Childcare options and free pre-school scheme

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

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

Tusla has more information on choosing a pre-school.

Barnardos has published a guide for parents on choosing childcare.

Childcare in Ireland is regulated by law.

Pre-school childcare

At the age of 3, your child may be ready to attend a pre-school programme.

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme is for pre-school children. It provides care and education and is available for for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, 38 weeks of the year. You can access it in early years settings (pre-schools, Montessoris, Crèches, playgroups).

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

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

There is more information about early childhood education on the Citizens Information website.

You can find out more about the different types of childcare on the Early Childhood Ireland website.


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.

You can 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 refers to 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.

Page last reviewed: 10 May 2019
Next review due: 10 May 2022