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Old 27.09.2011, 15:03
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Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

Hi all

I've recently been exchanging emails with a virtual friend in the US; she's thinking of moving to either the UK or Switzerland, whereas I'm moving to the US next month, so we're swapping notes on school systems.

This has made me think more than usual about the differences between the UK/CH systems. One thing that I've only really just noticed is that my kids' school here doesn't play any part whatsoever in cultural transference.

What I mean by that is that primary schools in the UK are punctuated by a regular, constant loop of annual events:

- Harvest Festival in late September, with a special assembly or church service for the parents, the collecting of tins of food for the elderly/poor
- Bonfire Night in early November, with associated history topic work and sometimes a school firework display
- Christmas: carol service, Nativity play, LOTS of themed work, both religious and secular, 'Christmas Around The World'
- Easter: bonnet parade, egg decorating/ hunting, work on the symbolism of eggs/lambs/spring/new life, the Christian Easter story, pagan beliefs, etc

Sometimes the school will include other things like Valentines, and nowadays they also include things like Diwali or Chinese New Year, even if they're not in a particularly multicultural area (my kids used to do this in rural Dorset). Special historical events are also celebrated - my son's school did a big thing about the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. So the British kids are presented with this rich sense of their national culture and historical heritage, alongside elements of a global one.

All UK kids then have these common memories of making a vegetable display for Harvest Festival, or being a shepherd with a tea towel on their head for the Christmas play.

There's also a lot of themed work based on the school's local area, such as making an illustrated map of your village, or about the changing of the seasons: leaf collages, decorated poems about raindrops, paper snowflakes, etc. There's a real pattern to each school year.

Now, perhaps it's just my kids' school, but there has been almost nothing like that here. My daughter did do some seasonal themed crafts and art in enfantine, and both kids produce something each year for Mothers' Day, but that's it.

No themed work to celebrate festivals, either Swiss or from other countries. No special events based on key dates in Swiss or local canton history. No plays, no performances, no sense of tradition resonating down the school years from times gone past.

My kids could have been attending school classes in Any Country; there's been nothing that they've done that I could put my finger on and say 'Ah ha, that's a typically Swiss thing'.

But maybe it's just their school. What have other people found - have your kids been celebrating festivals, local history and cultural events in their schools? Have they been having equivalent 'tea towel on head' Swiss group childhood experiences?
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Old 27.09.2011, 15:16
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

Around here, la Cote, it is the Commune/community that plays more a role in cultural heritiage, ie. christmas, fete 1ere Aout, easter, town traditions, etc.. in my opinion.

That being said, there is a fair amount of recognition of celebrations in some of the CH private schools (not international) I've known, ie. Chrismas, Carnival, other fetes, visits of local sites, etc..
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Old 27.09.2011, 15:37
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

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Around here, la Cote, it is the Commune/community that plays more a role in cultural heritiage, ie. christmas, fete 1ere Aout, easter, town traditions, etc.. in my opinion.
Yes, you're right, our commune does this too; we get a Christmas fete and Village Advent Windows, and Swiss National Day festivities. And some of more rural communes around here do things tied in with grapes and harvesting. So it's not like it's not happening.

Just suddenly struck me as weird, that's all, that my kids' school is so divorced from anything outside of the classroom windows; that they could have been anywhere in the world, at any time of year for all the relevance it had to the curriculum being taught that day or that week.
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Old 27.09.2011, 15:44
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

At our local schoo, St Nicolas comes to visit the kindergarten (I don't know if he still does in primary too). And all the children from Kindy up to the end of primary go out and do that slightly spooky walk with the white hoods and the cowbells, I think it maybe also involves St Nicolas. It's certainly around that time. They also all go in dressed up for Fasnacht/Carnaval.
Last year the theme leading up to Christmas was a book about the Eiskönig (Ice King), so it was at least suitable for the season, and the children decorated the whole kindergarten with snowflakes and ice-crystals etc. Same again in summer - flowers and what have you. And there's a lantern walk some time in Autumn, which the kids carve pumpkins for (at school).

So I think it must vary quite a lot from school to school. But I agree with Runningdeer, a lot of other stuff is organised by the Gemeinde and then advertised through the school.
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Old 27.09.2011, 15:49
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

Our school seems to run things like Samichlaus, a Christmas concert / celebration, Easter projects, Zurich-themed projects, etc. I never got the feeling they are devoid of culture.

