Early childhood terminology

When talking to educators about their early childhood service you are likely to hear phrases and terms that are unfamiliar to you. The following section describes some of the commonly used language in relation to the different elements of the Chain of Quality.

Clear Philosophy

All early childhood services are required to develop a statement of their philosophy. Although there will be common elements, services may have different approaches to children’s learning that will be reflected in their philosophy. Some services are guided by specific philosophical approaches, such as Montessori, and Rudolf Steiner.

You can ask to see the service’s philosophy statement. Educators should be able to describe how this philosophy guides the teaching and learning, and other practices such as routines and daily events.

Involved Families and Communities

Early childhood education should be a partnership between the home and the service. It is important that the adults in the early childhood service know about your child within the context of his or her family/whānau. (See Page 5)

When you arrive at a service you should feel welcome and respected. Educators should show interest and listen to your opinions and knowledge about your child.

Positive Outcomes for Children

Words and phrases that you may hear educators use in relation to outcomes for children include:


  • Dispositions are combinations of children’s emerging knowledge, skills and attitudes to learning.
  • Positive dispositions for learning include courage and curiosity, trust and playfulness, perseverance, confidence and responsibility.
  • Dispositions for learning also include the way children approach learning, for example taking an interest, being involved, persisting with difficulty, challenge and uncertainty, and expressing a point of view.
  • Children’s dispositions are noticed, recognised and responded to by competent educators in early childhood settings.
  • You will also notice these dispositions at home. Through sharing your observations and knowledge with the early childhood service a broader perspective of your child’s interests and abilities will emerge.


  • When children are empowered they are more likely to develop a sense of themselves as capable and confident learners.
  • In the centre you could expect to see empowering practices such as: children having choice and making decisions; setting their own learning goals; being consulted about what they will do next; and also having a say about what will be recorded and collected about their learning.


  • Children are engaged in learning when they spend the majority of their time in child-initiated play that is interesting and satisfying for them.
  • To encourage engagement, adults should work together knowledgeably with children in their play. Educators get involved alongside the child, and skilfully extend and stimulate children’s thinking through questions, suggestions and sharing information.
  • Children who are engaged in learning will theorise, investigate and explore at their own pace. Sometimes children (especially babies and toddlers) may want to simply observe, spending time watching the other activities around them. This will usually lead to further experimentation and new learning outcomes.
  • If children are not engaging in activities that are of interest to them the service may not be providing enough choices or adequate stimulation. Disruptive children may be a sign that there are not enough challenges or activities to engage their interest.


  • All aspects of a child’s learning and development are interrelated and interconnected.
  • Early childhood educators therefore regard each child as a whole person, within the cultural context of their family/whānau and community.
  • Underpinning this holistic view of the child is educators’ knowledge of learning theory and their understanding of child development, including intellectual, physical, social, emotional and spiritual dimensions.


  • Children learn through responsive and reciprocal relationships with people, places and things.
  • Early childhood programmes should provide opportunities for children to gain a rich understanding of their world, and to learn through trying out their ideas with adults and other children.

High quality programmes, environment and interactions

You may hear educators use the following words and phrases in relation to programmes, environment and interactions.


  • Assessment refers to the way in which educators and whānau use knowledge and understanding to further children’s learning.
  • Current good assessment practice identifies the child as a competent and confident learner. Assessment values children’s work.
  • Competent educators will notice, recognise and respond to children’s strengths and interests.
  • Effective assessment takes into account the whole child, and involves parents/whānau. Children contribute to assessment and are provided with feedback about their learning.
  • Portfolios are a good way of keeping assessment records. A portfolio may contain a collection of dated and named pieces of the child’s work, and photographic documentation of learning, chosen by the child or by adults. They may also contain parent education material and learning stories or narrative assessments.
  • Narrative assessments positively describe children’s learning through relating and interpreting their play activities and relationships, over time. These assessments may also indicate possible pathways for ongoing learning.
  • You should be able to see and contribute to assessment information about your child.


  • The process by which the individual child, the physical and social environment and educators all contribute to the child’s construction of knowledge and understanding is described as co-construction.


  • Curriculum is defined in early childhood education as “the sum total of the experiences, activities, and events, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster children’s learning and development”.
  • Te Whāriki is the Ministry of Education’s early childhood curriculum statement. All chartered services must provide programmes that are consistent with Te Whāriki.Te Whāriki emphasises the learning partnership between children and teachers, and parents/whānau.
  • The full text of Te Whāriki is available on the Ministry of Education’s website:http://www.minedu.govt.nz.

