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It's not impossible: How I found a good Kitaplatz in Germany

Rachel Stern
Rachel Stern - [email protected]
It's not impossible: How I found a good Kitaplatz in Germany
A kita in Hanover. picture alliance/dpa/Fellowes GmbH | Fellowes GmbH

Local editor Rachel Stern shares how she secured a notoriously difficult Kitaplatz, and offers tips for other parents who are on the search.

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Since 2013, every child over the age of one in Germany has been entitled to a Kitaplatz (childcare spot), yet actually receiving one is easier said than done.

A study released in October by the Bertelsmann Foundation predicted Germany to fall short of 384,000 spots by 2023.

Yet I still managed, despite some initial setbacks, to receive a spot at a kita which fit all my criteria in Berlin.

Here are my top takeaways on how to search, where to look and, most importantly, how to actually secure a Kita spot (or three).

Know where to look

The Kita search will vary vastly by Bundesland, and also by age group. Parents typically have a harder time finding a spot for Krippekinder (up to age three) than for Kindergarteners (or age three to six).

Part of the reason lies in the fact that the Erzieher (carer) - Kind ratio is smaller for the younger group. The costs also vary greatly, ranging from €23 a month in Berlin to a few hundred euros in other states.

READ ALSO: How much does childcare cost throughout Germany?

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To find the relevant information on Kitas in you area, Germany maintains a list of resources state by state.

Know what type of Kita you want

There's the old adage that "beggers can't be choosers". I found myself thinking that after receiving my first (and what I feared would be only) spot at a bustling Kita with 220 children of all age groups. If it felt overwhelming for me to be there, I could not imagine sending my then-one year old.

A young boy plays with bricks in a nursery school in Potsdam

A young boy plays with bricks in a nursery school in Potsdam. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Settnik

I held out and received a spot at a smaller, homier Kita with 20 kids all in all, and bilingual Erzieher who warmly engaged with the kids in their mother tongues.

Yet some parents prefer large Kitas, which are less likely to close amid inevitable winter sick waves, or at least offer emergency care when they do. And while some international parents seek a multilingual Sprachkita, others are eager to give their kiddos the German language and culture exposure they lack at home.

The proximity to where they live also plays a big role, as it's much easier to drop your kid off at that Kita down the street than commute an hour both ways before work even starts.

READ ALSO: What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprachkitas

Many parents also try to find a Tagesmutter (or Vater), who look after under three year olds in groups of around five. Many months after sending out my original applications, I naively thought to contact some as a back-up plan, only to find out they are just as in-demand as Kitas themselves.

Start searching early 

Before expecting a baby myself, I laughed off the idea of apply for a Kita spot before my child was even born. Yet lo and behold, I found myself six months pregnant, filling out the Anmeldungsformular (registration form) on various Kita websites. Some explicitly stated not to apply until your offspring actually enters the world, whereas other were okay with parents entering their due date in the "date of birth" section.

I sent what I could ahead of time and a la German style created an Excel spreadsheet, detailing all my desired Kitas, links to where or to whom to apply, when I applied and when (or if) we had heard back. 

As we applied to over 40 Kitas, luckily using mostly the same information, it helped to have a record of who had (and mostly had not) been in touch.

Follow up in multiple ways

My daughter was born in the month of July, commonly considered one of the the easier months to snag a Kita spot after a year since most Kitas start their Eingewöhnung (or adaption period) in August. But when precisely zero offers rolled in during the spring, I questioned if that was really the case.

Children at a kita in Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein.

Children at a kita in Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

I sent follow up emails, called and coyly stopped by the administrative office of a couple around the corner. Unsure if the latter method would seem too intrusive in a pandemic, my face(mask)-to-face approach helped to secure an interview and resulting spot at one Kita. Another one of my phone calls led to a tour, turning into an offer at another.

Yet all Angebote (offers) were for the autumn, past the popular start time but obviously showing that it's possible for parents whose kids are born in, say, April, to start at a Kita at or around the one year mark.

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Look at last-minute options

There are many Facebook groups which list free Kita-Plätze, either from parents who chime in to inquiries from other parents or Good Samaritans who photograph signs they see in front of Kitas, advertising free spots.

Most states have youth or administrative offices which help parents in their search. In Berlin, each Bezirk (district) has a Jugendamt which parents can contact if they don't receive a Kitaspot by their desired date. We filled out a standard form which our Jugendamt sent out to all local Kitas, and also received a few offers from places in which we had not even applied.

One of them was from my daughter's current Kita, a newly opened hidden gem that had evaded my original search. 

Children arrive at a Kita in Kiel. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

Other things to keep in mind 

Several states require some sort of Kita-Gutschein (kita certificate), with proof required from an employer in order to qualify for seven or more hours of care a day. Luckily this certificate is far easier to acquire than a Kitaspot itself, but it helps to get one as far in advance as possible, as many Kitas won't even consider parents who don't.

Keep in mind that most Kitas also feature a multiweek adaption period, which lasts longer the younger the age of the child. Many parents feature this into their Elternzeit (parental leave), or take extra vacation time to accommodate it. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about parental leave in Germany

But in Germany it's usually the children who decide when they're fully ready to be left sans parents. For an outgoing three-year old, the Eingewöhnung might be over in two days, whereas for a more sensitive twelve month old it could take upwards of two months.

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