This is an updated post (originally published June 2015). Last update: 13 February 2017.

after-school-drawing

Shortly after I published my blog “Ten Reasons We Love Our First Two Years at Public School“, I received a question from Miya, a local mom.

“How do working moms negotiate the strange hours for 1p and 2p? Here, it’s Mon-Wed mornings, Thursdays till 3 and Fri off. Our local UAPE costs more than if we put our son in private school.”

I have to agree with Miya in regards to expensive child care in Switzerland. A few years ago I was talking to a friend who lived in Germany, I almost fell off my chair when she told me that their day-care cost EUR190 PER MONTH for a 5-day week, while I used to pay CHF125 PER DAY. While the quality of Swiss child care is outstanding, the price IS astronomical.

So how do the employed parents deal with the before-, between- and after-school care when they sent their kids to public school? Here are some possibilities that I gathered from own experience as well as other parents I know.

Quit the job

I’m being brutal – sorry. I know this is an un-thinkable option for most of you. But it was what I and a number of other parents (usually moms) did. In my case it wasn’t a hard decision though. I wasn’t very happy with the system where I worked, I was facing a bottleneck selection to advance in the career, and I worked part-time that my work progress was too slow. Then we had our second baby and my academic salary couldn’t meet the price of child-care for 2 kids. There are many more reasons but I will spare you from them for now. The decision was well thought out and 3.5 years on, I still have no regrets.

Some other stay-at-home-mothers I talked to had many other strategies and reasons. Some went on un-paid leave for 1-2 years while looking for solutions for child-care. Some use it as an opportunity to learn a new thing (while kids are at school). Others started home-based businesses that fit the school hours. And some simply wanted to take care of their children.

Those said, I understand that being able to quit a job is a privilege for many. With single academic salary, our family is always on a tight budget, but we are far from suffering. I know that some families need both parents to work in order to fulfill their financial need.

At least one parent works part-time

This seems to be quite a common solution, especially on Wednesday when there is no school (whole day or in the afternoon, depending on the school and age). Many of my neighbors who both parents work have one partner works for only 60-80%. For example, in one family, the mom works 80% and the dad works from home for one day per week. This mean they can already cover 2 out of 5 school days per week.

Grandparents

Then comes the grandparents in the picture. Again, taking the same neighbor as an example, their two grandmas take turn to come once a week, so that they are able to cover 3 out of 5 school days. I know that some of you have local partners and can benefit from having close family nearby. But while most of us (our family included) don’t have family members who live nearby, don’t forget that they can perhaps help during the school vacations. Flying grandparents from another continent may seem expensive but compared to prices for a week of holiday camp, it may be cheaper. Plus, you get to see your parents or in-laws again – this is of course only to be happy about if you had good relationships with them 😉

Accueil familial de jour (a.k.a. Maman du jour)

I observed that many neighbors have maman du jour for at least a couple of days per week, especially for the younger kids (1-4P HarmoS). They drop the kids in the morning at maman du jour‘s house and pick them up there again after work. The maman du jour will bring the kids to school, pick them up before noon, feed them lunch, bring them back again for the afternoon session, and pick them up after school. From what I understand, registered maman du jour are paid by the hour, and similar to public day-care, the tariffs are based on the total revenue of the family. For example, a neighbor told me they paid around chf6/h plus extra for lunch and snack.

More info about this child care option here.

Taking turns with other parents

Two of our neighbors have been successfully doing this 2 days per week for the last 3 years. One of them is a SAHM and the other mom works part time. The kids are in the same class at school and they seem to be happy with this arrangement.

Nanny or jeune fille au-pair

A nanny is pricey (chf3,800-4,000/month based on this) however seems to pay off if there is at least one other child who is not yet in school.

Jeune fille au-pair costs significantly less (estimation here), but they require their own room and a language course. As far as I understand you are only allowed to have one if your household speak a certain language that the au pair is expected to learn during the stay. A local mom Valeria explained this in the comment section.

The children take care of themselves

It may surprise you that in Switzerland one can leave their older children home alone – before, in between, and after school hours. As far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong) there is no law in Switzerland that stated the legal age a child can be left alone. The parents simply use their common sense – don’t we all know that some children can be trusted already at age 7 while others still can’t at 12.