Diverse needs/ Special needs

  • A child with diverse needs may require extra support to be able to participate fully in the service’s programme. These needs may come from a physical or intellectual disability, behavioural needs or other unusual circumstances.
  • Children with diverse needs have equal rights to good education, and services should plan for how they will include them in their programmes.
  • The Ministry of Education employs special education workers who assist services to provide individual programmes and necessary support for children with special learning and developmental requirements.


  • The environment of an early childhood service includes the physical setting, learning resources, and relationships among children, adults and families/whānau.
  • A good environment gives children challenges and opportunities to explore both indoors and out.


  • Evaluation is a process used by early childhood services to find out about the quality of the programme, the environment, the learning interactions, and the outcomes for children and families/whānau.
  • Self-review is a form of internal evaluation in which the service looks closely at itself and what it does, and uses what it finds out to set goals to improve quality.
  • ERO provides external evaluation of the quality of services. Education reviews are carried out regularly in all licensed services. Reports confirm what is going well and make suggestions for improvement. The latest ERO report should be available from the service, or can be read on ERO’s website.

Group times and routines

  • Routines in early childhood services should be designed to meet children’s individual preferences, not the convenience of adults. For example, children should be able to eat, or sleep when they need to.
  • Daily practices such as mealtimes and flexible group times should have minimal impact on the child-initiated programme.
  • Group times may give educators an opportunity to work with small groups or the whole group of children on a particular interest or project. Group times should not take up a lot of the session or day. Children should be able to choose whether or not to participate.

Literacy and Numeracy

  • In early childhood services children develop foundation knowledge, skills and understandings that support early reading, writing and understanding of mathematical concepts.
  • These skills are developed through educators and children:
    • using a rich variety of language;
    • having fun with language;
    • reading stories;
    • using print for meaning, such as names, labels, recipes;
    • developing familiarity with print and number;
    • having a wide range of good quality resources such as puzzles, blocks, books, water and sand play; and
    • using the learning environment to test working theories about their world.
  • educators should use their interactions with children to extend literacy and numeracy skills within the context of children’s interests.


  • Centre-based and homebased services will sometimes plan outings to give children different experiences. Outings might include visits to zoos, farms, parks, beaches, fire stations, and libraries.
  • Services should have policies and procedures that show how they will keep children safe on outings. Services may need parents to help during outings.

Positive Guidance

  • Adults should use positive guidance in managing the behaviour of children. Encouraging good behaviour usually works better than focussing on poor behaviour.
  • Redirection or distraction is an appropriate approach to managing behaviour.
  • It is illegal to use physical punishment or to deny food or water to children in an early childhood centre.


  • Scaffolding is a process through which educators support and guide children to build upon their emerging abilities and interests.
  • Scaffolding can involve asking questions to extend children’s thinking, making suggestions for children to try a different approach, encouraging children to problem-solve, use resources creatively, and demonstrating the use of equipment.

Socio cultural context

  • The socio cultural approach to teaching and learning recognises and takes into consideration the wider world in which children learn and develop.
  • Educators look at the child as part of a family and community, and also consider the influence of society and its cultural values on children’s learning and development.

Te reo me ngā tikanga Māori

  • Te reo me ngā tikanga Māori is Māori language and culture. Services are required to recognise the place of Māori as tangata whenua, and observe the principles of partnership in the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • One of the ways to do this is by integrating Māori language and culture into the practices and activities of the service.

High quality educators, professional leadership

Words and phrases that you may hear educators use in relation to educators and leadership include:

Adults as Ongoing Learners

  • Educators should keep up to date with current theories and practice in early childhood education.

Collaborative teaching

  • Educators develop a shared understanding about children’s learning through professional discussions, reflection about children’s work and sharing assessments of children’s learning.
  • Educators work well as a team.

Children experience consistency in their relationships with individual educators

Parent education

  • All services provide opportunities for parents to extend their parenting skills and understanding about children’s learning.
  • Some services provide training for parents to help organise and run the learning programmes.
  • In some services parents can participate in training programmes that can lead to an early childhood qualification.

Collaborative teaching

  • Educators develop a shared understanding about children’s learning through professional discussions, reflection about children’s work and sharing assessments of children’s learning.
  • Educators work well as a team.
  • Children experience consistency in their relationships with individual educators.

Parent education

  • All services provide opportunities for parents to extend their parenting skills and understanding about children’s learning.
  • Some services provide training for parents to help organise and run the learning programmes.
  • In some services parents can participate in training programmes that can lead to an early childhood qualification.


  • The art and practice of teaching.

Professional development

  • Courses that managers and educators undertake to improve their teaching and management practice.


  • In teacher-led services the minimum qualification is a Diploma in Teaching (ECE).
  • There are many different pathways through which educators may have gained their qualifications. These include extra-curricular study, on-the-job training or full time study.
  • In most early childhood services there will be some fully qualified people and others who are in training.
  • The qualifications of educators should be displayed within the centre for your information.


