Pre-school education (institutional) takes place from the time when the child is one year old and lasts until he or she is six or seven years old. It takes place in nurseries, kindergartens and the so-called 'pre-school' (a form of preparation for elementary school).
Croatia has had a long tradition of pre-school education, which has developed from institutions for the social care of children. The activity of pre-school education is regulated by the Pre-school Education Act (Official Gazette 10/97).
Pre-school education is not compulsory and attendance at pre-school education institutions is not a prerequisite for enrolment at compulsory school. The founders of pre-school education institutions are local self-government units (districts and towns), natural and legal persons and religious communities.
Pre-school education is realised through regular programmes, which last for 5 to 10 hours a day. The average number of children per group is 20, with one pre-school teacher for every 12 children. Since 2000 there has been a growing tendency for children to attend pre-school education institutions. The 'preschool' programme, comprised of 150 hours of teaching (free of charge for the parents), involves around 95% of the child population in the year prior to their enrolment at elementary school. The pre-school education has adopted some of the world-renowned concepts, such as those of Montessori, Waldorf and Agazzi.
Pre-school education includes children of the members of national minorities, such as Italians, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Germans, Austrians and members of the Roma community. The regular programmes also include children with special needs, children with minor disabilities, as well as gifted children, for whom special educational and developmental programmes are being developed.