Ever since my first son was born, I knew that I wanted to raise him differently than I was raised. My husband felt the same way.
We didn’t want to use praise and condemnation, rewards and punishments. We didn’t feel good when we yelled at our son. The worst was when we spanked him (it happened only two or three times).
I’m excited to share with you that the article called You Spanked Your Child And Now You Are Sorry covers this sensitive topic and the steps to take after such storm. It’s a fantastic resource to help us all navigate challenging situations and emerge stronger than ever. You can read it here>>
Breaking the Cycle of Guilt and Desperation: How I Transformed My Parenting Approach Through Education
Finally, after many years of study, I gained my qualification and was able to teach as a kindergarten teacher (you can find my full story here>>).
The time spent as a teacher with children under 6 was incredibly fulfilling for me. Children are always exceptional, but the preschool age group fascinates me the most.
Following My Passion Across Europe: The Journey of Teaching in Over 20 Kindergartens in 5 Countries
Finally, we settled in the capital of Austria, Vienna. After four months of diligent study of the preschool curriculum, laws and rules, I successfully passed the exam and my University education was recognized. So I could work in a kindergarten in Austria.
I immediately found a job and started as a substitute teacher in Vienna’s largest organization of kindergartens. Later, I also worked for other organizations.
Thanks to this, I had the opportunity to work in different places and thus get to know the functioning of many classes and groups.
After a while, I started to tell myself that there are things that appear repeatedly and if I had my own kindergarten, I would definitely do it differently.
These are some of the things that bothered me the most in my work as a kindergarten teacher:
NUMBER 1: The number of children per teacher
Children between the ages of 3 and 6 can stay in the classroom, where they are looked after by one qualified teacher.
Each classroom meets many strict criteria, including the number of square meters per child.
As a rule, one assistant is assigned to one teacher, who helps with various things. Most often, however, she is outside the classroom and takes care of cleanliness, and food, and she should be at hand if the teacher needs her with the children.
I know from practice that if a person wants to approach children individually and with respect, then with 24 children, it is simply impossible.
If a person is responsible for so many active little people, each of them comes from a different family, has different habits, different strengths, different needs…
During my studies in pedagogy and research for my doctoral thesis, I had the honor of talking to many teachers and kindergarten directors.
Ideal class size for effective teaching: Insights from experienced teachers and directors.
I asked each of them the same question: “If in an ideal world, you could choose how many children there would be for one teacher so that she could attend to them all as she wanted and needed so that each child would receive enough attention and an individual approach, how many children would that be?”
I got mixed answers. They all ranged between five and thirteen children. I was answered by teachers and directors with many years of experience and new teachers at the beginning of their careers.
If I had my own kindergarten, ideally I would take care of a maximum of 10 children per teacher. That’s my number, based on my experience working with children.
Whenever there were more than 10 or 20 children, it was more difficult to devote myself to them as well as I deemed appropriate.
The challenges of teaching with compromises and limited attention for children's individual needs.
Compromises came next, and at times it seemed that my role was not to educate, guide, motivate, encourage and influence, but only to try to ensure that all the children survived unharmed until mom or dad came for them.
What a shame! Just imagine how children could benefit from the fact that teachers could devote themselves to them much more intensively and individually.
Instead, they are locked in a classroom with a frustrated teacher and a bunch of other kids. And when they are lucky, the teacher finds a moment for their individual needs. However, it is not always possible.
Being locked up for 8 hours with twenty children in one class is really challenging.
NUMBER 2: Food quality
In Austria, there is a law on what percentage of food served to children must be of organic quality. That’s amazing, don’t you think?
Nevertheless, most kindergartens (I don’t have an exact number, this is my personal experience) have their lunches sourced from external bulk catering companies.
The food comes frozen in a plastic container. This container is placed in a special oven for a specified number of minutes, which defrosts the food using heat. Afterwards, the food is served to the children.
I learned from assistants who undergo special hygiene training that food prepared this way has a shelf life of up to one year.
I’m not a nutritionist, but the food I eat at home meets the following parameters:
- It is cooked from fresh ingredients.
- It is prepared at home.
- Consumed as soon as possible (ideally within 24 hours).
- Contact with plastic is minimal to none.
- Frozen food only occasionally (when I don’t have time or I’m not at home).
But when we look at the pre-made outsourced frozen food children eat in the kindergartens, it meets only the first point from my list.
I also don’t know if it counts when these fresh foods are frozen for many days or months.
The dangers of plastic: How it can harm our health and environment.
A recent study from 2020 (and there are many more of them) shows all the consequences to human health from contact with plastic and the microplastic it gradually becomes.
The authors explain that the chemicals that make plastics cause cancer, mutations to DNA, have toxic reproductive effects, are recalcitrant into the environment, are capable of building up in the food chain or bodies, and have other harmful properties, such as disrupting hormones.
The internal organs that are most commonly affected are the liver, the kidneys, the heart, the nervous system (including the brain) and the reproductive system.
The teachers often brought their own food from home to the kindergarten so that they would not have to eat such a “plastic lunch”. I completely understand this behavior, but it causes another problem.
Children ask why we eat something different from them every day. And since one of the tasks of an educator is to set an example for children, we find ourselves in an unpleasant situation.
