Childcare options and free pre-school scheme

A number of childcare services are available for both pre-school and school aged children.

When choosing childcare, you should consider your:

  • child’s age
  • child's individual needs
  • work hours
  • budget
  • location - not all options may be available in your local area

Pre-school childcare

When your child is 3 they may be ready to attend a pre-school programme.

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides free care and education for pre-school children. It is available for for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, 38 weeks of the year. If your child attends for more than 3 hours, you will be charged for the extra time. You can access the scheme in early years settings such as pre-schools, Montessoris, Crèches and playgroups.

All children are entitled to 2 full academic years on the ECCE scheme. Your child must be at least 2 years and 8 months old by 31 August of the year of entry to qualify. You can find more information on the Early Childhood Ireland website.

Learning materials are included under the scheme, but you'll have to pay for any meals.

Contact your City or County Childcare Committee for more information on pre-school services.

Full time

You can get full-time childcare from a nursery, crèche or childminder.

These can offer more than 5 hours of childcare a day, including food and sleep facilities.

Part time

You can send your child to part-time sessions.

These include:

  • Montessori groups - these focus on individual education
  • Naíonraí - these are nursery schools or playgroups that use the Irish language
  • Early Start Programmes - offered in some schools to help 3 to 4 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • playgroups - where children learn to share, take turns and understand classroom rules
  • drop-in centres - play areas in shopping centres that provide childcare for short periods of time

More about early childhood education on the Citizens Information website.

More about different types of childcare on the Early Childhood Ireland website.

Childminders

Childminders care for children in their own home. A childminder can care for up to 5 children under 6 years of age, including their own. They can also care for older children. Parents and childminders arrange their own terms and conditions.

Find a directory of childminders on the Childminding Ireland website.

School aged children

Childcare services are also available for school aged children. They can provide things like homework supervision, planned activities and a healthy meal.

Options include:

  • breakfast clubs
  • after school clubs
  • crèches
  • school holiday programmes - like summer camps
  • childminders

Affordable childcare

Affordable childcare means free or subsidised childcare.

This is available for:

  • low income families
  • parents in training and education
  • homeless parents with children aged 5 or under

Visit the National Childcare Scheme for more information.

How to choose the right childcare option

You can find a list of registered childcare services in your area on these websites:

Tusla has more tips on choosing a pre-school.

Barnardos has published a guide for parents on choosing childcare.

Childcare in Ireland is regulated by law. This means that standards of health, safety and welfare must be in place before childcare services can be provided.

Page last reviewed: 16 June 2022
Next review due: 16 June 2025