How to Choose a Taiwanese Preschool

The other day, a reader brought to my attention that perhaps my post on How to Plan a Trip to Taiwan was not as helpful in the choosing a Taiwanese preschool department. So, in the spirit of being helpful, I wrote another post about specifically, finding a preschool for the 6 years and under set.

Here’s the thing: it’s really obvious.

I mean, so obvious, I feel dumb writing an entire post on the topic. Thus, be forewarned, this is a super short post and may seem bare bones.

I’m not trying to be difficult. It really is as you likely would have approached the task on your own.

You are not missing out. You are totally doing it correctly.

So. With that caveat out of the way, here’s how you choose a preschool in Taiwan:

1) Decide what you would like in a Taiwanese preschool. 

If your kids are already in preschool (or you have gone through this with previous children), you already have an idea of what you want in a preschool.

Do you want it to be more play based? More structured? More formally “educational” (like with learning characters, alphabet, zhuyin, etc.)? A particular educational philosophy?

However, be aware that just like in your home country, the more specific you are (and inflexible), the less likely you will find a preschool fitting your criteria.

Sometimes, beggars can’t be choosers.

So, in my case, I wanted a play-based Montessori-like environment. I didn’t really care if my kids learned any characters, etc. because we do enough of that at home, during the school year. (We homeschool as well as attend Chinese preschools.)

Unfortunately, because Glow Worm has many food allergies (ranging from severe to mild), most Taiwanese preschools refused to accommodate him. They cited a Taiwanese law that states only authorized medical personnel (ie: a DOCTOR) could administer shots. Even if it kills my kid in the process.

So, with all the schools refusing to accept Glow Worm out of fear in applying the Epipen, (always in their super polite, vague, passive aggressive manner), I had to go with any school that would accept him.

Thus, I had to really refine what I wanted, and that was (and is): to have my kids be taught by adults whose Chinese obviously surpassed my “kitchen Chinese” and be surrounded by kids who spoke (mostly) Chinese.

Hence, I settled on an international school because they were used to dealing with all sorts of food allergies, were willing to administer the Epipen if needed, and allowed me to provide all Glow Worm’s food and snacks.

So, although I preferred something less academic, I was satisfied with the school we attended because being alive at an academic place is better than not being alive at a play-based place.

2) Settle on a location and then Google (or ask friends/family) for preschools around the area.

I know. Thanks, Captain Obvious!

But seriously. Google is a thing. Use it.

Also? Local preschools will likely have websites and Facebook pages in Chinese only. For obvious reasons.

If you are like me and when you see a wall of Chinese text, respond with an internal, “GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”, this will be the most difficult part of the process.

Thus, I prevailed upon friends and family and Facebook groups for their recommendations and experiences.

Sorry, internet readers. I will not be that friend.

For many reasons, but chiefly: I am not qualified to make recommendations to you, a stranger.

I’m sure you’re a very nice person and not at all creepy. This is nothing personal. Please do not ask me for specific preschool recommendations

I will ignore you if I’m feeling generous.

I will screenshot and publicly shame you if I’m feeling ornery (which is the norm because I have four children and though I love them to distraction, they also eat up all my minute reservoirs of patience).

3) Email/call the preschool directors and ask if they a) have a summer program, and b) the details of this summer program.

If they are local preschools, you will most likely have to communicate in Chinese. To expect them to accommodate you in English isn’t realistic or fair. After all, you don’t expect a preschool in America to communicate in Chinese (or any language other than possibly Spanish). Why would it be different in Taiwan?

Also, you will either have to pay in cash on the first day or have someone wire tuition via a Taiwanese bank account. This is NOT handy. (I always feel like a drug dealer when I carry around a fat packet of cash in my purse or on my person. Particularly since Taiwanese money has 1000NT bills!)

4) Choose. 

After which, I have not tried to reinvent the wheel every summer and just stick to what I know.

You cannot know the depths of my consternation when I realized Glow Worm could not attend the school I sent Cookie Monster and Gamera to back in 2014. There was much teeth gnashing and fist shaking and creative cursing.

