My family is soon going to relocate to Berlin. We have two small children (4 and 1 year old). The older one already speaks three languages, but no German. We would like him to learn the language so that he is ready to go to school next year, but are not sure whether we should register him in a German (only) Kita or if we should rather look for a bilingual one. We are concerned that going to a new Kita with no friends and no ability to communicate with other children will be too hard on him. Does anyone have a similar experience? Could you please share how your child dealt with such a situation?
Welcome to Germany and a society which does everything by the book. I see no implicit reference to what Berlin will require of you and your child in your question. Preschool childcare leading to primary school entrance will be confined to the school district in which you live. The Senate admits there is an extreme lack of free places in all Schools throughout Berlin, which explains why some people will register for places at their chosen nurseries and schools during or even before pregnancy. They certainly look for accommodation in areas with good provision, or move out to satellite towns in Brandenburg. Private and international schools are equally over-subscribed, but do try to accommodate new arrivals.
There are also legal requirements set by the Berlin Senate Administration for Education, Youth and Family. Every child is tested 18 months before they start school when they are 6+ Intake this fall is for children born between 1st October 2014 and September 2015. Only those with necessary mental, physical, cognitive and German language skills will be admitted. The school district will require remedial language tuition and assist you in finding a suitable Kita and learning environment. A child can be required to repeat any school year if they lag behind at any time. Again you will have limited influence on when and what will be offered. Berlin and Brandenburg have agreed to allow a certain amount of cooperation with provision near the parental workplace if it serves the interest of the child. This is a huge concession to individual needs of working parents, however it undermines the concept of creating a socially cohesive society within a large urban area.
The neighbourhood with all the associated facilities known as the “Kietz” in German develops a strong community spirit and affiliation, where people know one another from growing up and passing through all the stages in life like any small town would. Because there is so much more to add, I have put together a detailed response in a Google document here.
Given the official requirements plus the need to press ahead with learning German as quickly and painlessly as possible, I recommend making contact with the administration, kindergarten and schools to arrange admission in advance (when possible) with total language immersion as soon as you hit German soil. If your employer has offered help, involve them now. From my own experience (as a 5 year old, a parent, grandparent and EFL teacher) I know parents stress out far more than anyone, especially their own offspring who are simple sociable creatures with few inhibitions, quite happy to play with others without verbalising. Better to be a bit bewildered at the beginning, to maximise preschool learning, integrate and make friends before the cohort moves up to the next stage in their full-time education. Be brave and remember there is more involved to good communication skills than mere speech.