Free Early Childhood Education

The New Zealand Government offers 20 hours of free early childhood education (ECE) for three, four and five year olds. This scheme is available to all children in New Zealand whether or not they are permanent residents.


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Early Childhood Education | Childcare Subsidy | 20 Hours ECE

This scheme was introduced in 2007; it aims to encourage parents to choose high quality early education providers, in order that New Zealand’s children should benefit from a good start to their education.

Early childhood education services include kindergartens, private day care centres and playcentres. You can check with the early childhood education providers in your area to find out if they offer the 20 hours free ECE scheme – most do.

Don’t wait too long

Consider approaching providers at an early stage, as there may be a waiting list to enrol your child.

How many early education providers are there in New Zealand?

&#149 There are over 600 kindergartens in New Zealand. All offer 20 hours free ECE.

&#149 There are over 2000 early education and day care centres in New Zealand. Over 95% of these offer 20 hours free ECE.

&#149 About one-quarter of New Zealand’s 500 playcentres also offer 20 hours ECE.

The maximum free support is up to six hours a day. If your child attends early childhood education for more than 20 hours a week, fees will be payable.

If your child goes to more than one ECE provider, you can split the hours claimed as long as you stay within the limits of no more than 20 hours a week or six hours a day.

How Do I Enrol My Child in this Scheme?

Contact early childhood providers in your area and ask if they offer 20 Hours free ECE. You can then arrange with the early childhood provider the hours and days that you are claiming and fill in an enrolment form.

Is the 20 Hours ECE Income tested?

No. 20 Hours free ECE is available to any three, four or five year old who is enrolled in an early childhood centre that offers 20 Hours ECE. This is regardless of your income, work status and immigration status.

At what age does my child qualify?

Children qualify for 20 hours of free ECE from the age of three to the day before their sixth birthday. Children are legally required to be enrolled in school by their sixth birthday.

What are Donations?

Early Childhood Education Providers may ask for a donation. This is a voluntary contribution and you are not obliged to pay it, although many parents make a contribution to support their local kindergarten.

What are Optional Charges?

Some ECE providers may request optional charges for additional features above regulation, or items you could provide for your own children. Examples of optional charges could be for a music or dance teacher, excursion fees, food, transport, sunscreen lotion and clothing items such as sunhats. You can choose whether or not to pay optional charges. ECE services cannot refuse your child 20 Hours of free ECE if you don’t agree to pay additional charges.

Is there any other help with Childcare?

Yes. Work and Income have a childcare subsidy scheme for preschool children. The OSCAR Subsidy (Out of School Care and Recreation Subsidy) is for children aged 5-13 years. These subsidies are income tested.

For parents with one child, the maximum childcare subsidy is for those families earning less than $1200 gross a week and is $3.91 per hour of childcare.

For parents with two children, the maximum childcare subsidy is for those families earning less than $1380 gross a week and is $3.91 per hour of childcare.


More details are on Work and Income childcare costs leaflet. (pdf)