If you want to enroll your child in childcare in Switzerland, here’s a guide to childcare options in Switzerland and what to expect from Swiss childcare.
Childcare in Switzerland is notoriously expensive compared to other western European countries, topping the rank of an OECD report as the most expensive country for gross childcare costs. Full-time childcare costs were estimated at around two-thirds of an average Swiss salary, which can be reduced to around 30 percent of income using Swiss child benefits and tax breaks. However, to reduce Swiss childcare costs further, in 2017 government plans were approved to set aside an additional CHF 96.8 million over the next five years to go towards subsidies for nurseries and other extra childcare services.
Overview of childcare in Switzerland
Children in Switzerland begin compulsory formal education at the age of six but usually have two years of nursery school before then. Almost 100 percent of children attend pre-school for one year and approximately 86 percent attend for two years.
In addition to nursery schools there are alternative childcare options available such as crèches and home day care.
Switzerland is a federal system and education is managed by the 26 cantons. This means that there are regional differences in education as with many other aspects of Swiss life. Attendance at pre-school is compulsory in 15 cantons and voluntary in the remaining 11. However, in almost all cantons the municipalities are bound by law to offer at least one year of pre-school education. Kindergarten is free in all cantons however.
The French, Italian and German traditions have led to differences in approaches. The ecole enfantine in French-speaking parts and the scuola dell’Infanzia in Italian areas are closer to primary school than the kindergartens of German-speaking regions.
As an example, children may start pre-school at different ages, depending on the canton. Currently a child whose birthday falls in May might be allowed to start pre-school in one region but in another would have to wait until the following year.
The Swiss government believes that greater standardisation will benefit the educational system and is seeking to introduce some changes. These include having one date cut-off throughout the country to determine at what age children can start nursery school.
Nursery school in Switzerland
Children can start to attend nursery school from between the ages of 4 and 4 years 9 months. The pre-school enrolment age is set by the relevant canton. Generally parents must apply in writing to a kindergarten, sending the application to the district school board.
Opening times vary according the canton and the school. Most are open during the mornings (mostly 8:35am–12:00pm), with some also open some afternoons (mostly 1:35pm–3:30pm). Occasionally all-days schools are also available.
The nursery schools’ curriculum is set by the canton and the aim is to nurture the child’s independence, social, psychometric and cognitive development and also to prepare children for the transition to primary school. Kindergartens can provide courses in German for children who do not speak it as their first language.
A child’s performance is not assessed at the nursery school and there are no selection criteria. Class sizes can be up to 21 students and often the nurseries are attached to a primary school and when the time comes children move fairly seamlessly into formal education.
Some of the cantons operate a system of ‘Joker days’, which allow parents to take their children out of school for two days per year, provided the school receives 14 days notice.
Many cantons encourage or expect active parental participation, which can take several forms:
- Supporting school events (sports days, school festivals etc.);
- Helping with school activities (kiosks, websites, school security);
- Promoting parent education (nutrition, drug and violence prevention, handling new media);
- Supporting the inclusion of foreign families.
Crèches in Switzerland
There are widespread facilities available in Switzerland for very young children and crèches will take children from 0–4 years of age. Their main function is to facilitate parents who are working and so they are often open from 7:00am to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday.
Parents can enroll children by approaching the crèche directly. Places are often in great demand so that waiting lists are commonplace. This means that it is never too early to approach the centre, preferably during the pregnancy. However crèches will generally prioritise children who are living in the commune so if you are local your chances of a place will be better.
A slightly different system of family crèches also exists, where children are cared for during part of the week at the home of the family crèche worker, who is employed by the crèche and authorised by the Department of Youth Protection. Part of the time is then also spent at the centre as well as the person’s home.
Additional daycare options in Switzerland
Day care families
Another option that is offered in some cantons are foster families for children aged 2 months to 12 years – effectively child-minding mothers or fathers. These are authorized by the Department of Youth (Service de la Jeunesse) and known as host families (familles d’accueil).
Child daycare at home
Parents needing short-term daycare can avail of child-minding services at the parent’s home for as little as 2 hours at a time. Longer-term daycare is also available for periods of up to 1 year.
How to prepare your child for their first day at kindergarten
Make a big fuss about the upcoming start day. Take them to the building to see where the school is and let them peek in the windows. You can talk about how your child is getting older and is a big kid now. Most importantly, be positive.
The first day can be overwhelming for both parent and child. Here are some tips on how to manage it:
- Start off with a good breakfast.
- Remind the child about how exciting it is to go to school (that they have visited, etc).
- Perhaps offer a present at the end of the day for good behavior.
- If your child is potty-trained, make sure to show them the bathroom and explain who will take them while you are away.
- Reassure them that you will be there to collect them at the end of the playtime.
- Expect to leave at 9:00am regardless of how your child is reacting – the teachers are trained to help kids settle in.
- Allow time on the first day to meet with the teachers to go over specific needs (dummy, favorite toy, toilet-training information, etc).
- Label clothing and bags with your child’s name
- Take a fruit or snack along – some provide snacks and some don’t
- Take along a pair of soft indoor shoes for your child
- Come prepared with emergency and doctor contact information (you will complete a form on your first day)