Germans are an interesting bunch when it comes to caring for children both young and (nominally) old. Kindergarten is a German invention from 1779 and Männergarten – places for men to while away time with beer, sports, and video games while their wives or girlfriends go shopping – is one of the most “interesting” (or “strange”, depending on your views!) consumer innovations of the 2000’s.
While the daycare option for men is a little goofy, Germany is among the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to child care by men. As Der Speigel reported in 2012, “Male child care workers are probably the most highly sought-after professional group in Germany” and lawmakers earmarked 13 million Euros for the “More Men in Early Childhood Education and Care” program.
Since there are very few male child care providers and male preschool teachers, we’d like share a few insights into what men bring to the changing table, or in other words, what the heck are those Germans thinking!
1. Men play it a little faster and a little looser. They roughhouse a little more with kids and let them run wilder on the playground than women would. Science suggests that the somewhat riskier approach to care pushes kids to take chances and provides a healthy challenge for them.
2. Men talk less and when they do, it is more complicated. Doesn’t sound ideal for toddlers and preschoolers? Evidence actually suggests it is another healthy challenge that pushes children to develop their vocabulary. A 2006 study even suggested that fathers’ language use (and not mothers’) independently predicts children’s language development at age three.
3. Men want to be (and are) more involved in their own children’s care more than ever before. At the same time, they are not really getting social acceptance for doing so. Even while the scenario is becoming more and more prevalent, Americans simply don’t like the idea of the stay-at-home Dad (only 8% giving the concept positive marks in Pew poll). What about caring for other people’s kids, i.e., male preschool teachers and child care providers? Virtually non-existent… even in Germany.
So what’s the bottom line here? Are men better caregivers or preschool teachers than women? Of course not! They just have a different style and it would be good to see more men in early education… In the meantime, dads: keep on doing it like you do. Your skill set has some official recognition in Germany, but the type that really matters is in your own backyard!