Kindy loses out to all-day care

Sunday Star Times 17/01/2010

The Kiwi tradition of sending pre-schoolers to kindy is losing favour, as growing numbers of parents seek all-day care for their children. The latest annual census of early childhood education services shows the number of children enrolled in kindergartens has fallen to fewer than 40,000 – a drop of 12.4% since 2005. At the same time the number of children enrolled in daycare centres has jumped from 83,889 in 2005 to 101,425 in July 2009 – an increase of nearly 21%.

The figures go to the heart of the long-running debate over what is best for children – and for parents – in the preschool years. In recent decades, preschoolers have spent more and more time being cared for by people other than their close relatives, and they have been starting younger. Whereas kindys take children aged three and up, there is concern that putting young children into care, especially in the crucial first two years when their brains are developing at phenomenal speed, could hamper later development. But other observers say there is nothing wrong in putting children into long hours of daycare as long as that care is good quality, with consistent of staffing levels and low staff-to-child ratios.

The Ministry of Education census shows the number of children aged three and under enrolled in licensed early childhood centres has jumped in the past five years: there has been an increase of 21% in the number of babies (under one-year-olds); 18.4% for one-year-olds; and 15% for two-year-olds. Home-based services have also gained in popularity, growing 54% in five years.

On average, children enrolled in daycare centres are now spending 23 hours a week there. Most children are enrolled part-time, but since 2005 there has been a 37% increase in the number of fulltime enrolments (more than 27 hours a week). The number of children now classed in fulltime care has jumped from nearly 25,000 five years ago to just over 34,000.