How to find a Kita spot in Berlin for a 3-year old - from abroad!

12 February 2020 | By Lisa H

Alina is the mom of a 3-year-old and shares her tips for finding a Kita spot for a slightly older child, from abroad no less! She just moved back to Berlin from the Middle East, where she lived with her partner and daughter for one year as expats. She believes that quality childcare should be accessible to all families who need it.

How did you approach and organize your Kita search?

The reason we moved back to Berlin is that we both are changing jobs. So the day we had this confirmed, I started thinking about our Kita search and googled “Berlin Kita Suche” for the first time. Our first steps then were contacting friends with children for recommendations, joining Facebook groups and spreading the word that we were looking for a spot.

We were in the incredible position of already knowing where we would live since we were returning to our apartment, which we had sublet while away. This really helped a lot.

If you’re looking for an apartment at the same time as looking for a Kita spot, I would try either searching near the place you spend most of your time during the day (like your office) or deciding on your favorite neighbourhood. If you want to get the Gutschein you will have to figure out a Meldeadresse (official address where you live and are registered) anyways, so that could be your starting point.

This was our process, 3 months before moving to Berlin (spoiler alert: none of these were very helpful for us...)

  • Contacting most Kitas near our apartment

  • Contacting Kitas that had free spots - as advertised on Facebook or on the Berlin website (which has now been replaced by the Kita Navigator)

  • Getting in touch with the Kitas our friends attend and/or where recommended by others

Of course we listed everything in an online excel sheet, as recommended, and then hoped for the best.

What tips do you have for other parents looking for a spot from abroad?

None of the above steps turned out to be helpful for our particular situation and here’s why.

From our research we learned that in general you have to distinguish between the big Träger-Kitas and the small Elterninitiativ-Kitas (EKTs) or Kinderläden.

The Kita spots that were advertised online were mostly by small EKTs oder Kinderläden and, in my opinion, these are not really a good option when just moving to Berlin. In my experience (3 Kinderläden), they each handled their casting process in different ways and asked us to come by quite last-minute to meet.

All three Kinderläden wanted for all Erzieher*innen to check if the child would fit into the group and wanted us to come by twice for this reason. While we made it possible to visit three Kinderläden while in Germany in November, none of these “child interviews” turned into a spot but cost us an awful amount of nerves (convincing a three year old to go “Kita Casting” and never being allowed to stay and play) and money (for travelling to Berlin and staying there).

The main reason we heard they wouldn’t offer us a spot is that we didn’t live in the Kiez and therefore would probably change Kita once we found one closer to our home. So it doesn’t really make sense to go looking outside of your neighborhood. Plus, if not yet living in Berlin, I would not try to go down the Kinderladen route again.

The Kitas that were recommended by friends either had already closed their waiting lists or never got back to us at all. To me, Kita search in Berlin is a numbers game and you always have around 50% of Kitas who don’t answer at all.

So we then concentrated on the (many!) Kitas around our apartment and that eventually did the trick. It helped to tour the neighborhood in person and quickly chat with the Kitaleitung (head of the Kita) – that’s how I got the information about a new Kita opening.

But then it also helped to be patient, because one month before moving to Berlin we suddenly got offered four spots, after texting all the Kitas that were listed as having a free spot on the Kita Navigator (again). I didn’t even have to bring my kid by again, just met the Kitaleitung and they said we should let them know. Easy peasy – we were even able make a real decision.

Because all parents are on so many waiting lists, it’s only shortly before the spot opens up that the Kitas realize how many people are actually still interested. So don’t ride the wave of panic (that’s a real disadvantage when joining Facebook groups) until you have to and be patient with the Kita Navigator. I think it may still take a while but it can be helpful in some cases already!

What can you share about looking for a spot for a slightly older child?

Some information that’s available is mostly for parents looking for a spot when their child turns one. For example, I got emails in the fall of 2019 telling me that the waiting list would not be opened again before 2021.

So this information is obviously directed to parents who just had their baby and are looking for a spot starting a year later and not for parents who are moving to Berlin. We had to realize this and shake of the panicky vibes you get from hearing that there are waiting lists for the year when your kid will already be in school…

Also, I feel that when looking for a spot for a three year old it becomes rather important whether the child is a boy or girl and what they bring to the group, in terms of character, preferences and passions. While I think it’s very old school to be looking for boys or girls (because many kids don’t fit into their gender rules and are e.g. wild and rough despite being a girl) it does make sense for parents to describe their child's character.

You may also find some Kitas or concept more suitable than others depending on your child’s character and preferences. For example, you may already know at that age if an open concept works for your child or if smaller groups would be better. So those can be additional criteria when creating your list.

Also mention in your email if your child has Kita experience (or any experience of being looked after by others) – I got asked this in every interview, probably because it’s hard to start first Kita when already three years old.

What were the most important things you learned that you’d like to share with the community?

Most people I talked to were very understanding and nice to me, even pitying me and wishing me a lot of luck. One caregiver even called me to tell me how sorry she was she couldn’t offer me a spot. So that helps to not give up hope.

I think it also helped to write a little family description in German about us being a xyz family and the kid being interested in this and that. People may create a certain image in their heads and you lose being just parents number 62 to mail this month.

It may seem like an overwhelming process but if you are organized, patient and persistent, then chances are pretty good that you will find a spot. Good luck!

Thanks, Alina, for sharing your tips and advice and good luck for the Eingewöhnung!

Find the right Kita in your neighborhood:

How to find a Kita spot in Berlin for a 3-year old - from abroad! 12 February 2020

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