Choosing early years education overseas
We’re often told that children who spend time in a nursery or kindergarten will develop better social skills, will learn more – and faster – will be better able to manage problems independently and will, all in all, become more rounded human beings.
That’s all well and good if there’s a lovely nursery school just down the road and you’ve had plenty of time to build links and relationships – but what if you’re moving to another country to live and work, what are your options then and how do you go about deciding what’s best for your child?
Before you even start to look at the available options, start by figuring out what it is you really want/need.
Getting together a list of the (many) things you want from a placement is a vital starting place. Think about convenience, cost, language, opportunity and education…
- Are you looking for formal learning, with a curriculum, or informal play?
Social skills will be a given in both situations but some parents want to get a head start and some preschools offer formal lesson plans.
- Do you want an immersive language experience?
Local nurseries are often willing to take expat children but there are also International pre-schools if you prefer an English-speaking environment.
- Will it be more convenient to be based near home or near work?
Think about your commute; if you drop your child off near your work that might be nice for you – but if you have an hour or more on public transport to get there and back, that might not be the best option for the child.
- What are your working hours going to be like?
Do you need all day childcare, or do you want to keep a part of the day for yourself too?
- If you’re not working (for those whose spouse initiate the move) then do you need nursery placements at all?
They’re only little once; if you can make the most of spending those formative years together it can be a really rewarding experience for both of you.
- Can you afford childcare?
Different countries have different provisions. From September 2017, new UK guidelines award 30 free nursery hours per week to working families – but this is not the case everywhere.
At the end of this process you should have achieved some clarity about hours, aims, location and cost. Armed with this information, you can start to put out the feelers.
At ‘home’ this is a much easier process, as you have the luxury of being able to visit each nursery in turn, talk to the staff and get a feel for whether it’s the right fit. If you’re moving before you look for a placement this approach remains the best – get in there and find out all about it – however, if you’re planning your childcare pre-move this will almost certainly not be an option. So, what can you do instead?
One of the most important things to research is legislation. Many countries don’t start formal education until a child is 7 or 8, so preschool care becomes even more important if you have to work. In some countries – such as Germany – home schooling is illegal and children must be enrolled in a school by the age of 6. Don’t overlook the differences in law, make sure you fully understand them.
Use search engines to explore what nurseries and kindergartens are available in your chosen area and yes, you guessed it…make a list!
Find other expats in your new location – social media is great for this! – and ask them what their experiences of local pre-school provisions have been like. Get to know a few of them and ask really probing questions; find out about the staff, the facilities, the schedules and the outdoor space. Your child is precious, there’s no such thing as too much information!
It’s so easy these days to contact anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. Email each of the establishments you’re interested in and pitch your list of questions. Ask for photographs, information, curriculum and anything else they can think of that will help you to make a choice. As well as the information you receive, the amount of effort that goes into the response may give you a further insight into whether they deserve your wonderful child or not!
Keep love at the centre of everything
Yes, that sounds ridiculous, patronising and obvious – but stress and ticking clocks can lead to pressured decisions – and they are rarely the best. Your child is your world. Take your time, talk to everyone you can, pester people for answers, be a nuisance and do it with enthusiasm and love!
- How to choose a kindergarten or pre-school overseas
- Finding a nursery, school or university when abroad
- What to expect from a bilingual kindergarten