If you have a 5 or 6-year-old living in Germany with you, you’ll be visiting the Gesundheitsamt to check up on their development and assess whether they’re ready for their Einschulung (starting school). This appointment can go several ways – here’s what to expect at the Schularzt for an Einschulungsuntersuchung.
Either you’ve been sent a formal invitation to the Einschulungsuntersuchung (doctor’s examination before starting school) by post from the Gesundheitsamt (Department of Health) or you’ve scheduled something online while registering your child to start school. This is not a scary doctor’s appointment, but it’s quite extensive. If you want to prepare your child (and yourself!) for the day, the information below should help.
What’s a Schularzt? (School doctor)
A Schularzt / Schulärztin works for the state department of health. One of the biggest parts of their job is to meet and examine all the kids scheduled to start school and assess their physical, social and mental development to figure out whether they’re ready to start school and/or whether they might need any extra support.
How long does the appointment last?
Your child will be in with the doctor and/or assistants for around 45 minutes. Add some time for paperwork beforehand and a fair bit more if you’re dealing with an overburdened public authority. It can be a long and exhausting process for your child. My daughter and I were in and out within 2 hours, 1 of which was time spent in waiting rooms. She was K.O. by the end.
What papers should I bring?
There’s a form to fill out in advance. You can download the Berlin version here. Then there is another form you’ll get on the day that asks you to assess your child’s development in a bunch of areas (mostly tickboxes). You should also bring:
- Das gelbe Heft (the yellow book that you got when your child was born and that you have taken to all the checkups since your child’s birth. If you are new to Germany, you might not have one of these.
- Your child’s vaccination passport (it’s yellow too).
What kind of tests will my child do?
My daughter did the following tests in Berlin:
With the assistants before visiting the doctor:
- Balance and stamina: she jumped from side to side on a mat for about 30-60 seconds and thought it was hilarious
- Colourblindness – she traced coloured lines and identified the colours
- Sight (with a machine) – she determined the direction of prongs on a letter E as it got smaller. She had trouble using words so she pointed.
- Hearing (with a machine) – she knocked on the table whenever she heard a sound, even if it was a soft one
- Dexterity – she copied drawings of shapes
With the doctor:
- General physical checkup (stethoscope, posture and spine, etc.)
- More drawings of shapes
- Following a series of instructions e.g. “draw a red house with a yellow door and a tree”
- Spotting differences and similarities in shape drawings, identifying patterns
- Speech and language tests (e.g. correcting or repeating silly words, repeating longer sentences like “Papa is flying to the moon with a sausage in his hand”)
What are they looking for?
Indications that your child is ready to start school:
- They can write their name
- They can describe colours and shapes
- They can stand on one leg and hop or they can jump backwards and forwards / from side to side over a line
- They can count to ten
- They can spot differences in pictures
- They can draw a picture after getting instructions (e.g. a table, an X, a tree)
- They can pronounce words without difficulty (this is complex, of course!)
- They can follow a series of instructions
What happens next?
Once it’s all done, the doctor writes a report and sends it to the school at which your child is registered to start. If there are some developmental concerns, the doctor might suggest Zurückstellung (waiting another year before starting school). In my daughter’s case, the doctor agreed with me that our daughter should stay another year in Kita and start school at 7. The doctor’s report and the parent’s opinion is not the be-all and end-all of this decision – the Schulausschuss (school committee) of a district decides whether a child’s school start can be delayed a year. They get information from the child’s Kita, from the school doctor and from the parents, who essentially apply for the delayed start.
If your child is ready and raring to go, the most likely scenario is that the doctor makes this assessment and enrolment continues as normal! Don’t leave the room feeling confused about what happens next – discuss with the school doctor and ask what the results of the report will be. Take the time to get the information you need so you can prepare your child, too.
Can I take a translator?
Yes. If you’re the parent attending and you don’t speak German, you absolutely should take a German speaker with you to communicate not only with the doctor but with the other staff at the Gesundheitsamt who will be involved, even if your child speaks German. You cannot rely on a child, even an older sibling, to be able to communicate effectively with you when you are discussing your child’s development with a doctor. The appointment can be very long and detailed, especially if there are developmental concerns to be addressed.
Your child will probably be nervous. It helps very much to take someone approachable and warm to interpret for you, who will get down on the same level to greet your child and make them feel comfortable, even if the interpreting is more for the parent’s benefit.
We’ve accompanied quite a few parents and children to these Einschulungsuntersuchungen and we know what’s involved. We would be delighted to help you and your child. Once you know the date, time and location, book an interpreter for a school doctor’s visit. An interpreter can also meet you half an hour before the appointment to give you a hand with the Elternfragebogen (parent questionnaire) and the additional form you’ll get on the day.