I recently contributed this article to the ExpatArrivals website about kids in Jakarta. I hope you find it useful and I would love to hear the experiences, whether similar or different, of any other expat parents here in Jakarta.
Kids in Jakarta
With a growing expat community, Jakarta boasts many International Schools with excellent standards, diverse entertainment options and a wide array of community activities conducted in English and other languages for families of all sizes.
Indonesians love kids with devotion. No matter where you go, your children will make instant friends with other children and adults alike. Children will receive playful looks and taps from passing strangers and you will be asked for permission to have your kid’s picture taken often. Wherever you may go, your children will receive a lot of attention and you can be sure they will be entertained as Indonesians are always pleased to see happy children. Indonesia will prove to be an excellent place to raise your children and teach them to interact with all kinds of people and learn from the diverse cultural offerings.
If both parents are working, and even if that is not the case, it is very easy to find excellent childcare options. Indonesian nannies are used to working with Expat families and will accommodate your requests and needs without hesitating. Nannies will grow very attached to your children and will become your go-to person when requiring help in translating something or just dealing with life in Jakarta.
Schooling for kids in Jakarta
There is a very broad assortment of Schools in Jakarta. From International Schools to National “Plus” Schools, the biggest challenge will be to decide which program fits your children and your family needs. You can decide what school to send your kids to depending on the curriculum your children are already following and making sure you will be able to transfer their school records once you move to a different country.
International Schools are the best options for families who know that they will be in Jakarta for a specific amount of time. The curriculum followed is easily validated and transferable to other international schools in different countries and even “back home”, wherever that might be. Most of the international school’s staff, from the Principal to the teachers, is composed of expats and English, German or French is their native language. Some of the most popular international schools are the Jakarta International School, British International School, Australian International School and the Lycee International Français de Jakarta.
Indonesian National “plus” schools are local schools that offer international curriculum and use English as the medium of instruction. These schools are very popular among wealthier Indonesians and you will often find the children of politicians and other public figures enrolled in these schools. They are a great alternative for expats who are staying in Jakarta long-term and for those whose companies do not cover the cost of education as they are not as expensive as the international schools and they offer very competitive educative option. Two of the best know national “plus” schools are the Sekolah Pelita Harapan (SPH) and the Springfield International Curriculum School.
The school of your choice will very likely determine the area where you will want to find housing. Traffic will probably become a big hindrance to some of your kid’s activities so you will need to find a home close to your children’s school so they can take advantage of all the extra-curricular activities and events the school has to offer.
Enrollment in most Indonesian schools begins in April of each year for July admission. Some schools will interview your children to determine if the school is a good fit for your kid or not. A few schools, such as the very popular JIS, will sometimes have to add your children to their waiting list as the number of expats trying to enroll their kids keeps growing. It would be advisable to contact the school of your choice as soon as you find out the date of your arrival to Indonesia to secure a spot for your children.
The starting school age for kids at the international schools is 5 years old for Kindergarten. Alternatively, there are many international and local preschools that will give your children from walking age to age 5 great opportunities to get introduced to more formal school environment and will help them develop social skills that will prove to be useful once they transfer to a bigger school. Some of the preschools offer special “mommy and me” classes where mom and child will be able to play, read and craft together. For children 2 and older many preschools offer “playgroup” or “toddler” classes where kids attend a class for two to three hours a day and learn the numbers, colors, etc. There are many good preschools all over Jakarta so finding a good fit for your kids will be easy. Some of the most well known ones are Tutor Time, Royal Tots, ISmile, Kidea, and Apple Tree.
If you do decide to keep your little ones at home with you, there are many playgroups and classes you can enroll your children in. From early development classes to language, music and gym classes, you will always be able to find activities for your children. The international franchises Kindyroo and Gymboree are available in several areas of Jakarta. Gym classes are available at Rockstar Gym, and I can Read offers reading classes. Mandarin, Japanese and French classes are available both at language schools for kids and at special playgroups within the Chinese, Japanese and French communities.
