The adventures of a born-and-raised-in-Michigan girl (OK, woman) who's moved to Bavaria with her husband, kids, and dog.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Ups and Downs of September

Wow, what a month. So much happened, it feels like two months were crammed into one. Have you ever had that feeling?

First of all, Nicholas started Kindergarten September 12th. Here he is, leaving the house that morning with all his gear in tow.

It's been a traumatic transition, to say the least. The poor guy has been dealing with 1) separation from Mommy, 2) toilet training in a new environment, and 3) the language gap and related integration issues, which as it turns out are pretty major.

The separation issue was tough, but it appears to be in the past. The only time he stopped crying the first day was when he sat down to eat (this is from roughly 8 am to noon, FYI). The tears continued to flow on and off for the first two weeks, during which time he wasn't eating at Kindergarten and barely eating at home. The nightmares stopped after three weeks (often I would hear "Mommy, don't drive away!!" at around 5:00 a.m. or at naptime).

Toilet training has gone from one or more pairs of big boy underwear and pants waiting for me in a plastic bag when I pick him up (they shower the dirty kids off and change their clothes), to various bribes and bran muffins at 6:00 a.m. to encourage certain activities, to an understanding with the teachers that he will wear Pull-Up "big boy" diapers at Kindergarten. That seems to do the trick, but it was not an easy time during the first three weeks to get there.

Great, two out of three problems solved.

Except the last one is the worst. Some kids, when they start Kindergarten with little or no German language skills, sit back and listen and observe until they are comfortable conversing with other kids in German. Not Nicholas. It was quickly apparent that he understood everything going on around him, but he has yet to use much German at Kindergarten (or at home). Initially, when the other kids ignored him when he made overtures (in English) to play with them, he would throw things. Large things. Frequently. No doubt this behavior was in part his way of expressing frustration with the entire situation (see separation and toilet training, above).

Thankfully, that phase has subsided quite a bit (although not entirely... I saw him push a box of chunky wooden beads off the table last week after the kids ignored his playful efforts to join their game). For the most part, he has given up on group activities and plays with little (quiet) Anton a bit, or off by himself. He spends much of the morning trying to attach himself to the teacher (he has two, one speaks English well and the other not at all) and get them to play with him one-on-one. Which, of course, they can't really do, as they have 17 children between the two of them and in January will have 25 (the norm).

After 9:00, the kids can change from their homeroom to any room... each room has unique toys, and he even has friends from playgroups in the other two rooms, yet he never switches out of his homeroom (which seems to be the puzzle room), because he's just not comfortable. He also has a friend from playgroup in his room, but he doesn't ever seem to play with David... neither his mother nor I can figure out why. (David still cries every day when his mother drops him off... but at least he speaks German and is potty trained.)

But I digress. Back to problem-solving. When he began throwing things in the classroom, the red flags went up and we all agreed to have a social worker evaluate him. The evaluation began last Friday and concluded this week on Tuesday, with the result being an internal referral to another Kindergarten within Ingolstadt. This one, the Heilpädagogische Tagesstätte, or HPT (it loosely translates to Educational Wellness Daycare) has a variety of programs, the one Nicholas is eligible for focuses on emotional-social issues.

The key benefit at the HPT Kindergarten is that the groups are limited to eight children (not 25) and have two or three teachers working with the kids. So the child-to-teacher ratio is much better. (I use the term "teacher," although Kindergarten in Germany is not school... but preschool or daycare instead, i.e. some basic skills work done with ABCs, but essentially unstructured play time for three to five year olds -- school starts at age six).

The social worker feels that the smaller group setting will enable Nicholas to make friends more easily than the existing setting... with a teacher guiding him and teaching him. The current teachers feel that as time goes on Nicholas will get little educational value out of the current Kindergarten given the existing social issues (which they are not equipped or staffed to solve).

We called to get on the lengthy waiting list immediately (some people are on it for years and never get a spot), only to hear that they are opening up a new group in November and there were still a couple of spots available. So we are going next Wednesday to complete the registration and family interview, and get our questions answered as well.

(If I'm boring you with all of this, skip to the bit about the parents' visit and I'll catch you later... I'm not offended, honest!)

During the phone call, Martin asked what the cost would be (the current Kindergarten runs about $70 Euros a month, or $95 US). The answer was that each placement costs thousands (plural) of Euros a month, but that it is subsidized by the city of Ingolstadt and that there would be a nominal fee (probably comparable to what we already pay), particularly if lunch is provided. Whew!

When I told his teacher the next day that we had a spot and an appointment, she almost fell over -- it is quite rare to get in (this confirmed by a friend of ours who is a local Montessori Kindergarten teacher). She was so excited for us that she nearly hugged me. It was clear that they have the highest respect for this program and would all love to work there, as it is "the ideal setup." She also mentioned that we were lucky to even have the program (and obviously lucky it is expanding), as similar programs in other cities have folded due to lack of funding.

Speaking of which, the program is more than just the low ratios and specialized teachers, the instructional groups also draw on an evaluation team that works with all the student groups. This multi-disciplinary team is made up of Psychologists, Social Workers, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, etc. As Martin said to me, "It sure can't hurt to have a few PhD experts hanging around watching him and giving us parental advice."

So. That is the big news on Nicholas' side. Quite the month for him, and November will be some big changes for him as well. Poor little guy. I told Martin it's different for us; we've had ten months to get used to living and communicating in a foreign country. Nicholas' daily world didn't really change that much -- until this September, when he ran into a brick wall and realized the world isn't what he thought it was.

OK. Parent Visit.

It's true, my parents arrived for a little over a week at the end of September. We finished the guest bedroom and bathroom the day before they arrived. Well, if you call "finished" a room without window blinds or TP holder. Close enough! :)

We ended up renting a van for the time they were here... much easier to sightsee than dealing with a double stroller on the train (still would need to get TO the train station anyway), and our Passat wagon only seats the four of us, plus maybe one skinny teenager who's willing to crawl between the two car seats... NOT two additional adults.

My Dad told me we put 2,000 km on the car (about 1,200 miles). And no, we did not see everything there is to see... as expected, the visit was too short. But we did do a lot throughout Bavaria. We went to Munich to see the Glockenspiel in Marienplatz, hit the Hofbraeuhaus for lunch, and Nymphenburg Palace in the afternoon. Went to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, hung around Ingolstadt a couple of the days, went to a local biergarten, and made the trek over to Lake Constance (Martin's stomping ground) and the beautiful Isle of Mainau, and sent my parents off for a day on their own (with our new GPS traffic toy programmed for Home) to see the Neuschwanstein Castle. They managed to meet a good number of our friends, and I think we gave them a pretty good tour of the local area and some of the food, in addition to the touristy stuff.

Looking forward to fitting in all the stuff we missed this year into next year's visit (Nuremberg, Regensburg, Augsburg, and Ulm come to mind).

So that's the September report. And I think now you can see why it felt like two months instead of one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


It sounds like you had a great parent visit. You certainly saw a lot of the sights.

Uncle Peter and Aunt Regina

11:15 PM


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