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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Educational guidelines


4.Early childhood education and care

4.3Educational guidelines

Last update: 27 November 2023

Steering documents

ECEC for children under 3 years of age

Regarding ECEC for younger children (under three years old), there is no pedagogical reference framework in force for crèches, although the Directorate-General for Education and the Institute of Social Security are currently working on educational guidelines for crèches. There are also no educational guidelines for home-based provision provided from top-level authorities.

Ordinance No 262/2011, 31 August and Ordinance No 411/2012, 14 December establish a legal framework that defines the operational and statutory conditions for crèches, in order to ensure more standardised guidelines governing how they operate.  

According to this legislation, each crèche is duty bound to draw and implement a pedagogical project which is the planning and monitoring tool of the setting, in accordance with the children’s profile.

The pedagogical project, which focusses on each group of children, is prepared by the technical team (which has autonomy) with the participation of families and, where appropriate, in conjunction with community services. This project should be assessed every six months and reviewed when necessary. The maximum number of children per group is:

  • Ten children until they are toddlers (able to walk);
  • 14 toddlers up to 24 months/two years old;
  • 18 children between the ages of two and three years old.

Crèche activities include:

  • the provision of care that meets the child's needs.
  • appropriate nutrition and food.
  • personal hygiene.
  • individualised care, in accordance with child’s abilities and skills.
  • educational, recreational, and motor skills activities, in accordance with the child’s age and needs.

It is also worth mentioning that, despite the absence of specific guidelines for the earliest stage of pre-primary education (before the age of three), to a certain extent, the Curriculum Guidelines for Pre-Primary Education (OCEPE) fulfil a guiding role, allowing the adoption of common approaches for the entire pre-primary education stage (see below).

ECEC for children aged 3 and over

The Curriculum Guidelines for Pre-Primary Education (Orientações Curriculares para a Educação Pré-Escolar - OCEPE) are designed to support the construction and management of kindergarten curriculum, which is each pre-primary teacher’s responsibility in conjunction with the educational team of the school/cluster. It should be adapted to the social context, to the profile of the children and their families and to the development of each child and the group. 

The OCEPE established by Dispatch No 9180/2016 (Diário da República No 137/2016, Series II of 19 July 2016) are compulsory for all pre-primary establishments on the national network (public and private networks).

These guidelines were issued in 2016 by the Ministry of Education and are the result of comprehensive efforts that included contributions from pre-primary teachers, initial training teachers, researchers, and other experts in this area.

Although maintaining mandatory guidelines for children aged three and over in place since 1997 (Law No 5/97, 10 February) this review emphasises the need for common pedagogical approaches and principles for the whole ECEC phase before entering compulsory schooling. Therefore, OCEPE play a guiding role role in the construction and management of kindergarten curriculum, ensuring educational continuity and paying particular attention to transitions from the family environment to crèche and/or kindergarten, and from the latter to the first cycle of basic education.

Areas of learning and development 

ECEC for children under 3 years of age

According to Ordinance No 262/2011, 31 August and Ordinance No 411/2012, 14 December), crèches’ main aims are:

  • to facilitate reconciliation of a household’s personal, family and professional life.
  • to safeguard children’s well-being and overall development through individualised care in a safe and loving atmosphere.
  • to collaborate with families in sharing duties of care and responsibility in child development.
  • to be involved in the early detection of any maladjustment or disability, ensuring proper referral.

The pedagogical project of each crèche includes the socio-pedagogical activity plan, which defines educational activities that help children’s overall development (motor, cognitive, personal, emotional, and social skills).

There are no specific curricular guidelines for institutions that care for children under three years old. However, as mentioned above, the Curriculum Guidelines for Pre-Primary Education (OCEPE) designed for settings that care for children aged three and over emphasises the need to adopt common pedagogical approaches and principles for the entire phase preceding primary school. This document also includes guidelines for the transition phases (from home environment, or crèche to pre-primary and from here to primary school).

ECEC for children aged 3 and over

According to the Framework Law (Law No 5/97, 10 February),  the main objectives of pre-primary education are:

  • To promote children’s personal and social development.
  • To foster children’s integration into diverse social groups.
  • To contribute to equal opportunities.
  • To stimulate children's overall development.
  • To develop expression and communication.
  • To enhance curiosity and critical thinking.
  • To offer children well-being and safety.
  • To identify maladjustments, disabilities or giftedness and to encourage families to participate in the educational process.

The OCEPE are divided into three key chapters: 1. General framework, 2. Content areas and 3. Educational continuity and transitions. 

Chapter 1 (General framework) includes the foundations and principles of early childhood pedagogy, intentionality in education in building and managing the curriculum and the organisation of the educational environment.

Chapter 2 (Content areas) identify three main content areas, which are:

  1. social and personal education - Cross-curricular area, with its own content and purpose, that is part of all the educational work undertaken in kindergartens. This area covers the development of attitudes, postures and values that allow children to continue to successfully learn and become independent, conscious, and supportive citizens
  2. knowledge of the world - Area in which children learn about the different sciences in a coordinated way, using a process of questioning and organised search for knowledge, which allows children a better understanding of the world that surrounds them. 
  3. expression and communication - Area that includes different languages that are essential for children to interact with others, making sense of and representing the world that surrounds them. This area is divided into four sub-areas: artistic education, visual arts, drama, music, dance; spoken language and introductory writing; mathematics; and finally physical education).

