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Our Kids Interview: Get to know KIDS & Co.

Our Kids speaks to Karina Trafna, KIDS & Co.’s Board Chair

International Bilingual Kindergartens and Nurseries KIDS & Co. are a network of nurseries and kindergartens (including the so-called Zerówka—Grade 0) with a 15-year tradition. They operate in five locations in the most dynamic business districts of Warsaw, as well as in several other cities and towns.  continue reading...

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Our Kids interviewed Karina Trafna, KIDS&CO.’s Board Chair.

Here is a video of that conversation (in Polish), illustrated with photos:

And here’s a translation of that conversation.

The concept of the KIDS & CO.

Our Kids: Please tell us about the concept of the KIDS & Co. network.

Karina Trafna: We are a nationwide educator. We run in-house and office-based kindergartens and nurseries. First of all, we want to be close to our parents, so we have chosen a business environment, although we are mainly located in the so-called "mixuses," i.e., in places where people both live and work.

In terms of education, we are multilingual institutions. We started out as bilingual (English-Polish) institutions. At the moment, practically each facility also has Spanish, so it is safe to say that we are trilingual. In addition, we pay attention to many other aspects, including macrobiotic nutrition, i.e., we shape proper eating habits from the very beginning.

The basis for the functioning of our facilities is a program which develops social skills and emotional intelligence. Contrary to what the educational system in Poland still looks like, we pay attention not only to memory skills, facts, literacy, which are of course very important, but in our view, the key is to support children at this very young stage in developing their social and emotional skills. Each of us can read and write and it sort of happens automatically. However, most of those other skills are not sufficiently developed until adulthood, when we go to work, while it’s a good idea to start early, like with reading and writing.


Our Kids: How do you choose your new locations?

Karina Trafna: The assumption is that we want to be all over Poland. We have two types of facilities: our own facilities, which we develop where there is a need and when we jointly decide that we want to be there, and company-based facilities—and here we follow our partners, i.e., companies that want to offer child care to their employees. Our own locations are mainly in large cities: Warsaw, Poznań, Łódź, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Kraków and next year, Katowice. We are also planning to open one in Gdynia. We are also looking at slightly smaller cities, which will probably happen in the coming years.

However, when it comes to company-based facilities, we are in various, even quite remote places, e.g., in Suwałki, in Ostrów Mazowiecka—wherever they need us. However, due to the fact that our background is very business-like and we choose locations either in office buildings themselves or in their vicinity, we are naturally located in large cities and this trend will continue. We are in the phase of quite intensive growth. By the end of this calendar year, we will open about seven new locations and our plan is for 6 to 10 a year.

In my opinion, the Polish educational market is very interesting. We are still at the beginning of the journey. I have the impression that private education is a bit like health care was 20 to 30 years ago. I think not everyone believed that private medical care facilities could function so well and become such a natural part of our lives. Poland is following what has already happened in Canada, the US, and Western Europe. We are pleased to be going in this direction and we want to be a big part of this growth of a completely new quality in Polish education.

KIDS & CO.’s partnerships

Our Kids: In your materials, you talk about partnerships with various academic and business institutions. What can parents expect as external inspiration for their children?

Karina Trafna: To be honest, this is quite a difficult topic, because on the one hand, we would like our academics and programming to be comprehensive, versatile and rich, but they should be just enough, not too much, because we don't want the children to be overstimulated. As the world is changing, our offer also evolves. Of course, we work with many institutions: universities and various clinics in terms of support and needs that arise on a daily basis. We live in times when this support is needed a little more. We also make sure that this offer is modern. For example, apart from teaching children to code at a young age, last year, together with a company from Wrocław, we introduced support to kindergartens in learning English: we have robots that support English teachers and also familiarize the kids with the world of artificial intelligence in a fun way.

We work with nutritionists and catering companies who have great passion. We share our knowledge and provide support for our parents in this area. We are systematically growing and have more and more "in-house" elements: our own specialists and people representing those institutions who want to work with us. With 20 outlets, there is already a lot we can do internally. This year, we have been implementing a project of support for teachers. I think that the pandemic and the very volatile times we live in generally affect the teaching staff a lot. So we have hired a person to take care of the organizational culture and provide support to teachers, because teaching is a service profession where passion is extremely important. Therefore, taking care of these emotions is of great importance to us.


Our Kids: Who are your students?

Karina Trafna: We have a lot of international children, but we are not like schools linked to embassies or a few others here in Warsaw that we know are only for foreigners. The majority of our students are Polish.


Our Kids: And who are your teachers?

Karina Trafna: Our model is a bit different from others. We employ both teachers and linguists. We are primarily educational institutions, so of course we are obliged to fulfill all the requirements of the Education Act. Our teachers have degrees and experience in preschool education. It is with great pleasure that we accept people who have also worked abroad, because for them this bilingual model is so natural that we don't need to train them. And of course there are teachers who speak English or Spanish. They are professionals who have experience in working with children, preferably in schools or kindergartens, although this model also works in nurseries, so we also employ people who have worked as nannies.

