Schooling & Childcare in Zurich City - start here

If you are thinking of relocating to Zurich with children, you may find this information useful for schooling and childcare. Some of the info may apply to other cantons, especially German speaking ones but it is written with specific knowledge of Zurich city. Important - whilst the information will apply to the whole canton, in the city you will normally have more options with regards to schools and childcare than in a small village.

Post is structured as follows:

  1. School system in general
  2. Gymnasium specific information
  3. Support for kids who do not speak German
  4. Childcare options for school aged children
  5. Childcare options for children before school age
  6. How do dual working couples manage? A personal note
  7. Childcare is so expensive…. Is it really worth both of us working? A personal note

1. School system in general
The local obligatory school system is divided into several stages:

  • Kindergarten (Kindergarten): Children usually start kindergarten the year they turn 4 by July 31st.It focuses on play-based learning, social development, and basic skills acquisition.
  • Primary School (Primarschule): Primary education typically lasts for six years, from grades 1 to 6. The curriculum covers subjects such as mathematics, language, science, arts, and physical education.
  • Lower Secondary School (Sekundarschule): Lower secondary education spans grades 7 to 9. Students continue to study core subjects but also have more specialized classes and elective options.
  • Upper Secondary School (Gymnasium): After completing lower secondary school, students have the option to attend an academic-oriented upper secondary school (Gymnasium) for three to four years, preparing them for university entrance.
  • Vocational Education and Training (Berufsbildung): Alternatively, students can opt for vocational education and training (Berufsbildung) after lower secondary school, which combines classroom instruction with practical work experience in various trades or professions.
  • Tertiary Education: Zurich boasts several universities, including ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the University of Zurich, offering a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs.

The local school system in Zurich emphasizes a well-rounded education, with a focus on critical thinking, problem-solving, and practical skills development. Additionally, the system places importance on multilingualism, with many schools offering instruction in German, French, and English. Education in Zurich is publicly funded and generally of high quality, with a strong emphasis on equal opportunities for all students.

One cannot choose the school children will go to - this is based on your location and your children will be assigned to the local nearest school. Quality of schools is less about the school itself and more about the teacher kids are assigned to, hence its no point trying to live in a specific area to go to a specific school.

2. Gymnasium Specific Information

In Zurich, the Gymnasium is an academic-oriented upper secondary school that prepares students for university entrance and provides a rigorous curriculum focused on theoretical subjects. Admission to the Gymnasium typically requires strong academic performance and passing an entrance examination. Students can apply for either Langgymnasium (6 years) during the last year of primary school or Kurzgymnasium (4 years) during the second or third year of secondary school. The selection process often considers students’ academic achievements and standardized test scores. The first 2 years of Langgymi are the same regardless of the school. The last 4 years have an educational focus, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or humanities.

Students can prepare for the entrance exam by attending preparatory courses (privately or via the school) or receive tutoring. Overall, gaining admission to the Gymnasium in Zurich is competitive, but it offers students an excellent academic pathway toward higher education and future career opportunities.

3. Support for kids who do not speak German

In Zurich, local schools are well-equipped to integrate children who do not speak German as their first language, recognizing the linguistic diversity of the city’s population. Several measures are in place to support these students and ensure they have access to quality education:

  • Language Support Programs: Many schools offer specialized language support programs to help non-German-speaking students learn the language more effectively. These programs may include intensive language classes, tutoring sessions, or language immersion activities to improve students’ proficiency in German.
  • Multilingual Education: Zurich schools often embrace multilingualism, many gymansiusm offer a bilingual matura taught in Germany and English or French and English.
  • Peer Support and Integration Activities: Schools may organize peer support programs or integration activities to help non-German-speaking students feel welcome and included in the school community. These initiatives can foster friendships, promote cultural exchange, and provide additional support for language learning.
  • Cultural Sensitivity Training: Teachers and staff members receive training on cultural sensitivity and diversity awareness to better understand the needs of non-German-speaking students and create an inclusive learning environment. This training helps educators adapt their teaching methods and classroom practices to accommodate students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Parental Involvement: Schools encourage parental involvement and communication to support non-German-speaking students’ academic success. Parents are often invited to participate in school activities, parent-teacher meetings, and language workshops to learn strategies for supporting their children’s language development at home. You can ask the school for a translator to ensure good mutual understanding.

