Our son ist “Erstklassig” (First class!)

A lot of people are curious about the cultural differences between the U.S. and Germany, and there are many. One of the biggest cultural differences is the approach to schooling, especially for younger children. While the upper levels of schooling (5th-13th class/grade) are also approached very differently, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about “Erste Klasse,” or first grade.

In America, kids start school in kindergarten when they are five years old. Before that, they might attend pre-school and start learning some basic skills, such as writing letters or learning to use scissors. Kindergarten here is very different. Kids attend kindergarten from age 3-6, and the focus is largely on play. They will do some arts and crafts, stories, games, etc., but these activities are meant to stimulate imagination and play rather than intentionally improving a certain school skill.

Here in Germany, kids don’t start school until they are six years old, at which time they enter “Erste Klasse,” which literally translates to “First Class” and means in American culture “First Grade.” Unlike America, there is no cut-off birthday for starting school (i.e. August 1, September 1, etc.). Instead, every kiddo born in a certain year is eligible for school. Parents and kindergarten teachers can decide together for a child to stay in kindergarten a year longer to develop more socially and emotionally, which happens sometimes, especially for children born later in a year. Likewise, some kids (like our big guy) will be younger in their year because they have a late birthday.

Probably the best thing about starting school here in Germany is “Einschulung,” which is the first day of school and takes place on a Saturday. Although I’m not sure everything is the same in each German city, I will share what it’s like here in Hannover. The kiddos come into school with their “Schulranzen” (the most legit, awesome backpack style ever) and their “Schultüte,” a giant cone filled with goodies from the parents. For those of you who are curious, Cade’s had some cool school supplies (ruler shaped like a sword, anyone?), a kid-safe pocket knife, a wallet, a space snack container and water bottle, a book, and some of his favorite candies.

Check out that handsome fellow! The Schulranzen (backpack) is large, sturdy, and ergonomic. Plus, it is super cool looking. They are quite expensive, but students use them from 1st-4th grade. The Schultüte is 2-3 feet tall, and most parents make these giant cones themselves based on their child’s interests. Cade’s Schultüte was space themed!

The official ceremony began with all of the “Schulkinder” (school children) in a large space with their families. The 4th grade students presented a skit and a song to open up the ceremony. After that, the principal walked us all through the general expectations and introduced the teachers. Sometimes students know their classes ahead of time, but Cade didn’t know his. The sorting (Come on, fellow HP fans! You know you love the idea of being sorted.) took place at the end. Cade was sorted and left with his class for 45 minutes of “Unterricht” (teaching/lesson). While he was in class with his new classmates, we waited with the other families for our big guy to finish up his first lesson.

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Cade’s class being sorted. Don’t worry! He’s totally a Gryffindor. 

After that official lesson, most families leave and celebrate. We did just that! We had a special lunch with our family and Nick’s parents at the local American style ’50s diner (mmm… milkshakes), then we headed back home to prepare for Cade’s Einschulung Party. We had so much fun!

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Now our big guy is officially a “Schulkind” and is loving it! We hope you enjoyed learning a bit about his Einschulung and this awesome German tradition 🙂

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His first official day in school. IMG_3606

Einschulung got us like… zzzzzzzz 😉

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