Home Living in Germany Family Daycare and preschool in Germany
Last update on June 11, 2019
Written by Danielle Richardson

A guide to preschool and daycare in Germany, from nurseries to kindergartens.

If you’re raising a kid as an expat in Germany, you’ll want to find out about the options for preschool and daycare in Germany. These range from structured kindergarten groups to smaller, privately run child-minding services.

In Germany every child has a legal right to attend kindergarten from the age of three until the age of six, when compulsory education begins.

Some kindergartens also accept children under the age of three in toddler groups. These are run by local authorities, religious organisations (generally protestant or Catholic churches) or by private associations.

This guide provided by International School on the Rhine covers the following topics:

International School on the Rhine

The International School on the Rhine is located in the Düsseldorf – Neuss – Cologne region. It offers an excellent international education through full-day schooling in a multilingual environment. ISR offers an outstanding academic program, individual support for students, and several extra-curricular activities through a non-selective, college-preparatory education system.

Childcare in Germany

As of 2013, every child in Germany has the legal right to childcare, and there are reportedly 790,000 children under the age of three attending a daycare facility.

As of 1 August 2018, Berlin’s regional government began phasing out fees for municipal childcare centres, including for children under the age of one. However, parents with children aged one to six still have to pay for food in daycare centres.

Costs for childcare in other regions vary.

There has recently been some questions raised about equality in German daycare – an OECD report found that only 13% of children under the age of three with an immigrant background attend daycare in Western Germany.

It is compulsory for children in Germany to spend at least nine years in education, and this starts from the age of six. Around 725,000 children started school in 2018/19.

You can find out more about the German school system in our guide to education in Germany.

Types of daycare/preschool in Germany

There are several types of care available for children in Germany:

  • Kinderkrippe (creche): designed for babies and children up to three-years-old. It is not free and costs may vary according to region.
  • Kindergarten: for children between three and six-years-old. It is not a part of the regular public school system and is not required, and is not usually free. Tuition is normally means-tested; those with lower incomes may pay less. Space is often limited and even though it’s not mandatory, the majority of three to six year olds attend them.
  • Kitas (Kindertagesstätte, children’s daycare center): after-school and sometimes pre-school activities for children. It’s for children up to age of 11 or 12-years-old. Fees apply, and they are a popular form of daycare in Germany.
  • Schulhort: after-school daycare for primary school pupils.

Kinderkrippe in Germany

What is kinderkrippe?

Kinderkrippe is a creche for very young children, usually between the ages of one to three.

Creches tend to be privately-run, and therefore you’ll usually need to pay to use them – though there may be a few services provided by local authorities and churches, depending on where you live.

 

The aim of kinderkrippe is to get your child used to socialising with other children from a young age.

As the children are so young, groups tend to be quite small to ensure each child is properly looked after.

The provision of pre-school childcare is supervised by the State Youth Welfare Office (“Landesjugendämter”) of the lander – or state.

What do children do at kinderkrippe?

Creches encourage children to engage in supervised play – socialising is the main aim here, so children learn to get along with others and develop their communication skills.

There will often be time playing outdoors, singing songs, reading picture books and perhaps learning to play simple musical instruments.

The group of children may be divided depending on stages of development – for example, babies who are crawling and those who can walk.

Hours tend to be quite flexible – many parents can fit the hours their child spends at a creche around their working day. A full day at the creche tends to last seven hours.

If you’re planning for your child to spend several hours at a creche, you should check to see any food is provided – some may provide snacks, but many don’t.

Daycare in Germany

Finding and choosing a kinderkrippe in Germany

For many years, the birth rate in Germany had fallen to a worringly low level, with the blame falling on the country’s lack of subsidised childcare services.

But now, a rule has been put in place that every child has a right to pre-school daycare from their first birthday. However, it can still be a struggle to find a place for your child.

Research was carried out a few years ago into how young children fared when their parents were not from Germany, concluding that migrant parents find it more difficult to find daycare for their children.

