Scouting in Switzerland

Scouting in Switzerland

Everyone probably knows the scouts from their home country – the international scouting movement was founded in 1907 by Robert Baden-Powell and now has around 42 million members in over 200 different countries.

In Switzerland, the scouts are called ‘Pfadi’ which is a short form of ‘Pfadfinder’ which just means Scout.  There are other groups too with similar activities and aims – for example Cevi (run by the Protestant Church and associated with the YMCA) and Blauring (organized by the Catholic Church). 

Both my children are in Pfadi and love it, so I wanted to share some basic information for those of you who are interested, as things are done a bit differently here in Switzerland!

Age ranges

Kids can join from Kindergarten age and then join the ‘Biberstufe’ (Beavers) who meet every other week.  The next level is ‘Wolfstufe’ (Wolves) which is for children from 7-11 years old and after that, they join the ‘Pfadistufe’.  The two younger levels are mixed boys and girls; from 11-14 they are separate.  After the age of 14, children have the chance to continue and train as leaders.  That’s the good (and slightly scary!) special thing about Scouts in Switzerland: it’s run for children, by children (or teenagers/young adults). 

When and where do they meet?

The children are assigned to a group, led by around 3 Scout leaders, and meet every weekend, usually on Saturday afternoons for 3 hours, during school term time (the youngest children only every 2 weeks, for 2 hours). 

You find out the time and meeting point on the website – the information is posted towards the end of the week and includes what the children should wear (always weather appropriate clothing plus their Pfadi shirt and scarf, often a snack, sometimes Swiss army knife, things to dress up in, something to grill…) The meeting point is often a school house or the Pfadi Centre, which is opposite the Uster Swimming Pool, on the other side of the Highway.

What do they do?

Pfadi Lia.jpg

The youngest children have activities based around a fantasy story – the leaders are 5-6 young women and they usually have around 30 kids to entertain with stories such as the rainbow fish, carnival, treasure hunts etc.  As the children get older, they go further into the forest, build dens, play adventure games, learn to make fires, and just generally have old-fashioned outdoor fun in all weathers.  As you’ll see from the photo of my daughter – they can come home badly in need of a bath!

The older kids also help out sometimes with social activities, like collecting paper for recycling, or manning the drinks stand at the Uster marathon.


Pfadi offers all children the possibility to take part in camps – the younger children up to age 11 are in basic indoor accommodation (dormitory style) and the older ones camp in tents.  There is a short camp over Pfingsten (Whitsun) which my daughter tried out when she was just 5 years old, and absolutely loved.  Then there’s a longer week or 10 day long camp either in the first part of the summer holidays, or sometimes in autumn.  For the older children there are in addition 2-3 weekend camps which are local. 

My son has taken part in numerous camps and whilst he was sometimes nervous, he invariably came back in good spirts.  As parents, no news is good news – you’re only contacted if someone gets sick or is so homesick, they need to go home.  So it takes bravery on the part of both parents and children, to let them go!  But it’s also great at building their confidence and preparing them for the compulsory school camps that take place from the 5th grade onwards in the Swiss school system.

Pfadi Name

Children also get a special Pfadi name given to them, when they’ve been attending the Pfadi for a while and the leaders have got to know them.  They are ‘baptised’ with their new name during an evening exercise outside in the forest, with a ritual which seems to involve drinking some suspicious looking (but harmless) liquid.  My daughter is proudly called Agea (a beautiful blue butterfly) and my son is Loi (lion!)

Pfadi gropu.jpg


This is a super value activity: the annual fee is just CHF65 per child, CHF55 for siblings.  This includes the weekly activities.  In addition you need to buy a shirt and scarf.  The camps are extra but again, very reasonably priced, and these are also optional.

Trying out

Kids can come along to try out Pfadi on any of the regular activities, by contacting the leader via the website:

Every March, there is the annual Pfadi Schnuppertag – on this day lots of new kids come along, and the leaders hand out information and forms etc.  More information is also on their website.

My husband was a Pfadi leader and now I’m slowly getting up to speed with all things Pfadi-related too, so if you have any questions or would like to know more, please feel free to ask me! 



