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LIA May 2013 web

Léman International Academy in Cologny, Geneva

By Denise Nickerson, Educational Consultant

When it comes to educational choices here in Switzerland and neighboring France we have a dizzying array – for ourselves and our children. Families relocating to the area from all over the world want to know all about the schools before trying to figure out basics like cars, housing, even finding a local family doctor. Because children grow and change so fast, parents who are established in the area go through similar anxieties at each stage of a child’s life, questioning school choice and other educational decisions at the start of new scholastic levels. Just when we are comfortable with how our kids are doing and what they are learning, the end of an academic year comes around and we wonder what would be best for next fall. Have the needs changed? Will the homework be more challenging? As a parent, will I be able to help or even know what is going on at school?

Before becoming overwhelmed, there are some steps we can take to make sure we are actively supporting a quality education for our kids. I’ll start with the obvious ones in case the mere topic of education has you hyperventilating with stress.

1.    Don’t fix what ain’t broke (but you may correct the grammar and style of that tip and change it to Don’t repair what isn’t broken if it makes you feel educated). Are school logistics working well for your family? Is your child happy and successful at school? When things aren’t perfect, are you finding solutions? Are your family language goals progressing? If you are answering yes to these questions, get ready to relax and enjoy the summer!

2.    Read up. Some resources are:

booksandapple web

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto, www.freedigitalphotos.net

3.    Talk to your kid. This item, number one in importance is number three on this list because, as you may already know, sometimes kids in international situations mention things we know nothing about like “classes nature” or “promotions”. When we are trying to check in and be reassuring, we do a better job of staying calm when we don’t feel we’re coming across as completely clueless parents.

  • Ask your child if he/she likes school.
  • Find out what your child does in class, but also on the playground.
  • Ask them what they like about library visits or special classes that don’t happen every day (art, music, sports).
  • Get them to describe their teachers to you.
  • When you hear about things they don’t like, try to find out why they don’t like it.
  • If your child could run the school, what would he/she do differently?
  • How can you support their natural curiosity at home and over the summer vacation?
  • Would your child like a new book or app about space, rainforests, film-making or car racing right now?

4.    Talk to other parents, but not too much. Keep cool when gathering information from other parents. Sometimes a teacher-student conflict is just that. Sometimes an over-stimulating environment for one kid is just the excitement your creative, energetic, highly social child needs. Every family and every child is different. Here in Switzerland, the level of education runs high among international parents. We have elevated standards but sometimes we lose sight of the excellence all around us, especially when we allow cultural expectations from our countries of origin to define what we think is “best.” Keep an open mind.
5.    Do you need to call in an expert? Maybe – but the good news is there is a high concentration of qualified specialists and educators in Switzerland. There are also technological possibilities that can connect you to experts around the world. Timing on getting outside support for educational issues is key. You don’t have to be in a crisis situation with your child to check in with an experienced educator for some guidance. In fact, sometimes an hour with a knowledgeable teacher will provide both reassurance and positive steps to avoid a communication or development problem at school for your child. Experts aren’t just for problem solving either – many of my university guidance clients are talented athletes and artists or academically and linguistically gifted students who need help navigating their many, many options. I hope their parents are reading this and bursting with pride right now.


Image courtesy of photostock, www.freedigitalphotos.net

6.    Look in the mirror. Not sure what your education goals are for your child? Why not start with the learning experiences that meant the most to you. What do you value? How can your child learn these values? What is your role?
7.    Think about the future – and get excited! We live in an extremely diverse area with highly paid, highly qualified multilingual teachers and educational leaders. Most of your children’s classmates are well-traveled global citizens. Many people here have been involved in development work. If your kids are young, seek out a local teen and have a conversation. You’ll be impressed with their grasp of the complexities of modern politics and economics or the wide scope of their dreams for the future. We’re all raising leaders here.

8.    Adapt to reality. Is your child bilingual but only average in math class? A talented athlete who just can’t get motivated to learn French? Obsessed with computers and somewhat shy? Encourage your kid to develop skills and help your child to cope with weaknesses. Challenge your precious offspring with opportunity rather than pushing an already fantastic kid to some impossible standard. Abilities and limits make them unique and it is our job to help kids build confidence grounded in reality.

9.    If thinking about educational choices is stressful put it all into perspective.  Have you ever asked your boss how he/she did on a second grade science project? Did the most successful people you know miss the opportunity of a lifetime because they didn’t get along with their middle school English teacher? Did a failed math test at age 11 stop you from going to university? Now breathe.

10.    Finally, keep these education priorities in mind:

  • Is my child becoming a lifelong learner? (or learning how to learn things)
  • Does my child love to learn?
  • Is my child happy at school?
  • Is my child learning successfully?

These four questions in tip number ten are the foundation of the education choices I make for my own children as well as the framework for my work as an educator, guidance counselor and educational consultant.

The course of your child’s education is something you can feel great about. I hope you are enjoying the adventure and learning along the way.   


denise biopic 150Denise Nickerson, co-author of Know-it-all passport’s Education Guide Switzerland is American and French. She is a Fulbright scholar with a Teacher’s Certification and a Master’s Degree in Education. She has been a speaker in over 300 international schools in 30 different countries. She works as a speaker, writer, college and university counselor, and educational consultant working with families around the world, as well as providing training and development for educators in schools and universities. International education is her passion!