Choosing an early learning service

When you are looking for an early learning service, there can be a number of options to choose from, particularly if you live in a city or large town. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you're making your decision.

Narrow down your options

Here’s what you can do to help narrow down your options.

Check to see what services are available in your area

The types of early learning services and kōhanga reo available for you to choose from will differ depending on where you live. So first check what's available. You can search early learning services and kōhanga reo in your region on our website.

Ask other parents or caregivers

Other parents often have first-hand experience, and can be a great source of information. You could also research online, look in your newspaper, or ask other whānau members, friends and neighbours about their experiences.

Make a shortlist based on what you need

Gather information about the early learning services or kōhanga reo you're considering, either by checking out their website or phoning them, like:

  • do they have a space? Some early learning services and kōhanga reo do not have space and you may have to go on a waiting list
  • location - are they close enough to home, work, study? What suits you best?
  • hours - are they open when you need them? What about school holidays and public holidays?
  • style of care - do they offer what you want for your child? Language, culture, values, activities and learning?
  • cost - can you afford the fees? Remember, even with government subsidies like 20 Hours ECE, you may still have to pay fees. Check with each early learning service or kōhanga reo to find out.
  • services offered - do they offer what you want? Meals, drinks, nappies, supplies, activities etc. Check what’s included in the fees.
  • size - would your child do better in a small group or a large one?
  • parent involvement - how can you be involved? Do you want to attend with your child, or do you need to drop them off? Do you want to have a say in how the service is run?

Dig a bit deeper

If the early learning service or kōhanga reo meets your practical needs, you might want to dig a bit deeper, to find out about things like:

  • who works with the children? Find out about the educators or parents running the early learning service or kōhanga reo, their qualifications and experience
  • how many children attend and how many adults work there? How much individual attention do the children get?
  • what’s the daily routine and activities?  Is there plenty of variety? When do the children sleep?
  • how do they manage behaviour?
  • how do they deal with sickness and accidents?
  • how do they communicate with parents about how the child is doing?
  • if your child has any special needs, how they would handle them? This could be anything from food allergies, to shyness, to a speech difficulty or a physical disability. If you’re concerned about it, don’t be afraid to ask.

Go for some visits

It’s important to visit the early learning service or kōhanga reo you’re interested in, and get a good feel for the children, the adults, and the environment. Get in touch with them and arrange to visit. You can visit as many times as you like. When you go, look out for things like:

  • how welcome do you feel?
  • are adults and children kind to and respectful of each other?
  • do the children seem content and absorbed in their tasks?
  • what is available for children's play and learning?
  • do you and your child like the indoor and outdoor spaces?
  • are there opportunities for challenge?
  • how many children are enrolled and will this number be overwhelming for your child?

What’s it like for the children?

  • are they interacting with each other and are educators interacting with the children?
  • is there plenty of equipment that suits their interests and abilities?
  • can they move freely between indoors and outdoors?
  • do they seem happy and are they taking part in activities?

What about the kaiako, educators or parents working there?

  • do they provide a warm, encouraging and supportive environment?
  • do they seem to enjoy their work and work well together?
  • do they make sure the children are well-supervised at all times?
  • do they make you and your child feel welcome?
  • are they engaging with children in their learning?

What's the space like?

  • are there different spaces for different activities, such as wet and messy play, quiet play, active play and creative play?
  • is equipment safe and easy for the children to get to and use?
  • are there plenty of things to interest, engage and challenge children?
  • is the place clean and well looked after?

Check the ERO report

You can check the Education Review Office (ERO) report for the early learning service or kōhanga reo you are considering. ERO is a government department that reviews early learning services, kōhanga reo, schools and kura as part of its work.

ERO’s reports provide information for parents and communities about strengths and next steps for development for each early learning service or kōhanga reo. The reports cover things like the learning environment, processes and procedures, how educators relate to students, the commitment to bicultural practices and how they support Māori learners, how they review and monitor themselves, and their vision and philosophy.

Early learning services and kōhanga reo are reviewed on average once every 3 years.

ERO reports are available free on the ERO website(external link)

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