Das Berliner Modell

Now that we are back in Germany, my third child is now attending the same daycare or Kindertagestaette (KITA) as my first two children. This boy from day one has never been sensitive about being left with new people. He was at an in-home daycare in California from age one, where he hardly ever cried when we parted and he always had a great time. In fact, before he started at this daycare, I emailed the caregiver, Amanda, and asked how we should schedule his first week. Could we perhaps do what I did with my first two kids: that I stay with him the first day for most of the morning and leave him for an hour to see how he gets on? Then we would slowly increase the increments that he would be left on his own and how long he would stay at the daycare? She politely wrote back that it would probably be easier if we just spoke on the phone.

As I was speaking to Amanda on the phone, my American brain took over my German one, and I realized that she probably thought I was a little bit odd, if not crazy for suggesting such a plan. She gently asked me (actually reminded me), “wasn’t he used to being left with babysitters from an early age and hadn’t had any problems with that?” And that I could – and should – just drop him off. Maybe if I wanted to pick him up earlier to sleep at home, that would be OK. But I could really just drop him off for the entire duration that I was paying for: 7:30 AM – 5:30 PM. It was a good size arm and a leg I was paying for those hours, but he was getting organic food and being changed into eco-friendly diapers for it. And, I was entitled to use every single minute I was paying for and not being judged for it.

The American way is pretty hard core compared to what I had gotten used to in Germany. Many Kindergaerten and Kindertaestaetten integrate new kids into their groups with this gradual method known as the Berliner Eingewoehnungsmodell. The first day, the parent stays with the child for a couple hours and might walk out of the room for half an hour but stays close (like in the next room). The next day you might stay longer and then maybe leave the room for a bit longer than the previous day. If your child is doing well, then you might leave him or her for a couple of hours. By Friday, if all is going to schedule, you can drop off your child at normal drop off, let’s say 8, and pick him up at noon, even if he or she is registered to stay for 2. But, maybe your child is struggling, then the process might be elongated to last a total of two weeks. This is to ensure a good start and stable foundation. This all sounds sensible and nice, but there are no guarantees of seamlessness. I have also witnessed and experienced that even if your child had a seamless Eingewoehnungszeit, she might start to cry with separation a month later. This was the case with my second child.

In principle, it is a gentle way for the child to let go of his or her parent’s hand, and quite frankly, for the parent to let go of the child’s hand. With my first two kids, I loved it and very much appreciated this gentle approach. It is also a good opportunity to live the life that your child will be living at KITA. I have always been a fan of this approach.

On the other other hand, it requires a lot of time and makes assumptions about your child, such as – it would be helpful for your child that you stay in the room for a couple of days and won’t in fact confuse him or her. It also assumes that you can financially and work-wise afford to take up to two weeks off to partially stay with your child even though you are paying for normal care hours.

Fast forward five months from the time that my son was in an American daycare – we are back in Germany, I have been alone with my kids for nearly two weeks. The two older kids have finally been given permission to start at Kindergarten, and I have one more week with just my 1.5 year old who is tearing everything apart. No drawer or cabinet is left unopened or unransacked. The thought of spending one week sitting in the same KITA room and singing about my disappearing hands and ah! there they are again makes me rather want to stick pins in my eyes. Knowing how uncomplicated my toddler was at Amanda’s and with all of his babysitters, I said to hell with the Berliner Modell and dropped off my baby and said “tschuess.” He still seems fine to me, but I know what’s in the back of those caregivers’ minds any time he will have a cold, be fussy or grumpy, “Frau Park should have stuck to the Berliner Modell!”

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