Isn't it fantastic what we can learn and appreciate from other cultures, even though they might seem totally alien at first? Tamara Reitbauer is a childcare student who left her home on an Austrian farm to gain work experience at a London nursery as part of Erasmus+ and our Internship Programme. In this article the 18-year-old explores the differences she encountered at her work placement, Little Smile Nursery, in comparison with her work and education at BAKIP Amstetten, a school in Lower Austria.
I immediately had a good feeling when I stepped into Little Smile Nursery in Wembley. After introducing myself, a member of staff showed me where I could put my belongings and invited me to take a seat with the kids. My contact person then informed me of everything I needed to know about the nursery. She told me about Sport Relief Day and the Easter party on the 23rd of March, where I had to dress up as a bunny, chicken or sheep. The staff were very welcoming and friendly, showed me around and told me what to do.
One of the tasks they gave me was to introduce the kids to my home country. I talked about Austria, my family and the animals at my farm, sang 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm' and taught them to count to ten in German. Apart from that, I darted between the baby room upstairs and the play room downstairs and helped out wherever I was needed.
The biggest differences I came across in the London nurseries
One of the first things I noticed when I started my work experience was the difference in the age of the school starters. In Austria you start school at the age of six, whereas British kids start school at four or five years old. This means British children start learning to write and count while they're still in nursery, while Austrians wait until they start school.
2. Motor skills.
British kids learn lots of fine motor skills, but very few gross motor skills even though it would make it much easier for them to develop fine motor skills at a later stage. Since space for running around and playing is often sparse, teacher-led physical activities are limited to dancing and sing-a-longs. I noticed that this makes the kids a bit awkward. They aren’t sure where their bodies start or end. Austrian nurseries are required to have a gym room and use it every day by law, which helps the children to develop gross motor skills.
3. Group management
A nursery class in Austria usually consists of maximum 25 children between two and a half and five years of age, a nursery teacher and a nursery assistant, while British classes consist of key workers who are responsible for about twelve children of the same age. During activities, often the whole group of up to 30 children participate.
4. Education and planning
The teacher-led activities I witnessed are usually about counting and literacy or focused on craft activities or subject learning. Nurseries have yearly plans, where each month is dedicated to a specific topic. The weekly planned activities are all scheduled around that topic. Austrian nurseries usually plan day to day or week to week, always depending on the season, the kids' interests or development of certain skills.
5. Communication and child-rearing
The way British nursery teachers interact with the children depends on the nursery. The tone can be strict and teachers tend to refuse physical contact such as hugging or letting children sit in their lap, since their main priority is to try to push them into learning. On the other hand, I also came in contact with teachers who were calm and tell the kids what to do, while also giving them attention when they need it. At Little Smile Nursery, teachers explain why the rules are there - an approach I recognise from Austria, where authority and strict rules go hand-in-hand with a calm and loving approach.
6. Cultural diversity and languages
London is a multi-cultural place and the nurseries are full of different nationalities and languages. At Little Smile Nursery, I got to know children from all over the world; Poland, Bulgaria, Sweden, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Spain, whereas the majority of the children in Austrian nurseries are of Austrian descent.
In comparison with the Austrian system, British nurseries seem to benefit from their focus on education. In London, children also grow up with lots of nationalities around them, which can help them adapt to new places, people and languages later in life. Another benefit is the key workers, who are responsible for specific children. That way, every child has someone to turn to.
In Austria, on the other hand, there are stricter laws and all teachers need to have the same qualification. More space for physical and teacher-led activities helps children develop gross motor skills. Also, there is less pressure on the Austrian children, who start school at a later age.
What I learned
London gave me lots of useful experiences. I enjoyed my stay at Little Smile Nursery and even got an offer to work there if I decide to come back. I learned a lot of new things, got new ideas for activities I could implement back home and had a great time working there in general. I saw how children can benefit from different cultures and appreciated the importance of good communication between staff. I also realised how essential the English language is. I now feel more secure traveling on my own, because I know I can ask strangers for help and confidently use the English language.
If you decide to go abroad for a while you will become more independent and self-confident in showing your skills, asking for help and – in the long term - doing what you truly want to do.
Tamara came to London with our Internship Programme, a project eligible for EU funding. Don't hesitate to contact us if you would like more information about what we do and how to get funding. Call a Country Manager today on +44 2084249424 or send us a message.