The ways of the expat life are often convoluted.
What started as a few-months stay in the city for me has now been a several-year journey which keeps on bringing new challenges.
Back in the days, i just had to worry about if i could afford another week-end out or if i had enough time to check all those abandonned sites around the city in the summer.
Fast-forwarding a few years, now a married man, i need to juggle between a side-project (this blog), a brand new job and the duties of a young father. Oh, gone are the days of simplicity and innocence ;).
I need to think about how this new life is impacting our careers. One of the keys to a smoother sail in the near future is the possibility to leave our child at the kindergarten, while mummy and daddy can resume a more normal routine. There is perhaps no other more important commodity that can make such a drastic change on parenthood and work life.
This is why i thought i would round-up the process to find a kita spot for your child in Berlin.
You should know this:
The current situation: why it’s difficult to find a Kindergarten in Berlin
The simple reality is: there is a steep shortage of kita spots in the whole city. Prepare yourself for a hard-ride.
Why? To put it in the nutshell: Berlin’s population is currently experiencing a sharp increase, after years of stagnation. What’s more: young people have been flocking to the city because of (once) cheap rents. Most of them eventually settle down and start having kids.
The demand is increasing while the offer is not following, also because it’s hard to find Erziehern (caretakers) to take care of the kids.
Result: It was usually not easy to find a kita spot in Berlin, but recent events is making the matter more complicated.
Elephant in the room: start early
With this in mind, let’s start with the most important factor to find a kita spot in Berlin first: timing. It’s no secret. The earlier you start contacting Kitas, the better your chances are. The current shortage forces you to sign-up for waiting list as early as possible.
How early you ask? It used to be enough to start looking at this at birth or so. Nowadays, it’s not rare to have parents start the process in the middle of the pregnancy. This makes sense because most kitas will take kids only from 1 year-old. This accounts for the all too common 2 years waiting time.
Picking your Kita: know the difference types
The term Kita (Kindertagesstätte) covers different types and forms of childcare in Germany. This is a quick overview to understand the different types:
Krippe vs Kindergarten
You will encounter both terms during your search. Put simply; Krippe is where kids under 3 years old go. They then go to Kindergartens until they are old enough to go to school. Some Kitas have both groups within their buildings, some have Kindergartens and not Krippe. They often also have different opening times.. Depends.
The different “operators”
Privately operated (Freie Träger)
These institutions are offering different approaches concerning pedagogy with kids, often coming from their particular nature/history. They are operated by associations, religious communities or charities. If you want your kid to be educated within a certain community, this might be good option. Some examples:
- Deutscher Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband – Dachverband vieler kleiner Träger
- Deutsches Rotes Kreuz
- pro familia
- Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland e.V.
- Internationaler Bund – Freier Träger der Bildungs-,Jugend-, und Sozialarbeit e.V.
When there is a need for more spots and parents talk to each other, they might want to start organizing their own KiTa. This is what the term “Eltern Initiative” (Parents’ Initiative) covers. It’s then operated through an association (“Verein”) managed by the parents themselves. This also allows for greater flexibility in the education and in some cases, a higher level of care. However, there is a catch. One of the conditions to get a spot is often to contribute your own time and resources to run the whole thing (buying supplies, bookkeeping, gardening, renovation works, etc.). It’s a great way to be involved in the community.
For profit companies (GmbH)
Although it might be unusual to place kids in a structure run by a company, they offer equally good environments for the development of the child. Their operations are under scrutiny by local authorities and must provide a strict standard of service as well as a pedagogy framework.
Kindertagespflege – Tagesmutter
This another form a childcare provided by single persons, often women, hence the term Tagesmutter. They provide childcare in the environment of their own home, often along side their own children. It usually offers a greater time flexibility and a somewhat more personal approach. It won’t be a group of 10 or 15 kids.
City operated (Öffentliche Träger)
KiTas that are working under direct contract with the local authorities.
Picking your Kindergarten in Berlin : Pedagogy and education style
Regardless of the structure, the Kita must follow a basic set of requirements, when it comes to educating and stimulating kids. It is a framework defined by the Berlin senate around 6 themes; health, social and cultural life, communication, arts, amtehmatics, nature & environment. You can find more info about it in multiple languages here.
However, each Kita has the freedom to set their own ways to get there. This is why you must not hesitate to ask about how they do things, the daily routine, the outings, etc. This is why you will probably encounter different methodologies such as Montessori or Waldorf. Here are the most common ones and very short summaries.
