What to expect
Historically, child care in Austria was more family-centered than education-centered, but this has been shifting for quite some time. Because of the low cost of pre-school and the benefits for children, most parents enroll their children by the age of 3. With the introduction of free and compulsory kindergarten for 5 year olds, there has also been a greater focus on improving early language development.
While child care philosophies vary depending on the kindergarten, many emphasize the importance of learning through play. The Montessori preschool in Vienna, for example, believes a hands-off approach is best and allows children to freely explore their environments. Many kindergartens also organize outings, cultural events and sports activities.
Compared to child care in many other countries, kindergarten in Austria is very cheap because it is subsidized by the government. At public kindergartens, parents usually only have to pay for the cost of food, which is around €60 a month. Classes generally consist of one teacher, one assistant teacher, and a group of up to 24 children aged 3-6 years old. Many have long opening hours (7 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and are only closed a few days of the year.
Because of these perks, state kindergartens tend to be in high demand, so you may not get your first or second choice. Consideration is given to factors such as the parents’ working situation and the child’s age. To begin the process, you must first register with your local municipal office, where your child will be given a ‘Kundennummer’ needed to apply. Applications can then be submitted online, by mail, or in person to your municipal office between November and December for the following September. You will usually find out if and where you got a place by March at the latest.
There are many different flavors of private kindergartens in Austria. While these usually cost more than state kindergartens, many are also heavily subsidized (you can expect to pay around €250 a month). They normally have lower teacher to student ratios (as low as 1 to 7), offer a wide range of childcare philosophies, and allow you to apply any time during the year.
There are three main types of private kindergartens: German, bilingual and religious. Religious kindergartens are usually taught in German, while bilingual kindergartens are taught in English and German. Many expats choose bilingual kindergartens because they allow their children to get a head start on learning German before formal schooling begins. There are also some kindergartens that only teach in English, but these are usually more expensive because they are connected to international schools.
A list of private kindergartens in the districts surrounding Vienna can be found at www.kindergarten.at. To apply, you should visit or contact the individual kindergartens.
For parents who would like to be more involved, a Kindergruppe (or parent-run kindergarten) is a great option. These usually consist of a group of no more than 15 children and 2-3 staff members, so children receive a high level of care.
Parents agree to take on various responsibilities including cooking, cleaning, and holding administrative positions, and these amount to around 15 hours per parent per month. As a result, the cost for these kindergartens is usually lower than for other private options (parents pay around €100 a month). Another advantage is that parents have a say in decision making and in the individual needs of each child.
To find a Kindergruppe, you can visit www.wiener.kindergruppen.at.