Entertainment for kids in Jakarta
Although the entertainment options might be different from those in your home country, it is not difficult to keep kids engaged and entertained. A great resource for families with kids is the “Family Guide to Jakarta” both in print, which can be bought at any bookstore, and online at http://www.familyguidetojakarta.web.id. There you will be able to find information about schools, classes, having a baby in Jakarta and even party supplies and where to find specific products.
For Indonesians and expats alike visiting the malls is a favorite pastime. Malls in Jakarta are very large and they have up to 8 stories full of food, entertainment and shops. Malls are a great place to find indoor entertainment options for the children as they have amazing indoor playgrounds, bowling allies, family-friendly karaoke venues and movie theaters. You will even find Ferris wheels, carrousels, water parks and small roller coasters within the malls.
Sunday Brunch is a favorite pastime among Indonesians and Car-Free Sunday is one of the best options for riding a bike or taking a stroll on the main streets of Jakarta. Many kid shows such as Disney on Ice are often available and tickets for movie theaters are cheap and you will usually be able to find the newest blockbusters.
Outdoor parks are not really available in Jakarta. However, there are two good alternatives if you really want to take to children outside. The Playparq and the Playground in Kemang offer outdoor playgrounds and a water-play area that kids of all ages enjoy.
Bayside, Ancol Resort will provide a full day of fun for kids and grownups alike. In Ancol you will find a water park, a Sea World, a beach golf course and two amusement parks. Although the conditions may not resemble those of international amusement parks, Ancol is a great option for entertaining the kids. In the East of Jakarta you will be able to find Taman Mini, a cultural park that showcases all aspects of daily life in Indonesia encapsulated in separate pavilions.
If you are willing to travel a little bit further out, the options become endless. Taman Safari is a drive-thru Safari where you can see more than 2,500 animals in their natural habitat. You are able to feed them and pet them and you may camp out at the park. The tea plantations and strawberry farms in Bandung are a great option if you want to teach your children about nature. Finally, the botanical gardens and zoo in Bogor provide a nice break from the pollution and hustle and bustle of the Big Durian.
Parent networks in Jakarta
With so many different groups and associations available in Jakarta, it is easy to find a niche and a community to call your own. The American Women’s Association provides useful information to newcomers and their bi-monthly playgroup is a great place to socialize and interact with other parents. The Australian and New Zealand Association has one friendliest and biggest playgroups in Jakarta and the British Women’s Association also hosts a playgroup for babies and preschool aged children. The Iberoamerican Association hosts two different playgroups in Spanish; one for babies and young toddlers and the other for kids 3 years and older.
Jakarta is a city going thru a lot of growing pains. The infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the huge growth spurt it has gone thru in the last few years and this is evident in the quality of the construction of the different systems, from the highway to the sewage.
Traffic is one of the biggest challenges and sources of frustration for many expats in Jakarta. On occasion, it can take up to 2 hours to travel 3 km. The lack of clean sidewalks and the bad air quality do not allow for alternate modes of transportation and using public transportation is out of the question. Taking your stroller out for a walk is impossible unless it is done at the mall.
A big issue is the quality of air and water. Tap water is not safe to drink and its dubious treatment makes many hesitate to even brush their teeth and bathe their younger babies in it. Pollution and bad air quality make Jakarta a breeding ground for respiratory infections and the lack of reliable medical treatment makes healthcare become a decisive issue when moving to Jakarta.
Although many people speak English, miscommunication is often a problem. It is common to not be able to understand what the locals really think and not because a language barrier but the importance of “saving face”. However, you can learn to read what they really mean and speak their same language within a few months of living here.
During Idul Fitri (Ramadan), the pace of the city comes to a virtual standstill. Everything seems to take longer and most transactions and processes become very difficult. Most expats go home for most of June and July and come back in August for the start of the school period. During the summer, the heat and humidity make life a bit more challenging but the availability of pools makes life more bearable.
Over all, Jakarta is a fun city to live in despite its ups and downs and it is a great city to raise kids in a dynamic and multicultural environment.