By implementing these strategies and fostering a supportive learning environment, Zurich schools effectively integrate non-German-speaking students and provide them with the resources they need to thrive academically and socially.

4. Childcare options for children before school age

In Zurich, childcare options before school age are widely available to support working parents and facilitate early childhood development. Families can choose from a range of options, including daycare centers (Kinderkrippen), family daycare (Tagesfamilien), and playgroups (Spielgruppen). Kinderkrippen are formal daycare centers that offer full-day or part-time care for infants and toddlers, providing a structured environment with trained staff, educational activities, and social interaction opportunities. At the time of writing a full time Krippe for a baby as of about 4 months will cost about 3000.CHF/monthly and offer childcare from about 7:30 to 18:30 (this varies in each Krippe). Tagesfamilien, or family daycare, involve leaving children with approved caregivers in a home setting, offering a more intimate and flexible childcare option. Spielgruppen are informal playgroups where young children can socialize, play, and engage in age-appropriate activities under the supervision of trained facilitators. These childcare options not only support parents in balancing work and family life but also contribute to children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development during their formative years.

5. Childcare options for school aged children

In Zurich, childcare options for school-age children are also available to accommodate the needs of working parents and provide enrichment opportunities outside of school hours. Before (as of 7 AM) and after-school (until 18 PM) care programs (Hort) are commonly offered by schools and community centers, providing a safe and supervised environment for children to stay after school until parents are available to pick them up. These programs often offer a variety of activities, including homework assistance, sports, arts and crafts, and recreational games, allowing children to socialize, learn, and unwind in a structured setting. Additionally, some parents may opt for private childcare services or arrange for supervised activities through extracurricular programs, clubs, or sports leagues to complement their children’s school schedule. Overall, childcare options for school-age children in Zurich aim to support working families and ensure the well-being and development of children beyond regular school hours.

Link to Hort information for Zurich city: Schulische Betreuung - Stadt ZĂĽrich

6. How do dual working couples manage? A personal note

We have navigated managing a dual career situation and children by doing the following at different stages in our life/career and children age.The info is a few years old but can still apply and of course everyone can pitch in with their own strategies :slightly_smiling_face:

So what did we do?

  • We chose to live in the city center as we figured we would have an easier life getting to places and more options for childcare. This proved to be true - our neighborhood had about 5 Krippes to choose from and several Hort where the kids could go to. Additionally, Zurich city must provide you a hort place if both parents are working.
  • Additionally, living in the city proved to be a good idea as kids got older. As of about 4th grade they came home after school by themselves and could be out playing with friends or going to their activities on their own - would not have been doable in a village setting.
  • We worked part time when we could - when kids were babies I worked 80% and then later we both worked 90% taking turns with Fridays off.
  • We took turns with morning and night routine - one of us would go to work early in order to leave at 17ish and be home by 18 when hort closes and the other one would stay home until about 8:25 when kindergarten opens and go to work a bit later and be home later.
  • We befriended neighbors with children similar age and traded favours - if both of us had to be in early, our kids would go to the neighbors for breakfast and to school together and we would do the same for them.
  • We got our kids to be independent pretty quickly (riding buses, going to friends places etc)
  • When we both travelled we got the grandparents to come (I think this is less of an issue now as travelling for work is a lot less)

7. Childcare is so expensive…. Is it really worth both of us working? A personal note

This is obviously a personal choice and every parent needs to choose what is better for them. Personally none of us wanted to give up our careers - on one hand because we love what we do, on the other because we wanted to be independent should anything happen in life. During the early Krippe years we had about 2-3 years where we spend more money on childcare than we earned with the second salary. These were crazy times… We looked at it from a long terms perspective and as an investment in our own sanity as well as longer term career, pension money and again security. Nowadays with higher deductions for childcare this impact will also be lessened. My advice is to take a long term view approach to this and not focus on the immediate situation only - returning to work after a few years out can be difficult in many fields and almost impossible in others.

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Reasonably good overview of different options how to reach “Matura” (qualification for university admission). Of course it differs by canton (e.g. in some cantons there is no public “Langgymi”). The article has more details.

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