Starting a centre-based ECE service
This is a guide for service providers interested in establishing a licensed early childhood education (ECE) and care centre. Please make sure you read the whole document before taking further steps to establishing your ECE service.
Licensing Criteria Cover
Designing your early childhood service to comply with the licensing criteria
The Ministry of Education administers the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008. Please make sure you read and understand the criteria listed. If you need clarification on the interpretation of specific requirements, contact your local Ministry of Education office.
Bathrooms, nappy change and body wash facilities
Bathrooms – general
Bathrooms need not be institutional. Aim to create a home-like setting. Ideas include using:
- warm colours
- attractively framed mirrors above the sink(s)
- framed children's art work displayed sparingly (without 'over doing' visual stimulation)
- posters and signs (used thoughtfully).
- When designing your bathroom area, talk to your local territorial authority and regional health authority about requirements. For example, the Building Code requires privacy in toilets and licensing criterion PF22 requires at least one toilet for use by children is designed to provide them with some sense of privacy. There are multiple ways that this can be achieved.
- Some communities prefer to have toilet doors, while others would rather not.
- Children's need for privacy needs to be balanced with adequate supervision and hygiene. Everyone is likely to have a different view about how this is best achieved. It is a good idea to think about your community's values, the age range of the children attending and safety issues.
- If you decide not to have toilet doors, and the service is used by other groups (for example, an after school care group) when your service is not operating, consider having one toilet with a full door (that can be latched back during the ECE session).
- If you decide not to have toilet doors, the toilets can be arranged with partitions so children feel some sense of privacy. For example, children will feel more exposed if the toilets face the entrance door, than if they are arranged 'side on' to the entrance door.
- Half doors and walls are another option. They provide privacy and yet still allow visibility into toilets. Solid surfaces are easier to clean.
- Half doors at entrances to bathrooms can also be problematic if they are too high. Toilets and hand washing facilities are designed and located to allow children capable of independent toileting to access them safely without adult help.
- Child-sized toilets are preferable, but adult toilets are acceptable if a step is provided.
- Wall hung toilets can make cleaning the floor underneath much easier because there is no join between the toilet and the floor surface.
- Adequate supervision is important. Depending on the layout of the service, an adult-high viewing window into the bathroom area will ensure privacy and also allows for discreet supervision.
- A 1.2 metre wall divider between children's toilets gives some privacy, as does positioning toilets side on from the main door.
- A disabled person's toilet may 'double' as the adult toilet. Adult toilets must have walls that provide complete privacy. Disabled access toilets must meet certain specifications in terms of size and facilities.
- Water that children access can’t be hotter than 40°C. However, if water is stored in a hot water cylinder, the cylinder's thermostat must be set to at least 60°C, to prevent legionella bacteria from growing in the pipes. An anti-scald, or tempering, valve must be used unless infinity gas is available. An anti-scald valve is a thermostatically controlled device to maintain the required temperature, regardless of incoming hot and cold water temperatures. Once it has been adjusted to a warm temperature, it can be locked to prevent accidental or unauthorised re-adjustment.
- Long stainless steel troughs that have 3 or 4 warm water taps can be easier for 3 or 4 children to use, easier to clean and easier to manage than 3 or 4 individual sinks.
- If the height of hand basins/troughs is between 550 and 600 mm from the floor for older children, and 450 to 500 mm from the floor for young children, they are likely to be easily reached. (If children need to use steps, the bathroom area will have unnecessary clutter and hazards.) Consider the age range of the children who will attend. It is a good idea to check the height you plan to put your sinks at with some 'real' children!
- There are taps available that turn themselves off, with a lever that is easy for children to operate. Taps of this type prevent water from being left on and are available from most plumbing outlets.
- If you prefer that children use taps that 'turn', it's a good idea to ask the plumber to limit the amount of 'turn' to 180 degrees. This will ensure that children don't keep turning a tap the wrong way in an effort to turn it off – eventually giving up!
- Liquid soap is recommended because it reduces the spread of infection. It should be easily accessible for each child using hand wash facilities.
- Although not required by the regulations, it can be very helpful to have extra hand wash facilities in main play areas. If children can easily wash hands after messy play, supervision is eased and congestion in the bathroom reduced. It can also be very handy to reduce congestion in the bathroom area before meal times. Whether this is a good idea will depend on the service's overall layout, arrangement of groups and children's age ranges.
