Lincoln turned 5 while we were in Italy on April 20th. Since the kids were on one of 5 million vacations during this time, his birthday party was scheduled for May 13th. I had absolutely no idea what to expect or what I was permitted to do. The cultural and language barriers has made navigating the world of children a bit challenging for me. However, to my delight (sort of), I could bring in bake goods from home. Lincoln requested robot and Frozen themed cake pops (obviously).
Just for a bit of background on Lincoln’s class, there are 22 students ranging in age from 4-7 (he was one of the youngest) and one teacher. Here, kindergarten starts when the children are as young as 4.5 and is for two years before they transition to 1st grade. School is from 8am-11:50am. For the children in their second year of Kindergarten, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they go home for lunch, and then school resumes at 1:30 and goes until 3:30.
The spoken language in our Kanton (think State or Region) is Swiss German and High German (regular old German). In schools Swiss German is spoken until they reach 1st grade where the mandatory language becomes High German. As a result, a High German speaking teachers is brought in on Wednesdays to teach the Kindergartener’s so they are prepared for 1st grade which is when formal learning begins.
Every morning the children have free play time from 8-8:30am, then they gather around for circle time. This is when the hour long birthday ritual is commenced. I am told it is a Swiss tradition that each classroom have some sort of structured ritual for birthdays, but that the ritual itself its completely up to the teacher. For Lincoln’s class, the theme is centered around an underwater German story called Der Kleine Wassermann – The Small Waterman.
The birthday boy is asked to chose a helper, and they leave the room to get the birthday child dressed as the main character in the story. Meanwhile, the teacher gets out a large seashell, a table with floating candles, a large box of matches (and I mean like a foot long), a container of gold fish, a box of pearls and opens a large plastic clam shell and puts pillows inside. All the students line up with a large decorated fishing net and hold it up over their heads. When the birthday boy is ready, the class sings happy birthday (for Lincoln they did it in English) as the birthday boy and his helper walk under the fishing net and assume their positions in/next to the clam shell.
Then the story begins and was interjected with group song, and use of the accessories that Lincoln had in front of him. At one point, he was asked to strike a match and light the 5 floating candles. Then later in the story, he walked around and handed out two goldfish for each child to eat. Somewhere along the way he was asked to hold up the seashell to his ear and listen for the ocean, and finally, each student was handed a pearl and asked to make a wish.
Once the story ready was over, the students all went out side and lined up on benches. Lincoln was asked to call up students one at a time to pick out a cake pop. In true Swiss fashion (more on that in another blog post), any child that “stepped out of line” had to immediately put back their cake pop and wait for their name to be called again. Lincoln without fail called up the boys first, the majority of which had to give up their first choice cake pop. Interestingly, this resulted in many girls getting their first choice of cakepop – the robot and left many unhappy boys with a blue sparkly Frozen one instead.