Feature

The kindergarten for stressed-out toddlers

A new German school pampers kids with massages and foot baths to help them deal with the many, many pressures that come with being... 4 years old

Grown-ups aren't the only ones buckling under the financial strain of the recession. Health-care professionals in Germany say even toddlers can get stressed out as their parents cut household budgets, fret about job security, and lose their temper. And that's on top of the pressure already placed on today's little ones as they are shuttled from music class to dance lessons to sports. What's the solution? A school for kids as young as 3 that offers massages and other stress-relievers, of course. Here's what you need to know:

Massages... in school?Yes, the trail-blazing kindergarten in Stuttgart offers a whole menu of special activities designed to make children's worries fade away. That includes massages, but also foot baths and outings where kids can walk barefoot through wet grass. Teachers also offer the kids more traditional ways to relax, such as skipping rope or just lying quietly thinking of their favorite things.

Is this kind of pampering really necessary?That's debatable, says Newstalk ZB. This sounds more like a "health resort" than a school. But the kindergarten administrators say it's not just a matter of coddling kids. The program is being partly financed by the Kneipp Association, a health-care organization dedicated to preventing disease by promoting a healthy lifestyle. Children today "rush from one appointment to the next without barely a chance to breathe," school spokesperson Sylvia Gross tells Britain's Daily Mail. "They occasionally need some time out in order to come down again. The things we do here have a curative, relaxing effect upon them."

How has the media reacted?Mockingly. Chris Paine in Australia's Herald-Sun reported the story with scornful references to the "nightmare of being a 2-5-year-old, when you're subjected to the horrors of finger-painting and learning to write your own name." Katy Morton at the NurseryWorld blog sees benefits in the program, "if Germany wants to tempt children of a young age into becoming beauticians...."But does it work?According to the Kneipp Association, the trial program is a success. At the Stuttgart kindergarten, the children increased their resistance to catching a common cold by 60 percent after just a few weeks of pampering. And the economic downturn that is afflicting Europe, the U.S., and other parts of the world really has hit children hard. British educators have reported seeing kids hunting for food scraps at lunch. "Under that kind of pressure," Mary Bousted, general secretary of Britain's Association of Teachers and Lecturers, tells Britain's Daily Mail, "it's no wonder relationships get strained, youngsters are deprived of sleep, often suffer emotional damage and cannot concentrate in school or remember what they have learned."

Sources: Daily Mail (2), Newstalk ZB

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