Do not succumb to FOMO. Unless you had a mediocre or horrible experience, make life easier for yourself. Stick with what works.

Of course, this will fall on deaf ears for people who truly have FOMO. But for those of us who are lazier than we are fearful, this is my official Mandarin Mama seal of approval/permission to just do what you did last time already.

You’re welcome!

Ok. That’s it.

I told you the information was obvious.

There is no need to overthink the situation. You were going to do this anyway. Here is now the official article giving you confirmation bias.

You’re welcome, again!

I am just a font of benefits today. Happy Hunting!

How to Plan a Trip to Taiwan with Your Kids

Here’s an incredibly stupid reason why I’m glad to be in Taiwan for most of the summer. It has nothing to do with Mandarin immersion or food. It is because I am already sick of Justin Timberlake’s song, Can’t Stop the Feeling, and I’m sure it will be on the radio nonstop over the summer. That alone would drive me out of the country. I hate that song and I LURV me some Justin.

Anyhow, for those that don’t know, I’m taking the kids to Taiwan for six weeks of forced Mandarin Immersion. Kids will be in camps/school for four weeks and we’ll have a week at the start to get used to jet lag and a little more than a week at the end to play and do fun things.

Cookie Monster (6.5) will be in two different types of local camps. One outdoors camp where they take a bus an hour outside of Taipei and they go to tea farms, Indigenous Taiwanese places, and they pick tea, dye aprons, and do all sorts of outdoors stuff. The other camp is a series of classes we can take (eg: making robots, magic tricks, etc) and is mostly indoors.

Gamera (4.5) and Glow Worm (2.75) will be in an international school (their preschool class) and listen to stories, learn stuff, and have field trips. Your typical summer program at a local preschool in Taipei.

In the meantime, I will be eating my way single-handedly through Taipei. (I’ll be posting more on Monday about what I will be doing in Taiwan while the kids are in school.)

Whenever people hear that I’m taking the kids to Taiwan for the summer, they inevitably ask me the same bunch of questions – especially WHERE I’m enrolling my kids.

Well, I’m not going to tell you WHERE my kids are going because, um, INTERNET SAFETY IS A THING, people. Also, people are lazy (myself included so don’t get all offended) and will likely only apply for the programs I mention – thereby making it harder for ME to get my kids into these programs.

Besides, we are likely all looking for different things and basing YOUR children’s schooling on MY criteria is silly and likely to result in disappointment and unfulfilled expectations. And I hate disappointing people regardless of whether or not I say IDGAF about what people think.

So, in the interest of saving my sanity and unnecessary screaming at my screen, I’m giving you all fair warning: If you PM me or comment asking about schools and programs to enroll your kids in, I will politely ignore you and pretend you don’t exist and if we met on a street, I would look the other way and imagine your demise in increasingly gruesome manners.

Ok. With that out of the way, I’d also like to thank Guavarama for her help with this post. She’s the reason this post has actual usable information versus endless commentary on how obvious I think some of the points are.

Oh, and this post is long. You know the deal.

Alright. Here we go.

1) Choose a city.

Yes, yes. Captain Obvious, here. You’ll find that the majority of my points are super obvious. The problem is in the details, right? Unfortunately, I’m not really going to tell you which city. But, I will mention what to consider while choosing. (You can pretty much deduce that the rest of the points will follow along that same thought process.)

a) Availability of camps/classes/schools.

If you are going for the sole purpose of enrolling your kids in classes, it makes sense to choose a city where there are LOTS of options.

Most likely, that will be a major city like Taipei, Tai Chung, or Kaohsiung. (I’m sure there are other major metropolitan cities but seriously, we’ve just tapped 75% of my knowledge of major cities in Taiwan.)

b) Ease of public transportation.

Most likely, you will not be renting a car in Taiwan so short of riding taxis everywhere (and though pretty cheap, it still adds up), make sure there are lots of frequent buses, HSR (high speed rail), or MRT (subway) stations so you can get to places easily.