- Warm water encourages children to wash their hands – just think of how you feel on a cold winter’s day!
- Ask your local health authority for information about recent research and new products. Knowledge in this area is always evolving.
- For drying hands, paper hand towels reduce the spread of infection. This is because they are individual and disposable. You can purchase child-sized towels to limit wastage.
- Some services choose to use individual cloth flannels for hand drying. These should only be used once before washing.
Note: Some companies provide the paper hand towel and liquid soap dispensers free of charge if you use their products.
Nappy changing area
- Nappy change facilities must be provided to ensure the services is inclusive of older children who still require nappies. Parents who visit with their child will feel more welcome if there are adequate facilities for the child.
- Many folding nappy changing tables are designed for domestic use. They can be very unstable and are not suitable for use in ECE services environments. The nappy changing table needs to have a non-porous, easily cleaned surface.
- A solid unit can be made soft on top by using a small mattress that is covered in a non-porous material (for example, a nappy change pad).
- You may wish to purchase a unit that has steps, a non-porous, soft surface on top, and storage below. Steps allow children to climb up to the table independently and help to prevent adult back injuries. This is an important occupational safety and health (OSH) consideration.
- Adequate supervision is important. Depending on the layout of the service, a viewing window into the nappy change area may ensure children, and adults who are changing nappies etc can be easily seen. This safeguards children and staff from child abuse or accusations of abuse.
- Some commercially available nappy disposal systems contain the smell of used nappies very effectively.
- Alternatively, positioning a small 'door' (for example, 0.5 x 0.5 metres) in the wall by the changing table can provide a good way to dispose of nappies, if the area immediately outside is not used by children. A 'chute' can be created between the 'door' and an outdoor rubbish bin.
- Shelving in the nappy change area should allow staff to easily reach children's nappies etc. Small individual baskets that can be placed on, or near, the changing table work well if they are stored in 'cubbies' or open shelves. Any cleaning products (for example, bleach solutions) must be inaccessible to children.
Body wash facilities
- See the hand basins section above for comments about water temperature.
- Consider issues of access when deciding where to place a shub or sink. When washing a very soiled child, easy access to both the shub and water is vital.
- The Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008 (regulation 45, criterion PF26) require services to have facilities suitable for washing soiled children. Children may be very dirty from play, or may have been sick or have diarrhoea. A shub with a handheld shower hose or a bath suitable for the washing of soiled children provide good facilities.
- If a service only caters for infants or toddlers, a shub at bench height (approximately 800 mm from the floor) is a good idea. This works well if it is incorporated into a large nappy changing bench (see above section).
- Washing facilities at floor level can work well for older children, for example, a floor-mounted shub with a shower hose. An alternative is to have a sloping, textured, floor with a drain – similar to that used in disabled shower areas.
- A shub, or very large sink that is set into a large nappy changing bench, is good for washing infants and toddlers who have had diarrhoea or been vomiting. It allows easy movement between the bench and shub and makes it easy for adults to be close to the child.
- A pull-out spray sink mixer (like the kitchen vegetable cleaning type) has flexibility that makes it easy to clean around a sink or shub, or to wash a baby. It is on an expanding hose which slides back into a sleeve when not in use. This is a clean arrangement because the hose doesn't lie unused in the bottom of the sink. This facility can double as the areas for adults to wash their hands in after nappy changing.
- Any shower similar to a domestic shower may be difficult for staff to help children without getting wet themselves. A handheld shower attachment may help with this.
- A bath may not be as safe for very young children because adults cannot hold infants securely unless they get in with them. Trying to hold babies in residential type bathtubs can also create back problems for adults.
Kitchens and laundries
- A half door with a latch will help to ensure that the kitchen is inaccessible to the children (unless they are accompanied by an adult). Be aware that the 'lift out' style barriers that some services use may create a tripping hazard. This is because adults in a hurry step over them rather than lifting them out.
- If a large centre is being designed with separate areas for infants and toddlers, it is a good idea to have a kitchenette in the infant area for the storage of bottles and heating of food. Ensure that you manage any hazards to children created by such facilities.
- Alternatively a moveable riser with a wide solid surface could be placed in front of the bench when children are helping with cooking. This will allow them to reach the bench safely.
- If your service does not have a dishwasher and washes dishes in the sink, the water used in this sink must be at least 60°C.
