teaching is done by retired school teachers and college students. Kids are usually taught in small groups. A Nachhilfezirkel is usually less expensive than a private tutor.

What is the right age to start school?


A Schultuete ("school cone") is presented to kids on their first day of school. It is a colorful cardboard cone filled with candy and school supplies, such as pencils, erasers, glue etc. - The idea is to make the transit from Kindergarten to a more formal kind of education easier for the child. Tip: if you have a younger sibling at home, give him or her a small cone, too. That way, rivalry can be avoided.

Is Physical Education compulsory at German schools?

Physical Education

Physical Education is compulsory in most German schools. Your kid needs training shoes (2 pairs, for indoors and outdoors), a training suit, bathing trunks etc. - Schools generally do not provide kids with team uniforms, and if they do, these must also be paid for. If your child cannot participate in some sports activity due to a health condition, you need to obtain a doctor's certificate (Attest) stating the problem. The teacher will then find a different activity for the kid.

What is a "Schulzahnarzt"?


A Schulzahnarzt is a dentist who visits classrooms on an annual basis and inspects the kids' teeth. The service is free. If he finds a problem, he will inform the kid's parents with a slip. Parents will then arrange for an appointment with the family dentist.

How can I save money buying school books?

School Books

It used to be customary for school children to hire out school books for free directly from the school. Nowadays, however, parents must buy most of the books themselves. Tip: Put a note on the school's board explaining that you are willing to buy books 2nd hand. There are a lot of older kids who would be glad to get rid of their old books.

Where can I find info on kite flying?

Fun activity for kids: kite flying

The fall season in Germany is ideal for kite flying. This sport is very popular in Germany, and it is no longer considered a “kids-only” activity. You will find lots of information on kite flying at this website:

What are the common German school types?

Grammar school or secondary modern?

Before your child can move on from "class 6" (ages 11-12) to class 7, there will be a test to determine which kind of school is more appropriate. Secondary modern (middle school) lasts until age 16, is less work-intensive and usually leads to an apprenticeship. Grammar school will continue for another 6-7 years (ages 18-19), and contain the "Abitur" (high school diploma), which is needed to study at any German college. You as a parent can not choose, it is the skill and knowledge of the child that determines the school's recommendation. However, there is an alternative, the "Gesamtschule", which has both school types in the same building. If your child starts at middle school and ecxells at it, it can easily transfer into grammar school.

Is there a subsidized school lunch?

School Lunch

A subsidized school lunch is not so common in Germany. Usually kids take their own lunch boxes, which they eat during the "big" breaks (20 minutes). Most schools sell drinks, such as soda and chocolate milk from vending machines.

What kind of day care facilities are there?

Getting your child into Kindergarten

Getting your child into "Kindergarten" (day care) in Germany can be both difficult and expensive. There are too many kids, and not enough facilities. You might want to start looking for a good kindergarden as soon as your child is 2 years old. "Kindergarten" generally starts at age 3. Check with your local churches and your employer. Consider 'renting' a day mom. Read ads in your local paper. Start early.

What do I do if my kid cannot keep up at school?


An Internat is a privately run boarding school. It is not associated with 'normal' schools and can put emphasis on subjects that may not be taught in a different kind of school. Internate are inspected by the German school board, however, to ensure that kids reach university standards. German Internate are popular for parents with "problem kids". A lot of them are run by the Church. Generally speaking, they are all expensive.

What is a "Klassenlehrer"?


A Klassenlehrer is a teacher who supervises one particular class over a couple of years. His tasks are somewhat similar to those of a homeroom teacher. He teaches more than one subject to his class. He is the first person a parent should approach if there is a problem. The Klassenlehrer will then investigate the problem and report back to the parent.

What is a "Schulimpfung"?


A Schulimpfung is a free health service, in which school children get vaccinated by visiting nurses. Your kid does not have to be vaccinated, but it is a good idea to take advantage of this service. Regulations are strict, and you do not have to worry that the vaccination is unneccessary, or might cause health defects.

What is a "Schuelerlotse"?


A Schuelerlotse is a guide who helps pupils cross busy streets near the school. Schuelerlotsen are usually older school kids. They were a uniform and are easily recognizable. Kids can volunteer to become a Schuelerlotse and will receive training prior to the job. It is a good idea to encourage your kid to do this kind of job, as it teaches responsibility.

Is Physical Education compulsory at German schools?


