Understanding the different early learning service types

The importance and benefits of early childhood learning are widely accepted. 

However, the best environment and method for learning often depend on the values and needs of the child’s parents and whānau.

While all services are dedicated to the wellbeing and empowerment of children through learning from an early age, there are many factors that distinguish services from one another, ranging from language of instruction to philosophies of learning.

All learning environments regulated by, and eligible for funding from, the Ministry are referred to collectively as early learning services.

The role of the Ministry in early learning.

Six different early learning service types

While early learning services go by many different names, they are also subject to different regulatory requirements and qualify for varying rates of funding.

For the purposes of licensing and funding by the Ministry, six helpful distinctions can be made between the service types.

Organisational chart showing six service types sitting under early learning

Centre-based services

Probably the most general type of service, a centre-based early learning service is most readily defined by the fact that it operates out of a purpose-designed premises.

The other important distinction is that the education and care of children in attendance are overseen by teachers with an ECE (early childhood education) teaching qualification.   

While collectively recognised by the Ministry as centre-based services, they themselves often go by many different names. These might include: 

  • Early childhood education and care centres
  • ECE centres
  • Childcare
  • Day care centres
  • Crèches
  • Kindergartens
  • Preschools 

Home-based services

Home-based services provide early learning for small groups of children (up to four children) and operate in a private residence, most often the family home of one of the attending children or the home of the educator providing the education and care. 

Educators are not necessarily qualified teachers, however all educators work under the guidance and supervision of qualified ECE teachers. 

Hospital-based services

Hospital-based services are those specially set up within hospitals to provide an early learning service to children in hospital due to illness.

These services must also be led by qualified ECE teachers.

Kōhanga reo

These are total Māori language and culture immersion services that are overseen by Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust. Kōhanga reo can be translated as ‘language nest’, which reflects the trust’s guiding principles of protecting and nurturing te reo Māori. 

Kōhanga reo are run by parents and whānau specifically trained to instil in attending children the values and culture the trust was established to protect.

Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust (external link)


Like centre-based services, Playcentres operate out of purpose-designed premises. However, the children attending are educated and cared for by parents or other educators, often trained specifically in the principles of early learning promoted by the New Zealand Playcentre Federation.   

Playcentre Federation (external link)


Playgroups are run by the parents of the attending children. As such they are the most informal of the different service types and can be run out of anywhere from community centres to church halls, provided it is not a private residence.

They are also certificated rather than licensed to reflect the difference in standards they are required to meet. 

Teacher-led or parent-led

There are occasions when it is appropriate to group the service types as either teacher-led services or parent- or whānau-led.

Teacher-led refers to services where the education and care of children in attendance are overseen by teachers with a recognised ECE teaching qualification. 

As such, these services can also be known as ECE services.

Parent- or whānau-led services are those at which the education and care are undertaken by the parents of the children attending, or by educators or kaiako specifically trained in the practices and philosophies distinct to that service type.

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