21.01.2016  Hilde von Balluseck

Educational venues or: Where does early education take place?

This article gives an overview of the different venues of early education in Germany.

Two systems: Children and Youth Services and the Education System

Early education up to the age of 13 takes place in different systems, which, in each case, work according to different laws and rules. Till the age of 6 we talk about elementary pedagogy; from the age of 6 onwards about primary pedagogy. 

Children and youth services encompass educational venues such as day care nurseries, day care centres and after school facilities, as far as they are not under the school administration. The legal basis is the Child and Youth Services Act. This law is interpreted differently by the federal states for day care nurseries and day care centres. The legal entitlement to day care for each child over the age of 1 is nationally valid. Day care centres might be run by state agencies or so-called free agencies that receive the required subsidies for equipment, operations and staff salaries from the federal state.

The status of children and youth services expressed in the staff salaries is still lower compared to that of the education system, which also includes primary schools. This is due to the history of children and youth services, which emerged only at the beginning of the last century from the poor relief. Only much later was the potential of children and youth services recognized and utilized for education. The educational programmes of the federal states attest to how education provided by day care centres and also by day care nursery is taken seriously.

From their organization primary schools (Grundschulen)  do not belong to the same system as day care centres.  In contrast to day care centres, primary school attendance is compulsory. The federal states define which professional contents teachers need to impart in the individual school levels.
A brochure in 20 languages (also in English) informs about the role of primary schools within the German education system.
Participating in other primary school programmes is optional and sometimes publicly funded (e.g. schools of music).

At home

The family
The parents need to be mentioned in the first place, being present with love and care for the child, giving him or her support and encouragement whenever necessary.
German government agencies are aware of the important role of parents. Therefore they support letters to parents. You can also find a letter to parents in English and in 15 different languages here:
Socio-educational family assistance (1)
When parents or single mothers or fathers are overburdened by the education of their children, the youth welfare office can give support by sending a family helper, who assists the family in everyday matters and in conflicts. Socio-educational family assistance as a form of aid was introduced in the 60s to reduce residential child care. In most cases parents getting into a situation of overstrain requiring external help are poor.
Quite often the protection of children against violence and neglect is in the foreground, but even in these cases education is afforded, e.g. when the family helper supports the children do their homework; when he or she speaks to the school teacher and also takes care of the daily family matters which the parents cannot manage.
In 2014 there were 70,745 families receiving socio-educational assistance.  (

Foster families and residential care
If the family helper cannot improve the situation with his or her work, other measures have to be considered. Alternatives that can be considered are: 
  • taking the child to a temporary foster home in case of imminent danger for his or her life
  • placing the child with a foster family after having cleared the situation
  • placing older kids in residential care
In case of imminent danger for the child the idea of education is pushed into the background. However concerning placement for a longer term the new environment becomes a venue of education.
Children who get into such a situation are endangered in their development. Their confidence in the environment and in themselves is broken. Intensive care in the foster family or in residential care is necessary to, at least, reduce these deficits if not to compensate. These educational venues have to overcome great difficulties.
In 2014 in Germany 23,353 children under 13 lived with foster families; 46,365 children were placed in residential care (2).

Day Care Nursery

A childminder cares for up to five children in his/her own flat. He/she looks after the children like in a family. The small group of children makes social learning and  selecting game partners possible.
Day care nursery is based on an agreement between parents and childminder, mostly facilitated by the youth welfare office. This office counsels the parents, examines the qualification of the childminder and bears the costs incurred.

Day Care Centre

A day care centre is a place where professionals fulfil the task of education and care. Today there are also many day care centres that accept children just a few months after birth. More often parents bring their child at the age of one or two – either after one or two years in the family or at a childminder’s. Most children  three years and up attend a day care centre.
The Bavarian Institute of Early Childhood Research has published a brochure in six different languages to provide parents with useful information on day care centres:
In Berlin a leaflet for the language proficiency assessment will be sent to parents before their children start school.

If the child does not speak German well enough to participate in class, attending remedial classes at the day care centre is mandatory.

On 1 March 2014 there were 3,285,126 children in day care centres or in after school facilities. 27.4 % of the children under the age of 3 attended such an institution; between 3 to 6 years of age it was 93 %. (Fachkräftebarometer 2014, S. 14).

