Swiss school, from our perspective

Just wrapping up yet another Swiss long weekend. A 4 day weekend for the kids thanks to Ascension Thursday – a religious celebration, connected to the Holy Week and Easter. I’m fuzzy on the rest of the details but sure do enjoy having a nice long weekend in May.


All aboard kids! Time to see more Switzerland.


Evidently this was a biking long-weekend. So many bikes on the trains.
Bikes are embraced everywhere! We didn’t get the memo…maybe our next excursion can be a biking trek.
First stop – Zug.
A pretty town to explore.
Where we settled in for the weekend, back to my Hostelling International roots. A lovely room all to ourselves on Lake Lucerne.
The view out our door at the hostel.

And the coolest thing about this long weekend, it’s followed by another, this very next weekend. Boom! How do ya’ like that?

The best part of wading through the terror of a year of school in a foreign land where they speak a foreign language is that it has been broken up into nice little chunks.  With each mounting period of nervousness or anxiety we simply say “just get through until next week and then we’re on a break again. Sheesh, even the week feels like that considering that every Wednesday is just a half day.

We definitely feel as though we’re in the home stretch now. One more long weekend and then the carrot of summer holidays will be dangled. The fact that summer holidays here don’t begin at the end of June like at home is a detail we’re trying to gloss over. July 14th is the final day of classes here. The following school year beginning a mere 5 weeks after that. But the number of 2 week breaks sprinkled throughout the year more than makes up for the short summer. (In our opinion that is. If you ask the kids you’ll get a different response.)

The school year offered a good number of “wait, what?” moments to forever keep us guessing. With the kids at two different schools this has also offered two unique sets of puzzling circumstances. The lack of consistency between the two has been somewhat amusing. (Amusing is the term I can use now, in hindsight. As these moments unfolded frustration was a more accurate term.)

Here are a few of the biggest differences that have given us pause…

The school schedule was perplexing from the start. 2 hours off for lunch every day. Half days on Wednesday. In Helena’s case she has additional half days in the week as well. These days changed part way through the year with the assumption that this didn’t negatively impact the parent’s schedule at all. (It in fact did not as my Hausfrau schedule is pretty flexible. But what if I had found a job with a schedule based on knowing when the kids were in school?)

Diego, on the other hand has one day a week of staying later by an additional hour. Also a day that without warning has changed. Again, does no one think that this makes scheduling life a wee bit of a challenge?

As I’ve mentioned before the visit to the dentist as a field-trip was an unwelcomed surprise. For D that is.  He’s gotten over the trauma of that by now and has likely come to realize that going to the dentist with school is potentially less embarrassing than going with his psychotic inappropriate-laughing mother.

This was followed by the horror of a class doctor’s visit complete with an in-class weighing. Picture this scenario back home with all of our awareness of the importance of anti-bullying practices, healthy body images and self esteem. “Today class we’ll be all stepping on a scale, one by one, and reading out what the number is so that all of your peers can hear. It will also be publicly discussed if this weight is in the healthy range or not. If you’re fat, your buddies are about to find out.”

Um, I beg your pardon?

Diego came home from school one day knowing which girls weighed more than which boys, which kid was the heaviest of all and which kid is a skinny-minny. Hmmmm, no wonder there appears to be an extreme obsession among the women here with thinness. I have witnessed grown women (60+) traveling for a few nights away from home with the bathroom scale packed in their overnight bag. Um, pretty sure that in-class weighing in grade school was a little bit traumatic and life altering.

“Buddy, how is it that you know what everyone weighs?”

“Oh, because we had a doctor’s check-up in class today.”

“Did you now. Odd, I don’t remember getting a notice home about that.”

Nope, they aren’t big on notices home here. Diego’s trip to the dentist, yes, a form explaining that one did come home. But not last month when Helena’s class went. No word what-so-ever.  No word about the doctor’s check up and group humiliation weigh-in either.

They also take many field trips (that in and of itself is fantastic – I love that they get out of the classroom so often) also with no notice whatsoever to the parents. Back home, our kids brought home a permission form if they were planning to go for a walk, on the trail at school that led off the school property.

