Ready for Pre-school


Ready for Pre-school     




From Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth 

Published on 

Last updated on 


  1. First 5 Teaching New Skills sheet
  2. First 5 Transitions Postcard
  3. Why is pre-school good for children?
  4. What happens at pre-school?
  5. Preparing for pre-school

All children can avail of two years of pre-school under the universal Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme. Children can start this Programme when they are 2 years and 8 months of age by the start date a given Programme year and continue until in the Programme until they transfer to primary school (provided that they are not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the Programme year).

The State pays participating early learning and childcare services a set amount per child to offer the ECCE Programme. In return, participating services provide a pre-school service that is free of charge to all children within the qualifying age range. The service is for a set number of hours over a set period of weeks (see ‘How the ECCE Programme is provided’ below).

Children already attending an early learning and childcare service may simply transfer into the pre-school room when they reach the qualifying age. Other children will be leaving the care of their parents or childminder for the first time. Some children will have had their first year interrupted by the COVID-19 emergency and will be returning in September for their second year of pre-school.


First 5 Teaching New Skills sheet

Image: None

First 5 Teaching New Skills sheet




First 5 Transitions Postcard

Image: None

First 5 Transitions Postcard/An Chéad 5 Cárta Poist le hAghaidh Aistrithe




Why is pre-school good for children?

Pre-school helps children:

  • by supporting children as they develop the important skills they need to be independent learners;
  • improve their language, communication and social skills through playing and interacting with other children and adults;
  • make new friends and develop new relationships with adults;
  • develop well-being skills – for example, children learn to balance on play equipment and practise fine motor skills like drawing with a pencil and cutting with scissors, eat with others and self-care skills;
  • develop exploring and thinking, problem-solving and creative thinking skills;
  • develop identity and belonging, responsibility, independence, confidence and self-worth through doing things like looking after their own belongings and spending time away from home;
  • get ready for the transition to school.


What happens at pre-school?

The ECCE Programme offers both indoor and outdoor learning experiences, as well as opportunities for solo play and group play.


Indoor learning experiences often include:

  • painting, drawing and writing
  • playdough play and sensory activities
  • puzzles and games
  • construction – for example, with blocks or Lego
  • books
  • home corners with play kitchens and dressing up


Outdoor learning experiences often include:

  • play in the natural environment
  • constructing with others
  • sand and water play
  • pretend play
  • climbing, running and jumping


Group learning experiences often include:

  • stories
  • songs
  • circle time
  • music and movement


Preparing for pre-school

This summer leading up to September you can support your child’s transition to pre-school by ensuring they can:

  • wash their hands (this one is essential)
  • put on and take off their coat (also a handy skill for dressing up)
  • use the bathroom (pre-school staff know that accidents happen)
  • put on their shoes (think about getting them shoes they can manage easily)
  • open their lunch box or lunch bag (lunches will be healthy foods only in pre-school)
  • work on turn taking and sharing (this will be a work in progress)

Because children have spent so much time at home, some children will find it more difficult than usual to separate from their parents when the ECCE Programme commences later this year. Be assured that this is perfectly normal and slow and gradual introduction to pre-school will be necessary for some children. The pre-school staff will be prepared for this and will offer advice and support. Lots and lots of uninterrupted play over the summer will really help.


The latest public health advice from the HSE is available here.

Barnardos have developed a piece for parents on supporting your child’s emotional well-being on their return to Early Learning and Care here.



Over 10 % of pre-schools in Ireland are Irish language pre-schools.

The naíonra is an early-immersion setting for children aged 3-5 years, supervised by an early-years teacher. Children of this age learn through play and this is done through the Irish language in a naíonra setting. A booklet for parents on what to expect in the naíonra is available here.



Image: Official mark of Government of Ireland