Researching and choosing an ECE service can be a nerve-racking process.  We’ve got information in our Choosing a Service article that may help you along the way.

Researching and choosing a service can be a nerve-racking process and you’ll no doubt want to do everything within your power to ensure you make the right decision. You’ll probably have no end of doubt along the way. One of the most important things to remember is that if at any stage you are unhappy with your ECE choice, you can always change.

We’re lucky in New Zealand; we have many types of ECE services to choose from. They all have different ways of working with children and parents and different situations in which they work. As parents we can choose from all-day care, part-day care, teacher-led care or parent-led care.

What is teacher-led ECE?

Teacher-led ECEs are services where teachers provide the education and care. A teacher-led ECE service is licensed and/or chartered. This means they must meet standards set by the Government. Standards are set for the

property, health and safety, staff, education and care programmes, and management.

Teacher-led ECE services include:

  • childcare centres
  • kindergartens
  • ao’ga
  • Montessori
  • Steiner schools
  • home-based care and
  • Kohanga Reo

What is parent-led ECE?

A parent-led ECE service, such as Playcentre, is one where parents, whanau or care-givers are responsible for providing the education and care for their children.

A parent-led ECE service is licensed and/or chartered all except for playgroups. To be licensed and/or chartered means they must meet standards set by the Government. Standards are set for the property, health and safety, staff, education and care programmes, and management at parent-led education and care centres.

Are there other ECE options?

Yes, there are other options available. The Correspondence school and special needs services are also available to those children who need them.

License-exempt services, what are they?

A license-exempt service is one that is required to meet lesser Ministry of Education requirements. These services are parent-led ones and include playgroups, Pacific Island Early Childhood groups and Nga Puna.

Now that you’ve decided to use an ECE service and you know a little more about teacher-led and parent-led services, you will need to choose the provider that is right for you and your child.

Where do I start?

One of the first things you can do is ask others about service providers they may have used. There are many children attending ECE across New Zealand and many parents who have taken these steps before you. Word of mouth is a great way to ‘research’ which services near you have the best reputation. Parents will be only too happy to recommend services that have provided the best education and care for their children.

Other places you can turn to are your Plunket nurse, your doctor, or even the Citizens Advice Bureau. They may have some ideas about services that may suit you or be worth considering.

The Ministry of Education is also a great source of information about ECE, including an ECE directory. Visit to search (by region; city/district; &/or service type) the MoE database of ECE service providers.

Think about the practicalities –

  • Do I need a service that is close to home or close to work?
  • Are they open the hours that suit me?
  • Is my child the right age for that particular service?
  • Can I afford for my child to attend there?
  • Do I like it?
  • Is there an opening for my child?
  • What will they expect from me as a parent?

I’ve narrowed the options down, now what do I do?

At this point you will have decided on some service providers you want to know more about.

The next thing you need to do is phone around and speak with ‘those in the know’ at each service.

Knowing what to ask them for the first time can be hard. Here are some questions the Ministry of Education suggests you ask when speaking with the manager of the service:

Questions about how the service is run:

  • Who owns the service?
  • How many children are enrolled?
  • Is there a waiting list to get in?
  • What qualifications do the teachers have?
  • Who are the relieving teachers? Are they qualified?
  • Are teachers regularly trained to update their skills?
  • What sorts of activities does the service use to encourage learning?
  • Does the service separate under-twos from older children?
  • How are needs of different children met?
  • How big are the groups?
  • How do they help children settle in?
  • How do teachers discipline children?
  • What is the daily routine?
  • Can children sleep when they want or at set times only?
  • What happens if my child gets ill or has an accident?
  • Who can collect my child?
  • How will I now how my child is getting on?
  • What are the service’s expectations of me?
  • Can I help decide how the service is run?
  • Can I have a copy of the service’s policies?
  • Can I see the Education Review Office reports?

