An overview of kindergartens

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

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For more than 120 years, kindergartens have provided quality early childhood education and care to New Zealand children. 

Offering a safe and engaging child care environment, along with qualified teachers, kindergarten is a great way to empower and develop your child in the years before they go to school. 

Here we look at the ways a kindergarten can benefit your family.

What do kindergartens do? 

A kindergarten is a centre where pre-school aged children are cared for and receive early learning. As kindergartens are ‘teacher-led early childhood education service’, all teachers in the centre are qualified and registered. 

The kindergarten programme is 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  

As such, kindergartens provide a wide range of experiences and opportunities for children, and there is a focus on play-based learning, both indoors and outdoors.  

Kindergarten activities include:

  • Music and movement
  • Language and literature
  • Science and nature
  • Maths
  • Art and painting
  • Physically active play
  • Sensory activities, e.g. sand and water
  • Puzzles, blocks and construction
  • Dramatic play
  • ICT, e.g. computers and digital cameras

Educators work closely with families and whānau, and there are more than 30 different kindergarten models to support the needs of individual families. 

Who are kindergartens for?

Most kindergartens offer services for children aged between two and five years (until they begin school). Some also take children under the age of two. 

There are also bilingual kindergartens that promote and integrate Māori or Pasifika languages and culture. 

New Zealand kindergarten statistics

According to NZ Kindergartens:

  • Kindergartens represent 15 per cent of all early childhood education (ECE) services 
  • 15 per cent of Māori children attending ECE go to kindergarten
  • 16 per cent of Pasifika children attending ECE go to kindergarten
  • Over 25 per cent of all four-year-olds in ECE attend kindergarten

Kindergartens are relatively low cost and provide high quality education, so demand is high. It’s recommended that you put your child on a waiting list well ahead of time. 

What services do kindergartens provide? 

Depending on the centre, a kindergarten may offer school-like hours or shorter three or four-hour sessions. You can choose the sessions and days that your child will attend, and many kindergartens are located near schools. 

Examples of kindergarten hours: 

  • Some centres offer sessions from 9am to 3pm or all-day
  • Families may be able to choose whether their child attends part or all of a longer session
  • Sometimes older kids attend morning sessions five days per week and younger children enrol in afternoon sessions three days a week
  • Some are open all year round and some offer school holiday programmes

Kindergartens provide engaging play spaces, quality teaching staff and professional care, however, parents should check what day-to-day items their child needs to take along. 

As a guide, children should bring to kindergarten:

  • A bag with their name on it
  • A change of named clothes
  • A sun hat 
  • A small lunch box with healthy food and a drink bottle
  • Other items the kindergarten recommends

Children don’t necessarily need to be toilet-trained and kindergartens have policies that take account of food allergies. Discuss any individual requirements with your centre. 

What are the benefits of kindergartens?

Although it’s not compulsory for a child to enrol in kindergarten (or any other ECE), there is plenty to be gained from your child attending a kindie.

Broadly speaking, kindergarten is a great way to:

  • Build on children’s interests and abilities
  • Supplement their home learning 
  • Give them new experiences and teachings
  • Help children make friends and develop social skills 
  • Build confidence and prepare children for school
  • Provide child care and community involvement

In terms of skills, kindergarten helps children:

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

“Research shows children who attend a high quality early childhood service, like kindergarten, have better skills in areas such as communication, numeracy, problem solving, reading and socialisation in later years.”

Wellington Region Kindergarten Association


How does licensing work for a kindergarten?

Each kindergarten is run by a committee of parents and community members who report to a local Kindergarten Association. 

Kindergartens also receive government funding and are licensed by the Ministry of Education. They must comply with the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008 and meet licensing criteria

To retain their license to operate, kindergartens must meet minimum government standards covering:

The Education Review Office (ERO) checks that kindergartens are meeting their requirements.  

How much does kindergarten cost?

The government funds 20 hours of early childhood education per week. This means kindergartens offer ‘20 hours free’ from when children are three-years-old until they start school. 

If children spend more than 20 hours at a kindergarten or are younger than three, a small hourly rate may apply (approximately $2 to $5). Kindergartens often ask for a parent donation or fee to meet extra costs. 

A Childcare Subsidy is also available to some families. 

To find out what you’ll need to pay, check with the kindergarten directly.  


NZ Education
NZ Kindergartens
Auckland Kindergarten Association

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