Our Early Years German teacher Grainne McFadden-Rohan explains how early language development is both local and joyful - making the most of our Swiss connections while having fun
As part of the Early Years Programme at ISZL, the German language is interwoven into the child’s day through a variety of weekly routines and activities. It plays a significant role in their school life, giving them the opportunity to be immersed in German.
- Morning meeting: Starting the day discussing important topics and listening to the children’s ideas.
- Lunchtime (Mittagstisch): Specialist teachers join the children to share personal stories, discuss food and the morning’s experiences.
- Indoor and outdoor play time: Joining children in their play provides abundant opportunities for language development, including the social language that is so helpful when making friends and playing harmoniously with classmates and neighbours.
Throughout the Early Years at ISZL, German is taught in this authentic and integrated way, and is personalised to meet the needs of children of different ages and at different stages in their language learning journey. Children who are already becoming proficient German speakers have opportunities to share their understanding, and those children who are beginning their learning journey have opportunities to listen, to develop strategies for comprehension and to try out their new language.
It is vital that children’s experiences at an early age are positive and foster a lifelong love of learning. This belief is at the core of our German teaching practice and can be seen in regular organised activities, such as:
- Singing: An integral part of our German lessons. It is clear that singing can be highly motivational and many of us are more than happy to sing the same song many times. Children joyfully acquire and develop their language through song.
- Sharing books, poems and stories: Regular storytime is a key part of our programme. Enjoying German stories broadens children’s vocabulary and heightens their awareness of rich language patterns as well as story structure. Books with a pattern or repetitive text allow children to predict the next page or sentence, building confidence and vocabulary. This active participation in reading - for example, repeating phrases - not only helps understanding but also provides a model for accurate pronunciation.
- Cooking: A comprehensive learning experience for young children allowing them to apply a range of transferable skills, including mathematical, organisational and language skills. Baking traditional and seasonal breads offers an important connection to Swiss cultural heritage. Grittibänze, Zopfteighäsli and Sonntagszopf all feature in the school’s baking calendar and are eagerly created - and consumed!
- Forest education sessions: The beautiful and extensive Swiss forest provides a perfect setting to learn German as well as promoting an appreciation of the physical environment. In addition to learning about this habitat, the children learn to cook and explore through German and become familiar with the local rules and etiquette essential to protecting and sharing this wonderful resource. Our German language sessions always aim to provide ample opportunities for spontaneous and natural conversations in a relaxed environment. The forest serves as an inspiring backdrop for storytelling and dramatic productions through the German language.
Connecting with the local community
Switzerland offers a vibrant community-based diary of festivals and celebrations. Whether families are here for a short time or many years, they benefit from active participation in the local community. Like many children in the area, the children at ISZL take part in traffic training conducted by the local police. We have found that local Swiss organisations warmly welcome our participation in local events, including:
- Pumpkin harvest at a local farm
- Baar Lichterweg (Path of Lights during Advent)
- Candle dipping workshop
- Baar Fasnacht (Carnival) parade
Our youngest learners and their families make life-long memories through their participation. Creating a beautiful beeswax candle is now a regular winter ritual in Kindergarten. We are warmly welcomed at a local ‘Kerzenziehen’ workshop and the children are guided in crafting their own candles. Sharing these experiences with the school community often gives families the confidence to take part in local traditions independently, anchoring their connection to their Swiss neighbourhood.
Our goals with German education in the Early Years
Our goal is to help the children to see the rewards that come with learning a language. Specifically, we want them to become comfortable with the sounds and rhythms of the German language, acquainting them with the cues of context and gesture that allow them to identify both known and unknown words and phrases. In addition to providing a solid foundation for all future language learning, the ability to comprehend, and then to interact with their Swiss environment is an empowering experience for children of this age. Whether understanding and using short phrases in shops and on public transport, joining in games at a playground, participating in sports and clubs in the local community, or simply interacting more fully with Swiss neighbours and acquaintances, we aim to develop and nurture a long-lasting familiarity with the language.
- German Learning