Gelbe Gruppe

When I first decided to be a stay-at-home mom, shortly after Benjamin was born, it was my intention to stay home with him (we didn’t yet know that Liam would be arriving 2 years later) until he was about 4.  We were planning on doing a year of preschool prior to kindergarten — I didn’t know yet what form that preschool would take (full day, half day, every day, a few days per week, at a preschool, in someone’s home, with me, without me) but I thought that, if we could make it work financially, it would benefit the kids to have a chance to adjust to “being in school” before they actually had to be in school and truly focused on learning new things.  (Prior to Benjamin’s birth, I had every intention of returning to work after about 2-3 months of unpaid maternity leave.  That plan changed entirely within the first 72 hours of being a mom.  I guess the only benefit to NOT having any income during my “maternity leave” was that I very quickly figured out that we could, in fact, live without a second income.)

Of course, back in July of 2008, I had no idea we’d be living in Vienna in 2013.

Living here, where preschool provides an unparallelled opportunity to learn German, and an excellent opportunity for me to keep my sanity while living abroad and away from my family (i.e., with less help than I’d gotten used to) — for free, even — we decided to start B in preschool a year earlier than we’d originally planned, so he started just after he turned 3.  I am so glad we made that decision, and that we had the opportunity to do so.  It took B a long time to adjust to being in preschool, and although I’m sure the whole foreign language/new country thing made the transition more difficult, I honestly think he would have had a massive adjustment to being away from home (and me) regardless of what continent we’d lived on when we did it.  It took him a solid 6 months to fully embrace the idea of preschool, and a few months more than that to start to show the enthusiasm we see now.  He still loves holidays and weekends when he gets to stay home from school, but on most Sunday nights he tells us how excited he is to go back the next day.  It’s a wonderful feeling, and it gives me hope that we’ve given him a strong foundation in the idea that school is a fun, safe, supportive place, which he will hopefully carry forward with him as he gets older.

Having seen B go through all of this, we’ve been trying to decide exactly what Liam’s preschool experience will look like.  I have a feeling that Liam’s adjustment to preschool will be measured in days or maybe weeks, instead of months.  He loves me, and he loves playing at home, but he also asks, almost every morning, if today is the day that he can go to school with Benjamin.  Whether or not he & B went to school together, I think the fun of playing with other kids and getting to be in school would quickly overwhelm any amount that he missed me.  So, on the one hand, I don’t think he’ll need as much adjustment time before kindergarten, but on the other hand, he WANTS to go, already, and I don’t know if there’s much more benefit to be had by putting that off.

With all of that in mind, we enrolled Liam in “kindergarten” here for the fall. And we just found out, last month, that he got in . . . to the same school B attends (it wasn’t a given that he’d get in at all, and less so that he’d be able to go to the same school).  We had a meeting, recently, to talk about his enrollment, answer any questions we had, and to plan for his arrival at school next September.  (And WOW, that meeting was SO MUCH EASIER this time around.  Our German has vastly improved and now that we understand how the whole system works, things are fantastic.  What took a torturous hour 2 years ago for B, took a pleasant 20 minutes this time.)  On the school’s recommendation, we aren’t putting the boys in the same group (class) as each other, so while B is in the “blue group”, Liam would be in the “yellow group” (gelbe Gruppe, in German).  (Classes/groups in Austrian preschools include kids of ages 3-5, sometimes even 3-6, in the same class.  The kids stay together with the same teachers for those years, and split off from the group, when necessary, to work in smaller groups for different age-appropriate activities.)  The teachers feel that B’s natural desire to be a nurturer would probably stifle Liam’s ability to interact with the other kids and make friends.  I also think that they would both suffer in terms of learning German with a brother in class to speak English with.  And, I think there’s a fair chance that Liam would eventually punch Benjamin the nose after the 65th time B told him the “right way” to play with some toy or another.  So, they’ll be at the same school, but not in the same class.  They will see each other during snack time, sometimes during their outdoor play time, and during the activities that the whole school does together (like holiday events), but otherwise, they will both have a chance to learn and grow on their own.

And all of this is pretty exciting.  Especially because, from a financial perspective, preschool for Liam next year probably wouldn’t be in the picture if we were home in the States.  Private preschool is pretty pricey on a single income, even if he’d only being going for a half-day, a few days per week.

So, I’m excited for Liam, and for Benjamin, who can’t wait for Liam to join him at school.  I’m also fantasizing about what I will fill my time with for 3 hours per day on my own for the first time in over 5 years.  (What did I DO with all of that free time I squandered back in the days before kids?!?)  And I’m imagining how sweet it will be to take my boys to school together every morning.  Liam is excited, too.  Now, whenever we talk about B’s school day, Liam asks, “I’m going to be in the gelbe Gruppe?” and says “Yay!” when we tell him that he will.

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