Preschool care and education
In New Zealand, early childhood education (ECE) refers to the range of facilities available for children under five.
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Early childhood education (ECE) provides education and care for children before they are old enough to go to primary school. ECE is not compulsory.
Most children in New Zealand (95%) get some form of early childhood education, usually for 20-22 hours a week. For three and four-year-olds, the first 20 hours per week are fully funded by the government.
There are no term breaks in the ECE system, so they also work through school holiday times.
Various government bodies set a national curriculum, ensure standards are maintained in every ECE centre, and control teacher quality.
Register your child
New Zealand has lots of ECE services, but demand is high. Places can be hard to get, especially in the bigger cities and towns. So check early that the pre-school you are interested in has room for your child.
The ECE curriculum aims to:
- build on your child's interests and abilities
- provide a chance for children to learn and experience new things
- help children be ready for school and do better when they get there.
The ECE sector’s curriculum framework has the Māori name Te Whāriki, which means "woven mat". There is full information about Te Whāriki on the Ministry of Education’s website.
There are over 5,000 childcare and pre-school facilities around the country. They fall into two main groups:
- Teacher-led services, where 50% of the supervising adults must be qualified and registered as ECE teachers. These include:
- education and care services
- home-based services
- Te Kura (the Correspondence School playgroups).
- Parent-led services, where parents and family or caregivers educate and care for their children. In New Zealand, these include:
- Playcentres and Kōhanga Reo (centres catering for young children in a Māori cultural environment), both of which must be licensed
- Playgroups, which may or may not be government certified
- Puna kōhungahunga (Māori-focused playgroups)
- Pacific Island-focused playgroups
Choosing a pre-school
There is a helpful guide for the parents of pre-school age children available from the Education Review Office (ERO). This is a government body responsible for overseeing quality in early childhood centres (as well as primary and secondary schools). Licensed and certificated early learning services must meet minimum standards of education and care to operate.
There are a range of options available to parents and whānau (family) that offer different types of early learning services, hours, and prices. Each service type has its own way of working with children and their parents and whānau. Some offer all day education and care, some only part day.
The guide looks at:
- what types of early childhood education services are available
- how to choose one for your child
- what to look for in an early childhood education
- key questions to ask when you visit a service
- how to help your child settle into pre-school
- how early childhood education is regulated.
The ERO also regularly checks early childhood education centres. They publish their reports online so you can look up their review of a centre you may be considering for your child.
Keeping in touch with what your child is learning
There are no tests or formal assignments in New Zealand’s early childhood education system. Instead, we use photos, ‘learning stories’ and work samples to show parents and other teachers how children are progressing.
Most ECE centres have digital cameras and webcams. Children can choose what to take pictures of and parents can see what has been happening throughout the day. All ECE services collect examples of children’s work and play, eg in a book or portfolio, and write regular summaries about what each child has been learning.
Parents see and talk about their child’s progress with teachers regularly. When your child finishes their pre-school education you will receive a record of their learning that you can share with their teachers in the next level primary school.
Te Whāriki sets out the curriculum in New Zealand early learning services and provides guidance on how a service can implement the curriculum.
Te Whāriki intercepts curriculum broadly and includes all the experiences, activities and events that happen during early learning. Te Whāriki's principles, goals and learning outcomes prioritises the child and emphasises respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships.
There are no tests or formal assessments at early learning services. Instead, children's progress is recorded in profile books which are made up of their work and regular summaries about what each child has been learning. This learning record is available to parents and children, who take learning services and they move onto school or kura.
The everyday things you do at home with your child helps their learning. Early learning happens everywhere and all the time. Parents and whānau are encouraged to take an interest and help connect learning at their child's early learning service with what goes on at home. How much you get involved is up to you.
You will be welcome to visit your child’s early education centre to talk to teachers or, preferably, actively join in and share the experience. You will also be invited to share information about your family and culture with teachers, children and other families.
Your child's early learning service should regularly talk with you about how your child is doing, what their interests and abilities are, and involve you in making decisions about your child. Talking openly with your child's educators will help you learn more about how the early learning service is run and helps educators or whānau and communities who are part of your child's life.
ECE centres also run parent evenings and various other special events.
The Ministry of Education has advice for parents on how they can assist their children to settle in when they begin ECE.
Cost of early childhood education
Early learning services may charge fees. Check with your service about their fees and enrolment conditions.
The New Zealand Government subsidises all children who attend early learning services for up to six hours a day (a total of 30 hours per week), up until children go to school or turn six. Children aged 3, 4 and 5 years old, who are enrolled in an early learning service, can receive a higher funding subsidy called 20 Hours ECE.
20 Hours ECE enables services to provide early learning for up to 6 hours a day and 20 hours per week without charging fees. Ask your early learning service if they offer 20 Hours ECE.