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Canberra ‘s pre-preschools

Alexandra Tolmie

As a parent, choosing a childcare centre, pre-school or school for your child can be tough. Many parents agonise over these decisions and wonder what will be the best setting for their child to grow, especially with new studies finding that starting formal learning too early can actually be detrimental to children’s development. Alex Tolmie investigates the pre-preschool options available for three year olds in Canberra and is blown away by the huge number and variety of high-quality programs.

Most early childhood experts agree that children should be engaged in informal play-based learning until about the age of seven. Dr David Whitebread, a Cambridge University expert in the cognitive development of young children says, ”The empirical evidence is that children who have a longer period of play-based early childhood education, that goes on to age six or seven, finish up with a whole range of clear advantages in the long term.” And that “academically they do better and they experience more emotional wellbeing.”


Duntroon Playschool at Duntroon Community Centre

Students in Finland, a country that regularly makes the top five in rankings such as the OECD’s International Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), begin formal schooling at the age of seven. Every child in Finland under seven also has the right to government-funded, high-quality child care and preschool by law, regardless of family income. Consequently, over 97 per cent of three to six year olds attend an early childhood program.

How old the child is when they start school is less important than what and how they learn.

In Canberra, we are privileged to have universal access to free, high-quality preschool services for children turning four years old on or before April 30 that are accessible through the ACT Education and Training Directorate’s Preschool Matters program.

There are also a number of Catholic Early Learning and Care Centres, attached to Canberra’s Catholic primary schools, offering preschool programs for four year olds.

But what do you if you have a bright, curious three year old with an insatiable appetite for learning and discovery?



Inner North Playschool tucked away in Ainslie.


Playschools are a special model (unique to Canberra) of play-based, educational preschool programs for three year olds. Playschools provide a brilliant transition for those three year olds who are thirsty to learn and socialise before official preschool age.


Dr Maria Montessori observed that when given freedom to work in a carefully prepared and stimulating environment children actively construct their own knowledge. Montessori classrooms provide a calm yet stimulating ‘prepared’ environment where children are able to respond to their innate enthusiasm for learning with the guidance of a trained adult. The children can progress at their own pace and rhythm according to their individual capabilities.

The three year age range in each classroom facilitates peer learning, with older children sharing their knowledge and skills and taking on the role of classroom custodians. The mixed age group also fosters and provides many opportunities for social development.

Canberra Montessori School (CMS) {Red Hill}


Canberra Montessori School (main campus) in Holder. The cycle one class is located in Red Hill.

CMS offers a Parent Toddler Programme for 18 months to 3 year olds (Holder and Gungahlin), Cycle 1 for three to six year olds (Holder and Red Hill), Cycle 2 for six to nine year olds (Holder only), and Cycle 3 for 9 to 12 year olds (Holder only). Three year olds attend for five half days per week, while four and five year olds attend for the full school day five days per week.

Yarralumla Montessori, {Yarralumla}


Yarralumla Montessori at Yarralumla Primary School.

Yarralumla Montessori (at Yarralumla Primary School) has two Cycle 1 classrooms each with 25 children, a teacher and an assistant. Children who turn three before April 30 are eligible to begin in that year. Three year olds attend for two half days per week and four year olds attend for four half days per week. In the afternoons, the five year old children from each work together in a combined group.

Waldorf/Steiner Education

Rudolph Steiner envisaged an educational environment where individuals would evolve to be active initiators of the future rather than passive drifters through the swings and roundabouts of life.

Children at Steiner schools are encouraged to learn by imitation, habit and repetition. Teaching is integrated and holistic rather than subject-based and learning is experienced through the arts and through play. The learning environment is ordered, clean, natural and organic.

Play is considered a serious and vital activity. Self-directed play is balanced by the sharing of adult-directed, artistic activities such as Circle Time (movement and gesture, rhythmic games, singing, verses, poetry, and stories), Story Time (storytelling and puppetry), beeswax modelling, handwork, drawing and painting. Regular patterns and rhythms of activities both within the day and over each week are developed and emphasised.

Orana Steiner School {Weston}

Orana is Canberra’s only Steiner school. It offers a playgroup for babies to four year olds and the Early Childhood Program for three to six year olds.

Alternative pedagogies

Blue Gum Community School {Dickson} 

Blue Gum Community School (preschool campus) believes it is time to rethink the way we do schooling. They believe education should reflect the world around us—a world where people work collaboratively on projects and where initiative, creativity, organisation, research, problem-solving and negotiation skills are essential tools for surviving and thriving.

Drawing on a range of alternative pedagogies including Reggio Emilia, Slow Schooling, Big Picture Education, Positive Psychology, Nature Education, and Place-based Education, Blue Gum has been operating since 1998. Like Montessori and Steiner schools, Blue Gum features multi-age classrooms. Children may enrol in the preschool from the age of three.

Bilingual preschool education

Four preschools in Canberra offer bilingual education in French, Greek, German and Mandarin. Their programs range from introduction to language and culture through to full immersion and children can enrol from three years of age.

Christian non-government schools

There are also five Canberra private schools offer a preschool program for children from three years of age.

So there you have it…a comprehensive list of pre-preschools perfect for your inquisitive and curious three year old. We’d love to hear more about your experience with Canberra preschools. Let us know in the comments below if we’ve missed any gems on the epic hunt through the Canberra early learning jungle!


Alex Tolmie

Alex is the founder and co-chair of the Department of Education and Training Women's Network and a mum of two gorgeous little girls. She has overcome big challenges as a new mother and now loves to help others become confident, joyful mamas themselves. She blogs about her experience at draxela.com More about the Author

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