The Case for Early Daycare, or Kita (in Germany)

Kindertagesstätte, or more popular as Kita, basically means a daycare center for children in Germany. It is a collective term used for referring to Kinderkrippe or nursery for children up to three-years-old, Kindergarten for children age three to six, and Kinderhort, an after-school care for primary school children. This website gives a very comprehensive information about Kita.

Our Kita, Kita Unikate Saarbrücken, is located in the same building as the University’s Mensa (canteen), only 200 m from our office building… super convenient! It’s not so easy to get a place though, we had to apply (then was put on the waiting list) when I was still pregnant. However, once we have one child in, it was easier to get another place for the second one. Located in an international community of university, and in a region bordering France, the Kita is trilingual, there’s at least one personnel speaking German, one speaking English and one speaking French.

Aidan and Amaya are currently in the Krippe or U3- (under 3) group, 9 children in total, with 3 caregivers plus 1 intern. Each child has a Bezugserzieher(in), the main caregiver. We are lucky that we can have the same Bezugserzieherin for our kids, Fabienne, who is a native French speaker. She is our main contact, the one we talk to if we have concerns, questions, or anything about our children in the Kita. She’s also the one who accompanied us during the Eingewöhnung (acclimatization) process, when our kids first joined the Kita.

When can children start going to Kita?

As far as I know, every child has a right to German preschool daycare from their first birthday. So it’s very common that parents take parental leave for at least a year, as each parent can take up to three years (!) of parental leave per child, in addition to 14-week (6 weeks before and 8 weeks after) paid maternity leave for the mothers. Parental leave is considered as unpaid leave, but it is possible to apply for Elterngeld (parental allowance), state-funded financial support, up to 65% of the monthly income.

Both Aidan and Amaya started going to the Kita just before they turned 4 months old. So for several months (for Amaya, even until now), each of them enjoyed the perks of being the youngest one in the whole Kita… so much attention from the bigger kids!

Our family and friends were a bit shocked though, when we told them that our children would start going around 4 months old. The thing is, because they were so young, the acclimatization period lasted around 8 weeks, until they were around 6 months old, and perfectly on time for starting solid food. Because my office is just 5 minutes away, I can easily drop by to breastfeed during my lunch break. So, nutrition wise there was no worry at all. We also think our children benefit a lot from their interaction with other children, they learned so much from watching bigger kids do stuff! Furthermore, they got used to the caregivers (and other children) before the stranger anxiety starts, around 6–8 months, so it’s easier for them to form a bond with their Bezugserzieher(in).

How does Eingewöhnung look like?

Eingewöhnung or acclimatization means that children join the Kita group gradually. This is how it looked like for Amaya based on my recollection (for Aidan it’s roughly similar):

  • Week 1: 45 minutes to 1 hour, accompanied by a parent (it was me). At the end of the week, we attempted a short separation, around 15 minutes, to see how the child reacted.
  • Week 2: 1–2 hours, I went away after staying for half an hour.
  • Week 3–4: 2 hours, we said goodbye right after dropping off. For a while, the routine was: dropping off at 9:30, then picking up at 11:30 because it’s breastfeeding time. Towards the end, this routine changed because Amaya could have her morning nap without breastfeeding (usually by pushing the stroller around), so when I came at around 11:30 she was asleep.
  • Week 5: ~3 hours. I picked her up whenever the app showed that she was awake from the morning nap, usually at around 12:30.
  • Week 6: ~4 hours. I came for breastfeeding at 12:30 until 13:00. I handed her back so I could have lunch in the canteen at the same building, then picked her up afterwards.
  • Week 7–8: 5–6 hours. We kept extending her stay in the afternoon until the group’s snack time at 14:30. Then, we started bringing fruit/vegetable puree so she could have her snack with the others, and picked her up at 15:30–16:00, the same time as her brother.

A day in the Kita

Our Kita is open from 7:30 until 18:30. However, we bring our kids around 9:30 and pick them up around 16:00, because we prefer to have our breakfast together at home, and we would like to spend some time with them in the afternoon until our dinner time at 18:00. I still come for Amaya at around 12:30 for half an hour, mainly for breastfeeding, but recently we just snuggled and played because she’s been eating lunch with the others.

I got a glimpse of what a day in the Kita looks like because of the Eingewöhnung and the lunch break visits. Depending on the weather, until around 11:00 is the time to go out (either to the playground or walking around campus) or free play inside. Free play means that they are free to choose whatever and however they want to play. They can play alone, join other kids, or join the activities started by the caregivers (like painting or handcrafting). At 11:00, everyone must help cleaning up, all toys should go back in the boxes, and then the Morgenkreis starts.

