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What is preschool?

12-minute read

Key facts

  • Preschool (also called kindergarten or 'kindy') is one of the child care and education options available to parents of young children before their child starts full-time school.
  • Preschools usually have qualified early childhood teachers, who help your child learn at their own pace, with a focus on educating through play.
  • Going to preschool helps children prepare for school, and sets them up with better learning and social skills.
  • There are things you can do help your child get ready to start preschool.
  • Wherever you live in Australia, your child has the right to attend preschool — check the options available near you and choose one that best suits your child and your circumstances.

What is preschool?

Preschool is one of the child care and education options available to parents of young children before their child starts full-time ('big') school. In some states, preschool is called kindergarten or 'kindy'.

Preschools usually have qualified early childhood teachers, who help children learn at their own pace, with a focus on educating your child through play.

In Australia, every child is entitled to 600 hours of free or subsidised preschool per year (around 15 hours a week).

When should my child start preschool?

Preschool education is designed for children between 3 and 5 years old. In Australia, most children who go to preschool are 4 or 5 years old. Some preschools also have programs for 3 year olds.

Research has shown that 2 years of preschool helps children prepare for school, with better literacy, emotional and social skills. Sending children to preschool early may be especially important for children who need extra support. For example, if they come from a disadvantaged background.

What are the different types of preschool available?

There are different types of preschool and kindergarten in different states. Some, known as sessional preschools, teach children for a few hours a day. At others, children stay all day and have lunch.

Some preschools are run by the local or state government, others by private companies, independent schools or volunteer parents. Community or religious organisations may also offer their own preschool programs.

What do children learn at preschool?

At preschool, children learn by playing and trying out different activities. Teachers will direct children's learning around what interests them. Children learn to solve problems, communicate and socialise with others. They build their confidence and self-esteem, which make it easier for them to learn when they go to school.

Some of the activities children do at preschool include:

  • doing puzzles, playing with blocks
  • painting and drawing
  • listening to books, stories or poetry
  • playing dress up, music, dance and drama
  • climbing and playing on outdoor equipment
  • running, swinging and jumping
  • playing with clay, play dough, sand and water

What are the benefits of going to preschool?

Preschool helps young children develop. It teaches them new skills that will help later on, when they learn to read, write and do maths. They develop communication and social skills, such as how to play with other children, work as a group and speak to adults.

Children who go to preschool may cope better with the transition to school because they are more responsible, independent and confident.

Research also shows that children who go to preschool benefit throughout their education, even when they are at secondary school (high school).

How can I get ready to send my child to preschool?

Before your child starts preschool, it's a good idea to meet the preschool teacher.

Many preschools offer an orientation day when you and your child can visit and spend some time talking to staff. They will talk to you about what happens at the preschool and answer any questions.

Make sure you know:

  • what your child should wear to preschool, and what spare clothes to pack
  • what food they should bring, and if there are foods that are not allowed
  • what time they should get there
  • when you need to pick them up

Also, make sure you tell the preschool about any health needs, food allergies or anything else they need to know about your child.

Label anything your child will take to preschool, especially items of clothing they are likely to take off, like hats, jumpers and coats.

Make a back-up plan for someone else to collect them, in case you can't make it for some reason.

How can I prepare my child for preschool?

Before your child's first day at preschool, be sure to talk to them about all the fun things they will be able to do there.

If the preschool offers an orientation visit, take your child to show them where they will be going. You can also read books about preschool so they know what to expect.

It's a good idea to spend time with your child doing activities like the ones they will do at preschool. For example, you could visit your local library during 'story time' to give your child practice listening to a story in a group. Other quiet activities that will prepare them to sit still, concentrate and follow instructions, include board games, colouring in or drawing, and doing puzzles.

You can also boost your child's confidence and independence by letting them get dressed, eat meals, go to the toilet and wash their hands by themselves in the weeks before they start preschool.

How can I help my child settle into preschool?

Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep the night before preschool and that they eat a nutritious breakfast before they go. It will help them concentrate, play and enjoy their day more.

Leave home in plenty of time so you're not stressed when you get there.

Saying goodbye to your child and leaving them at preschool can sometimes be hard for parents and/or children. Try and settle your child with a member of staff they like, or a friend. You can sit with them for a short time while they do their favourite activity.

Let the staff know how your child likes to be comforted, for example, if they have a special blanket or toy.

Give them a cuddle and kiss then say goodbye. Don't leave without saying goodbye — and don't say goodbye without leaving. Both of these can be confusing for your child.

You may be worried about how your child will cope, especially if this is the first time they've been apart from you for any length of time. If this is the case, ask the staff if you can start with shorter days at first and gradually build up how long they stay at preschool.

It's a good idea to set some routines when your child is at preschool — these will help them feel secure. For example, do things in the same order every day: get up, have breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, put on sunscreen, pack their bag. You can also follow a routine for saying goodbye, to make it easier for you to leave. For example, your child can hang their coat on their hook, find an activity to do or a game to play, give you a cuddle and a kiss, and then wave as you walk out the door.

How can I help my child get the most out of preschool?

You can help your child get the most out of preschool in the following ways:

  • Ask staff about the best way to keep in regular contact with teachers.
  • Learn about the preschool routine.
  • Do some of the preschool activities at home, like reading with your child.
  • Talk to your child every day about what they did at preschool.
  • Celebrate their achievements at preschool.

Do I need to pay for preschool?

The government funds early childhood education and provides access for all Australian children to early learning for 600 hours in the year before they start full-time school. That's about 15 hours a week for 40 weeks. Children can attend a preschool, child care centre, school or any approved setting that offers a preschool education.

Wherever you live in Australia — even if it's a remote area — your child is entitled to preschool.

Early childhood education programs are provided by the education department in your state or territory. You can find out what preschool options are available to you, using this online Find child care tool.

Access to preschool doesn't mean it will be free, but the Australian government program helps with the costs. You can talk to your local preschool about how much it will cost for your child to attend. For example, you might be entitled to the Child Care Subsidy for preschool programs in centre-based day care. For more information, visit the Services Australia website.

How do I find the right preschool for my child?

All approved children's education and care services across Australia are measured for educational and safety standards, known as National Quality Standard (NQS).

There are 7 quality areas that they measure:

  1. Educational program and practice — Your child is supported to participate in play and learning.
  2. Children's health and safety – Your child is protected from illness and hazards.
  3. Physical environment — Your child plays in a safe and well-maintained setting.
  4. Staffing arrangements — There are enough qualified staff to give your child the attention they need.
  5. Relationships with children — Your child is made to feel supported and welcomed.
  6. Partnerships with families and communities — There is local community involvement, and respect for the beliefs and values of families.
  7. Governance and leadership — Your child is cared for in a positive and well managed setting.

Read more on what quality in child care looks like.

You can find a quality preschool in your area on the Starting Blocks website.

How do I enrol my child in preschool?

When you have found a preschool you like, you can enrol your child. Some preschools have waiting lists, so it's a good idea to start the process as early as possible.

To enrol your child, you may be asked for some documents, such as your child's birth certificate, your contact details, and details of any other people you approve to collect your child from preschool.

Most preschools will also need your child to be immunised and will ask for your child's immunisation history. You can get this from the Australian Immunisation Register on the Services Australia website.

If you plan to send your child to an approved early childhood education and care centre, they will need to be formally enrolled. Providers must enrol children correctly so families can get Child Care Subsidy (CCS) payments. Ask staff where you can access enrolment forms.

Read more on enrolling children in approved early childhood education and care.

Resources and support

Read more on preschool options in your state or territory:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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