Children content in after-school centre

Dinners are just part of the day school offering

Bern's Manuel School has an after-school care centre, used by children whose parents work. Here they are supervised while they eat, do homework and play.

This content was published on January 2, 2006 - 10:15

It's 11 o'clock and a handful of children from the first grade are playing in the cold November sun waiting to be picked up from school.

One group is on the climbing frame, another digging holes in the dirt. Davide is among them, a small dark-haired boy, who's just started school.

A bell rings, marking the end of the school morning. Davide suddenly runs off into a building with a glass corridor, where the children can play table football.

As a first-grader, Davide's lessons finish at 11 o'clock but thanks to the after-school care provided at the school, he is able to stay until noon when he is picked up by his older sister.

He rushes past the football table and through a smaller entrance, flanked by cubbyholes, stuffed with small pairs of shoes. He removes his own quickly and dashes into the next room, leaving his jacket behind.

Elsbeth, a trained kindergarten teacher, is laying the rows of tables with plates, cutlery and colourful plastic tumblers. She urges him to put his coat and shoes back on.

"He always wants to stay and have lunch here with us but I have to explain to him that he can't because his mother is at home, waiting for him," Elsbeth tells me.

He's not the only child there who likes being at the centre. Here, children can relax after school and have the freedom to choose between playing, reading or doing homework with the help of a teacher.

Potatoes, eggs and spinach

Through the serving hatch, I watch the chef Christian place long trays of potato-halves in the oven. He starts to wash numerous heads of lettuce and places a pan of frozen spinach on the hob. He readies huge frying pans for the eggs, which will be cooked just before serving time.

The children who are staying for lunch start to file in, dumping coats and backs on the floor and hastily changing their shoes outside the cubbyholes. They greet the carers politely and, after washing their hands, take a seat.

Above their heads are the "dos" and "don'ts" of eating in the school canteen. The "dos" include waiting for everyone else before commencing the meal. "Don'ts" include not making too much noise while eating.

Food's up

After Elsbeth gives the sign, the children line up, plates in hand by the serving trays.

"What's that?" half a dozen of them ask, peering at the tray of baked potatoes.

They all take a little bit of everything except the spinach.

Instead, a dozen noses are turned up, accompanied by "yucks", as every single one of these children, the eldest of whom is nine, refuse a portion of Popeye's favourite vegetable.

The iron-rich stuff goes down better with the older kids, who are sitting in an adjacent room, the majority of whom risk a taste and seem to like it.

They are also quieter than the younger ones, who are more excited by the presence of two journalists, especially one with a video camera.

Lunchtime clash

My colleague and I get to sample the fare too. It's solid stuff, simple yet tasty. We're slower eaters than the children, who eat their food quickly, help to clear up and run off to play. Not all get away scot-free as they are on washing-up duty.

But before they tackle the pile of dirty plates, it's time for dessert – tinned pineapples with whipped cream.

"Oh, no!" cry a group of three girls, "we've already brushed our teeth," - one of the things to be done after lunch.

Suddenly a cry goes up from the neighbouring room. Urs, who's in charge of after-school care, excuses himself, returning moments later leading a boy in front of him.

"We're just going to the library," he tells us. Once the child is out of earshot, he explains that he is one of the known troublemakers, who can get a bit out of hand. He leaves the boy there for some quiet self-contemplation.

Once lunch is truly over, the only kids nearby are those helping to dry the dishes. The others have the run of the school buildings, which include a sports hall and playing fields.

Those by the sink sigh as they pass wet plates to one another – thankfully just a few more minutes of drudgery separate them from freedom.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza at the Manuel Schule, Bern

Key facts

A widespread problem across German-speaking Switzerland is the lack of so-called "Blockzeiten" or fixed hours, which means that the duration of a school day varies from school to school, from canton to canton and from child to child.

Some children only have to attend school two mornings and one afternoon a week, and some schools do not offer lunch.

Moves are underway to change the situation across the country, while the capital, Bern, is a frontrunner in the provision of after-school care.

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