The school system in Belgium begins at the age of six when children, other than the few whose parents have chosen to home educate, begin life at primary school. Pre-schools (kleuteronderwijs/enseignement maternelle), however can be attended by children from the age of two-and-a-half with approximately 90 per cent of children attending pre-schools during their formative years. Pre-schooling is the preferred choice of many parents due to the expensive costs of private crèches.
Pre-schools are essentially there to prepare a child for the education system, introducing them gently to the structure of schooling in a fun and enjoyable way. The education system and schools in Belgium fall under the governance of the Dutch-speaking (Flanders and Brussels), French-speaking (Wallonia and Brussels) and German-speaking regions or communities. However, pre-schools operate independently of the department of education.
The school year begins on September 1st (or the first working day) each year for preschool, primary and secondary education. The year officially ends of June 30th before summer holidays begin. Like other countries, there are regular holiday periods throughout each school year.
Classes in pre-schools or kindergartens will tend to be divided into age groups with two-and-a-half and three-year-olds paired together, and four and five-year-olds in classes of their own.
How to enroll
The vast majority of pre-schools are connected to primary schools, although some are stand alone schools. It may well be that you want your children to attend a pre-school from which they will graduate to the primary school at the age of six. There is a vast array of pre-schools in Belgium, a list of which can be found here (http://www.ezilon.com/regional/belgium/education/kindergarten_and_primary_schools/index.shtml), and registration is fairly simple. Enrollment is made with the school of choice, although a place is not always guaranteed for each individual child - places at certain schools are at a premium. Intake is typically on a first-come first-serve basis with waiting lists common.
To enroll you will need a birth certificate or passport to identify your child and will be required to complete forms with contact details, medical history and any residency related information if applicable. Schools may also ask for information on vaccinations.
Pre-schools in Belgium will tend to start between 8.20am or 9am with classes running through to 3.30 pm or 4 pm. Preschools and primary schools tend to finish at lunchtime on a Wednesday. However, similar to some other countries, the majority of school will open early – from as early as 7.30am – and look after children until 6pm for an additional charge. Class sizes are generally limited to around 20 children.
The idea of kindergartens is simply to ease children into school life. Typical days involve directed play time with teachers and helpers, free play time, songs, drawing and observational activities and puzzles aimed to aided development from an early age. Assessments will be made on progress during each year by supervisors and teachers to measure progress with set targets expected to be reached. For example, children should learn colours by the end of their first year in pre-school, and reading, writing and numbers by the time they leave to begin their primary education.
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