Young children aged between one and five can access childcare in Switzerland. As of 2019, the OECD reported that Swiss childcare is some of the most expensive in Europe, but that comes alongside some of the highest standards of care.
All children in Switzerland have at least one year of voluntary childcare or “preschool” before joining the school system at age six. Childcare for very young children is privately run in Switzerland, with a multitude of companies offering diverse experiences for your child, many of them in English.
Entitlement to childcare in Switzerland
Switzerland operates a private system of childcare between the ages of zero and four, with state-funded preschool programmes beginning on your child’s fourth birthday. Before this time, you are expected to pay for any childcare that your child receives, although these costs can be deducted when filing your tax return. Additional support for childcare can be found through the family allowance.
Early-years childcare in Switzerland can be broadly split into two different stages:
- Private daycare (0 - 4 years)
- State-run preschool (4 - 6 years)
Childcare types in Switzerland
If you would like to access care for a child aged between zero and four, there are many different options available. Switzerland has a large system of independent childcare facilities, with many of them specialising in certain types of care. There are also many childcare centres that will be able to deliver their services in English, particularly in the larger cities of Switzerland. Since childcare at this stage isn't government-funded, you are not obliged to send your young child to daycare, but apart from helping you return to working in Switzerland, it might also be a rewarding experience for your child as they interact with new people. There are also centres that can support new parents from the birth of the child.
The most common form of Swiss childcare is the system of crèches. These are facilities that provide comprehensive care for your child from a young age. They usually open at 7am and continue until 6.30 at night Monday to Friday, although some may offer weekend or overnight services. Places are always in high demand, so it is recommended to apply for your child well in advance, even during pregnancy as part of prenatal care.
Family daycare and family crèche
In addition to a traditional crèche, registered foster families and crèche workers may offer care for your young child at their home. This system relies on families and people authorised by the Department of Youth Protection caring for your child temporarily during the day. The benefit of this type of care is that they can offer a more personalised service and be more flexible than a regular crèche. These services are in high demand and the application process can be more rigorous.
Home daycare and nannies
The final option for young children is to pay for home daycare for your child. This is where a registered nanny attends your house every day as required to take care of your children. This is a good option should you require the flexibility and highly personalised care that a nanny provides. It must be noted that you can still claim family allowance for the child, even if you have a nanny.
Preschool in Switzerland (Kindergarten)
Preschool in Switzerland begins when your child is four years (or four years and six months if they are born later in the year) old. It is designed to prepare children for regular primary school starting at age six to nine depending on whether preschool is integrated with primary. Preschool is a chance for them to interact with their peers, as many kindergarten classes transfer directly to a primary school. The curriculum of the school is decided upon by your county (canton) of residence. It is non-competitive and there are no rigorous or standardised tests involved.
Some of the common curriculum items are:
- Healthy activities and play
- Language courses for each language of Switzerland
- Basic mathematics, writing, reading and speaking
Where is preschool compulsory in Switzerland?
In Switzerland, only some cantons make preschool between the ages of four and six mandatory. In others, it is either voluntary or children only have to attend one year before starting primary school, although they can attend for the full two years if the parents choose. The system that each canton uses is listed below.
Cantons with two years of compulsory preschool
The cantons that have two years of compulsory preschool are Aargau, Bern, Basel Land, Basel Stadt, St. Gallen, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, Thurgau and Zurich.
Cantons with one year of compulsory preschool
In Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Lucerne, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schwyz, Uri and Zug, only one year of preschool is mandatory; the second year is voluntary.
Cantons with voluntary preschool
Some cantons make preschool entirely voluntary for your child. In the cantons of Glarus and Graubünden, no parent is obliged to send their child to preschool, but they can choose to do so.
Cantons with two years of preschool with an optional third
Ticino is the only canton in Switzerland that offers an additional (voluntary) third year of preschool on top of the two compulsory years.
Cantons with an integrated preschool system
Some cantons, particularly in the French part of Switzerland, integrate preschooling into primary schools, meaning there is little distinction between the two. These cantons are Freiburg / Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchatel, Vaud and Valais.
Who pays for preschool in Switzerland?
All preschools are paid for via the tax system in Switzerland. This means that it will not cost you anything to send your child to preschool. Bear in mind that this only applies to state-run preschools and not international schools.
How do I apply for Swiss preschool?
Although Swiss preschools are non-selective, you still need to apply for a place for your child. Once you have selected a preschool, you must write a formal letter to either the school or the Department of Education for your canton, stating your child’s name, age and intended start date, alongside any additional needs such as the requirement to learn a Swiss language.
What are preschools like in Switzerland?
Swiss preschools follow the same school holidays as typical schools. The day starts between 8.30 and continues until lunch at noon. You are then expected to pick up your child and provide lunch. The day resumes at 1.30pm and continues until 3.30pm. Some preschools offer longer hours, particularly international schools, but a typical preschool day is only five and a half hours long.
Additional childcare in Swiss preschools
In addition to regular preschools, some Swiss cantons offer extra services for children, particularly if their parents are in financial difficulty or work long or abnormal hours. Some of these services include:
- School meals during the one and a half hour lunch break.
- Before and after school activities, starting from 7am in most cantons.