Remember, if you’re bringing children, that increases shitty travel and transportation by 680% so this is super important.

As far as I know, only Taipei and Kaohsiung have MRT stations, so anywhere else, make sure the buses are frequent and the routes are extensive.

c) Proximity to family.

This can either be: Stay close to family or Stay far from family. Whatever is more applicable to your situation. Do that.

Also, remember that family can be helpful to help you enroll for local schools and classes (as well as help pay for things due to them already having local bank accounts – more info on this later). Plus, they know how things work in Taiwan and can be useful in all sorts of situations – especially if your Chinese is not as good as you’d like it to be.

Most importantly, they should know where all the super yummy food is. #foodgoals

2) Find camps/schools. 

I know. This is totally “No Shit, Sherlock” territory. But bear with me a little while longer.

There are several things to consider when you are selecting a camp. Oh, and this info really is only pertinent for children older than 6.

Mostly because for children under 6, you can enroll them in local preschools/schools that have a summer program. You will likely have to fill out an application and then pay in cash on the first day of school. No big. (Unless, of course, your child has food allergies or any type of life-threatening thing that may require an epipen and medical staff. Then, your choices are more severely limited. I will discuss this more later.)

Anyhow, back to selecting a camp for kids 6 and older.

There are basically 3 types of camps:

a) Camps geared toward overseas kids.

These are usually the big programs attached to big universities. There is usually three hours of Chinese language instruction in the morning (kids are sorted at the start of camp by ability) and three hours of Chinese culture/activities in the afternoons. There is likely a weekly field trip to a local museum or touristy thing. All food and snacks are provided. Room and board are often also available.

Websites and communications are very English friendly.

Credit card payment is readily accepted.

The schedules and sessions are posted up early (to better help with summer planning) and usually available in November or December of the previous year. They are also very accommodating to food allergies and special circumstances. (Obviously, YMMV. You should still email and contact each camp’s directors for confirmation.)

Personally, despite the super ease of communication and painless sign up process, I haven’t chosen this option for Cookie Monster. The thought of him stuck in three hours of Chinese instruction (reading, writing, etc.) hurts me. I can’t think of anything that will make him (not to mention me) hate Chinese more.

However, it’s easy for me to opt out of this option because he already knows ~1,000 characters, can speak/understand Chinese, and is used to schooling in Chinese. As a result, he really won’t be too out of his depth in local classes with kids his age. My mom mentioned that he won’t understand the terms used in the camps, but honestly, it’s not like he would know the English terms, either. So really, it’s a moot point.

Also, let’s be real. If the students are from overseas, most likely, they will be communicating with each other in English. If I wanted Cookie Monster to speak that much English, I could save myself the $1500 tuition and stay home.

And finally, there’s nothing like learning a language while doing fun things. He’ll likely have a lot more fun and learn Chinese terms in a play environment than in a formal schooling environment. He’ll also gain experience in socializing with Taiwanese kids his age (and in Chinese)! Again, this is only an option because he is fluent in Chinese. This would NOT be a good option if Cookie Monster couldn’t speak or understand Chinese. That would be cruel.

b) Local camps geared toward local children.

Now, because these camps are geared towards local children and their parents, EVERYTHING IS IN CHINESE. For obvious reasons.

That means unless you can read Chinese, have access to someone who reads Chinese, or are willing to trust everything to the Google Translate gods, it will be difficult to navigate websites, communicate with directors, and figure out payments.

Because it is a local camp, you will most likely need to register and pay via wire transfer from a local bank account. (Online credit card payments is not a big thing in Taiwan for some reason. It is baffling.) They usually require payment within 3-5 business days after registration.

So again, unless you have a local bank account or know someone with a local bank account to wire funds for you, this is going to be a HUGE barrier (not to mention a royal PITA). This is when local family members come in super handy.

Plus, because these camps are for local families, their schedules for summer come out more in late March/early April. (After all, do your local Parks & Rec Department send out summer guides before then? Probably not.)

