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Tip Sheet 8: Early childhood services: Preschool

Key Message

  • All states and territories have preschool services, although they are called many different names.
  • Preschool is excellent for child learning and development
  • Preschools are generally for children who turn 4 in the year before starting school, although some preschools are for 3-year-olds
  • Preschool programs are offered in a variety of settings

What is preschool?

Preschool programs are educational services for children before they go to school. Mostly they are for four-year-olds but sometimes there are preschool programs for three-year-old children also. Preschool is provided by a qualified preschool teacher. Preschool services are called different things by the States and territories including kindergarten and early learning centres. 

Preschool programmes are run by different organisations in different States and territories. Depending on where you live, preschool services may be available in children’s centres, long day care centres, community preschools, government schools and independent schools. The fees for your child to attend a preschool service will vary.

Preschool programs give children the opportunity to learn through structured and unstructured play. Activities in preschool programs include craft, games, puzzles, stories, singing, and indoor and outdoor play. 

Every child and every family is different. Your feelings as you take the journey from noticing your child may have a delay, to diagnosis, and beyond may also be different from that of other parents. There is no right or wrong way to feel.

What are the benefits of preschool?

Preschool is strongly recommended for all children. It is estimated that around 90% of brain development occurs before children go to school. Preschool can stimulate child development during this period of rapid brain growth with lifelong effects. The benefits of attending preschool include:

  • Learning to love learning
  • Improving physical development
  • Making friends
  • Building confidence
  • Developing communication skills
  • Enhancing self-regulation
  • Easing the transition to school
  • Reducing the need for specialist services
  • Participating in a wide range of activities
  • Supporting positive behaviour
  • Benefitting overall health and wellbeing

How do children learn at preschool?

Children learn at preschool through:

  • Playing and learning with other children
  • Developing relationships with other children and adults
  • Through participating in activities such as craft, puzzles, stories, and play

How do I choose a preschool?

All preschool programs will encourage you to come along for a visit. You will get a good sense from the atmosphere and talking to the preschool staff about whether you think the preschool will be a good fit for your child. How do the staff welcome you and your child? Some of the things you might want to ask include:

  • What activities do they have for the children?
  • How long are the sessions and how many does my child attend each week?
  • Does the preschool offer extended hours if I need them?
  • How much are the fees? 
  • How will we communicate about my child’s needs?
  • How will we communicate with my child’s therapists?
  • Have there been other children with a disability or developmental delay at the the preschool before? How did that go?

Preschool should be a safe place where your child feels included. The children should have a choice of fun and challenging activities. You should see that the teacher and other educators work confidently with the children and enjoy their company.

If you feel distressed thinking and reading about this topic,
talk to your GP or health professional. You can also call Lifeline on 131 114.

How are children with a developmental or global developmental delay included at preschool?

All children have the right to attend preschool regardless of disability or developmental delay. Funding and supports available to help the preschool include children with a disability or developmental delay vary across the states and territories of Australia. 

Talk with staff about your child’s development and any learning or other concerns you have. Ask what extra supports the preschool program can put in place to meet your child’s needs. Ask the preschool teacher if your child needs an inclusion plan. An inclusion plan can help a preschool get ready to provide any additional support your child may need.

Think about what is important for your child to feel they belong. Talk to staff about how what might be helpful.

Children with developmental or global developmental delay who attend preschool have great opportunities to grow socially and emotionally. Preschool helps children get ready to start school.

What happens once my child starts preschool?

There are important things you can do to stay connected with your child when they go to preschool, including: 

  • Finding out as much as you can about the preschool program and routines 
  • In some programs you can get involved by volunteering as a helper 
  • There are preschool activities you can do with your child at home, so ask the staff 
  • Connect with other parents and carers

How do I start?

The first step is to find out what preschool services are available in your state or territory. Use these links for Preschool services around Australia:

In Australian Capital Territory preschools are known as preschools or early learning centres

For more information, visit ACT Department of Education – Enrolling in preschool

In New South Wales preschool services are known as preschools

For more information, visit NSW Department of Education – Starting preschool

In Northern Territory preschool services are known as preschools

For more information, visit NT Government – About child care services

In Queensland preschool services are known as kindergartens

For more information, visit Queensland Government – About approved kindergarten programs

In South Australia preschool services are known as preschools, kindergartens, early learning centres or centres for early childhood development and parenting

For more information, visit SA Government – Preschool and kindergarten services

In Victoria preschool services are known as preschools, kindergartens or preschool programs in long day care centres

For more information on preschools in Victoria, visit Victorian Department of Education and Training – Child care and kindergarten.

For more information on Kindergarten for three year olds visit Victorian Department of Education and Training – Three-year-old kindergarten

In Tasmania preschool services are known as kindergartens

For more information, visit Tasmanian Department of Education – Kindergarten

In Western Australia preschool services are known as kindergartens.