At Vacancy.Care we understand that deciding what age your children should begin attending a child care service is an important decision that requires you to consider a multitude of factors.

You may already have an idea of when you would like your child to start daycare or preschool, whether that is due to circumstances, personal preference or when you feel they are socially and emotionally ready.

To assist you, below you will find the recommended ages to start early years childcare services. This is based on how old children are, as well as which childcare services are best suited to their age group.

Firstly, here is an overview of what exactly daycare and preschool child care services are. Read our Types of Daycare article for a more detailed breakdown of the various care options available.

What Is Daycare?

Daycare in Australia presents itself as two types of child care services long daycare and family daycare.

Long daycare services (also known as centre-based care) provide a structured program for children through the week (usually from 7.30am – 6.00pm). This is a convenient option for parents to drop off and pick up their children around work hours. Here, children are generally divided into similar age groups that integrate age-appropriate early education components. Many providers also offer daily essentials, such as nappies, snacks and meals.

On the other hand, family daycare services take place in a registered educator’s own home. They work with a much smaller, mixed-aged group of children, offering a more natural and flexible childcare approach. A strong emphasis is also placed on local community excursions to develop the children’s social skills.

What Is Preschool?

Preschool, which is also known as kindergarten in some states, is a specially designed early learning program for children in the year before they start school. This can take place within a long daycare centre setting, in a family daycare program, or as a standalone service provided by the department of education.

In Australia, it is not compulsory to attend preschool, but it is thoroughly recommended as an excellent way to socially and academically prepare your child for school.

All three of these child care options have a minimum age requirement to attend, which we will look at below. We have also collated information on whether certain child options are better suited to different age groups.

At Vacancy.Care, we can search for childcare services in your area, including long daycare, family daycare and preschool.

Minimum Age For Daycare

No matter what your child’s age is, he/she will have similar child care needs when it comes to the fundamentals. However, is there a best time to send your baby to daycare, as well as an optimal age to start preschool (nursery)?

Here we look at what services are available for babies under 12 months, as well as children between one and three years of age.

Youngest Age For Daycare

Both long daycare and family daycare services generally accept children from six weeks of age, as this is often seen as an age milestone for your baby. As children leave the newborn period, their feeding and sleeping times become more predictable. This makes the transition to out-of-home care to the new care provider much easier.

It can be difficult to part with your child at this young age but keep in mind that they will be looked after by experienced and loving carers.

Furthermore, it is important to note that each state and territory has its own child care immunisation requirements. Scheduled vaccinations generally take place when your child is between 6 and 8 weeks old, but can also be done at a later stage.

What Age Can Babies Go To Daycare

How old for daycare? As mentioned above,  daycare services have a minimum age of six weeks and are welcome to stay until they reach school-age (6 years old).

Between the ages of 6 weeks old and school-age (6 years old), your child will reach a range of developmental milestones, assisted by daycare services and carers who are well equipped to meet their needs.

Due to this young age, you may be wondering if there are any discernible effects of using child care during this first year of life. This Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) follows the development of children and families across Australia and within its Growing Up in Australia report, it concluded that there are no ill effects of using child care services, which is good news for parents. 

This report looked at two groups, each made up of children between 2 and 3 years old. While one group started formal child care as babies, the other started later after being at home with a parent or other care. Ultimately, it showed no differences in behaviour or adjustment between the two groups.

Daycare For Babies

Long daycare centres will likely have a fully equipped room for children under the age of 1 year old, with specially chosen resources encouraging babies to sit up, crawl and walk. There may even be sensory areas to help develop their sensory needs, as well as daily activities such as water and sand play, baking and music.

What is the Educator to Child Ratio for Babies?

The educator to child ratio for centre-based child care services in all states and territories is one educator to four children who are under the age of two years old.

On the other hand, in family daycare set-ups, children are mostly grouped together, so it can be a challenge to care for a mix-age group. In such instances, educators must determine the different ratio requirements by the needs of individual children. However, there are plenty of benefits too, such as the familiar home setting for smaller children.

Ultimately, the educator to child ratio for family daycare services is one educator to seven children, though there can only be a maximum of four children of preschool age or under.

How Long Can Children Stay in Daycare For?

When deciding how long to keep your child in daycare, each state or territory has its own regulations dictating when a child should start school. Furthermore, each state has set a compulsory school-age that dictates an age whereby children must attend school.

The table below provides an up-to-date summary:

Term Used For the First Year of School

Minimum Enrolment Age

Compulsory School-Age



At the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before 1 January of that year.

Five years old.



At the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before 30 April of that year.

At the start of the school year in which they turn six.

Australian Capital Territory


At the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before 30 April of that year.

Six years old.

South Australia


At the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before 1 May of that year.

Six years old.



At the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before 30 June of that year.

Six years and six months

Western Australia


At the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before 30 June of that year.

At the start of the school year when they turn five.

New South Wales


At the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before 31 July of that year.

Six years old.

Northern Territory


At the beginning of the school year if they turn six on or before 30 June of that year.

Six years old.


Daycare/Preschool For 1-Year-Old

Long daycare centres usually divide children into age groups, meaning there will likely be a room for those between 1 and 2 years old. The educator to child ratio for one-year-olds at both long daycare and family daycare services remains at 1 educator per 4 children.

By the time babies reach a year old, they will have mastered their fine motor skills, beginning to practice using their larger muscles. Childcare providers cater for these developmental needs through a selection of toys your little one can grab, move around and drop.

Although children are becoming more independent and curious at this age, they have short attention spans. These quick activities, such as playing with a ball, musical instruments and art,  still cater to their developmental needs.

Separation anxiety may also arise at this age. It can happen when a child is left with a new caregiver but it is completely normal in early childhood and will become less of an issue as the child grows more confident.

Daycare For 18 Month Old

Child care options are identical between the ages of 1 and 2 years. If attending long daycare, the age group of the room will be 1 – 2 years and the educator to child ratio will remain as one educator to four children under school-age.

Your toddler may be walking at 18 months, so they will love to scramble over objects and bounce around wherever they can. If you put some music on, they will have a dance and might even sing along to familiar nursery rhymes. Your childcare provider will keep this in mind when scheduling suitable activities.

All of these energy-sapping activities make daytime naps a necessity and help children get the hours of sleep need. Chat with your daycare provider to find out how the sleeping schedule is managed for those age 18 months.

3 Year Old Daycare

Currently, every child across Australia is entitled to 15 hours of preschool each week (600 hours over a year) for free, which your child can use from the age of three.

At three years old, your little one may be close to starting pre-school (four years old in some Australian states). This makes the following year of daycare/preschool important, as it prepares children in terms of personal development skills and confidence. At this age, your child will become extremely talkative. They will still be on the move and may have learnt how to write some capital letters, so your daycare service will need to nurture and expand on these accomplishments. 

As well as preschool, children of this age are still welcome to attend regular daycare services, both long daycare and family daycare. However, keep in mind that after 36 months, the educator to child ratio increases. It will change to either one-to-ten or one-to-eleven in centre-based child care services, depending on which state you live in. On the other hand, the family daycare educator to child ratio remains at one-to-four (when under school age).

Worst Age To Start Daycare

Evidence from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) study indicates that there is no ‘bad’ age to start daycare. In fact, the research suggests that attending high-quality daycare or preschool services before school can promote your child’s eagerness to begin school.

However, please keep in mind that whichever age your child goes into daycare, and whatever childcare service you choose, there is no ‘worst age to start daycare’. The decision depends on your personal preference and family circumstances, meaning there is no wrong or right selection.

In Summary: Best Age To Put Your Child In Daycare

Attending daycare has many benefits no matter what your age is, though it is especially beneficial to those who are age three and above. As we touched on earlier, at this age your child is eligible to attend a quality preschool program for 15 hours a week in order to prepare him/her for school and to give them the best possible start in life.

Subsequently, this is great news for families from all social backgrounds, and it has even been suggested (in the Growing Up In Australia report) that attending early education environments for a longer duration may be even more beneficial, which is great news for children under three years of age too.

We hope this information has helped you, and remember
no matter what age your child is, leaving them in childcare for the first time will be a challenge. Keep in mind that this is normal and to be expected. Drop-offs will gradually become easier and before you know it, your child will be completely settled in. To help achieve this, It is a great idea to build a relationship with your child’s carers and educators for an open and comfortable line of communication.

Use our online form to inform us of your childcare needs and we will match you with a personalised list of childcare providers, with vacancies for your children.