Chapter 3 focusses on educational continuity and transitions, offering strategies to facilitate transitions and promote links among children’s different environments. 

Pedagogical approaches

ECEC for children under 3 years of age

A set of pedagogic guidelines for ECEC provision for children under the age of three are being prepared. However, there is no central regulation regarding teaching methods and materials, which allows professionals to choose freely.

ECEC for children aged 3 and over

Pre-primary teachers may choose the learning model/method they use, while guided by the pedagogical fundamentals and principles for childhood and curriculum development according to the Curriculum Guidelines for Pre-Primary Education (OCEPE) content areas. The curriculum is managed by the pre-primary teacher, who defines strategies for the implementation and operationalisation of curriculum guidelines, adapting them to the context, considering the children’s interests and needs.

Teaching time should be both structured and flexible, facilitating development and meaningful learning processes through activities devised and organised by the pre-primary teacher (as foreseen in OCEPE) in conjunction with children. In this way, different types of activities are carried out in a balanced way: individual, pair and group work.

The Ministry of Education has published brochures to support the curriculum development for children over three years old in ECEC in a number of areas: spoken language and introductory writing; mathematics; experimental sciences; visual art and music; as well as publications showing project work in pre-primary schools. Two brochures were published in 2021: "Family participation and involvement" and "Planning and evaluation in pre-primary education". 


ECEC for children under 3 years of age

Younger children (under three years of age) are not formally assessed. However, the core practitioner observes children’s development, with the involvement of parents.

When the pedagogical project is drafted by the technical team (two assistants until they are able to walk and one core practitioner and one assistant for the other groups) of the crèche for each group of children, with the participation of the family. Some crèches encourage the participation of families in the planning and assessment of activities, promoting educational continuity.

ECEC for children aged 3 and over

In pre-primary education (children aged three and over), evaluation is an integral and regulatory element of educational practice and implies appropriate principles and procedures.  At this level, assessment boasts a strong formative bent in a continuing process based on the following principles:

  • coherence between the assessment processes and the foundations and principles foreseen in the Curriculum Guidelines for Pre-Primary Education (OCEPE).
  • the use of diverse techniques and instruments to observe and report, which highlights each child’s development and learning throughout pre-primary education, taking into consideration the areas foreseen in the OCEPE.
  • valuing a child’s progress.

Pre-primary education involves neither the classification of the child's learning according to standards, nor a value judgment on the child's way of being.

Planning and assessing are part of the responsibilities foreseen in the pre-primary education curriculum, which allows the pre-primary teacher, on one hand, to observe the progress of children’s learning, and on the other, to adjust the educational process to the needs of each child and group.

Set in the context and process in which it occurred, the evaluation of each child's progress uses descriptive or narrative approaches that document such development and constitute the main means of the so-called "alternative" evaluation. Examples of this type of evaluation include building portfolios or learning stories, where children are involved in selecting work, images and photographs that are part of that record. The child's comments accompanying this selection are also part of this documentation, as well as the teacher’s and/or parents’/families’ notes and records. This allows children to participate in the planning and evaluation of their learning, reviewing the process and becoming aware of their progress.

This assessment occurs at various times and considers children’s participation in planning and assessment. The end-of-school-year evaluation times are scheduled within the framework of school autonomy and according to the annually published dispatch on the school calendar for pre-primary education and basic and upper secondary education.

The evaluation of each child's learning is a summary of their most significant progress during a given period of time, which includes the child's self-assessment and that of the parents/legal guardians.

Transition to primary school

A vast number of public pre-primary and first cycle schools operate within the same cluster, although in different settings. Top-level regulations foresee coordination between pre-primary and primary school teachers to ensure continuity of children’s pedagogic supervision between the two levels of education. For example, Dispatch No 8356/2022, 8 July in the latest wording in Dispatch No 12123-M/2021, 13 December, which approves the academic calendar for 2022/23 and 2023/24 refers that in planning the evaluation meetings, school/school cluster directors shall ensure articulation between pre-primary schools and primary teachers, in order to guarantee the pedagogical monitoring of the children in their transition between these levels of education.

The Curriculum Guidelines for Pre-Primary Education (OCEPE) focus upon educational continuity and transitions, indicating strategies facilitating the vertical (pre-primary /primary) transitions, which require the involvement of families, children, pre-primary and primary teachers and respective schools.

There are several ways to promote this coordination: (1) cooperation protocols between ECEC and primary school; (2) sharing information with primary schools regarding child learning and development; (3) the development of a common educational project between ECEC and primary schools; (4) formal visits of ECEC children to primary schools; (5) organising meetings with parents about their role in the transition process.

The structure of the OCEPE content areas, dominions and sub-dominions are aligned with curriculum component of the first cycle of basic education. These guidelines are also aligned with the Exit Profile of Students Leaving Compulsory Education, which facilitates curricular coordination between pre-primary and primary education (more specifically, the first cycle of basic education).