Weaving, Hitting, Learning

| August 5, 2013

There are some pretty major differences between schooling in Germany and schooling in America, and it begins early. This became apparent in the first few weeks my daughter Sequoia started German Kindergarten, but it was during the parent-teacher conference that I attended when Sequoia turned six that the most glaring difference emerged.

Her teacher looked at me with curiosity. “I notice that Sequoia came to us knowing how to read and write, but she could not weave.”


That’s what she said to me, in a serious tone–but genuinely curious. And I did not know how to respond. She followed up by reassuring me: once Sequoia was taught how to weave, she picked it up quickly. I had nothing to worry about.

Well, thank God for that.

At this point, I wasn’t even sure what exactly ‘weaving’ meant to the school. Are we talking lace cards? Maybe something they’re wrapping around and around and around a large square? What are they weaving?

Weaving project

And then we received Sequoia’s weaving project (unfinished, as she started school a few months late). SHE WAS ACTUALLY WEAVING. She’s ready for a liberal arts basket weaving class, like, yesterday. They are not kidding when they say they’re focusing on the fine motor skills.

This is just one of a few major differences between the Kindergarten she recently completed and an American preschool/Kindergarten. Here are some other things I find here that I haven’t seen fly in American schools:

  • Children playing with, battling with, building with, running with, and poking eyes out with sticks as long as the children are tall.
  • Children out on the school playground, without supervision, “as long as they tell someone they’re going outside”.
  • Children playing in the ball pit without supervision “as long as they ask to play in the ball pit”.  (Yes, they have a ball pit.)
  • Children climbing the climbing wall in the gym room without supervision “as long as they ask to play in the gym”.  (Yes, they have a climbing wall.  For 3-year-olds.)
  • Children shutting themselves in the playhouse room without supervision because “that’s their house”.
  • “Sequoia, what’s that loft up there?” “That’s the pillow fight room.” (‘nuff said)
  • Children running around outside in the rain and snow, as long as they have their “trousers” (snow bibs) on (for rain, mud, and snow, worn in all but summer).
  • Finding out my child walked into town when she told me “We all walked to town today.” (Presumably with an adult?)
  • Children yelling at each other and adults not intervening unless someone’s eye is actually being poked out with a stick, and then only to clean up the eye, put it back in the child’s head, and tell them to soldier on.
  • Kids walk to school at a very early age, without their parents, and sometimes completely alone. Like, 6-year-olds.
  • Children aged 2-6 all in groups together in the classrooms, not segregated by exact age.
  • 3-year-olds riding bikes. Without training wheels.
  • Arriving at school to pick Sequoia up one day to have them say, “She’s in the woods.”

Things I realized were happening here:

  • Children were playing
  • Children were having fun
  • Children were learning independence
  • Children were learning socialization skills
  • Children were learning socialization skills outside of being with just children born the same year as them
  • Children were learning to dress appropriately and go outside
  • Children were learning negotiation skills
  • Children were figuring shit out
  • Teachers were trusted


  • Children were not dying

When Sequoia was interviewed by the elementary school for suitability for placement in 1st grade the next year as a non-native speaker, the psychologist said, “She’s riding a bike, right?”

“Uh…with training wheels.”

What was going through my head: She’s only five! What are they thinking?

What was going through the shrink’s head: She’s FIVE and can’t ride a bike?? What is WRONG with these parents?

Me: “We don’t take training wheels off very early in America.”

Her: “Oh, yes, America. That’s hard.”

I don’t know what she meant by that, but I took Sequoia home and Paul taught her how to ride her damn bike before she turned six and was blackballed from elementary school.

learning to ride a bike

On the way to Kindergarten one sub-freezing winter day, Sequoia looked out at the snow and reflected, “In America we wouldn’t be allowed to go outside today. I’m going to play outside today.” Because she has trousers.

When Sequoia first arrived at the Kindergarten, she would tell the teacher if a child was hitting or getting out of line. Then she’d come home and tell me that the teacher didn’t do anything about it. At first I was taken aback—what the hell? Then I realized: the kids need to work it out. Like I did when I was a kid, lest I be called a tattletale.

And we weren’t supervised every minute of every day as kids, either. I am 100% sure of this, because etched in my memory is the day that Drew and I had to stay inside during recess in second grade. We were left in the classroom alone, and Drew was mad at the teacher for making us stay inside.  He told me to shut the blinds, so I did; when I turned back around, Drew was peeing in the sink. Granted, this isn’t a good argument for leaving kids alone, but Drew at least had the good sense to pee into something with a drain. Nobody had to stand over his shoulder and tell him that.

The first time I drove up to Sequoia’s school and saw a few children playing on the playground without a teacher outside, I was stunned. Clearly they’d escaped! THEY WERE ON THE SWINGS! WHAT IF THEY FELL?

