A Guide to Kindergartens and Preschools in Shanghai

By Michaela Fulton 2018-12-20 23:26:08

An important part of a child’s journey through education

Cost of kindergartens and preschools in Shanghai

Curriculum and systems


What to look for when choosing a kindergarten or preschool

1. Preschool and beyond

2. What are the play areas like?

3. Location, location, location

Whether you’re seasoned in choosing a kindergarten for your child, or this is your first time having to go through the motions of finding what you perceive to be the best fit for your family, it can certainly be an overwhelming process. Kindergarten bridges a student’s preschool with their future elementary school learning – so it’s an important part of a child’s journey through education.

The preschool and kindergarten scene in Shanghai has expanded to include top quality nurseries, day-care centres and more that have popped up all over the city. Each one offers different environments, philosophies and curricula and taking the time to visit and learn about the different kindergarten options available to you is an important part of the process. But what kindergarten options are available to you in Shanghai? You’ll find everything from: private international schools with a kindergarten division, both international and bilingual kindergarten preschools to cater to your language needs as well as kindergartens and preschools that offer more alternative approaches – Montessori, Reggio Emilia, EduDrama and more.

Cost of kindergartens and preschools in Shanghai

Kindergarten Preschool Crayons

Whether you choose to send your child to a kindergarten division of an international school, or opt for the Montessori approach, it’s good to know the costs involved:

For kindergarten divisions within private international schools, you can expect costs to range from around:

For international and bilingual kindergartens in Shanghai, costs can be:

For Montessori / Reggio Emilia and other alternative approaches you’ll be looking at costs of:



 International Schools 





 Bilingual and Local Schools





 Preschools and Kindergartens



 ¥79,800-¥297,000/year   ¥100,000-¥210,000/year  ¥40,000-¥162,000/year

Curriculum and systems

Kindergarten Preschool in Shanghai Classroom

In Shanghai’s kindergartens and preschools you’ll find a wide variety of possibilities when it comes to different curricula and systems. These can range from PYP-based education (a Primary Years Programme following the IB school method that prepares students to become active, caring, lifelong learners) and Montessori approaches to more Chinese or national-oriented curriculums. For this, it’s important to speak with the child(ren)’s school and teacher for more details.

Ultimately, your choice will depend on the kind of future that you foresee for your child and the type of kindergarten or preschool experience you want them to have:

  • Bright Start Academy follow an American-style curriculum using the Signets Immersion Teaching Method to develop a standard of language competence across the curriculum.

  • Busy Bee Education aim to teach children how to socialise, respect and listen, using an American curriculum in their kindergarten that is designed for the Chinese market.

  • EtonHouse International School Shanghai lay a foundation through which students are inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach – a pedagogy described as utilising self-directed, experiential environments in which children are driven by their interests to understand and know more.

  • The Little Urban Center Preschool (LUC) uses a blend of teaching methods that include Western English (phonics) and an LUC developed Chinese curriculum on par with bilingual kindergartens.

  • Little Scholar Academy follows the UK National Curriculum (English phonics) and US Common Core (Language, Arts and Math), as well as Chinese programs to Shanghai government standards (Mandarin).

Another example is Julia Gabriel School, a bilingual kindergarten in Shanghai which is governed by the Shanghai Bureau of Education. They adapt their “current curriculum from [their] Julia Gabriel Education in Singapore,” informs Francesca Chan, China Country Director of Julia Gabriel Education, “our English and Chinese bilingual curriculum is carefully structured and planned and includes thematic activities, literacy and phonics including the Oxford Reading Tree scheme … [and whose] Research and Development team from Julia Gabriel Education Singapore visits our campuses in Shanghai regularly for continuous professional development, to ensure a high quality of education and that [they] are at the forefront of the latest research in Education.”

Kindergarten Preschool Shanghai Montessori Building


Started by Maria Montessori in 1907, Montessori refers to a theory of education characterised by freedom within limits, thus facilitating the development of the child’s independence during their time in kindergarten. This style of education began when Maria Montessori opened the Casa dei Bambini, otherwise known in English as Children’s House, in a low-income district of Rome. Her unique philosophy sparked the interest of educators worldwide whose methods focus on the child’s natural learning process, honed by independently working with materials rather than direct instruction. (https://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/History-of-Montessori-Education)

In this kindergarten, children learn ‘real life skills’ such as how to take care of themselves and their surroundings; they’ll wash tables, organise shelves and help prepare meals – all things that will translate and transfer while they grow. In an interview with Parents & Kids Magazine, Shirani Senanayake, Head of Montessori School of Shanghai explains how the Montessori culture is “devoted to helping each child grow towards independence by building confidence, competence, self-esteem and respect for others…[offering] children opportunities to develop their potential as they step out into the world as engaged, competent, responsible and respectful citizens.” It takes the whole family to understand for it to work and ensure that the parents are involved in the school to understand their child(ren)’s journey, but once the child has completed the three-year cycle, “the results speak for themselves,” continues Senanayake.

