Starting Kindergarten – some helpful advice

Dear WOT readers,

Just last week my older son got his notification for starting Kindergarten next summer. It’s a big step for the whole family and I can’t believe how grown up my little boy already is. For all of you in the same situation I’d like to tell you a bit about what Kindergarten in Switzerland is all about.

The main aim of Kindergarten is to prepare the children for school. Therefore it supports their mental, physical and psychological development, it fosters good behavior and facilitates knowledge and skills. Kindergarten became part of the obligatory school time in 2008. Before it wasn’t mandatory.

In Kindergarten children learn a lot of different things, but not in an academic sense. They learn mainly by playing, which is appropriate to their age. By using all their senses and emotions the children learn best and the teacher will make use of their creativity and imagination. There will be different art and crafts projects, nature watching activities, instructions that they need to follow or singing and storytelling while sitting in a circle.

A big part of Kindergarten is also “free play”, where the children can choose from a range of activities. The teacher will encourage the children in a way that suits their skills and aptitudes. The children can do role-play or experiments, there are puzzles and board games or they can do a crafts projects. During this time they learn to work out a difference of opinion with other kids or how to help each other. Or they can practice their fine motoric skills. Some of the playtime does also take place outside where the children can practice their rough motor skills. If a child is interested, they can also play with numbers and letters.

How can you, as a parent, support your child in this step? It’s not easy letting your “baby” go, but we all know the time has to come eventually. It’s easier to let them go, when you know that they are ready. So you can train with them things like dressing themselves and going to the toilet by themselves. Maybe you can also walk to their Kindergarten beforehand a few times and show them how to handle the critical points, so that after a while your child can walk to Kindergarten by themselves with their friends. When they can do all this by themselves we will all feel prepared for the big step.

I know what Jonah and I will be practicing in the next half a year, as putting the shoes on the right foot and closing zips are tricky things.


TRAVEL TIPS – Neuschwanstein Castle & Füssen Area


If you or your children are fascinated by castles & knights, then you must visit Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany.   It is probably the most elaborate of all the German Castles & its beauty inspired Walt Disney to build the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the center of Disneyland.  Neuschwantstein Castle was built by King Ludwig II as his fantasy retreat.  The inside of the castle is like an elaborate Hollywood set to make the King’s favorite Wagner Operas come to life — complete with gold gilded Throne Room, life sized murals, and even a Venus Grotto (cave).  To see the fabulous inside of the castle, you have to take a tour.  Tours are short (30 minutes), so they are quite child friendly.   And to get the best photos of the castle from the outside, you should go to nearby Marienbrücke (a bridge that was built for King Ludwig’s mother).  If you & your family enjoy a walk, then also hike down to the river below.  Tourists have made a Steinman (Rock People) Field there.  The water is clean & on the riverbanks, there is plenty of room for a picnic.

Logistics:  First of all if you wish to see the inside of the castle, reserve your tickets for the tour via internet in advance — we reserved ours 3 weeks in advance.  Here is the link:  (If you don’t do this, you may be waiting for your tour for about 4+ hours.  This castle is very popular.)  From Zurich, driving to Neuschwanstein Castle takes about 4 hours (including a short lunch break in between).  After you have parked your car at the Castle Parking Lot, you will have to walk another 30 minutes (with children estimate 45 minutes) up the hill to get to the castle.  If you don’t want to walk, you can take a bus or a horse drawn carriage up too.

After your visit to Neuschwanstein Castle (which will take only half a day), you can visit the nearby smaller castle of Hohenschwangau (where King Ludwig vacationed as a child) or visit the little town of Füssen (10 minutes away).   If you want to get some good food, I would head to Füssen.  This cute Bavarian town has a beautifully maintained Old Town with lots of restaurants.  Our favorite restaurant was Greek Restaurant Kelari (Address: Lechhalde 1, 87629 Füssen, Bavaria, Germany, Tel: 08362-5058278).  Everything, from the fish to the meats & salads, was superb.  If your kids don’t like Greek, then Ristorante Pizzeria Il Pescatore  (Address: Franziskanergasse 13, 87629 Fussen, Bavaria, Germany, Tel. 49 8362-924343)  an Italian restaurant was also very good.  Both places were bursting with customers, so a reservation in advance is highly advised.  If you don’t manage to reserve in advance, Gasthof Krone (Address: Schrannengasse 17, 87629 Fussen, Bavaria, Germany) serving German food in a Middle Ages setting, also looked good.  This restaurant, being a large restaurant, seemed always to have room.

 If you wish to overnight in Bavaria, then Hotel Fantasia (Address: Ottostrasse 1, 87629 Fussen, Bavaria, Germany) is FANTASTIC!  We stayed in quintuple room #2 for 110 Euros/night & it was like a mini-suite: 2 sleeping rooms, an eating area, huge bathroom, & tiny kitchen (with stove & refrigerator — bring your own pots, utensils, plates, etc. though).  On sunny days the large garden area is set up with a really big trampoline, ping pong table, lawn chairs, & tables.    

