Updated 11 months ago

In New Zealand, school is compulsory from ages 6-16, however children can begin school the day they turn 5, no matter when their birthday falls in the school year calendar. Prior to that, you may need care for your child while you work. It can be difficult to leave your ‘village’ behind, but there are a lot of options at your disposal if you have children in New Zealand, and hopefully one of these will work well for your family to help ease the transition.

Early Childhood Education, or ECE services, is the terminology used in New Zealand for pre-school and childcare for those under six. There are both teacher-led and parent-led services available. Teacher-led services mean at least half of the adults at the facility are qualified teachers, while parent-led – or Whānau-led in the Māori community – means parents or caregivers are educating and looking after the little ones. In either case, the facilities must be licensed and certified by the Ministry of Education to ensure they operate to the minimum standards of education and care. About 95% of children in New Zealand attend some kind of ECE service for at least part of each week.

 Good to know:

While there are many ECE services available, spaces are in high demand. If you are moving to a large city or town especially, you may find it difficult to find a place. It’s worth registering interest early or checking your pre-school of choice definitely has space for your child.

Teacher-led ECE services

The main teacher-led programmes in New Zealand are:

  • Kindergarten – These are for ages 2-5 and 100% run by teachers while working closely with the families. They may offer both full day and half day sessions.
  • Education and care services – This is most similar to a day care or nursery, and available to children from birth until school age. Facilities may be run by the community, privately owned, or within a company for children of the employees. There may be a religious, cultural, or language basis, or a certain educational style like Steiner or Montessori.
  • Home-based education and care – Children from birth to age five can be looked after in either their home or an educator’s home. There may only be up to four children in this setting. The educator will belong to a home-based service and supported by a qualified ECE coordinator.
  • Te Kura (The Correspondence School) – For children ages 3-5 who are unable to attend an ECE service. Parents or Whānau can work with certified teachers and borrow learning materials to make sure early educational needs are met.

Parent-led ECE services

The main parent-led services include:

  • Playcentres – Run as a co-op between parents and family members, these are for children from birth to school age and are managed by the New Zealand Playcentre Federation
  • Playgroups – Parent and caregiver volunteers run these within the community, and can receive educational information and support from the Ministry of Education. They are typically located in community centres and only run four hours per day. To be considered a playgroup, more than 50% of children must also have a parent in attendance with them.

 Good to know:

There are also Māori focused childcare options. Te Kōhanga Reo is Whānau-led and teaches children about the Māori community in depth, and Ngā Puna Kōhungahunga is an educational playgroup.


If you prefer a more personalised childcare service, you may want to look into a nanny or au pair. This can sometimes be a more cost-effective ECE service if you have multiple children below school age, and it is often more flexible for your schedule. Some nannies may also do light housekeeping duties, but this must be discussed in advance. Nannies charge an average of NZ$15-$20 per hour, though rates can go higher in areas of Auckland. There is a New Zealand Certificate in Nanny Education if you prefer someone with official training.


New Zealand does have some of the highest child care costs in the developed world, so be sure to budget appropriately. Aside from the nanny rates mentioned above, kindergartens cost an average of NZ$5-$6 per hour per child, and home-based care NZ$4-$6. Remember, these will always likely be higher in the larger cities where demand is high. There are some government subsidies available, however, depending on your income and circumstances. It is also worth declaring your childcare to the Inland Revenue as you may be able to claim a tax rebate on the cost. Once children are three years old, they are entitled to 20 hours of child care per week at a recognised ECE facility subsidised by the government (https://parents.education.govt.nz/early-learning/early-childhood-education/20-hours-ece-2/).

Finding childcare

If you’re beginning your search abroad, the Internet is the best place to start looking at childcare options. You can find certified ECE centres on the Ministry of Education Website or check the New Zealand Home-Based Childcare Association for home care. Carefinder and KiwiOz Nannies are services that offer more bespoke childcare. Once you’re in the country, word-of-mouth and classified advertisements are other ways you can find local services. The Citizens Advice Bureau may also be able to help.

 Useful link:

Ministry of Education New Zealand

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