What is Early Childhood Education?
Early childhood education is a formal arrangement for the teaching and care of a young child. In NZ, early childhood education is provided for babies, toddlers and young children up to the age of 6 years. Attendance at school is compulsory from 6 years.
It is not compulsory for a child to be enrolled in early childhood education. However, around 94 to 96 percent of all children attend an early childhood service for some time before they start school.
A main reason for a large proportion of kiwi children attending ECE is high government subsidy levels, especially for children aged 3 years and older. Also, early childhood services provide invaluable support with childcare for working parents.
Benefits and risks of participating in early childhood education
The experience of going to an early childhood centre, learning to be part of a larger group and exposure to an educational curriculum can hugely benefit children.
Unfortunately not every child goes home safe at the end of the day. Serious incidents, even death, can and do occur.
The NZ Parent's Guide to Early Childcare and Education is available from My ECE (the website for parents) to assist parents to make an informed choice.
A child's home-background and home learning environment is something that is important to take account of when determining how much benefit is gained from attending an early childhood centre. (See a synthesis of the best evidence on the effects of childcare and influence of home background)
- If the early childhood education programme is better resourced and the learning experiences provided for children are better than what can be provided for at home then the child will be advantaged academically.
- But if the quality of the early childhood education programme is lower than that of the quality of the child's home learning environment, the child is not likely to be greatly advantaged by participating, Family background factors, including parents' education level and home learning environment has a much greater influence on children's development and achievement. Having said that, every parent and every child would want to experience a quality of ECE at least equivalent to the quality of their home setting.
Also, what a lot of people do not realise is that any learning gains a child makes by attending early childhood education can wash out really quickly depending on the primary school the child later attends and its quality. This is one reason why there is a focus on school and early childhood and school teachers working together to provide continuity and support for children transitioning to school.
Early Childhood Organisations in NZ
Are you with an early childhood centre, or perhaps a home-based service? Maybe you are involved with a Kōhanga Reo, a Pacific Island language service, a Playcentre, an early intervention service, a Christian service, a Montessori service, or another amazing service?
There are well over 4,000 early childhood services in NZ. The largest providers/ operators of early childhood services today are:
- Te Kohanga Reo National Trust
- Playcentre NZ
- Auckland Kindergarten Association
- Rainbow Group (including PORSE)
- Provincial Education
- Evolve Education
ChildForum is a non-partisan national organisation that provides leadership to the early childhood sector. ChildForum identifies issues, asks the hard questions that others may be afraid to ask, and inspires change that benefits children, teaching staff, service owners - and society.
- It advocates for safe and high-quality care and education for children prior to starting school.
- It keeps members of the ECE sector, public agencies and stakeholders up-to-date and informed of issues, news, and research.
- It supports ECE services with expert advice and articles (written in plain language) on the full range of areas including: management, funding and financial matters, policies, teaching and learning, working with families, childcare practices and child health.
- It has the biggest knowledge base on early childhood education and care practice and policy in NZ and is continually growing the knowledge base.
Founded in 1988 to support the development of a research culture and an evidence-based approach to ECE, ChildForum expanded to become a national body and is today the go-to organisation on all matters to do with early childcare and education.
Early childhood teaching approaches
Some people think that early childhood education in NZ is about the structured teaching of numbers, reading, writing, etc, to prepare children for school
In some early childhood programmes it may mean this, but in most programmes the philosophy is that children learn through play with the guidance and support of adults.
The best start to a formal school education you can give a young child is to help the child to learn to develop independence, along with developing thinking and problem solving skills.
Things you can do to encourage a young child to develop independence include: learning to make his/her own breakfast, tidying up his/her own toys after play, carrying his her own bag, and learning to dress and undress without help.
For developing thinking and problem solving skills:
- provide puzzles for the child to practice on and add harder puzzles as the child's skill develops
- ask the child questions and together chat about possible solutions and answers, for instance how does a butterfly grow inside such a tiny cocoon?
- support the child to persevere when a task is proving hard and affirm the importance of practice as being important for obtaining success.
- help the child to expand his/her knowledge through hands-on activities and experiences. Provide lots of play-based learning opportunities, lots of discussion, fun, and engaging in a broad range of activities in the community, through travel, shopping, going on nature walks, watching a building being constructed, etc.
The early childhood curriculum is called "Te Whāriki". It is not like a school curriculum. It does not prescribe formal subject teaching. It was originally published in 1996 and revised in 2017 by the New Zealand Ministry of Education. Learn more about the early childhood curriculum.