Are we bad parents?

By Heiko Heybey, September 2016

We “Waldorf people” tend to enjoy the reputation of placing great value on the family and thus not necessarily being in favour of using after-school care. When I went to (Waldorf) school there was indeed no after-school care in our school and even today the majority of Waldorf pupils probably do not attend it.

Photo: © Hort Hannover/Lena Sikorski

But times are changing and today I sometimes think: “Why doesn’t your child attend after-school care?” There are, of course very practical reasons for both approaches. After-school care is needed when both parents are working. On the other hand, after-school care also represents a financial burden which is not necessarily viable and can therefore also be a reason not to use it.

So why does our son go to after-school care? The answer is quite simple: so that we can work! Because our work is an important part of our live for us, an experience we do not want to miss out on, and after-school care enables us to maintain our “self-fulfilment” without having a bad conscience or, indeed, being seen as “bad parents”. After-school care is more than a possibility for our son to be somewhere until we finish work. It is a space where he can be involved and develop. In short, it is part of the family.

The past was always better?

Large families lived in village communities, there were lots of children in the neighbourhood, you only had to go into the street (with much fewer cars) and everyone was playing and learning to play: a manageable experience with lots going on. OK, a cliché. But today it is simply a fact that life in a large city is different. And it is not just our environment but also our priorities that are changing.

Work is important for us, a part of us as people and individuals. Families are often small, life in the middle of a city relatively hectic, friends mostly no longer live round the corner. That means that the world our children experience is inevitably changing.

And it is precisely in this context that after-school care provides a space in which also the “single child” can have experiences they would not otherwise have. An after-school care group is diverse. The age differences and various personalities mean that the children can develop through various roles. First they are the “young ones” who learn from the “older ones”. At the end they themselves are the older ones and are allowed to take on responsibilities. 

There are younger and older “siblings”, likeable and dislikeable “neighbours”, and many friends,  and thus all kinds of different experiences which are not possible in the same way in a class group. That, at least, is how I imagine it to be and perceive the after-school care group.

All-day school or after-school care?

After-school care offers a different, much safer and more protected space than all-day school. It is a clearly defined community, something that approaches very closely to what a family is. The child care workers also, of course play a major role in this context, who support the children with a great deal of experience and empathy, guide them and are there for them. It is not a case of our children being looked after by a – in the worst case, changing – supervisor. It is about our children being able to develop their personalities freely and in doing so also learning about boundaries through play.

The educational framework, the stable carers, the regular processes which always remain the same give also timid children or children with less sharp “elbows” the necessary support and protection so that they can freely develop and assert themselves. Furthermore, children with a lot of “elbow” also learn to be considerate and take account of those weaker than themselves.

After-school care is a complex educational structure and not an institution where our children are “parked”. When in contexts outside school, for example at the sports club or on holiday, I stumble across a lack of social behaviour in other children, the thought has indeed often crossed my mind: “A few years in after-school care would have done this child a lot of good.”

My plea is therefore for after-school care in the stable context of an after-school care centre instead of less structured care in all-day school – at least at primary school age. After-school care gives children stability as they enter the school community, allows them to make friends and contacts, be it in the school playground, with class mates, with the parallel class or also with children from lower or higher classes – that is undoubtedly a benefit.

For us after-school care is “family”.

If I was allowed one wish, it would be the opportunity for all children and parents to be able to use after-school care free of charge. That would then represent real freedom of choice which would enable parents and children in today’s world to have those experiences which are important but can no longer be taken for granted.

About the author: Heiko Heybey is an architect, co-founder of SPANDAUprojekt and the father of a child who attends after-school care.