Childcare A-Z

Confused about childcare options? This comprehensive glossary of terms will help demystify what you need to know, says Yvonne Walus.


After-school care, typically from 3pm until 6pm, allows parents of school-aged children to work outside of school hours. This care can be provided by the school, professional bodies, or private individuals. When choosing which option to use, consider:

  • Will the child be safe?
  • Do they help with homework?
  • Are there fun activities offered?
  • Will your child have their friends there, or will there to an opportunity to make friends?
  • Is afternoon tea provided?
  • Is there transport if the care is offered away from school grounds?
  • What is the cost?
  • Will it suit your child’s personality and needs?


A babysitter is a non-professional individual who looks after your child. An au pair is a young person (between the ages of 18-30) from abroad, who lives with you to learn the language and culture in exchange for childcare. A nanny is usually a qualified or experienced professional, and gets a salary for providing childcare.


Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, also known as Correspondence School, provides learning programmes for three- to five-year-old children who can’t attend an ECE centre. Te Kura’s educators work with parents and whanau to cater to their children’s learning needs. They also supply books, puzzles, games, and art materials.


Daycare centres, also called early childhood education centres or ECE centres, offer full-time care for children aged 0-5. For babies, they provide a calm and relaxed atmosphere, small group sizes, and safe but open spaces to roll, crawl, pull themselves up, and lift their heads. Toddlers enjoy safe areas to explore, interact, and learn, access to a secure outdoor space, interesting resources, and messy play.


The early childhood service has a learning programme (curriculum) called Te Whariki. It’ll contain key milestones to ensure children thrive and learn. There are no tests or formal assignments in the early childhood education system. Instead, teachers use photos, “learning stories,” and work samples to show parents and other teachers how children are progressing.


Parents who need someone to look after their child might come to an informal arrangement with another parent from their coffee group or from the child’s circle of friends. The payment may involve money, exchanging of favours (“You look after both babies and I cook us dinner”), or turn-swapping (“My turn on Monday, your turn on Tuesday”).


Grandparents can be carers on an informal basis, or their involvement can be formalised as whanau-led. Whanau-led childcare involves caregivers in educating and caring for the children. Families and whanau have the opportunity to learn more about parenting, develop community networks, and play lead roles in the education of their children.


Most daycare centres are open during school holidays, with the exception of statutory holidays. Working parents of school-going children, however, often enrol their youngsters into holiday programmes provided by community centres, sporting facilities, and professional educators. Some programmes focus on having fun, while others aim to teach skills (sports, music etc).


Home-based care provides a service within a trained and approved educator’s home, or in your own house. Educators are supervised by coordinators who are qualified and registered early childhood education teachers. This type of care is for all age groups and will vary depending on the educator, who will often have a small child themselves. The ratio of adults to children is kept small (fewer than five children under the age of six) and the home is set up to be secure and conducive to child development. The downside is that the care availability is usually limited to one adult, so check to make sure there is a backup plan should the caregiver fall ill.


Having your child start at daycare can be a difficult time. You worry whether your child will be happy, safe, and well looked after. Try to be flexible with your work hours in the first few weeks in case you need to stay with your child while they are settling into the service. Ask the daycare staff for information and support during this transition period. Stay positive and remember that well-managed separations are milestone opportunities for your child.


Kindergartens are chartered and licensed. They employ qualified and registered teachers, and cater for children aged between two-and-a-half and five years. Most centres have morning and afternoon sessions of three or four hours, while others provide school-hour education and care. Although the centres are teacher-led, parents are encouraged to participate in programmes and committees.


Kohanga Reo centres provides care for families and children aged zero to six years in a Te Reo (Maori) speaking educational environment. The teacher-to-child ratios are small, and the centres are similar to ECE centres, plus they offer the additional immersion in the Te Reo language. Pacific Island playgroups are playgroups in Pasifika languages, exposing children to cultures such as Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Niuean, Tokelauan, Tuvaluan, and Fijian. These may be less structured than Kohanga Reo centres.


The Ministry of Education (MOE) uses licensing criteria to determine if a childcare service meets the requirements set out in the Education Act and corresponding regulations. This ensures quality and consistency of childcare throughout New Zealand.


If your child has special needs, they may require extra support to be able to participate fully in the childcare programme. They have an equal right to high-quality education, and your early childhood service will plan how to include them in the learning programme. The Ministry of Education may provide support for children with special needs, such as resource teachers to create individual programmes, special equipment, or building alterations.


Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Rudolph Steiner are organisations that run learning programmes based on alternative education philosophies. They may focus more on the child’s right to choose when to sleep and when to play, present a greater range of creative avenues, or emphasise the importance of imagination in learning.


Playcentres offer fun learning sessions for children from birth to school age. The emphasis is on play in a structured environment (you have painting stations, block-building stations, dress-up stations, etc), while providing opportunities for children to explore, create, jump, run around, and get messy. Playcentres are run cooperatively by parents and member families.


No matter what option of childcare you use, here are some questions to consider:

  • Is the environment safe, warm, and pleasant?
  • How many children are in the group?
  • Are there different suitable spaces for different ages of children?
  • What activities will my child participate in?
  • Will they cater to my child’s unique interests and strengths?
  • How will I know how well my child is developing, eating, sleeping?
  • Do they handle toilet training well?
  • What are the emergency arrangements?
  • How do they deal with upsetting behaviour?


Once you’ve made up your mind, it’s a good idea to register your interest as soon as possible. Your chosen childcare centre may have a waiting list, particularly

if it’s located in a densely populated area.


You may be able to get a Childcare Subsidy if you are the main carer of a dependent child, you’re a NZ citizen or permanent resident, and your family is on a low or middle income. Your child must be either under 5, over 5 if they’re going to a cohort entry school, or under 6 if you get a Child Disability Allowance for them. They must also be attending an approved early childhood programme for three or more hours a week. Visit to see what you might be eligible for. Once the child is at school, the Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR) Subsidy can help with the costs of before-and after-school care and holiday programmes.


All three- to five-year-olds can get Government-funded ECE for up to six hours a day, up to 20 hours a week. Certain conditions apply and you may have to pay a top-up.


The Education Review Office (ERO) is the Government department that evaluates and reports on the education and care of children. The reports are available online at or on request from the centre.


Don’t forget to check whether the childcare you’re considering fits in with your values, such as:

  • Will my child learn to respect nature and be environmentally savvy?
  • Are there other children to play with?
  • Am I happy with the caregiver as a role model?


The cost of childcare is often a barrier for women wanting to return to the workforce. Some employers offer flexible working arrangements, creative life-work balance options, or on-site childcare.


Staff members who work in a teacher-led childcare centre must have a Diploma of Teaching in Early Childhood, or be studying towards obtaining it. At least half of all staff must have an early childhood education teaching qualification that is recognised by the Education Council.


Does the childcare arrangement you’re considering for your precious bundle make you want to say “Yes!”? Go with your gut on this one.


Your child will spend what feels like a zillion hours away from you. Try to enjoy the me-time, confident that they are in good hands, giddy, giggling, and growing.

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