For early childhood education services subject to the Food Act 2014 and the Food Regulations 2015.
Food Regulations 2015 regulation 46
- The design and construction of the place must enable food to be safe and suitable by ensuring there is adequate space for the food activities being carried out.
- The design and construction of the place ensures that dirt, fumes and other contaminants are excluded and pests are prevented from entering and remaining in the kitchen.
- The design and construction of the place provides easy access for cleaning and maintenance.
Food Regulations 2015 regulation 57
- There is adequate ventilation (either natural or mechanical) to minimise airborne contamination of food and remove fumes, smoke, steam and vapours.
- Many items at ECE services need prompt, regular washing – for example, kitchen laundry, bibs, dress-up clothes, baby toys, towels and cloths used for art and messy play.
- Having a washing machine and drying facilities on site has benefits. Linen can be cleaned promptly. This is very useful if children are sick, wet a bed, etc.
- It is a good idea to have a door leading directly from the laundry to the outside area so staff can access the washing line without walking through the centre.
For early childhood education services subject to the Food Act 2014 and the Food Regulations 2015.
Food Regulations 2015 regulation 61
- If the laundry facilities are not separate from the kitchen, they must be designed so that laundry activities and products do not contaminate food.
Floor spaces and surfaces
A well-designed ECE service needs space for different types of indoor play, including individual and group activities, messy play, dramatic play, quiet space, eating, sleeping, etc.
Because the interests of children of different ages differ (for example, older babies are often interested in taking things apart and learning to crawl up and over things, while older children can be more focused on building things and putting things together (such as complicated block play or puzzles)), much of the equipment that supports key areas of play will also differ.
When designing areas of play, consider ways to provide enough space to ensure children can explore their interests without disturbing each other's 'work'.
Indoor activity area – floor space
- While more space is desirable, you must ensure that at least the regulated standard of indoor activity space is met. The minimum indoor activity space is 2.5 square metres per child. This space is computed clear of all furniture, fittings, fixed equipment and stored goods, and excluding passageways, toilet facilities, staff rooms, specific sleeping areas for children under 2, and other areas not available for play. Measurements will be made by the Ministry of Education during your probationary licensing visit.
- Infants and toddlers need enough space to ensure there are safe floor surfaces to lie on, crawl on and practice walking. Adjustable barriers, risers, shelf units and other furniture can be used to create discrete safe spaces for infants to explore.
- Separate infant and toddler areas are one way of ensuring services provide space, equipment and resources that best support their learning. It can also ensure that they are part of a relatively small group for at least part of their day. Research has found this to be very important for young children. These spaces can be provided in mixed age services through careful furniture placement.
- If a centre is catering to a large age range, more space may be needed to support a range of learning opportunities and adequate quiet space.
- Floor surfaces should be easy to clean and suitable for the activities being undertaken. Well maintained wooden, particle, cork or vinyl floors are most suitable in an area used for messy play, and in dining areas, while carpet is better in a book or block area. Consider how much time children spend on the floor when choosing a floor type.
- It is good for infants to have the opportunity to explore a range of texture. A range of mixed flooring types may be one way to provide this.
- Vinyl that extends a little way up the wall is easier to clean, and is more hygienic over long periods of time because it eliminates joins at the edge of the floor. Your local territorial authority may require you to have vinyl in the toilet and kitchen areas that extends 75 mm up the wall, to ensure that you comply with the Building Code.
- It is a good rule of thumb to have about two-thirds hard surface and one-third carpet in the children's indoor play area. This is because a lot of messy play – such as paint, clay and water – is transported to other areas.
- Mats are useful because they can be removed for cleaning and can be moved within the centre to reorganise the learning environment from time to time. There are some very effective semi-permanent tapes that attach a mat to the floor. This helps to ensure mats do not become a hazard.
- You may want to consider under-floor heating, especially in centres catering for infants and toddlers.
Staff areas and resource space
- An ECE service will need space to store a large amount of equipment and resources. Teachers generally use different resources to support children's changing interests over time. Large numbers of art, dramatic play, science, music equipment, books and puzzles need to be stored while smaller amounts are on display for children's use and self-selection.
- Good storage is important so that equipment won't fall in an earthquake and so that the environment is aesthetically attractive to adults and children. Stacked clutter does not represent a well planned, effective learning environment.
