I briefly mentioned the situation with preschool and daycare in the Soviet Union when describing the daycare my own children attended. Although it was during the post-Soviet times, the daycare being on the more conservative side of the society in general, preserved most of the Soviet-time features.
However, the daycare – Detskiy Sad – which I attended was a classic example of how it looked during the Soviet period of history, so I am writing about it from both historical and personal perspectives.
In the Soviet Union, there was no private daycare. All the daycare, including the infant care, was supervised by the Ministry of Education. In the early days of the Soviet Union (and even before the Soviet Union, in Soviet Russia), working women were given a relatively short parental leave. Yasli – daycare for infants and toddlers – was expected to take children as young as six weeks old. I am not sure whether any groups for the children that young survived by my time, but I know some people close to my age who started to attend yasli when they were eight or nine months old. Children from three and up to seven years old attended detskiy sad (the words mean Kindergarten in Russian). Children were divided into groups according to their age and would start school when they were seven.
The group for children six years and up was called a “preparatory group,” and it was essentially the K grade in the US nowadays.
I do not have statistical data on what percentage of children stayed at home with nannies until what age, but I started to attend detskiy sad relatively late: it was October 1967, so I was four and a half.
My detskiy sad was named “Druzhnie rebiata” – “Friendly Children.” It was located in one of the old buildings in Kolomna – an old historic district of Saint-Petersburg (Leningrad at that time). It was pretty close to the house we lived in, and we walked there. Now thinking about it, it should not have taken more than 10 minutes to walk there, but it probably took longer since I didn’t walk very fast.
The building was somebodies’ private residence before the Revolution, and I still remember the floor plan. Each group occupied its separate room. I think that initially, each room was a bedroom.
I vividly remember my first day in detskiy sad. I wore a sailor suit (a skirt and a top with the sailor’s collar), traditionally a festive outfit for children even before the Revolution. It was made of fine light grey woolen fabric, and the stripes on the skirt and on the collar were red and blue. I had to wear an apron over it – that was a requirement in detskiy sad, and I was very upset that my pretty outfit was not showing.
The first thing I was when entering the room was a large toy chariot. It was secured on the floor, and there was a seat with attached pedals, and in front of this chariot was a toy half-house with two moving legs. You pedal, and the horse legs are moving. I never saw anything like this, and I was fascinated.
Another thing that was new for me a caught my attention right away was a “mosaic.” It was a round piece of plastic with tiny holes and a set of multicolored hexagon-shaped pegs, which you could tuck into these wholes and make beautiful patterns. I didn’t have anything like this at home, and I loved it. I think I had very few (if any) of the board games at home, and I enjoyed them a lot in my detskiy sad.
Another funny thing from my first day at detskiy sad. After the afternoon nap, we were asked to sit at the desks. In front of each child, there was a small wooden board with a piece of colored clay on it. Since many new foods were introduced to me on that day, I thought that a piece of clay was also something eatable:).
It turned out that we were going to learn how to make a cup out of clay. Back then, doing arts for your own pleasure and enjoyment and learning certain techniques were very clearly separated even in preschool education. We were learning how to make a cup. I still remember all the steps! We knead the clay; then you separate it into two pieces, one for a cup and another for a saucer. You roll the first part into a ball. Then you make a deepening and keep pressing until it will start to look like a cup. Then you roll a ball from the other part of the clay and then flatten it until it resembles a saucer.
All was new and exciting, and I liked my first day at detskiy sad a lot!
My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.