Picture is taken from here

During the Morgenkreis, everyone sits in a circle. It starts with a song, one child takes turns to decide in which language the song will be: German, French or English. Then the caregivers tell them which day is it today, and task one child to put a sticker on the wall. When all stickers are up, that means tomorrow weekend starts! One child is then asked to turn the weather wheel so that it points to today’s weather.

Then it’s time for a small activity together, can be singing or reading a book. After that, it’s time for the Klangschale, the singing bowl. Pedagogically, it’s to teach children how to take turns, to wait until the other is done and to give the turn to the next person. Each child is able to experiment with the sound as well, whether to tap it loudly or lightly, once or a few times, however they want. The Morgenkreis ends with the song about washing hands, followed by washing hands and getting ready at the table for lunch.

Parents can see their meal plan for the week from the Kita app. After lunch, for children who are old enough (I think starting from 2 years old), they are expected to clean up: throwing away the remaining food from their plate, put the plate in a stack and the dirty utensils in a box. After washing hands, the children should take off their clothes, leaving only their bodysuits on. They wait for their turns for the diaper change, and then go to their designated mattresses for napping. Aidan has a special place for napping though… a tent! I guess it’s because he’s quite sensitive and can only sleep well in the dark.

Kita helps in establishing routines!

As we all know, children thrive on predictable routines. Our Kita really helps a lot in establishing routines around playtime, meal time and nap time. This predictability helps us organizing our days, even on the weekends. There is a routine of washing hands after coming back from the playground, as well as before and after meals. A routine of changing outdoor shoes into house shoes when entering the Kita. A routine of cleaning up toys before lunch time. A routine of undressing before nap time, then putting on clothes again after waking up. And so on.

The best part is, the caregivers encourage the children’s self-reliance and independence since young age, to alleviate their burden in taking care of everyone. At 18 months, Aidan could already put on shoes and clothes by himself, with very little assistance. Now at 2 years old, he would automatically go to wash his hands (and mouth, also nose), by himself, right after arriving at home and after every meal. And then drying his hands (and mouth, also nose) while saying “Hände abtrocknen, Mund abtrocknen, Nase abtrocknen… Sehr gut!” like a mantra 😀

Positive peer pressure

My family back home is always impressed with Aidan’s (and recently also Amaya’s) discipline during meal time. As much as we want to praise our parenting skill, we still think that our Kita contributes to that the most. Specifically, with the magic of positive peer pressure: seeing how other children behave during meal time and modeling that.

As the younger sibling, Amaya always has her brother as a role model. But for Aidan as the first child, the Kita provides plenty role models for him. That’s why it’s also important to choose the Kita considering what kind of children go there. We are blessed to get places in the Kita for academic staff, in an international campus, so it’s quite vibrant and representative.

It’s also interesting that at such a young age, children already ‘police’ each other for bad behavior. Once I saw some children from Aidan’s group sitting and waiting patiently on a bench, because the others were still getting ready to go out. Then, one child strayed away, and immediately, a girl who sat on the bench scolded him, “Henry, Fabienne said sit down!”

A pool of germs

It’s a running joke that when children got influenza (or Grippe Krankheit) we’d say they got Krippe Krankheit, because it’s most likely they got it from the Krippe (nursery). Putting your children in the daycare basically extend their (and subsequently also your) exposure to hundreds other people. So it’s not surprising when there are times, Aidan ended up with runny nose every weekend. It’s also not surprising that all of us got COVID-19 from the Kita, despite all preventive measures.

But… “all those early childhood sniffles pay off down the road by toughening up your child’s immune system. Similar to vaccines, exposure to germs and diseases when they are in daycare helps your kids to be better able to fight off illnesses as they grow older. In short, they’re getting it all out of their system now so they can grow into healthy adults.” Quoted from here. Actually, that might be true, if we look at the statistics of Aidan’s sick leaves from last year, compared to this year, from our Kita app (the sick leaves are the ones in red).

The verdict…

The first three years of life is when the most learning happens, both for children and their parents. However awesome a parent can be, we as parents still need input from experienced people, preferably from professionals specializing in childcare. Also, children need input from their peers. So, I personally think every child everywhere in this world should have access to high quality daycare, possibly as early as 6 months old.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, even here in Germany. Getting places in a good Kita, in the neighborhood of our choice, is highly competitive. We were trying to find a Kita in Dresden starting from the beginning of next year, and after calling around 10 Kitas, the earliest date they offer is September 2023. Furthermore, there is a high difference of Personalschlüssel, or child-caregiver ratio, between West Germany and East Germany, namely 3.6 : 1 vs 5.7 : 1 for Kinderkrippe.

I really hope governments around the world would start giving more attention to establishing daycare centers, for the sake of fruitful childhood and productive parents 🙂

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