Giving your little ones the Wings to Fly

Are you new to Germany with kids ? or , you are planning a move and want to weigh the options with related to parenting/ schooling , then this one is for you.

Moving to a country like Germany that is starkly different from India in terms of language spoken, culture, climate, life style  could be extremely overwhelming. Doubts regarding schooling will only make things harder. Series of questions like

will my child be able to adapt to the changes?”

“will my child be able to make friends ?”

“Will the child be able to cope up with the language?”

the list is only endless.

As a parent who has gone through spells of turmoil like this, I can give my insights that could possibly help your decision making a little easier.

It is very important to understand the choices available for which a detailed research is required. As elders, when we consider moving, we only tend to consider the most obvious challenges like completing visa formalities, shopping and accumulating things that we would need in a new land, writing budget plans and savings details, finding a flat/accommodation in the new city among others.  The last to feature in the list is schooling simply because we assume that it can be handled as it comes, which isn’t a very good approach if I may say so.

It is extremely important to know about the choices, make an informed decision based on your requirements and future plans and tune ourselves mentally to face it, so that when it actually happens we aren’t in a fix and a state of shock.

Talking about the choices, the first source would be to find a known person/contact  who lives in the city/country. Make yourself part of specific  Whatsapp/facebook  groups or any social group and get to know the choices.  A suggestion would be to avoid Google, more so if you haven’t yet landed in the country. The volume of information that is thrown could leave you directionless.

  • How long do I intend to live in Germany, at least tentatively?

  • How Important it is for my child to learn English?

  • How much can I spend towards my child’s/childrenss’ education?

After having answered these questions, try to understand the choices available. Let us go through them in detail according to the age of the child.

Children above 6 years of age

Children in Germany start actual school (Grade 1) at the age of 6. The answer to the first question should determine if your child should go to a State/Village/Council run German school or to a Bilingual school or to an international school.

If your stay in Germany will not last more than 2 or 3 years, then the natural choice would be a Bilingual or an international school, because you don’t want the child to feel alienated to English when you get back to India. (No, English isn’t taught as a subject until Grade 4 in local schools if you thought so). But this choice needs some introspection in terms of financial planning, as you need to spend a good amount of money towards education. In some cases, the companies do support the employees with the fees. So if your stay is short and if you can also afford, then Bilingual or International schools would be the best choice. But the application and selection process for these schools start during May and get completed by July. So your travel dates should be planned accordingly.   ”If you think, “why not a local school ? “ , Imagine your child attending 3 years of school  learning German in a local school, and start 4th grade in India., where the child would be expected to ANSWER IN DETAIL IN ENGLISH. So foresee the consequences before making a decision.

On the other hand, If you do see a future beyond 5 years, then the local school would be the best option. The education in state run schools is free of cost which is a huge advantage, but the initial challenge would be the language. The lower the grade , the lesser the challenge. Children find it hard to adapt in the beginning, importantly if they are used to the schooling system back in India. Children would feel left out and isolated. But , these issues and fears fade away in no time before you could even realize it. As parents, you should be mentally tuned to handle the heart breaking moments in the beginning and do all that you can to support and help the child. Keep talking to parents like you for reassurance and support.  If your child starts schooling at a higher grade(grade 3 and above), then looking out for external help for language assistance is highly recommended. Local schools give utmost importance to German language and grammar skills.  The local parent group should be able to give details about this. Most schools offer integration courses, but that wouldn’t be sufficient.

Post Grade 4, the children are categorized based on their academic achievements and performance during the primary school and are sent to different schools accordingly. Those are called the “Gynmnasium”, “Realschule”, “Mittelschule”.

Application Process

Once you are done with your city registration, locate the nearest “GRUNDSCHULE” using  maps.  You can walk in and directly apply by filling out a simple form during the working hours. Ensure your child completes 6 years of age by September 30th of that academic year(If you are applying for grade 1).

