Folium: Back to School Traditions From Around the World via Digg
As a school teacher now for almost nineteen years, I wonder how other countries celebrate the start of a new school year. I know for most of my colleagues and myself it starts with nervous twitches, feelings of being overwhelmed, and a few sleepless nights. We find in the United States that it seems to be customary for children to get a fresh haircut, buy a new backpack, new sneakers, and some new clothes. School children around the country anxiously await the big yellow school bus pulling up to their house, while parents have their cameras ready in hand. Besides getting some new stuff, the only thing school kids get excited about for going back to school is seeing old friends.
Let us start with my favorite back to school tradition which is from Germany. First graders are given Schultüten’s by their parents on the first day of school. They are big cones that are decorated and are filled with candy, toys, small trinkets and school materials. Also on the first day, German parents accompany their first graders to school and meet the teacher and classmates. They celebrate with songs, and poems from the older children. They are there for about two hours and then go home where they can finally open their cones to celebrate the start of school. The cones are so big that they are almost as tall as the children.
Every year in Russia on September 1st they celebrate “the Day of Knowledge”. There is a special celebration held at the schools marking the start of a new school year. Just like in Germany, Russia also has songs, poems read and speeches given to get everyone started for the new year. One thing that I really liked is the school children bring flowers to their teacher on that day. I would love to receive a bunch of flowers on the first day. I believe that it would make the teacher feel important and appreciated. One would also see white ribbons worn in the girls hair or placed on the school uniform. At the closing of the ceremony a first grade girl is chosen to sit on top of the shoulders of a senior boy. While on top of his shoulders the girl loudly rings the bell and is carried past the crowd, officially marking the start of the school year.
If you are an environmentalist you may enjoy this tradition. In Holland, kids are often seen going back to school in a bakfietsen which is a cargo bike. There is a large box in the front of the bike for the child to sit in and one of the parents pedals the bike to bring their child to school. The kids think it cool to show up on the first day of school in the front of their parents bike.
You may not want to go to this next country if you have small children like I do. In North Korea at age five the children start school and they are shipped off for eleven years to study and learn about “Communist Morality”. They are to wear uniforms as well. How scary to be five in that country.
In Japan, school children buy a randoseru for school. It is our version of a backpack but the sides of the backpack are hard. They would typically fill their bag up with origami paper, books, and a special pencil case called a fudebako. It is good luck and a tradition on the first day to bring your lunch made with rice, seaweed sauce and quail eggs. You are not allowed to wear your outdoor shoes inside so you are to bring a pair of slippers to wear inside. Now that sounds comfy to me.
Back to school in Italy means buying a new smock. Yes, kids have to wear smocks in elementary school. It is suppose to be like a work coat. Boys wear blue smocks and girls can either wear white or pink. What originally started out as a sort of uniform and keeping everyone looking the same, has evolved over the years. Now retailers make the smocks with designs on them so there is a wide variety of choices and different styles. On the smocks children must wear a ribbon that indicates their grade level. Each grade level is a different color. Just like in the United States, Italian children usually buy new backpacks for the start of a new year and il diario which is an agenda for jotting down assignments and information.
How different countries and cultures begin a school year is fascinating. While there are some similarities and overlap in practices there are other practices that are completely unique. I wish we could steal a few of these ideas and incorporate it into our own culture. It may make children and parents alike view the start of school as a wonderful celebration and not something that is scary or dreadful. I would like to buy or make a cone to fill for my son when he starts school and have him bring a bouquet of flowers to his teacher making it a happy and welcoming event.
Kristine Schanzenbach Boudreau