Whilst in Argentina, I´ve been doing the nursery run with my son and grandson, aged 2, which has led to me pondering on nurseries I have known since grannyhood began 13 years ago. In the UK they were mostly purpose-built, had lots of equipment and cost an arm and a leg, state nurseries being vastly oversubcribed. Of course, I am still involved with toddler boy´s nursery which is down a pretty country road in Essex.
In Bariloche, my grandson goes mornings to a nursery along a bumpy dirt road. It is in the grounds of an agricultural research centre set up in the time of Peron and in the shade of enormous pine trees are huge haphazard pens of sheep and goats and buzzing bee hives. Inside the small, single storey building there is a big room with toys, such as big lego and hoops scattered about. The nursery is named after an emu-kind of bird, a charito, and there´s lots of them pecking about nearby – all-in-all an idyllic setting.
The nursery was set up by a ´civil association´ of parents who do the overall admin. This cuts costs and, although parents still pay fees, they are less than other private nurseries. The association employs the nursery workers who are called ´profesores´ and seem to have a higher status than nursery nurses in the UK. The day-to-day running of the nursery is under the teacher-in-charge. My Argentinian daughter-in-law says that it is now more common for middle-class parents to place early years children, including babies, in nurseries. In the past people worked in the morning, and then maybe in the evenings which made things easier for sharing childcare. She says that things have changed, even since they came here four years ago, with working hours increasing due to the global economy and the expanding tourist trade. And, just as many dads are involved in taking/picking up children to/from nursery and school as mums, contrary to the stereotypical view of the macho Latinamerican man. Also, hardly any grandparents are involved: ´Bariloche is different from larger cities in Argentina,´ says my daughter-in-law, ´because many families came here to work or to set up business in the tourist industry and do not have extended family living nearby.´
State nurseries here are also oversubscribed and my granddaughter was lucky enough to get into one from the age of 4 until 6, the age for starting primary school in Argentina. The nursery was in a basic concrete building, but what it lacked in facilities was made up in the enthusiasm and warmth of the teachers and my granddaughter loved it there. Parents (and me) were involved in loads of activities such as an outing in a battered old bus to a goblins´ waterfall in an ancient forest, a chaotic kite-making session, a musical show with puppets and a participatory gymnastics session. Even though they were held in the morning they were hugely supported by parents, again with more or less equal numbers of mums and dads.
So, as you would expect, a bit different from nurseries in the UK, but the results are much the same. Like toddler boy, whose Essex nursery even has a sensory room, my grandson is happy and stimulated, bouncing about manically as we arrive to pick him up. And we can collect huge pine cones and put them on the back seat of the car (sticking into granny´s bottom on the way back), we can wave ´ciao ciao´ to the charitos and bump home along the road beside the glistening lake with the snow-capped Andes in the distance, guarding the route into Chile.