Early Childhood Care and Education in New Zealand

The curriculum set out in this document builds on a long history of early childhood education services which have been established over the past century in New Zealand to meet particular needs of children, parents, and communities. As new needs have emerged, existing services have changed and new services have developed, each with a distinctive approach to early childhood curriculum.

Early childhood care and education in New Zealand cover the years from birth to school entry age. Although participation is voluntary, attendance levels within early childhood education services continue to increase for all ages. By the time they enter school, most children have had the benefit of an early childhood education programme in addition to the care and education provided in their own home.

The Role of Early Childhood Education Services in New Zealand

The first early childhood education services in this country had the primary aim of providing for disadvantaged children. The psychological and educational advantages of early childhood education services were soon seen to have benefits for all children and were increasingly recognised as providing support to families as well as education for their children.

Families and early childhood education services are now jointly involved in the socialisation, care, and learning of young children. Early childhood education services are committed to ensuring that learning opportunities are not restricted by gender, locality, or economic constraints.

There is a growing understanding of the links between culture, language, and learning, and an increasing commitment to addressing the issues faced by children growing up in a society with more than one cultural heritage. Ngā kōhanga reo now play an integral part in transmitting Māori culture and values to young Māori children and, in particular, supporting both the survival and revival of the Māori language. Pacific Islands communities have also seen early childhood services as a means of supporting families and keeping their languages and cultures alive and dynamic.

Links Between the Early Childhood Education Services

In recent years, the early childhood education services and organisations have been working together to develop common principles and cohesive policies. Integrated training programmes in colleges of education, the 1988 Ministerial Working Party Report Education to be More and the Government’s 1988 publication, Before Five, have all played a part in defining the role of an early childhood curriculum in children’s learning and development. The development of Te Whāriki is part of the process of establishing early childhood curriculum. It expresses a common view of what makes the curriculum for the early childhood years distinctive from other curriculums, such as in schools.

The strengthening links between the different early childhood education services have encouraged a growing appreciation of each other’s differences and similarities. The curriculum seeks to encompass and celebrate this diversity as well as to define common principles, strands, and goals for children’s learning and development within which the different organisations and services are able to operate.

The Special Identity of Each Early Childhood Education Service

Many early childhood education services exist as part of a national organisation which provides their philosophical rationale and direction. The particular approach of each organisation to curriculum is an essential part of its identity, and some organisations run specialised training programmes to assist in developing a curriculum appropriate for their particular philosophy. There are also a large number of early childhood education services existing as individual centres, each with its own approach to curriculum, although many have links to associations which provide support, advice, and, in some cases, training. Home-based programmes, most of which are operated as family day care schemes, are one example of the diversity of services offered in early childhood education. Home-based programmes provide a service that directly reflects the importance of the links between home and early childhood care and education.

Curriculum development within each of these separate organisations and services has provided a rich foundation for this national curriculum.

Links Between Home and Early Childhood Services

Links between home and early childhood education programmes are important. The environment, routines, people, and happenings within and around a home provide opportunities for the spontaneous learning which should be a feature of all early childhood learning contexts. Home-based programmes, in particular, reflect the setting and activities of a child’s home, as caregivers care for children either in their own home or in the home of the child being cared for.

The Changing Needs of Families

The growth of full-day early childhood education services reflects social and economic changes in society as women increasingly move into employment while their children are young. In the past, early childhood curriculum development assumed that early childhood education services would be providing sessional programmes. Te Whāriki brings together the inseparable elements of care and education in a curriculum which can encompass the wider functions of full-day services.

For similar economic and social reasons, early childhood education services for infants and toddlers have expanded and will continue to grow. The idea of a curriculum for infants and toddlers is new. Much of the curriculum discourse of the past has focused on three- and four-year-olds. This document provides a curriculum framework for infant and toddler programmes that address the particular needs and capabilities of this younger age group.

Increasing Cultural Diversity

There are many migrants in New Zealand, and, as in any country with a multicultural heritage, there is a diversity of beliefs about childrearing practices, kinship roles, obligations, codes of behaviour, and what kinds of knowledge are valuable. The early childhood curriculum supports the cultural identity of all children, affirms and celebrates cultural differences, and aims to help children gain a positive awareness of their own and other cultures.

Each early childhood education service should ensure that programmes and resources are sensitive and responsive to the different cultures and heritages among the families of the children attending that service. The early childhood curriculum actively contributes towards countering racism and other forms of prejudice.

A Rapidly Changing Society

New Zealand is part of a world revolution in communication, technology, work, and leisure. Change in these and other spheres is a feature of everyday life. To cope with such changes, children need both the confidence to develop their own perspectives and the capacity to continue acquiring new knowledge and skills. The curriculum provides an educational foundation that supports the full range of skills that children will need as life-long learners.


Last updated: 9 April 2009