Questions about costs:

  • What are the costs?
  • How do I pay?
  • Are the costs lower if two or more of my children attend?
  • Do I have to pay for public holidays, or if children are sick or on holiday?
  • Am I able to apply for childcare subsidies from Ministry of Social Development?

Questions about food:

  • Does the service provide snacks and/or lunch, or do I?
  • If they do provide food, what sort of food is it? Can I see a menu? Do I have to pay extra for this food?
  • Do they cater for special food requirements?
  • When are the meal and snack times?

Information sourced from Ministry Of Education booklet ‘Choices in Early Childhood Education’, see

What next?

Visiting time!

The best way to get a feel for the ECE service you’re considering is to visit. It’s best to do this when there are other children there. This will give you a better idea about the feel of the place, what the routines of the service are and most importantly, whether or not the children there are happy and learning.

It is always a good idea to make a call to the service prior to visiting and at this point to ask if you’ll be able to meet with the person in charge. This way you’ll be able to ask any questions you have and be assured of correct answers.

There are several things you should be taking note of when you visit –

If you have taken your child with you, watch how they react to the surroundings and children. He/she may not be ready to leave your side but should be at ease there with you.

How does the place feel? Is it a happy place? Are the children smiling and laughing? Are they busy? Have they got enough to do? Is there a lot of happy noise? Are the children and teachers/carers talking to one another? Is there freedom for parents, care-givers, whanau to take part in what’s going on?

What is there for the children to do? Is there plenty of space? Is it colourful and inviting? Is it clean, tidy, warm, well ventilated? Is there quiet space, creative space, messy space, loud space? Are there exciting displays and explorative activities? And is there something there my child will enjoy doing?

Does it appear safe? Are the teachers/carers supervising outdoor play? Is the equipment in good condition? Are there safety mats and pads outside? Is there a first aid box in sight? Are there playground rules in action?

The age of your child is also something you should consider when thinking about ECE. Babies and toddlers are referred to as Under-Twos by the majority of service providers. Under-twos have very different needs to Over-Twos and these needs must be catered for. Under-twos and over-twos are often separated in Daycare centres as a result of their differing needs.

Some things to pay attention to when you are visiting ECE services are –

Child/Adult Ratios

Check that the service adheres to the current child/adult ratio requirements. At present a service that provides education and care for under-twos must have a 1 adult: 5 children ratio. Some services will have better ratios than this by choice and have a greater number of carers for the ‘littlies’. This ratio is currently under review with changes to be made in 2007.

Primary Care Givers

Ask if the service has a ‘primary care-giver’ policy. This means that one carer is responsible for the most part, and where practical, for the care of your under-two. This is a great way to have your child cared for as it enables them to attach themselves to and bond with one adult they will recognize as safe and trustworthy.

The environment provided for under-twos

Under-twos obviously require different surroundings to the over-two children at the service. Different play and safety needs are the basis of this. These are things you should look out for as suggested by the Ministry of Education –

  • Is there a soft carpeted area for them to crawl and explore?
  • Is there a raised area for them to practice crawling up?
  • Are there balls and containers, scales and other objects for children to manipulate, put in and out of containers?
  • Is there messy play? How do teachers manage this?
  • Are there cushions to sit or lie on; safe, firm surfaces to climb on?
  • Are there trolleys to push and wheelies to pull?
  • Can you see toys and mobiles strung across for children to reach out to touch?
  • Are there places for adults to sit on the floor?
  • Are there peaceful places?

Information sourced from Ministry Of Education booklet ‘Choices in Early Childhood Education’, see

Lastly, check ERO reports

You’ve just about done it all!

The last thing you can do to put your mind that little bit more at ease is ask to see the most recent Education Review Office (ERO) report. This report will give you a very accurate idea of the quality of the education provided by the service you are considering.

The service should have a copy of the most recent ERO report on hand for you to read. If for some reason it is not available you can view a copy of it online at

Helpful ECE Websites


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Kylie Valentine is a qualified secondary school teacher, trained journalist, and the mum of two fabulous children.

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