You’re due back at work in a few months, and time is ticking to make childcare arrangements. Home-based care or your own Nanny? Daycare or Kindergarten? Didn’t the neighbour say the local Playcentre should be top of your list? It can be confusing to understand the childcare options available to you. This guide breaks down seven common childcare arrangements in New Zealand, from a parents’ perspective.

Before We Start

It’s helpful to talk to others about what works for them. But at the end of the day, only two things matter – what’s going to work for you and your child. Before we get stuck in, it pays to think about two things: What’s going to work for you…

  • Your schedule – Are you looking for part-time or full-time childcare? Do you need care all year round, or only during school term time?
  • Which locations would be convenient? Which will allow your child to (hopefully) make friends that will attend the local Primary School?
  • What aligns with your parenting philosophy?
  • How involved do you want to be in your child’s early childhood education?
  • What’s your budget? The cost of childcare varies from almost free to very expensive.

… And what’s going to work for your child

  • What type of environment would suit your child’s personality and age/stage? Do they thrive in busy environments, or does this send them crawling back into their shell?
  • Does your child have any special needs or cultural affiliations which you’d like to provide for?

Your work schedule will dictate a lot when it comes to choosing an early childhood education provider. If you’re a full-time working parent (or work some full days), you’ll probably find the following options best suited:

  • Childcare centre / daycare
  • Home-based care
  • Nanny or Au Pair

If you’re looking for part-time care and/or would like to be more involved in your child’s early childhood education, you could also consider:

  • Kindergarten
  • Playcentre
  • Kohanga Reo

 

Childcare Centre / Daycare

 

 

 

 

Childcare centres, daycare centres and creches provide early childhood education and care in a group environment. They offer an environment for learning through play and socialising with other children. Some daycares offer care to young babies, while others will only take over 2’s. Children are often divided into groups/separate rooms based on age. Younger children will nap in a designated sleeping room. Centres usually offer half day and full day sessions with extended hours to cater for working parents. The exception is community crèches – while they tend to be cheaper, they usually offer short sessions only during school term time. There are over 2,500 childcare centres in New Zealand. Many follow a particular education philosophy, such as RIE, Montessori, Reggio Emilia or Rudolf Steiner. More than half of the staff at daycare must be qualified teachers. Generally minimum adult:child ratios at childcare centres are 1:5 (for children under 2 years) and 1:10 (for over 2’s). Quality centres will often have higher ratios.

Cost of daycare

This varies by centre but could range from $5-8 per hour (about the same as home-based care). You can claim the government’s 20 hours of free ECE for three, four and five-year-olds at most (but not all) childcare centres. If lunch and nappies are included, or there is a higher teacher to child ratio than required by law, expect fees to be on the higher end of the spectrum. Most centres will charge an extra fee if you’re late to collect your child.

What else should I know about daycare?

  • Some provide a cooked lunch, which can be a huge time-saver
  • In some parts of New Zealand, popular centres fill up fast and can have long waiting lists. Make sure you put your child’s name down early
  • Quality can vary depending on factors like teacher to child ratios, number of qualified teachers and staff turnover
  • Many children (and sometimes parents!) pick up bugs in their first year at daycare as their immune systems develop. Think about ways you might be able to plan work commitments around this

Parents love daycare because…

  • It offers reliable care and is incredibly practical for working parents. Childcare centres are open even if one teacher happens to be off sick, they offer extended hours and are open during school holidays (unlike Kindergartens)
  • They are great for kids’ early childhood education and preparing them for school
  • It can be a lot of fun if your child is the ‘busy’ type who enjoys socialising (and generally wears you out when you’re at home together!)

But it might not suit if…

  • Your child is very young and might benefit from one-to-one care, home care or another small group environment
  • Your child’s personality would not suit a busy, sometimes noisy environment

 

Home-Based Care

 

 

 

 

Home-based care (also known as ‘in-home care’) is when another adult caregiver takes care of a small group of children in their own home. It’s a popular choice for parents who want their young child cared for in an intimate, home-like environment. Home-based groups often attend organised activities and visits to socialise and learn with other children during the week. Home-based carers/educators must be over the age of 20 and can have up to four children in their care (with a maximum of 2 children under 2). Carers are supported by network co-ordinators who regularly visit to provide advice and check on the children’s wellbeing and learning.

Cost of home-based care

Charges vary but generally range from $5-8 per hour (about the same as daycare). You can claim the government’s 20 hours of free ECE for three, four and five-year-olds.

What else should I know about home-based care?

