Early Childhood Education overview

teacher with toddlers preschoolers

Early Childhood Education (ECE) is the education and care provided to kids before they go to School. Learn more about education options in Early Childhood.

What is Early Childhood Education?

Early Childhood Education (ECE) is the term used to refer to education and care provided to children before they go to Primary School. There are a broad range of ECE services to choose from in New Zealand. These range from settings where parents and whanau are directly responsible for the education and care of children, to settings where paid staff are the ones responsible, either at a centre or in your own home.

You can choose from “all day” care or “part day” care; and “teacher led” care or “parent led” care.

We recognise that putting your child into ECE care for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience – particularly if it’s your first child.

This ECE topic area has been designed with you in mind. It’s important that you have all the information you need to make the right choice for you and your child.

Is it compulsory for my child to take part in ECE?

No. New Zealand children are not required to participate in ECE, but most of our children do at some stage before starting school.

Even though it’s not compulsory, a lot of parents do make the choice to enrol their children in ECE. This is because ECE has many benefits:

  • It gives your child a chance to meet and make new friends.
  • It gives you a chance to meet and make new friends.
  • It will help your child develop new skills and provide new learning challenges.
  • It may give you an opportunity for some time-out, possibly for some one-on-one time with younger children.
  • It will help your child become “school ready”.

Early Childhood Education

What can I expect when my child starts ECE?

Many things including –

  • A lot of messy play. Children learn through creative play and this can often be very messy. It’s really important that you send them along in clothes that are comfortable, easy to wash and suitable for active, free play.

  • A few more bumps and scrapes. Exploring new environments can sometimes mean bumps and bruises. It’s all part of learning!
  • Possibly more unwell days. You may find that your child gets sick more often after starting an ECE service. Children pick up colds and illness more easily than us so keeping your unwell child at home will help stop the spread of germs, and help them get better quicker.
  • Greetings in different languages! Because we live in such a culturally diverse country, ECE services encourage respect for the beliefs and cultures of all families. Your child may learn to use different languages (e.g. greetings, songs, counting etc). There will more than likely be an emphasis on Maori given it is an official language in New Zealand.
  • An exhausted ‘little one’. You may find your child needs catch-up sleeps on the odd day once they start ECE. All that learning and excitement can be tiring!

What do I need in order to enrol my child?

Different service providers may require different things, so asking them for a list is the best way to prepare. Most service providers will require the following:

  • proof of your child’s age and citizenship (birth certificate or passport)
  • immunisation certificates (should be in your Plunket / Well Child book)
  • your doctor’s contact details
  • any medical information relevant to your child (allergies, medications etc)
  • any legal documents relevant to your child (particularly with regard to custody and access issues)
  • details of how to contact you during the day (and a second, back-up contact if possible).

How can I help my child adjust to ECE?

If you’re planning to leave your child in a service, introduce them slowly by visiting the service several times. Watch how the teachers relate to your child and the programs and routines within the centre.

You can make settling in easier by getting to know the other children in the setting yourself and talking about them at home. By getting to know the other children you can encourage your child to take part in groups by using the other children’s names and saying “Hi”.

Always tell your child if you’re leaving and that you’ll be back later. Once you’ve said goodbye make sure you leave promptly. Staying around to check they’re okay may just confuse them. Taking a favourite toy or ‘cuddly’ along is quite acceptable and often a really good idea.

Starting anything new can be difficult and take time to come to grips with. This will be the first of many “new starts” you child will have during their lifetime. As parents, we can help by being steadying and supportive while they settle in. Talk positively about where they’ll be going and what will be happening, the new things they’ll try, the new friends they’ll make and so on.

Depending on the age of the child, you can also talk about it being okay to be scared. Tell them about times when you’ve started something new and been ‘scared’, and how you’ve managed to overcome these feelings.

Special note for mums –

Put on your ‘brave’ face on the first day, and save your ’scared/upset’ feelings until you’re out of sight! Remember, if your child’s not okay, someone will ring you. Similarly, you can phone to check on how they’re doing. You wouldn’t be the first to do this…even if you do phone several times a day!

What will my child need to take?

Again, different service providers may require different things, so asking them for a list is the best way to prepare. Common items required at most centres include:

Remember that all of these items will need to be labeled.

Kylie Valentine

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

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