How to Make Sure Your Child Adapts Well at a German Kita

06 July 2023 | Kita Search | By Lisa H

As an international family in Germany, you may be wondering how your child(ren) will fare in the local daycare system.

As you may know, there are a good amount of bilingual Kitas in Berlin covering a variety of languages. However, given the shortage of Kita spots in Berlin, you should not limit yourself to only bilingual Kitas and should also apply for German-only Kitas.

Here are a few questions that may be going through your mind about how your child will adapt to their surroundings in terms of language. We asked our expert Lauren Piper how she would answer the most common questions and concerns.

Lauren is an early childhood educator and behavior consultant. She teaches in a bilingual Kita and worked on a research project to create a better Eingewöhnung process for children in a multilingual setting. She has a 22-month old son, who is about to start Kita.

What are some important things to keep in mind when considering the language(s) spoken at a given Kita?

For you as parents in a German Kita, it is important to know if you will be able to communicate with the educators. Many Kitas do have one or two educators at least who can speak a little English, so it’s good to ask what that looks like. This way you can know if you would be comfortable there as a parent.

The same question goes for the children if it is a German-only Kita. 

When I was looking for a Kita spot for our son, I liked to ask if the educators would be able to at least say a few key phrases in English to my child if they seemed to really be struggling and this question was very helpful. 

I would get a range of answers from, “Yes, absolutely,” to “They learn very quickly to understand German.”

I felt that though yes, a child will pick up quickly, this doesn’t mean they will be comfortable. If an educator can say a word or two when the child really seems to need support, this can make a world of difference.

How can parents find out if a Kita is really bilingual?

Some Kitas say they are bilingual and that multiple languages are spoken, but that does not mean they are bilingual. It may mean they have people who can speak multiple languages, however there may not be the “One Person One Language” Method.

They might just switch as needed to different languages depending on the child and situation. This isn’t necessarily bad, your child will be understood, it just means that your child is not in a bilingual setting in which they will come out of it being potentially fluent in two languages.

In my experience with bilingual Kitas here in Berlin, they tend to follow the “One Person One Language” method, meaning that each person only speaks their native tongue and sticks to it. In an English/German setting: One teacher who is English only will speak English and one who is German only speaks German. In my opinion, this is the best way for a child to learn multiple languages in a Kita setting and actually retain both languages to a degree of potential fluency.

It would also be nice to know if there are other families of other languages there. This can be very helpful because maybe the educators do not speak too much of your native tongue but a few children do, and this can be good for you and your child to feel comfortable. 

What would you recommend for a family that does not speak German at home but wants their child to attend a German-only Kita?

I would recommend looking for a Kita that will speak German but also has the ability to communicate with you and your child in their native tongue. 

Make sure you understand the philosophy/pedagogy so you can know what to expect from the curriculum/style of the Kita. 

This note is because sometimes in attending Parents Meeting at a German Kita, it can be hard to know exactly what their methods are if they are explaining it in German, so just make sure to try to clarify that you understand what it is.

What about attending a bilingual Kita if only one of the languages is spoken/understood by the child?

This can be a great choice. Of course it is hard to find bilingual Kitas, but if your child is able to understand one of the languages spoken, this is very beneficial to them. (See more on finding a bilingual Kita in Berlin below)

They will hopefully, if the method is done right, still learn all the same vocabulary in the other language the Kita has to offer, but off the bat they will have a better chance of feeling understood and that they can communicate (even as a child under 1). Also the parents will feel understood and like they can communicate, which can be quite important.

How can parents and educators help in making the transition as smooth as possible for a bilingual or multilingual child?

Communication is always the key. As a parent, you can provide a list of the words your child has and what it means, so that the educators can have a bit of a clue of what your child might be trying to tell them. 

Often even a German Kita will try to pair a non-German child with a Bezugsperson (their main contact person) who can speak their language. You can bring this up in your meetings to see if this is something that is possible. I know this will be happening at my son’s Kita when he starts in August and it helps me to feel very reassured.

How can a family prepare outside of Kita?

Parents can try to have playdates with friends and other children who speak German (or whichever language your child doesn’t speak) to see how your child responds to being spoken to in a different language. 

When looking for a babysitter, parents can find one that speaks German but can also speak or understand your child’s native tongue. We ended up with a German babysitter and strangely, our monolingual son seems to understand everything. 

You can also bring your child to German playgroups, Pekip, etc…

The more your child is exposed to the language, the less confused and out of place they will feel when they start a Kita that is completely in German.

Anything else that families need to know?

I do believe that all children can adjust quite well because their brains are very plastic and they do learn quickly. 

However, preparation and the ability to give your child a chance to feel understood in the classroom will help them a lot. 

As I previously mentioned:

A child can learn, but it doesn’t mean they are comfortable. 

It is great to be here in Germany and to expose our children to another language. I know I wish I’d had a second language before middle school. If you are anxious about the process, try to do the preparations from above and remember that children are resilient! 

Keep in mind that communication and the ability to feel understood is so important for a young child and as long as that part is covered even a little bit, your child will thrive.

Learn more about the Erasmus Research Project Lauren partook that studied the settling-in of children in a multilingual setting.

You can search for bilingual Kitas in Berlin by putting “[your zip code], [desired language] in the search field. If you’re looking for English/German Kitas, you may also want to check out our list of private Kitas in Berlin.

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