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My little boy is turning three years old this summer. That means he will start kindergarten in the next fall. It seems unbelievable to me how time flies. I still remember the start in nursery school and now, soon a new stage in our lives will begin.

Looking for the right kindergarten is a real challenge over here. There are so many factors to consider. The location, the opening times, the rooms, the pedagogical concept and so forth. However, what is most important to me are the teachers. I must feel sure about having my son being taken care of by people who are kind and loving. People who respect children and who are humanists like me.

I have visited a total of 6 kindergardens in Graz… I am probably the only mother who did so. I even visited one of them twice because my little fellow really liked it there and I wanted to be really sure before I indicate that kindergarden as my first choice. Because here you can indicate three in order of preference. The chances you get your kid attending your first choice are not that great, so you need to really take a careful decision.

Until today I was unsure. BUT today I am happy. I got to know of a “hidden gem” and I am very impressed. For the first time since I started this quest for the right place, I actually felt like I wanted to go to kindergarten myself. For the first time, and I mean the first time ever, the director did not waiste my time talking about administrative issues but she really explained to me how important children are to her. For the first time I heard a director saying “working with children is not work, it is a vocation!”. And for the first time I had the feeling diversity is not just a word but it actually is part of the lives of the children and teachers in this kindergarten. Indifferent of their religion or colour. And for the first time, I was introduced to all the staff in this kindergarten. Shouldn’t that be standard I asked myself? How was I supposed to choose a kindergarten if I don’t even know the names of the people who will support me in raising my child? How strange, I thought to myself.

Through all this process I often wondered if I am alone on this boat. I mean, am I the only one putting human relationships in front of all things? When it is about trusting my most precious treasure to those who will be caring for him, I am not supposed to expect warmth and a loving atmosphere? Now, after having visited this kindergarten, I am happy and relieved. It seems like at last we have arrived.

In the information folder for the parents I found this beautiful poem, which immediately made me cry. Sorry for not having it in English, maybe one day I will translate it. It is about feelings being like children and how you should care for your feelings, listen to them and give them the room they need.

Ein Gefühl ist wie ein Kind…
Ein Gefühl ist wie ein Kind,
das in uns lebt und weint und lacht,
Hunger hat und bemerkt sein will.
Wer zu seinem Gefühl zu oft sagt:
„Sei still, ich habe jetzt keine Zeit für Dich“,
dessen inneres Kind sitzt eines Tages
in einer vergessenen Ecke und trauert,
wird krank und verkümmert.

Mit Gefühlen soll man umgehen,
wie man mit einem Kind umgeht:
Man sieht ihm freundlich und aufmerksam zu,
man hört, was es klagt,
man leidet mit ihm, wenn es leidet.
Denn Gefühle sind die lebendigsten Kräfte in uns,
und keine andere Kraft in uns
bringt so viel Lebendiges hervor.

Ein Kind hat auch Wünsche,
die nicht immer zu erfüllen sind:
berechtigte, gut und schöne.
Dann nehmen wir es in den Arm
und sind mit ihm traurig.
Aber wir schicken es nicht weg.
Ein Kind kann verstehen,
dass es nicht alles haben kann.
Aber lieben muss man es,
ihm Mut geben und Fröhlichkeit
und Raum, seine Kräfte zu regen.
 
Joerg Zink


33%

This post may sound a hint too critical, I am sorry for that in advance.

In Graz there is a number of early education centres such as nurseries and kindergardens. For more details, the curious reader is invited to see the post “Preschool Education in Graz”. The government guarantees that ALL children in Graz are provided with daycare, i.e. as long as both parents work and thus need this support from the state. This need is in ALL cases catered for. So they say on the media.
 
Well, the small print is:
“The goal is to provide daycare to 33% of all children below the age of 3 as set by the EU”.
 
This raises a number of questions, which need to be carefully considered and which are directly related to socio-political systems. First of all, in Austria there is a maximum maternity leave of 3 years. Aha, so you don’t have to go to work for 3 years?? In theory yes, that’s true. Whether that is the best solution for both mother and child, and on the other hand to society in general, is another question.
 
