“We ordered outside beds for sleeping. Soon they will be delivered and then babies will be able to sleep outside during the day.” This was my first encounter with Dutch childcare. I had no idea how a childcare establishment for children from zero to four years old could possibly be organized. I was shocked by the pure idea of sending a six-month-old child there. And now already I have to deal with a notion of outside beds and children without hats in autumn when I am already hearing one.
I barely have time to form my attitude to the outside beds, I cannot even imagine how they look like, but I have to go on with the excursion around the childcare with one of the carers. While I am listening my eyes are on a ten-month-old child sitting in a high chair and being fed by a three-year-old which looks more like covering his face with pureed food.
I could not make up my mind – did I like it there and I would be happier if his childcare looked more like mine? I am trying to recall mine, but I only remember pastel colored little wardrobes and overall atmosphere of unhappiness.
However, all these questions about liking or not are irrelevant. In two weeks I am coming back to work and my son has to go to the childcare (not sure about using “go” in relation to a six-month-old child).
Our Dutch childcare that we have chosen consists of a couple of rooms on the ground floor of a block of apartments, of two tiny bedrooms where a temperature of 18 degrees is maintained (“This is healthier for sleeping” the carer tells us proudly), small hall, small outside backyard.
As our childcare was very small, just two groups, all children were of mixed ages from zero to four.
Such spread of ages is supposed to simulate an idea of a “family” when children of different ages are living together and older ones are helping younger ones.
I felt rather uncomfortable already when the carer shook me up by asking a new question: “What is his character?” I twisted in the chair. It seems very quickly we moved from pacifiers and bottles to habits and character. After a pause, she asked again “Is he a happy child?” “Probably,” I said. I was quite upset that I was not sure whether my child is happy.
So my son started at the childcare and I still could not decide – do I like or not?
From one side they were really flexible to adjust to the personal timetable of Konstantin. They were asking us how much he is sleeping, and what the latest time we wish he was fed. They would also always call us in case of doubt: whether he should get an additional sleep because he is too tired or he has a fever.
Open and trustful communication with parents. Each child had an individual copybook where they would write down something about a child (how much he ate, slept, what was his spirit, what did he do). After a couple of years, the copy-book was replaced by a phone app and we started to receive almost daily photos. The ‘transfer’ of the child to the parent is always accompanied by a short conversation with a parent. They are even taught to do this conversation in the most efficient and informative manner. I learned about that when a trainee asked the main carer whether she can do the ‘transfer’ of our son herself in order to practice it for her studies.
Freedom: children are allowed to do what they want (sing, scream, dance, make a mess all day long) if they stay within certain borders (do not pull hair out of each other).
From the other side when the time will come for the solid food, we will be asked: how many pieces of bread Konstantin is eating at home and what he puts on it. We were mumbling something, unsure whether we can say that we had no intention to give bread, we were so very busy with broccolis and marrows. And then he would be taught at the childcare to eat bread and bread. So that he will able to eat an essential Dutch dish for lunch called a sandwich. That was not so surprising as I already saw my Dutch colleagues, big big man eating two pieces of bread with something very thin between (foreigner call this eating ‘bread with bread”:).
Warm food, such an important part of life in our understanding is a rare thing in Dutch childcare.
Once I received the following information in the newsletter of the childcare of my daughter: “parents ask us more and more often about the possibility of warm food. We are investigating this question. We want to let you know that Dutch ‘some-institution-of-food’ concluded that eating warm food twice a day is not bad (they mean that children will anyhow eat warm dinner at home and if they also eat warm at the childcare it is not bad). Well, good they checked this.
And each time when I saw the dirty floor I was thinking: is it that hard to clean it? Children are crawling on it. Well, probably there is no point anyhow, everyone is wearing street shoes.
Finally, I made up my mind about Dutch childcare years later when came back to Minsk for a visit.
I had to pick up my nephews. I was impressed by cleanness, high ceilings, pot flowers, separate big bedroom with made up beds, white linen and pillows like beautiful boats on these beds. Everything looked so different, so ideal. Till a moment when the carer said to a girl who picked up a toy car in order to play with it: “Maria, what are you doing? You cannot play with it here, you should go on the carpet, otherwise, you will spoil the floor”.
And in a second dirty floor, bread with bread and freedom won over cleanness and impeccable floor.