Last, but not least, if you would like to travel back in time to the Middle Ages, then don’t miss “Ritterspiele Ehrenberg.”  It is a large Middle Ages Festival in nearby Reutte, Tirol, Austria (about 15-20 minutes by car).  Here is their link:      There is a Knights Jousting Tournament, a HUGE parade with Romans, Celts & Knights, a marketplace with all sorts of crafts people (blacksmiths, weavers, potters, etc.) and of course ancient games for children.  It’s a great way to make history come alive for your kids.  (Note: This festival only comes once a year.  Next one set for July 25-27, 2014.)  Almost forgot, if you stay late enough, the festival ends with a big bang (fireworks).

- Judy

Geneva on a Budget – Judy Burckhardt


This summer I found out surprisingly that you can see Geneva for a lot less than most Swiss cities.  For budget conscience people, Geneva has the HUGE advantage of being very close to the French border.

Money Saving Tip #1: Stay in a hotel in France

(For a family of 4, it saves about 100+ CHF/night.) The closest hotels to Geneva in France are in the towns of Ferney-Voltaire (10-15 minutes car drive closer to Zurich than the 2nd choice) or Ambilly/Annemasse (generally cheaper by 50 Euros/night).  Both Ferney-Voltaire or Ambilly/Annemasse are 5-15 minutes to Geneva by car (depending on where you are in those cities).

We stayed at the Ibis Style Annemasse Geneve in Ambilly, France, in a small quadruple room for 96 Euros/night (including great breakfasts with fresh croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice, muesli, ham, cheese, yogurts, bread, coffee, yummy hot cocoa, etc.).   Bus #61 (with a bus stop within a half block of the hotel) ran every 15 minutes & took 20-30 minutes (depending on traffic) to reach Geneva Cornavin Train Station (Geneva’s Main Rail Station).  This bus served many of the hotels in Ambilly & connected them conveniently to Geneva.  The local area of Ambilly looks a bit shabby, but we still felt safe walking around there when we went out or came back from dinner.  (Our hotel was old, but newly renovated, so it was well maintained.)

Money Saving Tip #2, after spending a full day in Geneva, come back to France to eat your dinner. 

In Ambilly, we found 2 great inexpensive restaurants: Le Viand D’Arte and La Barca.  Le Viand D’Arte (as the name suggests) specializes in meat (specifically grilled meats that you grill yourself on a mini grill which they set up on your table), but the restaurant also serves Raclette & Fondue for non-meat eaters.  Their Grill Meat Platter (26 Euros) comes with enough meat for 2 adults — as well as some cooked vegetables, bread, French Fries, & a dessert.  The tiny pizza shop, La Barca, makes delicious wood oven baked pizza just like in Italy in about 10 minutes & for 10 Euros.  And the next time I’m in Ambilly, I want to try Monkeys Place, a Vietnamese place that was unfortunately closed the night we went there.

Money Saving Tip #3: the Geneva Pass. 

If you plan on visiting a lot of places in Geneva, it is a travel pass which you can purchase either on-line or at the Geneva Tourist Information Center in Geneva or the Geneva Airport (as well as a couple of Geneva hotels).  Cost is 25 CHF/person for 24 hour, 35 CHF for 48 hours, & 45 CHF for 72 hours.  This pass allows you free entry to many Geneva attractions including the Old Town Mini-Train Tour (a great way to see the main out door sites of Geneva with children), Mermaid Boat Tour (what Geneva Tourist Trip would be complete without a ride on Lake Geneva?), 30 minute Paddle Boat & 1 hour Canoe Rental, Geneve Plage (the main Geneva swim center), Red Cross Museum, Patek Phillipe Watch Museum, Chateau Prangins (a Swiss National Museum like Zurich’s Landesmuseum), and lots, lots more.  For further information, see this link:

(Note: If your children are young & won’t be doing much because they nap, I would only get the Geneva Pass for the adults in your party.  Many museums are free for children & on a lot of other things, kids are half-price.)

Last tip: start your tour of Geneva with a visit to Geneva’s very friendly Tourist Information Center.

(Address: Rue du Mont-Blanc 18,   CH – 1211 Geneva. Open on Mondays 10 AM – 6 PM, Tuesday to Saturday 9 AM – 6 PM, Sundays & Holidays 10 AM – 4 PM.)  Besides being a plethora of information, they also give out free Geneva maps.  (I gave a Geneva pictorial map to my daughter so she could X off all the places she visited as she saw them.  She loved it.)  In summer, Geneva employs “Tourist Angels” wearing bright orange T-shirts & milling around main Geneva Tourist Attractions.  They are very friendly, give out free pamphlets & will take your group photo for free.

So, if you have ever wanted to see Geneva, do it.  It won’t break your pocketbook!

Reading Tip for Kids – Susan Junod

Did you know….?

If your children are learning to read you may be interested in the Oxford Owl. This is an on-line resource for reading books with over 250 titles to choose from. They are classified according to reading age, starting from age 3-4 and going up to age 9-10 and also by series and book type. The books are laid out on the screen exactly as the printed book and the children can click to turn the pages. The series include the reading with Biff, Chip and Kipper series which is a favourite in our house.

My two 6 year olds really enjoy reading these books. My son Thomas moans when it’s time for him to do his reading from a printed book but he actually enjoys reading on the computer and I get a ‘woopee’ when I suggest we go on the Oxford Owl so this is a real winner with him and with me!

It’s also FREE, you just need to join by providing your email address and a password, well worth having a look at.

Happy reading!
Susan Junod