Lunch Club at the WAC

Need some more time?

Struggling with picking up and dropping off your kids over lunch time?

The WAC Lunch Club might be your answer!

A fully supervised 2-hour break for you and your kids.


  • Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 11.45 to 13.45
  • Parents bring their child’s packed lunch (food can be warmed in our microwave)
  • Children can then chat, play, relax and enjoy a story in English
  • Cost: CHF 15 per day


Children can be picked up from WAC pre-school or dropped at afternoon classes

Minimum of 5 children required – quarterly payment in advance

School Information Evening

We held our annual School Information Evening on Wednesday September 13th.  Several parents came along to meet the teachers and take a look at the classrooms and teaching material we'll be using this school year.  After a welcome by our President Ieva, Club Office Manager Carol spoke briefly about our courses and activities before handing over to Ida, our School Director, and teachers.  A few photos are attached here for those who missed the evening, showing our classrooms set up for the evening and some of the materials we'll be using.  

Many thanks to those who came and supported us, and of course to the volunteers and teaching staff who were there on the evening too!

Learning German in the Zurich School System -for non-German parents

Back to school! - by Mirjam Egli-Rohr

I hope everybody has had a good start. Some of your children have just made their first steps in the public school. So depending on their level of German, you have already learnt about DaZ.

For those who are not yet familiar with it or would like to learn more about how to support their children’s learning progress in German, here’s a short summary:

Around a third of all young learners in the canton of Zurich speak a language other than German in their family.  As is so often the case in Switzerland, the approach for learning German for foreigners varies by canton and even municipality. So it’s best to approach the school early and actively to find out the details.

German learning in the canton of Zurich is organised as DaZ (“Deutsch als Zweitsprache”= German as a second language).  In kindergarten, the additional support consists of not more than
2-4 extra lessons by a qualified DaZ teacher even if the child has no prior knowledge of German.
This is not a lot but considering the fact that most language learning is achieved through daily playing and interaction between the children, it’s a reasonable start.

This is different on primary and secondary school level. Here, children with no prior knowledge of German have DaZ every day, often for about a year. It is 2-4 lessons for learners who already have a basic understanding of German.

The idea is to invest a lot at an early stage in order to enable the learners to take part in normal class lessons as soon as possible. When you or your child’s teacher think your child needs support, the teacher will set up a parent-teacher meeting to evaluate your child’s current level in a so-called SSG, (“Schulisches Standortgespräch”) This will be repeated periodically to monitor the progress of the DaZ.

Depending on the municipality, the amount of children in need of DaZ and to be honest the capacity of the teachers, the support starts right away or after a waiting time.

How can you support your child?

The ‘Bildungsdirektion of the canton of Zurich’(Department of Education) suggests the following:

"- Demonstrate to your child that both your own first language and the German language are of value and importance.
- Encourage your child's language development by talking to them often about different topics in the language you feel most comfortable speaking - it is often your first language.
- Make the most of opportunities to use German. Your child will learn a lot of German from being with German-speaking children in the playground, in play groups, in daycare, in afterschool clubs, sports clubs, in scouts etc.
- Borrow books, audio books, educational games and other audiovisual material from your local library. Look at picture books with your child and read books to them, making sure your child reads a lot themselves.
- Provide your child with a quiet place at home where they can do their homework on a regular basis.
- Keep in touch with your child's teacher. Talk to them openly about how your child's language and learning is progressing and about their well-being.”

You see that the basic idea is that in order to become competent in German, a child’s native language must be well developed. So the focus is on the child’s overall language development and general interest in language, both written and spoken.

Some municipalities, above all the town of Zurich, offer so-called HSK- classes (”Kurse in heimatlicher Sprache und Kultur”= classes in the language and culture of the country of origin), like Swedish, Chinese, Italian, though not in English.