These figures show elementary education being heavily promoted by the state and appreciated by parents.

Primary School

In Germany school attendance is compulsory for at least 10 years from age six onwards. The first school level is the primary school. In most federal states it takes four years, but in Berlin and Brandenburg six years, which means till the age of 13.
Formal education begins in primary school. Successfully completing one grade entitles you to go on to the next grade till the end of primary school. After completing 4 or 6 years the teachers give a recommendation on the kind of secondary school the child should attend.
In primary schools children are taught all educational contents deemed in German society important for success in further school levels and in professional training. These include the ability to read, to write, to gain new experiences and to absorb knew knowledge; an increasing capacity for abstract thinking; as well as learning the democratic values and the most important German legal concepts.
After lessons in the classroom, children get informal education in after-school care outside or within the schools through common activities, games or homework done under supervision.

Costs of venues for education (3)

State investment in educational venues of children and youth services and the education system is considerable.
In 2013 the public authorities spent €6,385 for each child in day care. This huge amount is the result of the great efforts made by the state and local governments to increase the number of places in day care and to extend the length of time that children can stay there per day. (
On average the school administration in the federal states spent €6,300 on each school child in 2012. However less money is spent on primary school children in comparison with academic high school students (Gymnasium). In fact a primary school child cost €5,400 in 2012, whereas an academic high school student cost €7,200. (
Although there is still much to improve, these figures demonstrate the great importance of early education in Germany..

Other educational venues

Open children and youth work
Open children and youth work providing informal education is part of child and youth services. It is a field of work for social workers/social pedagogues.
Open children and youth work also has educational functions; however these functions are not defined by law. It takes place in:
 children and youth centres
  • schools of culture, art and music for children and adolescents
  • adventure playgrounds
  • playmobil fun fairs
These facilities provide great opportunities for children to participate and have an important function of connecting children and adolescents from different backgrounds. 

Due to the focus on expanding day care the field of open children and youth work has almost disappeared from view of science and media.  Children and youth services have shifted more to institutions like day care centres and nursery day care. As good as it is to promote institutionalized early education, it is nevertheless important for children and adolescents to find areas of development that they can create on their own. These are the basics for a democratic understanding of society.

Sports clubs
Most commonly not connected with children and youth services there are sports clubs that are of great importance for the development of children and adolescents, because sports are a matter of competition AND commonality -  a contradiction that trainers, mostly without pedagogical training, need to balance out.
In 2010 well over a million children up to 6 years of age were members of sports clubs. In the 7–14 age group the number increased to over 4.5 million (DOSB 2011:S. 12).


This overview has shown early education occurring at very different venues. Children learn under most different conditions, be it autonomously or with adults. The attentiveness of the adults, their care, their educational attitude and their professional training are decisive for the success of education in most of these places.
The professionals at the different venues all have different perceptions of children and different ideas of the tasks adults should fulfil. There is very often a lack of understanding of children as well as of parents towards the different expectations. It would make sense, particularly if children and youth services and the education system tried to make their ideas compatible so that together families and professionals could optimally organize the processes of children's education .

Arbeitsgemeinschaft Jugendfreizeitstätten Baden-Württemberg (Hrsg.): Offene Kinder- und Jugendarbeit. Grundsätze und Leistungen. Stuttgart o.J. Abgerufen am 4.1.2016.
Autorengruppe Fachkräftebarometer (2014): Fachkräftebarometer 2014. München
DOSB (2011): Mitgliederentwicklung im Sportverein. Bestandserhebungen und demografischer Wandel zwischen den Jahren 2005 bis 2010.
Statistik der Kinder- und Jugendhilfe (2)


(1) There are also other children and youth services programmes for families. The BMFSFJ brochure often gives an overview: Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, download unter,property=pdf,bereich=bmfsfj,sprache=de,rwb=true.pdf
(2) Statistik der Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, tables sent by email and own calculations.
2) The figures for the different educational venues are from different years, since there is no summing up of either children and youth care or the education system. If you know other resources I would very much appreciate getting a feedback:

Die deutsche Fassung dieses Artikels finden Sie hier.

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