I was trying to write up a post in my series on our experiences with Barnevernet, and our troubles with the schools and kinder gardens - but got a bit side tracked. One of the points I wanted to highlight is that there may be problems with competence everywhere - in the kinder gardens, in the schools and in Barnevernet (I already touched on that in my post on bad apples in Barnevernet). I've even seen this very first hand in the kinder garden - by being the incompetent employee!
Searching for a job
Some years before we got our first child, I wanted a side job while studying - any kind of job - so I was sending lots of applications and visiting lots of potential work places, most of them mundane things like working as cleaning staff or as a cashier in the super market. I was rejected almost everywhere. Then I got the idea to call a kinder garden. There was like no question asked except "can you start tomorrow?".
I was weighted and found not to be qualified for this kind of position
Applying for a job scanning the bar code of groceries in the shops, and one is interviewed, weighted and rejected - while the kinder garden wanted me to start working even before seeing me. The grocery items in the shop are generally dead things and very hard to break or damage, it doesn't take much competence to read that bar code.
Children in a kinder garden is a totally different thing, I believe one would probably want to check up people before hiring them. To be fair, it was just a part-time substitute position, being on a calling list when they urgently needed some extra hands - but still - I did indeed start working with children the very next day.
I was young, had almost no experienced at all on children and how to handle them - but I was learning. I do remember one situation after I had been working for some time, there was a child misbehaving, and I had to deal with it. I was observed by some other employee that later told me: "you handled that one really well". That really made my day!
Some years later I was a parent sending my child to the kinder garden. I came to realize that there are two kind of competences in the kinder garden - it's the formal competence (there are requirements that some of the staff should be educated) and it's the real competence - and those does not always match. I was a bit surprised when I learned that the person in the kinder garden that I considered to be the most qualified person there didn't have any formal education, and hence had a less prestigious work title and lower salary than those having passed the formal education. When it comes to handling children, experience and personality is very much more important than formal education.
There was a shortage of kinder gardens in Norway, so at one point, the authorities decided to do a "big lift", building thousands of new kinder gardens over some few years. I was quite worried about this, I think the real capacity limit is the number of competent people available for working in the kinder gardens - constructing more buildings wouldn't solve that problem.
Good and bad kindergardens
I don't remember why, but those kinder gardens was a short affair for me - I probably should have been working more in kinder gardens, it would have been useful for getting more experienced with children and prepare me better for the role of being a dad. For me, the kinder garden work was quite hard - I was really exhausted when coming home. I was working in two kinder gardens, I cannot say anything negative about the first one. I even remember I commented something that I considered to be a (minor) security risk, and it was fixed when I came back some days later.
The other kinder garden was a disaster. I particularly remember one child, he was a foreigner, didn't speak Norwegian very well (if at all - I don't remember), so he ended up going through the whole kinder garden days without being able to communicate, and when the other children was playing, they would intentionally leave him out of the game, he was an outsider - he was the outsider. Sometimes he would become frustrated and angry, and perhaps even beat some of the other children. In retro perspective, I think such a response is fully understandable - the kinder garden days must have been super frustrating for him!
In retro perspective, I really should have put my finger on this problem. - but I was young, I was only a substitude worker on an on-call list, totally I was working there maybe twice a week for two months, and I was shy of conflicts. I really considered it to be "somebody else's problem" - and indeed, it was! That nobody there was lifting a finger trying to do something with this problem tells a lot about what kind of employees one can find in some of the kinder gardens in Norway. Yes, myself included!
That said, for most of the normal children this kinder garden was probably not that bad.
A bit more than a year later I was called up by this kinder garden again, they wondered if I was available for work there. From the telephone conversation it became clear that whomever I was talking with had no clue that I had already been working in that kinder garden earlier. In this round I think I was working there only for two days. I did recognize quite some of the children there, but not a single other employee. It was 100% turnover during just a bit more than a year!
Many children are probably happy to have any kind of adult being responsible, helping them with difficult things and guiding them through the kinder garden days, but some children needs time to build a relationship of trust with the responsible adults, then it can be very important with a stable staff situation.
Our experiences as parents
As parents, we have become very aware that there are good and bad kinder gardens. Unfortunately some (if not all) of our children have had some sort of special needs in the kinder garden, and have had requirements that were not met in the kinder garden.
There is an age limit at three - some kinder gardens specialize on children below three, others on children above three, in yet other kinder gardens there are different departments for those under and over three. Those below three sleeps in the daytime, those above three does not sleep in the kinder garden (exceptions may apply).
Two of our children didn't speak in the kinder garden (selective mutism) from the age of three. Both of them started speaking before the age of three, and had no problems before starting with the other "big" children at the kinder garden. We also observed that they really did have a need for a daytime nap, after the age of three - they were very hard to handle when picked up from the kinder garden, and would occasionally fall asleep on the way home.
The first of them got transferred from a nanny where he was spending time with her daughter in the daytime, to a bigger kinder garden. There was no problem at all before he started in the kinder garden. When he came there he was probably a bit overwhelmed. He was the youngest child at the department. He also was overwhelmed by all the toys, so he immediately starting playing (alone) with all the toys there rather than interacting with the other children. He quickly became known as "the boy who doesn't speak Norwegian" (he spoke Russian with the mother, and she was most often delivering/picking up in the beginning) - and he quickly learned to live up to the expectations (and eventually became "the boy who can't speak"). He became the outsider, just like that foreigner I observed while working in a kinder garden. I will write more about his problems in another post. We tried to change kinder garden, and we were promised that they would do something clever to solve his communication problems in the new kinder garden - but nothing happened.
Our daughter went to a kinder garden with one small department for the smallest children, and one big department for the bigger children. It was an "open" architecture on the kinder garden, many children, few rooms, lots of noise. Our daughter is quite sensitive - this style really didn't suit her. She also had a strong need to forge connections with the adults. There was one adult she was comfortable with at the department for the smallest children - and on the days she was absent our daughter wouldn't talk there. Getting to the bigger part of the kinder garden was probably quite overwhelming for her, and also that she didn't have any adult she could trust there. There was also quite much turnover with the employees there - things didn't work out at all, she stopped speaking at all while being in the kinder garden. Eventually my wife got her moved to a smaller and better kinder garden, and after a while she started speaking there. The problem came back really hard when she started at school though, it became much worse than what it ever had been with the kinder garden.
Summing it up
Of all things important for the quality of a kinder garden, probably competent employees is the most important factor. In Norway there can be great differences between different kinder gardens.
Not all kinder gardens are suitable for all children. Some children may have personalities causing them to fit badly into a kinder garden, and the problem may escalate and get out of hand if the employees aren't able to see the problems and act on them on an early stage.
This post is completely based on personal experiences.