Wednesday, July 6

El Arenero: this is how a shared parenting space is built in the center of Madrid

Twelve boys and girls between 1 and 3 years old play in a room full of toys, mats, ramps or stories. Two adults accompany them and attend to their needs. At first glance it looks like a nursery school or “nursery” more. But is not. The Sandbox is a shared parenting project created 8 years ago in the center of Madrid. Some of the people who came up with it have now collected their experience in a book entitled Caring, raising, building community. A shared parenting experience (Books in Action, 2020). The authors, María González Reyes, Nacho García Pedraza, Pablo Fonte and Berta Iglesias describe in their pages the entire process of a project that has become a benchmark.

“This is a story of people, young and old, coming together to care collectively,” the book notes in its introduction. In summary, the origin of the project is located in 2013. From Arganzuela, a central district of the capital, six families that did not have a public nursery school in which to leave their babies joined their financial efforts and their knowledge to hire the educator with the that they were going to share the care and education of their sons and daughters. That educator or companion was Pablo Fonte, who up to now had no experience in this specific field, although he came from the field of social education. He didn’t even have children. “I started with many doubts. When you are in an educational project, love is not enough. I trained myself and asked a lot about how to set up the environments, what materials to use, how to manage the routines, etc.”, he explains.

But what makes El Arenero different from any other public or private nursery school? “The role of families. It is not that we want to include the family in the school, because there are other projects that already do. Here is that the families are the project. The accompanying persons are a pillar but the families another”, Fonte points out.

And it is that one of the differential characteristics is the family accompaniment shifts. “It is not that a family comes one day to do a workshop, it is that without the families in the classroom, in the kitchen shifts or the work commissions and assemblies, the project does not work,” explains Fonte. In other words, every day one person from the El Arenero families participates directly in the day. For a few years Fonte has also been accompanied by another hired person. They have introduced the educational couple. Therefore, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. there are three people who take care of and accompany.

With the educational couple, the families now have a more logistical role, they prepare the fruit in the morning or the meals. “They tell you that it is training in practice, they see how you manage conflicts, how you set limits, how to manage materials or how children interact,” says the educator.

Toni and Lucía have been part of El Arenero for 5 years. First, with his eldest son, Yago, who is now 7 years old. Then with Darío, who is now 3 years old. They went through a similar project that no longer exists, El Palomar. And from there, through common contacts, they reached El Arenero. “The families explained the project to us. You make the definitive connection with them. You look to see the feeling that you have with the caregiver but that families who live day to day tell you about experiences, how they learn, that is what conquers, “says Lucía.

“The essential thing is participation. That you participate in time and decisions. It is not a place to save or leave your little ones. Suddenly you are taking care of 9, 10 or 12 more children. And it is not only participation but also that gives you a level of being able to breed with that learning “, adds Toni.

Madrid, hostile city

This year Eva and Dani have started their participation, together with their two-year-old son Elías. They told them about the initiative and they made up their minds. “They told us that it was a respectful parenting project where families were very involved in the organization. At home we talked a lot about the loneliness of parenting and how it cost in a city like Madrid, where nothing is provided. We were alone and believed that this project was great because it offered a network of mutual support and accompaniment that we thought was very positive, “explains Eva.

And it is that in the symbolic location of El Arenero is part of its reason for being. “Vehicles and the adult world are always privileged. Every time I go to Salamanca I return with anger and I ask myself, why do we live in Madrid?”, Eva highlights. “It is not easy to find these spaces to feel that you are raising a tribe. Being a space with so many complexities an important bond is created there. Suddenly your son has 10 more families he knows, he has a brutal confidence,” says Lucía . “Many of us are from abroad and we have no family here. This city does not make it easy for us on many levels. Those who live in the center works in the north, those who live in the outskirts work in the center … everything is more difficult. than in a small city. Here that stands out a lot, the community that it generates and the mutual support that is created, “says Toni.

For Fonte, “in a capitalist system and a city like Madrid we have to meet all our needs individually”. From El Arenero they focus on aging. “We do not call it a space for early childhood education, but rather we speak of parenting because we are at a stage in which the issue of care has a lot of weight. Although we do not forget the pedagogical,” he says.

The bonds that are created beyond the classroom and the relationships of mutual support are the points that the participants of El Arenero stand out the most. “At a certain point in time a family has an unforeseen event and with all the confidence they can leave their little one with us because they already know us. They are happy and safe, and so do we,” Eva points out in this regard.

The challenge of being a less elitist project

The evolution of the project has been growing. They have gone from 6 families eight years ago to 12. From starting in a living room of a house to a more or less stable place. What are the challenges for the future? The participants are clear about it: achieve greater integration and be a less elitist space.

“This type of project is exclusive, we have always kept it very much in mind. It is true that in El Arenero the families who take shifts pay 200 something or so euros, that as the private sector is in Madrid it is not so bad. But they are elitist projects and we have always had in mind how to bring the project closer to families who cannot afford it “, reflects Fonte. “Ideally, this model could be replicated in neighborhoods or areas where it could contribute that extra, in more unstructured families and less privileged children who could enjoy a model like this”, also points out Toni.

In this sense, El Arenero is still a political project. As part of the book points out, “which is based on the idea that building lives together is what can lead us to create more just and sustainable societies.” So with the book they want to share their story with people who rebel at the idea of ​​raising alone.