School update

Primarschule TonhalleWe went for a parent teacher interview yesterday as it will soon be the end of the school year here (in Australia we start in late January and finish in December).

It is a small school  with less than 200 students and has just one building.  I didn’t think to take a camera so snapped these very dodgy photos with my phone….


When you walk in the front door you enter a large hall which has classrooms surrounding it.  In front of the classrooms are benches where the kids change their shoes (they wear slippers in the classroom) and hang their coats.  This is very different for us.  Coming from one of the warmer areas of Australia where we only get a very mild winter, most homes do not have a coat closet.   They are common in all homes here and at school.

IMG_0328Each child has their own labelled area to put their things.

Claudia is doing well at school (she is in an integration class for foreign children).  She is not quite fluent in German but has excellent comprehension and can maintain a conversation.  It is only a matter of time now.   I ask her for help frequently….  She really enjoys school but the biggest problem is socialisation.  Friends are so important and most of the kids in her class would say that it is difficult because of the many language barriers.  There are currently more than six different languages spoken in her class (and a variety of age groups).  Despite this they all do their best to try to get to know each other.

After the summer holiday (which is the new school year here starting in mid-August) Claudia will start going into a regular Swiss class (in her current school) two days per week for a few lessons.  She will be joining the class to do sport and handwork.  The kids here start learning skills such as sewing, woodwork and even metalwork in primary school.   That is one thing I have noticed about school here.  There is a big focus on nature and creating independence.  Kids here are taught from a very young age to tend to a fire and to cook on an open barbecue.  Tomorrow Claudia will go on her first excursion.  They are taking a train to the forest to go exploring and will be cooking their own lunch there.  She is very excited about this.


Primarschule TonhalleI have been to school yesterday for a parent’s open day (although I was the only one there in our small integration class).  This is the school.  It is one building.  The children arrive at school at 8am in the morning and stand out the front on the steps until their teacher calls them in.  Rain, snow or sunshine.  The school is on a main road and isn’t fenced but this doesn’t seem to be a problem because the kids are taught to be responsible for themselves.  Although there are always the exceptions 🙂

As you step into the building there is a large open room where children hang their bags and coats on hooks and change out of their outside shoes into inside ones.

The lessons start right away.  I am amazed that in a class with children ranging in age from 7 to 12 years that they are all doing the same work initially.  It is all in German and I am struggling to keep up but the kids are doing fine.  They all have different levels of German but seem to follow along quite well.  They stand at the blackboard for a morning test of last night’s homework so the teacher is able to see exactly what is going on.  After this they head to their desks and work individually using their German workbooks.  There is a cd player in the room and they go there from time to time to listen to the audio part of the course.  As they finish a section the work is taken up to the teacher who checks it and offers corrections when needed.  I am very impressed with how the teacher is handling the variety of age-groups and levels of German.  The kids really seem to love the class.

There is a break at around 9.30am where the children eat a healthy snack in the classroom and then go outside to play.  Rain, snow or sunshine.  There is no undercover area to keep dry or warm.  The kids rug up with beanies and scarves and coats and just get on with it.  There is no playground equipment just some balls and (in winter) a fair bit of snow throwing.  Urs tells me that at his school they did have a playground so it obviously varies from place to place.

The children go to the library once a fortnight.  It is in the old town and is about a 1km walk from the school.  Likewise on Fridays when they have sport, they walk to an indoor sporthall which is about 500m from the school.  I am sure all of this, combined with walking to and from school and home for lunch daily, encourages an active lifestyle.  I really am impressed by the fitness level of the older population here and I am convinced it is because it has been a part of their entire life.

DSC_0222Sorry about the poor quality photo!  This is one of  Claudia ‘s books.  She is reading quite well in German after only nine weeks at school.  It is not easy.  Some of the words are real tongue-twisters but she has a good accent.  She can’t understand all the words (and trust me when I say Google Translate is not always your best friend) but gets the general meaning.  Urs reads with her and then they talk about what it means.  She brings home a story to read every day which is even harder than this.  And as in English, it is often sprinkled with nonsense words here and there.  Except it often takes us a while to work out that that is what they are!

Next week we will have a parent teacher interview to find out exactly how things are going and what the plans will be for the upcoming months.  There has been talk of spending some time with a regular class for some subjects.  All in all, I am very happy with our school experience here but am missing the strong community feeling of our school in Australia.  It may be that this exists here as well but that as an outsider I am not aware of it.

Celebrating birthdays


In a class that is represented by numerous nationalities “Happy Birthday” is sung in every language.  So when one of Claudia’s classmates had her birthday this week the children sang to her in English, Portugese, Spanish, Hungarian, German, Arabic and Italian.  All to the same tune.  And then they ate cake.  People really are the same everywhere.

