ONCE A WEEK, Sandra Brown, the head at Inchyra Nursery School in Grangemouth, picks up her textbooks and heads for Forth Valley College in Falkirk for her regular German language class.
She is well up on the basics, but she is helped by a German assistant at the nursery, Angela Brosch. Ms Brosch is a Comenius student working at the nursery. She lives near Wittenberg in Germany and has been in Scotland since October, giving the 120 pupils of Inchyra a taste of her native language and culture.
Mrs Brown is a strong advocate of international education and a member of Falkirk council's strategy group. She applied for a Comenius student early last year and was successful, becoming - as far as she is aware - the first nursery school in Britain to get one.
To qualify, Mrs Brown had to convince the project organisers that their student would have a worthwhile experience. Her first step was to link up with another neighbouring early years provider, Moray Primary's nursery class, to ensure that what was on offer was comprehensive. The curriculum to be followed was also organised at the application stage.
"We fitted it into the 3-5 curriculum but also with A Curriculum for Excellence, helping to make our pupils confident individuals and responsible citizens," says Mrs Brown.
Each week, Ms Brosch, who is training to be a special needs teacher, works 16 hours across the two schools. For the rest of her week, she has been visiting other providers, especially those offering additional needs provision.
During her time at Inchyra or Moray, she leads a session on German cooking, reads traditional fairy tales and some more modern, but familiar, stories to the children in German, does whole-group singing and teaches the pupils some basic vocabulary.
She has also introduced them to some typically German festivals. Christmas was a high point, as they were shown how children in Ms Brosch's home would be celebrating. And later this month, the pupils will take part in Fasching, Germany's Mardi Gras, by making colourful masks.
Mrs Brown has tried to involve the parents in the project. Each month, she sends home a vocabulary list of the words the children have been learning in school, from family names to food and colour.
"It has intensified our relationship with parents," she says. "They are interested to know what the children are learning. Recently, at a parents'
evening, we had everyone singing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes in German, a song the children learned."
Although none of the feeder primaries offer German as an option, Mrs Brown chose a German student because she felt it was an easier language for young children to learn. She seems to have been vindicated, as many of them have picked up a smattering quite easily.
One three-year-old went up to a child in a hotel over the Christmas holidays and said "Guten morgen".
"His parents were amazed that this Scottish girl went up to their son and said hello in his language without any problem," says Mrs Brown. "By hearing him speak she knew he was German."
Ms Brosch has been equally amazed at how much the children remember - even weeks later.
Mrs Brown is also picking it up quickly, determined that once Ms Brosch leaves at the end of March, she will be able to keep up the little taste of Germany that the nursery school has enjoyed.