  • Caregiving styles and home environments vary between carers so take the time to find a provider that aligns with your style/philosophy and you feel comfortable with. Will other adults or pets be present in the home? What will happen if there is a young baby requiring attention? 
  • Home-based carers do not necessarily need to be qualified teachers, but they might have many years of practical experience as a parent or grandparent (or have been a qualified ECE teacher in the past)

Parents love home-based care because…

  • Your child is cared for in a home environment by one consistent primary caregiver, and a small group of children which can be an advantage (especially for younger children)
  • Children often attend organised activities with other children to learn and socialise beyond their small group
  • The small group setting may mean less exposure to bugs and illness
  • Your carer might offer flexible hours to suit working parents

But it might not suit if…

  • If your carer is sick, you might not have much notice to organise back-up childcare plans (some home-based care networks might be able offer you an alternative carer for the day)
  • Your child might benefit from a larger, more structured group setting to prepare them for school

 

Kindergarten

 

 

 

 

Kindy’s pride themselves on delivering high-quality early childhood education for a relatively low cost to parents, with a focus on learning through play. All Kindergarten teachers are qualified, registered teachers. Kindergartens are not-for-profit organisations and there are over 450 in New Zealand. Each is governed by the New Zealand Kindergarten Association and managed by a local kindergarten association. Hours are typically part-time, during the school term. Traditionally, Kindy’s operate a morning session for older children, and afternoon session for younger children. More and more Kindy’s are extending their hours to offer longer sessions (e.g. school hours) to cater for working parents.

Cost of Kindergarten

Kindy’s are mostly funded through the government’s 20 hours ECE scheme, with a nominal fee per session (often $2-5 but this varies by Kindy). Fundraising is an important part of how some kindergartens cover their costs, so be prepared to get stuck in and help when it’s needed.

What else should I know about Kindergarten?

  • They can be very popular! Register your child ahead of time to avoid missing out
  • Some Kindergartens require children to be toilet trained before attending
  • Parents are encouraged to play an active role in Kindergarten life. This might involve volunteering in sessions, or being involved on the Kindergarten committee.

Parents love Kindergarten because…

  • It’s a great way to prepare kids for school
  • Kindy’s are run by 100% qualified teachers
  • It’s relatively inexpensive compared to daycare
  • Often Kindy’s are located next door to Primary Schools – handy if you have older children at school

But it might not suit if…

  • You need care for a child younger than 2-3 (depending on the Kindy)
  • You work full-time and need care for longer hours/during the school holidays. Although many (but not all) kindy’s now offer school hours, they generally don’t offer the same extended hours as childcare centres

 

Playcentre

 

 

 

 

Playcentre is an early childhood education system unique to New Zealand, that promotes and encourages parents as the first educators of their children. Generally, you attend Playcentre with your child – it’s not a ‘drop-off’ childcare service for working parents. Playcentres believe in learning through play and child-led learning experiences. There are over 500 Playcentres around the country.  Playcentres are run by parents and caregivers, rather than employed staff. Parents/caregivers are generally responsible for attending sessions with their children – although in some parts of the country you can leave older children at Playcentre. Each Playcentre operates a slightly different model, so it’s best to check how your local Playcentre runs. Hours are part-time, and during school term time. Some Playcentres run daily sessions, while others run sessions a few times a week.

Cost of Playcentre

Varies by Playcentre but very low – approximately $50 per term. Each Playcentre offers three free visits, so you can attend sessions and see whether it’s right for your family.

What else should I know about Playcentre?

You’ll be expected to get involved in other aspects of running Playcentre, such as attending business and education planning meetings, taking on a role to help manage the Playcentre, and attending working bees to maintain or improve facilities

  • If you have as Nanny or Au Pair, they may attend Playcentre with your child (you’ll be expected to get involved in other areas such as attending meetings and working bees)
  • Playcentre offers special parent education training in child development and early childhood education

Parents love Playcentre because…

  • The community aspect can be fantastic – you get to meet, work and play alongside other families from your local area
  • You’re strongly involved in your child’s early education
  • You have the opportunity to learn about childhood education and development

But it might not suit if…

  • You’re a working parent and you need to leave your child in someone else’s care

 

Nanny

 

 

 

 

A Nanny is a dedicated caregiver who looks after your child or children in your own home. Your kids stay in their familiar home environment, and your Nanny can take them on outings and drive them to activities, playgroups and Kindergarten. Nannies can also take care of light child-related household duties such as preparing children’s meals, laundry and tidying of kids rooms and personal belongings. A big advantage of a Nanny is consistency – your kids can form a relationship with one person and maintain their daily home routine.

Cost of a Nanny

At around $18-25 per hour (depending on experience and qualifications), hiring a Nanny is expensive. With most agency-based nannies, 3-5 year olds will be eligible for the government’s 20 hours of free ECE scheme. But Nannies can be an affordable option for larger families – especially when you compare the cost of having multiple children in daycare. Or you might be able to team up with another family and work out a Nanny-share arrangement and share the cost.

What else should I know about Nannies?

  • Some nannies have formal training and may hold a Nanny certification or even a degree in Early Childhood Education, while others have learned on the job. This will be reflected in their pay rate
  • Nannies are entitled to sick leave and annual leave, so you’ll need to think about ‘plan B’ childcare arrangements when this happens. If you’ve hired through an agency, some might be able to offer a temporary Nanny to fill in
  • While a Nanny can take care of some light child-related household duties, you’re not hiring a maid, housekeeper or personal assistant. Be realistic in your expectations and allow your Nanny for focus on their most important job – your child/ren
  • Older kids can still attend Kindergarten and prepare themselves for attending school

Parents love Nannies because…

  • Your children have a dedicated primary caregiver and can stay in their familiar home environment, while also attending other activities outside the home
  • When kids are sick, the Nanny will care for them and you won’t need to take a day off work
  • Nannies can be flexible in the hours they work
  • Nannies can take care of some child-related household duties to lighten your load

But it might not suit if…

  • Your budget doesn’t extend into Nanny territory
  • You’re not comfortable with the idea of your children forming a very strong attachment with an adult caregiver other than yourself

Most Nanny and Au Pair placement services operate nation-wide, so we don’t include Nannies on our searchable childcare map – but here is a list the better-known Nanny agencies in New Zealand.

