In New Zealand, kindergarten is free for children under two years of age. The education provided is based on a philosophy that emphasizes learning through play. It is free for up to 20 hours and includes nutritious meals on-site. There are also stay-and-play sessions that are led by parents, and are open to children up to school age. These sessions help parents and children learn together and support one another.


Home kindergartens

The idea of free home kindergartens originated in Germany in the early nineteenth century and gained momentum in New Zealand during the Depression. Prominent women, such as Lavinia Kelsey and Rachel Reynolds, advocated for kindergartens and eventually petitioned Parliament to implement the concept. These women paved the way for early childhood education in New Zealand.

Kindergartens provide early childhood education for children aged two to five years. Their programmes are based on the philosophy of learning through play. They provide 20 hours of subsidised ECE and provide nutritious on-site meals. In addition, parents can hold stay-and-play sessions for their children from birth until the start of school. These sessions are free and provide an opportunity for parents and caregivers to work together and support one another.

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Public preschools

The New Zealand government subsidised the establishment of free kindergarten associations in the early 1890s. The move was linked to a growing state interest in child health and moral reform. During the second half of the twentieth century, the sector underwent major changes. Progressive education policies aimed to make preschool available to children as young as three and to provide them with the necessary skills for school. A new era of early childhood services developed in response to these reforms.

The government has implemented a 20-hour free policy. This scheme has had a significant impact on the costs of early childhood education. According to the quarterly Consumer Price Index, this policy caused an overall 5.2% reduction in the price of education. However, the policy has only been in place for one year, so the government is monitoring participation rates. As of February 2008, 76% of centres were participating in the scheme. Of these, 83% of enrolments were three and four years old. However, only half of the privately operated centres had joined the scheme.


Private schools

The concept of kindergarten originated in Germany in the 1870s. It was originally designed to help children with social and emotional issues. Later, it spread to the US and Britain. The first kindergarten in New Zealand opened in Dunedin on 10 June 1889, in an effort to educate children from impoverished families.

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In the Western New Zealand region, there are state-integrated and private schools. State-integrated schools follow the national curriculum. Private schools, however, are not required to follow the national curriculum. Private schools receive some government funding, but mostly through parent school fees. The private sector also develops its own learning programmes.


Early childhood education not compulsory in New Zealand

In New Zealand, early childhood education is not compulsory and parents have the option of home-schooling their children for as long as they’re willing to follow the national curriculum. Parents must apply for a Certificate of Exemption from the Ministry of Education to do so. The Ministry also provides a catalogue of materials for teaching and learning. In addition, the Ministry runs a state-funded correspondence school following the national curriculum. This school, Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, also provides distance education for students with special needs and/or medical conditions.

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In New Zealand, parents can choose between two options: ECCE services run by teachers or by parents. While the subsidy for ECCE services is capped at 20 hours per week, some centres offer up to 30 hours for free. Regardless of whether parents choose to choose the free option or pay for private ECCE, they will still be eligible for the subsidy.


Cost of kindergarten in western New Zealand

For working mums, the lack of access to quality early childhood care is a huge barrier to returning to the workforce. In Western New Zealand, this is exacerbated by the cost of kindergarten. District councillor Julia McLean juggles the demands of a busy career with her responsibilities as a mother. Her efforts have garnered heavyweight support, including from Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue and the advocacy group Local Government New Zealand.

New Zealand kindergartens do not follow the traditional practice of compulsory naps. Although they do try to put very young children to sleep, older children are often given a choice between rest and play. Many centres are designed to provide calm, relaxed environments for afternoon recreation.