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Education in Germany
Daycare for Infants and Toddlers
Today, kindergartens in Germany are an integral, yet voluntary, part of the education system: Over 80% of all children between three and six years attend a kindergarten in Germany. The state supports parents with monetary incentives, such as tax reductions and child allowance (Kindergeld).
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Since most German kindergartens only accept children aged from three to six, parents with younger children often make use one of several daycare alternatives. First of all, some companies offer day nurseries and kindergartens for the toddlers and pre-school kids of their employees. If you are lucky, your employer may be among them. However, company-sponsored childcare (Betriebskindergarten) is rather rare. So, both private and public crèches or nurseries, which offer all-day care for children under the age of three in mixed age groups, are the place to go.
Unfortunately, such nurseries may be more common than a Betriebskindergarten, especially in larger cities, but they are still much sought-after and not exactly cheap. For example, a place in a public nursery supervised by the municipal authorities – usually the cheaper option – can cost more than 400€ per month. Therefore it doesn’t come as a big surprise that some German parents start looking for suitable (and available) crèches and kindergartens before their child is born.
If you do find a nursery for your child, though, you probably want to examine it carefully. Here are a few points to take into account:
- Which educational principles do the staff members base their childcare on?
- How do they treat the children?
- How do they help the kids to get accommodated to their new environment?
- What exactly does the nursery offer in the way of childcare? How does it foster your child’s mental, emotional, and social development?
- What do the rooms look like? Are they friendly, pleasant, and childproof?
- Does the staff make efforts to include the parents? Do they provide regular updates on your child?
When they can’t find a suitable nursery, German parents make use of a Tagesmutter (nanny) as well. This is a private individual (in most cases, a woman) who looks after other people’s children in her own home during normal working hours. Any Tagesmutter who offers childcare for more than 15 hours a week and over three months in a row needs an official license from the youth welfare office (Jugendamt). The requirements for obtaining this license are:
- a clean health record
- certificates of good conduct for all adults living in the nanny’s household
- a certificate for attending some pedagogical training
- a first-aid class for kids
If you need a nanny for your child, the local youth welfare office is always the first place to ask. Moreover, charitable organizations such as the Caritas may be able to help you out. On the Internet, you can browse online portals such as Tagesmutter.net. Last but not least, classified ads, bulletin boards at supermarkets and pediatricians in your neighborhood, and word-of-mouth recommendations among coworkers, friends, acquaintances, fellow expats, and other parents are worth exploring.
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Daycare for Preschool Kids
As we have mentioned above, attending a kindergarten is entirely voluntary in Germany. Kindergartens are usually run by the city, town or village itself, by private initiatives or non-profit organizations (quite a few religious associations among them); but they all have to adhere to certain standards set by the state. In contrast to an average nursery, many kindergartens only offer childcare for two or three hours in the morning and another three hours in the afternoon. Institutions with all-day care programs for children from age three to six are the exception rather than the norm, and generally tend to be pricier.
In bigger cities, private initiatives or international schools may offer bilingual preschools. Teaching skills usually taught in first grade, such as reading, spelling, or counting, is not allowed in kindergarten. The focus is entirely on the kids’ social, creative, and physical skills. They draw, paint, sing, play with toys, make excursions to the park or zoo, etc.
When looking for a kindergarten, these are some points to consider:
- Where is the kindergarten located? Is it a quiet and safe neighborhood?
- Does it have a spacious and well-maintained playground?
- Which qualifications do individual staff members have? Do they seem friendly, open, and committed to children’s welfare? How do they treat the kids, their parents as well as each other?
- Does the kindergarten have a special pedagogical or religious focus? Do you agree with it?
- What is the daily schedule for the children? Which activities can they participate in?
- How do the rooms look like? Are they comfortable and child-proof?
Finding the right kindergarten may take some time, but it is indeed of major importance for your child’s development and general well-being.