Nope, not another gardening post but rather I’m going to tell you about the concept of Les Maisons Vertes.
The original Maison Verte was created by Françoise Dolto, a psychoanalyst, and his team in Paris in 1979. Based on his experiences treating children he decided to create a centre where parents and children would be welcomed. The centre would be the ideal place to talk through issues and general worries and thus solving or preventing further problems.
“The important thing is that the child should feel secure and be autonomous as early as possible.
The child needs to be sure of himself, free to explore, and left to his own devices to test his abilities with his peers”
(Françoise Dolto, Les étapes majeures de l’enfance)
The Centres are a space to listen and to chat, but also to meet and relax with other children and adults.
There are currently about 15 or so Maison Vertes in Switzerland as well as others in France, Belgium, Spain, Russia, Japan and potentially others I haven’t heard of. Despite a few differences they all stick to similar principles:
- All are open a number of half days a week.
- They welcome young children (0-3/6 year olds) accompanied by one or two adults.
- You pitch up, without reservation, whenever you like.
- They are all run on an anonymous basis (only the child’s name is written on the board at the entrance).
- They are free although a symbolic donation is asked of around 3 francs.
- The team who work there rotate on a regular basis to it is not them you become attached to but rather the place.
There are certain basic rules too:
- All children must eat and drink in the designated area.
- All wheeled vehicles must stay in the marked zone.
- Any children playing with water (or other messy activity) must wear an apron.
We actually have two in Neuchâtel: one in La Chaux-de-Fonds and one in Neuchâtel town. Our local one is called La Courte Echelle in Neuchâtel town on Fausses-Brayes. It is open Mondays and Tuesdays 14:30 to 17:30, and 8:45 to 11:45 Wednesdays and Thursdays.
While I despair at the lack of things for young children here in Neuchâtel this really is truly dedicated to them and parents like myself. I love the international aspect of these centres. When you walk into one you will almost certainly hear 2 or more languages being spoken. Sometimes it is simply Swiss languages from different regions but regularly enough there will be other English speakers often not from the UK or the States but rather from Asia or Africa. Who would’ve thought in small town Neuchâtel?
It is a bit like going to someone, who has lots of really cool toys’, house (that is the vibe you get). It is all very relaxed with sofas around the place for parents to sit and chat, or you can sit and have your tea (quatre heures as the Swiss call it) at a table equipped with highchairs. They have free sirup for the kids and you can buy a drink for yourself or bring your own. The drinks are really not expensive though if you do fancy a hot drink (the charge is simply to cover their costs).
There is a cosy sitting room area too with books and playmats which is idea for young babies. I used to go and sit with M when he was very small (able to breastfeed him discretely with the nursing pillows available) and E would run off and play with the other children of her age.
We often spend a fair bit of time in the soft play room which is always good fun. M spend some time pushing around a giant ball – he’s really starting to get there with the walking. It won’t be long now!
Then we went to go and play with the cars in the “wheeled vehicle room”. All cars, tractors and bikes must stay in this room at all time. Surprisingly the kids obey the rules well I guess because everyone else is doing the same. It was rather soothing being in there with a little African boy while his Mummy sang to him and M bounced up and down on his tractor.
It is fairly adaptive for most ages; La Courte Echelle is for 0-5 year olds. E tends to spend an inordinate amount of time playing with the water toys, making cakes out of Playdough or making tea for all the dolls in the kitchen but M was far more interested in the cars this time round.
I never feel hard done by parting with my 3CHF donation when we go and often I give a bit more if I can to support the cause. They suggest a donation of 3CHF but it is means dependant and generally symbolic – if you can’t afford it or haven’t got money with you you can pay it another time. That’s the Swiss for you. I expect in anywhere else in the world this service would probably get abused and then it would have to close. La Courte Echelle has been running now for 15 years and I hope it continues to do so for much longer.