An overview of education and care centres

Published on Monday, 05 December 2016
Last updated on Friday, 17 December 2021

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Early childhood education and care centres provide just that – education and care. Whether they’re looking after babies who are getting used to the world or pre-schoolers who are getting ready for school, these centres have benefits for children of all ages. 

Here we look at how education and care centres work and what they offer youngsters. 

What do education and care centres do? 

All centre-based early childhood education services, other than kindergartens, kōhanga reo and playcentres, are known as education and care centres. They may be owned privately, community-owned or attached to a business or organisation that has employees with young children. 

And although there are differences between centres, each one is a teacher-led early childhood education (ECE) service. This means that at least 50 per cent of the adults who educate and care for children must be qualified ECE teachers. 

As well as providing child care, education and care centres create individual learning programmes based on Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum

The Te Whāriki curriculum focuses on:

  • Four principles: Empowerment, holistic development, family and community, and relationships; and 
  • Five strands: Well-being, belonging, contribution, communication and exploration  

The centres provide a wide range of experiences and opportunities for children, all tailored to the age of the infant, baby, toddler or pre-schooler.  

Education and care centre activities may include:

  • Playing with toys and equipment
  • Storytelling and books
  • Sand and water play
  • Block-building and puzzles
  • Painting 
  • Play dough
  • Dramatic play
  • Music
  • Science and nature experiences
  • Outdoor play
  • Group time

Who are education and care centres for?

There are different types of education and care centres, with some accepting enrolments from birth up to school age, and others catering to a specific age range.

Some centres have a specific language and culture focus, such as Te Puna Reo, which provides an education and care environment in Māori language and culture. 

And other centres may follow an education philosophy, like Rudolph Steiner, Montessori or Reggio Emilia.

What services do education and care centres provide? 

Education and care centres provide professional child care and individualised learning programmes that take into account a child’s age, needs and interests.

Services vary depending on the centre and what stage the child is at, so it’s best for parents to discuss specific offerings with their centre. 

Before a child attends an education and care centre, their parents should:

  • Ask the centre what their child needs to bring each day
  • Discuss any individual requirements, such as food allergies
  • Visit the centre before the child’s start date to help them settle in

“We will ask you questions to find out your child’s personal preferences in regard to routines, foods, toileting, how they like to be soothed and how they ask for and accept affection.”

BestStart Education and Care Centres

In terms of hours, education and care centres: 

  • Offer all-day or part-day education and care
  • Enrol children for a set number of hours per day, or days per week

What are the benefits of education and care centres?

Early childhood education isn’t compulsory in New Zealand, but there is plenty to be gained from your child attending an education and care centre. Spaces are designed with age brackets in mind and qualified teachers support little learners. 

Babies benefit from education and care centres by:

  • Developing close relationships with specialised teachers
  • Developing foundation skills, like reflexes and muscle strength
  • Accessing a wide range of stimulating toys and equipment
  • Finding companionship and stimulation with other youngsters
  • Having their specific needs met

Toddlers benefit from education and care centres by:

  • Learning through play and physical activity
  • Being kept busy and interested with varied activities and equipment
  • Developing language, communication and social skills
  • Being encouraged and supported by their teacher
  • Interacting and playing with other children 

Children benefit from education and care centres by:

  • Learning life skills in a caring and supportive environment
  • Exploring their interests and abilities
  • Building on their home learning
  • Gaining confidence and becoming school-ready
  • Making friends and having fun

Broadly speaking, education and care centres help children:

  • Learn to persevere and problem-solve 
  • Develop effective communication skills
  • Learn about limits, risks, boundaries, routines and tools for conflict resolution
  • Develop fine motor skills
  • Develop gross motor skills
  • Be creative

How does licensing work for an education and care service?

Education and care centres are licensed by the Ministry of Education and have to meet licensing criteria and comply with the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008

To retain their license to operate, education and care centres must meet minimum government standards covering:

The Education Review Office (ERO) reviews the quality of education and care being provided.  

How much does an education and care centre cost?

Each child attending an education and care centre may be eligible for 20 Hours ECE. This is a government subsidy that provides 20 hours of free early childhood education per week (up to six hours per day) for children aged three, four and five. 

However, if your child goes to an education and care centre for more than 20 hours a week, or they’re younger than three, charges will apply. There may also be an optional charge to cover things like more teachers, meals, excursions or special programmes.

All in all, costs vary depending on the centre and how much time your child spends there, so ask your centre for their fee schedule.  

A Childcare Subsidy is also available to some families. 


NZ Education
Education Review Office

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