Combining Book Learning with Germany Travel to boost your child's German language skills

Categories: General Travel Info

Alphabet Garden - German Books
Alphabet Garden - German Books

When I was a kid, starting kindergarten was a new and scary thing. Scary, yes but my teachers had a secret weapon that was very effective at easing the kindergarten jitters. They invited us kids to Kindergarten Roundup.

Kindergarten Roundup was a fancy name for a trial run in the kindergarten classroom. We got to do fun stuff like find our very own cubbies and meet the class pet. It wasn’t real kindergarten – parents were still nearby and it only lasted for an hour or so – so no one felt overwhelmed or abandoned. But it went a long way toward helping 5-year-old me become comfortable with the idea of going to school.

In the same way that kindergarten is an intimidating place for a 5-year-old kid, vacationing in Germany can be a bit overwhelming, too. But you can lessen this intimidation when you use the same principles behind Kindergarten Roundup to prepare your child for a German vacation. How do you do this? Very simply by reading German books!

Vacations abroad mean lots of new sights, sounds and experiences. A few new things can be exciting. But too many new things all at once create stress for the brain. We call this stress culture shock.

Unless your family travels to Germany quite frequently, there will be some level of culture shock upon arriving. Culture shock comes at you from many angles. The food is different; you’re jetlagged; maybe you’re taking the U-Bahn; your accommodations are different; and of course, the language being spoken all around you is different, although hopefully not too foreign for your family. It’s enough to make any reasonable kid become very grouchy or clingy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. How you prepare for this shift in culture will determine how much of an impact it has on your stay. Getting yourself and your family ready for the differences will lessen the culture shock and help everyone adjust quickly. As a result, you’ll all have a lot more fun while you’re abroad.

So how can you use German children’s books to prepare for your vacation? You can use books in two ways: 1 – from a language perspective and, 2 – from a cultural perspective.

From a language perspective, you can use books in German to familiarize your child with the language he’ll hear when you’re on vacation together. If his German is at a very beginning stage, you can teach him words and phrases he may hear and can use when interacting with the locals in Germany. Things like greetings, names of things on the playground, words for mealtimes and food, etc. Even a little bit will go a long way toward making him feel comfortable in a German-speaking environment.

Picture dictionaries are great for this kind of activity. Kids love to browse through, learning different words as they go.

You can also read more advanced books to him. Even if he doesn’t understand everything, he’ll be a bit more familiar with the sounds of German and may start to pick out words he knows or easy English cognates (Baby, trinken, Komm hier, etc.). It will make German a bit less foreign to him and more familiar. Familiar means friendly and is a lot more fun than too many unknowns being thrown at him.

If he’s a more advanced German speaker, you can spend the time reading books that will further his knowledge and prepare him for typical conversations with local children and adults. He may be a bit shy about speaking with the locals and some extra practice will be helpful in getting him started.

From a cultural perspective, original German children’s books (not translations) provide an invaluable basis for comparisons. As you read through stories of everyday life, you can point out things that are different in Germany. Maybe the character in the story gets her breakfast from a bakery every day. Maybe she goes shopping on a Markttag (market day) with her mother and uses a basket to bring the purchases home. Maybe there are some holiday traditions you’ll experience while you’re there. A storybook is a great way to introduce these things to your child.

I love using the Conni books to discuss culture with my kids. There are Conni books for so many occasions – holidays, vacations at the beach and on the farm, going to school. We like to read the stories and pick up little observations as we go. Where is the Nordsee, Mom?, Why does Conni open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve?

German books can only help so much. Don’t expect a stack of books to help you avoid culture shock completely. Books are just the introduction. After all, that’s why you’re going to Germany in the first place! You’re looking for the sights, smells and sounds that you just can’t get when you stay home. They’re just intended to help ease the transition a bit.

In summary:

  1. Be aware that culture shock may strike when you travel to Germany.
  2. Preparing your child with German language, customs and culture can help offset culture shock.
  3. Use books to teach some easy words and phrases.
  4. Use books to discuss German culture.

So when planning your German vacation, take a tip from the wise kindergarten teacher, prepare your children well for the differences they’ll experience abroad. You – and your kids – will be glad you did.

Suggested Resources

If you’re looking for German children’s books to help you prepare for a trip to Germany, you might consider this short list:

For a more methodical approach to learning about German culture and customs, consider the Trip to Germany Unit Study series.

Sarah Mueller blogs at alphabet-garten.blogspot.com and runs Alphabet Garten, a website devoted to helping parents raise German-speaking kids.



About this Article

Sarah Müller

This travel guide has been written by Sarah Müller.

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