Are you an expat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with young children? Are you considering a move here and wondering what kind of schooling/nursery options exist for young children? Here is some information on what to expect and a list of some options for preschools in Riyadh.
Who am I?
I am an American mother of three young boys who lived as an expat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for 3 years. I also worked in preschools in Riyadh during that time. This post is primarily focused on helping expats that are looking for international style preschools – meaning teachers speak languages other than Arabic. I know there are plenty of good preschools in Riyadh that teach in Arabic that cater mostly to the Saudi population. But that is not my area of experience (sorry!). My friend of mine told me about preschools in brentwood ca and I thought it would be nice to share my experience of preschools here.
What To Expect of Preschools in Riyadh:
Preschools here are different, and they come with pros and cons. My advice is to approach them with an open-mind and not try to find something that is exactly like in your home country.
Schedules & Costs
This comes as a shock to the system if you are used to full day daycare/early development centers with flexible schedules. This is more like the castle rock preschools than anything else. In terms of school calendars, costs, and flexibility, the preschools here are more similar to a grade school. Most expect full-time enrollment (5 days a week). I have only heard of a couple that allows students to come a few days a week.
They also ask for payment by terms – and it’s not cheap for a good school. Payments for schools don’t stop at education, it includes uniforms, food, supplies, etc. you can check here for some money-saving coupons to help your child out for their school needs, just in case the expense needs to be curbed in other areas. The schools are usually open about 5 hours a day. And they close for summer vacation and holidays throughout the year. Many that are oriented towards ex-pats are taught in English with a couple having a French section, or a few Indian schools, Locally, you can find many preschools with Arabic spoken and that is something to consider as children learn languages so easily between ages 1-4 years old.
Many preschools are located on compounds as that is where most ex-pats live, but there are some out in town and in the DQ, as well as attached to the main international schools.
Different Styles of Teaching
Depending on what you are used to, you might think they push young children too hard academically and do not allow enough free play and outside play. Or you might think the exact opposite.
What I have realized in my 3 years working at a fantastic preschool is that different cultures and countries treat early childhood education very differently, and opinions are often highly personal and heated. Whilst people do generally understand when someone asks, “Why Does Professional Development Matter for Teachers?“, they may have issues when it comes to some standards for their children in this part of the world. You wouldn’t believe some of the arguments I have seen break out over the subject of preschool!
Many schools take a learn-through-play approach, with the earliest age groups (14 months – 2) having much unstructured play, and then the daily schedule becoming more structured and academic as they get older. There are Montessori style preschools here, British style, and American style.
Take Your Time Looking
By all means look around for different options, and if you don’t feel comfortable with the preschool on your compound or closest to your home, and your Mommy spidy-senses are tingling, then go elsewhere. Also, ask for recommendations, but keep in mind that different parents value different attributes of a school. And the gossip cycle of the expat community here is strong – so don’t too sucked into the complaining and sensationalizing of stories (i.e. a school here that has an issue with one parent can be unfairly tainted for years.)
Be open-minded to different styles of schools and teachers. Sometimes preschools have amazing facilities, but the staff lacks a bit a warmth or experience. Other times you find the opposite. If your child is happy, developing socially, and engaged that is what matters most.
Understand the Limitations
The preschool owners do their best to find qualified teachers or at least native English speakers (for English taught schools) with an aptitude for teaching. This is not easy to do in Riyadh – most of the teachers didn’t move there just to teach preschool – that would be cost prohibitive. They are almost all female “trailing spouses,” here for their husbands’ jobs. They will come and go. They also want their school holidays and summer’s off for travel with their families.
The price of preschools in Riyadh is high because often the rent on a compound is high, and also because owning a preschool for expats by expats can be risky. One security incident in the country aimed at expats and all the wives and children will vanish. Families pick up and move at a drop of a hat so it is hard to plan staff and other resources without a longer-term payment structures (i.e. pay by terms). And of course the owners are running a business and want to make a profit.
