For these Swedish kids, it was their first English lesson. It was my last. But I learnt something in Sweden 35 years ago that’s helping to shape my dementia care strategy today.
Back in the 1980s I was a lapsed English language teacher, but even though I’d been out of the classroom for 5 years I couldn’t resist the call to put on one last show. I was in Sweden, and it was my niece’s first English class. Would I come along and amuse them? Well, of course I would.
They did things differently in Sweden. Stina was just seven, so they started their foreign languages early. But they started school late – in the UK the school age was five, in Sweden it was seven, so Stina was starting English in her first year.
‘Isn’t seven a bit late to be starting school?’ I ventured. (The systems we already know are always the best, aren’t they?). ‘No’, my Swedish friends sternly replied. ‘And Stina has already had four years at the dagis.’
The dagis or daghem. The day-home. Where kids as young as one or two spent the day while their parents were working. The Swedes were proud of their system:
– Look, we believe that parents should have the opportunity to bond with their children. That’s why we’re generous with parental leave. But at the same time, we don’t believe that motherhood should deprive women of their careers. The dagis is a wonderful experience for the children, and it allows the mother to get back to work.
I understood the logic of the argument. But back then, it was hard to get my head around it. It was so different from my UK experience, where just a few children went to private kindergartens.
How times have changed! In 1998, the UK government passed legislation entitling all 4-year-olds in England to a free place in a reception class at state schools. It was extended to 3-year-olds in 2004. Today, over 3 million children attend pre-school.
I asked my daughter the other day:
– When you have kids, will you send them to pre-school?
That’s an odd question, her face told me.
– Of course I would.
– Well, I wouldn’t want to give up my job. And it’s good for them, isn’t it? Mixing with other kids, doing things together.
She didn’t say it, but I think there’s another reason too. If all your friends are sending their kids, how would it look if you didn’t? What kind of mother would you be? It’s what people like us do.
Not giving up your job. Mixing with other people. Doing things together. That’s exactly what I want to achieve with our Bine project. Except that instead of kids, it’s parents we’re talking about, parents with dementia, those who still want to live at home but gradually get cut off from the community as a result of their illness.
Our vision is that those living at home with dementia will spend the whole working day at the local Bine Centre, engaged in meaningful and purposeful activities in partnership with a community of helpers. Meanwhile, for five days out of seven, their family carers are free to continue working, to pursue their own interests, just to take a break – or maybe to join in at The Bine themselves.
And, just like our National Health Service, The Bine will be free at the point of delivery. All we ask from carers is 2 days per week of volunteer support at a Bine Centre. They’ll join the teams delivering those meaningful activities – perhaps joining in with some local volunteering, or doing the shopping for a housebound neighbour, or chatting with a couple of members while out on a walk.
Pre-school has become an institution over the past 20 years. That’s what I want The Bine to become in the next 20 years: the place you automatically think of for a parent when dementia is diagnosed. Nationwide. And perhaps this time it’ll be us leading the world instead of lagging behind.
Follow our progress on setting up the Bine. ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ The Care Combine’s Facebook page. That’s where we announce each new website post – it’s a good place to chat too. Or subscribe to our newsletter: as well as a summary of our blog, there are exclusive Carer Tips every Wednesday, and a Bine update every Friday – particularly useful if you’d like to see a Bine Centre in your neighbourhood one day.
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