Childcare in rural Italy could feel like taking a large leap of faith if you’re used to the UK system. There are no national standards to nurseries in Italy, and private ones are non-regulated; likewise there is no national agency similar to the UK’s Ofsted to dip into and check the assessment of the last inspection report of the nursery or childminder you are sending your very precious bundle off to.
When enquiring as to the location of our nearest asilo nido with our local comune (council), its head, an elderly man approaching retirement, whose desk was so tidy it made the typewriter sitting on it stand-out even more, had no idea which our local asilo nido was. These are the childcare centres equivalent of a nursery where 11.8% of children in Italy from 0-3 years attend. Comunes receive funds from the government to subsidise nursery placements and reduce childcare costs.
He told me that my child was too young to be in day care at 18 months. This could be considered representative of an attitude towards women in work generally, only 47% are in paid employment across Italy. In our area, Nonna (Grandma) still reigns as the Number 1 informal childcare provider for ‘working mothers’, just 9.6% of the under 2s in Abruzzo are in official day care. Grandma is a free and wonderful resource on many levels, but it does give scarce rural nurseries the power of a monopoly and little choice for members of the community who don’t have access to a Grandma.
Our handy Comune representative did prove helpful enough to phone around after which he gave us a phone number, no address, of a private asilo nido that would be a 20 minute drive away. After some very helpful detective work from friends on a number that didn’t work we got an appointment, visited and booked in A for a slow introduction the following week.
Although the current UK government are (sadly) working frantically to increase ratios of children to nursery workers as their means to decrease childcare costs, A enjoyed the national standard 1:3 with his childminder in the UK. The Italian average is 1:8, I haven’t been able to determine our regional ratios nor our individual asilo’s but I would imagine they are somewhere in line with listed Tuscan ratios which are 1:8 for children aged 12-35 months, or 1:9 if attended by children aged 18-35 months. I was told how in good economic times there were 2:26 under 3 year olds, which for once made me praise the bad times.
The Italian pedagogical approach is that the nursery leaders are co-constructor and facilitators rather than substitute parents. Children are left to have peer experiences and enjoy learning from one another, observed but without intervention wherever possible . From just our experience this works beautifully if you are based in a Northern Italian city whose nurseries are full, but provides a more challenging environment if you require additional support, i.e if you are special needs or perhaps like A whose mother language is not Italian. If your child’s toddler peers are younger or on a different development level due to the small take up in local nursery places but large enough to be vying with 8 other children for talk-time how will competency in a language arise?
Naturally being in Italy the food at nursery is amazing. Handmade cakes, bread & oil or grissini were mid-morning or afternoon snacks, 3 course lunches with various types of pasta primo, secondo meat dish (no red meat) and fruit for dessert. As to be expected in rural parts of Italy on Fridays fresh fish was served. The downside of eating such great food at nursery is that it’s a hard act for Mummy & Daddy to follow and nothing at home is ever going to be quite so wonderful!
Our experience with our rural Italian asilo costs is that less is more. The more hours you send your child the less it will cost and is determined on a regional basis. For example a 20 hour week with lunch costs us €125. A 3 day week from 9-4 with lunch is €302, compared to £360 that we paid in the UK for 9-5 with lunch. A 5 day week from 9-5 including lunch and sleep is €326.
Ate, Pooed, Slept
At the close of the day when picking A up, like all the other Mothers I get told by rote how much he ate, how many poos were deposited and hours slept. Nothing is shared about what the child did in the day, if they were happy, if he didn’t like something outside what was contained in his meal. At first I thought this was due to the language barrier, but these received details are exactly the same as the other Mammas and Nonnas picking up. In the UK I had been used to receiving a little report each day like the below (sometimes saved up and delivered at the end of the week),
“A had a great day today, it must have been good as he never slept. We started as normal with music and stories and A danced and danced. He chose a rattle from the musical instruments which he kept a hold-on after song-time. We played outside before snacks, A walked around the chicken run watching the girls, toast and apple for snacks. More outside play afterwards, with A once again following the hens. Back indoors and A played in the toy kitchen managing to roll into the plastic kitchen cupboard. A then pushed cars around the house. With no Finn to play with he played well with grace, fish pie and peas for lunch, more music and songs after with more dancing from happy A.”
Another great thing we received in the UK were surprise photos received on my mobile phone if there was something sweet or funny happening. Also reassuring for the guilty feeling Mother that fun is being had. Comparing the two systems this is what I miss most as a Mother knowing that A is content in his activities in the day and being able to share his day with him at home beyond what he ate, discussing the number of poos isn’t a great conversational gambit…