Why early learning is important
Early learning helps tamariki be confident and curious about the world. It also helps them when they go to school or kura.
Your tamariki already learns a lot from everyday life. They learn through everything they do and everywhere they go. And they learn from everyone who talks, plays, and smiles with them.
Early childhood education (ECE) builds on this early learning, providing education and care for children before they're old enough to go to primary school. ECE is not compulsory, but it helps them learn important skills they'll benefit from throughout their lives, like:
- getting on with others – learning to:
- make friends
- share, take turns, and cooperate
- listen to others
- communicate their own ideas
- be independent
- take responsibility for their own needs
- care about the needs of others.
- coping well at school – learning to:
- manage challenges and keep trying when things get hard
- become life-long learners through activities like:
- talking, singing, and listening to stories. These activities build language skills and teach them to love books and reading.
- painting, dancing, making music, dressing up, and pretend play. These activities help develop children’s imaginations and creativity.
- puzzles, number play, and counting games help children understand maths concepts.
- building or construction activities, and activities like helping prepare food, looking after plants and animals, and measuring and mixing things like water and sand support children to learn about maths and science concepts.
Tamariki who go to early learning centres also settle more easily at school or kura and get the benefits of education more quickly.
The government subsidises all children who attend early learning services or kōhanga reo, up to six hours a day and up to 20 hours a week
Options for early childhood education
There are over 5,000 ECE services available in New Zealand, offering different services, facilities, hours, and costs. Each early learning service has their own way of working with children and their parents and/or caregivers.
Because some ECE providers have waiting lists, it’s a good idea to spend some time looking at what’s available in your area and deciding what kind of ECE would suit your tamariki and your whānau.
In New Zealand ECE services can be teacher-led, whānau-led or parent-led. Find out more about these different provisions here.
The types of early learning services available for you depends on where you live.
Search early learning services in your area
ECE services available include:
- education and care centres
- a caregiver like a nanny or family member, in your home or in the caregiver’s home
- Kōhanga Reo
- ngā puna kōhungahunga
- Pacific Island early childhood groups
- learning support services
- Steiner kindergartens
- Te Kura (the correspondence school).
All three and four year olds in New Zealand are entitled to 20 hours free early childhood education each week, but not all early learning services offer 20 hours.
Early learning services and kōhanga reo may also charge fees. Each has different fees, depending on things like:
- whether the early learning service or kōhanga reo offers 20 hours free ECE
- the number of adults employed to care for and educate the children, and the qualifications held by these adults
- the time your child will be there – part days or full days
- the facilities and services offered, for example if the service provides meals, nappies, and other supplies, or if you have to provide them
- other government subsidies you might be able to get, like the Childcare Subsidy through Work and Income.
Depending on your income and the number of hours your child is in care, you may be able to apply for a childcare subsidy or other subsidies from Work and Income New Zealand.
Choosing an early learning service
Find out about the services in your area
Look online for information, talk to other parents, or take your child to visit to find out about ECE options in your area. Visiting a service is a great way to get a sense of the children, the adults, and the environment.
- Ask about:
- whether the service offers 20 hours per week free ECE for three and four year olds
- whether they have a space for your child. Some early learning centres and kōhanga reo may have a waiting list
- about the hours they offer, and whether they’re open during school holidays and public holidays
- what hours are available for your child
- what the cost is
- whether you have to pay if your child is sick or away.
- Staff and size – ask:
- about the qualifications and experience of the parents or educators working with the children
- how often do the staff change, and who covers when staff are sick?
- how many children are cared for by each adult. Does each child have an adult who is mainly responsible for them?
- how many children go to the service, and what the age range of those children is
- about the daily routine and activities – is there lots of variety? When/where do the children sleep?
- how they manage children’s behaviour
- how they communicate with parents about their children
- Health and safety:
- is the centre licensed?
- is the space clean and well-maintained?
- who can collect your child?
- how do they keep children safe on a trip – number of adults to children and availability and number of car seats?
- if your child has any special requirements (like food allergies, disabilities, speech difficulties, or even shyness), how they would they be handled?
- how do they deal with illness and accidents?
- is the equipment safe and easy for children to use?
- if your child is sick, how long do they need to be at home?
- how and when will staff contact you?
- Activities and routines:
- what activities does the centre offer?
- are there different spaces for different activities like quiet play, active play, creative play, wet play and messy play?
- are there routines, for example sleep, meals, and nappy changing?
- do you need to bring food for your child or is it provided?
- are there lots of things for the children to do that are interesting and challenging?
- what kinds of things do they have for learning and play?
Look and listen, and pay attention to:
- The adults
- do they make you feel welcome?
- are the adults and the children kind and respectful of each other?
- do the adults provide a warm, encouraging and supportive environment for the children?
- do the adults seem to be happy, enjoying their work, and do they work well together?
- are the adults involved and engaged with the children?
- The children
- do the children there seem happy and are they taking part in activities?
- can the children move freely between the activities?
- ask about what they offer for your child – language, values, activities, learning and culture – and think whether that fits with what you want for your child.
- Think about which service would be the best fit for your child. Would your child do better in a large group, or a small one?
- Think about how you want to be involved.
Ask your child for their opinion - and listen to your own instincts. If the first visit doesn’t give you enough information to make a decision, visit again another time.
You can check the Education Review Office (ERO) report for the early learning service or kōhanga reo you are considering. ERO’s reports provide information for parents and communities about the strengths of a service and the next steps for development for each early learning service or kōhanga reo.
ERO reports are available free on the ERO website.