German Kindergarten Culture Shocks

We were amazed at the notable differences between German Kindergarten and American preschool, prompting us to share our unique experiences with you. Here are our top German Kindergarten culture shocks as Americans living in Germany!

Our Top German Kindergarten Culture Shocks as Americans

Our German Kindergarten Culture Shocks

When we relocated to Germany, we were excited about enrolling our four-year-old daughter in a German kindergarten, expecting a seamless and enjoyable experience. However, we were taken aback by the cultural and mindset differences we encountered, requiring us to make significant adjustments to ensure our family’s well-being.

It never occurred to us how distinct the education and child-rearing methods in Germany were compared to those in the USA. Surprisingly, we’ve grown to cherish these differences and believe that Americans could gain valuable insights from Germany’s child-rearing philosophy. As a result, we learned to adapt to our German kindergarten culture shocks, which included significant changes in our thinking and behavior.

Some of the Differences between German Kindergarten and American Preschool

It’s important to note that these are general differences and individual preschools and kindergartens may vary in their approach and practices.

Age Range

In Germany, kindergarten is typically for children aged three to six years old, while American preschools usually accept children between the ages of two and five years old. In Germany, the ages are most often mixed as well. German kindergarten classrooms have children ages 3-6 all in one classroom and have the same teachers for that entire time (unless a teacher leaves, of course). For American preschools, there is a different class and teacher for each new school year.

Our Top German Kindergarten Culture Shocks as Americans


German kindergartens have a strong emphasis on play-based learning and socialization. Children spend a lot of time outdoors, engage in creative activities, and develop independence and social skills. In fact, the emphasis on play-based learning is so strong that Germans do not refer to Kindergarten as school. School starts in first grade. We love this approach as it is so much more appropriate for a child’s maturity and development.

American preschools may also emphasize play-based learning but may also have a more academic focus, including early literacy and math skills. We noticed that for our daughter Ella, she was doing a lot more worksheets in the US and while they have some worksheet activities here in her German kindergarten, it’s not nearly the same amount.

Teacher Training

In Germany, kindergarten teachers undergo extensive training, including a four-year degree in early childhood education. In the United States, there are no federal requirements for preschool teacher education, although some states have specific requirements.

Preschool and Vorschule

In the US, preschool refers to the entire time before a child starts elementary school, anywhere from 2-5 years old. Once they are 5 or 6, children enter elementary school in a Kindergarten classroom.

In Germany, preschool is called “Vorschule” and it refers to the last year of Kindergarten, typically between the ages of 5 and 6, where they prepare the children academically to enter elementary school (Grundschule).

Our German Kindergarten Culture Shocks - playgrounds and play outside are very different between the two cultures
German playgrounds are typically wooden and encourage kids to take risks. Many American parents would consider them quite unsafe but for Germans, it’s healthy and normal.

Playing Outdoors

Based on our experience, although it may differ for other Americans, our children typically only played outside in good weather conditions. In preschools, it’s common for children to wear nice clothes. Some parents become upset if the clothing gets dirty or stained. As you can imagine, thi creates a challenge for teachers, especially when playgrounds are small and not conducive to nature-based activities.

However, in German kindergartens, particularly in Waldorf kindergartens, children are encouraged to play outside, rain or shine. They’re required to come to school with proper outdoor gear, allowing them to play in any weather without worrying about clothing stains. And if there are stains, many parents are happy to know their kids played outside! Our daughter, Ella, frequently wears rain paints and snow pants that need to be washed because they get so muddy from playing in the dirt and with sticks. The playgrounds we’ve seen here are truly amazing, and we’re excited to share more about them in this post.

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