To look for local daycare services, check your area’s Youth Welfare Office (“Jugendamt”), and it’s also a good idea to ask friends, neighbours and work colleagues for recommendations.

When making your decision on where to apply, consider the creche’s location, the child-to-minder ratio, whether any staff speak English, what the opening hours are, whether food is provided and whether the facility has its own outdoor space.

How to enrol for kinderkrippe

Due to the high demand, you may find that you’ll have to put your child’s name down for a creche months before they’ll be old enough to actually attend, in the hope that they’ll be top of the waiting list by the time they turn one.

Many parents will sign up to several creches in case they can’t get in. In fact, it’s not unheard of for some parents to register their children for daycare before they’ve even been born.

You’ll need to make an appointment with the creche’s administrator to register yours and your child’s details.

You’ll need to provide documents to verify your identity and address, so it’s a good idea to take your passport or driving license, documentation showing your name and address, and (if your child has been born already) the baby’s birth certificate may also be necessary.

You should check what’s needed before you attend the appointment.

Costs of kinderkrippe in Germany

Costs for creche services can vary a lot – there isn’t really a ‘typical price’. It will depend on the area and whether the creche is state-funded or private.

In some cases, fees will change depending on how much you earn, as some services provide means-tested discounts for parents on low wages.

Kitas in Germany

What is a kita?

The term ‘kita’ is short for kindertagesstätte, and it’s a pre-school daycare service for children aged between three and five/six – depending on when their birthday is, children will move onto full-time primary school education while they’re six-years-old.

Sessions are supervised by qualified Erzieher/innen –educators. There should be a relatively low ratio of children to educators, ensuring each child receives a high level of attention and care.

The provision of pre-school childcare is supervised by the State Youth Welfare Office (“Landesjugendämter”) of the lander – or state.

Kitas - childcare in Germany

What do children do at a kita?

Kitas tend to have longer days than kindergarten, and are generally open from around 7am to 5pm or later – parents can usually negotiate which hours they want their child to attend with the kitas staff, but children are entitled to seven to nine hours of free care in a kita.

Many kitas will have an initial period called eingewöhnung, which is when children are gradually eased to spending time in daycare – this can mean just spending 15 minutes at a time apart from their parents at the start.

If your child will be spending several hours at a kita, you should check whether food is provided or if you’ll need to give your child snacks to have throughout the day. Some places will provide food, others won’t.

Much like kinderkrippe, children will be engaged in educational play, usually taking a step-up with more advanced games, and an introduction to learning about letters, numbers, values and good behaviour and movements through things like dance and games.

Children aren’t formally assessed on what they learn, but they should be constantly supervised by staff who will keep track of their progress.

Finding and choosing kitas in Germany

Places in kitas are highly sought-after, and – much like with kinderkrippe – parents will register their children way before they are old enough to attend, as many facilities have waiting lists.

It’s not unheard of to be placed 50th on a kita’s waiting list – but places usually move quickly, as many children will move onto primary school every year.

There tend to be more international and bilingual services in big cities – less so if you’re in a smaller town or a rural area.

Your area’s Youth Welfare Office will list nearby kitas, and the website kita.de (German site) also has a search function to help you find local services. It’s also worth asking friends and other people you know for recommendations.

Before signing up, you’ll probably want to consider whether the location is going to work for you, the child-to-minder ratio, whether any staff speak English, what the opening hours are, whether food is provided and whether there’s any outdoor space.

How to enrol for a kita

It’s best to put your child’s name down for a kita as soon as possible, as it’s likely there’ll be a waiting list that will delay when they can actually attend.

Once you’ve found a kita you want to apply for, you’ll usually be able to go on a tour of the facility, register yours and your child’s details, and you’ll be asked to sign a contract to confirm your place.

You’ll need to provide ID, proof of address and your child’s birth certificate.

It’s usually at this point that you’ll be taken through what happens if your child is ill, when the kita is closed for holidays etc.

