Hard to believe that the girl is getting ready to go to kindergarten. Hard to believe because it wasn't all that long that she was a tiny screaming bundle of a few pounds that we didn't have the faintest idea what to do with. All that long? It's actually been more than three and a half years.
In Switzerland, school is mandatory from age four. This sounds harsher than it is. What would a four-year-old do in a school? Turns out kindergarten is part of the school system, and its attendance is mandatory from age four. This is something I can deal with. To help me prepare for the rest, I attended an information event organized by the municipal school system last night.
Before a slide highlighted students from 76 nations (across all grades) who speak 32 languages, the audience was warned of potentially distracting noises because of simultaneous translation of everything that was being said. On the walls of the hall were big banners for all languages with translators present: Serbo-croat, Portuguese, Albanian, Tamil, Italian and Turkish. Native speakers of these languages were invited to gather underneath their banners to get information in their language. Throughout the presentations, there was a constant polyphonous whispering at the periphery, but it was really only noticeable when one was really listening for it.
This level of diversity could be a big benefit for children. Languages and cultures of a round-the-world trip without having to leave the classroom. The drawback is that not all immigrants came for high-paying jobs. Some are refugees, some are just scraping by. Those who only speak their native language face additional challenges. Our town has one of the highest ratio of welfare recipients in the canton. A tinderbox of dissatisfaction and anger? Maybe it's just another aspect of diversity that we in our privileged lives should be thankful for.
We're definitely thankful that we won't have to pay for childcare anymore, at least for the girl. Kindergarten is free. But it's not all golden. Kindergarten only covers the mornings. What to do with the afternoons? Both of us work. Turns out select kindergartens, among them the one closest to our home, offer after-school programs. They aren't free, but they feed the kids and keep them entertained.
Like any school, kindergarten has school holidays, an ungodly amount to a working parent. Good thing the after-school activities are extended to optional full-day activities during holidays. I don't know how prices are adjusted, but at least we don't need to take 12 weeks off work every year. Only two weeks in summer remain when everything is closed. This is exactly as it is now, and largely compatible with our routine of jetting off to Argentina for a few weeks on Christmas.
One speaker mentioned a few of the things children should know when they enter kindergarten. Go to the toilet, brush teeth, use scissors, dress and undress. These are not challenges for the girl. All would be good were it not for an overambitious dead. By the time she'll set foot inside kindergarten for the first time, the girl better know how to read and write. Seven months to go!