Also ensure that you apply for the day care facility that’s available (Commonly called Hort or Mittagsbetreung) immediately after applying for a school seat. The space in such a facility as widely claimed is hard to get ,more so if one of the parent isn’t working.  But luck could play a role, so no harm in applying. This would just ensure that the child spends good time out of school with other kids which in turn aids in learning the language and hence quicker integration.  The day care support could cost anywhere between 100 and 200 Euros per month, which requires a bit of financial planning .

Children between 3 and 6 years

Kids between 3 and 6 years of age go to Kinder Garden in Germany.  Attending a Kinder Garden isn’t mandatory here but is recommended. These could be State or Private run. Again, answers to the above 3 questions should determine your choice. If your stay isn’t longer, then choose a private or a bilingual kinder garden where English is spoken. Do keep in mind that this is going to cost anywhere between 350 to 600 Euros per month depending upon the Kinder Garden chosen.

If you are considering a longer stay, then ensure your child goes to a state run kinder garden for the child doesn’t feel lost when starting school.  The child who is above 5 years is called a “Vorschule Kind” (meaning PRE SCHOOL kid) and these kids are sent once or twice in a week to actual school for quicker integration into the schooling system.  There are kids  who have attended English speaking kinder gardens, and find It extremely challenging when they start grade 1 in a local school.  So make an informed choice.

Securing a seat in a Kinder Garden could involve longer waiting time depending upon your child’s age .The nearer your child is to the school going age, the faster you get a seat.

Financial Aid

Any taxpayer living in Germany with children can get the financial aid (called Kindergeld) . This is an allowance (also called Child Benefit) from the German government to help parents with some of the cost of raising children. It is paid until the child turns 18 and until 25 for some exceptional cases. Starting in January 2019 the benefit was raised to €204 per child. Please note that the TAX ID of the child is mandatory to apply for this aid and ensure you have it before applying.

Cultural Integration

Having discussed a good deal about schooling, It is time to discuss some general transition issues. While it’s the elders who find it hard to adapt, children adapt quickly. But it is also mandatory for the parents to support. Culturally there is a lot of difference in behavior, play methods, language, sharing, helping , learning , food habits , independence between the German kids and Indian kids.  As elders we tend to mingle with our own clan for the sake of comfort. But, don’t fail to realize that it is very important for your kid to get along with the community children to get used to the regular practices and understand certain fundamental cultural differences so that it gets easier at school and other public places. If your child has liking to a particular sport or any other activity, do enroll him/her in such classes because the best way children learn is through playing. Take the kids out to the near by  park, cycling, walking, super markets as often as possible. Children observe and learn a great deal. It also helps them understand things easily when you explain.

Common Terminologies

Kinder Krippe : The term Kinder Krippe refers to a place kids under 3 years go , what we call “Play schools or day care centres” in our country.

Kinder Garten : The term Kinder Garten refers to a place kids between 3 and 6 years of age go what we call pre-school comprising pre-KG, LKG and UKG

Grundschule : The term Grundschule refers to Primary Schools (grade 1 to 4) run by the Government  in  Germany .

Hort/Mittagsbetreung : The after school day care centers that children attend.

Bi-Lingual  Schools : These refer to schools where the medium of instruction is both Deustch and English. Most Bi-Lingual schools start from Kinder Garden, so if your choice is this, then it saves you the trouble of hunting for Kinder Garden facilities.

International Schools : These as the name says, is to cater to foreign students who do not know or who do not want to learn German. The medium of instruction is English. And these schools offer great variety of after school activities and expert training. But the fees could cause a huge dent in your savings.

Hope this helped you acquire a decent understanding of how schooling works in Germany. As explained above, weighing your personal requirements against the choices available will definitely help you make your decision making process hassle free.  Wishing all you parents good luck and a pleasant life in Germany.  Give your little ones the right wings to fly high and reach greater heights in a land full of wonderful opportunities.