About two weeks ago I found myself sitting in a school office with my husband and 4-month-old in her most respectable onesie. We were applying for a spot in next fall’s class and doing our best to look like an upstanding family they would want in their KiTa.
It is no secret that Berlin’s Kindertagesstätte (nursery in British, pre-school in American or KiTa for short) are booked up to capacity with new facilities opening all the time. It feels like every time I walk around the neighborhood there is a new KiTa or Kinderladen crammed into a tiny storefront. I heard other moms bemoan the lack of childcare in their area and pushed it to the back of my over-tired brain as that time seemed oh so far away. Until it wasn’t.
Suddenly it is spring and I realize other mothers are no longer complaining about which KiTa they can’t get in, but which schools have the shortest wait list. Wait list?! My little girl is still working on the art of rolling and I am supposed to be signing her up for classes already? I had heard about “crazy” moms signing up babies in utero and scoffed. I now knew I was the silly one.
I should know better. My husband works as an Erzieher at an international KiTa so there is no excuse for me not to know the jam. But the saying, “They grow up so fast!” has never felt more true than when I was sitting in front of an administrator with my tiny baby.
Part of the issue is that we weren’t sure where to send our American girl in Germany. A large part of the appeal in having a baby abroad is bilingualism and little lady certainly isn’t getting that at home with two native English-speakers. I wanted to send her somewhere we had an in, somewhere I knew the staff. Namely, my husband’s KiTa. He understandably thought a true German KiTa (not international) would be a better fit. The argument was decided for us when I finally filled out the online application for his Kita and was promptly wait listed. Wait listed. From his own KiTa! It appears the best KiTas are harder to get into than Berghain (a world-famous Berlin club with an infamous door policy).
If you child is wait listed, I was assured in our brief period in limbo that the line goes quickly. Smarter parents than I are hip to the difficulty in getting into the right school and apply everywhere. It is not uncommon to be told your child is number 100, only to find you’re in a few days later.
Luckily for us, a partner KiTa was able to take our little outcast and that is how we found ourselves sitting in a charming administrator’s office trying to cover my daughter’s excessive drool. After the fluster of simply trying to get in, I had no idea what to ask. We took in the vast amount of information about the school itself, the programs and the costs and left with an immense feeling of relief. However, it did not take long to realize there were many really rudimentary questions we hadn’t thought to ask. In case you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some sample questions I should have asked and am now following up on.
- What kind of Eingewöhnungszeit (acclimatization) is expected?
- Opening/closing hours? What is the policy for picking up early or arriving late?
- What are class sizes? Ratio of Erzieher(in)?
- Is there a bilingual program? Is there a native English-speaker? Are they there all day, or only partial?
- Are snacks supplied or do parents supply? Is that an additional fee?
- Are there axillary programs like sports and music? Is there a fee?
- How long is Sommerschließzeit? What is the schedule for closed days?
- If our child is sick or on vacation – do we let them know? Does it need to be in writing?
- What does she need to bring to the school? Diapers? Spare clothes? Surely she doesn’t need school supplies yet…right?
Anyone have advice for a naïve new mom? What other questions should I ask?