If you are considering putting your child into the Swiss, (in particular Vaud) primary school system, or if they are registered to start a local school this year, then it can be a bit daunting knowing what to expect. What does the school require parents to provide for their child on the first day of term, what is expected of the child when they are in the classroom?
Naturally there are lots of questions that need answering, the first day of term is worrying enough for any parent and child, never mind in a different school system and different language.
Help is at Hand!
Thankfully, help is at hand and I am absolutely delighted that Odette Duerden has
written an article for “Living in Nyon” on her experience and given some extremely useful practical advice for other parents. She is a parent and has children in a Nyon primary school. You will read that although there were some teething problems at the start, it worked out in the end! You can also read my thoughts on the debate between state schools versus private schools on this site under the section “education “under “Frequently asked Questions”.
The local schools break up this Friday (the children dress up in costume that day and parade through the streets of Nyon). However, term time will be around again, so read on for Odette’s sound advice and experience.
With useful French phrases and photos to illustrate her points, it’s all invaluable stuff!
“I won’t forget the first weeks of term at the children’s Swiss public/state schools. We had opted to throw them in at the deep end – without armbands – but how naïve we had been about their ability to swim in foreign waters.
Our children had all been very happy at a school in Guernsey (in the Channel Islands in the UK) and they had always been very cheerful about going off to school. They were not terribly driven by a thirst for knowledge – school was more a place to socialise and be with their mates.
We had discussed the Swiss Education system with lots of people and parents, so I felt fairly well prepared mentally, but of course other peoples’ words can never replace personal experience.
The teachers were firm from the start and expected the children to conform in every way. I now think the teachers’ approach was the right one, had they made too many allowances the children’s assimilation would only have taken longer, but at the time it felt irksome.
As with any education system there is good and not so good – you just need to learn to navigate through it.
My daughter really struggled at the beginning. Girls rely on language so much that being unable to speak to other children was very difficult for her. Her brothers had less trouble as they spoke the international language of Football.
However the real reason for this article is to give a few practical tips for families who are just joining the system (particularly Vaud) in August/September.
Here we go. Firstly here’s the school terminology that you need to know.
1. ‘Fourrer livres et cahiers’. This means wrap the text books and exercise books in wrapping paper. See photo below. (Tip – stock up on cool wrapping paper depending on the age and sex and tastes of your child. They can earn quite a bit of street cred by having Hannah Montana/Transformers wrapped books.)
2 ‘Des coins en carton’. You are being asked to put cardboard corners on the text books which have a school stamp in them, before you wrap them in wrapping paper. You can buy the corners in stationery shops i.e. Papeterie de la Cote – Nyon or you can make them.
3. All the books must be clearly labelled on the front with the child’s name and the subject matter of the particular book.
4. Primary school children wear slippers in class. They need to take a pair that they leave below their coat peg and change into whenever they go back into class.
5. During ‘premiere primaire’ the children write with ink pens, but if your child is not used to an ink pen there are good rollerball alternatives which use normal erasable ink cartridges and so can be neatly corrected.
6. Children need to take all their own stationery supplies, you will be given a list of what is needed, but here is one just to give you an idea of what might be required. The shops are mobbed around the start of term and so you might want to plan ahead.
Here’s the list
ink eradicator/corrector pen
set of colouring pencils
set of felt tips
stick of glue
painting overall (dad’s old t-shirt)
Swimming kit (bag, bather, towel, goggles and swim cap – although no-one seems to wear the latter girls with long hair are encouraged to)
Gym kit (bag, t-shirt, shorts and indoor gym shoes – see photo – find in shoe shops and supermarkets)
The children carry their books to and from school and so a good quality satchel is a must. (An ordinary backpack just won’t cut it.)
Good handwriting is terribly important in Switzerland, as is presentation. Here are two charts demonstrating how letters should be formed. While very similar to English school script there are differences.