Here? “We went to the science centre today.”

“Did you now. Fun.” Me, quietly considering how far of a trek that must have been from the school… “How’d you get there?”

“We took the train.”

“Wow! Any parent volunteers helping out?”


Next month Diego has a week-long trip with his classroom to the Appenzel district. It’s the equivalent of heading to another province. All info on this excursion so far is word of mouth. Nothing sent home yet. No chaperones being enlisted. Just the students and the teachers. 5 days, 4 nights, trains, busses, a hostel, swimming, all manner of adventure. I’m quite sure that this is actually pretty darn fantastic as being a Swiss Hausfrau I’m certain I’d have been a prime target to go along as a parent chaperone. Nope! Phew.

The other big difference here, report cards. Months ago Helena came home with one that we looked at together that afternoon before we had to send it back. It was just to look at, not to keep…

I then said “Hey D, where’s yours?”

“I dunno?”

“Didn’t you get one too?”


Sure enough, weeks stretched into months and still no report card for D.

Just recently I was invited to a parent teacher interview at his school. Oh good, I thought. I finally get to find out how he’s doing. His teacher mentioned that there was a report card in January but that she chooses not to share that one with the families. Right, because why would you? I did get to see the May report card but only briefly during the meeting. Once again, not for me to take home. Just a quick peek.

The students are ranked according the the ABC scale. A being the best, B middle of the road and C a little less impressive. Except here these letters specifically direct the path you will take for the rest of your schooling.

Diego will be in 6th grade next year. This is the year that determines his ABC track. At the end of this year if he ranks A he carries on to high school. Only here they call high school Gymnasium. D was pretty excited…”you mean if I do well next year I get to do gym for the next 6 years?” Sorry Bud, not quite. More school years for you with the option of one day heading to university.

If you rank B, you carry on with a chance to improve and qualify for Gymnasium but with the possibility that you may not get there. You aren’t in the academic stream but you can try to get there through the back door. Starting to identify your special interest is a good idea here.

If you rank C you really have no hope of carrying on to traditional high-school and so you begin your apprenticeship years – training for the trades. Effectively by the age of 12 kids here are expected to start their career path. They are expected to know what it is that they might want to do with the rest of their life and begin training accordingly. It’s pretty surprising.

With our decision to stay another year it means the kids will integrate into the regular school system – no more specialized German integration. At least for Helena this year isn’t too crucial in the whole ranking system. For D it’s a different story. No pressure Buddy…

All in all it’s been a great experience and one we know we are so very lucky to have been a part of. Our kids have been given incredible attention and focus allowing them to thrive here. Despite my children believing that every school here is scary, the experience has been amazing. Big beautiful classrooms – not big class sizes, big spaces. Huge rooms with high, high ceilings and big, giant windows. Not a single classroom without windows. And there are children learning in nature, in the forests every day. It’s fantastic.

Some sweet little ones headed out for an adventure in the nearby forest.
Yikes, scary school…way too modern.
Yikes, scary school…way too old.

In the meantime we’re loving all these long weekends and the time for adventure it affords us. I’ll leave you with a few more pics from our adventures this past weekend.

Awaiting the bus in Brunnen.
Trying out the virtual reality goggles at the Victorinox visitor centre.
A boat ride on the Lake of Lucerne. Perfect way to stay cool on the +30 degree day.
Boat buddies…D sneaking in a wee nap.
Pretty view from the boat.
A quick swim in Weggis to beat the heat. 
Hey kids, let’s go to Weggis (pronounced Vegas)
The chapel in Weggis – oddly, no Elvis or quickie weddings offered.
Nuns riding bikes are as awesome as monks riding bikes.
Finally found a good hike with a mountain view in Sattel.
High up at Mostelberg overlooking Brunnen and Lake Lucerne down below.
The Skywalk suspension bridge. My brave kid up ahead. The cautious one sticking close to mom and hanging on for dear life.
And an alpine slide too!
The pretty town centre in Schwyz.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Eli says:

    Pretty amazing what you do with the kids on a long weekend, beautiful picks too. Tour guide might be in your future!?!


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