Vorschule, here we come

In Austria, the year of education immediately prior to primary school is called Vorschule (preschool) and the years preceding that are called Kindergarten, opposite of what they’re called in the US.  Also, while the “official” start to Vorschule happens the September before first grade, the preliminary evaluations and the first structured lessons begin in March of that year, since nearly all Austrian children seem to attend Kindergarten.

So, for B, that means now.

As with everything else from his school experience, this is new to us.  We had no idea that the more formal part of his education was about to begin.  We went to an informational meeting at his school last night, expecting to hear only about things for next September, and were surprised to hear about the evaluations that are set to begin in the next few weeks.

I don’t know much about kindergarten in the US, and even less about Vorschule in Austria, but it seems to me that they focus on different things.  I have the impression that American kids entering kindergarten are supposed to already be started on reading and writing, able to count and recognize numbers, and capable of dressing themselves . . . so we’ve been watching B’s progress and encouraging him to develop these skills.  Although the kids in Austria will be evaluated on things like motor coordination, emotional maturity and math skills, the vast majority of the emphasis in Vorschule appears to be on language development.  Really, almost entirely.  As the principal said last night, “Without language, we cannot have any learning”.  (But, of course, she said it in German.  What’s more amazing is that I understood her.)

And, while B’s verbal and math skills are impressive, and his drawings get more detailed every day, the emphasis for his upcoming evaluations will be on language skills — vocabulary, sentence structure, prepositions, reading comprehension (when the teacher does the reading) and verb conjugation . . . all in German.

So, my first thought was to worry.  Actually, my first reaction was to freak out with stress.  Especially because I can’t even help him.  His German is equivalent to mine (if not better), and my “help” would probably hinder more than improve his skills.  But, I don’t need to worry.  First, we were happy to find out that there is a whole separate evaluation track for kids who are learning German as a second language.  Secondly . . . when we get back to the States, is anyone going to hold his problems constructing proper German sentences against him?

Since it’s “school”, it’s hard for me to not get worked up about it and instantly focus on how to improve his evaluation.  The overachieving perfectionist in me really wants to come out.  But, there’s no need.  He’s getting the education that he needs just by getting up every morning and going to school.  He’s learning that he can do hard things.  He’s learning to share, play well with others, take turns and ask when he doesn’t understand something.  He’s learning a whole new cultural perspective.  And he’s learning some German, too.  It’s *all* important and significant, and every day that he spends in the Austrian school system teaches him major life skills.  He’ll have his evaluation done, and the teachers know already that it will identify which areas he needs to work on.  Great!  And then they’ll work on improving those things.  What is there for me to get worked up about?

But the thing is, back in the US, I would have.  I would already be putting inadvertent pressure on him to succeed in a way that works for me.  Being here, and having to step back, gives me so much more appreciation for the system.  I have to trust and respect his teachers for their patience and expertise, for it’s perfectly clear that they are taking on a job that I could not do.  I hate to admit it, but I recognize that I might not have had the same willingness to trust in them, nor the same awareness of the need for me to stay out of it, if we were at home.  And an evaluation of “needs to improve”, in any area, would probably have put me on defensive mode instead of open acceptance, which is what I’ll most likely react with here.  But isn’t that what school is for?  Improving?  So why should that bother me?

As part of the meeting last night, we got to go through and do some of the activities B will be doing soon.  We did a rhyming game, a matching game, saw how they do “reading” comprehension, built stories with pictures, and worked on our prepositions.  And, as B will do, we did it all in German.  It was actually pretty fun, and just about at our skill level.  We learned quite a few things.  And after an hour or so of intently listening to German, trying to pull out relevant information and formulate intelligent questions, we were exhausted.

I’m kind of jealous, though.  I think I need Vorschule.  If I spent an hour each day playing those games, I’d be awesome at German.  Both Dan & I felt like we learned a lot last night — not just about the Austrian system, but some new German, too.

So, here we are.  B is about to start a new chapter of his academic career, and I’m already learning lessons about relaxing and accepting the process without obsessing over my natural desire for perfection.

In short, I think that Benjamin isn’t the only one getting an education here.

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