Early Childhood Teacher

Kaiako Kōhungahunga

Alternative titles for this job

Early childhood teachers educate and care for young children in kindergartens, kōhanga reo or childcare centres. Kōhanga reo kaiako also help children learn te reo Māori and tikanga Māori (culture and customs).


Qualified early childhood teachers usually earn

$45K-$74K per year

Senior early childhood teachers usually earn

$74K-$98K per year

Source: NZEI, 2019.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as an early childhood teacher are good due to a shortage of workers.


Pay for early childhood teachers varies depending on where they work, their qualifications and experience. 

  • Graduate early childhood teachers usually start on about $45,000 to $71,000 a year.
  • Assistant head early childhood teachers usually earn $71,000 to $74,000.
  • Head early childhood teachers who are responsible for staff can earn $74,000 to $80,000.
  • Senior early childhood teachers who run centres or services can earn $74,000 to $98,000. 

Source: New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), 'The Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement of Aotearoa New Zealand 2018-2019', 2019.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Early childhood teachers may do some or all of the following:

  • educate and care for babies and children
  • help prepare meals, clean and tidy up, give medicines and change nappies
  • plan daily programmes, learning experiences and routines for children
  • make or adapt learning resources
  • implement Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum
  • assess and record the learning and development of each child
  • discuss children's progress with their parents or caregivers, whānau and other education professionals
  • run workshops for parents, caregivers and whānau
  • attend social gatherings and hui
  • prepare budgets, order supplies, and help manage the centre.

Kōhanga reo kaiako must ensure the education and care they provide benefits children's te reo Māori (language) and tikanga Māori (culture and customs) development.

Skills and knowledge

Early childhood teachers need to have knowledge of:

  • different teaching methods and learning styles
  • Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum
  • how to plan lessons and evaluate childrens' progress
  • behaviour management techniques, such as establishing boundaries and rewarding positive behaviour
  • safety and emergency procedures
  • food preparation and hygiene
  • child learning and development, and early literacy and numeracy.

Kōhanga reo kaiako also need to be competent in te reo Māori (language), and knowledgeable about tikanga Māori (culture and customs).

Working conditions

Early childhood teachers:

  • work 35 to 40 hours a week, depending on whether they are employed in a kindergarten, childcare centre or kōhanga reo
  • work indoors and outdoors at early childhood services
  • may take children on local trips to places such as marae, museums and playgrounds.

What's the job really like?

Head shot of Carly Perot, early childhood teacher

Carly Perrot

Early Childhood Teacher

Carly Perrot was inspired to become an early childhood teacher after seeing the enjoyment her daughter’s teachers were getting out of working with pre-schoolers.

“They’re actually having lots of fun,” Carly thought, as she dropped Maddie off in the mornings.

Being a mother helped

"Being a mother gives you skills and knowledge that you don’t get from training," adds Carly. “It gives you a better insight into how children think.”

Mixed-age setting keeps Carly on her toes

Carly works in a mixed-age kindergarten, where the children range from nine months to five years old.

"I specialise in teaching infants and toddlers, and I plan the learning experiences for this age group. I also manage these children's transitions from home to our centre, or from another centre to ours.

"It can be emotionally and physically tiring some days, because you’re pretty much doing everything for the children that their parents would do – feeding, toileting and so on – but it is so rewarding knowing you are helping them learn skills that they will use for the rest of their lives."

Advice for aspiring early childhood teachers

"If you’re interested in working in early childhood, go and check out some different centres, because each will have its own teaching philosophy and culture and you will hopefully find one that works for you."

Early childhood teacher video

Hannah finds out what it takes to be an early childhood teacher – 7.28 mins. (Video courtesy of TeachNZ)

Hannah: Kia ora, I’m Hannah Vickers, I’m 16 and I’m from Otago Girls' High School. And I’m here to find out what it takes to be an early childhood teacher.

Clinton: So at Dunedin’s Grants Braes Kindergarten, Hannah will be teamed up with early childhood teacher Claire Wood to learn what it’s all about.

Hannah: Hi Claire, nice to meet you.

Claire: Hi come on in!

Claire: The thing I love most about the job is really getting into great conversations with the children. The children they give you such a buzz because they’ve got great energy and you just really want to be around them.

Claire: Don’t be afraid, just get in there and ask them questions, see what they’re doing.

Clinton: Early childhood education differs from standard schooling in that the child chooses the activity and the teacher participates, injecting their learning into their play. If children are to grow and prosper they need to become independent, and ensuring that happens is an integral part of the teacher’s role.

Michael: I can’t do it.

Claire: What can’t you do Michael?

Michael: I can’t climb up and then go down.

Claire: I think you can give it a go!

Marcello: I’ll do it!

