Early learning in New Zealand
With a wide range of early learning services available, it’s important to know your options and choose the best fit for your child and family.
In New Zealand, the options are many – with teacher-led services, like kindergartens and preschools, along with parent-led ones such as Playcentre and playgroups, and whānau-led services such as kōhanga reo. Additionally, there are home-based care options, as well as Te Kura (The Correspondence School) for children aged 3-5 years who can’t attend other services.
Some services have a particular culture and language focus. Te Kōhanga Reo offers a Māori immersion environment for tamariki and their whānau, and caters to tamariki from birth to school age. There is also Ngā Puna Kōhungahunga, which are playgroups that encourage learning in and through te reo Māori and tikanga, as well as Pacific Island playgroups.
Some centres have a specific set of beliefs about teaching and learning. Montessori is a method of education that seeks to develop children’s natural interests and strengths within a carefully prepared environment that promotes choice and independence. Rudolf Steiner education seeks to nurture young children’s sense of wonder, while developing their physical capabilities. It has a strong focus on artistic elements, free play and purposeful pursuits.
All early learning services are licensed or certificated by the Ministry of Education, which means that they must meet minimum standards of education and care to operate.
Curriculum & Play
While there’s an array of different early learning options in this country, each with its own philosophies and strengths, all follow the national curriculum, Te Whāriki, which covers the years from birth until a child goes to school (so that could be up until they are six). It’s founded on the aspiration that children “grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.” (TW)
Te Whāriki does not prescribe what teachers must teach and children must learn. Rather, using the whāriki (woven mat)as a metaphor, it “provides a framework of principles, strands, goals and learning outcomes” (TW), and describes environments and experiences that are conducive to optimal learning and development.
We know from the research that children learn best through self-directed play, supported by responsive adults, and Te Whāriki provides a rich array of primarily play-based experiences through which children learn to make sense of their immediate and wider worlds. Te Whāriki is “the most robust and research-based early childhood curriculum I have ever seen,” says neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis.
There are so many considerations and possible compromises to make as you weigh up the options. Perhaps the best place to start is on the couch with a cuppa, listing your priorities.
Availability and cost
Does the service have space available for your child to cover the hours you require, and what is the cost? In New Zealand, children aged 3, 4 and 5 can get up to 20 hours of early childhood education (ECE) fully funded by the Ministry of Education. Services can charge additional fees to cover different costs – for activities or meals, for instance.
Think about who will be doing drop-offs and pick-ups. This is a logistical consideration, but one that can have a big emotional effect: less rushing and a shorter drive will make for a calmer start and conclusion to the day.
Teacher training and ratios
The Education Regulations for Early Childhood Services (2008) sets out the minimum adult-to-child ratio that centres must meet (for example, 1 : 5 for children under 2), but it’s a good idea to inquire into the adult-to-child ratio used by a particular centre. It is also worth asking how many of the teachers are fully trained.
To what extent do you want to be involved?
There are options for parents to be involved in their child’s education. Playcentre is founded on the child and adult playing and learning together and providing a village of support around whānau. A child can be enrolled in more than one service: some parents enjoy getting involved with their local Playcentre or playgroup, as well as having their child in preschool or home-based care.
Your child’s friendships and sense of community
Don’t underestimate the importance of your child’s friendships, as well as relationships with other adults, in building their social skills and confidence, and setting them up for a smooth transition to school. Think about choosing a centre that feeds into the school you plan to send them to, to build up their network of friends.
Does it feel right?
You’ll get a feel for a centre and how well it fits with your whānau by visiting with your child and spending time in the space. Are people warm and inviting, and responsive to your questions? Does your child feel comfortable? Note, given the current circumstances, it is important to phone ahead to arrange a visit.
Home away from home
Established in 1943, Avonside Early Childhood Centre is one of Christchurch’s oldest not-for-profit community-owned preschools. With highly trained, experienced teachers, the centre is dedicated to providing tamariki from six months to six years with the best possible start.
Playcentre is unique because it supports parents and caregivers to play and learn alongside the little people in their lives. At Playcentre you will meet other parents and educators and become part of a vibrant village, where children and families grow and have fun together.
Developing their full potential
Kindercare is celebrating 50 years of supporting children to develop their full potential. Underpinned by the philosophy “Because Children Matter”, the values of safety, love and learning guide the care of each child, while centres grow strong partnerships with parents and build links between the centre and home. Kindercare offers flexible care options, including healthy meals based on a whole foods approach. There is a strong focus on movement as a way of learning, and the preschool environment incorporates digital technology to help set children up for school success.