It is happening!
You made the decision to enroll your child into a preschool in the Czech Republic. Transition into an institutionalized childcare facility is a sensitive family issue, often more demanding for the parents than for the child. In this article, common questions regarding preschool education in the Czech Republic will be answered. Your child's life long educational journey may begin. Just remember, preschool is not only a childcare facility but a crucial part of your child’s education.
What age do children enroll into preschool?
Most children in the Czech Republic enter kindergarten at age three. Public nurseries for children younger than three are scarce and are usually available only in bigger cities. Parents who want their children to enroll earlier must opt for a private preschool.
Is preschool mandatory?
Yes. In 2017 preschool attendance became mandatory for all children who reach age five before the beginning of the next school year. This means that children residing in the Czech Republic (in length exceeding 90 days) shall complete at least one year of preschool education before commencing the mandatory elementary school attendance.
What types of preschools are there?
• Public kindergarten (Státní mateřská škola)
• Private kindergarten (Soukromá mateřská škola)
• Nursery (Jesle)
• Children group (Dětská skupina)
• Forest kindergartens (Lesní školka)
• Baby-sitting clubs (Mateřský klub)
What is a public kindergarten?
Every school district in the Czech Republic has a state (or district) run kindergarten catering to children residing in the area. While most expats usually don't consider public kindergartens as a viable option due to the language barrier, especially those on a tight budget would appreciate the lower costs. One of the main advantages of public preschool is undoubtedly the fees, which would generally not exceed 1.500 CZK per month including lunches and snacks.
Another advantage of public kindergartens is that once your (and your child's) registered residency falls into the school district, your child will be admitted at least for the mandatory preschool year, but usually in the school year following your child's third birthday. Public kindergartens operate under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. They are required to have a private garden, must follow strict hygienical rules and keep up with the Ministry approved Framework Curriculum Program for preschools. This curriculum (if followed) ensures a smooth transition into a public elementary school. The admission process takes place only once a year and it is unlikely to be admitted mid- term.
One of the main disadvantages of state preschools is the classroom size. The current legislation allows for preschool classrooms to accommodate up to 28 (!) children aged 3 to 6 per teacher. The average size of the classroom, however, is twenty children and the capacity is lowered depending on the number of two years old as well as special needs children. It is common that an assistant is assigned to a class, however it is not a general rule and it always depends on the particular preschool’s funding. Furthermore, public kindergartens usually admit only fully potty-trained children.
Private kindergarten is usually the go to option for expats who know their stay in Prague will be temporary. Non - Czech parents are often sceptic about Czech language education and choose the more comfortable option.
In order to be able to hold the kindergarten/preschool (mateřská škola) status, regardless of public or private, the childcare provider has to meet strict criteria laid by the current legislation.
• Follow the Framework Education Program (exceptions being certified Montessori, Waldorf and Emilio Reggio schools who follow their own curriculums)
• Meet strict hygiene and premises requirements
• Have a private garden
Unfortunately, there are numerous childcare facilities that operate businesses resembling and acting as kindergartens, without holding the license and relying on the fact that non-Czechs won't know the difference. Make sure to inquire about the preschool's legal status before enrolling your child.
English (and other non-Czech) preschools are exclusively private. Expect monthly tuition fees to be as high as 25.000 CZK/month.
The admission process usually depends on the availability and is possible throughout the year. Private kindergartens often combine nurseries and preschools and are available for children as young as one year.
Nursery in the Czech Republic is defined as a "medical facility providing childcare to children aged 0,5 to 3". The reason for the "medical" lays in the fact that one of the legal requirements for the staff looking after toddlers is medical education, usually a pediatric nurse.Public nurseries are scarce and usually located only in larger cities. The classroom size varies but is generally comparable to public kindergartens.
According to a research published by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, there are only 93(!) private nurseries, that legally provide daycare for children aged one to three, 50 of which are in Prague. Increased demand for institutionalized childcare has led the government to reconsider its rigid policy towards nursery and preschool providers. During 2014 it enabled slightly more flexible alternatives to the traditional educational preschool facilities.
What is a children group (dětská skupina)?
"Dětská skupina" is a facility providing childcare for children aged 1 to 6. While the children group is subject to slightly lower demands in terms of inner spacing and garden (not mandatory), there are stricter conditions on occupancy - 6 children per teacher. The largest child group can be as big as 24 children usually split up into two classrooms. Currently, there are more than one thousand registered children groups in the Czech Republic.
The biggest advantages of children groups are the size, family atmosphere and individual approach to the needs of children. The staff members have to be either a qualified teacher, child nurse, social worker or a certified nanny. From the viewpoint of a parent, the difference between private kindergarten and a children group is nonexistent, however, children group is eligible to provide childcare during the mandatory preschool year while numerous private kindergartens cannot since they lack their certification.
Forrest kindergarten (lesní školka)
Is a unique concept with its roots in Denmark in the fifties. Throughout history, schools provided children with shelter, warmth and education. Schools were often the only place shielding children from bad weather and hard work in the fields. As our society became more industrialized and warmth under a roof became more accessible, children didn't spend enough time outside. An average Czech child spends only 2 hours per day outdoors. In comparison, the average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.
Forrest kindergartens provide a unique educational concept outdoors. A certified forest kindergarten provides children with full-fledged preschool preparation while following the Framework Curriculum Program. Children here obtain their knowledge while closely observing nature. Their stay outside turns from free play to a lifestyle. The terminology might be confusing, but the forest school concept can be brought into an urban area and is not solely dependent on the presence of an actual forest. In Prague, there are multiple forest/outdoor curriculum schools, yet the accessibility of English-speaking ones is limited. At Cherry Tree, we provide children with forest school inspired education while following the Framework Curriculum Program.
What are baby-sitting clubs?
Baby-sitting clubs or so called "mother centers" (Mateřská centra) aim to provide some level of networking for otherwise isolated mothers on maternity leave. Since the usual maternity leave can take up to 3 years, Czech mothers often seek children activities where both parents and their children can socialize. Such clubs offer music classes, dance activities, arts & crafts, etc. However, a certain level of parental involvement is usually required since these centers are not legally permitted to offer prolonged childcare.
In conclusion, each one of the above-mentioned options has its advantages and disadvantages. Every parent has a different preference and some favor location over premises or price over classroom size. No matter what your taste, situation or options are, don't rush with choosing the right preschool facility for your child. Nothing quite beats the feeling of knowing that your child is safe and happy and that you did your best in finding a school that really fits. Allow yourself enough time to decide, visit, ask questions and choose with your heart.
Important questions to ask when choosing a preschool
1) Is there a garden on the premises?
2) How often and how long do you stay outside?
3) What is your legal status?
4) Do you follow the National Framework Curriculum?
5) Can children complete their mandatory school year at your school?
6) Are you open throughout the summer holidays?
7) What health and safety measures do you take regarding COVID-19?
8) Are your teachers certified?
9) Are the teachers in your school native English speakers?
10) What does your adaptation program look like?
Anna Meissner is the founder of Cherry Tree, an English-speaking preschool in Vinohrady and an active mother of three young children. Cherry Tree is inspired by the forest kindergarten concept and aspires to give urban children the option to "grow with nature". Anna and her team are keen to assist expats and locals alike in finding the best education solutions for their children. Contact her directly via www.cherrytree.cz or via Instagram @cherrytreecz