The closest to the UK nursery school system is kindergarten or kindy, which accepts children from around the age of two and a half. Children are accepted by age, and places are limited, so it is common for children to be nearer three and a half before they start. This varies from kindy to kindy, sometimes quite widely within the same area.
Kindergartens are teacher-led, with a ratio of one teacher to 15 children. They are typically open for three afternoon sessions (afternoon kindy) for younger children, and five morning sessions for older children (morning kindy). The emphasis is on learning through play, and teaching children the social skills they need for school.
Kindergartens are government funded, but will ask for donations to cover costs, and there will typically be fund-raising throughout the year. Parents are also often asked to help volunteer with tasks such as end-of-term cleaning sessions, washing, and snack making. For more information, see http://www.nzkindergarten.org.nz/.
A parent-led pre-school alternative is Playcentre. Children can attend with their parents from birth, then will be able to attend sessions without their parent when they are older.
Many playcentres employ a qualified leader, but parents are very involved in all aspects of the centres' operation. This keeps costs down. It also provides an invaluable social network for parents of pre-schoolers, fantastic if you are new to the area. For more information, see http://www.playcentre.org.nz/.
Daycare centres or nurseries accepting pre-school aged children also have to follow the NZ early childhood curriculum, and are open longer, more flexible hours than kindergartens and Playcentres.
There is typically no parental involvement in the centre, and fees can be quite high. There are subsidies available for low-income families.
There are also many pre-school play groups which meet weekly or fortnightly. There is no central register of these groups, but you will often find them listed on library notice boards and in parenting publications. From there, ask fellow attendees if they know of other groups! Some of our local options are drama classes, arts and crafts classes, gym groups, music groups, coffee groups, church playgroups, Plunket playgroups and library story times. Some sports clubs accept enrolments from children from the age of 4 for weekend sports teams. Costs range from free (library story times) to $2 per session (music and coffee groups) to over $100 per term (gym and drama groups).
For more information on pre-school education see http://www.teamup.co.nz/earlyyears. This article was contributed by Jeremy Henderson from Broadbase International. Their UK website, www.broadbaseimmigration.co.uk, has a great range of up-to-date articles on life in New Zealand written especially for prospective migrants.