Many parents are faced with the decision of whether to look after their child themselves in the first months and years after birth or whether to place their child in a day care centre or with a day care worker for several hours during the week. Childcare allows you to go back to work or have more time to do other things. What’s more, good childcare is also enriching for your child. Your child can make their first friends at a nursery school. Their development is encouraged and they can romp, climb, do arts and crafts, explore the world and learn to get along with many other children.
All children are entitled to a nursery school spot or other childcare facility from their first to their third birthday on. From the age of three until enrolment in primary school, this entitlement only applies to nursery schools. In many regions, however, it is not easy to find a free nursery school spot. Often parents have to enroll their child well in advance in order to get a spot. It's best to ask your city or town council to help you find one. The staff there can also tell you what the rules are for the allocation of day care spots in your region, what you need to look out for when registering and what costs you have to pay yourself. In some federal states, nursery school is free of charge for children from the age of three on. There are only costs for lunch and the use of extended opening hours. Those who have little money can usually apply for financial support for childcare costs. Parents who receive a Children’s Allowance (Kinderzuschlag), benefits under the German Social Code II or a housing benefit do not have to pay nursery school fees.
Which facility is right for your child depends on a variety of things. Your child’s age isn’t all that matters. Who runs the institution and what style of education is used there are also important. The sponsors of many nursery school are, for example, churches, municipalities and welfare associations. However, there are also nursery school that are run by companies or associations. It is best if you visit the nursery, kindergarten or childminder beforehand. Then you will have the opportunity to see how they work and what the educators value in their work with the children. It also gives you a chance to meet the people who will be watching your child. Do you like the educators? Do you feel they are good with the kids? Which care times can I choose? Many facilities offer information evenings and discussions with the teachers or with parents whose children have been attending the nursery school for some time. There is no obligation to place your child in a nursery school.
Most crèches take children from the age of one, some a little earlier. In a crèche, one carer is responsible for three to four children. The children have a room there for playing. There is also a relaxation room and the possibility to play outside. If you want to have your child looked after in a crèches, it is important to have time for settling in. You should allow four to eight weeks for this, during which you will not yet be able to go to work regularly. To help your child settle in, you will accompany them to the crèche again and again and leave alone with the carers for a little longer each time. It takes time for your baby to learn that you always come back to pick them up at the end of the day. It is important that the caregivers change as little as possible. Young children are not yet able to adjust to many different people. The same parent should also always accompany the settling-in period. So you and your partner should not take turns doing this.
A kindergarten is a facility for children ages three and up. Most children in Germany between the ages of three and five attend kindergarten. Often the crèche and kindergarten are under one roof, so that there are sometimes mixed-age groups or both crèche groups and kindergarten groups. Kindergarten is already more about education and nurturing. There, the teachers playfully encourage the children's willingness to learn, their speech and their attention. There are different types of kindergartens. Forest and nature kindergartens, for example, offer almost all activities outdoors and in nature. Other kindergartens are bilingual, focus on sports and exercise or leave it up to the children to decide what they want to do. Often, however, there are only a few kindergartens in a particular region and therefore not much choice.
In many regions kindergarten spots are scarce. That's why it's good to register your child early. In some cases, this is possible up to three years in advance. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that you will actually get a childcare spot. The costs incurred for a kindergarten spot vary greatly from state to state and from municipality to municipality. In some federal states, for example, there are no fees at all. In other cities, however, a kindergarten spots costs several hundred euros per month. The amount depends partly on how old the child is, how many hours per day the child is cared for or how high the parents' income is. Families who receive benefits under Social Code II, Social Code XII, the Asylum Seekers' Benefits Act (Asylbewerberleistungsgesetz) or housing benefits do not have to pay anything. Families with a low income can also have their contributions waived or reduced by the Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt).
Day care is when children are looked after by day care workers. In German, the name for these workers would best translate to ‘childminder’. This type of care can take place either in your own home, in the childminder's home, or in rented space. Whoever wants to become a childminder must be able to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the subject, have their suitability confirmed by a public body and have this activity approved. In most cases this is the responsible Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt). Day care can also be publicly funded. In Lower Saxony, a childminder is allowed to look after a maximum of five children. There is also the possibility of more than five children being looked after by more than one person. It's called a ‘big day care’ in German. If more than eight children are cared for, one of these caregivers must have pedagogical training. The advantage of day care is that the children have a permanent caregiver. Youth or district offices sometimes have so-called ‘day care exchanges’ where you can search for free spots. Often the staff there can also help you find contacts.