- Other items that may need storage space include beds, bedding, prams and buggies, car seats, highchairs and linen. General rule of thumb – you can never have too much storage space!
- Teachers also need space to clean art materials, make paint, etc. It usually works well if this area is close to where art materials are stored. A large bench and sink at adult height – similar to a very large kitchen sink – works well for cleaning art materials. This should be separate from food preparation areas and the cleaner's sink, for hygiene reasons.
- Services that enrol infants and toddlers need to pay particular attention to sterilising play equipment regularly (such as puzzles, musical instruments – everything goes in little children's mouths!). Consider how this can be easily done when you design your building. Space that allows teachers to soak equipment in an antibacterial solution and then drain works well. You might also consider installing an industrial dishwasher (or dish drawer) for this purpose.
- Refer to the bathrooms section and the kitchen and laundries section for more details on sinks, taps and water temperatures.
- Staff space or spaces should allow teachers to take breaks, heat food, make hot drinks, store professional development reference material and children's records, and carry out non-contact duties.
- You should consider making some staff areas out of sight of the children to assist teachers using the staff area on non-contact time, or for lunch breaks to take a restful break.
- Office space is necessary for those involved in centre administration.
- If an office is positioned near the entrance to the centre, parents/visitors can make enquiries when they enter and before their child has seen them. This can make it easier for parents and teachers to focus on important (and sometimes confidential) conversations.
- Try not to fill your staffroom or office with junk! Get good shelving or storage organised and have good rubbish collection for the rest!
Sleep rooms, rest areas and sick (isolation) rooms
- Furniture and items intended for children to sleep on (such as cots, beds, stretchers, or mattresses) must be of a size that allows children using them to lie flat, and are of a design to ensure their safety.
- If they are to be used for more than one child over time, they need to be securely covered with or made of a non-porous material (material that does not allow liquid to pass through it) so that they are protected from becoming soiled, are easily cleaned and are not a suffocation hazard to children.
Sleep areas for very young children
- If a sleep room is positioned close to the infant and toddler play space(s), it's easier for teachers to regularly check children. A viewing window between a sleep room and a main play area (or other area where adults will be) can also make supervision easier, as long as it is not treated as a substitute for regular, physical checks that are required.
- If sleep rooms are located near quiet parts of the outdoor play area, it will be easier for children to go to sleep, and stay asleep.
- Consider having more than one room for cots. Children need undisturbed rest and this is very difficult to provide for a child if other children are unsettled.
- At least one cot to every 2 children is needed, to ensure children are able to have undisturbed rest or sleep when they need it. However, this may not be enough and the right number will depend on how long children attend and their ages. It's advisable to allow plenty of space so that more cots can be added if needed. Child-sized stretchers may be suitable for older toddlers.
- The space between cots needs to allow adults to easily check on children, ensure they are not too hot or cold, and check their breathing.
- Allowing plenty of space between sleeping children will enable good air flow, which limits cross infection and children disturbing others.
- Remember to allow space within the sleep rooms for door opening, storage and adult supervision (for example, an armchair for an adult) when you are estimating the space you will need.
- It may be useful to work out the size of a cot (or similar) using the scale of your floor plan. Ensure that the plan shows doors and windows, then 'map it out' to see how the cots could be organised, and if more space is needed.
- Cots should be sturdy, easily wipeable and allow good air flow. For example wooden, well painted cots are easy to wipe clean, sturdy and allow air flow. All cots need to meet New Zealand Safety Standards. Be aware that cots that are very low to the floor can create back problems for teachers.
- If multilevel cots are used, ensure that children who sit or stand when they wake have room to do so. Children who can pull themselves to a standing position should not be placed in the top cot for safety reasons. Hint: In case of evacuation, have one cot by the door on lockable castors. In an emergency, several children can be put in this cot and quickly wheeled to safety. Check ventilation requirements with your local health protection officer.
- You can find additional guidance for multilevel cots in licensing criterion PF29.
Sleep areas for older children
- Older children who need to rest during the day will need a quiet space away from other children. This can be a separate room or a quiet part of the play space.
- There must be space down the length of the mattress/cot to allow for adult access.
- Vinyl covered mattresses, stretchers, sleeping mats or child-sized beds work well for these children.
- As with the younger children, it is also important to allow space between sleeping children to prevent cross infection.
If children are using marae-style sleeping arrangements, remember to still use individual linen for each child and ensure that there is adequate space between children to minimise cross infection and disturbance.
