Kindergarten and School in Germany for Foreigners
In Germany, a law has long been in place that grants every child the right to attend both school and kindergarten. However, even Germans face difficulties enrolling their children in preschool institutions, and for immigrants, it can be even more challenging.
Whether you need to send your children to kindergarten or a German Schule, this article will help resolve at least some questions regarding how the German educational system works, how to choose an institution for your child, and what is required for enrollment. Enjoy the reading!
Previously, we wrote about useful apps for life in Europe.
Structure of the German Education System
The German education system is quite similar to the familiar structure of education. It looks like this:
- Kinderkrippe — nursery for 0-3 year olds
- Kita — kindergarten for 2-6 year olds
- Die Schule — school with 3 levels: elementary (up to 4th grade), lower secondary (5th-10th grade), and upper secondary (10th-13th grade)
- Hochschule/Fachhochschule/Universität (higher education)
School and higher education in Germany are free for everyone, including children of foreign citizens.
Kindergarten in Germany
Sending a child to kindergarten in Germany is not mandatory (although the right to do so exists). As of March 2022, only 30.2% to 58.6% of preschool children attended kindergartens in different federal states. However, it is not that parents do not want to send their child to preschool; rather, existing kindergartens often have no available places. In most German states, the demand for kindergartens significantly exceeds the supply.
So, if you plan to enroll your child in a kindergarten, we advise you to think about this matter in advance, as competition for places in kindergartens is high. Some mothers start looking for a place in a kindergarten for their little one even before birth. The deadline for registration applications, depending on where you live, is 2-6 months before the start of the academic year.
Kindergarten in Germany is not just a place where your child will be supervised, but also one of the steps in their education. German kindergartens prefer play-based activities over structured lessons. Compared to the strict routines of the kindergartens we are familiar with, child-rearing here takes place in a more relaxed environment.
There is no centralized system of kindergartens in Germany, nor is there a standardized curriculum. Therefore, the conditions and quality of education vary from state to state. For example, a kindergarten in Berlin may differ from one in Hesse in terms of schedules, conditions, and other parameters.
Cost for kindergarten is calculated individually for each child, and the result depends on several factors:
- Time spent in kindergarten
- Family’s financial capabilities
- Number of children from the same family attending kindergarten
- Federal state
Families who are unable to afford kindergarten fees, often including immigrants, can receive subsidies or free places in preschool institutions.
Nursery (Kinderkrippe) in Germany
This is the first step in the German education system. Kinderkrippe translates to “crib, nursery.” It is intended for infants from 0-1 to 2-3 years old (depending on the region). Such nurseries typically operate from morning until noon. On average, children spend up to 7 hours in a krippe, and the payment depends on the parents' income.
In Germany, there is a shortage of such nurseries, and only 20% of families with young children have the opportunity to send them to a kinderkrippe.
Tagesmutter or Tagespflege
Tagesmutter, which translates to “daytime mother, nanny,” is the term used for daycare where one caregiver looks after a group of up to 6 children in their own home. Usually, nannies in Germany take care of children up to 3 years old.
Pedagogical education is not mandatory for Tagespflege providers, but they need to register with the Jugendamt (Youth Office). There is a high probability of finding a Russian-speaking nanny or a bilingual nanny. The price for Tagespflege services varies from 300 to 600 euros per month for a 20-hour week.
Kitas are suitable for children aged 2 to 11 years old (school-age children attend Kita for after-school care). Kitas differ significantly in terms of educational methods (for example, there are Montessori and Waldorf Kitas, among others).
Despite the variety of Kitas, the choice comes down to four options: public, private, religious, or parent-run.
Obtaining a spot in a Kita is not difficult. You need to provide an identification document, proof of address, and the child’s birth certificate. Vaccination records (measles vaccination is mandatory) and a medical examination may be required. The rules and necessary documents are the same for both Germans and migrants. Difficulties may arise when parents are looking for a Kita that is willing to accept children with their specific voucher.
How to Enroll Your Child in Kindergarten in Germany as an Immigrant
- Visit the Jugendamt (Youth Office) to fill out an application for a voucher. You can also inquire about the list of available kindergartens in your desired area. Parents who have experience with enrolling their children in kindergartens recommend visiting kindergartens and checking for available spots alongside applying for a voucher.
- Use the website Kita.de: Here, you can find a kindergarten and check if there are any available spots. However, as some parents note, the information may not always be up to date.
Engage with the German Way Expat Forum to communicate with fellow compatriots, learn about different kindergartens, and receive valuable advice on this and other important topics for immigrants.
How to get a spot in a kindergarten in Germany faster?
You should submit your application as early as possible. If you’re having trouble finding a kindergarten, popular websites like kita-finder recommend contacting the Eltern Beratungsstelle (Parent Advisory Center). They can help allocate any available reserved spots. Tagesmutter (daycare providers) are also considered a good option if you couldn’t secure a spot in a municipal kindergarten.
Sometimes, “emergency” daycare groups are created for migrants. These groups accommodate children who urgently need care and attention while their parents attend job interviews. Children in these groups often do not speak German. However, these emergency groups help create additional available spots in daycare centers.
What to consider when choosing a kindergarten?
- Ratio of caregivers to children.
