Can you imagine a place, where up to 20 little children are mostly free to move about from room to room, under the watchful loving guidance of five co-workers in a big old warm timber home?
(The exception to this might be when one co-worker blocks off a room with a low barrier frame to keep inquisitive babies from knocking over the castles being carefully built by a bunch of older children!)
A place where the original home structure, of bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms, dining room is kept, and utilised in just this way for a childcare centre???
A place filled with natural light, each corner a colourful rainbow medley of handmade toys, polished timber offcuts, play cloths and dolls. Where the babies and toddlers room hosts wooden bowls and wooden spoons, plain doilies (used by the children as food, or plates, or hats), and plenty of little baskets with handles to carry their little treasures.
A place where children are encouraged to care for, and be with one another, in mixed age groups, sharing stories and cuddles, a real experience of an extended family?
Can you imagine a real working kitchen in the hub of the home, where children are encouraged to cook and bang pots and stir and even climb through the cupboard hidey holes?
Can you imagine a place where the co-workers are encouraged to spend time in meaningful tasks, where their needs are thought about and where practical daily and weekly support is put into place to ensure the health and wellbeing of each individual co-worker as a crucial matter of importance?
Can you imagine a place where children can play in a garden with living flowers, and real grass and trees to climb? Where they are shown how to care for and respect the flowers and the living things in the outdoor area?
Bernadette Raichle is the owner of Awhina Day Nursery in Havelock North, Hawkes Bay and this is just a snippet of what her childcaring space looks like!
Bernadette shared a thought with me that I continue to ponder…
If there were another model for what good quality childcare could look like,
would we be so afraid of it for our children??
Bernadette suggested that children under 4 traditionally belong in the home, so if they can’t be in the HOME for whatever reason (and there are many), let us find them a place which is inspired by the archetype of the home and family culture. In this way, we meet the needs of the modern family.
Lovely. Leaving aside all judgements of why parents and families make the care decisions they do, the day nursery becomes a place to nurture the children in the best way they know how, to create the ‘constants’ for the child- the safe predictable environment, the staff who become a second family, the joyful repetitions of the year through the turning of the seasons and festivals.
There were so many things I liked about Awhina but mostly it was contained in this seed- that it is not natural to place young children in any institution (such as childcare) where they enter ONE room, stay in that ONE room all day for play, for meals and for sleep, (with the exception of outdoor play) interacting only with children of a similar age group.
I worked like this all through university in a childcare job,and taking a tea break was just about the only time any of us might see or interact with staff from the other rooms. How I longed for those moments! We lived in our own little capsules, cut off from each other, cut off from the world, each of us desperate for a little break in the routine where we could spend two minutes talking to someone outside our pod! If we adults felt like this, imagine how little children feel….especially if they know their bigger or little brother or sister is somewhere close by. They might as well be on the moon for all the good being in the same centre does them or their relationship. Even thinking about subjecting my child to this kind of artificial life, no matter how lovely or dedicated the staff seem, is another reason my husband and I have made sacrifices so I can stay mostly at home with Ned.
But I’d definitely be open to rethinking my stance if there was another way…
And so, in having a “3 bedroom house” model, where children are able to move freely about the ‘living’ spaces, (the two nursery bedrooms are for sleeping children only) with one co-worker anchored in each room, the children live a life not far removed from the one they have at home.
Surely this, a mirroring of their most normal comfortable everyday situation (growing up in the home) is the key to helping young children transition into childcare without separation issues, or difficulties with children being overwhelmed or childcare refusal, tears and tantrums.
And it is not just about the space, or the fact that all coworkers are encouraged to find and use their best skills and place themselves where they most love to be, negotiated of course with the other coworkers for the best outcome for all.
No, one of the most lovely things about working this way is the model of ‘relationship based’ care.
This work of childcare, rather than just an unskilled or semi-skilled job, or time filler, or stepping stone on the way to becoming a teacher or other professional, becomes a VOCATION- a life calling, a path of self development.
For these coworkers, their attention to detail, their devotion to not only the children but the entire family, and their self sacrifice to “put themselves to one side” during the day of caring for the young is seen as honourable.
And in this work, they become role models for modern parents of how one might possibly live alongside one’s own children- in beauty, in grace, and in calm presence.
What a different picture to the one I am familiar with, and the one I abhor!
The one where some of the staff put their needs first- to listen to their favourite pop music on high rotation on the local radio station, to chat about their big weekends and their level of alcohol consumption, or whinge about some part of their job (or person) they didn’t like. Where caring for the children, really, mindfully caring for the children, not just going about the motions of wiping up and setting up paintpots, or changing nappies on high rotation as quickly as possible before the next round, or tipping out a bucket of mobilo on the floor, or setting up drawing with a box of half broken pencils, was paramount.
I’m just delighted that there are models for new ways of caring children (especially babies and toddlers) appearing, not just here but in many places. It is about time, don’t you think??