Costs of kitas in Germany

The cost of kitas vary. In some states, you can apply for a Kita Gutschein – a kita voucher – which means you’ll get money off. How much you save depends on how much you earn; those with lower incomes will get more of a saving.

To apply, you’ll have to fill out a form (the Youth Welfare Office will have information on this).

You’ll need to provide ID, proof of address, proof of consent for you and your partner (if you have one) and your child’s birth certificate.

There may also be extra costs to pay for food and any trips the children are taken on.

Children can get more free hours at a kita if both parents work full-time.

Kindergarten in Germany

What is kindergarten?

An alternative to a kita, kindergarten is also for children between the ages of three and six.

These preschools are usually run by churches, local authorities, specially-founded associations and other private companies.

In a similar way to a kita, kindergartens aim to educate and socialise young children and get them ready for primary school.

Sessions are supervised by qualified Erzieher/innen – educators. Again, there should be a relatively low ratio of children to educators.

The provision of pre-school childcare is supervised by the State Youth Welfare Office (Landesjugendämter) of the lander – or state.

Kindergarten - daycare in Germany

What do children do at kindergarten?

Kindergarten hours usually see children arriving at 9am, and leaving at midday or mid-afternoon.

There is no formal kind of education, but kids will usually engage in activities such as educational play, usually taking a step-up with more advanced games, and an introduction to learning about letters, numbers, values and good behaviour and movements through things like dance and games.

Children aren’t formally assessed on what they learn, but they should be constantly supervised by staff who will keep track of their progress.

Some kindergartens will provide children with food, but not all of them will. You may have to pay extra for food provisions, or you may have to provide a packed lunch and snacks for your child to eat throughout the day.

Finding and choosing a kindergarten in Germany

As with krippes and kitas, it can be difficult to secure a place in a kindergarten that’s both well located and good value.

Services will vary depending on where you are, but generally bilingual kindergartens are particularly difficult to get space for. However, even if you don’t manage it, there will usually be at least one member of staff who can speak English.

Before signing up, you’ll probably want to consider whether the kindergarten’s location is convenient for you, the child-to-minder ratio, whether any staff speak English, what the opening hours are, whether food is provided and whether there’s any outdoor space.

How to enrol for kindergarten

Long waiting lists are common when signing your child up to a kindergarten, and most people will tend to register several months in advance.

There’s not usually an interview process, but many kindergartens will allow you to visit and have a look around before registering yours and your child’s details.

You’ll need to provide ID, proof of address, proof of consent for you and your partner (if you have one) and your child’s birth certificate.

Costs of kindergarten in Germany

Prices vary widely – some kindergartens are totally free, while some cost hundreds of Euros each year.

How much you pay depends on what are you live in, what facilities are available and, often, how much you earn – those on lower incomes can often pay reduced fees.

Schulhort in Germany

What is schulhort?

For older children over the age of six who are in primary school, schulhort services provide extra after-school daycare.

This can fill in the gap between school finishing and parents being able to pick their children up after work, and – depending on what’s available – can give children the opportunity to try new sports and activities that may not be available during school hours.

The services are usually provided by the individual school, and what’s on offer will depend on what facilities are available and what the demand is like.

In some cases, the after school care may be provided by teachers, but sometimes staff from an external organisation will come in to take the sessions.

Childcare in Germany

What do children do at schulhort?

Elementary school hours in Germany generally run from 8:00 to 13:00 or 14:00. After this time, a lot of schools will provide a teacher’s assistant to look after children until 16:00, but this service and hours can vary between schools.

Activities vary depending on the school, but can often include things like playing board games, learning crafts, learning how to play instruments, learning karate, or playing football.

Depending on the activities taking place, children may be split according to age and ability.

Meals aren’t usually provided, but some schulhort services may provide snacks. You should always check this beforehand to make sure your child doesn’t go hungry!

