OK, first of all, fair warning. This post is in response to several negative comments I have read online by people who do not have first-hand experience with Taiwan public schools. The comments are ones I surely made before actually putting my children in public school here, and like mine, probably based on things they heard. The information below is based on my own experience with two schools, and is not meant to represent every school in Taiwan.
Currently, public kindergarten is available to children who turn four before September 1st in the year they start school. So, if your child is turning/has turned four before September 1st this year, you can enrol them in "中班". If they are turning/have turned five, you can enrol them in "大班". With the decreasing number of children in Taiwan, it is getting easier and easier to enrol your children in public schools, but for the more popular schools, you may still have to take part in a lottery system for your four year old. You should check out some schools and let the ones you like know you are interested, before May.
The following information is what I have experienced with kindergartens attached to elementary schools.
Hours: Teachers arrive about 7:40 am. Official opening time is 7:50am. There is free time until about 8:50am. Half-days can finish either before or after lunch. There is a naptime, and then the school day finishes at 4pm. There may or may not be afterschool care, with an extra cost, until 5 or 6pm depending on the situation of the school and parents of children enrolled there.
Cost: "大班"children get free attendance to public kindergarten. You have to pay for the meals your children will have (depending on whether they enrol for half-day or full-day), which in our case is about $4,000TWD for a semester of 4 1/2 months. "中班" children have to pay a bit more, but I'm not sure what the amount is at the moment. There are also allowances for children from low-income families.
What do children do?
My two children each attended different kindergartens. My son's school was more "traditional". They had free play until almost 9am, mat time, snack, outdoor play, lunch, nap, outdoor or indoor play, mat time, snack, and then pack up for home. My daughter's school runs a thematic curriculum and children pretty much dictate what activities they do, with teachers supplying opportunities to develop literacy and numeracy skills through the children's interests. Right now, they are learning about books, and doing lots of book making, learning about the library system, and choosing books to base their play on.
In contrast to the very free and individual style of NZ kindergarten, there is quite a group emphasis in Taiwan. Children will go to the toilet, eat, and nap together at fixed time. Children are free to go to the toilet when they need to, but there is also a real group element to things that go on during the day. They will learn a lot of songs and musical instruments, together as a group.
Instruction throughout the day is in Mandarin Chinese. My daughter's kindy has a high percentage of children with non-Taiwanese mothers, and teachers are very used to working with these children to ensure they have sufficient Mandarin skills for elementary school.
Children have a uniform, but in my children's cases they only had to wear it once a week or on outings.
One of the big benefits of going to a kindergarten attached to an elementary school is, your children get to use the school facilities. This means they can use running track, playground, and gymnasium, and in some cases, join the afterschool activities offered, such as swimming and rollerblading.