What are these 3 years based on? What are the beliefs and convictions behind them? One could say…
a. “It’s for the children’s sake because dueing the first 3 years they are best taken care of by their mother as says developmental psychology”
b. “It’s for economic reasons because other people are employed during your maternity leave and create new jobs”
c “It’s a pure patriarchal system embracing the women’s role to be at home and not working”
 
Where I actually believe in the validity of argument “a”, I still find it difficult to grasp why this system is designed to enable families to dedicate themselves to having kids, while on the other hand we all know that the labor market is not waiting for us women for 3 years. Besides, this is not a compulsory maternity leave. You could legally even go back to work after 2 months. Not that I stand for that but legally it’s a possibility.
 
So what about the women who decide to have a family and still get back on the professional track after 1-2 years? What about them? Oh, they are probably the mothers to 33% of the kids in Graz, I see… Being one of those mothers I can only report what a difficult endeavor it was getting a place for my son in a nursery. And you have to face so many compromises:
 
1. you are not able to choose the best institution for your kid. You are possibly given a place somewhere and you MUST be really grateful for it.
2. when you go back to work, you’re back for real. You can work part-time but what about the times your child gets sick? Who will look after him/her? Not to mention awful situations like the Summer holidays that will force you to find a “solution” for your kid for up to entire 7 weeks while you still have to go to work. That solution could mean you hire a babysitter, if you can afford it, or your toddler is placed in another nursery for that period where he is looked after by complete strangers.
3. once you were generously given a place you are not supposed to get involved in any pedagogical discussions, let alone complain about anything because nursery and kindergarden teachers have a much harder life than you do* and BE REALISTIC – you are in no position to be picky…
 
All in all, this is reality in early education. I have to be fair though and say I’m fully aware that there are much worse realities and at least we know our children are staying in daycare centres with all necessary infrastructure, food and a warm bed. Most teachers are very committed. The teacher-student ratio at nursery level is actually very good – groups with up to 12 kids are entitled to up to 5 teachers depending on the kids’ age. That is really good.
 
However, by the time your child hits 3 you are forced to deal with much higher challenges like finding a kindergarden in Graz which:
a. is open beyond 1.30pm
b. allows a nap time
c. has more than 2 teachers for 26 children (this one being an illusion as it turns out)
 
In the end, you need to make your choices as you believe them to be the best for your child. Compromising is probably something you need to adapt to.

*Refer to the study by the Karl Franzens University “Wissen, was los ist”!
http://www.graz.at/cms/dokumente/10023271_394423/14245642/Wissen%20was%20los%20ist_Endversion%20Studie%20Wustmann%20Dez%2010.pdf
 

Find out why Vienna is ahead of the game with nursery places:
http://www.austriantimes.at/news/Education/2012-08-01/43280/Vienna_ahead_of_the_game_with_nursery_places/a>s

Via gepostet DraftCraft App


Children face countless moments of pain, frustration and anger. This sounds dramatic but it is a completely normal thing and it is part of growing and becoming a social being. They suffer when we have them vaccinated, they experience frustration for not being able of doing things they want without your help, they get angry when stopped by intrinsic barriers imposed to all of us, not only as children but our whole lives actually.

As a mother (probably as a father too but maybe in a different intensity?) you suffer with them EVERYTIME. If you could, you would make the world a better place for your kid and well, for all children too. You would move mountains and raise bridges where needed for your child to get where he/she wants. You would protect him from getting sick, being disappointed and heartbroken. As a mother I personally developped a much more critical view on many societal issues because I see the child’s perspective. When you go to the doctor you cry with your baby as he experiences the pain of getting an important vaccine and you know, there’s just no way you can explain WHY you didn’t safeguard him from feeling that pain, so you feel guilty inside, even if you believe that it was important for him and society that he got the vaccine.

If you could, you would give him all he longs for and when you are the one with the power to decide he’s not getting something, even if it’s good for shaping his personality, you still feel you said “no” but you wanted to say YES. I have met a mother of multiples (2 boys and 1girl) and she once confessed to me “I wish I didn’t have to say NO all the time, I don’t want to but I must!”. I saw it in her eyes how she struggled with this duality we have inside of us. This saying NO although you’d much rather say yes.

And even if you are fully aware that life is hard and you should not create an artificial world around your baby, otherwise he will not be fit to survive, you still hurt everytime your child hurts. Everytime.

I wish myself and all other parents the strength to stay calm and the inner ability to be strong and to stand mighty as a rock when all you feel is like crying together with your baby. Empathy is vital for their development so lets not be cold and heartless, but let the Universe give us mothers and fathers the strength to be their rock when their feelings hit them as a high wave.