Revolutionizing Kindergarten Dining: The Importance of Fresh Food and Own Kitchen
All this led me to the conclusion that if I had my own kindergarten, we would have our own dining room with our own kitchen and cook.
Fresh food would be served and cooked daily in the kindergarten and we would avoid storing it in plastic containers.
Some kindergartens have their own canteen. However, there are much fewer of them. Running a preschool is quite a difficult task; therefore, many of them resort to purchasing their food from other companies. It is a relief for them. At the same time, many kindergartens do not have the capacity to create their own kitchen.
And here we come to the third thing I want to mention in this article. I consider it extremely important and very neglected in many kindergartens.
NUMBER 3: Daily stay outside
All my life I thought that all children in kindergarten went outside to the yard. It wasn’t until I became a mother and enrolled my child in kindergarten that I discovered a shocking fact. Many kindergarten kids spend whole days inside the building.
My son’s kindergarten was Montessori, and the children did not go outside at all. I only found out after a few days by accident.
The teachers explained to me that the children have to work with Montessori tools and they don’t have time to go outside.
At the same time, if you know the concept of Maria Montessori, you know that she saw going outside as a necessary part of healthy development and learning of children.
Don't Let Your Hair Get in the Way of a Good Time: The Hairstyle-Obsessed Kindergarten Boss
Before, when I worked in one of the first kindergartens, I had a colleague who was my superior and she took care of her hairstyle a lot.
She couldn’t do anything to spoil her hair. So any stay outside was unacceptable for her. She spent time with the children almost every day inside the classroom.
So if by chance there was even a slight breeze outside or it was humid or, on the contrary, too dry, we didn’t go out with the children.
Can you imagine being locked in one classroom with 24 kids all day? It is terrible for the children and also for the teachers. Children belong outside!
The saddest thing is that this kindergarten had a fenced area with a beautiful yard and climbing frames. Children love to be outside. They benefit from it in every way.
Warning: Reading this Book May Cause a Sudden Urge to Ditch Screens and Head Outdoors with Your Kids!
With that in mind, I would like to mention a wonderful book I received as a gift from my husband when I started dealing with this issue.
It’s called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.
If you would like to spend more time outdoors and in nature with your children, this book will kickstart and enrich you.
It may annoy you a little too because you will want to run to the nearest forest as soon as possible.
Trapped Indoors: The Struggle of Kindergartens Without Yards in Vienna
In Vienna, I discovered many kindergartens do not have their own yard. The kindergarten premises are often on the ground floor of a residential building and surrounded by a road on all sides.
It is therefore much more difficult (and dangerous) to go out for a walk or a trip to the nearest playground with children.
You could imagine how enthusiastic the teachers would be to take the children outside on such a risky adventure, to the playground of all places!
It’s no wonder most prefer to keep the children indoors, safe and sound.
From Fenced Garden to Forest Nursery: My Wild Plans for the Perfect Kindergarten!
Therefore, if I had my own kindergarten, I could only have it in a building that has a large fenced garden, where children can move freely and have space for independent play.
I also considered the idea of creating a forest nursery where children could be in the air all day and learn and develop in the arms of nature (without the fence).
Such a nursery is the least demanding on initial capital. But to a certain extent, this option seemed extreme to me. (Although I still play with this thought.)
An ideal compromise would be the so-called Integrated forest kindergarten (you can read more about this kind of kindergarten and how it works here), where staying in the forest and nature is a regular part of the kindergarten. Still, children have the opportunity to spend time in the classroom as well.
Thinking About My Own Kindergarten
Several times it occurred to me to create my own kindergarten, where I could prepare more suitable conditions for the children and teachers who attend it.
I have been several times to a seminar organized by the municipality of the city of Vienna, and I communicated with the workers who are in charge of this sector.
(If you’re looking for more information about creating a kindergarten and happen to speak German, then this official website is just what you need. It’s an excellent resource that can provide you with valuable insights and guidance.)
I already had all the documents, a business plan, an agreed-upon catering company…
So Why Don't I Start Kindergarten?
What made me feel discouraged was the thought that if I went ahead and started a kindergarten, I would have to make a lot of compromises and adjustments just to make it work. It felt overwhelming and made me question if it was worth it in the end.
If I wanted a loan from the bank for initial costs, I would have to include many more children in the business plan. So it would no longer be 10 children per teacher, but at least 15 or more.
If I wanted spaces that meet all hygiene regulations and standards, without making major renovations and changes in the interior, I would end up with children in a building without a yard or garden.
And as for food, in the beginning, I would have to rely on sourcing food from a supplier, and that would be another compromise.
The Kindergarten Riddle: How My Dream is Still on Hold, But Far From Over
I’ve come to realize that creating and maintaining my own kindergarten with my unique concept is quite challenging (no surprise there), and without the initial capital, it seems almost impossible.
Therefore, I’ve made the decision to hold off on establishing it for a little while longer. I need to maintain the standards that I believe are crucial for children, teachers, and parents alike.
These three groups are the most important to me, and I want to ensure that my kindergarten serves them all well.
Even though it may take some time, I’m looking forward to the day when I can finally bring this beautiful dream to life. I’ve kept all my plans in a drawer, and I’ll take them out when the time is right.
What do you think of my approach? I would love to hear your thoughts or any interesting ideas you may have. Please share your comments below.