My children loved their preschool experience here – at two different schools. For one thing, there are the usual reasons they love school – a chance to play with friends, sing, create art, dance, cook, learn languages, conduct science experiments, play in a sandpit, do sensory bins and more!
Plus – they have the added benefit of being in a multi-cultural environment and making friends from around the world. In my three years of teaching 2 years olds, my students were from the USA, England, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Sri Lanka, Korea, Russia, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Sudan. There is no way these children would have made such a diverse group of friends in their host country.
It’s also a great time for children to become bilingual. Most of the children I taught were learning English as a second or third language. And at age 2 they absorb the language like sponges. Its an incredible transformation to witness.
And, then of course there is the benefit to the parents, let’s be honest -you need some time to yourself to stay sane. And some time for shopping, running errands,working out, cleaning, cooking. Or maybe you are working and need childcare while you are on the job.
The List of Preschools in Riyadh:
Here is a list of preschools in Riyadh that cater to expats, plus contact info as of June 2016. If you would like to be added to the list or recommend a change, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment. I hope this is helpful!
- Kinderlands @ Fal Compound (English and French sections) Also offers summer camps. Contact: email@example.com
- Kinderlands @ Al Bustan Compound – restricted to residents only due to high demand and wait-lists (English) contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Little Stars @ Nadj Compound Allows part week or full week and times are from 0830-1230. Contact: 0112481040 ext 521 or 0536503544 or email Littlestarsriyadh@gmail.com or lynrafferty(at)msn.com
- Growing Minds Pre-School @ Granada Village Compound on Exit 9 off Khalid bin Waleed Street. Offers programs from 18 months up to 6 year old from 8 am to 1 pm. Run an Aftercare School Program until 3 p.m. Contact: info@
growingmindsriyadh.com, +966-11-2484-880, +966-11-2484-806 ext. 1177 and 1178 and www.facebook.com/ GrowingMindsPreschoolActivityC entreRiyadh/
- Care Bears @ Cordoba Compound (English and French) Contact: email@example.com or Tel: (9661) 248-3471 Ext:469
- Little Angels @ Eid Villas Compound. Montessori Style. Contact: 050 829 4424 www.littleangelsriyadh.com.
- Bright School @ Arizona Compound. Montessori style Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bright School @ Al Hamra Compound. Montessori style Contact: email@example.com
- Pingu’s Kindergarten @ California Compound. Flexible Hours and schedules. +966 55 443 7000
- Smart Kids Montessori @ Reem compound Montessori style preKG and KG. Facebook page +966 55 399 8131
- American International School – starts at age 3 for 1/2 day program. Website.
- British International School – starts at age 3 (turning 4 by end of year) for 1/2 day program called Nursery/Foundation 1. Website.
- My Little School International – near King Saud University website
- Ishbilia Kindergarten @ Ishbilia compound contact: +966 55 443 7000 or website
- Small Worlds Preschool @ al Yamama compound. Montessori style. Contact info needed.
- Little Feet Learning House @ DQ – by United States Embassy Recreation Association (USERA) firstname.lastname@example.org Contact: Rhia Tulao-Ludovico = Acting Manager 482-4448
- Starlight Preschool – Star Compound in Al Khozama area of Riyadh 056-734-6661. Facebook page
- Kids Academy (taught in Arabic). Neighborhood corner of Abdullah and Abdulaziz. Facebook page
- Kingdom City Playgroup +96612750275
- Kids World School @ Sulaimaiyah area website or email@example.com
- King Faisal – co-ed preschool in the DQ. Call admissions at 4820802 Ext. 1108. starts at age 3.
- Gymboree Classes (ladies only) http://www.gymboreeclasses-ksa.com/ or Gymboree Riyadh Facebook Page
- My Gym at Panorama Mall
You might also enjoy my advice for expats with children in Saudi Arabia.
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