& Scuola Materna
|By Deirdré Straughan
recounted at length my own experiences in various schools, I now turn
my attention to the Italian system which my daughter attends. Caveat: I
haven't lived here all my life, nor ever attended any Italian educational
institution myself, so my views may be biased by inexperience, at the least.
arrived in Italy in December, 1990, Rossella was 16 months old. I had
been full-time at home with her for most of her life, except for two months
of increasingly long hours in a parents' cooperative daycare center at
Yale in late 1990, when I needed time to pack up our house and make other
arrangements to move. Ross, although the youngest in the group, had been
quite happy in daycare; she enjoyed being with other kids. So when we got
it was time for me to go back to work, and I wasn't worried about her reaction
to more daycare.
law, working mothers have paid maternity leave for the first six months
of a child's life. For ages six months to two years, there are good
daycare centers, partially government- subsidized. Unfortunately, there
had been a decline in births in Milan which had led to many of these public
asili nidi being closed. Then there was a sudden rise in the birthrate
around the year of Ross' birth, so when we arrived in Milan, mid-year,
there was no space available in the local asilo nido. My in-laws kindly
paid for a good private asilo, where Ross very happily stayed for two years;
the catch was that it was a long way across town by bus, so it was quite
a trek every day to get her there and back again. It was a financial and
commuting relief when, at age three, Ross was able to transfer to the nearby
is a wonderful thing. In Italy, every parent has the right - though
not the obligation - to put their child in preschool, free of charge, for
three years, until they begin first grade in their sixth year.
this seems to have been regarded as a way to socialize kids to life outside
the family, but the schoolday was kept short, on the assumption that mom
was home anyway. Nowdays, in many families both parents work, so most scuole
materne offer full-time hours up to 4 pm, and after-school programs for
parents who can't pick up their kids that early. Essentially, this is very
high quality, state-sponsored daycare.
materna was part of a loose cooperative of pre-elementary, and middle
schools, all set in a large park, with each grade level occupying its own
small building. The park had originally been a track for trotting races,
hence its name, Parco Trotter. In the early 1900s, it was well outside
Milan, and sickly children were sent there to breathe clean air and take
the sun. There had even been a swimming pool and a tall, airy gymnasium,
though these and the dormitories are now ruined past repair.
|It was a practical
school, where the children tended gardens and raised farm animals as well
as (presumably) studying the usual subjects.
is now engulfed by the city, but remains an island of green among the
gray cement; not surprisingly, it has a lower incidence of absences due
to illness than any other school in Milan. The pre-school kids spent a
lot of time outside simply running around, as few kids in Milan are able
expected to learn to read or write, but they did many pre-reading and
pre-math activities, construction and art projects, and more - Montessori
methods were very much in evidence! They could be as messy as they liked
outside with sand, flour, dirt, and rocks. The bathroom was designed for
water play as well as other uses. They decorated their spaces with trees
made of cloth, and their own paintings and other creations.
project, parents were asked to show the kids around their workplaces,
which included a car repair shop and a bakery.
the teachers interviewed the kids about what it meant to work, and wrote
down the answers, such as: "Work means sweating a lot." "No one
likes to work, but if you don't work, you starve."
for the passage to elementary school, the kids visited elementary classes
to see what the older kids were doing, and afterwards were interviewed
about what it means to "get big."
At all educational
levels, school hours used to be organized so that kids went home at lunchtime.
Offices, shops, and factories would also close, so the family would gather
around the dining table for a midday meal.
many Italian parents of my generation grew up this way, and still aren't
entirely comfortable with leaving their children at school for lunch.
modern life intrudes: many mothers as well as fathers now work full-time,
often so far across town as to make the family lunch together impracticable.
The city government stepped into the breach with a school lunch program,
usually prepared somewhere else and then trucked to the various schools.
Parco Trotter is fortunate to have a kitchen on the premises, so the food
doesn't have to travel far. The quality was quite good, though they sometimes
served vegetables that no self-respecting child was likely to eat, such
as boiled fennel bulbs.
It seemed that
many parents were more concerned about this aspect of their child's education
than any other. The teachers would furnish daily reports on how well the
child had eaten, and there was a parents' committee to oversee the kitchen.
Several times we were called upon to sign petitions protesting this or
that aspect of the kids' diets. (After four years of legendarily bad
food at Woodstock, and seeing that Ross ate more at school than she did
at home, I had a hard time taking these seriously.)
Every day when
I picked up Ross from school, I'd hear the other mothers greeting their
children. Invariably, the first question every mother asked was: "What
did you eat today?" Just as invariably, my first question to Rossella
was: "What did you do today?" And Ross would promptly tell me -
what she had eaten.
Deirdré Click Here
To see her
web site on living in Italy Click Here
Index ~ Italy