Childcare & preschool

In New Zealand, early childhood education (ECE) refers to the range of facilities available for children under five.

Most children here - 95% of them - get some form of ECE, usually for 20-22 hours a week. For three and four year olds, the first 20 hours are fully funded by the government.

Various government bodies set a national curriculum, ensure standards are maintained in every ECE centre and control teacher quality.

Early childhood education in New Zealand | Ministry of Education

Hot tip

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’re interested in actually has room for your child.

ECE curriculum

Overall, New Zealand’s education system aims to develop “young people who will be confident connected, actively involved, lifelong learners”.

At the ECE level, the aim is to lay the foundations for lifelong success. Our ECE system seeks to empower and develop children holistically, helping them to make links and develop relationships while discovering different ways of seeing the world.

The early childhood education sector’s curriculum framework has the Māori name of Te Whäriki and there’s full information about it on the Ministry of Education’s website.

Te Whäriki | Ministry of Education

Pre-school choices

There are over 4,000 childcare and pre-school facilities around the country. They fall into two main groups:

Teacher-led services, which include kindergartens along with education and care services. In teacher-led services, 50% of the supervising adults must be qualified and registered as ECE teachers.

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, and Playgroups which may or may not be government certified.

New Zealand early childhood education

Choosing a pre-school

There’s 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).

Their 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.

Early childhood education guide for parents | ERO

Early childhood centre reports | ERO

Find an ECE service | Ministry of Education

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 web cams. 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.

Parents’ involvement

How much you get involved is up to you, but parents are definitely encouraged to take and interest and also to help connect learning at the ECE centre with what goes on at home.

You’ll be welcome to visit your child’s early education centre to talk to teachers or, preferably, actively join in and share the experience. You’ll also be invited to share information about your family and culture with teachers, children and other families.

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.

Settling children in to ECE | Ministry of Education

Cost of early childhood education

The first 20 hours per week of ECE is government funded and largely free for children from age three until they start school (after they turn five). This applies to all children in New Zealand, regardless of their visa situation. The program is called 20 ECE hours.

While the government’s funding covers compulsory fees, many early childhood education centres have charges. Some charge on a per hour basis, and others per day, week or term. 

If children spend more than the 20 paid ECE hours, or if they are too young to qualify, ECE providers charge fees. (There may also be other charges - a suggested donation, or specific charges to cover the cost of a special outing, for example.)

Charges vary but as an indication, in 2015 most kindergartens charged between $5-6 per hour, Playcentres charged up to $50 for a ten week term and home based care costs were around $4-6 an hour.

20 Hours ECE | Ministry of Education

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Page last updated: 17/08/2016

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