As Runningdeer says, there are a lot of community / city events which the kids can get involved in, for example the children's parade around the time of Sechseläuten which aren't necessarily connected to the school but there is still opportunity. It just falls to the parents to look out for that kind of stuff, too, which I don't think is a bad thing.
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Old 27.09.2011, 19:58
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

The schools around this area have a Fasnacht parade, for Kindergarten there is the Räbli parade in November (parade of lights, carved radishes), Santa on 6th Dec., mother's day ... there seems to be lots.
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Old 27.09.2011, 20:39
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

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- Harvest Festival in late September, with a special assembly or church service for the parents, the collecting of tins of food for the elderly/poor
- Bonfire Night in early November, with associated history topic work and sometimes a school firework display
- Christmas: carol service, Nativity play, LOTS of themed work, both religious and secular, 'Christmas Around The World'
- Easter: bonnet parade, egg decorating/ hunting, work on the symbolism of eggs/lambs/spring/new life, the Christian Easter story, pagan beliefs, etc
Well given the division between church and state I can't see how the schools could actively do this....

Jim.
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Old 27.09.2011, 21:19
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

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- Harvest Festival in late September, with a special assembly or church service for the parents, the collecting of tins of food for the elderly/poor
- Bonfire Night in early November, with associated history topic work and sometimes a school firework display
- Christmas: carol service, Nativity play, LOTS of themed work, both religious and secular, 'Christmas Around The World'
- Easter: bonnet parade, egg decorating/ hunting, work on the symbolism of eggs/lambs/spring/new life, the Christian Easter story, pagan beliefs, etc
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Well given the division between church and state I can't see how the schools could actively do this....
That's what I was thinking, too. The school my sister's kids are in have a "Winter play" because they can't have a Nativity any more. The Christmas "carols" have been pared down to non-denominational Christmas songs, there's definitely no bonfire night at the school (the local rugby club holds the event because the teachers don't want the responsibility of any injuries).

There are very few school trips and certainly no overnighters.

This isn't an isolated school; other friends with kids in schools up and down the country have similar experiences. In my hometown they just took away a playground frame because someone fell out of it sustaining a head injury.

Yeah, the UK is a real utopia of cultural experiences in education - NOT...
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Old 27.09.2011, 21:33
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

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Well given the division between church and state I can't see how the schools could actively do this....

Jim.
And yet they manage to teach Religious Studies as a weekly timetabled slot; mostly through Judeo-Christian Old Testament Bible stories in primary. So church/state division can't be the reason for not celebrating things like Christmas, or mentioning in passing the fact that other countries/cultures have key festivals at certain times of year too?

(Sidebar: does Switzerland have an official church/state division too, like France? Do people have to get married in civil offices, with a church blessing afterwards?)
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Old 27.09.2011, 23:22
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

Our school certainly follows Catholic rituals and celebrations. My younger son is in 1P and they've just done a whole unit on the bénichon (Fribourg harvest festival) that has included making and eating traditional food and doing Poya cut outs in class. They always celebrate St. Nicolas, Christmas, Carnival and Easter and there are often whole of school projects to commemorate local heroes like sculptor Jean Tinguely.

There is supposedly a separation between Church and State here, although the preamble to the Swiss Constitution mentions God. To be legally married you have to have a civil ceremony.
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Old 27.09.2011, 23:49
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

At least the bi-lingual school my daughter goes to, they have lots of field trips and such things like the lantern parade in early November, etc. which may be due to it being private and not public. Interesting comparison as school is an ideal place for such cultural transfers to happen. Curious.
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Old 28.09.2011, 00:15
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

Aaaah, kodokan, you just have to rub it in, don't you..... I am kiddin', of course. Watch out, though, long post ahead...

I think the role of the school here and elsewhere, and only some schools/communes/cantons/ it also seems, could be different.

While in other places school is a centerpiece of kids' life and family social and cultural life, stimuli and guardian of appropriate level of exposure (aside of relatives, I mean here participation of parents, etc. strong coaching factor, ...), it might not be that way in some schools here. But the things are still happening, just organized differently, by different bodies in the community.