My children found it difficult to copy down what the teacher had written on the board as they didn’t recognise the letters and of course they didn’t know what the words meant and so they couldn’t make sense of the ‘shapes’. Lettering that differs from those of the chart – for instance a ‘v’ with a pointy bottom rather than a rounded one – is not acceptable.
Saying hello and goodbye properly is important. Children should shake hands with their teacher when they arrive – look him/her in the eye and say hello. They should do the same when they leave – shake hands, look him/her in the eye and say goodbye. Depending on the teacher this applies both morning and afternoon.
As parents it is very important to look at the Agenda (homework diary) everyday, to read all the information and notes and to sign it at the end of the week (your child will end up being reprimanded if you don’t). The Agenda system works well and teachers and parents communicate through it.
If you need to speak to a teacher you should catch him/her quickly at the end of class for a quick chat or write a note in the Agenda to request a meeting.
I hope this will help to make the first few weeks less strange and wish you all the luck in the world. It is difficult and there were lots of tears in our household. You will need an endless supply of patience and encouragement. Don’t expect too much too soon. Of course it will vary from family to family, but it wasn’t until after the Easter holidays that my children all felt happy at school and comfortable speaking French.
Here is a list of the basic phrases your child will need in the first few months of term. Good Luck!”
Bonjour – Hello
Au revoir –Good bye
Merci – Thank you
Non merci – No thank you
Est-ce que je peux aller aux toilettes? – Please may I go to the toilet?
Je ne comprends pas. –I don’t understand.
J’ai besoin d’aide –I need some help.
Je n’ai pas compris – Pouvez-vous répéter ? I didn’t understand. Could you repeat that please?
On a besoin de quel livre/cahier maintenant? –Which text book/exercise book do we need?
Où est-ce que je mets ça? –Where do I put this?
Où est-ce que je dois aller maintenant? –Where do I go now?
Qu’est-ce que je dois faire maintenant ? –What do I do now?
Est-ce que je peux jouer? –Can I play?
Est-ce que je peux venir avec toi? –Can I come with you?
Tu veux un bonbon/biscuit? –Would you like a sweet/biscuit?
Thankyou very much Odette. If you are parent and have your own comments or advice to give on this, or any other schooling issue (even if your child is in primary or secondary school in neighbouring France or Geneva), you can do so in the comment box below. You will be asked to identify various letters before publishing your comment (to prevent spamming) and then it will be sent to me to be moderated (to prevent unsuitable content), but it only takes a few seconds to complete this and it would be good to get feedback to help other parents.
Thank you for such an informative article. We are moving to Nyon later this month and our two children will be starting at the local Ecole Enfantine in August. We'll start work on that vital vocab straight away!
Catherine Nelson-Pollard says
Thankyou Rowan for this and welcome to Nyon when you arrive!
Hello Catherine, I found your article about Nyon primary schools very interesting. We are moving to the Canton of Vaud in the summer and are planning to send our children (6 and 8) to a local school. I don't worry so much about the 6 year old as she is only going to start school, but my 8 year old will be in the Swiss year 3 (British year 4). He doesn't speak French, but I am also concerned that his knowledge of maths might not be enough. He is a very good pupil at a state school here in London, but I fear that British and Swiss educational standards may differ greatly. Did you find that your children were lagging behind in maths when you moved or were there at the same level? Your comment would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance. Sabine
Catherine Nelson-Pollard says
The best way of explaining this is probably via a phone call. If you send me an email cnp at bluewin.ch
we can then set up a time for a phone call. Regards
karen robson says
We too have moved to the Nyon area and our daughter Heather is 8. She will start at the local school in 3 weeks time. We are also concerned about the equivalent maths level for suisse year 3. Heather was at private school in england and doing fine, but the college champitett assessment placed her in the year below just on maths!
Catherine Nelson-Pollard says
Hello Karen, sorry for the late reply. We too found that initially the level was lower too, but do not worry, later on it soon picks up and you will find gets much more complex. In the end the children come out with the same level of maths it just happens over a different time frame. This is a countryy fwhich is full of bankers and briliant engineers, so they must be doing something right!