As after school sessions are voluntary, they’re not usually assessed. However, for activities like karate and learning musical instruments, there may be different levels and grades children can progress with.

Finding and choosing a schulhort in Germany

As schulhort services are tied to the school your child attends, there’s not usually a process of searching and applying for your child to be cared for.

While this could mean the process is fairly easy, if your child’s school doesn’t have the means to cope with the demand, it could put parents in a tricky situation, and they’ll have to consider alternatives such as a childminder.

You might want to consider how much schulhort activities are going to cost, how long your child will be looked after, whether any food or snacks are provided, how many other children go along, and what your child will be doing when they attend.

How to enrol for schulhort

As schulhort services are offered by your child’s school, you should register your interest with the school itself.

Availability will depend on whether the activities are over-subscribed – if they are, there may be a waiting list.

Places will generally be open for all children.

Costs of schulhort in Germany

Fees for schulhort will vary depending on the service being offered, what facilities are required, how long the child is looked after for, and whether any meals are included.

Some schools may offer reduced fees for parents with lower incomes, but, again, this will vary depending on the school.

International daycare and preschool in Germany

Advantages of using international daycare

While international daycare can be a bit more difficult to find, there are several potential benefits.

As the world is becoming increasingly global, it’s a good idea to get children as used to people from different countries and cultures as possible.

Plus, numerous studies have found that bilingual children often outperform those who only speak one language when it comes to maintaining concentration and being able to switch from one task to another.

What do children do at international daycare?

Children will usually do similar activities at international daycare to ‘normal’ daycare – with an added focus on learning about other cultures, religions and languages.

Younger children will generally learn about letters, numbers, values and good behaviour and movements through things like dance and games.

Finding and choosing international daycare in Germany

There’s a lot of competition for all kinds of daycare services in Germany – and as international daycare is rarer, it can be even more difficult to get a space.

Parents often put their children’s names on waiting lists many months, or even years, before their children are old enough to attend.

If you plan on enrolling your child in an international school, they will probably have an international kindergarten for the younger ones, such as International School on the Rhine where children are taught in English but also have German classes.

Your local Youth Welfare Office will be able to let you know what daycare options are available in your area.

How to enrol for international daycare

As with other types of daycare, you’ll need to contact the service and register yours and your child’s details.

If the service is over-subscribed, your child may be put on a waiting list, and your child won’t be able to attend until a space becomes available.

Costs of international daycare in Germany

Fees you’ll be charged will vary widely depending on where you are, and whether there’s a high demand for international daycare services.

Parents on lower wages may be able to pay subsidised costs, but this is often at the discretion of the daycare service.

Once your child is older, you might be interested to read our guide to international schools in Germany.

Other childcare options in Germany

Au pairs and nannies

Nannies and au pairs tend to provide childcare in your own home, either visiting your home and living elsewhere, or living in your home.

They must be approved by the youth welfare office, but may not have formal childcare qualifications.

A nanny or au pair will generally only look after your child or children, and therefore their services can be more expensive.

Au pairs in Germany

These kinds of childcare providers, also known as childminders, look after children in their own homes. Generally they’ll look after three or four children at a time.

They do not need to be certified, as staff are who work in kitas and kindergartens, but they must be approved by the youth welfare office.

Our guide can tell you more about finding childcare in Germany.

Transition from daycare to “big school” in Germany

Daycare and preschool get children used to socialising with children their own age, being away from their parents and becoming familiar with the system of being in a class.

Some preschools even hold lessons in primary schools, so children will even be familiar with the specific room they’ll be in when they move schools.

The educational and developmental aspect of daycare can also give children a head start, as they will have already started some of the topics they’ll cover in primary school.

General tips for daycare in Germany

  • Label all clothing and bags with your child’s name.
  • Take fruit and snacks along – some daycare providers will give children food, but some don’t.
  • Take along a pair of soft indoor shoes for your child.
  • Come prepared with emergency and doctor contact information (you will need to complete a form detailing this on your child’s first day).

Useful resources