Linen and bedding
- Clean bedding (such as blankets, sheets, sleeping bags, and pillowslips) must be provided for sleeping or resting children that is sufficient to keep them warm.
- Linen can be washed after every use, or stored separately with the child's name on it and washed as required. Some services make cloth bags or use blankets with name tags to store each child's linen. This prevents cross infection.
- Locating stored mattresses and bedding near the sleep area will make it quicker and easier for teachers and children to get ready for sleep and rest times.
- Never store bedding on mattresses.
- You must make regular physical checks of sleeping children.
- Adequate supervision is important. As with bathrooms, depending on the layout of the service, a viewing window into the sleep area helps supervision. Large viewing windows that are about 700 mm above the floor allow teachers to easily supervise sleeping children and allow adults to be seen.
Sick (isolation) area
- All ECE services need an area (away from where food is stored, prepared, or eaten, and a safe distance from other children) for sick children to rest. These children need to be able to lie down comfortably and be supervised. Consider how your centre design can best accommodate this need.
Note: This area cannot be the under 2 year old sleep room because this room needs to remain available for the children needing sleep or rest.
Separate linen, and a vinyl sheet that can cover a two-seater couch in a staff area or quiet corner, may be suitable.
- Allow plenty of space for children's belongings. Consider how you can provide children with access to their belongings that allows them to take some responsibility for their things, including choosing what to wear throughout the day. It is important to remove anything that may be harmful to children, for example medicines.
- Think about places for storage of infants’ things. Infants' lockers are often placed near the nappy changing area so that spare clothes are close by. Nappies and other items are often put in individual baskets or shelves right next to the nappy change area. This makes it easier when changing nappies, but also means that anything inappropriate for young children is removed from the bag (for example, nappy cream).
Storage for equipment and materials
- Think about placement of storage facilities in areas that will be easy to access and minimise congestion.
- Plenty of storage space will be needed for all sorts of equipment and resources – such as paper, paint, spare puzzles, books, science equipment and so on. It's a good idea to include a large storage/resource room in your plans.
- It is also important that resources can be easily accessed to support children's learning. Consider building cupboards or storage boxes in the main play areas for this purpose. If high shelving is used, you will need to ensure that any stored equipment can't fall in an earthquake. Having a thin piece of wood, Perspex or some netting placed in front of equipment in open shelves can help prevent it from falling.
- Remember to provide sufficient storage for moveable outdoor equipment. Storage will work best if shelving, hooks and boxes (etc) are planned for particular equipment – as you might find in a well planned domestic tool shed. In a large storage shed, finding things can be made much easier with a Clearlite roof – especially if electricity is not available.
Storage for cleaning agents etc
- Lockable cupboards in kitchen and laundry areas are good places to keep hazardous materials.&
- A locked cleaner's cupboard that has a sink as well as chemicals means less likelihood of contamination.
- All centres must have first aid supplies that comply with Appendix 1 of the licensing criteria. Supplies must be stored in a way that is easily recognisable and accessible for adults, but inaccessible to the children.
For early childhood education services subject to the Food Act 2014 and the Food Regulations 2015.
Food Regulations 2015 regulation 59
- There must be places for storing cleaning products and equipment so they don’t contaminate food or surfaces used to prepare or store food.
- Cleaning products must be appropriately labelled if decanted into different containers so they are not used in food.
Lighting, ventilation, acoustics and heating
Lighting and ventilation
- Lighting must be appropriate to the activities offered or purpose of each room.
- Check the lighting requirements in the Building Code.
- Consider if additional windows or skylights are required.
- Clothes dryers should be vented to the outdoors.
- Bathrooms, nappy change areas and laundries need to be well ventilated. If these rooms are internal, mechanical ventilation is required. Seek advice from your local health or building authority.
- Sleep areas must be well ventilated to allow air to circulate so that old air can exit and fresh air can enter. At least 2 openings are usually needed to achieve this. Take advice from your local health authority.
See Building Code.
- Acoustic absorption materials may be necessary to reduce noise levels that may affect children's learning or well-being.
- Noise levels are higher in large open play spaces with high ceilings and unbroken hard surfaces.
- Carpeted areas, soft furnishings, acoustic tiles and complex shapes can all help reduce noise. Complex shapes may include mobiles, wall and ceiling hangings, and soft furnishings arranged to break up spaces.
