How Preschool Works in Hawaii

A 3-minute guide to preschool and child care in Hawaii. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

Takeaway: Like several other states, Hawaii’s licensing requirements are available in difficult-to-read legislative documents, which are accessible on the state government’s website. The state does not provide a database for locating care providers, a circumstance that makes it troublesome to identify quality and convenient child care. Though Hawaii has recently taken advantage of federal funds to increase pre-K enrollment, without funding from the state, widespread access will certainly be delayed.


Hawaii state law defines a child care facility as any “place maintained by an individual, organization, or agency for the purpose of providing care for children with or without charging a fee at any time.” The Department of Human Resources furnishes details about licensing for group child care centers, group child care homes, and before- and after-school care, as well as regulations, exemptions, and other pertinent information. Group child care centers and group child care homes must adhere to the same licensing requirements, while infant and toddler centers and before- and after-school care facilities each have their own sets of licensing requirements.

Hawaii offers few opportunities for public early education, but with help from a recent U.S. Department of Education grant, an increased number of eligible 4-year-olds will be able to attend preschool over the next four years. Funding remains a challenge for the state, however. Though there is no state funding for pre-K, there are a few programs that subsidize child care for eligible families. Patch, a contracted, nonprofit organization, provides resources, support, and referrals for families and child care providers.

Center-Based Care

Center-based care in Hawaii consists of three different kinds of operations in settings other than private residences. Group child care centers provide care for children over 24 months of age, infant and toddler care centers provide care for children between the ages of six weeks and 36 months, and before and after school care facilities serve school-aged children. Each have their own set of licensing requirements, which outline the necessary conditions for program administration and implementation, staff, health, environment, and physical facility standards. All care providers must afford opportunities for physical, emotional, and social development.

All centers must observe required staff-to-child ratios. For infant and toddler child care centers, these are 1:3 or 1:4 for children between the ages six weeks and 12 months. For children between the ages of 12 and 24 months, the staff-to-child ratio varies depending on the group size. For groups of six, the ratio is 1:3; for groups of eight, 1:4; for groups of 10, 1:5; and for groups of twelve, the ratio decreases to 1:4. For children between the ages of 18 and 36 months, the ratio is 1:5 for a total group size of ten or 1:6 for a total group size of 12. Mixed-age groups should adhere to the ratios prescribed for the age of the youngest child. At no time should there be more than two children under the age of 3 months in any group.

Children under the age of 24 months are not permitted in group child care centers, which operate with higher staff-to-child ratios than infant and toddler facilities. For 2-year-olds, the ratio is 1:8; for 3-year-olds, 1:12; for 4-year-olds, 1:16; and for 5-year-olds and up, 1:20. As in centers for younger children, the ratio of mixed-age groups is dictated by the age of the youngest member. There are also ratios that dictate the total number of required teachers, assistant teachers, and aides depending on the age and size of the group.

The ratios for before- and after-school care are less explicit than for other categories of center-based care, though it is stated that groups may number no more than 20 children at a time.

Home-Based Care

Hawaii accounts for two types of home-based care providers: family child care homes and group child care homes. The former can offer care for up to six children under age 6 who are not enrolled in school, and the latter can offer care for up to 12 children. Like their center-based counterparts, home-based providers must offer parents documentation concerning operation policies and adhere to similar administrative and program requirements. Unlike center-based care, home-based providers are not required to have degrees or credentials in childhood education, though they must provide evidence of continuing professional development related to child care.

Unlicensed Care

It is illegal in Hawaii to operate unlicensed child care facilities, though there are certain (legal) exemptions. Exempt providers are not monitored or regulated by the state. Exceptions to licensing are made for private schools, community associations, and certain in-home care, among other circumstances and affiliations.

Discover Hawaii preschools near you using the free Noodle preschool search, the most comprehensive tool of its kind.

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