Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meine Schultüte - My School Bag

It's that time of year again. The summer is over and tomorrow my kids will head back to school. Each year I get kind of sad seeing them walk off. It's a reminder of the passage of time.

A couple of years ago I wrote this article on the NaturalKids blog about the German Tradition of the Schultuete. It just struck me I never published it here on my own blog.

What is a Schultüte? It's the curious object you see me holding in the picture above.  I present to you Ulla, aged six, on her first day of school. Even if you are a homeschooling parent you may find this little tidbit about German culture interesting.

Maybe you have spied this "object" in an up-scale toy catalogue. You may have wondered what that strange looking cone shaped thing was. Here is my explanation:

The tradition of the Schultüte (translated school bag) goes back to the early 19th Century. It started in the big cities of Jena, Dresden, and Leipzig in the states of Saxony and Thüringen. There, children were told of these wonderful bags growing on trees in teachers' houses. When the bags had grown to full size it meant that the children were ready to go to school to receive them.

This tradition eventually spread from the cities to the country side and all over Germany.

Nowadays every German child receives a Schultüte when he or she starts school. By starting school, I mean on their very first day of school in First Grade. The German school system is very different from the U.S. system. The German word Kindergarten is equivalent to what Americans call preschool. Between the ages of 3-6, most children attend Kindergarten. In my case that meant I went to a Catholic Kindergarten. It was nearly free of charge, funded by the state and church. I went there at 8 am and stayed for a few of hours every day. I never thought of it as school or daycare, though. Kindergarten was a place to socialize with other kids besides your siblings, learn how to write your name, and do crafts.

Kindergarten is then followed by Grundschule, our elementary school. To mark this very important rite of passage from Kindergarten to school, children receive the Schultüte. It is a colorful, decorated, cone shaped vessel, usually made of thick cardboard with an opening at the top. The bag is filled with school supplies, toys, and of course candy. But there is no limit to the imagination. The children receive it in the morning and carry it proudly to their school. A picture is taken in front of school. They meet the teacher and their new classmates. When the first day is over and the children get home they are allowed to open the Schultüte and see what treasures it holds.

I love this tradition and tried to recreate it for my children as best as I could. Since I could not find a Schultüte to buy in the U.S., except for the expensive Magic Cabin version, I made one myself. I found there are quite a few German websites that teach you how to make one.

My daughter absolutely loved it. I think this is such a fun way to get children excited about school and learning. Learning is like that mystery bag - you don't know what's in it until you open it!

If you have a child starting school you may want to think about giving them such a wonderful bag and tell them about this German tradition...

Happy Back to School Days!


LMG said...

I just found them at the German Gourmet in Falls Church, Virginia - and even though my daughter is going into third grade and my son into Kindergarten, I couldn't pass them up - we always got pictures of my cousins on their first day of school and I was always envious. Last year I think Real Simple or another similar magazine had directions on how to make/decorate them, but I'm hopeless in the creativity department.

germandolls said...

Awesome! Do you have a picture of them and would you be willing to share it with me?
I'd like to hear of more "sightings".

Julie said...

Love this, Ulla!

germandolls said...

Thanks, Julie! I wish I had saved that Dirndl dress for my daughter. =) So German...

Cesar said...

I love those cones!!! Thank you for sharing!