- Language (some Kitas offer bilingual education).
- Availability of outdoor play areas and the amount of time allocated for outdoor activities.
- Whether they organize walks or excursions.
- Operating hours.
- Meals (consideration of allergies, inclusion of breakfast and lunch; sometimes only lunches are provided in some kindergartens).
When applying for enrollment in a kindergarten, don’t limit your choice to just one Kita. Also indicate alternative options.
Can children of immigrants attend a kindergarten for free?
Such a possibility exists, regardless of whether the child has a residence permit in Germany or not. In some federal states, there are municipal Kitas that are free for children:
- Berlin and Hamburg: from birth
- Rhineland-Palatinate: from 2 years old
- Hesse and Lower Saxony: up to 3 years old
- Brandenburg and Thuringia: the last year before starting school
Parents who cannot afford Kita fees also have the option to apply for a Kita Gutschein, which is a document confirming the child’s right to attend kindergarten for free. To try and obtain this document as an immigrant, you need to provide the following to the Jugendamt (Youth Office):
- Proof of income (last three payslips/proof from the employment center/social security agency)
- Confirmation letter from the Kita regarding the child’s acceptance
- Certificate stating the cost of attending the Kita
- They may ask for the reason why you wish to obtain the Gutschein
If the Jugendamt approves the request, the child will receive the Kita Gutschein and can attend daycare for free for up to 9 hours a day. However, it is worth considering that Germans believe if both parents do not work, they can expect 3-5 hours of daycare per day, no more. If both parents work but the Kita fees are still high, the likelihood of receiving assistance is almost guaranteed.
If your request is denied despite all justifications, you can submit an application to a higher authority or even go to court.
School Education in Germany
Every child aged 6 and above is required to attend Schule (school). Even if your documents are still under review, your child has the legal right to attend school.
About 12-15 months before the start of the academic year, you will receive a letter from the Schulamt (School Education Office) stating that your child needs to start schooling.
In choosing a school, you can take the path of least resistance and leave your child in the assigned school (Einzugs Schule). Many Germans do just that. However, if you have already identified another Schule, you can submit the necessary documents there.
To change schools, you need to:
- Register your child at the new school.
- Fill out the Umschulung Antrag (school transfer application).
- State the reason why you wish to change schools.
If the chosen school has available spots, your application will be approved.
How to enroll a child in school in Germany
First, your child needs to undergo a medical examination (Schuleingangs Untersuchung). It includes checking weight, height, hearing, vision, motor skills, and vaccination records. This examination is free for everyone, including foreign children. Afterward, you will receive a document that needs to be submitted along with other enrollment papers.
The requirements for school enrollment may vary from state to state. However, the typical documents needed for enrollment are:
- Registration form
- Proof of identity
- Child’s birth certificate
- Child’s identification document
- Confirmation of the medical examination
- Vaccination record (measles vaccination is mandatory)
- School report from the previous educational institution (they may or may not request it)
School Education in Germany is universal and free. For more detailed information about the rules in each federal state, you can study handbook.de. This is an informational website for foreigners, supported by the German immigration authority.
After primary school, which lasts 4 years, children are divided into four different groups based on their academic performance and are assigned to different types of secondary schools.
Gymnasium: These schools have a selective admission process, accepting students with the best academic achievements. At the end of their education, they take the Abitur exam, which practically guarantees admission to a German university.
Realschule: Students with average grades go to this school. After completion, they are eligible to take the Mittlere Reife exam. With this diploma, they can either enter the workforce or pursue education in a technical school.
Hauptschule: In comprehensive schools, students receive basic education. In 10th grade, a child can opt for the 10b program, which allows them to transfer to the Realschule and also take the Mittlere Reife exam.
Gesamtschule: In advanced schools, students can choose from three different programs (but they still need to pass exams for admission to Gymnasium).
School-age immigrant children without language proficiency will most likely be placed in the Hauptschule, although there are options. Parent forums suggest the following possibilities:
- Admission to Gymnasium based on a good certificate from the country of origin with additional intensive German language courses (by arrangement with the Gymnasium).
- Education in a Hauptschule, additional language learning, and later taking exams for admission to a Realschule.
- Language learning first and then admission to a Gymnasium or Realschule.
- Attending a private school, and more.
In any case, such matters are usually resolved on an individual basis. Much depends on how parents envision their future life in the country, how long they plan to stay in Germany, and so on.
Money Transfers from Germany
In addition to the challenges described above for foreigners with children settling in a new country, they often have to deal with issues related to elderly parents who remain in their home country.
You can send fee-free money transfers from Germany to 20+ countries using the KoronaPay mobile application. The transfer is debited from a card or account of any European bank.
The transfer delivery is instant. You can receive the money directly to your card or in cash at service points (the app provides a map with addresses). The available receiving options depend on the destination country. In some countries, only cash pick-up is available.
You can download the KoronaPay app for free from the App Store and Google Play. Familiarize yourself with the app and calculate the transfer amount without entering personal information. Authorization is done via an SMS code.
In conclusion, despite all the difficulties in adapting to life in a new country for you and your children, they can be overcome with time. Germany is a country where social support for foreign citizens is organized at a fairly high level, and it serves as a solution to many immigrant problems.
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