Daycare and Preschool in Germany
Last updated: 11 Jul 2020 / by Sam Williams
Germany is a country that is renowned for having an excellent education system, both for native children and those that arrive from overseas. While that might be very reassuring for parents, you may have a more pressing concern if you have younger children: daycare.
Parents who work will need to find a suitable setting for children, but stay-at-home parents also use daycare in Germany. This is because it’s seen as very beneficial to encourage socialization from a young age and there are a range of different available settings.
If you’re mixed up between your krippe, kita and kindergarten, take a deep breath and relax. Our essential guide to preschool and daycare in Germany will walk you through everything you need to know – and a bit more besides!
Stages of Preschool and Daycare
German law stipulates that every child must spend at least nine years in education. This starts typically around age 6, and around 725,000 begin school every year (2019/2019 statistics).
But this is not the first time German children will have attended a daycare setting; it’s common for socializing to begin from a very young age.
Every child in Germany has a legal right to access a daycare setting, and the majority of parents choose to exercise their rights.
There are several stages of preschool and daycare:
Kinderkrippe (often abbreviated to krippe)
A type of creche which is available for babies and toddlers up to three years of age. You may have to pay for the facility.
In other parts of the world, kindergarten has evolved to mean the first year of school but that’s not the case in Germany. Children can attend kindergarten from the ages of 3-6 years, as it takes over from the krippe stage. German parents typically consider kindergarten to be vital during the formative years.
Kindertagesstätte (usually known as Kita)
This is a daycare setting that can look after both krippe and kindergarten children. They will be kept in separate areas, but within the same building, so as children grow, they can move from the krippe to the kindergarten more easily.
Technically this isn’t a separate stage as it’s the final year of kindergarten. However, a lot of effort is dedicated to getting the children ready to move up to school. This includes spending time in the school classroom, and not just in the kindergarten setting with the other youngsters. This year helps the children transition more successfully to school, and allows them to practice new routines such as being on the school bus and learning to be in an environment that looks very different.
This refers to care either before or after the school day – you may know it as a breakfast club or after school club. Although this is known as a schulhort, it’s often bundled into a kita. Not all kitas offer schulhort, but those that do, cover up to the end of primary school age (ie/ 11 or 12 years of age).
Krippe are for very young children and not every parent in Germany makes use of the facility.
The age of acceptance can vary significantly too. If you’re thinking of using one for your child, it’s important to check their minimum age if you have a very young baby.
The majority only accept children aged one year or over, but there are a few who take babies as young as six or nine months. It usually is only private settings that offer places to babies below the age of one year.
You will also find the opening hours can vary, with both half-day and full-day sessions possible to find. It’s more unusual to find a nursery that stays open later than 5pm.
At a krippe, the children are often split according to their stage of development. Communication and socialization are the primary focus and groups tend to be very small.
The exact structure of a kita can vary very significantly from one region of Germany to another, with some offering extended services and others strictly only catering for children aged 3-6 years.
The other big difference is the type of kita. Some are government-run, some are private and some embrace an alternative philosophy. Examples of the common types of kita you might find include:
Waldkita (forest kita)
This type of kita takes place outdoors. This may sound fairly typical for a daycare center but the difference is there’s no allowance for bad weather or different seasons of the year. In a waldkita, children are outside in all weather and embrace the fresh air. This type of educational establishment originated in Scandinavia and is particularly good for kinesthetic learners.
Elterninitiative (parent-run kita)
As the name suggests, this type of kita is run by the parents of the children who attend.
They still have professionally qualified staff on-site so your child will benefit from their knowledge, but it’s the parents who manage the setting and make decisions.
Each Elterninitiative is run very differently, so if you don’t like one, you may find other suits you instead. Whichever one you choose, you will be expected to help out .
In these establishments, it’s normal for at least one of the educators/staff members to speak the second language fluently. If your child is bilingual or just learning German, having the comfort of their native language can help settle into the kita.
These are regular settings, but they have a few spaces set aside for children with disabilities. These children integrate fully with the other children in the daycare facility which is beneficial for both sides.
Just like in the main education system, there are many alternative philosophies in kita. Some don’t segregate the children by age, whereas others follow a particular philosophy such as Montessori or Waldorf.
Some kitas have a specific interest, such as art, music or dance, so it’s possible to choose an early education for your child, which will spark their imagination.
It’s common for German children to attend kindergarten and the German government facilitates that through the provision of spaces. This can vary from one state to another, but overall, every child will have the opportunity to attend.
You can choose whether to send your child to kindergarten for a full day or just a half day. There is no academic learning done in kindergarten as the focus is on learning through play and socialization. Children may be encouraged to develop their strength and coordination through physical play and activities such as gymnastics. Fine motor skills will be encouraged via painting, handicrafts and other types of artwork.
Kindergarten also equips children with the skills they will need at school, such as sitting on a carpet and listening to stories or following instructions from the leader. Educational experts also believe kindergarten is vital to help young children learn how to resolve conflict without their parents stepping in.
The final year of kindergarten (vorschule) is like preschool. The preparation for “big school” increases but children are still not expected to undertake any academic lessons. This only begins once they start primary school. At kindergarten, all educational activity is managed through play, such as letter games and number fun.
Schulhort isn’t offered everywhere but the school normally organizes it. Much depends on the demand in the area and the available facilities, so the quality of the provision varies.