This caused me a lot of stress because I wanted to make sure we lived reasonably close to the program locations as well as rented an apartment during their actual program dates. The best advice I can give to address this is to look at their past schedules. You get an idea of their scheduling and whether or not you would like their programming. Plus, I’m assuming that their physical location won’t change, so at least, that can help narrow areas down.

The benefit, of course, if you can actually enroll is that your child will be with local kids and will pretty much have no choice but to communicate in Chinese. Plus, there are a wider variety of classes and you have a lot more fun options (like magic tricks, dance, building stuff, etc.). Learning as a side effect is always a good thing!

But again, if your child doesn’t speak or understand Chinese fluently, this is not a good route to go. (At least, I don’t personally think it is.) It seems cruel and isolating to me, but again, that’s just me. Plus, your kid might thrive in that type of challenging environment. Mine would just crumble and turn inward (which would also waste my money).

Oh, and there are also overnight camps (for weeks at a time). I’m not comfortable sending my food allergy kid by himself in the woods with strangers in a foreign country but for older kids, that might be a fun option – especially if they like the outdoors.

c) After school programming for local children.

If you’re not interested in your kids being in all day camps, another option is the after school programs. Again, these are most likely geared towards locals so you run into the same issues and benefits as above. However, the classes are shorter and in the late afternoon, early evening, and perhaps weekends. (Or, they might have even more flexible schedules – you never know!)

3) Find a place to live.

By now, you get it. These things are obvious, but the application is a bit more complicated.

Your main options are (from highest to lowest cost):

a) Hotel

All your amenities are taken care of, and often there are laundry services and breakfast vouchers. Some even might have kitchen units. But this option can be very expensive.

b) Airbnb, VRBO, concierge services

Depending on location, length of stay, and size of apartment, your pricing will vary. However, you will be paying upwards of 2-3x what locals would pay for the same place. But you don’t have to set up anything, there’s a contract backed by the booking company, and you can pay with a credit card. You will also have to book somewhat earlier since summer is a popular time for going back to Taiwan.

c) Local craigslist

You would definitely need the help of local family or friends to check out the apartments, see if they’re furnished (most likely not), and would have to sign perhaps a short term lease, utilities, etc. Basically, all the things you would need if you were moving into an empty apartment. Therefore, you will need access to a local bank account and/or lots of cash. You would pay the local pricing, though!

d) Family members or friends

Hopefully, the free-est option in terms of dollar amount. But depending on your family size, the length of time you are staying, family dynamics, as well as location, this may or may not be a cost you’re willing to swallow.

Other things to consider:

e) Proximity to MRT/bus stations. 

If you have small children under the age of 5 years old, I highly recommend you find some place within a 10 minute walk to an MRT station. (Preferably even less for a bus station.) That’s because if your child is anything like mine, it will take perhaps DOUBLE the amount of time to actually GET to the station.

I wouldn’t count on having the kids in a stroller, either. (Even an umbrella one.) The sidewalks are maintained by individual storefronts so the actual sidewalk varies (per store) in materials, levels, and sometimes, there are even gutters/gaps. It’s a complete PITA to navigate with a stroller.

Also, you will have to constantly fold the stroller down on the bus (they’re crowded – and good luck getting them up and down the steps). MRT stations usually only have one elevator and by the time you get there and use it, you would have already been on the MRT if you had just sucked it up and walked.

If your child is too small to walk safely, I would suggest you use a baby carrier. Your life will be much easier.

Oh, and forget about using a double side-by-side stroller. Good luck even finding a taxi from the airport that can fit the sucker in the trunk – let alone get it on the MRT or bus. Suck it up. Make your kids walk.

f) Proximity to camps/schools.

Most camps start between 8-9am. If you want to add a long commute in the morning during regular commuting hours, be my guest. But I can’t think that it would be terribly enjoyable. I suggest anything within a 10-15 minute taxi ride and close to local bus routes (which can often be faster than the nearest MRT station) would be ideal.

g) Proximity to food and other activities.

