Where to begin

If you’re interested in starting a new early learning service, you should consider these steps.

1. Choose the right type of service

Your first decision will be about what type of service suits you best. 

2. Visit other services in your area

We suggest you start by visiting early childhood education (ECE) services in your area. This will help you find out what types of service already exist.

3. Carry out a community needs assessment

This will enable you to find out what kind of service would best meet your community's needs, and be affordable for families. It is important to undertake this work to ensure the service being proposed is likely to meet community needs and attract families to attend.

Talk to the staff at your local Ministry of Education office. They will have information about ECE services and the community need in your area, and information about possible sources of funding assistance – particularly if you are community based.

Our community needs assessment guidelines are being reviewed and will be available once the review is complete. If you need assistance, please contact us at ECE.info@education.govt.nz.

4. Develop a draft budget

Develop a draft budget for the annual operating cost of each option. You will need to look at the Ministry of Education funding rates. For details about the funding system, read the Early Childhood Education Funding Handbook and our information on 20 Hours ECE.

We strongly recommend that you seek professional financial advice early.

Certificated playgroups are funded at a different rate to licensed ECE services. Refer to the Ministry of Education’s Playgroup Funding Handbook for more information.

5. Engage with your community

To decide which option best meets your community’s needs and will be affordable for your families, discuss the options and estimated fees with your community.

Note that Work and Income(external link) will give some families help with childcare fees.

Other information to help you


All licensed services and certificated playgroups are regulated by the Ministry of Education.

This means that services must meet minimum standards of education and care in order to operate. The Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008(external link) are the regulated standards that must be met by services in order for them to hold a licence and to receive government funding. Licensing criteria for early childhood education and care centres, and home-based and hospital-based education and care services state the day-to-day requirements that different service types must meet in order to meet the regulated standards of education and care that are outlined in the regulations.

Playgroups are required to meet the Education (Playgroups) Regulations 2008(external link) in order to be certificated and receive government funding. The certification criteria state the requirements playgroups must meet in order to meet the playgroup standards.

The quality of interactions between adults and children, and between children, is the key ingredient in making a difference to children's experiences and subsequent outcomes.


The 2008 regulatory system prescribes a national curriculum framework for early childhood education. This curriculum framework is for licensed early childhood education services and certificated playgroups. It consists of the principles and strands from Te Whāriki stated in both English and Māori.

The curriculum document, Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga o nga Mokopuna o Aotearoa, is the foundation for the curriculum in early childhood education services.

The Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008, the Education (Playgroups) Regulations 2008 curriculum standards and related licensing and certification criteria are linked to the curriculum framework and state further requirements needed to support quality curricula for children.

Teachers/educators in your service need to be familiar with these documents and with assessment and planning for children’s learning.

The Ministry has also published some examples of good assessment and planning. These are called Kei tua o te pae/Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars.

Community-based ECE services

There are many different models of ownership and operation in the early childhood education (ECE) sector.

  • Some services are community based. These may be 'stand alone' or may come under the umbrella of a larger organisation.
  • Others are privately owned and operated.

For the purposes of the Ministry, community-based ECE services are defined as those organisations that:

  • belong to and are governed by their communities
  • have assets that are owned by and will return to those communities
  • cannot distribute financial gains to their members.

Types of community-based organisations include:

  • incorporated societies
  • charitable trusts
  • statutory trusts, and
  • community trusts.

The definition of community based also includes ECE services owned by public bodies (for example government departments, councils, Crown entities).

Establishing a community group

It is strongly recommended that you ensure that your group is formally established as a legal entity and is governed by a constitution. Guidance and forms can be found on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s ‘societies and trusts online’(external link) website.

You should get professional financial, legal and management advice early in the process.

Some organisations provide resources to help you write constitutions, register as a charity, run a business or get grants.

You can find out more in the 'help from other agencies and government departments' section below.

There are also benefits in registering under the Charities Act 2005. You can find out more at the website of the Charities Commission(external link).

Help from other agencies and government departments

The Social Development Partners(external link) (formerly New Zealand Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations) is an association of community and voluntary welfare groups. Its website has a section on legal information called Law Reform Pipeline(external link).

CommunityNet Aotearoa(external link) provides information about the community sector. Its website includes case studies, hot topics and 'how to' guides. The 'links' section includes a list of organisations that provide grants and other funding for community groups.

The Charities Commission(external link) is responsible for registering and monitoring charitable organisations in New Zealand. Its website includes a guide to the Charities Act 2005 and the register of charities.

The Companies Office(external link) website allows you to form and maintain companies, search the register of companies and file annual returns. It also has information about incorporated societies and trusts.

The Department of Internal Affairs(external link) administers lottery grants, community grants schemes, grants online and trusts.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment(external link) provides information about starting a business.

Where to from here?

We have further information on starting the different types of ECE services available for you:

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