The school day usually finishes at 13:00-14:00 so the schulhort fills the gap between this and parents finishing work, usually 17:00 at the latest. Activities are not strictly educational but include crafting, sports, karate, music and board games. Snacks are not always supplied so you may need to send your child with their own food to eat during schulhort to stop them from getting hungry!
Factors to Consider
When you’re choosing the kindergarten, kita or other setting for your child to attend, there are many factors to consider such as:
- Number of children in the setting
Age of the children
- Any placements needed for siblings
- Required hours per week
- Opening hours
- The cost
- Ratio of staff to children
- Outdoor activities offered
- Any specific needs your child may have, such as a disability
- Religion (some are affiliated to a particular religious group)
- Catering facilities available for lunches/snacks
- Typical daily schedule
- Is after-school care available?
Enrolment and Costs
Although it may sound like you can take your pick of a vast range of settings, enrolment isn’t as always as simple as it sounds.
Waiting lists can be extremely long; some parents put their name down before the baby is born. It’s a good idea to register with multiple krippe, because there’s a chance you won’t get in the one you want when the time comes. The ratio of demand to places available is very high, even though only a fraction of German parents use one.
Not all krippe allow you to register before the birth of the baby. To enroll, you’ll need to show proof of your identity and address, and you may need your baby’s birth certificate too.
There are no set fees for a krippe and depending on the setting; the cost can vary very significantly.
Waiting lists are common at a kita too, but not usually quite as long as a krippe. It’s still a good idea to enroll as early as possible. You’ll need proof of identity and your address and your child’s birth certificate.
A voucher known as a Kita Gutschein is available in some German states. This gives you money off the total cost. The lower your income, the greater the value of the voucher.
You won’t receive this voucher automatically. To receive it, you’ll need to apply to the Youth Welfare Office. When applying for the voucher, you’ll need to provide proof of ID, address, and child’s birth certificate. Where relevant, you’ll also need to prove you have the consent of both parents to proceed.
At the most popular kindergarten, you can expect a waiting list of several months. This means it’s not excessively long, but it’s still a good idea to plan ahead.
To enroll, you’ll need the same documentation as at a kita: proof of ID, proof of address, and child’s birth certificate.
The fees range between being completely free of charge to cost several hundred Euros per year. The price depends on the type of setting, how much you earn and where you live.
As your child’s school arranges these, you usually only need to express an interest. If there is an oversubscription at your school, you’ll be placed on a waiting list.
Fees depend on the services the schulhort provides and the number of hours. The school may be able to offer a reduction in the cost for low-income families.
Although in many cases it’s simply a case of first come, first served, there may be other factors that influence how quickly you are offered a place.
Other factors which the setting may consider:
- Religion – more important for settings aligned with a religion
Parental involvement – at settings run by the parents, the extent of your availability to help may influence the placement
- Age of your child – older children may receive priority treatment as it’s more important that they are properly prepared to start school
- Any additional needs or disabilities – childcare settings recognize that these families are often most in need of support
- Catchment area – although you can apply to any facility, preference may be given to children in the local area
- Siblings – if you already have a child at the setting, your chances of rapid acceptance are higher
- Single parents – some settings may give priority to single parents as the need for childcare may be greater
- Both parents working full-time – similarly to single parents, you may receive priority as your need for childcare is urgent
The hours you request – if these align more closely with the space available, you may jump the queue. Being flexible can help you achieve this.
There is no guarantee if any or all of these eligibility factors will be relevant in your particular setting, but it is a possibility. Early application certainly helps, but in some cases, other children may jump ahead of you in the queue.
Getting Ready to Start
Once your name has risen to the top of the waiting list, there are just a few more formalities to complete before your child starts.
The daycare setting may ask you for sight of your child’s medical records and proof that they have had their vaccinations. If they haven’t completed their vaccination schedule, the setting may not be willing for your child to start.
You will also need to sign a contract. This specifies the hours they will provide, the cost and details of what happens for holidays and sickness.
The setting should explain the process they will follow if your child has an accident or is poorly. You will need to ensure they have emergency contact telephone numbers where they can reach you.
Other Types of DayCare
As well as the conventional types of daycare and preschool, there are some other options open to parents in Germany:
These facilities are much less common but offer lots of benefits for your child, especially if you have arrived in Germany from another country. Staff are bilingual; this differs from most settings where it’s normally only German spoken. Some studies suggest that bilingual children outperform their peers in areas such as multitasking so it’s a very definite benefit!
Activities are broadly similar to a typical German setting, but with extra emphasis on learning about other cultures, their religions and their languages.
You should expect a lengthy waiting list for international daycare, so it’s a good idea to add your name as soon as possible.
Nannies and au pairs
This can be a very convenient option for parents as it provides the ability to negotiate the exact hours you need, unlike a standard daycare setting. Nannies and au pairs often live in your home, but may also live out and just visit for work. Regardless of whether they live with you or not, you shouldn’t expect them to work more than 40 hours per week.
Your children are taken care of in your home but the nanny or au pair will take them out for day trips. This may involve meeting up with other children and nannies which helps socialization.
The disadvantage is that nannies and au pairs don’t have to be formally qualified in childcare and frequently aren’t. The German Youth Welfare Office must still approve them for work.
Kindertagespflege (home daycare)
Childminders provide Kindertagespflege, a type of daycare facility in their own home. They normally look after around four children at a time, and amenities on offer can vary significantly.
Like nannies and au pairs, childminders do not need formal qualifications but must have the green light fro the German Youth Welfare Office.