Government funding topped up to get more young children into early childhood education.
The Greens have unveiled a policy to extend 20 hours a week of free early childhood education to 2-year-olds, but some centres are already offering parents the option in a bid to attract more children and keep rolls high.
At present, 3 and 4-year-olds get 20 free hours a week.
New Zealand Kindergarten Association chief executive Clare Wells said some early childhood providers - including a number of not-for-profit kindergarten associations - offered 20 hours free to children from the age of 2.
They did this by topping up the $6.70 an hour government funding they already received for 2-year-olds for daycares and $6.92 an hour funding for kindergartens.
Auckland Kindergarten Association general manager Tanya Harvey said it was offered as an incentive mainly for children who were just under 3 to enrol a few months early at kindergartens with vacancies.
"For 2-year-olds in the past there was a fee attached, which was basically the amount of funding we were missing - the shortfall - and that was a deterrent for families who couldn't afford that."
Once the children turned 3, the extra government funding was applied for. All kindergartens also asked for a donation.
Just under 10 per cent of the children who attended kindergartens run by the Waikato Kindergarten Association were aged 2. Chief executive Maree Stewart said they offered 20 hours free from the age of 2 because it was important for children to have access to high-quality education even though it came at a cost to the association.
Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds was not aware of any of its members offering the 20 hours to 2-year-olds because it came down to financial viability.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei welcomed the initiative already being taken by some centres and said under their policy those kindergartens would get extra funding.
"There's this crazy hole for 12 months where parents have this significant increase in cost and it's completely unjustifiable."
The Ministry of Education's head of early learning, Rawiri Brell, said government subsidies were offered for all under-5s to make it more affordable for children to attend an early childhood education provider.
He believed that only a small group of providers were offering free childcare for children from the age of 2.
However Barbara Smith, national director of the Home Education Foundation, said the Greens' policy placed a misguided emphasis on early childhood education over parental care and quality education for most preschoolers, with the exception of vulnerable children, started at home.
Free sessions boost progress
Hudson Chittenden doesn't stop chatting when he gets home from kindy and has been teaching his parents all about earth and planets which he has learnt as part of Matariki week.
Hudson, now 3 years old, has been attending Peachgrove Kindergarten in Hamilton since he was 2 and his parents Angela and Dan Chittenden said it provided the extra stimulation he could not get at home.
Because they were on one income and paying a mortgage, the Chittendens would not have been able to afford his early education before he turned 3 and was entitled to the government-funded 20 hours free early childhood education scheme. But the kindergarten offered 20 hours free from the age of 2.
Mr Chittenden said his son's confidence had grown since starting at the kindergarten last year.
He said at that age children's minds were a sponge and Hudson was learning all sorts of things at the kindergarten.
His language skills had also greatly improved.
"You would hate to hold them back at their age. Until you have one you don't see how fast they learn," Mr Chittenden said.
Hudson, being an only child, was also more confident and assertive around other children. Prior to attending kindergarten, Hudson had only interacted with other children through regular meetings with their coffee group.