Monday, 6 July 2009

Week 36 - Parents Evening.

OH and I attend a compulsory parents’ evening at school for J’s class, which will be class 5 next year.

There are two topics:

French which they will start next year, taking their language quota, at the age of 11, to 4: Swiss German (spoken only), High German, English and French; and

Class camp ("lager"), which will be Stein Zeit Lager, ie Stone Age camp. More to follow.

The French bit is all very straightforward and basically is just an explanation of how they introduce the language, and the books and other resources they will use. I reassure myself that even though my own French is now worse than my German (hard to imagine, but pathetically true), I should at least be able to help J with this subject. I can still read and understand French, even if the limited powers of French speech that I once possessed left me when I started learning German.

The bit about Stein Zeit Lager is far, far funnier though. Class camp is a regular part of Swiss school life. It happens once a year after they reach a certain age, which varies according to the region, and my understanding was that they went away to a hostel (owned by the Gemeinde) and did outdoor activities.

However, J’s class really are going on camp, in the forest, in tents, with no running water and a bucket as a WC, in September. If they can’t light a fire, they won’t eat. The shower is a bucket, though a different one to the WC I hope. They’re not allowed to hunt (phew) so I imagine they will be taking the food with them, but it is basically an introduction to survival skills. Brilliant - in exactly the same vein as the way that, on the children’s second day at Kindergarten, they get a policeman showing them how to cross the road safely. Never mind all that reading and writing and Key Stage this and that fuss: at the age of 6, they are expected to walk to Kindergarten independently and be in one piece when they get there – so the first thing they are taught is how to cross the road. I digress.

There is a list of equipment that each child will need, which includes things like waterproof walking boots, penknife, warm sleeping bag, ONE (yes, just one) set of underclothes for the entire week (eugh) including long johns, etc etc. The risk of tick infection is high in the forest during the warmer months, so they wear one set of underclothes all week to reduce skin exposure. The temperature might reach -5 at night. The grand cost of this, to each family, is 85 CHF – around £45.00 – which is the cost of sending the teacher. The camp itself is funded by the school.

There is a very funny point when the teacher giving the presentation asks for questions, and gets one extremely irate Swiss mother ranting at her about the camp being dangerous, this is the first we have heard of it, the ticks are rife in the forest etc etc. It's less of a question than a 5 minute shout, during which time OH and I sit trying to stifle our laughter. I indulge in a bit of people watching and observe all the other parents in the room gradually starting to either stare out of the window or at the floor or cringe visibly. The teacher waits until the parent has finally finished, and then calmly states that if a parent doesn't want his or her child to go on camp then the child can stay and go to school normally but in someone else's class. And they've been running this camp for Class 5 for 12 years without any problems.

It sounds just like the guide camps I used to go on nearly 30 years ago – apart from the risk of tick infection and only one set of underwear and it possibly reaching -5 at night. But we had those horrible camping loos and had to dig a sewage hole for them to be emptied into, we had no running water and had to light the kitchen fire 3 times a day. And it was fantastic.

So when we get home I tell J that his holiday reading needs to be the Dangerous Book for Boys. He’ll have a whale of a time.

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