England should follow the lead of nations such as France and allow nursery workers and childminders to care for more youngsters at once, Elizabeth Truss said.
The schools minister said England's adult-to-child ratios are too restrictive, and that salaries for working with young children are too low.
But shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg accused the Government of planning to cut the numbers of nursery staff, which could threaten safety and quality of care.
In a blog for the Conservative Home website, Ms Truss praised French-style childcare in which three and four-year-olds are taught in large groups, and creches have fewer staff who hold higher qualifications and are better paid.
She argued that England needs to reform the way it organises and provides childcare.
"The French use 'ecoles maternelles' that offer traditional nursery-style teaching by teachers in large groups of three and four-year-olds. They are so well regarded that the French government is now extending the opportunity to attend these schools to disadvantaged two-year-olds.
"The French creches for the under-threes are also in much demand. They operate with fewer staff who are better qualified and better paid than their English equivalents. In France, 40% of staff have to hold a diploma, typically awarded following a year of study after the age of 18, and they are paid over £16,000.
"Each staff member is responsible for up to eight toddlers. The figure in Ireland and Holland is up to six children. In England staff are typically paid £13,000 and can be responsible for no more than four toddlers."
Mr Twigg said: "David Cameron is presiding over a childcare crisis - with 381 Sure Start centres shut down, spiralling costs for working parents and less support through tax credits.
"Now his own children's minister says they plan to cut the number of nursery staff - which experts say will threaten child safety and the quality of care for toddlers."