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Monday, 19 December 2011

Grades in daycare? Seriously?

Klara loves going to her daycare. Her best  friends Pieter and Robin are there, and she is happy to be and play with the other children. I remember when we first came to see the daycare we chose for her so I could write my MA thesis. It was recommended to us by a friend of ours, and it also was conveniently located opposite of our house. While I was worried to leave my (then) one and only child with strangers, I also thought that a daycare for 2 days a week could actually be beneficial for both of us. Klara, on the other hand, saw the children in the group, and there was a smile on her face from one end of the room to the other. The daycare made a good impression on me. It was tidy, the children played happily with each other, there was no crying and no problems.

Klara started going to one of the 2 baby groups they had there for 2 days a week. At first, I came to nurse her, and picked her up earlier. Gradually, I left her there for the whole day, and weaned her off. She was so happy to play with the other children, and didn’t want to go home. We also added another day. Soon she was big enough to be bored with the baby group, and joined the toddler group shortly after her second birthday.

And this is where I start to be somewhat upset about this daycare. For the toddlers, they had a rather rigid schedule where everyone did everything at the same time. The children ate together, slept together, played outside together. And maybe, such a schedule is not a bad thing at all. But at home, we encourage Klara to basically choose her own activities as far as possible. She sleeps when she’s tired, she eats when she’s hungry. We are not extremely organised people, so we can’t expect to suddenly become someone we’re not.

But it seems that this caused problems at daycare. First, I need my sleep, and I need it in large quantities. So, wherever I can, I sleep. Since Klara goes to bed between 8 and 9pm, she sleeps so I can get my sleep, too. This, however, often results in our being late for daycare. I have often been told off for this. The nurses say it’s  preparation for school, so the children get used to a schedule. Also, I was told that children should go to sleep between 7 and 8. The thing is that my husband comes home from work at 8pm, and it sort of is more important to me that Klara gets some time with her father than to get her to sleep at a certain time.

Same thing with my arriving late. I don’t work, and sleep really is important to me. So I get my sleep whenever I can, especially now that I have a baby who often wakes once or twice during the night and wants to drink. OK, so it disrupts their schedule and Klara can’t play before she gets to eat with the children. Seriously, this is not my problem. We pay for the daycare so so we could work or have some time for ourselves. The fact that they have some kind of schedule doesn’t really interest me, it’s their thing, not something we do at home.

And preparation for school? I am not interested in getting my children “ready” for school, either. In fact, if I could, I’d skip school altogether so they’ll be spared the bad experiences I had. And I bet many parents feel the same way as I do. I don’t know who invented the gap between doing something “for fun” (a.k.a. playing) and doing something because it is expected (a.k.a. “learning”). Children learn all the time. They learn through play, and through having fun. I am teaching Klara letters and numbers, and she thinks it’s as much fun as playing with her doll. It doesn’t matter to her. And children really will get enough time of schedules, classes, and whatnots so they don’t have to start early. Same thing with missing daycare parties: Klara didn’t go her Sinterclaas party, and will not go to her Christmas party. She will, however go with her parents to see her extended family or go on vacation to see something really interesting.

Today, something happened that upset me even more, and was the actual trigger for this blog post. As I was about to leave, one of the nannies approached me and gave me a sheet of paper. On it were listed various activities, like sleeping, eating, playing, socialising, speaking, etc. Under every activity there was an evaluation from 1 (the best) and 6 (the worst) and a short description of the child’s achievements.

At first, I didn’t see anything bad with it. After all, they wrote down observations of Klara, and they actually got a lots of things right as their evaluation was consistent with what I had discovered about her. But then I told this to my husband. I tried to explain what happened today, and I said: “Oh well, it’s an evaluation, and it has some sort of grades on it”. I said it. Those numbers were “grades”.

While I think it’s not such a bad idea to listen to the nannies and hear what they discovered about my child, such a grading system is something different. Seriously, Klara got a 3 because I bring her in late, and she likes to cling to me when I want to leave. Also a 3 for not using the toilet all the time (although they said she is interested in using the potty, and tries really hard), and a 3 for not speaking in clear, structured sentences. Seriously, people, she is 2 years old! She talks in 3-word sentences, and in 3 languages. She can tell me that her diaper is dirty, and to go to the potty, and sometimes even pee into it. For my understanding of what a 2-year old should be able to do, this is actually very good. I am proud of my girl. She’s doing great!

But the daycare doesn’t think so. Klara’s group contains children between 2 and 4 years old. Most of them are Dutch. And all children are evaluated with the same form, regardless of their age and cultural background. So, Klara is evaluated together with Dutch children and many of them are older than her. It’s ridiculous. It’s like grading somebody who just learned a language together with a native speaker. It’s not fair. I wouldn’t be so upset if the forms took age and background into account. But they don’t and so Klara’s achievements don’t look as impressive anymore but it’s not my point. I don’t want her achievements to “look” great, I want her to get a fair evaluation.

Luckily, as I now know, not all daycares do this.  I hope the next one won’t.  
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Monday, 12 December 2011

What I’m reading

I haven’t read anything for a few months. In fact, I haven’t read anything since “Dance with Dragons”. Until now. I have borrowed some books from a friend of mine, and I was so book- hungry that I started to read them right away. The books are very different. They tell different stories, use different writing styles, and affect the readers in different ways. So here are the books with their reviews.