- Heating needs to be of a safe and effective means to heat rooms used by children to a minimum temperature of 16 degrees.
- Ceiling heaters or wall-mounted fan heaters placed above floor level (that is, higher on the wall) are safe and appropriate for ECE services because they are out of the children's way. Also, if they are not at ground level they don't use up space that could be used for equipment display, couches, etc.
- Infrared heaters are good for heating large rooms such as church halls.
- Heat pumps are very efficient and cheap to run. They can also provide air conditioning in the summer. Extra fan heaters can be helpful because they heat a room quickly.
- Oil-filled column heaters are good in sleep rooms, if space allows, but must be guarded and secured for earthquake safety. They should also have a thermostat to prevent overheating. Ensure the plug is out of reach or permanently wired in.
- Under-floor heating can be a very good solution, especially for infants and toddlers who spend so much of their time on the floor.
- Ceiling fans help circulate heat and work well when combined with fan heaters or under-floor heating.
- Water-filled radiators (school heaters) need guards around them to protect children. They usually have only limited temperature control.
- Night stores can be a useful additional heat source. They should also be guarded.
- Heaters with fuel reservoirs (for example, kerosene or gas bottles) or electric bar heaters are dangerous in ECE centres because of the risks associated with fuel reserves.
- Think about capturing natural heat from the sun, for example double glazing and window positions. These decisions can save money as well as be aesthetically pleasing.
Electrical sockets, telephones and first aid supplies
- Equipment, premises, and facilities must be regularly checked for hazards to children. This includes electrical sockets that should be either out of reach of children, adequately shielded or of a suitable design to limit danger to children. New buildings have 'safety' electrical sockets which are safe even if unguarded. Because children may not have these 'safety' sockets in their own homes, some people consider it prudent to shield all sockets, to prevent confusion that could create dangers for children at home. Discuss your situation with your local Ministry of Education office.
- Ideally, some sockets in a new building should be installed high up (about 1.4 metres above the floor), so electrical items such as CD players can sit on shelves without the cords causing clutter. Bear in mind that when sockets are set low, display units and couches can obstruct some of them.
First aid supplies
- You need to have a first aid kit that complies with appendix one of the licensing criteria and is easily recognisable and readily accessible to adults but inaccessible to children. First aid kits should be obvious to people in an emergency. People usually expect to find a first aid kit in a bathroom or kitchen area. Some injuries (such as bad grazes) will be best treated near water, so that excess dirt can be removed easily. The kitchen may be less appropriate for storage because adults may be tempted to dress a wound on the sink bench or near food preparation areas.
- Many companies sell large cabinets that have safety latches and can be attached to the wall out of children’s reach. Having at least one fixed cabinet will ensure a supply of basic first aid equipment stays in a predictable place and can always be found. Some first aid kits are designed to be easily removed from the wall in case of emergency.
- It is a good idea to also have a 'grab bag' or backpack that contains essential first aid equipment to take to the accident site if necessary. Some centres also use this type of bag for taking on excursions or outings. Remember to ensure that it is inaccessible to children when not in use.
- Your service needs to have a telephone on which calls can be made to and from the service.
- Portable phones can be very useful when staff are outdoors or busy in different parts of the centre that are not near the main phone.
- Cell phones are useful for outings, providing an alternative emergency number for parents and are useful if the centre needs to be evacuated. In an emergency, time will be saved if families' contact numbers are preset into the mobile phone.
Centres not at ground level
- Outdoor space has to be directly connected to the indoor activity space and can be easily and safely accessed by children.
- The New Zealand Fire Service, your local public health authority and the Ministry of Education should be consulted in the early stages of planning so that issues relating to access to outdoor play areas, evacuation plans, and other safety and quality considerations can be discussed – and solutions identified – before renovation or building begins.
- You should consider higher fencing where major hazards exist (such as a fall from a building). Consider building fencing at least 1.8 metres high. Solid fencing will reduce noise. Windows in solid fences can be built to create interest for children and let in light and so on.
- You need to take particular care in developing evacuation procedures for centres above ground level.
Read the Guidance for Service Providers – Evacuation Plans for ECE Services in High Rise Buildings. [PDF, 260 KB]
See the New Zealand Fire Service website.
Fences, gates, windows and handrails
Outdoor activity space needs to be enclosed by structures and/or fences and gates designed to ensure that children are not able to leave the premises without the knowledge of adults providing education and care.
