Under-3-year-olds in kindergarten: children’s experiences and teachers’ practices

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Otago
ECE sector
Project start date: 
January 2004
Project end date: 
January 2006
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Judith Duncan
Research team members: 
Carmen Dalli, Victoria University of Wellington
Research partners: 
University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington

Project Description

This project investigated the experiences of under-3-year-olds and teachers’ practices in New Zealand kindergartens. Historically, kindergartens have provided an early childhood environment for 3–5-year-olds. As enrolments and waiting lists have dropped, kindergartens have opened their door to children under three years of age, taking them into an environment that was often structured for older children in a larger group setting.
We worked alongside kindergarten teachers to explore the impact of this change on 2-year olds’ learning experiences, and on teachers’ practices generally. Together we identified factors that supported best practices for 2-year-olds, and macro-level factors that influence teachers’ ability to provide positive learning experiences for children.

Project Outputs



Duncan, J., Dalli, C., & Lawrence, J. (2007). The changing face of kindergarten: A national picture of two-year-olds in kindergartens. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 16:2006, 119-140.

Dalli, C. (2017). Tensions and challenges in Professional Practice with under-threes: A New Zealand reflection on early childhood professionalism as a systemic phenomenon. In E.J. White & C. Dalli (Eds). Policy and Pedagogy with under-three-year olds. (pp. 115-129). Dordrecht. Springer.


Duncan, J. & Dalli, C. (2004). Toddlers in kindergarten: Expectations and experiences. New Zealand Early Childhood Research Annual Symposium, Wellington, 23 November.



Duncan, J. (2009). "If you think they can do - then they can". Two-year-olds in Aotearoa New Zealand kindergartens and changing professional perspectives. In D. Berthelsen, J. Brownlee and E. Johansson. (eds). Participatory learning in the early years: Research and pedagogy, (pp. 164-184).  New York, Routledge.

Duncan, J. (2009) Two year-olds in kindergarten: becoming a "kindy kid", Paper prepared for the Ministry of Education. Available:http://www.educate.ece.govt.nz/EducateHome/learning/exploringPractice/Transitions/TransitionsInEarlyChildhood/TwoYearOldsInKindergarten.aspx

Presentations, conferences and workshops

Duncan, J. (2009, July). Working with two year olds in mixed-age settings. Workshop with teachers from the University of Canterbury’s early childhood centres.


Presentations, conferences and workshops

Duncan, J. (2007, March). Two year olds in New Zealand kindergartens – Children’s experiences and teachers’ practices. Presentation to the Central North Island Kindergarten Association Head Teacher Hui, Putaruru, N.Z


Presentations, conferences and workshops

Duncan, J., Dalli, C., McCormack, P., Taita, J., Butcher, M., Montgomery, H., & Sherburd, R. (2005). Under three-year-olds in kindergarten. Paper presented at the annual conference of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education (NZARE), Dunedin, 6-9 December

Duncan, J., with Dalli, C. Bowden, C. Kain, K. Duncan, H., McCutcheon, Simenaur, R., & Tuhega, J. (2005). Two year olds in New Zealand Kindergartens - what are they doing there? Paper presented at the Sixth Children and Family: Children's Issues Centre Conference, 7 July 2005.