One thing that I quickly learned when my daughter starts going to public school was that schooling options could lead to a lengthy arguments among parents. Even one of my friends, who sends her child to a private school, rolled her eyes when I mentioned that I loved our public school. But I think it’s just how parenting always is. There is not one option that will suit every single child, and as parents believe in their choice it could be a discomfort to accept that other parents love a different choice.
I fully understand why different child needs different type of education, and how families differ in their expectations. This blog post is by no means saying that everyone should send their children to public schools. I’m merely trying to sum up what we love about our public school, based on the first 2 years (1-2P HarmoS, which is equal to kindergarten, age 4-6):
Public schools in Switzerland have no ranking
Most of you should have heard it, Switzerland does not have best/favorite school labels. This eliminates the need to live in a certain area to qualify for a specific school. It certainly helped when we decided to buy a house.
Public school is free
It was a no-brainer for us to send our daughter to public school. There is no way we could afford private school tuition in Switzerland. Having this decision, we cross fingers that our daughter would thrive there, otherwise we would home-school. It’s important to note that we plan to live in Switzerland for a long time, so we don’t have worries about different systems and levels if we moved to different countries.
Free school also means broader social demography. We enjoy knowing that our children mix with children of different backgrounds, not only with those financially very stable.
School registration is easy
When our kids reach the school, their names popped up in the system and we automatically received letters to register them for the following school year. The letters came in January, and we were to reply by end of February. We also had to have a certification from the pediatrician that we should send to the school nurse before the school commences in August.
The school sent us the confirmation including the name of the teachers and classmates sometime around May. We also received an invitation to come to the class to meet the teachers and fellow classmates before summer holiday started.
Learning pace in the first 2 years (1-2P HarmoS) is slow
My daughter was born in September, so that when she started school at the end of August, she was almost 5 year-old. I know that in many other countries, at this age she was supposed to be able to read. I was glad that the teacher did not teach reading either during the first year of school. While we love to read and both our kids love books, we prefer not to teach them reading too soon. My daughter showed readiness at age 6 (2nd year of school – 2P HarmoS), thus we started at home and soon after the teachers picked it up and she started reading at school too.
The most prominent thing for the first couple of years seems to be the rules of the society. They learn politeness, how to take turns, to listen, to ask questions, to keep their belongings, desks and classroom in order, to lead the class (in my a daughter’s class a “chef” is picked everyday from among the pupils)
I observed that in the first 2 years, the children do a lot of crafts and play. And when we met the teacher at the last 3/4 of the first school year, we found that they had low to moderate (in my opinion) targets. The 4-5 year-olds are only expected to tell how many dots are on a face of a dice, or counting to 10 (when my daughter could count at least until 29). On the next meeting (halfway of second year) the teacher mentioned that our daughter could already read sentences while some of her friends had only started with the sounds.
Do we worry about this “low” standard in the first years? Nope. We know that the last PISA study results suggest that education in Switzerland is really good (#9 worldwide), and even better, the pupils were among the happiest in the world. Having these results, it seems that the slow pace works. Perhaps pupils study better and happier as they are not overworked.
It is important to note that (we heard) the pace of study accelerates quickly in 3rd year of school, when homework starts as well as more difficult assignments for the students with high potentials.
The school provides French teacher for non-native speakers
Although our daughter was born in Lausanne, and spent many years going to day care and jardin d’enfants, she hadn’t spoken French when she started school. She is always a quiet and shy girl, and while she seemed to understand French, it was obvious that she needed help. And she was not the only one needing it in her class. Together with 4 other non-native speakers in her class, she had one morning per week with a French teacher. The class last almost the whole first year and by the second year they had no more problem with their French. Now I have started asking my daughter for some French words I didn’t understand
The school is close by
In our case, the school is extremely close, as in I-can-reach-it-in-30-seconds close. It’s only 5 row-houses away and on a dead-end street. Sometimes I can even see my daughter having her recess from our bedroom window. As after a few months of school, at the age of 5.5, she started going to school and coming home by herself. This year she will go to a different building for the 3P class, but again, it’s close by (5 minute on foot), and I’m sure she will be happy to walk there by herself. Note that our commune is small, we feel safe here and children go everywhere by themselves. I may act differently if we lived in bigger city like Lausanne.
The kids return home for lunch
I love this. Some of you may just rolled your eyes hearing this 😉 I know this is like the worst for employed parents, and I’m sorry if it was the case. Yet in our case it’s perfect. Both our kids are introverts, especially the older. Being able to go home at lunch everyday, after very active mornings, is exactly what she needs. I am an introvert myself so that I know how important it is for introverts to be able to “retreat from the world” and go “inside the bubble” to recharge. And I’m happy to be home to meet and prepare lunch for them, although it does mean that my “child-free” mornings are short.
They move and go out often
Even inside the class the children move a lot. They don’t sit on the same desk all day. From what my daughter told me, the children are usually given a few tasks to complete, but they can do it at their own schedule and pace, as long as they finish it within the deadline. So while sometimes they will gather on the carpet to learn something from the teachers and hear stories, other times they will be everywhere in the class – some will play games while others draw (by hand or on the computer) and craft.
The class go to the playground for their recess when the weather is nice. Except during winter, they also hike to the local forest (approximately 1km from school) where they collect falling branches to make a cabane. In the last 2 years they had been to museums twice, four times to the ice skating rink, had annual sport day with physically disabled pupils, watched many shows at school including circus, theater, marionette and a concert by Gaëtan. We had to pay a small contribution for trips, usually CHF10/trip and it included transport (bus or train), entry fee, and equipment rental such as the ice skates.
Nearing Christmas they helped decorate our commune’s Christmas tree, did a lantern parade around the commune and sang Christmas chorals at the senior home.
Public school helps us to integrate
While not directly related to the school itself, I think it’s one of the perks I have to include. I don’t think anything works better to integrate ourselves in our little commune than sending our kids to the public school. We started meeting other parents, make new friends, have small chats with other parents at local Coop. This goes even better when volunteering is involved. The class welcomes volunteers, especially for their trips. They also welcomes parents who can spare some time to come to class and give a talk to the pupils. The kids remember these parents who came to class and they tell their parents about it. We learn more about our neighbors and they about us, through kid gossips
With the neighbors, we also build our “village” – we started backing each other up. They know that I am a SAHM and once in a while asked my help when they couldn’t be home in time for lunch or after school, and they did likewise for me. This is always easily arranged as we come across each other all the time.
No more playdate to arrange
Again, another perk. As most of my daughter’s friends live nearby, they just show up on our door to ask her to play. I don’t have to call a friend’s parent to arrange anything nor to bring her anywhere. It’s also very common to let the kids as young as three to play by themselves in the area around the house. I usually use this opportunity to garden or clean the garage so that I can hear them if they needed me, but I don’t feel the need to keep my eyes on them all the time. It’s so nice to have a couple hours of break and to give them independency.
There – 10 main reasons why we love our public school. As far as second year now, we don’t have anything that we really dislike. We send the children there clear from expectations and comparison to other systems, and were satisfied by what we received so far.
Of course these may not be the same to what other parents may have experienced. I have heard complaints and problems, from the teachers to school bus to bullying to inflexibility of school systems. Some so severe that families chose to moved to a different country. I will try to engage more parents to write a blog or sum up their experiences so that you can hear different perspectives. As for this post, I have to conclude it here – otherwise I’m afraid will end up writing a book!
I hope this post is useful for you and do tell me how you find your children’s schools, either public or private. You can write on comment below or email me at info(AT)lausannemom.com.