The other day I had a lively conversation with a neighbour as we were on our way home. My neighbour volunteers at a children’s clinic. It’s amazing what interesting and fun things happen right here, specifically with children in mind. In the summer there are Teddy Days held over several days. What is a Teddy Day exactly? It’s when kindergarteners from all the local schools bring their “ailing” teddies and other stuffed toys to be seen by doctors and properly treated. The “doctors” are students from the medical school, and there are “nurses” — volunteers who bandage, give shots or pills, set casts for “broken” arms, and even sew on missing parts — ears, noses, eyes — or repair burst seams. Each child is asked what seems to be the matter with his or her “ward,” and once a boy, very grave and serious, said his stuffed toy had a heart attack. It turns out that someone in the boy’s family had had one just a few weeks before. The more usual treatments require a bandaged head or a sewn ear. When all the cases have been treated, the “parents” and their now fully-taken-care-of “wards” are amply rewarded with cake and ice cream. Such rollicking fun!
Another conversation I had later that evening with a young mother revealed that children are not now taught proper German spelling in the early grades. They are allowed to write as they hear or speak. (!?!) Only much later are they taught the rules of proper German orthography. The young mother and I were skeptical that this would be a more effective way. It would be much more difficult, we thought, for anybody to learn proper spelling after having written in an idiosyncratic manner for years. This is supposedly the prevailing fashion in teaching the German language in primary school. At least here in North Rhine-Westphalia.