Written by Sue Legro
Leaving your young child with someone else is a big step. If you are new to Prague or struggling with Czech, the process can be doubly daunting.
Before you Begin your Search
Working through the following issues beforehand will save you time and help you to narrow your search quickly.
Budget: In-home sitters generally range from 90-140 CZK an hour, with most agencies charging at least 110 CZK an hour for experienced sitters. If you are considering a regular part-time or full-time sitter, be forewarned that some agencies charge a placement fee. Private nurseries vary widely in how much they charge: anywhere from around 7,000 CZK per month for a few days a week of half-day care to upwards of 15,000 CZK per month for full-time care. Think about the number of hours and time to day you will need a sitter to determine your total costs.
Many parents use a combination of nurseries and sitters. State nurseries (jesles) are significantly cheaper, even if they add a surcharge for non-Czech children. However, if you are collecting maternity benefits in the Czech system, be aware that you may forfeit your benefits if you send your child to a state nursery more than 5 days in one calendar month.
Language Issues: As with many other services in Prague, you can end up paying a premium for services in English (or other languages–Prague boasts a number of German, French, and Russian-speaking sitters and nurseries). Foreign or bilingual caregivers can communicate with parents in their own language, and they can give children who are not native speakers an early start in learning English. However, parents should be aware that many “English” nurseries may have only a few children who hear English at home or who have some command of the language.
Expat parents opting for a Czech-language nursery or sitter often cite the broad range of choices, cost savings, the opportunity to acquire a new language, and the ability to experience a new culture and make friends locally. A number of resources exist to guide your choices. Popular and relevant books about foreign langauges and children include Raising Multilingual Children by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, Growing up with Two Languages by Una Cunningham-Andersson, and Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. The Bilingual Families Web Page is another resource. [http://www.nethelp.no/cindy/biling-fam.html].
Types of Care
Prague has both agencies and independent sitters. Agencies have several advantages: they are licensed and insured (as are their sitters), they can find a replacement if the sitter is sick, and they pre-screen their sitters (also referred to as nannies, au pairs, or the Czech chůva or chůvička). Expat parents have found mediocre sitters at “good” agencies and great nannies at so-so agencies, so it can pay to look at more than one. Agencies serving Prague include the following: Agentura Baby; Agentura Boruvka; Agentura Chůvička; Domestica; Klara Agency; Melanie Person, s.r.o.; Agentura Pohoda; Prague Family; and Tetty.
Tip: Check the price list (ceník) on the agency websites to get an idea of the total cost of the sitter. Fees can include surcharges for care in a foreign language, care for more than one children, care for a sick child, care after 22:00. Some may charge placement fees of 2,000-6,000 CZK for finding a regular sitter; other agencies charge no fee. It can pay to shop around.
Parents using independent sitters often find them through word-of-mouth recommendations, and may feel more comfortable using someone who has already worked for a friend or acquaintance, particularly another expat. The expats discussion forum frequently lists postings by and for sitters, as does the listserve for members of the International Womens Association of Prague (IWAP).
No matter where you find your sitter, don’t forget to discuss language issues; i.e. which language the sitter will speak with your child and how well she speaks it (“she” because 99% of Czech sitters are female). It is also helpful to be clear about your expectations about discipline, diet, and diapering, even if they seem obvious to you.
New child care facilities appear regularly in Prague. Some offer “drop-in” care, where you use the facilities on an occasional basis, while others focus on regular care from two to five days a week. Location is listed after the listing.
The availability of care for infants (0-6 months) is quite limited, but Baby Bee (P3) and Pohádka (P4) both provide care for this age group as well as for older babies and toddlers. For children at least 6 months of age, most options are state nurseries. Your local town hall will have a list of these facilities, and you can also find them in the yellow pages under jesle. CPA Praha [cpapraha.cz] (P4, P6, P10) also accepts children as early as six months in their three facilities.
For children 12 months and up, some state nurseries offer babysitting facilities, such as Detské Jesle (P7) [www.pecovatelskecentrum.cz/jesle.htm] and Jesle Kotorská (P4). Modré Nebe (P1) also accepts one-year-olds and older children at the Prague 5 location.
At 18 months the options really open up, as do the price differences. BISP (P4, P6); EISP (P4), International Montessori School of Prague (P4), and Global Concepts (P4) all offer nursery care in an international school setting. Nestlingue (P4), Magic Castle (P4), Neverland (P6), Tetty (P6), and Our Submarine (P6) cater to a mix of Czech and expat children.
Two-year-olds can attend KinderGarten (P4) and Magic Hill (Ričany), and 2.5-year-olds are accepted at Bumble Bee (P6), Happy Child (P2), Happy Hippos (P10), and Klara Agency’s Salomoun (P1). Some schools require that children be potty-trained — be sure to ask whether this is required.
By the age of 3, you child can apply to all of the preschools listed in the expats directory not mentioned above, as well as any state kindergarten (mateřská škola). Drop-in centers in Prague’s shopping malls usually accept children from age 3 as well.
–Pay close attention to staff turnover. Consistency in caregivers is a major benefit for your child, and turnover at some nurseries can be quite high among both Czech staff and foreign “native speakers.”
–Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language. Many non-Czech speakers have used Czech-language nurseries successfully, relying on written notes from teachers, a friend who can interpret (get out your mobile phone!), and other creative solutions.
–Proximity is important. You may find the perfect nursery, but any commute over 30 minutes will bring stress into your life, whether you are sitting in afternoon traffic on the D1 or listening to your 2-year-old scream bloody murder on the Number 3 tram. Do a test run with your child to see how long it will take you to get to the nursery before paying tuition!
–Sue Legro is an environmental consultant; she and her husband are raising two young children in Prague.