- Situationsansatz: This is about letting the kids decide what to do, depending on their current interests and their own curiosity
- Montessori-Kinderhaus: The focus is to develop a sense of own responsibility with each child, by providing a supportive learning environment
- Freinet-Kindergarten: One trusts the instincts of the child and build upon them, about cooperation too
- Waldorf-Kindergarten: Focus on intellectual, artistic development
- Reggio Emilia-Kindergarten: Priority given to experimentation
- Waldkindergarten: Nature Kindergarden in the outdoors
- Bewegungskindergarten: Pushing for physical activities and movements
To see the place for yourself and feel the vibe, most daycares in Berlin will have 2-3 open day/house days per year, during which you will be able to meet the personel and see the different rooms. It’s a great way to get insights on what’s going on. In German, it’s called “Tag der offenen Tür”.
How to find KiTas in Berlin around you
A good old Google search, paired with a physical scouting of your area and recommendations from friends can already do wonders. Added to that, you can turn to 2 great websites/databases:
Getting a Kita Gutschein in Berlin:
What is a Kita Gutschein
It is basically a “pass” provided by the city that states how much childcare your kid will get at a Kita. This is how the KiTa knows how much money they will get from the city in return, when taking on your child. It is the paper connecting you, the Kita and the city. Some Kitas won’t accept you on the waiting list unless you have one already. Although, considering the dire situation, i have found that many Kitas don’t have this requirement. You can get one maximum 9 months before the child care starts and need to have it sorted at the latest 2 months before.
Applying for a Kita Gutschein
The process for getting a Kita Gutschein in Berlin is fairly easy in nature and it can be done online here. It is essentially a form asking you how many hours ( 4-5 hours, 5-7 hours, 7-9 hours or 9+ hours of childcare per day ) , what your resources are, who the legal guardians are, etc. One still has to justify income (because before, one had to contribute a fee based on their income) and your working hours, which is easy for employees but a bit annoying for freelancers as you can’t just give in your employment contract for proof. You will also need to provide basic documents such as birth certificate, Meldebescheinigung & a copy of ID card/passport.
When your application has been accepted, the Kita Gutschein in Berlin remains valid only for a few months, which means you will need to apply again if you haven’t gotten a contract with a Kita in that time span. Without it, you can’t sign a contract.
A few more remarks:
- It is your legal right in Berlin to receive at least a 7hours Gutschein.
- Since your child has another language than German at home, that grants you automatically an extension of the Gutschein.
- Most daycares will favor children with 7+ hours Gutscheine because they receive more funds doing so.
Some others tips
Staying on the top of the waiting list
Make sure to ask the KiTa manager how to proceed there. It’s usually best practice to call every 3 months or so, to confirm again that you are still interested in a spot. However, some don’t like this. It’s best to ask what their preference is. And make a list with plenty of reminders!
How many applications
There aren’t any rules but most will mention a number between 5-10 applications at different daycares to be sure to get a spot. Remember that you will need to follow-up with each one of them. It’s a time intensive business.
To that regard, we are pretty lucky in Berlin because it was made completely free for all kids. This is not the case everywhere in Germany. The only part that you have to pay is a contribution for the food; about 25€ per month, and sometimes small additional fees for extra activities.
Alternatives until you get a spot
If you haven’t planned ahead, it’s unlikely you will get a kita spot right away (unless you have good connections or a ridiculous amount of luck). In the meantime, you will have to come up with a plan B until you obtain the holy grail. As foreigners away from home, we cannot rely on the help of close relatives like grand-parents. You can instead turn to the following options.
Krabbel- und Spielgruppen
Meaning “crawling and play” groups, they are simple initiatives from parents meeting in cafes or other public places to let babies socialize with one another. I grant you; it won’t free up your time since you have to keep an eye on your child. However, it will make up for the lack of social interactions with other kids your child may experience, especially if it’s your first child. It will also allow you to chat with other parents, exchange experiences and tips. Sometimes, you may also hear about neighboring Kitas, how good they are, what you should do to get in, etc. It’s a good entry point into your local neighborhood and you might feel less alone in the impossible task of finding a kita spot in Berlin.
As mentioned above, Tagesmutter could prove to be an excellent alternative if you need a helping hand, with added flexibility. There is a search engine for this here and plenty of other websites such as this one here. Beware though: for a lot of people, this is the next best option after getting a Kita spot in Berlin. There is also a high demand for that. It might also be clever to start your search and make calls early.
Not a lot of people know this but if you are registered with the Jugendamt, you can ask for a babysitter to be paid while you are looking for a Kita. They help you to pay a babysitter at a rate of about 600€ per month! That could be huge help to bridge the gap. Take advantage from this! More info there.
Making the situation change
This situation sucks, there are just not enough kita spots in Berlin. Every year, thousands of kids aren’t able to find a spot. If you want to commit and make the situation change, you can go sign the petition and demonstrate. More info here.
I wish you all the best for you and your child. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments.