Pursuant to the Education Act, preschool education is acquired either in a preschool child care institution or at home, and its acquisition is the responsibility of the child’s parents or guardians. Parents of children who go to child care institutions or who stay at home have the right to receive advice about educating and raising their children from the teacher of the child care institution in their region.
There are four types of preschool child care institutions – day nurseries (for children 1 to 3 years of age), nursery schools (for children 1 to 7 years of age), special nursery schools, and nursery-primary schools. Most child care institutions have 1–3 groups of children and are mainly located in rural areas. Child care institutions in cities usually have up to 12 groups. However, the maximum number of groups in new child care institutions is 6.
Local governments must provide the opportunity to attend child care institutions to all children between 1 and 7 years of age who live in their catchment areas if this is requested by their parents.
Rural municipalities or city governments provide children who have physical, speech, sensory or mental disabilities, and children who need special assistance or special care, with the opportunity to grow and develop in the adaptation group of the child care institution in their area of residence. Rural municipalities or city governments create special groups or establish special nursery schools if it is impossible for the local child care institution to create an adaptation group. Children are admitted to adaptation or special groups on the basis of a written application submitted by a parent and the decision of the counselling committee.
The demand for nursery school places is very high in certain regions (Tallinn, Harju County, Tartu). Nursery school places are mainly needed for children less than 3 years of age. The Minister of Population and Ethnic Affairs oversaw the development of the public investment programme A Nursery School Place for Every Child, through which the state provides support for local governments in order to harmonize the minimum wage levels of teachers of preschool child care institutions with those of general education schools, and to create new nursery school places (funding for the creation of new nursery school places was provided from the budget of the Ministry of Education and Research).
Number and proportion of children attending nursery schools in the age group (children who are 8 and some children who are 7 have been allowed to postpone school).
Preschool child care institutions or schools provide preparatory groups for children who do not attend nursery schools. These groups are free of charge for the parents of children participating in these groups. Compulsory school attendance begins for children who turn 7 by 1 October of the given school year at the latest.