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Kindergarten in Germany: Daycare options, enrollment & costs

Expatrio 2024-07-12
Smiling boy in a German kindergarten


Moving to a new country is always an exciting adventure, but bringing your family along makes it even more challenging. If you are not lucky enough to get a daycare place through your employer, you’re probably wondering how to find the best options for your child's care and education.

This guide is here to help you understand everything you need to know about childcare options in Germany. From the types of kindergarten (commonly referred to as “Kita” in German, which is short for Kindertagesstätte) available to the enrollment process and costs, we'll cover it all so you're well-prepared to make the best decisions for your child's transition to life in Germany.

Kindergarten age in Germany

In Germany, kindergartens typically serve children aged three to six years. Through play and structured activities, they prepare children for school by fostering social skills, independence, and basic educational concepts. German Kita curriculums emphasize play-based learning, with activities designed to develop language, mathematical understanding, creativity, and physical skills.

However, it is common for kindergartens, especially in larger cities, to accept younger children. Some kindergartens offer programs for infants as young as eight weeks old and toddlers as young as one year old. These programs are referred to as Krippen (nurseries) and provide care and early education for children under the age of three, focusing on the development of basic motor skills, social interaction, and early cognitive abilities. Caregivers in Krippen are specially trained to work with very young children and provide a nurturing and safe environment. As nurseries in Germany are often integrated into kindergartens, your child can move up to older groups when he or she is no longer a toddler without having to change the accustomed location.

The different types of kindergarten you can choose from

When deciding on a kindergarten for your child, it's helpful to understand the differences between public and private institutions at first.

Type of kindergarten Details
public kindergartens
  • funded and regulated by local municipalities
  • generally lower cost, mostly based on family income
  • state-guided curriculum focused on play-based learning and social interaction
  • may have waiting lists, especially for younger children
  • often larger class sizes than private facilities
  • primarily German language programs
private kindergartens
  • privately funded and run
  • higher fees compared to public kindergartens in Germany, which vary by institution
  • offering a variety of educational philosophies and teaching methods (e.g. Montessori, bilingual)
  • usually more likely to have spots available for younger children than public Kitas
  • smaller class sizes
church-run kindergartens
  • operated by religious organizations, primarily Catholic or Protestant churches
  • fees differ, can be comparable to private kindergartens
  • incorporate religious education into their programs

Once you've decided between public, private or church-affiliated options, there are various specialized types of kindergartens to consider, each with its unique approach to early childhood education.

Bilingual kindergartens

  • aim to teach children in two languages, typically German and another language (such as English, French, or Spanish)
  • can be either public or private, with private bilingual kindergartens often having higher fees
  • focuses on immersive language learning, promoting fluency in both languages through daily activities and interactions

Waldorf kindergartens

  • based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, emphasizing holistic development and creative learning
  • usually private with varying fees, though some public Waldorf kindergartens exist
  • centers on arts, music, nature, and imagination, with a structured yet flexible routine to foster emotional and intellectual growth

Montessori kindergartens

  • follows the principles of Maria Montessori, focusing on child-led learning and individual development
  • typically private, with fees that reflect the specialized nature of the program
  • encourages independence and self-directed learning, with mixed-age classrooms and specially designed educational materials

Forest kindergartens (Waldkindergarten)

  • emphasize outdoor education, where children spend the majority of their time in natural settings regardless of weather
  • can be public or private, with costs varying based on the level of facilities and resources provided
  • focuses on environmental education, physical activity, and experiential learning through nature exploration

Integrative kindergartens (Integrative Kitas)

  • cater to both children with and without special needs, promoting an inclusive environment
  • can be either public or private, with costs varying accordingly
  • focuses on individualized support, inclusive activities, and fostering understanding and acceptance among all children
  • equipped with specialized staff and resources to meet the diverse needs of all children

Parent-initiated daycares (Elterninitiativen)

  • run by groups of parents who take an active role in the management and operation of the kindergarten
  • typically private, with fees varying based on the level of parental involvement and additional resources
  • often tailored to the specific educational philosophies and preferences of the parents involved, providing a high degree of customization and community involvement

Tagesmutter as an alternative daycare for children

A flexible and popular alternative to kindergarten in Germany is a Tagesmutter or Tagesvater (childminders), who provides care in a family-like environment, often in their own homes. This type of daycare is available for children of various ages, typically from infants to toddlers aged 3, although care for older children is also available in some cases. Tagesmutter services are particularly appealing to families seeking personalized, home-based childcare with more flexibility, smaller groups and personalized attention compared to group care settings.

In numerous areas in Germany, kindergarten slots are in high demand and can be tough to get. As a result, many parents choose to use childminders as an alternative or interim solution until a spot in a Kita becomes available.

Is kindergarten mandatory in Germany?

No, attendance is voluntary, and it typically serves children aged 3 to 6. However, the German government highly encourages early childhood education, and many parents choose to apply for kindergarten to prepare their kids for primary school. The year before starting school, children often attend a "Vorschule" or preschool program within the kindergarten to help them get used to it. Vorschule aims to make the transition to school life easier by helping them develop social, cognitive, and fine motor skills through activities that include basic literacy and numeracy, as well as structured play.

Is childcare free in Germany?

No, kindergarten in Germany is not entirely free, but the costs are subsidized and can vary widely depending on several factors, such as the Bundesland (federal state) you live in, the type of childcare facility, and your family’s income.

