Time to care

September 2016

Families should be the measure of working life and parents should have the time to relax and look after their children. The after-school care centre representatives Astrid Homeyer (Hanover), Lutz Atteln (Mannheim) and Ralf Buchmann (Weimar) speak about the situation of after-school care in the Waldorf school movement.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

Erziehungskunst | The social changes of recent years have meant that the need for afternoon care has increased enormously. What is the reaction of the Waldorf schools to this development?

Astrid Homeyer | At my school, Hanover-Maschsee, there has been an after-school care centre since 1959. We can therefore look back on a long tradition of afternoon care. Sometimes it happens that parents who are registering their children for after-school care show us the place where they themselves sat as children. Today many more parents are dependent on afternoon care and their choice of school depends on the availability of a relevant provision. They are looking for lovingly organised afternoon care for their children. The Waldorf schools have reacted to that demand. All Waldorf schools in Germany today offer afternoon care. But there are also parents who want to collect their children when school ends. That is why the freedom of choice is very important for these parents.

Ralf Buchmann | In the states of the former East Germany every Waldorf school was set up with an after-school centre because parents were used to their children being looked after.

Lutz Atteln | In the Mannheim Waldorf School there was after-school provision which only remained open until 3.00 in the afternoon. At the same time there was a Waldorf  kindergarten which offered all-day care. Parents then asked, what happens when my child moves on to the Waldorf school after kindergarten. As a result the after-school care centre in the extracurricular Freizeitschule next to the Waldorf school, which offers activities both for adults and children, was set up in 1992. We are open until 5.00 in the afternoon each day and also offer holiday care, something which is important for working parents.

EK | Parents are increasingly demanding all-day care provision from kindergartens and schools. Quite often it is the main criterion for their choice of school. There is no dispute educationally that the effect of outside care on the child is more detrimental the younger they are. How do you deal with this dilemma?

LA | It is easy to recognise day-care children from crèches by their lack of emotional detachment and an “enveloping space”. That is why the Freizeitschule offers the alternative of an in-service training as a Waldorf childminder. In our view children under the age of three should be placed with a childminder. Only then does all-day care make sense.

AH | We place great value on there being reliable, familiar caregivers for the children and that the staff ratio allows us to give the children individual attention. We are talking about children who already go to school, who are therefore six years old as a rule. But we know that reliability and the attachment to regular caregivers are also enormously important for children at this age. If a child from class 1 comes to me in the after-school care centre, I want to have the time in the first few weeks to collect them at the classroom door, fetch their hat, coat and school bag together with them. On the way to the after-school care centre I can then ask what their school day was like, can listen, can establish a relationship, give security. The younger the child is, the more important I consider this to be, even if the after-school care centre is only a short distance from the classroom.

RB | Building and cultivating a relationship is the only way out of the dilemma. Then the care setting can even become a point of reference for the child when parents or teachers are not there as caregivers.

EK | How can the schools meet the different needs of parents – from being looked after just in core hours with or without lunch to more or less all-day care for the children?

AH | Our focus is on the needs of the children. But of course we also bear the parents in mind because if we look after the children “well” the balancing act between job, children and partner can be more successfully achieved. The way in which the care periods are structured in schools is very individual and always dependent on the financial framework.

LA | We try to meet the needs of children and parents as well as we can. The children can attend after-school care for two to three or four to five days. Every child can attend the after-school care centre. We have no waiting lists and we always find a solution which fits the individual needs of parents and children.

RB | All children in classes 1-4 of the Weimar school can also attend after-school care without additional costs. Whether it is one hour a week or every day until five o’clock in the afternoon is up to each family to decide for themselves. Although we do tell parents that a regular pattern is strengthening and constant change saps energy. But life is not always organised in a regular way. That is why the relationship between the after-school care workers and the children varies, where the closeness mostly, but not always, increases with the length that the children stay. There are also close relationships with the children who are only looked after for a short period.

EK | Children should not just be looked after and “played with” in the afternoon but also have a meaningful environment. There are also great age differences between the children. How do you master this challenge?

LA | A meaningful environment existed in the Freizeitschule from the beginning. We have a large outdoor area and nearby as a “natural playground” the Rhine and a flooded gravel pit where we can regularly go canoeing and swimming. We have continued to develop this tradition in the after-school care centre. We make sure that a male and female colleague works in each group. For children with special needs it is taken for granted that they play and live together with the other children. Overall, school is when we inhale and after-school care when we exhale.

RB | Afternoon care and, in future, the school as a whole will increasingly become the environment in which children live. And the meaningfully working adults prepare the space within which the child can live and play. Work which is not directly aimed at the child can create the free space in which they can simply be. A school playground is not enough for that. It requires water, animals, a garden, an oven for baking, woods, workshops and a kitchen.

EK | The concept of school as a living space means that the school for learning in the morning is put on an equal footing with the free space in the afternoon. How do you experience this equivalence for example in terms of teachers working together, the finances or staffing?