First language (or first multiple languages) vs. German

In playgroups I have so often overheard mothers worrying about their children’s German. And as a teacher I have seen numerous examples of children picking it up amazingly fast. So I’m still
convinced that the language you should rather worry about is their native language (or multiple first languages if that’s the case). Keep organising playdates and activites with other families of the same native language and if it’s English, keep coming to the WAC . Just
make sure that the first language stays an active and vivid language and not just one they only maintain in a scholastic surrounding. Quite a challenge with one, even more with
multiple languages…

A remark on Swiss German

From experience I can assure you that it is far less difficult for children to deal with Swiss German than for adults. Being around their classmates they immerse themselves in the everyday language and after a very short time become fluent regarding expressions
used in daily life (okay, including some you don’t want them to learn…) and from there their knowledge expands.  But sure I agree; it would be much easier if the schoolyard language
was also High German.

If you’re interested in more insights into life in Switzerland and have questions like “What’s
the idea behind all the playing instead of proper learning in school?” join us for our next
seminar at the WAC. 

Mirjam runs the popular HOW THE SWISS WORK seminars that take place half-yearly at the WAC in Uster.

Mirjam Egli Rohr.jpg

Uster Clubs Day

The WAC was represented at the Uster Vereinstag by volunteers and staff, as well as by Mickey Mouse!  We handed out cookies and balloons, had face painting and answered questions from local residents about our Club and what we offer.  

Thanks to all of those who gave up their free time on this lovely sunny Saturday afternoon!

Sharon's Tips - Cheaper Rail Travel

Travelling cheaper with the Swiss Rail System


Until summer 2015, you can still buy the SBB Halbtax–Abo (half-fare travel card) at the present rate. Also this is the last year that you can buy a 2 or 3-year card. After summer the price will be going up, and it will be only possible to buy a card for 1 year at a time.


For those newer to Switzerland, this card allows you to travel for half-price on all SBB routes, ships, post buses, and on many private railways and cable cars.


A Junior Travelcard is also very handy to have. This card is for children 6 – 16 years old, and costs Fr. 30.- per year. If the child is accompanied by a parent with a valid ticket, the child travels “free” everywhere in Switzerland that is served by the SBB. This is only applicable when the child is with a parent. The SBB also offers a Grandchild Travelcard, for kids who travel regularly with a grandparent. This is also for Fr. 30/year. Unfortunately the Junior and the Grandchild travel cards are not interchangeable.


Sharon’s Tips - Buying items outside of Switzerland / Parcels from abroad

I am assuming many of you receive parcels from overseas, or perhaps like me, you regularly order things in the USA, or UK, or Germany.

FYI: The Swiss authorities (the Post in particular) really penalise us when ordering things from outside of Switzerland. If an order comes to more than Fr. 62.50, i.e. the value of the goods AND postage together, then you are billed a customs tax, handling fee, processing fee and anything else they can think of to charge you more. I know people who have been badly burned! Ouch!

So, if the ordered item costs Fr. 50.-, make sure postage does not exceed Fr. 12.50! If you are sent a gift from abroad, the value of the item should not exceed Fr. 100.-. It must clearly state “gift” on the customs form. Anything over this, you will have to pay Swiss customs tax. If a parcel contains just books, its value may not exceed Fr. 200.-, otherwise you will be charged customs. This is good to know, especially if you order from or, as they both offer free postage to Switzerland.

Here are some tips to avoid this hefty customs charge:

If ordering several items, order them separately so that each item is shipped individually, and preferably even a day or 2 apart. Each item must also have its own order number, and make sure the item and postage together are less than Fr. 62.50.- per parcel.

Some overseas companies will no longer ship items to Switzerland. In this case, I have my parcels sent to Jestetten, Germany, which is only a 40 minute drive from Uster. There are umpteen parcel services there. I personally use Paketservice as they are super friendly and there is always plenty of parking! How it works: you register online, and then are free to use their address to have parcels sent to whenever and how frequently you want. They then send me a quick email when my parcel has arrived, and when I collect it, I pay them €5.

These parcel services have sprung up all along the German border – it’s a budding business - Google will help you find any of these companies. Just remember, you are allowed to drive back in to Switzerland with wares not exceeding Fr. 300.- per person otherwise you will have to declare them. Of course there are other laws restricting what you buy, and the quantities, so make sure you know these before you blissfully unaware drive back to Switzerland, and are stopped and fined at the border control!

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.