`IN a Russian kindergarten there must be order,'' a Russian acquaintance said mockingly, when she heard I had enrolled my three-year-old daughter. She looked on the idea with obvious disapproval. Upwardly mobile Muscovites tend to look for alternatives to nurseries and kindergartens for their young children these days, and the perception seems to be widespread that children need more stimulation and individual attention than they get in institutionalized child care. Nevertheless, the detski sad, a literal translation of the German ``kindergarten,'' is still considered a key link in the social infrastructure by Soviet planners. Most Russian children attend kindergartens, and in labor-short areas, the construction of more is seen as a way of attracting a permanent work force. The government needs its female workers, but also wants them to produce more children. The detski sad is the answer.
Acceptance of day care for very young children is still far from the norm in rural areas of the Soviet Union, where the standard of care is thought to be low. The type and quality of Soviet kindergartens can vary widely, depending on the factory, farm, neighborhood, or professional group that sponsors the institution.
From the outside, Kindergarten No. 1069 in the working-class, Red Guard district of Moscow is a soulless, two-story, glass-and-concrete box. But inside, its big windows and bright colors produce a warm ambiance for the 190 children cared for here. Although it is largely financed by a nearby Moscow fish processing factory, there is nothing utilitarian or industrial about the playrooms full of toys.
This is a combination nursery-kindergarten. Children from two months old till age 3 are sent to the nursery. From 3 until 6 they are kindergartners, though some six-year-olds are enrolled in a preparatory class for first grade.
Mothers who have to work the night shift at the fish factory can leave their children for the entire working week. The day's routine is carefully organized, from wake-up time, morning exercises, and breakfast to the post-lunch nap. Non-boarding children are expected to arrive at 8:30 for breakfast and can be collected anytime after their afternoon snack. Some parents, however, leave their children until 6 or 7 in the evening.
For visitors, the children are immaculately turned out, the girls with huge chiffon bows in their hair. We watch an exercise class for six-year-olds, who climb ropes and do routines with hoops. Children in an art class are painting what they liked best about a recent holiday. A music class, in Russian peasant costumes, performs songs and a dance prepared for the holiday.
A specialty of Kindergarten 1069 is therapy for children with speech defects. Other Moscow kindergartens have programs for children with sight or hearing problems. Places in Nursery-Kindergarten No. 1000, sponsored by Moscow's Central Department Store, are sought after by parents who know that the quality of food there is well above the average. Large establishments, like Kindergarten 1069, have camps where children can spend a month of the summer.
The cost for parents remains fairly low: about 16 rubles monthly (the average salary is 200 rubles a month) for full day care.