Transitioning to Korean Daycare for Foreign Parents

Worried about your child transitioning to daycare in Korea? Honestly, when I first thought of writing this blog, I questioned whether there was an audience for this. The more time I spend in Korea, the more I’ve come to realize that we are not alone. Oftentimes, there’s someone else out there, wondering the same things, asking the same questions. To the stay-at-home moms and dads, the toddler parents, the international parents, this blog is for you.

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The issues that I talk about in this blog post may not be specific to Korea. Sending a child to daycare for the first time is complicated for parents everywhere. Some of my struggles related to the fact this was my first time sending a child to a daycare program.

The documented struggles of adjusting to daycare in Korea don’t exist as commentary on Korean society. Instead, such documentation exists as a resource for other parents to help them see how another family navigated this complicated process. This is important to say because when we have new experiences in a new country it’s easy to think our pain is related to the culture when really, it could be mostly related to doing something for the first time.

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Staying present with the knowledge may help you navigate the hurdles you face along the way. It’s scary to send our kids out into the world and even harder when we may feel powerless or fearful working within a new cultural context.

My Lens on Life

First a little background about myself so you know where I am coming from. I am Native Hawaiian, among a number of other ethnicities, and I have lived in Hawai’i for most of my life. Multicultural spaces feel like safe spaces to me.

I have also been an educator for over 20 years. During that time, I have worked for public schools, private schools, high schools, and a university. I even briefly volunteered as a Native English guest speaker at a Korean school. I’ve coached and worked with various debate programs – public, private, and homeschool leagues, and attended competitions across the United States and China.

So, international education isn’t new to me. Yet, I had a lot to adapt to when my child started school in Korea.

My Different Lenses on Education

My own experience and perspective of education began with a “Westernized” lens. As a military brat, I started school in England, near Lakenheath, until we moved to Nevada, and finally settled back home, in Hawai’i. Additionally, as an educator in Hawai’i, I became more in touch with my indigenous culture. I wanted my daughter to also experience educational diversity. This made me interested in exploring Korean daycare options.

Despite all of my experience with education, nothing quite prepared me for dealing with education from a parent’s perspective. As a parent, I wasn’t prepared for the “culture shock” of not only transitioning my toddler to school but transitioning to an international school.

My Choice For Korean Daycare

When presented with an English-speaking Korean daycare/preschool that focused more on learning through play and nature, I was overjoyed. At my child’s school, students learn science through an introduction to planting, gardening, and observing animals. They even go outside to study when air quality and weather permits. Student lunches also include food grown on the farm at school. Students go on field trips to nearby arboretums and science centers.

When the students aren’t exploring the natural world, it’s preschool as one may typically expect. Students study within four walls, playing, crafting, singing, and learning. The teachers help students develop verbal, physical, and social skills.

Cost of Daycare

A very good surprise about daycare in Korea, from a US citizen’s perspective, is its affordability. In Hawai’i, where my four-year-old niece already has homework on the weekends, the average cost is 1,000 USD per month.

However, the Korean government subsidizes daycare, preschool, and kindergarten for citizens and legal residents. While my little one’s regular tuition would be 325,000 KRW per month. After the discount, the fee goes down to around 70,000 KRW per month. You can learn more by reading my blog post “Daycare and Kindergarten Discounts for Foreign Residents.”

Meal Times

In fact, their only complaint has been that they are occasionally required to eat kimchi. Our first culture shock experience was lunch. Coming from Hawai’i, with a sizable population of Koreans, I have always known that kimchi is an important part of mealtime. l also hoped that our child wouldn’t mind eating diverse foods. However, my toddler, having had little to no exposure to any spicy food, cried at the thought of eating kimchi.

For a brief period of time after my child started school, simply feeding them anything red led to disagreements at the dinner table. Many foreign parents will defend the digestive benefits of eating kimchi, even for our little ones. My toddler still doesn’t like kimchi but will at least try it if it’s on their plate.

As one would expect, the food in Korean daycares will likely follow Korean food traditions. This means the lunches and snacks include mostly Korean foods with Western-themed items sprinkled in as treats. Children who haven’t eaten a lot of Korean food may need time to adjust. Packing lunch might be an option.

Daycare and Illness

One of our biggest culture shock experiences was sick days and attendance. Allow me to preface this with the fact that we arrived in Korea in 2020, during peak uncertainties regarding the coronavirus. As parents, we chose all the safety precautions. We wore masks. We rarely ate out. In fact, for quite a while, US Military would not allow those on SOFA status to dine out even though Korean citizens were always allowed to eat out in groups of 4 or fewer.