Height and aesthetics
Fences of less than 1.2 metres high are unlikely to be high enough to prevent children from climbing over them. A safer height is 1.5 metres, and 1.8 metres may be desirable if older children (that is, 4 year olds) attend. When deciding on the fence height, consider:
- How many adults will be able to be outside with the children at any time
- Whether the layout of the outdoor space creates any barriers to supervision
- how equipment is likely to be placed and whether moveable equipment could create hazards in the future (for example, if children shift equipment closer to a fence)
- the surrounding environments – paddocks, a busy road or bodies of water offer different ‘attractions’ and hazards for children
- fencing that allows the children to see out to the world around them – swimming pool fencing is one way to provide this opportunity, and windows can be inserted in solid fences to allow children to look out and community members to see in and interact with children (discuss your situation with staff from your local Ministry of Education office and regional health authority)
- resource consent issues that may dictate the height and construction of the fence – solid fencing reduces noise transfer from the centre to any neighbours
- adding windows, framed mirrors and areas suitable for painting (for example, a large piece of light coloured Formica) that can create interest, make spaces feel larger and utilise space effectively
- having a small gap of 5 mm between each paling that allows wind to flow through rather than build up and come over the top of a solid fence.
- If horizontal supports are on the outside, children won't be able to use them to climb over the fence. If the fence is already built, a fillet on the horizontal rail or covering the area between the rails may prevent children from climbing.
- If using a hurricane pipe and wire fence, consider using the wire that is 25 mm across the diamond. This is a smaller size than normal, but children can easily climb the 60 mm size. The pipe needs to be secure at the top and bottom.
Gates and doors
- Swimming pool gates with high safety locks and springs that close the gate automatically are well designed to meet ECE services' needs. A swimming pool gate also allows staff to see who is coming into the centre. A large wooden gate with high locks makes it hard to see if a person in a wheelchair is trying to get in. However, if it is very noisy or polluted outside the gate, a solid gate with a window may be a solution.
- It is a good idea to have a gate between the car park and the entrance door. This contains children in a safe area if a door is left open by mistake. It also ensures that strangers are not provided direct access to the play area.
- Consider how parents are going to come into the building. If they come into the building first, rather than through the playground, staff can then monitor the arrival and departure of children and visitors to the centre.
- Consider how large pieces of equipment or materials are going to be brought into the centre – for example, a ride-on mower or a load of sand. It is a good idea to install a gate wide enough for a trailer to give access to the sand area.
- The New Zealand Fire Service usually recommends that there are at least 2 outward opening doors from the inside of a centre to the outside. This allows people to get out easily in case of fire. Also, you need to consider how children will get out of the playground to a safer space in the event of a fire.
Take advice from your local Fire Service, or visit the New Zealand Fire Service website.
- Windows or other areas of glass accessible to children need to be either made of safety glass, or covered by an adhesive film designed to hold the glass in place in the event of it being broken, or effectively guarded by barriers that prevent a child striking or falling against the glass.
- Sliding windows are a good idea for opening onto a deck or ramp. The protruding edge of windows that open outwards can create a hazard.
- Children should be able to see outside through most windows. If windows are placed 500 to 600 mm above the floor, older children will be able to see out and display units can still be positioned up against the wall. Consider setting some non-opening windows at a very low height to create interest for infants and toddlers.
- Windows should have safety catches where they are a potential hazard to children. The older type of window that slides up and down (sash window) should have a bolt that holds the window when it is open at approximately 200 mm. This is to ensure that the window does not accidentally drop down on a child, causing injury.
- Consider providing handrails at child height.
- The Building Code does not require decks or steps under one metre to have handrails. However, because ECE services are designed for young children's use, it is advisable to have balustrades surrounding decks. An alternative is to have very wide steps (platforms) surrounding a deck. If wide enough, these will prevent children from falling far.
- Where balustrades are installed ensure they do not allow entrapment of body parts and are high enough that means children are not able to sit or climb on them. The space between balustrades should not be greater than 100 mm.
- Platforms that are 'deep' (that is, 350 to 700 mm) and 'low' (that is, 100 to 110 mm) are an appropriate alternative to steps for infants and toddlers who do not 'walk' down steps (but tend to crawl or climb down). Such platforms may not require handrails. Take advice from your local building authority.