Pre-school education in Estonia is for children aged between 18 months and 7 years. Up to age 3, children attend daycare (sõim). Children between 3-7 years attend kindergarten (lasteaed). If you want to, your child can stay home until compulsory education begins at age 7. There are two types of kindergartens in Estonia – municipal (93%) and private (7%). In municipal kindergartens, you’ll pay a small tuition fee and the cost of meals. In private kindergartens, the fee is much higher and additional admission conditions can apply.
As a parent, you are free to choose a suitable kindergarten for your child. In most kindergartens, Estonian is the language of instruction, but there are also Russian kindergartens where Estonian is taught. In addition, there are three international kindergartens and pre-schools in Tallinn and one in Tartu, all of them privately owned.
If the kindergarten has vacancies in a suitable age group, you can enter your child in the middle of the year. Do check the waiting list, though. That varies throughout the local municipalities. Municipal kindergartens can have long waiting lists (parents put their children on the list already when they’re born). Best first action to take is to get in touch with the kindergartens executive board members (i.e. director). A phone call or an email is best. You can search for all educational institutions in Estonia on the Estonian Education Information system (EHIS).
The search is available only in Estonian, but here are some tips to help you during your search:
- Õppekeel – language of study;
- Õppeasutuse liik – type of institution;
- Koolieelne lasteasutus – preschool;
- Asukoht – location. This allows you to choose the county and also the local government unit.
After pressing Otsi (search), you will get a list of kindergartens. By clicking on the small book symbol in front of the kindergarten name, you’ll see additional information and the kindergarten’s website.
Tallinn has a separate search engine (only in Estonian as well) which also shows you whether there are any vacancies in a specific kindergarten. To enrol your child in a municipal kindergarten, the child must be registered in the Population Register and have a personal identification code. No worries, you’ll get the code automatically when obtaining a residence permit.
As an EU citizen you can also get it when registering your place of residence at the local government service office. Pay in mind to register your place of residence – this determines your “catchment” area and the local government that will be providing social services for you. As an exception, you can also enrol your child in a municipal kindergarten with just an identification code (obtainable from the County Government) and without having registered the place of residence.
Private kindergartens don’t ask for the identification code or for a registered place of residence. You have to submit your application to the kindergarten directly (either in person or via e-mail). The applications can be found on the kindergartens’ websites. When putting your child on a waiting list, you can specify three preferred kindergartens on the application form.
The prices vary a great deal between municipal and private kindergartens. Most of the fee for municipal kindergartens is covered by the local government and you only have to pay an equal to 7.5-15% of the minimum wage. (In 2021, the additional sum paid by a parent was 88.45 euros a month in Tallinn.) Additionally, you also have to cover the catering fee which comes down to 1.31-2,40 euros a day. Private kindergartens cost more. Ask for the specific fee from the kindergarten directly. If your child is registered to live in Estonia, your local government will also pay a small subsidy for your child every month. The subsidy varies across country, but it’s usually over 100 euros.