P.S.  That delicious Linzer Torte in the photo isn’t around anymore 🙂


Adapting to change


There are no lunchboxes to pack the night before school.  No drink bottles to freeze so they stay cold throughout the day.  No brown paper bags to write on for tuckshop.  Claudia comes home for lunch every day.  That’s what kids do here.  Her school is one building.  No library, no hall, no playgrounds for different age groups.  Frequent snowball attacks.

I see her growing in confidence day by day.  She walks further by herself now.  She has someone she can walk with sometimes.  Someone who is a friend.  But the language barrier is still difficult.  They talk to each other in short sentences trying to find a common language between German, Hungarian and English.  There is none of the giggly banter we are used to.  That is hard for her.  But I often see them leave school with smiles on their faces, having the odd snowball fight on the path, and know that once their German improves things will be easier.

Claudia is picking up German quickly.  Now she will often ask me for things using the German word.  When we first got here we hated watching tv in German and would quickly switch to the English channels, irritated by not being able to understand anything.  But in the last week we have both started watching the German language channels.  It wasn’t really discussed, it just happened.  I often watch a German show with German subtitles because I find that hearing it and reading it is really helpful, especially if I watch a movie that I have seen before in English – probably because I have context to help me with the language.

In a new country with a new language you can sink or swim.  To swim you have to adapt and fight your inner need to hang onto what is familiar so that you can embrace what is different.  It isn’t easy but we are trying to swim.

Something is in the air

IMG_0304There is a thick fog around and it hasn’t moved all day.  It was there when we walked to school in the bitter cold this morning…IMG_0306And there when I waited for school to break for lunch….IMG_0307And still there when we walked home for the day.  We are convinced there must be snow coming.

A few things that are different at school here:

  • most children walk/ride a bike/ride a scooter to school, even the small children
  • the younger children wear a safety reflector to and from school
  • there are no uniforms
  • slippers are worn in the classroom
  • many schools won’t let you take a banana for snack as it sticks to the teeth

School starts on Monday

DSC_0056Our school supply list was tiny compared to what we are used to.  My mother-in-law confirmed this is normal.

To be supplied by student:

  • pencil case with colouring pencils or felt pens
  • sharpener
  • ruler
  • backpack (A4 size)
  • slippers (to wear inside – shoes are not worn indoors here)
  • tissues
  • cup
  • clothes for sport

DSC_0057Supplied by school:

  • rubber
  • pencil
  • glue
  • scissors
  • textbook, cd, and workbook (we have started working through this already)

The big question is…. can we get out of bed on time?  It is still dark here until almost 8am.

Integration class at school


The school year in Switzerland begins in August and finishes in June for summer break.  At the moment there is a two week Christmas break so Claudia will start school in the second week in January.  She is going to a local school that has an integration class for foreign children.  There are currently eight girls and two boys in the class ranging in age from nine to 13 years, and from Brazil, Syria, Spain, Hungary, and of course Australia 🙂

The class uses an immersion technique for teaching German.  High German (the written language in this part of Switzerland) is spoken at all times and the children work through a textbook and cd.  They also learn about Swiss culture and do mathematics appropriate for their current level.  Once they are ready, children are then integrated into a regular class.   There are currently two children who go to a regular class a couple of days per week, and the integration class on the other days.

Claudia will go to school two full days per week and three half days.  She will come home for a two-hour lunch on the full days and then return to school for the afternoon lessons.  I plan to help her keep up with English and Australian history on her half days.  She is a little bit nervous about the language as she has only heard Swiss German (the spoken language in this part of Switzerland) from her dad and it sounds quite different, but I’m sure she will be more fluent than me in no time!  It is a steep learning curve but a fantastic opportunity to not only learn about Switzerland, but also about the home countries of the other children.

My new school (by Claudia)

Primarschule Tonhalle
A few days ago I went to look at my new school in Switzerland.  While I was there I met my new classmates.  There are eight girls (including me) and two boys.  My teacher is helpful and she gave me two German books – one for writing in and one for reading. She gave my parents a CD to listen to.  The children in my class all help each other and are all great at speaking German.  The kids don’t bring in water bottles like I did in Australia – instead they bring in empty cups and when they wanted a drink they would go to the teacher and ask for a drink of water. This is a bit weird for me because I’m used to bringing in a water bottle.  I was nervous at first and didn’t know anyone but I’m sure I’ll find a friend soon.  You know sometimes it’s hard being the new kid in town and at school and everything.

Wondering where the snow is – alas there’s been a heat-wave two days.  Only two days before I got here white as white can be! Super disapointing for a kid who was looking forward to some snow and when we got here there was not even enough to make a snowman.  Instead I made a small igloo.