Most of our teachers are young people with relatively little experience. I think it is mainly because adapting to our multilingual model is very hard for a teacher who has worked for 10 years in the traditional Polish educational system. We have had a lot of such attempts, most of which unfortunately failed, so we feel much better hiring people who accept our unique model and for whom it is completely natural that in the same class there is a second teacher speaking in a different language all day long. Our model is different. At the beginning, it seems much more demanding, perhaps a bit more challenging for the Polish-speaking teacher. Quite often we get people who do not have appropriate education qualifications, so we employ them in other positions to train them on the job. They work with us as assistants or run extracurricular activities because passion and willingness to work with children is our priority. So we can actually wait for these additional statutory requirements to be met.


Our Kids: Do you use immersion in both English and Spanish?

Karina Trafna: Yes, but when it comes to English it is full immersion in the language, while Spanish is treated as an additional language. Nevertheless, we employ Spanish experts (mostly of Spanish origin). They hardly ever speak Polish. So this is a model, let's call it bilingual, because they can communicate in English.

Children shaped by KIDS & CO.

Our Kids: Let's imagine that I would like to enrol my child in your facility. What can I expect as a parent at the end? What will my child be able to do? What will she be like? How will this experience be different from that in other kindergartens?

Karina Trafna: She is certainly going to be a citizen of the world and I can say that when it comes to English, the child will use this language as at least a second language or possibly even at the level of her Polish. She will also be capable of communicating in Spanish. The child will certainly be multilingual.

Secondly, the child will be sufficiently prepared for what the next level of the educational system brings, will be used to change and capable of asking questions. The child will be more open and adapted to the changeable life and world around, in which there is a lot going on and there are many challenges along the way. We have feedback from our parents that our graduates are doing much better in primary school, and also in social situations such as tensions with their peers. Certainly, it will be a child with excellent eating habits and in general well-developed in terms of lifestyle, sports, and habits, and well-groomed and able to take care of their own health.

Macrobiotic nutrition

Our Kids: The issue of food seems of great importance at KIDS & Co. Do you have any nutrition ideas of your own? Do you tell your children what they should eat? Is this a topic that parents talk about?

Karina Trafna: Nutrition is one of the broadest and most controversial topics. Our institutions are rather large—we have a lot of children and, consequently, a lot of parents who have their own habits, influences, and beliefs. And this is probably one of the biggest topics we start with. In big cities, the level of healthy nutrition awareness is very high, and we do have a lot of supportive, experienced, and informed parents who feed their children in healthy ways. So in those places the element of education is, to be honest, secondary. We talk a lot about the menu and that is quite obvious to everyone.

However, in smaller towns it’s tough, although now the situation is probably a bit better. We have been running our facilities since 2012, so we see that the situation is really changing, but in some places we had to start by making sure young children lose some weight, because their eating habits were so bad. Children would bring donuts and lots of foods that are absolutely forbidden in our institution. So we have to start with education.

First, of course, we organize workshops for parents, talk to them, cook with them, and recommend suppliers of nutritional products. But from our perspective, the biggest challenge is catering. And this is always a very difficult issue, especially in smaller towns, because it’s not easy to find catering companies that could provide macrobiotic nutrition for kids. To be honest, we are not even looking for such catering companies—we are looking for people who run catering businesses and are open and wanting to develop. And we turn everything upside down. It's cool because people who "buy" this model live in this way later on their own. We organize cooking sessions with parents. In smaller communities people know each other and talk, so it is easier for us. It takes about a year to change eating habits, to eliminate large amounts of sugar. Of course, we cook with little salt and avoid fried and pre-cooked products. The change doesn't happen in a month—we need about 12 months.

I often visit our locations as a guest, watching from the back. I hear mothers reading a menu and saying, "Gosh, it’s spinach today. You don't like it. What will you eat?" This is also something we are working on because after so many years we know and can prove that the way a dish is served and how we talk about it has an impact on whether children eat it willingly. In a group, through imitation, it is much easier than for an individual parent at home. But this is one of the first and key topics. And, to be honest, if from an early age we make sure that the child gets proper nutrition and has healthy eating habits then later it really happens on its own.

After graduation

Our Kids: Where do your primary school graduates continue their schooling?

Karina Trafna: It varies. In larger cities, of course, mostly in private institutions. I guess if someone has been educated in a bilingual or trilingual model they will want to continue it. But we are also in places where there are either no private schools or there are very few options. Then the children go to public schools. It is then quite a challenge for our graduates because kids who speak fluent English have to start from scratch, twice a week for 45 minutes beginning with the alphabet, so they are simply bored for the first few years. We organize clubs for our graduates twice a week, but of course it would be much better if kids could continue bilingual education. Fortunately, it is getting better and better in big cities.

Successes and achievements

Our Kids: What are you proud of? What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Karina Trafna: It is not difficult to create a good educational offer. It is not even difficult to implement all these novelties and check that it all really makes sense and works. The biggest challenge is to achieve a larger scale so that as many children as possible can take advantage of this offer. And I'm very proud and happy that it's happening. When we started macrobiotic nutrition in kindergartens, we had excellent results in terms of attendance. In winter, we were so pleased to report to the Sanitary and Epidemiological Department that after changing the nutrition model in February we had almost 100% attendance. Well, that was when we had just one facility and merely several dozen children. Today KIDS & Co. has almost 1,500 kids, so I have the impression that our idea of ​​education, health, and broadly understood well-being is getting more and more attention in Poland and I am very proud of it.

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