The long-delayed post about Swiss school schedules or: Are you people *trying* to make it hard for stay-at-home moms?

December 13th, 2010

So I had another Twitter exchange with Jacquie that made me realize I still haven’t described what a typical Swiss school day looks like (more or less: in Switzerland, as in the US, education is extremely local) and rather than let this slide any longer I’m going to take a cue from Alexa (see number three, re: perfectionism, which is the number one reason I put off writing the 20 or so blog posts I have in my head; number two is a dearth of time to actually write them, reasons for which should become abundantly clear by the end of this post) and just describe a school day and not worry about making it perfect, or witty, or just the right flavor of sarcastic. It will be, simply, informative.

Oh, Swiss school system, where should I even start? The typical school day? The numerous vacations (some of which, like Sport Week, I can really get on board with)? The tracking system that determines at about the fifth grade whether or not a child is university-bound? The fact that I’ve been here for ten years and I still can’t quite get my head around how it all works?

Small Boy is in his second year of Kindergarten; the first year is optional though it seems to me that at least in this town most of the kids go both years. Kids are eligible to start Kindergaren in August if they are four years old by May 30 of that year. Small Boy turned four in January 2009, so he started his first year of Kindergarten in August 2009 when he was four and a big half. This is his second year of Kindergarten; he’ll turn six in January and be six and a half in August of 2011 when he enters the first grade. (How does this age of entering first grade jive with where you live?)

The first year kids go to Kindergarten Monday – Thursday 8:20 a.m to 11:50 a.m plus one afternoon a week. Second year Kindergarteners like Small Boy go five mornings a week, 8:20 to 11:50, and one afternoon. The afternoons run from 1:20 p.m to 3:40 p.m and the kids come home for lunch between the morning and afternoon sessions. Let me repeat that, because it’s the bane of my existence and will continue to be the bane of my existence for the next ten years: the kids come home over lunch. There is no lunch room. Some schools are slowly moving to a “Tagesschule” schedule (all day school) but it’s slow and hit-or-miss and locally controlled and socially controversial and frowned upon. You are kind of a horrible mother if you let somebody not related to you feed your child over lunch time. The school Small Boy would have gone to in the city had, if I recall correctly, a lunchtime option for which parents were charged on a sliding scale. Swiss scales slide fast and the irony is that R’s income is high enough that we often can’t afford – or I cannot stomach paying – the rate we generally slot into for these sorts of things (lunch programs, day care, play groups). So had we stayed in the city there might have been a lunch option in that school but there is not one here. And I’m not just talking about the Kindergarteners. They all come home over lunch. For, seemingly, ever. (The daycare center that opened in town this past August seems to have a lunch program where school kids can go there for lunch. I shudder to think what it might cost.)

There is also no school bus. Oh if you live out in the back-of-beyond on a farm somewhere in the Emmental there might be some sort of bus but mostly the kids here, as I wrote about before, hoof it. Bless those sturdy Swiss school children humping it rain, sleet and snow. There’s a reason the Swiss Post is so reliable, they were all trained as children to brave all sorts of weather. However, think about what that means if you are the parent of a Kindergartener, especially a young first-year kid: you walk to school with your kid in the morning, walk back home, then turn around and return at lunchtime to meet your kid at the school and walk home. Then heavens, if it’s your afternoon day you have to turn around and walk back with them. This is why the kids are start walking by themselves at such an early age: the parents just can’t take it anymore. We live 1.8 kilometers from the school – it’s a forty-five minute round trip on foot for me to walk to school with a child walking at the rate of a small child and then turn around and come back home. And I’ve got to schlepp Boychen with me. (Don’t Swiss people have cars, you wonder? Yes, yes we do but using them to drive our children to and from school is frowned upon. Have you ever been frowned upon by a Swiss grandmother? I’ve become exceedingly fond of the Swiss but my god, they can frown upon you like nobody you’ve ever met.) In the interest of full disclosure we use the car on double-kindy day because we live 1.8 kilometers from the school house and I’d have to mess with the time-space continuum to walk to kindy, get the boy, walk him home, cook and feed him lunch, and walk him back to kindy in the 90 minutes we have at lunchtime.

Have I mentioned that school lunchtime is the bane of my existence?

On the upside, because there’s got to be an upside here somewhere, there’s a one-week school vacation in February called “Sportwoche.” Sport week. Yep, it’s a vacation to go skiing, because February is when the snow is really good and there aren’t as many pesky tourists clogging up the slopes. Sportwoche, people, is something I can get behind. (We’re going here, which should come as no surprise to any long-time readers.) As long as I’m talking vacation, and making this post all about the information and not so much about the stellar prose and eloquent transitions, here’s the 2010-2011 Kindergarten school year at a glance:

  • August 9 beginning of the school year
  • September 24 – October 17, 3 week fall break
  • December 24 – January 9, 2 week winter break
  • February 12 – February 20, 1 week Sportwoche
  • April 9 – May 1, 3 week Spring Break (oh. my. god.) (it’s only 2 weeks for the upper grades)*
  • June 2 – June 5 long weekend for Auffahrt (Ascension)
  • July 8 end of school year


So. I dread even asking, because the answers coming from the US are probably going to make me cry, but what does your typical school day look like? Don’t worry, I can take it. I’ve got plenty of chocolate lying about. It’s Switzerland after all.

* Which is charming if you’ve got, say a Kindergartener and a second grader. No three week long family holiday for you! Nope, your older kid goes back to school but your Kindergartener is still at home.