I don’t see a point in cooking while in Taiwan. Especially when the food is delicious and cheap. That said, if you live FAR from the food you enjoy, it will be a PITA come meal time. Live close to a hub with a bunch of yummy things so it’s quick and easy for you to get what you want.

h) Cost. 

Guavarama mentioned that some of you might want an idea of cost so I will give you an approximate range of my costs in USD this trip.

– Roundtrip airfare for 1 adult and 3 children: $4400 (we used points for Hapa Papa’s tickets)

– Airbnb newly renovated 1br 1 bt apartment in a trendy/popular/convenientneighborhood for 40 nights: $3800

– International school tuition for 4 weeks: $1300/kid (on par with most overseas camps for 4 week session)

– Local camps for 4 weeks: $200/wk/kid

Costs before food and miscellaneous expenses: $11,600

Obviously, depending on what choices you make, your costs will vary. But this is to give you a ballpark figure. (It is clearly not for the faint of heart.)

That’s it. I’ll be writing another post with some more tips to make your life easier when you’re in Taiwan because quite frankly, this post is already super long and I’m not even done yet.

Why am I not done? Because if your child has severe food allergies or any other type of life-threatening condition, you will find life a little more difficult when you are looking for schools and camps.

A lot of the schools refused to take Glow Worm because they could not vouch for his safety and Taiwanese law does not allow anyone other than a nurse/doctor to administer a shot (even if it’s an Epipen) – even if it will save his life. So this limited a lot of my choices.

It was particularly frustrating because I had already booked a place in January by the school I thought I would be sending Gamera and Glow Worm, but since none of the local schools or camps published their summer schedules until April, it turned out that the school I had originally planned on was no longer possible due to safety concerns.

So, even though I did not want to put my kids in a school with mostly overseas Taiwanese kids coming back to Taiwan for the summer, they were the only school that could accommodate Glow Worm’s food allergies and had an on-site nurse.

I’m not so gung-ho on Chinese language acquisition to put Glow Worm’s life in danger so the international school, it is.

Since my bad experience with trying to get Glow Worm into a local school, I was really worried about the local summer camps I had in mind for Cookie Monster. Luckily, Cookie Monster knows how to self-administer an Epipen and is very careful about asking whether foods have peanuts in them, so the local camps were less freaked out. As it is, I am still telling him to ONLY eat food that I have provided. Less of a worry for everybody.

So, here are my bonus tips for you if your child has severe food allergies:

1) Send the camp director a YouTube video of how to use an Epipen.

This comforts a lot of people because they can see that it’s easy and not an actual needle and a syringe, etc.

2) Double check with the camp directors to make sure they have an on-site nurse, are near a hospital, will allow your child to self-administer an Epipen shot, or will allow a nurse to do it. Make sure they are willing to accommodate you bringing all their food (and make sure the kids have their own utensils).

3) Pack your own lunch and snacks.

4) Make sure your kids have their Epipens and Benadryl ON THEIR PERSON. 

Have the kids wear a fanny pack or something they do NOT take off that has their Epipens and Benadryl tabs in the case. Who knows where their backpacks have been thrown to or misplaced? Better to just have the medicine strapped to their bodies.

5) Have the Epipens in a weather proof carrier/cooler due to the high temperatures.

MAKE SURE KIDS DO NOT TAKE THEM OUT.

6) Have instructions on how to use the Epipen and what to do in case of need in the packs in CHINESE. Include dosage.

7) Make sure you inform the teachers and directors of the signs of an anaphylactic reaction. Have them printed out IN CHINESE.

8) Have food allergy cards printed out in CHINESE.

9) Have kids wear bracelets for food allergies. WRITE IT IN CHINESE.

10) Train your children to say, “No” to food offered by someone other than yourself. And to ALWAYS ask if the foods have their specific allergens in there.

Alright, I hope this helps! And next week, I’ll have more tips on what you can use in Taiwan to make your life easier. Have a great weekend!