Certification criteria for playgroups

Section 10 of the Education and Training Act 2020(external link) defines a playgroup as a group that meets on a regular basis to facilitate children's play and in respect of which—

  1. no child attends for more than 4 hours on any day; and
  2. more than half the children attending on any occasion have a parent or caregiver present in the same play area at the same time; and
  3. the total number of children attending on any occasion is not greater than 4 times the number of parents and caregivers present in the same play area at the same time.

Playgroups include Puna Kōhungahunga, cultural playgroups and community language playgroups.

Playgroups are certificated in accordance with the Education and Training Act 2020 under the Education (Playgroups) Regulations 2008(external link), which prescribe minimum standards that each certificated playgroup must meet. Certification criteria are used to assess how playgroups meet the minimum standards required by the regulations.

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

The publication of the criteria on its own can be downloaded as a PDF [PDF, 1.1 MB] and printed.

The certification criteria were last updated in September 2022.

Appendix 2 - Characteristics of Infants, Toddlers and Young Children

  • Introduction
    • Introduction

      Children experience the world with their whole being
      body, spirit, energy, minds, hearts, compassion, tears,
      laughter, anger, pride,
      learning, understanding, love and soul.
      Children play, grow and feel the world around them’1

      (R Keeler, 2008)

      1 Keeler, R., (2008). Natural Playscapes: Creating outdoor play environments for the soul. Redmond, WA: Exchange Press.

  • Infants
    • Infants

      Infants – Birth to about 18 months

      Infants are learning to anticipate events, make sense of their worlds and communicate their needs in these early months of life. They learn through touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste in exploration of their everyday environments, and through interactions with adults and other children in environments that are safe yet provide sensory stimulation.

      ‘Experiences’ grow the brain of our infants. These ‘experiences’ are through playful exploration.

      Infants learn by having a variety of safe, everyday objects that stimulate their senses. Play in natural environments or with natural materials (nature), provide rich opportunities for exploring. Warm sun on faces, squishy mud between toes, the smell of mint in the garden! Our senses gather information about the world around us and how it works

      In a particular approach to working with infants, called heuristic play, infants who are old enough to sit up comfortably on their own and reach for objects are given free access to everyday items stored in a container or basket . Adults stay with and watch the infant while they explore, without taking over. Infants can focus for long periods of time, sitting alongside a basket and choosing from a range of materials, exploring their space and texture by mouthing, banging, handling and waving.

      At other times infants need adults to talk with them, anticipate their interest, actions and requirements as well as provide new opportunities and experiences.

      Special activities for infants might include:
      • batting/grasping/kicking, use scarves, toys that roll and mobiles;
      • infant ‘peepo’, use net curtains, boxes, mirrors and scarves;
      • for pulling up, use towel rails attached to wall, steps and couches;
      • use an empty paddling pool to create a play pit, use balls, washable scarves and ribbons; and
      • a cosy quiet area, use pillows, curtains and soft toys
      • sensory objects to touch, taste, shake, smell, bang, push, prod, and look at

      Infants need a safe, interesting and calm place to explore and adults or other children to play, interact and talk with them. While young infants will generally stay in one place, older infants are mobile – so infants at playgroup need large enough spaces to explore safely. Premises need to be able to be easily cleaned and kept hygienic.

      Young infants like to practise body movements – they do this best while lying on a firm, cushioned surface. Make sure there are cushions or comfortable matting for young infants to lie on, and give them opportunities to explore objects with their hands and mouths by having suitable equipment nearby. Infants spend a great deal of time looking up towards the ceiling, walls and lights, so put some interesting mobiles or pictures/posters on the walls and ceilings to stimulate their learning, and have comfortable seats or couches in the infant area for adults to sit and hold infants or for breastfeeding.

      Mobile infants love to explore, so allow plenty of room for them to move. Provide small, safe challenges with different levels to encourage learning, such as low steps or risers – or the group could use couches, large boxes, mattresses and piles of cushions.

      Sitting comfortably on their own is in reference to not ‘propping’ your infant up with pillows or cushions to sit. It is better to wait until he/she gets to the sitting position ‘by themselves, when they are ready, in their own time’; that is, when their back and neck is strong enough to support this sitting position.


  • Toddlers
    • Toddlers

      Toddlers – about 1 to 3 years

      Toddlers explore in different ways they are energetic and on the move. Often their desires are ahead of their language and their physical abilities.

      Toddlers’ main interests include putting objects in and out of containers of all kinds, selecting, matching, sorting, loading, dumping, and noting the differences between objects. There is no right or wrong way to use the materials, but lots of items are needed, enough for each child to have their own set. Toddlers have lots of energy and love to act out their experiences. Providing a special area and equipment for this type of activity is important. Space for toddlers needs to:

      • have a good choice of suitable activities;
      • encourage play with others as toddlers become more social; and
      • be big enough for large-muscle activities such as running and jumping.

      It’s important to remember that older children sometimes don’t consider the needs or safety of younger children in rough-and-tumble play. So, consider having barriers to protect younger children in mixed-age groups.

      Special activities for toddlers:
      • transport area – cars, trucks, aeroplanes, boats and trains;
      • hauling, moving, loading, dumping area – wheelbarrows, buckets and trolleys;
      • sounds exploration area – drums, shakers, bells, rattles, tambourines, cymbals and xylophone;
      • blocks, bottles and balls area – paper bag blocks, wine cask (empty) blocks, soft blocks, bottles, cardboard tubes, beach balls, tennis balls, pompoms, beanbags and skittles;
      • family play area – telephones, dolls, blankets, boxes, cups and kitchen utensils, purses, hats, shoes and gloves;
      • ‘let’s work’ area – brooms, sweeping, dustpan and brush, hammering, washing and raking;
      • ‘let’s get creative’ area – big crayons and colouring pencils, paper, pavement chalk, paper and paint; and
      • ‘let’s move’ area – ramps, boxes, planks, ladder, large cardboard box to crawl through, carpet squares for stepping, cushion mountain and inner tubes.

  • Young children
    • Young children

      Young Children – about 2½ years to 5 years

      Young children are learning at a very fast rate. They are learning language skills, developing opinions and interests and coping with change as well as learning about themselves and their abilities. Children at playgroup need space that:

      • is organised but challenging;
      • has plenty of safe and appropriate equipment;
      • has a quiet area for stories, puzzles or similar; and
      • is well set up so adults can interact with children and respond quickly to their needs.

      As young children make sense of their world through active exploration and interaction it is important to give children real and authentic experiences with quality objects and materials.

      Plastic equipment, while cheap, easily accessible and attractive to children, is often poor imitations of real objects. For example, a plastic hammer, plastic spanner and plastic carpentry bench have little educational value for carpentry play. By using a real hammer or spanner successfully, a child can learn a lot of carpentry skills as well as gain useful knowledge about these objects and their uses. With adult support, children will also learn about important issues relating to the safe use of real equipment.