Au Pair

 

 

 

 

An Au Pair is a young person from overseas who lives in your home and receives a small allowance for helping with childcare and light household duties such as basic cooking and cleaning. Like a Nanny, an Au Pair provides dedicated childcare in your own home. Your kids stay in their familiar home environment, and your Au Pair can take them on outings, to activities, playgroups and kindergarten.

Cost of an Au Pair

From $230 for a 35-45 hour week, plus accommodation (in a private bedroom) and meals. With most agency-based Au Pairs (depending on the scheme), 3-5 year olds will be eligible for the government’s 20 hours of free ECE scheme.

What else should I know about Au Pairs?

  • Au Pairs are usually relatively young (18-30). Some might have a lot of hands-on childcare experience, but others will have less. While an Au Pair can perform many of the same duties that a Nanny can, it is not the same as hiring a qualified Nanny
  • “Au Pair” means ‘equal to’ in French – an Au Pair is considered to be part of the family and an equal member of the household. 
  • Not all Au Pairs can drive, so make sure you check if this is important to you

Parents love Au Pairs because…

  • It’s a more affordable option to having a Nanny, with many of the benefits
  • Your children have a dedicated primary caregiver and can stay in their familiar home environment, while also attending other activities outside the home
  • When kids are sick, the Au Pair will care for them and you won’t need to take a day off work
  • Au Pairs can be flexible in the hours they work and can take care of some child-related household duties to lighten your load
  • An Au Pair will bring another culture and language into your home and you could form a lifelong friendship. If you’re raising your children bilingual, hiring an Au Pair who’s a native speaker could help to further your child’s language skills

But it might not suit if…

  • You don’t have a spare room in your house or wouldn’t enjoy hosting an Au Pair and helping them settle in to a new country. Sharing your home with another person is a big commitment that you need to be comfortable with. 
  • You’re not comfortable with the idea of your children forming a very strong attachment with an adult caregiver other than yourself
  • You’re looking for something long term – an Au Pair will typically be in New Zealand for a period of 6-12 months. If you want to continue with an Au Pair after this, you’ll need to go through the process of finding someone else and re-adjusting your children to a new caregiver

We don’t include Au Pairs on our searchable childcare map – but here is a list the better-known Au Pair agencies in New Zealand.

Te Kōhanga Reo

 

 

 

 

Te Kōhanga Reo (meaning ‘language nest’) is a total immersion Māori language family programme. The programme aims to foster children and parent’s knowledge of Māori language and culture. Te reo Māori is the main (and often only) language used. Kōhanga reo are whānau co-operatives, with a high degree of parent/whānau involvement. Parents/whānau are encouraged to join in the daily programme and participate with children in whānau-based learning. There are over 460 Kōhanga Reo around the country. At least one person employed by the Kōhanga Reo must be attested, meaning they are determined by the relevant governance and regulatory bodies to be fluent in te reo Māori and knowledgeable about Māori culture.

Cost of Te Kōhanga Reo

It depends on the Kōhanga reo and family circumstances. Whānau contribute what they are able to, in the form of koha, fees and/or food donations.

What else should I know about Te Kōhanga Reo?

  • Parents and whānau are encouraged to join in the daily Kōhanga Reo programme, and are responsible for the management, operation and everyday decision making at the Kōhanga Reo.
  • The ERO has noted some difficulties with finding teachers fluent in te reo Māori. Check with your preferred Kōhanga Reo – some will speak entirely in te reo Māori, while in other centres te reo is partially spoken

Parents love Kōhanga Reo because…

  • The community and cultural aspects can be fantastic
  • You’re strongly involved in your child’s education
  • It’s one of the best things you can do to raise your child bilingual in Te reo Māori

But it might not suit if…

  • You’re not looking to raise your child in a bilingual te reo Māori environment
  • You’re a working parent with limited time available for active participation in childcare

 

Other Options

  • Ask a trusted relative or friend to mind you child while you’re at work. Or buddy up with a friend to look after each other’s children on different days. It’s free or low cost, and your child will (hopefully) already have a great relationship with that person so you know they’re in safe hands. Make sure you discuss your expectations and parenting styles to avoid any clashes which might impact on your relationship
  • Playgroups are informal play programmes where you generally attend together with your child (at least half the children attending must have a parent or caregiver stay with them). This might suit if you have light or flexible working arrangements
  • Te Kura (the Correspondence School) offers distance early learning programmes for 3 – 5 year olds who can’t attend a local ECE service

 

What Next?

The quality of childcare can vary significantly – especially with childcare centres and home-based carers. Read our tips (and download the handy checklist!) on how to choose quality childcare that’s right for you.

More Information