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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Educational guidelines


4.Early childhood education and care

4.4Educational guidelines

Last update: 27 November 2023

Steering documents


There are no educational guidelines for childcare issued by Federal or cantonal authorities. However, in 2012, the Swiss UNESCO Commission (Schweizerische UNESCO-Kommission) and the now dissolved Swiss childcare network (Netzwerk Kinderbetreuung Schweiz) launched an orientation framework for early childhood education (Orientierungsrahmen für frühkindliche Bildung, Betreuung und Erziehung). This orientation framework offers a comprehensive educational basis for both centre-based and home-based childcare from zero to four years. It describes in general terms how small children develop and proposes guidelines for work with children. It records the elements covered by educational action in childcare facilities. It is not binding but is a reference document.

The cantonal or communal regulations can require the child centre-based day-care facilities to draw up a pedagogical concept as a basic prerequisite for approval. These pedagogical concepts make statements about the facilities’ pedagogical work, such as, for instance, about the pedagogical approaches, guidelines for action, objectives and procedures in implementing the education and care mandate, familiarisation, transitions, language support, etc.


Pre-school or first learning cycle

Under the Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS Agreement), which entered into force on 1 August 2009, new curricula that cover pre-primary education were developed and implemented at the level of the language regions. In the French-speaking and Italian-speaking regions, the cantons use their respective language region level curriculum. The German-speaking and multilingual cantons draw up their own curriculum on the basis of their language region level curriculum. In the French-speaking cantons the “Plan d’études romand” (PER) has been fully implemented since 2015. In the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, the implementation of the new “Piano di Studio” was completed in the 2018/2019 academic year. All 21 German-speaking and multilingual cantons have adopted curricula that are based on the “Lehrplan 21”. Their introduction is currently under way.

Information on this and on curriculum development can be found in the chapter on primary education.


Areas of learning and development


Childcare facilities and services have a duty of care and also perform teaching and educational tasks. Self-development and mixing with other children as well as learning from other children are important principles of their work. Play is very important too: children mainly learn through play. Playing is the main activity of the child. Learning and playing are not opposites, but to a large extent one and the same thing. See (Orientierungsrahmen für frühkindliche Bildung, Betreuung und Erziehung).


Pre-school or first learning cycle

On entering pre-primary level (pre-school or the first learning cycle) children differ in terms of their knowledge, abilities, development and language skills. In the face of this heterogeneity, the objective is to stimulate the development and learning of all children. Teaching is therefore strongly geared to children’s development, and is mainly organised and structured in an interdisciplinary form. Skills are developed through stimulating playing and learning environments. The children gradually acquire basic social skills and learn about school routines. Play is extremely important. See e.g. Lehrplan 21, Schwerpunkte des 1. Zyklus.

The educational contents are drafted as binding learning objectives. Objectives are defined for subject areas (e.g. people and environment, exercise, language, design, music, mathematical learning games, etc.) or interdisciplinary learning objectives may be drafted (e.g. developing exercise options, distinguishing cognitive abilities, dealing with success and failure, identifying and discussing natural processes, identifying and using rules of everyday language, etc.) See e.g. (Lehrplan 21, Bildungsziele and PER, Structure du Plan d’études romand).

The time children need to pass through the pre-school years depends on their intellectual development and emotional maturity; where appropriate, children are also given additional support through special measures. In the first learning cycle there is no clear break between pre-school and primary school; the children are gradually introduced to school-based learning. Depending on the child's development stage initial school-based learning can be provided from the very beginning. Depending on their aptitudes, skills and personal development children may complete the first learning cycle more rapidly or more slowly.


Pedagogical approaches


The caregivers are free - within the framework of the pedagogical concept of the individual child day-care centre - to choose the pedagogical methods. They choose the method that is best suited for the respective goals, contents and topics.

Under the orientation framework for early childhood education (Orientierungsrahmen für frühkindliche Bildung, Betreuung und Erziehung), adults encourage the children to ask questions and to find answers to their questions. They ask open questions and actively listen to the children. They encourage the children to develop their own solutions, and to try them out. They are careful not to interrupt the children’s individual learning processes, or to intervene too quickly in their problem-solving and conflict resolution. The adults facilitate and support positive social contacts with other children. They encourage children to express and communicate their interests, feelings and needs, and to gain valuable community experiences.

The carers provide stimulating experience spaces to allow for independent discovery, design and exploration. These include a variety of freely accessible materials (e.g. toys, natural materials, media) and a stimulating social environment (especially other children). Children also need a lot of free time and space so that they can intensively act out their urge to play and learn. When a variety of play areas are provided, they allow children to have rich learning experiences, e.g. through games of discovery and perception, construction and building, movement and music, finger puppets and hand puppets, role-play and emotional games.


Pre-school or first learning cycle

The curricula drafted at the language regions level contain teaching principles and competency targets. But teachers are to a large extent free to choose their teaching methods. They choose methods which are best suited to the objectives, content and topics. Children start the pre-primary level (pre-school or the first learning cycle) with different backgrounds. The work is therefore primarily guided by the children’s development stage and not by standards laid down for the age group. Differentiated teaching is key. Appropriate forms of teaching are designed to arouse curiosity, pleasure in learning and willingness to learn. Teachers organise play activities and learning environments, structure time and processes, introduce different forms of play and social forms, contents and topics, and provide the relevant materials. Teachers structure activities directly through guided sequences. They lead the children, for instance, to a particular topic, design task or singing game, or tell a story. In open sequences teachers influence activities indirectly, by intervening in free play as needed, and depending on the situation, by joining in, making suggestions, asking helpful questions, and encouraging the children, so as to move on to new, more challenging forms of play. See e.g. Lehrplan 21, Schwerpunkte des 1. Zyklus.




Children under four are not assessed, as there are no lessons in the traditional sense. However, monitoring the children’s development is very important. Childcare workers can make parents aware of any developmental difficulties experienced by their children, so that appropriate support measures (e.g. remedial education in early childhood) can be taken.


Pre-school or first learning cycle

In pre-school or the first learning cycle, there is generally no graded assessment. Observation of the children is an important basis for recognising children’s strengths and aptitudes, as well as weaknesses and needs. Observation sheets are often used as assessment tools, and serve as a basis for assessment interviews. Assessment focuses on encouraging each child and takes account of their personal development (see Schülerbeurteilung).


Transition to primary school

Pre-school or first learning cycle

Normally, a child enters primary school after two years in pre-school or in the first learning cycle. It is then between 6 and 7 years old. Depending on the child's intellectual development and emotional maturity or for other important reasons, admission to primary school can also be deferred by one year. As a rule, parents as well as teachers and school heads have the right to request a later admission. The final decision is made by the local school authority.

In some German-speaking cantons, after pre-school children can attend a two-year preparatory class (Einschulungsklasse or Einführungsklasse). The material to be learned in one year is spread over two years. At the end of the two-year preparatory Einschulungsklasse or Einführungsklasse pupils usually transfer definitively to the regular primary class.

The integration of pre-school or the first two years of the first learning cycle into compulsory education has facilitated the transition to primary school. Thus, the new language-regional curricula also cover primary school in addition to pre-school or the first two years of the first learning cycle. As a rule, primary school is located on the same site as pre-school or the first two years of a first learing cycle. In order to ensure cooperation and continuity between the levels, there are a number of measures such as the passing of information between teachers of pre-school/first learning cycle and primary school, visits of pre-school children to the primary school and parent information events.