Claire: You ask Marcello. How did he do it?

Claire: What we really want for our children is we want them to be confident, we want them to believe in themselves as learners, to be aware that they’re really capable of doing things for themselves.

Claire: He used his knee!

Marcello: Yes!

Claire: I wonder if you could use your knee?

Claire: So obviously when they first start in an early childhood centre, they may not feel very comfortable so what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to give them a sense of belonging and over time one of the most exciting thing is seeing the change in the children to becoming really confident learners.

Claire: You’ve got one knee on, Michael! Look at that! You did it! See you can climb up!

Michael: I’ve got up!

Claire: And you showed him how to do it Marcello! He used his knee!

Claire: So every child is different. They’re learning in different ways, they’ve got different interests and different ways of learning so you might have children that are really creative and spend a lot of time working through different art mediums, and then you get other children that want to be involved outside in big group play and that kind of learning we’re really encouraging because it’s getting them thinking.

Hannah: What do you make in your factory?

Child: Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate!

Hannah: Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Do you make it into bars or Easter eggs?

Child: We make it into Easter eggs and send it to the Easter bunny!

Hannah: Do you? And then the Easter bunny sends it back to you!

Clinton: You can train to teach in te reo Māori or Pasifika services as well as English mainstream. Whatever you choose, the ability to adapt your teaching to the changing interests of the children is an essential trait for an early childhood teacher, as is the ability to relate to them on their level.

Child: All the chocolate's coming out!

Hannah: Did it come out?

Child: No.

Hannah: I wonder why it didn’t come out? Do you think it has anything to do with this pipe being a little bit upwards?

Child: It is a little bit upwards!

Hannah: A little bit upwards. What do you think we could do to make it go down a little bit? Oh you’re pushing it down! That’s a good idea!

Clinton: Early childhood teachers may work up from entry-level teaching positions to senior roles, such as head teacher. They may also move to youth and community work or general training, using the organisational and interpersonal skills they have developed as teachers, while some may move into policy work and teacher education.

Claire: As a teacher I think one of the most important things you can be with the children is really positive. You’ve got to be positive, enthusiastic and you’ve got to make things fun because that makes a great learning environment.

Hannah: Wow look! It worked just like we thought!

Child: Yay!

Hannah: Look you’ve done such a good job! Look!

Clinton: Getting children hooked on learning is what it’s all about. If it’s fun then the child will enjoy it and if they enjoy it they’ll come back for more. Creating that fun learning environment extends all the way though to even the more traditional topics of literacy and maths.

Claire: Literacy can be about so many things – it can be about maths, and it can also be about children that are drawing maps is another kind of literacy. So we just like to make sure that they’re exposed to a huge range of those kind of ideas and experiences.

Hannah: Reading to children.

Claire: In an early childhood environment what we’re really trying to provide is a real rich variety of literacy, so as well as being passionate about reading with children we’re providing literacy in so many other ways – through song and music, through the conversations that we’re having all the time with children.

Hannah: How did you start getting involved in early childhood?

Claire: You have to go to university and do a degree. At the end you have a teaching qualification, the same as a primary or a secondary teacher. It sounds like lots of hard work but it’s actually also a lot of fun. You get sent to different kindergartens and early childhood centres and the other thing that is really rewarding is being involved with the children and their families – getting to know those families – and being part of a great team of people.

Hannah: Hi Kay, how are you today?

Kay: Hello, great!

Hannah: Good! Brodie has been having a good day, he was out playing in the sandpit, got a little bit wet.

Claire: It’s really important to work in partnership with the parents, families and whānau that we have here because if we know the children really well and we’ve got the parents on board, then we can work together. So one of the key roles of an early childhood teacher is to really engage with parents.

Clinton: So with a few fond farewells Hannah’s day has come to an end… But does Claire think it could be the beginning of her career in early childhood teaching?

Claire: Hannah was really fantastic. She had a great day being here because she got down and got involved with the children; she was having really good conversations with them. Yeah she was great, she did really well.

Hannah: It’s definitely something I could see myself doing in the future.

Clinton: To begin your career as a qualified registered early childhood teacher you’ll need to complete either a Bachelor of Teaching, Diploma of Teaching or Graduate Diploma of Teaching in Early Childhood Education.

As a qualified and registered early childhood teacher you’ll be able to work in any of New Zealand’s early childhood care and education centres, working as part of a team with a diverse range of children who provide a unique and exciting experience every day.

Further study in kōhanga reo kaiako will allow you to diversify your employment options further and as early childhood teachers are in demand, your employment prospects are high.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements for early childhood teachers

To become an early childhood teacher you need to have one of the following:

  • Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education)
  • Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Early Childhood Education).