Oh, wait, like when I was 4 and riding my tricycle unsupervised with my friend Tommy on the streets of Philly, and fell off and skinned my knee? I had to run home; these kids just have to yell into the open door. But for some reason, I’ve been conditioned to believe that this is scenario in which my child should live:

  • We should always be within two feet of one another.
  • If she is on a swing, the swing is positioned over rubberized mulch.
  • I should be pushing her until we realize she’s 12 and doesn’t know how to swing herself.
  • I should be standing at the swings next to another mother whom I’ve arranged to meet there for a play date through a club of suburban mothers.
  • If my child even looks like she might fall, I rush to catch her.
  • I look around to see if any of the other mothers saw my child nearly look like there was almost the possibility that she could fall.
  • I discuss, with the mother next to me, the clear safety violations of the swing set, the park, and the township as a whole.
  • The other mother advises that I should sue the township.
  • I instruct my child on how to sit on the swing, how not to sit on the swing, the ramifications of sitting improperly on the swing, and the horrors of falling off of the swing.
  • I tell my child that the swing is too dangerous and she should go play in the sandbox.
  • I follow my child to the sandbox.
  • In fifteen years, I wonder why my child is not ready for the real world.

A couple months ago, I dropped Sequoia off at her friend Emma’s house to play there for the first time. We parked across the street. Emma ran out of her family bakery and across the street to greet us, grabbed Sequoia, and took her to the corner. Emma looked both ways and motioned for Sequoia to run across the street with her. Sequoia would not follow because she’d been taught not to cross the street without an adult. In fact, we’d just recently been allowing her to do so next to us without holding a hand—on minor streets. Sequoia told Emma not to cross the street. Emma looked at her like she was an alien. I was both proud of Sequoia and sad: clearly she was listening and understanding safety lessons, but how much have I been holding her back from making her own judgment calls?

Her teacher said it best during our parent-teacher conference.  I mentioned how surprised I was the day that I saw large, sharp sewing scissors on the edge of a table where children aged 3-5 were working on crafts.  I told her that teachers would not have a giant pair of shears on the table in my local American preschools.  She looked at me and asked, “But how will the young children learn how to use big scissors safely if they are not around them?”


When you graduate Kindergarten here, they physically throw you out of the building. They figure they’ve done their job and you’re on your own now.

thrown out of kindergarten

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Category: Ex-pat Parenting, FAMILY, featured, Germany, In Germany A Broad blog, Shits & Giggles

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. First Grade in German school: a year in review | In Germany, A Broad | July 26, 2014
  2. Launching Science Lessons | In Germany, A Broad | June 17, 2014
  3. Is German Kindergarten Right For My Child? Part Two | Germany Ja! | March 12, 2014
  4. UnPinteresting | In Germany, A Broad | February 19, 2014
  5. Simpler Times | In Germany, A Broad | February 7, 2014
  6. Notes on 28 Sep 2013: Involuntary German shrieks! | Sequoia Spricht | October 6, 2013
  7. Trees, Pools, Injuries, Learning, and McDonald’s—a Typical Martindale Weekend | In Germany, A Broad | September 30, 2013
  1. Karen says:

    Jackson’s old school had a stick pit. They had creek walks. It was an amazing experience for him. I was sad that we decided not to keep him at that school.

    • Awesome! I loved creek crawling as a kid. They do walks in the woods here. I didn’t realize how far until one day sequoia and I were biking and she said, “This is where we came during project week” (first grade). They walked several kilometers to get there. Permission slips? Nope.

  2. Valerie says:

    Kari, as a fellow American raising children in Germany, I have to say that you are right on. The funny thing, though, is the difference between baby-raising here and in the States. Here the babies are bundled up as if they were facing a Siberian mid-winter storm to drive in the car to go shopping. You see a lot of red-faced babies, cooking in their onesie, tights, socks, leggings, shirt, sweater, snowsuit, hat, mittens, thick down snow cover that zips around them and just about covers their nose when shopping in town. People used to look at me funny because my babies were never dressed for the blizzard of the century and I always uncovered them in the store.
    But, once they hit the age of 3, they start kindergarten and are left to their own defences. And despite not being taught to read and write and do basic math before they start school, all German kids (at least a higher percent than in America) learn to read and achieve an equal or better level of education by the time they are 18 as their counterparts in other countries.
    Of course, as an American living in Germany, I do have to remind myself of that on a regular basis. I have to tell myself that it really is okay that my six year old daughter, who just started first grade, can not read or really write. But, she can ride a bike, she can rollerblade, she can swing and climb a jungle gym. And she can weave.

    • Yes, everyone thinks Sequoia needs a few more leather hides layered on in the winter. One woman commented last spring, basically, What do we think, it’s summer? when Sequoia wasn’t wearing a winter coat from the school to the car in 70-degree weather. I’m glad Sequoia knows some things like reading and writing, because she’ll have time to catch up on weaving, rollerblading, climbing, and, eventually, unicycling. WHAT IS WITH THE UNICYCLES?

  3. Suz says:

    You mean kids in Germany have self esteem and they’re not getting a gold star for everything? Awesome.

  4. Jacki says:

    What a fantastic young life she’s having over there! Can you stay forever?

  5. hdavidson21 says:

    “Children were not dying”… this had me cracking up. So true. Stumbled across your blog on random and will definitely have to check the rest of your writing out!