How does school differ from early childhood education and care?

There are a number of differences between early childhood education and care (ECEC) services and mainstream schools. See activities to help prepare your child for school for some ideas on how to make the transition smoother.

Things that may differ

Early childhood education and care services

Mainstream schools

Ratio of adults to children

The maximum adult to child ratio for children aged between 3 and 6 years is 1 adult to 10 children.

This will vary from one service to another, with many ECEC services having a lower number of children to each adult.

For Kindergarten:
One teacher responsible for teaching the whole class.

There may be a school learning support officer (also known as a teacher’s aide) employed in the class for some of the time.

NSW public schools recommended maximum class size is 20 children.
Catholic schools
maximum class sizes will vary between schools.
Independent schools
maximum class sizes will vary between schools.

Structure of the day

Varies from one service to another.

In general:

  • more time is allocated to play-based activities which follow the children's individual interests
  • there is a routine, but this can be adapted to meet the needs and interests of the children each day

Day usually has some structure.

Usually selected times within the school day to do certain things such as:

  • listen to the teacher
  • complete work individually or as part of a group
  • have free play time
  • eat
  • use the toilet

Regulatory guidelines

National Quality Framework sets a consistent, high quality standard for ECEC services, and outside school hours care services.

Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) provide a basis for ECEC staff to plan and report on programmes.

All children enrolled at school in NSW follow the curriculum developed or endorsed by the NSW Board of Studies.

Approach to learning

Learning is largely facilitated through play.

Children's participation in activities tends to be driven more by their interests.

The main emphasis of the EYLF is on the child “being, becoming and belonging” rather than on a set of specific educational outcomes.

This is achieved through helping the child develop:

  • a strong sense of their identity
  • connections with their world
  • a strong sense of wellbeing
  • confidence and involvement in their learning; and
  • effective communication skills

Click here for more information about the EYLF

There are usually more teacher-led learning experiences as a large class group and in smaller groups.

Play continues to remain an important part of learning in

The main learning focus is on the curriculum and teaching outcomes across the 6 Key Learning Areas (KLAs).

These are:

  • english
  • mathematics
  • science and technology
  • human society and its environment (HSIE)
  • creative arts
  • personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE)

Click here for more information about the NSW syllabus KLAs

Family-centred/ curriculum focus

Prior to school, it is generally best practice for ECEC and ECI services to focus their programmes on areas identified as priorities to families. This is known as family-centred practice.

You may have been actively involved in most aspects of planning and your child's learning prior to your child starting school.

Schools are generally accountable firstly to the school curriculum. Much of teacher training is focussed primarily around teaching children.

While it is of great importance for teachers and families to work in partnership, there may be somewhat less time to provide individual feedback to parents on a daily basis than there may have been in ECEC.

It is possible and valuable to continue to be actively involved in your child’s education at school, but this may look and feel somewhat different from the family-centred practice you may have experienced prior to school.

Rules and boundaries

The types of expectations may be more flexible.

Children are able to interact informally with one another and with adults more often during the day.

Adults are generally able to respond to children more quickly.

Expectations, social rules and boundaries are usually more defined.

Children are usually taught age-appropriate rules.

For example:

  • Raising your hand and waiting for your turn to speak
  • Not talking to your friends when it is quiet work time
  • No talking in assembly

What happens in the playground?

ECEC services generally have a wide range of activities available in the outdoor playground including: cubby houses, tents, climbing equipment, a sand pit, table-top activities, and sensory play.

ECEC staff may lead games and activities in the outdoor playground and facilitate children’s social play at times.

School playgrounds tend to have less obvious structured activities available. Children’s play in the school playground tends to be based around imaginative play, and group games such as chasing, skipping, and hand ball.

Teachers who are “on duty” in the playground monitor children’s play to ensure they are safe. As a result of the larger number of children in the playground, they may have less time available to facilitate children’s social play than in ECEC settings.