"I don't know which would be better for my child," a mother agonises in an Internet forum over her dilemma of whether to enrol her three-year-old daughter in a community kindergarten or choose a private one. An experienced mom steps in to offer advice. "You don't need to hesitate. I put both of my children in a private kindergarten because I wanted them to have good conditions and good teachers. With community kindergartens, it's just hit-and-miss."
This exchange brings out the main differences between public and private schooling in Bulgaria. The long-since promised school reform has failed to make it to the institutions yet, but private schools and kindergartens, with their rich curricula, better conditions and accommodation of children from other nationalities, spring up to fill in the gap.
Private kindergartens in particular have the advantages of better conditions over state ones. They also introduce a wider perspective into the children's environment with foreign language training, sport facilities, art activities for children and extra hours of childcare. In private kindergarten "Germani" highly qualified teachers from Bulgaria, Germany and Austria nurture the talents of your child, in addition to offering entertainment for children per hour in the party centre. Parents also get a taste of the excellent conditions – they can try the gourmet menu in the bistro while waiting for their children, chill out in the heated indoor pool, or relax in the SPA.
The child's earliest years in kindergarten and nursery school are vital in the formation of habits. This is where the child learns how to socialise, play and learn. Parents often have no alternative to kindergarten if they are to work full-time – and soon they would have no other choice. The Ministry of Education is considering introducing obligatory preschooling from the age of five.
However, for the child taking a step away from the parents can be particularly painful, with long-term consequences. Some children refuse food or sleep in the kindergarten, throw tantrums when it’s time to part from the parents, or give them the cold shoulder as punishment for what they see as abandonment.
This is trying on the parents’ nerves, since they see their children so distraught, but relenting too soon without making real effort is not a good idea. The child will not have gained the small measure of independence and the solution can hardly be beneficial in the long term.
Parents should approach the process of detaching from the children with patience and understanding of its difficulties. The new place – kindergarten or nursery – has to provide enough distractions for the child in the form of games, learning activities and other children to keep from pining for the parents. When your child starts fitting in more comfortably, reward their behaviour with favourite food, a new toy or a small gathering of kindergarten children to see how they get on with each other.
The age of three to seven years is the time when various problems make themselves known – cognitive, behavioural or medical. To recognise them and treat them accordingly the kindergarten or pre-school should have specialised staff on board, at least a psychologist and a paediatrician. The psychological evaluation is not just for the parents’ peace of mind – it singles out a child’s specific interests and talents, especially for the arts. It also helps keep track of the academic progress of the children at later age. Some kindergartens have a logopedist to assist the children in attaining good pronunciation. This is even more advantageous in the case of foreign language training, which can confuse the child.
The matter of group size skews parents' preference over to private schooling. Many of the bigger cities suffer a shortage of places in community kindergartens – to the extent that some parents put the child's name in the waiting list as soon as the child is born. In contrast, groups in private kindergartens usually have no more than 15 children per one teacher, making discipline and teaching much easier. This way, each child gets individual attention from the teacher to overcome problems in learning or socialisation.
The difference between state and private kindergartens is not merely one of conditions. Private kindergartens have more challenging and motivating curricula, which aim to help the children develop various skills. Early language training is a must. Usually English or German is taught, with both languages alternating between the positions of first and second. The children learn short words and simple sentences while playing or singing songs.
Art and music classes are also common occurrences – basic instruments are used, with more stress on expression than on formal learning. Many kindergartens have seasonal sport activities – swimming indoors, going on mountain walks or winter games.
In some parents' opinion, such a programme is unnecessary burden on little and fragile minds. This need not be the case. An example of wellplanned educational method is the private school and kindergarten "Espa." It has a well-structured daily routine that allows for breaks, sports, study periods and creative activities, alternating a period of mental concentration with relaxation. There is a special stress on art workshops, where the pupils learn practical skills in fields like fashion design, journalism, theatre, pop music and so on under the tutelage of Bulgarian artists.
One of the problems that come from living in the big city is that children are away from nature. This reflects not only physically, but also emotionally, adding more tension and nervousness and taking away an excellent outlet of pent-up energy.
Games free of structure in a natural setting are especially beneficial for some child disorders such as attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, learning disabilities, dyslexia, or aggressiveness. Physical problems such as allergies can also receive unexpected treatment.
Fresh air and closeness to nature serve to strengthen the children's mental and physical well-being – this is at the base of the philosophy at kindergarten "Playful feet." The large yard at the foot of Vitosha mountain allows them to grow their own flowers and play outdoors in a clean environment. Small children are encouraged to explore their environment in a safe way and satisfy their curiosity about the surrounding world. They study English and German, play and draw under the watchful eye of the staff, have picnics and visits to the puppet theatre and can celebrate their birthdays in the kindergarten.
Another point in favour of private schooling is the contemporary approach. State educational institutions aren't necessarily lacking in it, but it's due more to the personality of the teacher than coherent educational policy. On the other hand, a certain system or method of teaching usually forms the basis of private schools and kindergartens.
Thus, they are more open to letting the children express themselves and stimulating their potential for knowledge and creativeness. It may sound cliché, but it’s true – a positive approach like that can have great impact on the way the child comes to perceive the world.
The stability of environment as the child goes from nursery school through kindergarten to pre-school can greatly enhance socialisation. You have a chance to see this with "Sunny" Children Facilities which have all three stages and use the same teaching methods.
Children are examined individually by a logopedician and a psychologist. The leisure activities in their programme help them develop their physical co-ordination and balance, as well as their interest in Bulgarian folklore and Latino dancing.
Good pre-school private education is not limited to Sofia. "Zornitsa" kindergarten in Varna offers a rich half-day or full-day curriculum which aims to prepare children for the basic first-grade skills – writing, reading and calculating. The English language training includes the Oxford system Happy House, while music and visual art are two of the arts taught at the kindergarten. Being close to the sea has another advantage as well – children go for walks and games in the Sea Garden of Varna.
Choosing a school is no easy matter, but here you can take into account the preferences and inclinations of the child. Encourage early interest in the arts without pressuring, then find the right environment to nurture it. Lyceum Artis, whose graduates receive a double diploma in arts and foreign languages, combines knowledge, imagination, and creativity in a full-day programme to help develop the student's potential. The international programmes and exchanges create opportunities for students to travel abroad and gain valuable academic and life experience. Lyceum Artis is one of Bulgaria's most prestigious schools. Native language teachers and students from many countries create a multicultural environment.
In Bulgaria, parents prefer schools with intensive language training for their children, which offer exams for internationally recognised language certificates. One such school is "Uwekind," which has a kindergarten and a school through twelfth grade. It is dedicated to studying through German and students prepare to take language certificates such as Test DaF, Sprachdiplom or the Cambridge suite upon graduation. Education in the school and the kindergarten is full-time and the whole day is used for different activities, such as studying and educational trips, while there are clubs for music, literature, painting or drama.
Bulgarian private education is not as cheap as state education, but the money is well-spent – not least because of the thriving competition between schools or kindergartens. This ensures affordable prices and high standards in a country which has rich traditions in education.
Many of the schools started in the 1990s and have already gained good connections with other countries and universities, where their alumni leave for. The private institutions often welcome children of expats and take special care to maintain multicultural environment. Considering all the advantages along with well-qualified teachers, excellent premises and advanced teaching methods, your child is in very good hands.