The preschool system
Belgium stands out for having almost universal participation in preschool, with 98% of parents electing this option for their children. This is in part because preschool in Belgium is publicly funded. Though there is no standardized curriculum, many preschools are connected to primary schools and focus on preparation for primary education. Pre-primary school can also be a great chance to expose your children to a first language and social immersion in one of the local languages. You can find a list of some preschooling options in Belgium here.
Preschool starts on the 1st of September and usually finishes at the end of June. Just as in primary and secondary school, there are shorter vacation periods throughout the year. In the preschool system, children are divided into 3 age groups.
The enrollment process for preschools is fairly simple. Usually, parents are asked to provide:
- Birth certificate or passport
- Contact details
- Medical history (vaccinations, allergies)
- Proof of residence
Parents have the right to choose any preschool. However, some of them are very popular among expats and locals, so it can be hard to land a spot in one. In fact, some parents register their children in public nursery schools (crèches) before the birth of the child.
Registration dates vary among regions but follow a similar timeline. Many preschools have dates in the late fall when you can visit and get to know the school. Registration is usually open during the month of January, and this is done either online or by phone depending on your region. Keep in mind that siblings, children of staff, and children with French or Dutch-speaking parents may have priority, but applying early and to schools near your house can improve your chances. Parents usually have until early April to complete the official registration.
Fees for preschools can vary dramatically: public centers set individual fees according to the child’s parents' income. The costs range from over 1 euro to around 30 euro a day. Private institutions set their own individual prices.
Preschools start around 9am and finish around 4pm. To fit their parents working schedules, most of them will also offer an early morning service that starts at 7 am and an afternoon “club” with children activities until 6pm.
As in most countries, children in Belgian preschools learn to experiment and observe, develop basic social skills, follow a routine. In class, they play games, draw, learn the basics of language, numbers, music, and the environment that surrounds them.
Every year, children are assessed in certain skills to make sure they progress and learn as expected as well as to adjust to the individual needs.
How to choose a preschool?
Picking a preschool should be a carefully-considered choice. These are some basic questions parents may want to ask themselves when picking a preschool in Belgium.
- Is the center tailored to the needs of your child (pupil-oriented, supportive, adapted to special needs)?
- Is it going to be the best introduction to the primary school you are considering for your child (local, international)?
- Is it a certified center, recognized by an official institution? Is is connected or part of a good primary school?
- What costs are covered by the school? Are meals and diapers included?
- What are the meals like? Do they offer special dietary needs menu?
For more information about childcare and preschooling in Belgium, you may check the following sites provided by the European Union: