Research tells us that early brain development is critical in shaping the learning, development, health and wellbeing of children. Quality early childhood education is key to improving children's outcomes before, during and after the school years.
International studies also suggest that two years of kindergarten have a greater impact than one and 15 hours per week is the optimal number of hours in an early childhood education program to have a positive effect on children's learning and development.
Early childhood education matters
The best outcomes for children come about through combining sustained positive parenting with high-quality early childhood education. This is because the first years of life see children's brains undergo tremendous growth.
By the time a child turns five, around 90% of a child's brain development has already occurred. Neurobiology shows how the early years of development establish the basic structures of the brain. A child's relationships, experiences and environment during these years create neural pathways that have a long-lasting influence on health, wellbeing, behaviour and learning.
Around the time a child turns three, there is a key window of opportunity to enhance their learning and development, and their social and emotional wellbeing.
The development of language skills also helps children to develop strong social skills. A child's experiences during these years make a significant difference to their future learning and life outcomes.
Between the ages of three and five, children experience a critical period in the development of their self-regulation.
Children develop skills that help them to manage their emotions and behaviour, build resilience and persistence, form positive relationships and focus their attention. These skills are vital in enabling children to transition into school and help navigate and adapt to the numerous changes they are likely to encounter in their future careers.
Research shows quality education and care early in life leads to better health, education and employment outcomes later in life. The early years are critical for establishing self-esteem, resilience, healthy growth and capacity to learn. Quality education and care shapes every child's future and lays the foundation for development and learning.
Two years of kindergarten are better than one
International research overwhelmingly finds that attendance for more than one year at a high-quality kindergarten has greater potential to lift a child's outcomes across all learning domains, while improving social behaviours and self-regulation.
According to a British study, students who attended two to three years of kindergarten had better development in language, pre-reading, early number concepts and other learning domains.
Two years of kindergarten has an even stronger positive effect on children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Number of hours per week
Quality kindergarten programs are designed to be flexible and responsive to individual and groups of young children.
Session times of longer duration can be designed with a mixture of more active and quieter experiences offered throughout the day. This allows children the opportunity to rest and recharge, while offering an engaging and stimulating learning environment.
These were some of the reasons why Australia's Mitchell Institute concluded that 15 hours per week is the optimal number of hours in an early childhood education program.
A UNICEF report supports this finding, suggesting that early childhood services in OECD countries established that 15 hours per week reflects the general expert consensus
Read more about the evidence underpinning this reform: Two years of quality kindergarten (PDF, .
Supporting high-quality early education
To help ensure Victoria's early childhood workforce is equipped with the skills, knowledge and educational resources to deliver high-quality programs for children attending Three-Year-Old Kindergarten, we are delivering a teaching toolkit to services.
The toolkit comprises:
- a collection of educational resources
- professional learning
- content designed to support high-quality practice.
The toolkit will help support professionals to deliver high-quality educational programs appropriate to the unique learning and development outcomes of children participating in three-year-old kindergarten programs, including in both single and multi-aged groups.
The toolkit will be informed by, and be consistent with, the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF).
Reviewed 12 October 2022