  • Teachers who have at least a Diploma of Education (Early Childhood Education) or the equivalent can apply to the New Zealand Teachers Council to becomeregistered teachers.
  • A teacher works for at least two years as a provisionally registered teacher (PRT) under the guidance of registered supervisors. If reports on their progress are satisfactory they can become fully registered at the end of this period.
  • All teachers in kindergartens have to be registered teachers. From December 2007, half of teachers at all teacher-led services will have to be registered.

Service-based training

  • Training that involves both on-the-job supervision and release from work for study and courses. Service-based training helps educators understand the link between practice and theory.

Effective Management

You may hear educators use the following words and phrases that in relation to management of services.


  • All services should have a complaints policy. This will be a written statement explaining how you can make complaints and how these will be dealt with.
  • The complaints policy should be displayed in an obvious place along with the service’s licence. It should provide you with clear steps to take and tell you exactly who you will need to contact.
  • If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you can complain to the Ministry of Education or ERO. If ERO receives serious complaints about a service, the Chief Review Officer can authorise a special review to investigate the allegations.


  • Government part-funds early childhood services through the Ministry of Education. The funding rates are based upon differences in the structure of various early childhood services.
  • Teacher-led services that offer higher quality through employing more registered educators receive a higher rate of funding. Parent-led services are funded at a lower rate.
  • Most services also charge fees or seek donations and grants.
  • Families with low to moderate income can apply for a childcare subsidy from Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ).
  • Early childhood services must have audited financial statements to account for how they spend their money. These statements must be available to parents.


  • Governance is the arrangement by which early childhood services are owned and/or operated. Early childhood services have a range of governance arrangements.
  • Some services such as playcentres, kindergartens and homebased care networks are governed by umbrella organisations that operate a group of centres/services within a region.
  • Other community owned services will have a committee that is responsible for property, finance and personnel management.
  • In private services the owners govern the service. These may be individual centres or groups of centres, some of which are owned by corporations.
  • In all services parents should have opportunities to participate in making decisions.

Health and safety

  • Services are responsible for the health and safety of children while they are at the service. Early childhood education regulations set out the minimum standards for health and safety.
  • If you are concerned about any aspects of safety you should talk to the person responsible, or to the licensee.
  • If you remain unhappy you can make a formal complaint.


  • All centres other than licence-exempt services must have a licence from the Ministry of Education.
  • To get a licence, a service must show that they meet Early Childhood Regulations and that the licensee is a fit person to hold a licence.
  • Every centre must display its licence in an obvious place. The licence will show the centre’s address, how many children the centre can have, the name of the licensee and other information.


  • Licence-exempt services operate without licence. They receive limited government funding and ERO does not review them.
  • The children’s parents usually run the service, and are responsible for educating and caring for the children. At least half of all children have to have a parent or caregiver with them at all times. The services can operate for up to three hours a day.


  • The licensee is responsible for making sure that a centre meets the licensing requirements.
  • At privately owned services the licensee may be the owner or a manager.
  • Licensees in community-owned services may be a manager, the head teacher, the chairperson or a member of the parent committee or the president of the association to which the centre belongs.
  • The licensee’s name and contact details should be clearly displayed with the centre’s licence.


  • Management structures vary between different services and types of service.
  • Parent-led services are managed by the children’s families or whānau.
  • Community-owned services may have a management committee representing both parents and teachers.
  • The management of privately-owned services is likely to include the licensee and supervisor or senior teacher. Sometimes parents may also be invited to participate in decision making.
  • Involvement in the management of your service will give you a better understanding of how it operates as well as opportunities to support improvements.

Person responsible

  • Under the regulations, a person responsible must supervise children and staff at all times when children are at the service.
  • The person responsible must be a registered teacher and hold recognised qualifications. They must have at least a Diploma of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) or an equivalent qualification.

Ratios and group size

  • In early childhood education, ratio is used to mean the number of children there are to each adult.
  • Services with high ratios (plenty of adults) can usually provide better education and care than those with lower ratios. High ratios are particularly important for full-day services where there are large numbers of infants.
  • Group size is the number of children attending at a particular time.
  • Small group sizes are generally better for infants and toddlers. Some centres organise specific areas that meet the particular needs of infants and toddlers.

Rolls and registers of attendance

  • All services are required to keep a record of who attends, for what hours and who is going to pick up each child. It is very important for the safety of the children that this information is accurate.
  • These registers are used both for safety and to claim funding.
  • Early childhood centres usually require parents or caregivers to sign their children in and out.


  • Parents who are on a low or middle income, may be eligible for childcare subsidies to reduce the cost of sending children to an early childhood education service.
  • Contact the nearest WINZ office or ask the people at the early childhood service for help with an application for a subsidy.