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Childcare in China

The big expat hotspots in China usually offer various childcare options to expat families, but the competition for a place at a good childcare center is fierce. In this article we cover the different types of available childcare and tell you what to keep in mind.
Both with an ayi and at a kindergarten, your kid will be very well taken care of.

Finding the right type of childcare in China can be challenging for expats, as they have to navigate social expectations while figuring out what options they have in the first place. Moreover, some childcare facilities might charge tuition or could be rather rigid in terms of admission requirements, and choosing a nanny can be tricky if you don’t know what to look out for. We have put together some advice for parents and parents-to-be concerning childcare options in China.

From Ayis to Preschools: What’s Best for Your Child?

There are many different types of childcare and pre-school education available in China. Childcare centers can be run by education departments, enterprises, sub-district offices, and individuals. They usually offer three-year programs for children. In addition, there are various childcare options for children under the age of three. As some childcare centers are very popular, you should think about this early on, maybe even before giving birth.

Nannies (Ayis)

Many families choose to hire an ayi (literally “auntie”) to take care of their children. This is a particularly good choice for expats who live in rural areas with fewer childcare options, or who have a hard time getting their child admitted to a childcare center or kindergarten. An ayi can also help with the household on a part-time basis or as live-in help.

If you’re thinking about hiring an ayi, make sure to get a referral or recommendation from a colleague or a friend. Keep in mind that references alone are not enough. Make sure to talk to their last employer and ask detailed questions. You should also ask to see their ID and maybe run a background check on them. With a few security measures, you can be sure that your ayi will be a true help in your everyday life.

Pre-Primary Education

Pre-primary education is available for children from the age of two onwards. It serves two functions: early education and childcare. The various institutions offering pre-primary education aim to foster children’s intellectual, physical, artistic, and moral development. Unfortunately, daycare opportunities vary between rural and urban areas.

Most kindergartens in China are split into different grades, such as nursery (for the 2-3 year olds), lower kindergarten (for the 3-4 year olds), upper kindergarten (for the 4-5 year olds), and pre-school (for the 5-6 year olds). In the big expat centers you will have no problem finding an international or bilingual kindergarten for your child. Some of them will gladly admit children who are under two years old. They may also be more relaxed and liberal than Western kindergartens.

Things to Consider

You should keep some things in mind before enrolling your child at a pre-school. First of all, there is virtually no free childcare available in China. Every childcare center you visit will charge tuition. In some cases, if the center has a very good reputation, this fee can be rather high, in other cases, if the center is run by your own employer for instance, it can be on the lower end. The difference can be quite significant and you should keep an eye on your overall cost of living in China before sending your toddler to the best pre-school in town. Moreover, some childcare facilities might charge an additional fee for foreigners.

Childcare in China is considered an essential part of a child’s overall education. Thus, kindergartens and pre-schools already offer various educational and training classes which are designed to give the little ones a head start and prepare them for a successful academic future. For some children, the pressure is just a little too much though.

We have talked about the pressure of the Chinese Education System at length before, but this pressure and competition for a place at a good school can also be found in childcare. The Chinese are ready to invest a lot of money in their child’s education, which is why spots in popular pre-schools fill up quickly. Thus, even if you do have the money to afford a kindergarten with a very good reputation, you should make sure to enroll your child as early as possible.

Different Lands, Different Customs

Just like the work load, the teaching methods are very different in Chinese kindergartens. Teachers are a lot stricter and discipline is highly valued (more so than creative expression). Particularly parents from Western countries may be shocked by this or even perceive these methods as cruel. It makes sense to communicate with the school beforehand, learn all about their teaching methods and let them know what is acceptable to you and what is not. If you are worried that your child might not adjust well to the new situation, trying to find a kindergarten that does not follow a typical Chinese teaching style might go a long way.

In China, it is customary to use “elimination communication” to watch for children’s cues that they have to use the bathroom. This is why it is rather rare to see two-year-olds still wearing a diaper. If your toddler is not potty trained yet, you should talk to their pre-school teacher about it, to make sure they are aware of the issue.


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