Entry requirements for kōhanga reo kaiako

To become a kōhanga reo kaiako, you need to have one of the following:

  • Bachelor of Education (Whakaako) Early Childhood Education Whariki Papatipu (Level 7)
  • Heke Whakaakoranga (Level 5)
  • Poutuarongo Reo Māori (Level 7)
  • Te Tohu Paethai Whakaato Kōhungahunga (Te Reo Māori) (Level 7)
  • Whakapakarai Tino Rangatiratanga (Level 7).

You also need to be registered with the Teaching Council and have a current practising certificate, renewable every three years.

Some early childhood centres allow you to start as a trainee teacher so that you earn your Bachelor of Teaching while working.

Scholarships available

Early childhood teacher scholarships for course fees and allowances are available for specific subjects, regions, and sectors such as kōhanga reo and Pacific language pre-schools.

Vulnerable Children Act

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children. 

Secondary education

A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include health education, home economics, music, dance and drama, painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking combined and te reo Māori.

Additional requirements for specialist roles:

Special Education Teacher

To become a special education teacher you need two or more years of early childhood teaching experience and full teacher registration. You must also complete a postgraduate qualification in the area of special education you want to teach in.

Personal requirements

Early childhood teachers need to be:

  • skilled at communicating clearly with children and adults from a range of backgrounds and cultures
  • organised, and good at solving problems quickly
  • enthusiastic, open-minded and able to motivate children
  • creative and adaptable
  • able to work well under pressure
  • firm and fair, with a sense of humour
  • able to work well in a team
  • committed to the kōhanga reo kaupapa (Māori language nest concept), if working in kōhanga reo.

Useful experience

Useful experience for early childhood teachers includes:

  • babysitting or childcare work
  • child counselling
  • work with people with disabilities
  • school holiday programme work
  • working with children through groups such as Brownies and Scouts
  • coaching sports teams.

Physical requirements

Early childhood teachers need to be reasonably fit and healthy.


Early childhood teachers need to be registered with the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand and have a current practising certificate.

Find out more about training

Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand
(04) 471 0852 - enquiries@teachingcouncil.nz - teachingcouncil.nz
0800 165 225 - teachnz.admin@education.govt.nz - www.teachnz.govt.nz
Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand
027 448 5525 - eo@montessori.org.nz - www.montessori.org.nz
Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust
(04) 381 8750 - info@kohanga.ac.nz - www.kohanga.ac.nz 
Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand
0800 244 532 - www.ecnz.ac.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Demand for early childhood teachers is expected to continue to grow due to a shortage of qualified and experienced early childhood teachers. One reason for this is that there are a limited places for early childhood teachers to study, so less graduates are entering the workforce. There are also gaps left by many early childhood teachers leaving or retiring.

According to the Education Counts website, there are around 28,000 early childhood teachers in New Zealand, but this is not enough to meet demand. As a result, early childhood (pre-primary school) teacher appears on Immigration New Zealand's regional skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled early childhood teachers from overseas to work in New Zealand. 

Strong demand for speakers of te reo Māori and Pacific languages

Demand for early childhood teachers who speak and teach te reo Māori or Pacific languages is strong. Teach NZ offer scholarships to speakers of te reo Māori and Pacific languages to encourage them to train as early childhood teachers.

Types of employers varied

Early childhood teachers may work for:

  • kindergartens
  • education and care centres
  • teacher-led home-based care agencies
  • kōhanga reo.


  • Education Counts website, accessed January 2018, (www.educationcounts.govt.nz).
  • Immigration New Zealand, Regional Skill Shortage List, 27 May 2019, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
  • New Zealand Now website, 'Preschool Care and Education', accessed January 2018, (www.newzealandnow.govt.nz).
  • Piper, D, 'Youngest Pupils Impacted by Auckland Teacher Shortage', 27 January 2017, (www.stuff.govt.nz).
  • Reynolds, P, chief executive, Early Childhood Council, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, February 2018.
  • Stats NZ, 'More Toddlers in Formal Early Childhood Care', 19 December 2017, (www.stats.govt.nz).
  • Stats NZ, 'Childcare in New Zealand 2017:September Quarter-Sample Error Tables', 19 December 2017, (www.stats.govt.nz).
  • Stuff website, 'What Sort of Early Childhood Education are Kiwis Getting?', 17 August 2017, (www.stuff.co.nz).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Early childhood teachers may progress into management roles such as head teacher or senior teacher/tumuaki.

They may also progress into:

  • policy work
  • teaching trainee teachers in universities or polytechnics
  • youth or community work.

Kōhanga reo kaiako may use their knowledge of te reo Māori and tikanga Māori to move into training and policy roles.

An early childhood teacher is sitting at a table with a young child while a mentor checks the lesson

Early childhood teachers often teach children through play

Last updated 2 July 2019