  • Each federal state in Germany has its own set of rules and subsidies for childcare. Some states offer free childcare for certain age groups. For instance, in Berlin, childcare is free for all kids from their first birthday until they start school (parents just have to pay for meals). In other states, only the last year before school might be free.
  • Costs can differ between public, private, and church-run Kitas. Public Kitas tend to be more affordable due to state subsidies, while private Kitas can be more expensive as they may offer additional services and facilities.
  • Many states and municipalities calculate fees based on the parents' income. This means that higher-earning families may pay more, while lower-earning families may pay significantly less or nothing at all. This sliding scale ensures that childcare is accessible to families from different economic backgrounds.
  • Beyond the basic fees, there might be additional costs for meals, excursions, special activities, and extended hours.

To give you an idea, monthly fees for a full-time place in a public Kita might range from €100 to €400, depending on the aforementioned factors. Private Kitas can cost considerably more, sometimes upwards of €1,000 per month. However, the exact amount you will pay depends on your location, income, and specific Kita.

Financial help with childcare costs in Germany

The German government offers a range of financial support options to help families manage the cost of childcare in Germany:

  • Kita-Gutschein / Kita-Geld / Familiengeld etc.
    There are different ways to get financial help for childcare. If you're looking for support, your local Jugendamt (youth welfare office) can help you find out what's available in your federal state.
  • Child benefit (Kindergeld)
    All parents in Germany are eligible for child benefit, which helps cover general child-rearing costs. As of 2024, the monthly Kindergeld is €250 per child.
  • Childcare allowance (Betreuungsgeld)
    Some states offer this allowance to parents who don't use public childcare services, giving them extra financial support.
  • Tax deductions
    Parents can claim a portion of childcare costs as tax-deductible expenses, which can help reduce the overall financial burden.

How do I find a kindergarten in Germany?

Due to the high demand for Kita places, it’s important to start the registration process as early as possible. Many parents begin the process shortly after their child is born or even during pregnancy. So, expect that your family will most likely be on a waiting list. As already mentioned, you can have the child looked after by a childminder in the meantime.

Begin by researching the different Kitas in your area. Consider factors such as location, opening hours, educational philosophy, and facilities. You can find information on municipal websites, through local parents' networks, or by visiting Kitas in person. By the way: the local Jugendamt can provide information, support, and sometimes financial assistance to families seeking childcare.

How to apply for kindergarten in Germany?

If you're planning to move to Germany and need to find a kindergarten for your child, start by researching the different types of kindergartens in your area. Primarily think about what is most important to you, such as teaching style, and language programs. Schedule visits to see the facilities of local kindergartens, meet the staff, and ask questions about programs, class sizes, and fees.

Because of high demand, it’s common for families to apply to several Kitas to increase their chances of getting a place. Many German cities and municipalities offer online registration portals where you can apply for multiple childcare institutions at once. Here are a few examples of platforms where you can enroll your child:

  • Kita-Navigator: used in various cities like Düsseldorf, Köln, and Bonn (just google the term “Kita-Navigator”)
  • Little Bird: common in cities such as Leipzig, Freiburg, and Darmstadt
  • Kivan: a system used in Dresden and other municipalities
  • WebKITA: available in cities like Munich and other regions
  • myKitaVM: implemented in regions like Frankfurt am Main and others

Submit your application using the method of your choice (online portal or direct submission). Make sure you include all the necessary documents and check for any extra forms or information the Kita might need. These are usually:

  • personal information about the child (name, date of birth)
  • parents' information (names, address, contact details)
  • desired start date and preferred care schedule (full-time, part-time)
  • any special needs or requirements (e.g. allergies, special educational needs)

If your child is offered a place, you'll get an acceptance letter or a call. Next, you'll need to sign a contract that outlines the terms of care, including fees, hours, and other relevant policies. Once a place is secured, most Kitas have a transition period where your child gradually gets used to the new environment. This might involve shorter initial visits that gradually extend to full days. Orientation sessions for parents and kids help make sure everything goes smoothly from the start.

What does the typical daycare routine look like?

German Kitas typically offer flexible hours to accommodate the needs of working parents. Most Kitas are open from early morning, around 7:00 or 8:00 AM, until late afternoon, around 4:00 to 5:00 PM. Some Kitas offer extended hours to support parents with longer workdays, staying open until 6:00 or even 7:00 PM. Additionally, many Kitas provide part-time care options, such as mornings only or specific days of the week, which can be a good fit for families with flexible schedules.

A typical day in a German kindergarten is designed to provide a balanced mix of free play, structured activities, meals, and rest periods. Kids usually show up between 7:00 and 9:00 AM. During this time, they get to engage in free play, which allows them to choose activities that interest them and interact with their peers. Many Kitas start the day with a morning circle where the kids and educators get together to say hello, sing songs, and talk about what they're going to do that day. This helps kids feel like they're part of the community and sets the tone for the day.

Structured activities include arts and crafts, music, storytelling, and educational games that promote language, math, and social skills. When the weather is nice, the kids spend a lot of time outside in the morning. There's usually a rest period, too. Younger children might take a nap, while the older ones read or do puzzles.

The afternoon might include more structured activities, free play, or special programs like music or sports. The end of the day often includes winding down activities and preparing for departure.

Do kindergartens in Germany give food?

Kitas usually provide meals and snacks, which are included in the care fees. Typically, there's a mid-morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack. The meals are often healthy and made to suit the needs of young children.

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