Licensing criteria for centre-based ECE services

Section 10 of the Education and Training Act 2020(external link) defines an early childhood education and care centre as a premises that is used regularly for the education or care of 3 or more children (not being children of the persons providing the education or care or children enrolled at a school who are being provided with education or care before or after school) under the age of 6 years by day (or part of a day) but not for any continuous period of more than 7 days.

Centre-based ECE services have a variety of different operating structures, philosophies and affiliations, and are known by many different names – for example, Playcentres, early learning centres, Montessori, childcare centres, Kindergartens, crèches, preschools, a’oga amata, Rudolf Steiner etc.

These centres are licensed in accordance with the Education and Training Act 2020 under the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008(external link), which prescribe minimum standards that each licensed service must meet. Licensing criteria are used to assess how the centres meet the minimum standards required by the regulations.

For each criterion there is guidance to help centres meet the required standards.

The publication of the criteria on its own can be downloaded as a PDF [PDF, 1.8 MB] and printed. 

The licensing criteria were last updated in September 2022. 


PF13 Outdoor activity space

  • Criteria
    • Criteria

      Premises and facilities criterion 13

      Outdoor activity space is:

      • connected to the indoor activity space and can be easily and safely accessed by children;
      • safe, well-drained, and suitably surfaced for a variety of activities;
      • 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;
      • not unduly restricted by Resource Consent conditions with regards to its use by the service to provide for outdoor experiences; and
      • available for the exclusive use of the service during hours of operation.

      The criterion aims to:

      • ensure that children have easy access to the outdoor environment;
      • keep the outdoor environment securely fenced ; and
      • ensure the area is well-drained with suitable surfacing.

  • Guidance
    • Guidance

      Any examples in the guidance are provided as a starting point to show how services can meet (or exceed) the requirement. Services may choose to use other approaches better suited to their needs as long as they comply with the criteria.

      It is important all mobile children are able to get outside without being dependent on adults. In your planning to meet the easy and safe access by children criterion, the service will need to consider factors such as whether any obstructions and/or health and safety risks can be removed or minimised, or if the adult to child ratio may need to be higher if there are a number of stairs that children must use.

      Outdoor space should enable children to experience natural settings (for example, wind, sky, sun, rain) and enable children to undertake activities that would generally not be allowed inside a building (for example, running, kicking a ball). The suitability of the outdoor space to provide learning outcomes for children will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the practicalities and risks of each case under the provisions of Regulation 54(3)(external link) of the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008.

      To enable children to access the outdoors easily and safely, the outdoor activity space needs to be connected to the indoor activity space. Where the outdoor space is lower or higher than the indoor space, a ramp or steps can be used to provide access between the two.

      Indoor and outdoor space diagrams [GIF, 12 KB] [GIF; 11.7KB]


      If children are spending long hours at the centre, think about the types of outdoor surfaces you are providing for them to play on. Having a variety of surfaces (such as grass, bark, concrete, safety surfaces) to play on supports children’s exploration and helps them to make links with the wider world. Regardless of the types of surfaces provided, each must be safe, well drained and fit for purpose. Any surface that allows water to pool is a potential safety hazard.

      Grass is an ideal surface for most outdoor activities. It can also be used as a safety surface for equipment under one metre in height. It has the advantage of staying cool in hot weather and is suitable for both walking and crawling children.

      Areas of concrete or paving are also suitable for outdoor activity, provided they have been laid correctly. Both types generally drain well and have the advantage of needing little maintenance. However, they are hard and abrasive and cannot be used as a safety surface.

      Artificial grass has the advantage of being low-maintenance and, if correctly laid, usable in all weather. For safety reasons, only use artificial grass that is laid over a base of sand, not plastic beads. Artificial grass can be abrasive to bare skin and can also harbour pathogens if not cleaned regularly.

      Refer to criterion PF5 (Safe Furniture and Equipment) for more information on relevant standards.

      Fences and Gates

      Each licensed centre must be enclosed by suitable structures and/or fences and gates to prevent children from leaving the centre without the knowledge of an adult. Fences are available in a multitude of designs and can be made from a variety of materials including, wood, steel, bricks, concrete blocks, aluminium, etc. When considering the design of any structure, fence, or gate, children’s safety must be the prime consideration.

      As well as being unclimbable, structures, fences, and gates should not be hazardous to attending children and adults or to the public.

      Structures and fences should:

      • be of a height and design that prevents children climbing over. Young children can commonly scale a fence that is less than 1.2m high, so this would be a minimum
      • have any horizontal railings or low posts located on the exterior of the fence
      • where possible, allow children to see what is happening outside the centre boundary
      • be designed to eliminate head or limb entrapments
      • not be made of materials that allow children to gain a foot or toe hold, e.g. mesh or netting with holes over 25mm in diameter.

      Beware of plantings (trees) and placement of moveable equipment that negate the height of the fence.

      Gates should:

      • be of a height and design to prevent children from climbing over or through
      • preferably have a self-closing mechanism installed
      • have a latching mechanism that is unreachable by children.

  • Things to consider
    • Things to consider

      When thinking about how to enclose your centre, consider:

      • the age and abilities of the children who are likely to attend your centre – some children are extremely agile and nimble from a very young age
      • where your centre is located – ground level or high-rise
      • the contour of the section – any low or high points
      • plantings (trees) and placement of movable equipment that negate the height of the fence
      • potential risks bordering the centre, for example, highways, rivers, other hazards
      • suitability of fences, gates, or structures to mitigate the risks identified
      • cost – what is both effective and affordable?

      Resource consent conditions

      The Resource Management Act 1991 is concerned with keeping the environment a pleasant place to live, work, and play. When considering resource consent applications, territorial local authorities (councils) are required to consider any adverse impact the activity may have on the surrounding environment.

      At times, restrictions are added to the consent approval as a means of ensuring businesses, such as early childhood education centres, meet the rules outlined in the district plan for the area. Restrictions relating to fence height or design, or the type of exterior surfacing used, assist in reducing noise levels and do not unduly impact upon children’s outdoor activity.

      However, sometimes resource consent approvals include conditions that restrict children’s use of the outdoor play space (and have a negative impact on the curriculum).

      Such conditions may include, but are not limited to:

      • limiting children’s access to the outdoors to nominated hours of the day
      • the prohibition of particular activities (such as music)
      • limiting the number of children allowed outside at any one time
      • requiring exterior doors and/or windows to be closed at all times.

      The number and ‘severity’ of such conditions can impact on whether or not the Ministry of Education considers the licensing requirements for outdoor space and outdoor experiences can be met. The Ministry considers the overall ability of the service to provide outdoor experiences for children, rather than solely considering whether restrictions limit use by children for particular times or activities.

      It is suggested service providers make contact with their territorial local authority at the earliest stage when planning a new centre or renovations to clarify any resource consent requirements.

  • Gallery