Saturday, March 4, 2017

Playing with Fire and Other Life Lessons

I read this article today in the NY Times: Teaching Children to Play with Fire about children in Berlin learning fire safety and found it to be fascinating in light of our own observations in Germany.  While touring Kindergartens (German pre-schools), one teacher proudly pointed out the "fire play" station in a room for 3-5 year olds.  I tried my best not to allow my shocked reaction (or a smirk) to register on my face as the tour continued as if this was the most normal activity in the world for 3 year olds to perform at pre-school, and internally wondered about the actual practice of children playing with fire at school.

In the next room, my questions were answered when I saw a little boy who looked to be roughly 4 years old sitting at this room's fire station and safely lighting matches under supervision! I went home and laughed incredulously about it with Matthew.

However, a number of German homes (including ours) have wood-fired stoves that assist in heating in the winter, so after that visit, we began allowing our boys to assist in starting the fire.  I keep the matches in a single common area of the house (kitchen cabinet) where they cannot be played with in secret and we have a firm rule that matches can only be used if Mommy & Daddy are present, but if there is anything to be lit (candle, fireplace) then I let the kids help, and they do great!!

The NY Times article mentions German fire departments assisting in children's education on fire and fire safety, which follows a theme I've noticed at Jackson's school.  Every few weeks a different authority figure comes to the school to teach the children about a topic.  Matthew and I call these "Life Lessons". Sometimes they are specifically geared only to a certain age (such as First grade) but sometimes the entire elementary school attends.

The first "Life Lesson" Jackson attended was a dentist visiting to instruct on tooth care and how to correctly brush their teeth.  This didn't seem too far off from what we encountered in Atlanta public schools, so we didn't think much of it.

A few weeks later, the police came to instruct on car safety, including seat belt usage, car seats/booster seats, and correct behavior while in them.  Two weeks from now, the police are scheduled to visit to instruct the first graders on street walking (literal translation from German, not to be confused with the art of becoming a street-walker.  Is there a word in English that exactly reflects what you call the knowledge and practice of pedestrian rules?).  We are also already aware that in 2nd grade the children receive swimming lessons at a nearby public pool and in 4th grade the police instruct them in a course on riding their bike on the street with traffic, completed with a test at the end.  Kind of like driver's ed for 10 year olds!

We've found that in Germany once children reach school age (6-7), they are allowed/expected to have so much more freedom than kids in the US, including going to school by themselves or even taking public transportation, and it's not uncommon to see kids by themselves with their large school backpacks on.  So, it makes sense (and seems so very German) that they would be appropriately instructed on the correct methods by which to do so!

Side note: there seems to be a very distinct shift in mindset at the start of school.  Younger children are never seen by themselves and many people on the street are extremely mindful of a younger child's safety.  Since Brandtley looks more like a 3 year old than a 5 year old in stature, he often receives much fussing, care, and worry from passersby, urging him to be careful or asking where his parents are, even if we're only a few feet away.  However, Jackson never receives a 2nd glance, even if he's completely alone.

In a funny, related story...Yesterday, Matthew, Brandtley, and I walked into Altstadt to do some shopping and while waiting with a crowd of other pedestrians at a "don't walk" sign, we witnessed the rare occasion of someone jaywalking.  The woman was out for a jog and the light was about to turn, so she was in no danger according to American mindsets, but to our surprise, Brandtley pointed and shouted at her.  To our greater surprise, he then was warmly applauded by an elderly German lady who seemed so proud of him and appreciated that he called out this law-breaking woman!  Once out of earshot, we laughed about it the rest of the way to the store!.  

This is a road sign on our street.  It has nothing to do with the story, other than the fact the Brandtley is the one who first pointed it out to us.  I have no idea why a warthog is on a street sign in the middle of the city and the sign is not on any of the standard German street sign lists that I can find. :)