What to look for when choosing a kindergarten or preschool

Kindergarten Preschool Children Laughing

You’re going to have a wide variety of choices that range from kindergarten divisions within private international schools such as Yew Chung International School of Shanghai and The British International School Shanghai (BISS) Puxi to independent institutions such as Tiny Tots International Pre-School and Kindergarten and Morgan Rothschild. So, before you start your search, there are a few things you need to first consider and questions to be asked in order to choose the ‘right’ kindergarten for your family. Children are learning at an incredible rate from the moment they are born, so choosing the right kindergarten will be the first step on their future ladder of education; make your choice count.

Download our School Visit Checklist to take with you.

On speaking to a number of kindergartens and parents, there were some key questions in the forefront of parents’ minds:

  • Is the kindergarten or preschool directly linked with international primary schools in Shanghai?

  • What are the play areas like?

  • Where is the preschool or kindergarten located?

Parents should take the time to visit and learn about multiple kindergartens, as “there is no perfect kindergarten – there is only the kindergarten that is the right fit for you and your family,” explains Sarah C. Frigeni, Director of Tiny Tots International Pre-School and Kindergarten. The more you see, the clearer the picture of what you’re really looking for in a school you would like when you find the answers to common concerns such as the daily schedule, curriculum, environmental safety and qualifications of teachers working in the kindergarten or preschool. Here are some top check points to consider when selecting your kindergarten:

1. Preschool and beyond

Kindergarten Preschool Building Blocks

Are you interested in choosing a kindergarten that ultimately leads onto primary and higher within one school, for example starting off in kindergarten divisions of schools such as Shanghai HD Bilingual School, Wellington College International School or Harrow International School? Or are you happy to enrol your child(ren) into a standalone kindergarten depending on how closely it matches your expectations, and perhaps time in Shanghai too, such as The Little Urban Center Preschool (LUC), Freesoul International Kindergarten or Julia Gabriel?

According to Chu Shiu Kee’s findings in his Achieving EFA and Beyond, Education for All in China 2000-2010 journal, attaching kindergarten or preschool classes to primary schools has been considered “likely to offer learning environments and practices that are more child-friendly for their emotional, social and intellectual development and for better school preparedness”. It allows young children to become accustomed with school life prior to entering primary grades – which could be perceived as useful no matter where your family ends up.

If you’re staying in Shanghai long-term, it may also be wise to consider if you’d prefer enrolling your child into a kindergarten that is directly linked to an international school for ease of future application and continuation through the same system. If you’d prefer to opt for a standalone kindergarten, be sure to check:

  • what the process is like for graduating students enrolling into the next stage of academia (i.e. elementary / primary school)

  • if the school has a strong link with other schools (be they international or bilingual)

  • how your chosen schools works to help graduating students move on to the next level

For example, Sarah C. Frigeni, Director of Tiny Tots International Pre-school and Kindergarten explains how they have a “strong relationship with all other international schools” and after finishing school at Tiny Tots, most of their students “attend an international school in Shanghai.” Each primary school has different requirements, application processes and tests, and “Tiny Tots will provide graduating students with certificates of attendance and evaluations, as well as complete any forms that a primary school might require,” Sarah C. Frigeni continues, meaning that you might have a little less to worry about further down the line if you happen to (or know) that you’re here to stay.

If you’re considering a bilingual kindergarten or preschool in Shanghai for your child(ren), a solid foundation in English and Chinese may help graduates to “seamlessly move on to local private Chinese primary schools, international schools in Shanghai and/or schools in other countries or cities,” says Francesca Chan, China Country Director of Julia Gabriel Education. To help, they “advise [their] children and families with their choices of schools and assist them in their applications for primary schools” and receive “positive feedback from…parents that their children do well in primary schools both academically and socially.” The right choice makes for happy, confident and independent learners who are curious and motivated.

2. What are the play areas like?

Kindergarten Preschool Play Area

Are you looking for a bright and large indoor play area? A garden that will give ample space for children to play outside? For many, this was an important aspect to consider when looking for kindergartens in Shanghai for varying reasons. Montessori School of Shanghai acknowledges that it’s important to know “if the school allows children to learn skills of social interaction and friendship…and become involved in their own playful ways.”

Another factor to consider in relation to play areas are the procedures followed during days where there are storms, bad air pollution or more. When it comes to these weather and environmental problems, it’s good to be aware of what precautions preschools and kindergartens take – be it closing the school and sending children home, or ensuring that a good air filtration system is used to combat the effects of pollution whilst keeping the children indoors during play time.

3. Location, location, location

Whether you have or haven’t settled in a home yet, you will also have to decide on what location you’d like your child(ren) to attend kindergarten. Are you happy to commute further afield for the perfect school? Or are you happier having your child closer to home in order to allow for shorter days and more time to have playdates with friends after? Don’t forget to factor in transportation costs and weather too as the scorching summers or freezing cold winters could make things challenging.

For more information on the different schooling systems available in Shanghai, be sure to check out our guide to International Schools as well as our guide to Bilingual and Local Schools in Shanghai for more insight.

Want to see details on schools in Shanghai? Click here to visit Shanghai Family's School Directory.