How to choose an early learning and childcare service and make the most of supports to reduce your costs

Choosing an early learning and childcare service is one of the first and most important decisions that you will make for your child. With so many options available, picking a service can seem overwhelming!

Young children learn through play in a safe space. Going to Preschool, Full-day early learning and childcare or School-Age Childcare will provide your child with a variety of experiences to assist them to reach their full developmental potential.

To help you - we’ve put together the perfect guide to make sure you’re asking the right questions to ensure you find a quality service and make the most of the supports available to reduce your costs.

What type of early learning and childcare service should I choose?

There’s a wide range of early learning and childcare services available for parents to choose from. You might want to opt for a childminder who minds children in their home, or a nanny/au pair who minds children in your home, or you may choose to use day care services. These services can offer part-time and full day services, which might suit your family needs better, depending on your family’s needs or work schedule.

You will find that different services will have varying approaches to play and learning depending on their own play and learning philosophy. When planning your early learning and childcare service, you should consider what type of service you need. One of the best ways to learn about a service is to speak to the provider directly.

When you visit the provider, have a list of questions prepared to cover off what’s important to you and your family. You will want to be sure that the service meets your family’s needs and most important that your child will be happy and cared for, as well as being given every opportunity to learn, play and develop.

Of course you’ll have questions on the basics such as costs – but you’ll also need to clarify what their hours are, how flexible they are (if there are fines for picking up your child late etc). You will want to ask questions around the quality of the service so as to get a full picture of what’s available. You might also want to consider how healthy eating is promoted, how much time the children get to play outdoors and any restrictions when a child is sick.

A helpful guide from Tusla that includes a quick checklist to help you in your journey is available here.

Is there help to meet early learning and childcare costs?


If you have a child aged between 24 weeks and 15 years of age, you can get a subsidy under the National Childcare Scheme (NCS). The NCS provides subsidies to help reduce families’ early learning and childcare costs.

Anyone, irrespective of income, can apply for and avail of the NCS Universal subsidy. The subsidy is an hourly rate of support to a maximum of 45 hours per week. Families can also apply for an Income Assessed subsidy, which offers a higher rate of support, depending on your income.

The table here shows the rates of NCS supports:

The NCS is helping to make early learning and childcare more affordable with parents of over 155,000 children already benefitting from the subsidy so far this year.

In addition to the NCS, there are two years free preschool available for all families. The Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE) follows the same structure as the school year, running from September until June for three hours per day, five days a week. Children are eligible to start their first year of the ECCE programme once they have turned 2 years and 8 months of age by 31 August in the given programme year.

Most early learning and childcare providers have also committed to freeze their fees at 2021 rates as part of the Government’s new funding model, ‘Together for Better.’ You can check if your chosen childcare provider has signed up here.

To find a place, for your child, contact your local preschool or crèche and enquire what places are available.

All approved ECCE programme providers must offer free ECCE-only sessions. Parents who have children availing of the ECCE programme are not required to attend or pay for any additional services offered by their provider.

Where can you get help?

The quickest way to apply for the NCS is online using your MyGovID, which is associated with your public services card. Most parents already have MyGovID, but if you don’t you can sign up here:

You can also call the NCS Parent Support Centre on 01 9068530 to receive an application in the post. See for more details on the NCS and how to apply.

If you need help with these supports, you can call your local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) for support and advice! CCCs are a local government funded support designed to help families access supports.

Almost 4,000 services offer the NCS and over 3,900 offer ECCE. You can use the Childcare Search function on to find these services and their fees.

Currently, very few childminders are registered with Tusla and can offer the NCS or the ECCE programme. However, proposed new childminding regulations, currently subject to a public consultation, will make registration easier for childminders and open up access to State supports. This means making NCS available for registered childminders and families using them.

The subsidies and advice supports are a great help for thousands of parents. Follow these simple steps to make sure you are included.