Homeschooling in any form is illegal in Germany.
Which, you know, is a real drawback.
However, other aspects of German childrearing and general attitudes towards learning are fantastic, putting into sharp relief how ridiculously paranoid and over-thought we Americans tend to be when it comes to our kids.
Here’s a short list of examples:
1. Not every German kid is expected to attend University. Many go to trade schools. Riding in the train from Munich to Frankfurt on Sunday morning, we met a young woman who had gone to trade school to learn to be a jewelry-maker. She then worked in a jewelry store as part of her education to learn the business side of things. The goal (and one that she will no doubt reach) is to open her own business within the next 2 years. She will receive a government loan to do so.
In my view, this is a much more common sensical and effective approach to learning than the “every kid needs a 4 year degree” mantra we hear ad nauseum.
2. Kids in Germany walk or ride their bikes to school on their own, without an adult, starting at around age 7. Schools divide kids into classes based on where they live so that they can walk to school together.
In my hometown in Indiana, at the elementary school I attended, there is a child who is not allowed to walk 30 feet across an empty lot to his house which is situated right next to the school. A parent is required to pick him up from school lest some horrible fate befall him in the minute or so it would take to walk home alone. (I am not exaggerating this at all. I wish I were.)
3. Playgrounds in Germany are fun, are not surrounded by large fences and contain “dangerous” items such as zip lines, huge slides and massive rope swings that fly 15 to 20 feet above the ground on the upswing. Kids ride them freely – there are no age limits or size limits posted; no parental guidance required, no safety harnesses or warnings anywhere. Just lots of happy kids. And kids often walk to and from the playgrounds – through wooded areas and across train tracks – without a parent or “caregiver” at their side.
After 2 or 3 days in Germany, Maya and Ben started pointing out all the things that would not be allowed in the U.S. because of the supposed “danger”. Sadly they were right.
4. Food. TV. Video games. Language. No extreme obsession over eating healthy (Germans generally eat healthy, they just don’t OBSESS over every morsel they or their kids eat), no constant hand-wringing over TV, no endless debates about the evils of video games and no bleeping of curse words in songs on the radio (bleeping that only brings attention to the fact of a ‘forbidden’ word).
Of course German parents have concerns when it comes to their kids. No parent can avoid the feelings of anxiety or worry inherent in loving a child. The difference is they seem to be able to keep those anxieties from becoming full blown paranoia, resulting in massive over-protection and over-analyzation and in the end hindering their kid from learning to be independent and self-reliant.
I wish I knew the why of this. It is a mystery to me how we as a culture have become so fearful that we cannot allow our kids to enjoy the inherent pleasures of childhood.
We would all do ourselves a huge favor if we could just lighten up. People would not normally categorize Germans as easy-going, but in this regard they’ve got it all over us. Bottom line? Love your kids and let them be kids. Everything will be ok, even if your child loves Spongebob and eats chocolate. If you homeschool/unschool, so much the better. Even less to worry about, so take a deep breath, go find a playground and let your kids play. If you can, leave them there and go for coffee. They will love the freedom that gives them and the trust implied in such a move.
Feel anxious? That’s ok. Let them play anyway. It’ll be worth it in the end.