If you intend to settle in Germany with your children, their education will definitely be one of your main concerns, especially if you are going to work. To whom should you entrust your children during your working hours and when you have to go out? Note that working parents can choose from various childcare services such as nurseries, kindergartens, child minding services, etc. You can enquire about these with your friends and colleagues, or with the closest local administration office to your place of residence.
Bear in mind that your choice will largely depend on your child's age and your financial means.
Good to know:
In Germany you’ll receive financial state support for generally one year (Elternjahr), depending on the previous year’s salary. Additionally both parents are eligible to take unpaid leave (Elternzeit) until the child’s third year of age. However most parents take a one-year leave and then use childcare.
Especially in eastern Germany, childcare is traditionally very affordable and well covered since mothers have always worked full time. In the western parts it tends to be rather difficult to arrange childcare full time, especially for the younger kids, since the majority of mothers work reduced hours.
Pre-schools in Germany
Pre-schools operate under the aegis of the Ministry of Family.
Generally, children stay with a private Tagesmutter (child minder) or attend Kindergrippe (day nursery) from one year of age. They are often attached to a Kindergarten or KiTa for children from 3 to 6 years. These schools are managed either by charitable organizations, Verbände der Freie Wohlfahrtspflege, churches or local authorities. However, parents are required to make a financial contribution according to their monthly income. State supported facilities are limited and depending on your region may be difficult to get. Therefore most parents start applying early, right after birth or even during pregnancy.
Note that pre-school education is not compulsory in Germany. In some regions, children are enrolled in pre-school when they are 5 years old so that they can have preparatory courses before joining primary school.
Some kindergartens are even open to 11 or 12 year old children after school hours (Hort) to help working parents.
Parents are advised to register their child on the waiting list well in advance, as places are limited. Note that the registration process takes place only once a year.
Most pre-schools operate half-day, usually in the morning, but you can still find full time schools. In Berlin, for instance, private nursery schools offer flexible hours so as to meet the needs of working parents. Some schools such as Waldorf and Montessori childcare centres follow specific pedagogical principles and programmes.
Good to know:
Primary schools offer free educational materials. Some of them lend them to children. However, parents may be asked to contribute to the cost of educating their children according to their income.
German education system
The German education system is governed by the Ministry of Education and Research, that is the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung. Schooling in Germany generally starts at the age of 6 until at least 15 years of age. But it usually varies depending on the region and which level of education you choose:
Grundschule from age 7 to approx. 11 years. Some schools may offer childcare after school (Hort).
From the age of 11 on, children are streamed into different levels of schooling depending on their abilities to Förderschule, Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium (A-levels) – with the majority opting for Gymnasium.
Moreover, public education is free of charge, but you can still find many international and private schools.
Enrolling your child in a German school
You will have to visit the nearest municipality to your place of residence before enrolling your child in a pre-primary school. Officers will first assess your residential address, financial, family and social situation so as to determine which school will best suit your child. A written confirmation will then be issued by the local Youth office (Jugendamt), including the details of your child's care as well as the contribution you are expected to make according to your financial means.
Childminders and nannies
If you prefer to entrust your child to a childminder, the latter should be recommended by the local Youth office (Jugendamt). In general, German childminders are professionals having all the necessary qualifications and skills. Note that childminding costs less than kindergartens and nurseries.
You can also hire a nanny or an "au pair" to look after your child for a few hours on a regular basis or in the afternoons. Nannies and "au pairs" can be found through word-of-mouth, on the Internet, or through specialized agencies. These are generally paid per hour.
Ministry of Education and Research www.bmbf.de
Department of Family www.bmfsfj.de
Berlin Senate – Find child care www.berlin.de
List of preschools in Germany www.kinder-kalender.de
Tagesmutter Infoportal http://www.tagesmutter.net/