What is an Elterninitiative? Pros and Cons

8 March 2020 | By Lisa H

There are over 600 so called “Eltern-Initiativ-Kindertagesstätte” in our database - but what does that actually mean and what are the pros and cons of attending an Elterninitiative?

Personally, I didn't really know what it would mean for us as parents and was a bit shocked to hear about the requirements when we interviewed for one... It just wasn't for us and I stopped applying for them afterwards. BUT that does not mean that it wouldn't work for you – read on to find out more from Elodie Roux Heineck, the founder of the bilingual French-German Elterninitiative, Kitanelle Coccinelle in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg to tell us more.

Born in France, Elodie has been living in Berlin since 2007 with her German husband and their two kids. Elodie manages Baby in Berlin, a maternity concierge and post-partum doula service, helping expat families find their way through the German system during and after pregnancy. She also offers regular workshops on baby paperwork and how to find a Kita in Berlin.

What is an “Elterninitiative”?

An Eltern-Initiativ-Kita is a Kita that is managed by the parents of the children going to that Kita. The parents (and in some cases the teachers) are members of an association (Verein), which is responsible for running the Kita. Kinderladen or EKT also refer to the same concept.

How does the concept differ from a “regular” Kita?

In a regular Kita you usually have a three-tiered system: the management, the teachers and the customers (parents and children).

The management (Leitung) is responsible for the good running of the place (ensuring there is enough qualified staff, enlisting new children, deciding on the catering, etc.). The teachers take care of the children. And the parents use the services the Kita offers.

In an Eltern-Initiativ-Kita, the parents are customers but also managers. This means they get to make a lot of the decisions themselves, which in turn is a lot of work and responsibility. Sometimes when teachers are in the association, they also have a double role: teachers and managers.

When and why did you create Kitanelle Coccinelle?

I first got the idea to open an Elterninitiative when my son was 9 months old, in September 2011. I had planned on going back to work after a year of parental leave, but the reality of the kita crisis only hit me then. I had to extend my leave by another 8 months, going back in the summer of 2012.

I figured I could either spend all my energy trying to find a spot, or creating a kita myself. I had always wanted to create something for the community, that lives beyond myself and it has been a great ride. The Kita opened much later than I expected, in February 2013, by which time my son had already started going somewhere else but he then changed soon to Coccinelle.

Since then we have taken in more than 70 kids from more than 50 different families, and that means a lot to me. My younger daughter is now going herself for another 2 years before she starts school and I hope Coccinelle will live long after that.

What is expected from parents at an Elterninitiative?

Within the parents' association there are usually two main roles: the board of directors (Vorstand) and the rest of the parents.

The parents in the Vorstand carry the most responsibility and have to recruit new teachers, do the accounting, manage conflicts, and deal with the authorities, to name a few tasks.

The rest of the parents have a variety of tasks to share amongst them, which can range from cooking, managing the waiting list, renovating the rooms, looking for interns etc. Each Elterninitiative decides how the tasks are divided and whether or not to outsource them (cooking, cleaning, accounting for example can be easily outsourced).

What are some reasons that it may not be the right fit?

An Eltern-Initiativ-Kita is for parents who are really keen to get into a specific Kita (a lot of EKT have interesting concepts like bilingual or Montessori) and are ready to spend a lot of time and energy in the running of the Kita.

In ours, we often say as a rule of thumb that parents on the board spend 10-15 hours per week working for the Kita, and parents in the association 2-3 hours per week. That is a considerable amount of time and parents need to be prepared for it!

Also EKTs are for parents who can think beyond their own family and needs. You have to be able to think about what's best for the Kita overall and not just for your child. If you can't, then an EKT is probably not the right place for you.

And finally an EKT is usually not the right fit if the parents both work full-time with set office hours or who work overtime a lot, travel for business etc.. Although the work can mostly be done outside of the Kita itself (all the administrative tasks for example) and parents can organise themselves to do it when they can, the work remains, and so does the responsibility. It is a long-term commitment, that goes way beyond the year of parental leave, and parents need to think carefully about it.

What are the main advantages and disadvantages?

To me, the community of families and friends is the main advantage. EKTs are usually small and so you get to know the other parents quickly. Also, you spend a lot of time with each other, renovating, discussing, planning. This creates a strong network of friends and families in your area, people you can relate to and grow with. I have met some of my very best friends in Berlin through the Kita, and so have my children.

"Having a say" is often quoted as a benefit. But an EKT is a democracy, which means the majority decides and parents shouldn't expect all their wishes to come true. It's important to keep the larger goal and vision in mind and not think only about your own family and children.

A common disadvantage is the difficulty to resolve conflict when it occurs. Because the roles are so blurred (parents are the employer and the client), it's sometimes not easy to mediate conflict (between parents, or parents and teachers).

How can parents apply for a spot at Coccinelle?

Families have to fill in an online form with their details, from which they can generate a pdf. They have to print it and then send it by post to us. The form ensures we get all the information we need from the parents.

Most application emails we get are incomplete and we don’t even know whether they fit our criteria, which is why we created the custom form. (Once a family is selected, we also ask them to fill in the form in the Kita Navigator, so we can officially confirm their spot.)

We gather all the applications and then a couple of times a year we hold an information evening where we present everything about the Kita (the team, the groups, the activities, the costs, the work required etc.). We only invite the families whose children fit our criteria (age, gender and language - families need to speak French at home).

Following on from the evening the families decide whether or not they still want a spot – it is not uncommon that half of the families drop out at this stage because of the work involved with an Elterninitiative. At the end, the Vorstand and the team offers an individual meeting to the families leftover who have a Ganztags-Kitagutschein, live the closest to the Kita and seem the nicest. Sympathy is definitely a factor since we spend a lot of time together and we have to get along. At the end, we are often left with only a couple of suitable families for one spot.

Thanks, Elodie, for shedding some light on this topic for us!

Learn more about Elodie and the services she offers at babyinberlin.com.

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