Finding and securing a pre-school

National Parents Council Early Years

Finding and securing a pre-school

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When should I start looking for a pre-school?

From September 2018 Your child is entitled to two years of free pre-school care and education. This is provided for three hours per day, five days per week over 38 weeks per year and the programme year runs from September to June each year. Pre-school places are very much in demand and generally start taking bookings one to two years in advance of start dates, depending on local demand which can change from year to year.  If you have a pre-school in mind, give them a call and ask them when you should think about booking a place.

Listed below are some practical things you might like to consider before you decide on a pre-school.


Think about how you will get your child to pre-school?  Whether you walk, cycle, drive or use public transport it’s important that the location of the pre-school is accessible to you and suits your family’s needs.

Another thing to consider is, is the pre-school near the primary school that you would like your child to attend? It may help with your child’s transition from pre-school to primary school if they have made some friends that will go to the same school, as this is more likely to happen when the pre-school and primary school are in the same area.

Opening hours

Do the opening hours of the pre-school suit your needs?  Pre-school opening hours vary from service to service, with each pre-school unique in the services and experiences they offer.  Some services have morning and afternoon sessions and others just one morning session.  Alternatively, there are pre-schools which operate within full-time day-care services, which may offer the option to extend your child’s attendance.  Think about the timing of school runs and work or other commitments you may have.  If you do have other commitments, consider what support you might have from family, friends or even neighbours who may be happy to help with or share school runs. Please note that any extra hours outside of the free pre-school scheme that you request for your child will incur a fee. These fees vary between pre-schools.  Each pre-school should have their own individual fee list.

Your child’s learning and development

There are a variety of different types of pre-schools throughout Ireland. Some parents may already have an idea of what type of pre-school they would like their child to attend, and some prefer to look and see what is on offer.  It’s important to keep in mind though when choosing a pre-school there is not usually just one thing that will give your child a positive pre-school experience. The quality of the pre-school depends on quality of, the pre-school teacher, the educational programme and the pre-school environment or surroundings. Each element should make children feel like that they are loved, valued, cared for and protected and that they belong, and also that all families are welcomed and included.

Although pre-schools are not instructed specifically what or how to teach children, it is expected that each pre-school programme will reach a certain set of standards and learning outcomes for children. Pre-schools are helped to achieve these standards with the guidance of Siolta and Aistear which are explained in a little more detail below.

Siolta, (meaning seeds) is the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and it is made up of a set of 12 principles.   It was developed to help pre-school services achieve and provide a quality pre-school experience for children, families and teachers.  It supports pre-schools to continuously build on and improve their practice looking at for example, Parents and Families and Rights of the child.

Aistear (meaning journey) is the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework for all children from birth to six years in Ireland. The Framework supports adults to plan for and provide enjoyable learning experiences for children with the aim of helping children to become capable and competent learners while having fun. Aistear uses four themes to describe how children learn and develop, these are,  1) Well-being 2) Identity and Belonging  3)Communicating  4)Exploring and Thinking.  

For more information on Siolta and Aistear please follow the following link.

Making the right choice

It’s a good idea to arrange to visit a few different pre-schools with your child if possible, your local Childcare Committee can provide you with a list of pre-schools in or around your location.It’s always best to call the pre-school first and make an appointment for your first visit so that the pre-school can ensure there is someone who is free to show you around and answer any questions you may have.

Before you visit the pre-school, have a think about what is important to you when it comes to your child’s early education, this may help you think of questions which will support you to make your pre-school choice.  For example, if outdoor play is important to you then you may want to choose a pre-school where children spend lots of time outside learning and playing.   Talk to the pre-school teacher if possible and get a feel for the way that he or she will interact with you and your child.  Have a look at the classroom walls and hallways, how does it make you feel, is the children’s learning made visible?    You can usually get an understanding for the service by the way they celebrate and display children’s learning.  This is important because when children feel like they are valued and an important part of their pre-school community they are more likely to learn and feel good about themselves which leads to better learning and development outcomes.

Once I have chosen a pre-school, what happens next?

Once you have chosen a pre-school you will need to meet with the manager or owner and follow their Admissions Policy which will lay out how you join up or enrol.   This process usually starts with paying a deposit to secure your place which will be refunded to you once your child has started their free ECCE scheme.

Getting your child enrolled in pre-school

There several steps to the process of getting your child enrolled in pre-school. 

Step 1: Register with the service

If this is your child’s first time attending the pre-school, firstly you must register with the service by filling out what is called an enrolment or application form.  This will require information which will support the care and education of your child while they are in the pre-school.   Some of this information you might not have immediately to hand, so it’s good to be prepared.  

The information required includes;

  • Name & address of your child and both parents
  • Name and address of your family doctor
  • Vaccination dates (If your child has had them)
  • An emergency contact (other than Parents)
  • Any medical conditions or allergies

This form is very important for your child’s safety and welfare while in the pre-school and is a regulatory requirement of the pre-school.   Pre-schools will insist on having it complete on or before your child’s start date.  Therefore, it is a good idea before you must fill out this form, to have a think about who you would like to be your emergency contact if the pre-school cannot reach you. It should be an adult, and a friend or relative and who you can trust to collect your child or make a decision about your child if you cannot be contacted. You will need their contact details for the form, and it’s always a good idea to ask their permission beforehand and explain what their consent means. You will also need the vaccination details for your child if they have been vaccinated. This includes dates that the vaccinations took place. The pre-school is required by their registration to have each date of each vaccination for every child, it is not enough to say your child has been vaccinated.   Most GP’s will provide this information on request. If you have not had your child vaccinated please let your pre-school service know.  If you do this, it means that the pre-school can inform you straight away about any illness that your child could be at risk from in the service if the situation should arise.

Step 2: Registering your child on the ECCE Scheme

Secondly your child will need to be registered on the Early Childhood Care and Education Free Pre-school scheme (ECCE Scheme). You will be asked by the pre-school to fill out some forms. On these forms your will need to provide:

  • Your child’s name as written on their birth certificate or passport,
  • Your Childs Personal Public Service Number (PPSN) and
  • Your child’s date of birth.  

The pre-school will then take this information from you with your written permission and register your child for the ECCE scheme on a computer system called PIP (Programme Implementation Platform). For this registration process it is important that your child’s date of birth, PPSN, number and name are all spelled and written correctly or the computer system which is used for the scheme will not be able to recognise or register your child. 

Once you are registered with the pre-school and the ECCE Scheme, you just need to wait for the start date of the pre-school.  Many services now have open days and invite you and your child in to meet their teachers and new friends before the first day, so ask about this when you visit.  It’s important to note that registering your child for pre-school is a separate process to registering your child for primary school. Below are some links that will give you some information which may support you around the topics covered in this piece.

Useful links

Diversity Equality & Inclusion Charter and Guidelines for Early Childhood Care and Education DCYA 

Aistear The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework NCCA 2009

Siolta The National Framework for Early Childhood Education CECDE 2007

Aistear Siolta Practice Guide NCCA 2016

ECCE Programme DCYA

City/County Childcare Committees

There are Frequently Asked Questions on our Helpline page which may help you with further questions please click this link:

If you would like to sign up to the NPC contacts data base to keep up to date with NPC Primary Early Years Services Events please click this:

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