Part of our Expat “How To” Guides for Germany
By Erin “ebe” Porter
I had never given much thought to the particulars of having a child until I was already pregnant. And then it was all having a baby in Germany articles and abject terror. But the baby arrived and there were even more questions. How do I work full-time with an infant? Can two English-speakers in Germany have a bilingual baby? And why is everyone asking me if I have applied to Krippe (baby pre-school)?
Turns out, Germany is full of options for parents. Whether you are looking for childcare for work reasons, better integration or socialization, Germany has you covered. I have found that KiTas are not the daycare centers of my youth in America; they are the building blocks for their entire education. There are lessons on discipline (despite what their adult counterparts do, German children are taught to stand in line and say please), language (many schools engage in some level of bilingualism), sports (I’ve seen classes in jujitsu for 4-year-olds) and more. That said, there is a lot to know on how to enroll your child in daycare in Germany.
Options and Terms for Daycare in Germany
I mentioned Krippe (literally translates as “crib”) because that pertains to my case of looking for childcare for a baby. Other options:
- KiTa (short for Kindertagesstätte) – Nursery/daycare that is a step-up from Krippe, this option covers children age 3 to 5 (or 6) when they enter formal education at an elementary school (Grundschule). In large cities you can often find international and bilingual KiTas with qualified Erzieher/innen (educators).
- Tagesmutter – Childminder that takes care of a small group of children in their own home. Note that a Tagesmutter can only take children up until age 3 when they must transfer to KiTa.
- Hort or Schulhort – Provides after-school daycare for elementary school pupils.
How soon should you look for a KiTa space?
As I talked about on the German Way Expat Blog, I was quite late in looking for a spot for my baby. In cities like Berlin where competition for spots can be fierce, moms are looking while the baby is still cruising around in their belly. In general, spots open up in the fall so you should be looking for one the spring before your baby is to enter daycare.
However, all is not lost if you are late to the game. While there are horror stories about being number 50 on the waiting list, wait lists can move very quickly and there are less harrowing stories of getting into the first KiTa you apply to. Be knowledgeable, be flexible and get that kid in school.
How to find a daycare facility in Germany
The local Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt) is an excellent resource for finding available daycares or Tagesmütter (tutor “moms”) The site, Kita.de, is also a helpful resource to find daycares near you.
As convenience is one of the most important factors, keep your eyes open when walking around your neighborhood. KiTas are often tucked into every corner and you can find a space by simply going in and asking. Always try word of mouth, getting personal reviews from parents in your area. Another resource is the German Way Expat Forum where you can share tips and questions.
Once you have found a location, investigate what they offer. A few things to consider:
- Location – Traipsing halfway across the city negates the usefulness of daycare.
- Child-to-Minder ratio – My Krippe group has four Erzieherinnen for 18 babies with a floating English teacher. The babes can still be a handful. Make sure that you are comfortable with the ratio.
- Language – Many KiTas now offer at least a part-time English teacher. Some schools offer full day bilingualism in English, French, Spanish, etc. If this is important to you, it may be worth foregoing convenience.
- Outdoor Space – Is there a playground attached? How much time is dedicated to outdoor play a day? Are there field trips?
- Opening Hours – Do their pick-up and drop-off times work for your schedule?
- Food – Does your child have special dietary needs? Most places are happy to accommodate, but if you are fervent about organic goods you will have less trouble perusing a space in a KiTa that holds your views.
Apply for a Spot at the KiTa
It is a bit tricky to decide whether you should first apply for the spot in the KiTa, or the KiTa Gutschein (KiTa voucher) in places where the Gutschein is available. Some parents have reported that they have trouble finding childcare without the Gutschein, or without a full-time Gutschein (7-9 hours or 9 hours + – more on that later). Feel free to experiment, or just get the Gutschein first (if applicable).
Once you have narrowed down where you’d like to apply, visit the schools during their Sprechzeiten (consulting hours). There is a tour of the school, a chance to meet the staff and a time to ask questions. If you are applying outside of these times, you should also be able to arrange a showing of the school if there is an opening.
Once they have confirmed they have a spot for you, you go in and sign a contract where they outline when the child starts, protocol for sick days, holidays, schedule and more.
Preparing Your Child For KiTa
Once we got the Krippe spot and KiTa Gutschein, I thought we were finally good to go. Not so fast! There are still several things you must and can do to adequately prepare your child to start their baby school.
In brief, this includes adjusting your schedule to match the daycare center, buying the appropriate clothing (German babies can never have on too many clothes) and clearing your own schedule to make time for the Eingewöhnung. I cover this in my post, “Preparing your Child for Preschool in Germany”.
Roughly translating to an acclimation period, this schedule is dictated by each individual KiTa but generally means starting off slow. Very slow. Like just 15 minutes a day at first slow.
On our first day of KiTa, my husband and I accompanied our daughter to Krippe and went over their schedule, her schedule, and what was expected. After our meeting we brought our baby into the group to play for 15 minutes as we sat quietly in the background. The next day was more of the same, with just me staying the 15 minutes before we left for the day. The next day I stayed while she played for 15 minutes, then left the room for 10 minutes. The next day I left for 20 minutes. The next step was just dropping her off with a brusque goodbye for 30 minutes. This is supposed to have us integrated within two weeks. We’ll see. We’ve currently been waylaid by a nasty cold and Teamtage (staff team days with no kids).
I have faith that the system will work and my child will be better off for being enrolled in daycare in Germany. We just have to survive the Eingewöhnung.
If you are wondering how you can pay for all this, continue to: How much does daycare in Germany cost?.
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Expat How To Guides for Germany – Our main “How To” menu
- How Much Does Daycare in Germany Cost? – Part 2 of this how-to guide
- Living in Germany – For expats living and working (or studying) in German-speaking Europe
- How to Apply to Krippe (Daycare) – Erin’s blog post on the topic.
- How to Shop for Groceries in Germany – A guide to shopping for groceries for Germany
- How to Get a German Residence Permit – A step-by-step guide on the process of obtaining an Aufenthaltstitel.
- Blog tag: “childcare”
ON THE WEB
- Kita.de is a helpful resource to find daycare near you.
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