Say here, in our community, we have a bunch of institutions, though that's a nasty term, really, bunch of different active groups taking care of these calendrial, cultural, seasonal, religious and sport festivities. Commune organizes loads of festivities, fete de voisins, fete de musique, fete de vin, xmas fete (actually xmas market got banned, ugh), 3 kings, all the religious things I don't even get here yet, etc. Then you have school which sometimes participates, like carnevals and marches, and brings kids there. Then you have parascolaire, that prepares kids mostly with the seasonal festivities and other fun stuff and trips. Then you have gym, that preps kids for big spectacle, I think that is 2x year. We also have scouts who have their own agenda, their own spectacles and fetes, those are more nature orientated it seems. Then you have local biz center, that organizes fetes de pringtemps and automne, which are another festivities that also run a school competition for the best decorated Easter fountain. Religious communities have their own festivities for their members.

See, this is actually way more hopping than I experienced in the school like in the US or back home. It is more multi-layered. If it was only ran by school or church, I understand the info would float more organized and some parents would probably feel more like they have an oversight, better possibility to interact or be envolved, but honestly, it is all in the newspapers here, you find out about stuff communicating with local parents, watching local tv channel, reading up brochures and sites, talking to supervisors, teachers, parascolaire personell, etc. I do not really judge the level of depth of these hols, since it is up to the family to deepen the substance, me thinks. I think making it too study like, with serious academic projects for kids could take some fun out. I also feel, should the family or kids be more interested in the background of what is being celebrated, and they often are, I do a lot with my kids in my classes, it gets done, we always talk about major religious hols for common knowledge sake, watch films, debate and write. Now, I know that with small kids, some stuff gets organized by school, like march of 3 kings, for example, or xmas nativity scenes, etc, some again, by other interest groups, some of course specifically at church, I know that from friends.

It might seem a tad chaotic to a person used to one calendar and agenda presented by either school or church, but the minute I got a hang of the info sources, I actually invited and welcome the diversity and organic, not so organized way to just celebrate. My favorite has been an old language center which I picked for our kiddo when she was 2 since it really had the feel of old yank hols and calendar, the fabulous retired US teachers there are gems, and pretty much fill in culturally what gets left out from our European/CH/CZ mess of cultural/religious/community festivities (lately, we had a Japanese day, Didgeridoo day, furniture making days, Indian day, jewelry day, all sorts of funky stuff for tots. And, they cook together, oh my).

So, back to the OP. Swiss primary school, I don't see cultural void at all, probably because it is actually covered by loads of other sources. Sometimes it gels with what the family wants to celebrate, sometimes it supports what kids do in parascolaire or other communities..But it seems to be overall hopping and packed school year, doubled more than a few times in giving kids chances to be exposed, in fact we grew choosy, since even a simple drop in center here will push some kind of thematic structured activities on kids, so much, that we end up with so many hand made Easter baskets and eggs, we have no place to put these things

Oh, and I forgot we also have once a year a fete de cultures du monde, which is basically celebrations of minorities here. Awesome folks dances of different minorities, with orchestras, ethnic food, etc. It's pretty famous, people come here from all over CH for this. That, with Paleo, new art fest, Visions du reel, jazz days and whatnot else, I sometimes would like to limit the party town feel...it's nuts. It's fun, though.
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Old 28.09.2011, 00:48
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

Our kids do plenty of things at school that I would call "Swiss tradition". Fasnacht of course - they all take part in the parade. Then Niggi Naggi, Rabelicht (no idea of spelling that - the turnip carving thingy), they do stuff at Easter and for mothers day (notably not fathers day!!) they also do plenty of outdoor "waldtag" which I consider to be a Swiss thing - going into the forest, building a fire and cooking sausages on it would absolutely never happen in a UK school! There's usually a halloween theme and some kind of production around Christmas (not nativity, which I think is a bit sad) but some kind of story - usually rhyming in Swiss German.

There are plenty of things that go on that I have no clue about and have to research on traditions e.g. the turnip thing - last year had to carve one of those bloody things - did it totally wrong apparently (it's not carved like a pumpkin by the way!!)
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Old 28.09.2011, 01:13
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

To be honest I have been amazed at the amount of things my kids have done since they have been going to school here in Zurich. They have visited many museums, galleries and trips to the botanical gardens. The forest adventures are just about to start and my son has the opportunity to spend the night at Zurich zoo. The teachers seem much more willing to get out of the classroom and take the kids places. Sometimes its not even scheduled and the kis come home and say, oh by the way we went on a boat trip today. As well as singing concerts marking the beginning of summer and Christmas carols etc.

Just as a footnote, have been back to the UK very recently. At the beginning of the school year there were over 60 children in my home area without a school place at all. The lady at the council, said it was a matter of 'negotiating' with the schools to take the kids and put themselves over numbers. 6 weeks into the new school year and these kids are still waiting to start school.
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Old 28.09.2011, 07:11
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

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Aaaah, kodokan, you just have to rub it in, don't you..... I am kiddin', of course. Watch out, though, long post ahead...