Bundesjugendspiele are a bi-annual sports event in German schools. Attendence is compulsory. If a child misses the games due to a health condition, it will have to do them at a later date. Kids compete against each other and against other local schools. If they do well, they receive a certificate. Bundesjugendspiele are a good way to improve the kids' PE grades. The Sommerspiele are held outdoors, the Winterspiele are held indoors, and activities vary accordingly. They are supervised by PE teachers and independent school board members.

What is a "Schulreise"?


A Schulreise is a field trip taken by the entire class, accompanied by one or two teachers (usually the Klassenlehrer). A school trip takes between 1 - 2 weeks. The idea is to enable teachers and kids to form a closer relationship and study in more relaxed surroundings. Most Schulreisen are subsidized by the government to enable kids of low-income families to take part.

How long is a school lesson in Germany?

Lenghth of German school lessons

German schools start their lessons at 8 o/clock sharp. A typical lession is 45 minutes long, followed by a 5 minute break, or a 20 minute break. There is no lunch hour. School usually ends between 1 and 3 p.m..

What is a "Schulreise"?


A Landschulheim is a hostel for school children on a Schulreise (field trip). It is subsidized by the government and usually located in rural surroundings. It does not provide hotel service, so kids are encouraged to do kitchen duty and clean up their rooms, make their own beds, etc.. It is usually run by a matron.

What is the right age to start school?

Finding out when your kid is ready for school

If your child is in kindergarden, a "schooltest" at age 5 should automatically follow. If not, you need to check the "Litfasssaeule" (a streetsign full of ads), where flyers about the schooltest are posted bi-annually. It is also possible to find this out at your local "Gesundheitsamt" (a governmental health organisation, where your child gets free care and vaccinations). Usually there will be a doctor appointment after the test. If your child passes those tests, you will be able to enroll him/her at school. This is usually the school closest to your home. Schoolage starts at age 6. Exceptions are made, if the child is unusually advanced for its age.

Which university is right for me?

Finding the right university

Check out your options and, if possible, send away for material from different universities, before you even apply for a course. German universities range from small, relatively private institutions to huge mass universities (e.g. Berlin). As a rule, you can expect less contact with the lecturers and less supervision at the bigger ones, yet a rigid system of tasks that need to be performed, plus a ton of paperwork. Some universities kick out their students if they underperform. Often this happens because there was not enough support during the first or second semester. If you are the 'elbow' type, you will probably do well at a mass university. If not, try to get into a smaller one. Big does not necessarily mean better.

What is a "Sommerfest"?


Most German schools hold an annual Sommerfest (summer party), so kids, parents and teachers can meet informally. A typical Sommerfest would include an arts and crafts show, a theater play, music by the school choir and some sports activities. Schools also use the party to raise money for the school.

What is a "Zeugnis"?


Every school year is divided into two parts, at the end of which a Zeugnis (school report) is received. The Zeugnis enables parents to follow their kid's progress. It must be signed by a parent and shown to the teacher by the kid. A Zeugnis may have a general description of a kid's activities in writing, or a list of subjects with grades. It also informs parents about missed lessions and other absences.

What is a "Klassenlehrer"?


A Vertrauenslehrer is a teacher who acts as an advisor and arbitrator to kids, particularly when they have problems with other teachers. Vertrauen means trust in German, and the Vertrauenslehrer must keep such information confidential. Encourage your kid to speak to the Vertrauenslehrer, when things go wrong. Most have a genuine interest in children and do a good job.

Which languages are taught & do I have a choice?

Foreign languages

All German schools offer courses in at least two foreign languages. Usually, these are English and French. English starts in class 5 (average age 10), French in class 7 (age 12). Some schools offer French first. Grammar schools offer a third language, usually Latin, Greek or Spanish, starting in class 9 (age 14). These languages are not compulsory, as you can take maths (or another subject) instead. Note: for certain fields of study at college, previous studies of Latin are required. 2 years of Latin give you the "Kleines Latinum" (minor Latin), 4 years end with the "Grosses Latinum" (major Latin). It is advisable to take the major Latin exam at school, as it is virtually impossible to take this on the side once you have entered college.

How can I save money buying school books?


Some schools have their own library (Schulbuecherei), from which children can hire out books for free. Most libraries carry books related to school subjects and children's books. Encourage your kid to use these facilities; libraries are a good place for doing homework or reading in quiet surroundings, too.

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