Regional Consultation for the UN Study on Violence Against Children
. 5 - 7 July 2005 Ljubljana, Slovenia  
Europe and Central Asia






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A nursery where kids flourish, teachers are inspired, and parents are delighted.


© UNICEF/Romania/2004 ...Maria with her mother, Alexandra

Alexandra is delighted to be able spend her lunch break with her young daughter at her very special nursery school. And little Maria is overwhelmed with joy. She shows her mother new drawings, and asks her to sit down on one of the sponge-stuffed cubes that look like dice and are used as chairs, so that they can build a Lego house together.

Maria goes to a nursery school in Bucharest offering a Step by Step programme – an educational alternative adapted to children between 0 and 3 years of age. The programme is implemented by the Step by Step Centre for Education and Professional Development (CEDP) – a non-governmental organization, with UNICEF as one of the main supporters.

CEDP and UNICEF provide initial and continuous training, logistical and financial support to the teachers, and also facilitate exchanges among them.

The children have eaten their lunch and are getting ready for their afternoon nap. In a matter of minutes, what appear to be lockers are pulled down and turned into beds for the kids; the bright bedclothes match the curtains, the wall-to-wall carpeting, and even the scenes from comics painted on the walls.

It is a warming sight, and in stark contrast to the situation that mother and daughter faced 18 months ago.

"It crossed my mind that I must have got to some private nursery school. Everything seemed too good to be available for a person such as myself, with seriously limited means.”

Back then, Alexandra’s partner deserted her for a woman who promised to get him a job. When he left her, Alexandra found herself in a tough financial situation. The little money she had was not even enough to feed her baby properly. She badly needed to work, but there was no one she could leave Maria with while she was working; and she could never afford the luxury of getting a baby-sitter. So she started looking for a nursery.

She knew many nursery schools had been forced to close down because of financial problems, and kindergartens would not bother to take on very young children, under one year of age. However, she did not give up asking around, and her persistence paid off. She discovered that a kindergarten in her neighborhood – a big building, more like a school - had actually expanded its activities and would also accept children under three. So she took Maria along on a short visit there, to see what their chances were.

“I remember that, as soon as we entered the nursery school, Maria smiled and looked around in wonder at the bunnies, flowers, all sorts of landscapes and various fairy tale characters wearing nicely coloured clothes painted on the walls,” Alexandra recalls. “The headmaster – a woman full of energy and all heart - received us as if she had been expecting us. She showed us around, and explained that all the children were very well looked after, they were kept under careful supervision, and were involved in activities meant to develop their imagination and personality. I had the impression she was taking me for an inspector or something, and then it crossed my mind that I must have got to some private nursery school. Everything seemed too good to be available for a person such as myself, with seriously limited means.”

Maria is now a “veteran” in the nursery school, knowing the place and all the routines as if she were at home. She knows when and how the menu changes, and she’s allowed to go over to the baby group, where she had been enrolled herself when she first came to the nursery. She knows that next year she will be going to the kindergarten, to the junior group, hosted in the other wing of the building that she has visited several times with her teachers.

The set up is impressive, from the specially-designed, built and arranged furniture, the materials used for playing and developing imagination and creativity, and the patience the staff demonstrate towards the children.

Some kids are playing on a small plastic slide in the middle of the room. Others are going in and out of a small house where they can entertain guests of their own age; some of them are colouring or painting, or rolling around on the floor, playing with big sponge-stuffed, yellow and red cylinders.

The teachers say the programme makes them feel more motivated, more willing to develop new projects together with the children and their parents. “Step by Step", says one, "is an alternative for early education which offers children a harmonious, caring and nurturing environment, contributing to the balanced development of their personality. Even at very young ages, children learn social skills, how to express their preferences, they get to know what their rights are; the parents also become fully aware how absolutely essential the first three years of life are for the subsequent development of any individual.”

“We realize that the parents need us as much as the children”, says another. “At the parent counseling centre we provide direct assistance in any psychological matter arising in the relationship between parents and children.”

Written by Camelia Teodosiu

For more information:

Codruta Hedesiu, Communication Officer, UNICEF Romania

Tel: (+ 40 21) 201 7864

e-mail: chedesiu@unicef.or