In most cases I know, the older children (usually starts at age 8-10) keep a house key with them so they can go home, eat a prepared lunch, and go back to school. Lunch break takes around 1.5hours and there are only a couple more hours after school until parents return home from school. The parents I talked to always had arrangements with family or neighbors living nearby so that the children could go to them or call them in case they needed help.

Supervised morning, lunch and after school activities (accueil parascolaire)

Now let’s talk about the accueil parascolaire that Miya mentioned in her question. In Lausanne the accueil parascolaires are grouped according to the age and class of the children. The kids are dropped at a place in the morning, go back there for lunch break, and picked-up in the afternoon. There are different plans for lunch or help with homework depending on their age and class.

To compare the cost of accueil parascolaire, I made a quick calculation based on this calculator, choosing the 100% care level and a total family income of chf 16,000/month (the lowest limit that generates the highest charge). The result is chf 1,918/month = chf 21,098/11-month (image below, data from February 2017).

accueilparascolaire-1enfant


To compare the cost of accueil parascolaire with that of private school, I calculated the school fee of International School of Lausanne (period 2016-2017) at the equivalent to 1P and 6P HarmoS:

  • Acceptance fee = chf 3,500-5,000 (I believe this is a one-time fee)
  • Yearly tuition fee = chf 25,000-25,750
  • Other academic related fees = chf 50-1,375
  • Transport cost ?
  • Total (at least) = chf 28,550 for Reception 4 (equal to 1P HarmoS) to chf 32,125 for Year 5 (equal to 6P HarmoS)

Now, note that school hours in ISL finish at 3:40pm and there children who don’t go home have to be either in after-school activities or after-school care programs until 6pm. So that to match accueil parascolaire (that keeps the children up to 7pm), the children at ISL must enroll in an after school activities.

From the information that I received (thanks Sibylle and Nikki) fees for activities are not included for Reception 3 & 4 (so that you have to pay extra, around chf 16-18/h), but included from Year 1. The activity hours, however, have different duration. For example: gymnastics 4:30-6pm, band 3:45-4:45pm and unihockey 3:45-5:15pm.

Let’s say that you need one extra hour per day to make it to 6pm. You’ll need to pay an extra chf 16/day if staying until 6pm, thus approx. chf 320/20 days.

Looking at this quick comparison (without calculating the fee of after-school programs in private school), public school with 100% child care cost at least chf 4,000 less per year than a private school if income reaches at least chf 16,000/month.

There are still a few things to include in your calculations, though:

  • If both parents work (full- or part-time) the child-care cost is tax-deductible (up to chf 7,100/child for 2016 tax.) I am not familiar with expat tax, but it seems that international school fee may also be deducted from tax under certain condition (more here.)
  • The accueil parascolaire in Lausanne offers an attractive 25% discount for 2 children, and 50% for 3 and more children. So if you earned chf 16,000/month and had 3 children enrolled in the same place, you pay only chf 31,647/11-month. See below:

accueilparascolaire-3enfants

  • Strictly my personal opinion, the critical phases regarding child-care cost in public school only last the first few years. Once the child is old enough to go home, lunch and do homework alone, there is no more cost as school is free. So while public school becoming cheaper or free, the fees continue to rise in private schools. Of course that is if you felt comfortable leaving your child alone.
  • ISL does not offer sibling discount, so the difference in total cost between public vs private gets more obvious when there are more than 1 child.
  • The very rough calculation I made was based on a 11-month year. I have been informed that the accueil parascolaire offers the possibilities of child care during school breaks, which is very useful during the long summer holiday. There is no child-care for children at ISL.

There! The complicated business of school age child-care! And even with all those written above, I’m sure you still have many other things to consider.

Finally, I’d recommend asking other parents in your area. They may give you other ideas! Some communes also have Le Jardin des Parents that can help you with more information. And read the fantastic comments below, that had helped me updated this post.

I hope this long post helps!

Tell me what you think! Leave a comment – if possible here on the blog itself rather than only on facebook, or even better in both 🙂

*I thank very much all the parents who had left comments, information and corrections. They were very useful!

**I’d like to declare that I am not against sending children to private schools – I fully understand that different families and children needs different arrangements. Public, private, home-schools… Let’s keep all education options open!

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