Due to such precautions, our child had very little social interaction and exposure to germs, outside of the usual playgrounds, kid cafes, and family friends. Additionally, I think we all know that children are walking petri dishes. In fact, there is even a name for it Daycare Syndrome.

Daycare Syndrome describes the fact young children get frequent upper respiratory tract infections at school. Such infections may also include colds and secondary ear infections. Kids getting sick often at daycare happens worldwide and yet I was not ready. It felt like something was wrong with Korean daycare but after talking to parents back home, other early childhood education staff, and reading online I realized this exists as a common issue.

Trying to predict or control the kinds of germs children will be exposed to at school is almost impossible. When our little one came home with a fever and cough, after their first week of school, we were frustrated. However, as our child’s school reminded us, they can’t control parents sending their kids to school sick. As happens in industrialized societies, working parents often don’t have the option to keep their kids home.

When it progressed to vomiting and diarrhea, and the cough lingered for over six weeks, we became upset with the world. We felt helpless and our child’s inconsistent attendance in school made the transition even more complicated. We ran into some stressful issues such as building a stable routine.

The Struggle to Establish Routine

How do we establish structure and routine for our toddler when we couldn’t even get through a full week of school? After accepting that we could not control whether or not other parents brought their sick child to school, a fact that the school continued to remind us of, we realized that we needed to reassess our reasons for sending our child to daycare/preschool. For us, that reason was “social interaction”.

Keep in mind, this reflects on our perspective of parenting and education. You may have different priorities and expectations that may impact how you want to approach solving issues you experience when you send your child to their early education course. Our choices aren’t advice, simply a documentation of our decision-making process.

Adapting My Perspective

I needed to adapt my educator’s perspective of “attendance” to include the realization that toddlers do not need to be around other toddlers every day to learn social skills and make friends. Korean schools, on the other, may need to justify attendance due to legal requirements and may persistently inquire via texts and phone calls about your child’s health if they are absent.

We chose to keep our child home whenever they had a fever and any symptoms that may be contagious, which meant even after 2 months, our child has not gone through a full week of school. We also encourage our child to wear a mask throughout the day and the teachers have honored this request, for the most part.


Korean schools will also require that your child is up to date on their vaccinations. You will need to provide vaccination records when attending a Korean school.

School Supplies

Much like public schools in the States, not only will you receive a school supply list prior to the first week of school, but the school may also accept donations for recyclables and craft supplies. For school supplies, we needed to purchase a nap mat, a stainless steel mug, a spoon set, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand soap, baby wipes, a water bottle with a carrying bag, for field trips, and a change of clothes. If you’re not really picky, then you can usually find everything you need at your local Panda Pam.

Daycare Naptime

Ever since we arrived in Korea, our child has been fairly consistent in taking 2-, sometimes 3-hour naps. Our preschool sets aside exactly one hour for nap time. So if your child is anything like mine, slow to sleep, even more so with distractions, then you may have a groggy, cranky little one on your hands after the school day is done.

Since our child’s attendance was too inconsistent to develop consistent sleeping habits in school, we opted for half-school days, rather than full days. With toddlers, consistency is key so if you are determined to commit to the designated school naptimes and your little one is not, consider letting your child bring their lovey or stuffed animal to school and/or noise-canceling headphones.

Potty Training and Daycare

Potty Training? You really need to have this conversation with your child’s teachers because daycares and preschools vary in their expectations. Some will actually assist in potty training, and others will recommend that your child take the time to poo at home to prevent them from having accidents at school. The latter made my already-potty-trained four-year-old regress just a tad but after a month, they were back to their regular self. They also eventually became more comfortable going to the potty in school.


Many preschools offer bus transportation if you live nearby, but you may also opt to transport your child regardless. Most schools have their own buses, including daycare and preschool, so your child will likely have field trips to nearby science centers, museums, and parks.


While toddlers are often communicative and bad at keeping surprises, they are also not reliable narrators. For example, my 4-year-old was under the impression that they were not allowed to poo at school and that they were required to eat all of the kimchi in their lunch. However, they had misunderstood both situations. Our toddler didn’t lie, she just didn’t fully understand. With patience and understanding, we all managed to find both clarity and peace of mind.

Such confusion may be one most difficult parts of navigating through culture shock. You need to focus heavily on taking the time to clearly understand your family’s needs, your child’s needs, and your school’s needs. Then you need to take the extra time to carefully navigate the conversations and understandings around those needs. Expect there to be many misunderstandings on everyone’s part.

Our Experience Has Been Positive

Sending our daughter to an international early childhood education program in Korea has been an overall positive experience. We know that every experience will be different for each parent and child. For example, not all cities in Korea have international schools. Some areas may only have Korean-centered daycare or preschool. Having no English spoken at daycare may create a very different experience.