I avoided parenting books for a long time because I quickly learned that little kids grow out of pretty much everything that needs fixing. What does intrigue me however, is learning how different countries and cultures go about raising children and dealing with the universal challenges of parenthood (personal favorites: Cup of Jo’s Motherhood Around the World series, Bringing up Bebe). The topic has gotten more interesting to me as Asha and Arjun approach the “big kid” stage and develop personalities and traits that leave me wondering if I am doing enough to let them grow into strong, happy, and confident people. I recently read Sara Zaske’s Achtung Baby about parenting in Germany and I think it is worth adding to my personal favorites.
I came about the book quite accidentally when the bright yellow cover caught my eye at the library. I almost ignored it until the subtitle “…German art of raising…” quite literally made me say out loud, I didn’t know German parenting was a thing! Well, of course it’s a thing given that German people have children just like the rest of the world. (Apologies to all Germans for questioning this).
I brought the book home and loved every bit of it. There are some things that I expected to read given the European influence, like subsidized child care and focus on outdoor play. But there were other things that really caught me off guard. For instance:
- There is no literal word for “parenting” in Germany. The word often associated with the task is erziehung, which translates to upbringing or education and signifies the communal task of doing so beyond just the mother and father.
- Many German daycares or kita clean out the classroom of all toys for a few weeks each year (including blocks, cars, dolls, dress-up, garden toys, scooters, tricycles, etc.). They want to encourage kids to be bored and use their imagination in ways toys and other stimulus don’t allow.
- Water-play at kita doesn’t include swim clothes. Instead all kids just run around naked.
- Little kids as young as 2-years old are encouraged to ride balance bikes everywhere, and often blocks ahead of their parents.
- Overnight field trips are common, even in kita. As the kids get older, week long field trips are just part of the curriculum.
- Many German kids also learn about “the art of fire” in their kita. This includes learning how to light a match and how to engage with fire in a safe way.
- German playgrounds are not as safe as American playgrounds. The Danish concept of “adventure play” elevates the “danger” even more by offering playgrounds specially designed to encourage kids to take risks, learn about necessary dangers, and try free play. As Sara puts it “the dangers in these play spaces are real, on purpose, and no one is responsible for managing the risk but the child.” Some of them even have “child farms” so kids can play with rabbits, ducks, sheep, goats, and pigs.
- Young kids are encouraged to walk or bike to school without parents.
- Instead of hanging out at the mall like most American teens and tweens, Germans have small parks designed specifically for older gets to get together and hang out.
- Kids learn early on about the concept of death and religion in an approachable way. Ethics becomes a mandatory subject starting in 7th grade.
- Sex education starts as early as first and second grades when children are taught basic biological differences and sex abuse prevention. Mummy laid an Egg is a common picture book used to introduce 7-year-olds to the birds and bees. According to Sara, while she was caught off guard seeing her daughter with this book, she saw the benefit of a teacher reading this book to the students and all the friends knowing the same basic information. Throughout the schooling years, the goal of sex education in Germany is to provide a holistic concept of human sexuality including emotional health, body image, and gender stereotypes, rather than just conception.
- Children are surrounded by Germany’s tough past as a way to never forget what happened. Museums and monuments all around the city encourage even young kids to ask the tough questions and learn the truth. Formal education involves in depth study of the Nazi years beyond just a history class.
There is so much more in this book that left me wondering why aren’t we doing things this way. My immediate take-away lessons include having a toys-free day/week and encouraging my kids to be more independent and self-reliant in their daily life.
If you have read this book too, please share what parts caught you by surprise. Also, if you are a German parent living in the US, what do you this of this list and the impact it had on you, and do you think your kids are missing out in some way?
And Sara, if you ever come across this little post, thanks for writing this book. I loved it so much! If France doesn’t work out, I will definitely put Germany on my list of counties where I want to live! ;)