“My ‘Dam Life. Three Years in Holland” by Sean Condon.
“My ‘Dam Life’ tells the story of Australian author Sean Condon and depicts his life in the Netherlands where he moved with his wife because she got a job. He describes their struggles with getting an apartment, a new job for both of them, and the difficulties in obtaining a visa. It is a personal story, written in diary-style. It is witty, funny, entertaining. Those of you living in the Netherlands would find yourself recognising some of the situations. Then again, the book was written 2003, and since then many things have changed. Also, the facts Condon tries to spread throughout the book, are not entirely accurate: no, Dutch is much closer to German than it is to English. And, neither Grolsch, and especially not Heineken can be considered “foremost beers”. In fact, I should ask the question, whether they could be considered “beers” at all. But this, of course is a matter of preferences.
Also, “My ‘Dam Life” is, while funny, sometimes irritating. Why wouldn’t the protagonist find a job? It seems to the reader that while Sally (Sean’s wife) tries to make ends meet, he just does… not very much, really. OK, so he writes his book, and does some freelance jobs here and there, but it’s her who gets things done.
All in all, “My ‘Dam Life”, while entertaining, should not be read as a travel guide. If somebody’s interested in Dutch culture, they should read something else. This should be read for entertainment only, and then be put on the shelf, and forgotten.

“The Island” by Victoria Hislop
While there are many books about the effects diseases have on people’s lives, “The Island” tackles one of them, that has not found it’s way into literature-apart from the Bible: leprosy. As it was believed to be a highly contagious disease, leprosy colonies were created to keep the ill ones away from the healthy. One of such colonies was Spinalonga, in Crete, Greece.
“The Island” tells the story of young Alexis, who is trying to find out about her family roots. While Sofia, Alexis’s mother never talked about her past, Alexis is passionate to learn about it She sees this an opportunity to sort things out with her boyfriend Ed. During a holiday in Greece, Alexis, armed with a letter from her mother, visits Foutini, her mother’s friend, in the small city of Plaka. There she finds out that she has ties with the former leprosy colony Spinalonga.
Hislop has done a great deal of research on leprosy, and the history of Crete. Her story is extremely interesting and well-paced, her writing style is beautiful without being pompous. It is an interesting read for several reasons. First, it tells the truth about leprosy- that is was not as contagious as it was thought to be. That the inhabitants of Spinalonga, while being separated from their families and friends, and shipped over to the colony, managed to have satisfying lives. Nowadays, leprosy can actually be cured, although it’s still present in the modern world. And then, for me, it’s extremely interesting to have read a book about someone discovering about their families and roots.

“The Discovery of Heaven” by Harry Mulisch
As soon as I opened it, I knew this was no ordinary book. Contrary to the previous ones, which I wanted to finish as soon as possible, here I wanted to cherish every sentence, every word, every expression.
“The discovery of Heaven” tells the story of Ono and Max who are responsible for the birth and upbringing of a rather exceptional boy, Quentin. Unbeknownst to them, their lives are being meticulously planned and managed by a higher Angelic being, so it would lead to Quentin’s birth and the fulfilment of his mission. It’s extremely hard to tell this story. It involves rather interesting narrative twists and turns. It also involves allusions to numerous famous works of arts, artists, writers and scientists. It is also a book about family, politics, fate, religion, art, and so much more. Since it takes place in the Netherlands, it can be considered a book about the Netherlands as well.
It’s a book that will make you think and sometimes it’s downright scary- not horror-like scary, but metaphysically scary. I actually wanted to check every name and every detail in this book to make sure I understood everything about it. I didn’t. But this only makes me want to read this it again. And possibly, again and again and again. “The Discovery of Heaven” is brilliant and a pleasure to read, a must for all literature lovers.
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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dear Santa. A mother’s letter

Dear Santa Claus,

I am writing to you on behalf of my two girls. They are still little and don’t know how to write yet. I would like to tell you that both of them have been behaving exceptionally well so far, and that I am very proud to be their mom. And since it’s me writing this letter, I’m not going to ask for toys, clothes, or other material things. Instead, I’m going to ask you for things for myself, so I could be a better mother. So, here’s my wish list. Those things are not really for me. They are meant for my children.

Patience. Lots and lots of it. I need as much as you can spare, and more. I need patience in order to stay calm and explain things rather than start screaming. I need it in order to wait for the next develomental step instead of worrying when are my children going to start walking, talking, or doing anything, really. So, patience is always a good thing to have.

Courage. I need that, too. Because I need to teach my children to know good from bad. To teach them courage I need to be couragious myself. I need courage to show them how to stand up for themselves, and do the right thing even when it’s difficult. I need courage to come to their rescue if they need me. And I need courage whenever I decide something that is not socially eccepted because I considered it a good thing. So, lots of courage, too. If you please.

Eyes around my head, and additional extremities. Do you know the feeling when you turn your back for just a second and your child does something she’s not allowed to do, or something that could harm her? Or you’re never fast enough to come to their rescue? Do you? Then you know why I need those additional eyes and hands and legs. Telepathic abilities and a screaming decoder (a device that translates screams and temper tantrums into polite requests) would be nice, too.

Time. It’s not like I expect them to stay babies forever, you know. But each second I am not with them, is a second where I’m missing something. They grow up so fast… and I have plans. Plans to work, plans to visit places, and plans to do things. There are only 24 hours in a day and I need my sleep, too.

It can’t be that difficult, right? It’s not like I’m the only person with such requests. Alternatively, if that’s not possible, you can just turn me into Supermom overnight. Or give me the strength to become one all by myself. 


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