This week I read a hilarious post on a very original blog called “Liquorstore Bear”… I’m not sure if I should tell you this but the name is about a bear with a drinking problem. But it’s so funny and actually pretty normal too, so do have a look at: www.liquorstorebear.com

The post is about parents who disappear down a rabbit’s hole, which is a very good metaphor to describe my own social life since I became a mom… Here’s how it goes:

You don’t call your friends anymore and they don’t call you either because they either have their own offspring to drive them nuts OR they don’t have kids and are too busy going shopping, brunching, partying and sleeping until noon on Sundays, which is FOR US parents the ideal time to go out of the house and try to mingle with others. 

You don’t call anybody because you are too tired and you absolutely don’t feel like having small talk. If you do, you start to stray and to mentally write your next post for your blog.

You don’t go out at night because even if you have a babysitter, you’re just not in the mood for socializing anymore… you know you must get up early the next day and your mind is filled with so much stuff that you wouldn’t be able to concentrate and carry out decent conversation anyway…

You feel outdated and have no idea about all the new bars, drinks and cool phrases hip people are saying.

And the worst: deep down you don’t even want to go because (here comes the awful truth) you fear not having enough conversation which is NOT about kids… ouch, I said it and it hearts my own ears! 😉


Another school year just began! For my son it’s his 2nd year at nursery school in Graz. One year ago I was an absolute beginner and I encountered many questions and doubts along the way…

What kind of daycare to choose from?
How to get started?
What to expect?
How to get accepted?

This article is just for reference and it does not aim at replacing any research that parents should do on their own. The goal is to give a first guidance and to share some personal experiences, especially as this topic is missing on the Graz Expat Blog and I was asked to contribute. So here it goes!

1. General Information
Preschool education is not compulsory in Austria. Except for the last year before primary school, children have the right to stay at home until the age of 5. This means the state is not 100% responsible for providing families with enough daycare centers to cover the actual demand. When I applied for my son in 2011, one director told me that the state centers only cover for about 30% of the actual demand in Graz!
This said, you can imagine how DIFFICULT it is to get your child admitted into a state daycare – or any daycare at all.
Until the age of 3 children attend the “Kinderkrippe“. Sometimes it is called “Krabbelstube”. Here the teacher to student ratio is quite good. The younger the kids are, the higher is the number of staff looking after them. Maximum are 12 kids per group and it can amount to 5 teachers/assistant teachers. There are currently 16 such public centers in Graz.
From 3 to 6 children attend “Kindergarten“. And then they move on to primary school, which is compulsory as is education until the age of 15. Here you can find groups of maximum 24 kids being supported by 2 teachers. There are currently 48 kindergardens in Graz.


The differences among the different centers are huge:

Some offer only half-day, others full-day. Full day can mean from 7am to 5pm OR from 7am to 3pm. Children are not allowed to stay for longer than 8 hours/day. Some offer all snacks and lunch, others don’t. Some have large green outdoor spaces, others have smaller ones but in general they all cater for outdoor activities. Some are closed during 8 weeks in Summer (plus Christmas, Carnival and Easter) and other offer their services almost continuously except for 3 weeks in Summer and all public holidays.

2. Finding a daycare center
There is a centralised organisation in charge of the entire coordination, it is called Kinderdrehscheibe Graz: kinderdrehscheibe@stmk.volkshilfe.at.
3. Applying for daycare
The period for application normally takes place in the beginning of March each year. However, all public centers have open days during January and February. You can check the dates at:
It is very advisable to go there on such days and get to know the director and staff. However, my experience has shown that what you see during the open day is really just a reference. More interesting to me is how the center WORKS on a DAILY BASIS. If you would like to see that too, try to schedule a visit for a regular day. Some centers go with that.


4. Plan B
If your child does not get a vacancy at a daycare center, you might want to think about going for a care taker. Care takers are called “Tagesmuetter”, i.e. “day moms” because they look after the children during the day.
4a) Is it easier to find a vacancy? NO.
4b) Will you need to make several phone calls, visits and spend sleepless nights before you EVENTUALLY find the right care taker? Definitely YES.
4c) Are there happy endings when looking for a care taker? I’ve heard of some!


Here’s where you can look for one:

Tagesmütter Verein
Volkshilfe

GOOD LUCK and happy beginnings!

 



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