Choosing an early childhood education service

It's important to choose an early childhood education (ECE) service or Kōhanga Reo that supports your child so that they can be safe, nurtured and join in and learn alongside other children.

The learning that children experience at an ECE service or Kōhanga Reo is guided by the curriculum framework called Te Whāriki. You can read more about Te Whāriki here.

What types of ECE services are available?

There are all sorts of ECE services available in New Zealand, offering different services, facilities, hours, and costs. Each has its own way of working with children and their parents and/or carers. 

ECE services available in New Zealand include:

  • education and care centres
  • home based education and care
  • kindergartens
  • Kōhanga Reo
  • Montessori
  • ngā puna kōhungahunga
  • playcentres
  • playgroups
  • Pacific Island early childhood groups
  • learning support services
  • Steiner kindergartens
  • Te Kura (the correspondence school).

What’s the difference? Find out more about these different kinds of ECE services.

Check to see what services are available in your area

Not all types of ECE services are offered everywhere. It depends on where you live. Search ECE services in your region.(external link)

How do I narrow down the choice?

To find out which ECE services or Kōhanga Reo might suit your family and whānau it pays to do a bit of research.

Your child’s early intervention team can give you the information you need to help you work out the best option for your child and help you through this process.

You could ask other parents and/or carers for their recommendations and talk about what their experience has been like.

You can also contact your nearest Ministry learning support team(external link) or one of the community support organisations for advice.

How do I choose the service that's right for my child?

Once you find an ECE service or Kōhanga Reo you're interested in you'll need to contact them to find out if they can support the particular needs of you and your child.

 Things to consider

  • Location: are they close enough to home, work or study? 
  • Hours: are they open when you need them, and what about school holidays?
  • Style of care: do they offer what you want for your child eg 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 service to find out.
  • Services offered: do they offer what you want, like 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, and what is the adult to child ratio?
  • Availability: do they have space, or is there a waiting list?

Does the service meet the specific needs of my child?

  • Location: is there good off-street parking and easy access to the building? Is the service close to anything that may cause noise distractions, like an airport or main road?
  • Style of care: how will they make sure your child is welcomed by the other children and can learn alongside them? How will the service keep you informed about what's happening for your child? Can you stay with your child and help plan their activities for the day?
  • Services offered: what experience do the staff have in supporting children with learning support needs? 
  • Facilities: is the physical environment suitable and easily adaptable for your child's needs? Is there suitable access to toilet and shower facilities?

Can my child go to any ECE service that I choose?

An ECE service is not allowed to exclude your child. As part of their licence to operate all ECE services must have an environment that is inclusive and responsive to all children. Te Whāriki also supports this by ensuring all children are actively engaged in learning, with and alongside others. 

We recommend you contact the ECE service to let them know you're interested in to discuss the particular needs of your child, and how the service can best meet them.

Go for some visits

It’s important to visit the ECE services or Kōhanga Reo you’re interested in, so you can get a good feel for the children, the educators, and the environment. Get in touch with them and arrange to visit. You can visit as many times as you like. Take your child with you when you go, and watch closely to what’s going on and how your child responds. If it's a home-based service, have the coordinator come visit you.

What’s it like for the children?

Visit at different times so you can observe the different routines and the children at different times of the day. The children should be busy and engaged, and keen to learn new things. Are they encouraged to be independent and able to choose their own activities? Children with learning support needs should have the opportunity to play alongside and build relationships with other children. All children should be encouraged to express their feelings. And there should be opportunities to rest or sleep if they need to.

What about the educators or parents and/or carers working there?

For your child to get the most out of their ECE experience they need to be with people who can accept them as individuals and guide and support their learning at a level that's right for them. The way of supporting learning, the number of educators and their qualifications will be different depending on what service you choose. Find out what the licence says about how many educators there'll be there to supervise the education and care of the children.

By visiting the ECE service or Kōhanga Reo you can find out if the adults talk and listen to the children with respect, and encourage the children to work things out for themselves but with support if need be. Ask if parents, whānau or caregivers can take part in activities. Talk to them about a programme that has specific goals and plans to help your child learn. You may have an Individual Plan already in place if you're working with the Ministry's learning support early intervention team.

What's the space like?

Outdoor and indoor spaces offer different experiences for children, and every ECE service or Kōhanga Reo manages these spaces in their own way. There should be free access between inside and outdoors, and opportunities for active play in both areas. There should also be quiet areas to sit or to ‘hide’.

Make sure that the the building is safe, well maintained and inviting. Equipment should be in good condition, with soft-fall surfaces under climbing equipment. Check the toileting area and if there is a shower in case your child needs it.

Let the service know what to expect

The ECE service or Kōhanga Reo will need to work with you to help your child fit in and thrive. They'll want to speak with the team involved in supporting your child, like the early intervention team and any other specialists. It is also helpful for you to talk to the staff about specific practical, medical and cultural needs.

Check the ERO report

The Education Review Office (ERO) is a government department that reviews ECE services, Kōhanga Reo, schools and kura as part of its work. ECE services and Kōhanga Reo are reviewed about every 3 years. 

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

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

The Ministry's special education team has developed a booklet Choosing and Starting at an early childhood education service [PDF, 1.5 MB] to help get your child off to a good start at ECE. 

Further information


Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Tell us what you think.