AH | For me the archetypal image for collaboration between teachers becomes clear in the address which Rudolf Steiner gave to the teachers of the first Waldorf school in 1919 before he worked out the foundations of this system of education in Study of Man. “Everyone stands in a circle, is connected with one another at a higher level, and what each one has to give to the others is borne from one to the other.” I experience the action of these words in the exchanges about education. At the same time I would hope for still greater appreciation of the work in the afternoon. I keep meeting colleagues who receive very little remuneration and who are not as a matter of course members of the teachers’ meetings. In this respect I would wish for still greater awareness of one another so that after-school care work everywhere is put an equal footing with the learning school in the morning and is understood as a joint whole.

RB | There is a good reason why teachers and child care workers are two separate paths of training. Teaching and “child caring” would appear to be two different ways of approaching the child, where both sides are necessary, after all. Lessons for the whole of the day is not something to be wished on any child; “care” for a child for the whole day perhaps more so, but in fact they come to school to learn and practise in order then – once the work has been done – to play. As soon as everything is looked at as a whole, the acceptance of one another among colleagues is mostly a given. Financially: the 30-hour week in the after-school care centre corresponds to a 3/4 teaching load of about 18 lessons. In terms of staffing there is still room for more, but then the teachers are in the same position.

LA | At the beginning, the after-school centre in the Freizeitschule was part of the Waldorf school. As after-school carer I was given a full-time post and receive the same salary as a teacher. I attended the teachers’ meetings from the beginning.

The situation in some of the other after-school centres is unfortunately not as good. There are even after-school centres which are, as a result, thinking about setting up an employee council.

EK | In which areas do you experience the greatest deficits and how could they be rectified?

RB | We could quite clearly do with more staff in order then also to open more rooms for the children. There is often also a considerable fluctuation of afternoon carers which, on the one hand, is certainly due to the working conditions; but on the other it is also due to the way that the “profession of afternoon carer” is seen by carers themselves and accepted by others.

LA | When I look at the overall situation of the after-school care centres, I would wish for more colleagues who are firmly grounded in Waldorf education and anthroposophy.

AH | Often care is only offered until class 4. But pupils in class 5 or 6 also need a specific person to whom they can talk. I would consider it important to look more precisely at late childhood and ensure good conditions there.

EK | What do children today need in particular?

RB | Time to play, time to play and time to play – the timetables of our children are often well filled up. And of course adults who are interested in the children and seek to establish a relationship with them for the sake of the child, not for recognition of their own work or themselves as people.

EK | Is the work in the afternoon evaluated?

RB | When it has been possible to build a relationship of trust with the parents, there is often good and also critical feedback in conversation with them. When we have speakers or advisors at the school, we try to persuade them also to spend some time in the after-school centre and give us feedback.

LA | Every Wednesday morning we evaluate ourselves in the team with our colleagues from the Freizeitschule. On Thursday mornings, too, we make some time for that in the core teachers’ meeting.

AH | Evaluation means reviewing and adapting. I see it as my task to integrate this basic attitude in my daily work. My unspoken question to the children is: “Are you well?” and “What can I contribute to make it so?” When Steiner called on us to look back at the day and the children in the evening, he gave us a good instrument in my opinion for evaluating our work. I notice immediately in the evening when something didn’t quite work and I can “rectify” that the next day. When a child leaves our after-school centre, we conduct a concluding meeting with the parents. And we always also ask: “What did you like particularly and was there something you felt was missing that we could do differently in the future?”

EK | Assuming you could develop a vision free of any financial, staffing or educational constraints: what would the ideal afternoon care look like?

RB | A “village” surrounded by orchards and meadows, with a stream running through it, throughout there are little houses with gardens, workshops and stables and on the edge there is also a school. This large environment is created by the working adults. There are craftsmen and women in their workshops where the children can watch or help, there is cooking and baking, ironmongery, carpentry and pottery, the garden has to be looked after and harvested, the animals cared for. The things that need doing are done, in the breaks meals and rest are taken together. In this large entity the children find places for play and discovery, for doing things themselves or with others. They find adults who have time for them, pay attention and listen to them. Only people work there for whom it is the best job in the world. The ratio of adults to children is one to six and the adults receive a salary which enables them to live properly and also go on holiday.

AH | In our society, work is oriented towards people who don’t have children and are free of this necessary task for society. Their deployment, their timeframe is what guides everything. A friend of mine moved to Norway with his family. When on his first day at work he was still sitting at his desk at four in the afternoon, as he was used to doing, he was asked in a friendly but firm way: “What are you still doing here? You’ve got children at home!” In the meantime he has adapted to the new social norms and enjoys them. I would wish for such an attitude also for us in Germany: families should be the measure of working life and parents should have time to look after their children in a relaxed way.

LA | I would like to answer this question in the context of society as a whole. Many of the demands we could make tend to be patchwork solutions to structural deficits. The Freizeitschule arose out of Steiner’s impulse for public education. So we are talking about cultural and social education. I would wish that every Waldorf school has a Freizeitschule. Parents and children need more time and money for one another. This will undoubtedly only happen in a society based on the threefold social order.

Mathias Maurer asked the questions.

About the interviewees: Lutz Atteln is a child care worker and since 1993 a director of and after-school care worker at the FreiZeitSchule Mannheim; Ralf Buchmann is a farmer and Waldorf child care worker; he has worked in the after-school centre of the Weimar Free Waldorf School since 2004; Astrid Homeyer is a Waldorf teacher and has worked in the after-school centre of the Hanover-Maschsee Free Waldorf School since 2003.