Since I don't have yet 10 posts - just wanted to say: thanks...
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Old 28.09.2011, 08:40
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

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In my hometown they just took away a playground frame because someone fell out of it sustaining a head injury.
Sounds like all the PC crap in Britain made the place so boring that the kids have to go out and riot at night...

Time to learn some new German terms again: Rollerkarussell, das - a playground caroussel externally powered by a scooter.

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Old 28.09.2011, 09:19
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

The school my children go to do lots of different events, so far this year they had a Spring fair (Frühlingsmarkt) where children not only made Easter Cards, and wooden bunnies to fill with choc eggs, they made plant pots for spring flowers etc. They also made cards and gifts for Mothers Day, have been on many outings, inc museums, waldtags and oh the weather is lovely bring your swim things this afternoon we are cycling to the Badi!

Also at the moment they are on Projectwoche (this certainly never happens in the UK) this is lots of fun and every year they have done something completely different, from a whole week of cooking and making their own restaurant, all week in the woods playing games, treasure hunts, discovering animals, waldgolf, lake swimming and of course the fire and cervelat is very traditional. Also Scheelager, away skiing or snowboarding for the week!!

November of course is the lantern parade (Räbeleichtli) singing songs and the young ones even go in to the local Altersheim to perform.

They also have a Weihnachtsmarkt similar to the Spring one with all lovely delights both typical of Switzerland and around the world.

Maybe we are very lucky but to compare there school here to the one we had in Scotland (where they had regular fetes and concerts inc Nativity) I would have to say their current school wins overall due to the amount of outdoor fun and educational trips and the craftwork (tools inc) they are forever coming home with.

Obviously there will be things you miss from your own background as you mentioned UK history but that is for us as parents living abroad to teach, my two miss Burns Day back home where they would have been learning some great poems, but now we do this together. But they have the best of both worlds as they are forever learning Swiss songs and stories too!
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Old 28.09.2011, 09:33
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

"traditions" and symbols are mostly used (or abused) as lame substitutes for values and contents. I am actually quite relieved that this kind of often empty rituals is not imposed on everybody, but that every family, according to their cultural background, can decide what kind of festivity is important to them.

my son goes to a local swiss state school. he loves it. there are so many activities outside but also workshops, mice in the classroom to take care of, a weekly session of "how to make an invention and get it patented", a klassenlager of 5 days at the beginning of 5th class which included a stay in a gorgeous medieval castle on the beautiful rheinfall, museums, panoramic walks, a monastery, a hydro-electric power plant,a theater workshop with an "in house" theater director from berlin and even a visit to a really good restaurant :-) - all for only 85 francs! as other posters pointed out, there is an amazing offer of didactically relevant activities outside the school to get to know the region and its heritage. all these activities are not seen as "just for fun" but are elaborated in school before and after the actual experience, making them part of the curriculum and evaluation.

my son has already visited more museums, parks, institutions in zurich in 4 weeks than in the 4 years he went to school in the german town where we used to live. this, by the way, is the most ancient city in germany, a historical gem visited by millions of tourists. with the school they never once visited the most important monuments or landmarks! but indeed they went through all the seasonal routine "traditions" till we couldn't see one thanksgiving decoration or easter egg anymore...

so I must say, the swiss primary school is enriching our lives! we are all indirectly learning a lot and it is really good to see our son going to school with a big smile on his face in anticipation of all the interesting things he will do today instead of singing thanksgiving songs till he drops or decorating dried leave - please?!
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Old 28.09.2011, 10:08
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

If you're child is in a great school and you don't mind sharing, could you say what school area you are in when you post?
We would have never moved to our current area if we had known we'd have kids, and they seem to do pretty much the minimum here at school, which I'm not thrilled about.
I'd love to know where the happening places are
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Old 28.09.2011, 10:21
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Re: Swiss primary schools - cultural void?

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If you're child is in a great school and you don't mind sharing, could you say what school area you are in when you post?
We would have never moved to our current area if we had known we'd have kids, and they seem to do pretty much the minimum here at school, which I'm not thrilled about.
I'd love to know where the happening places are
Hi we are about 30 mins from Zurich, 10 mins south of Aarau in a small town called Muhen.

School website is www.schulemuhen.ch

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