Starting a centre-based ECE service

Click on the links below for information on starting a centre-based licensed early learning service.


The Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008(external link) require ECE centres to have premises and facilities that support safe and healthy practices. The licensing criteria for ECE services aim to uphold the safety of children by ensuring that all items, equipment, furniture, materials and surfacing used in the service is of a standard that is considered safe.

Criteria related to playground safety:

  • PF5 – centre-based ECE services
  • PF5 – ngā kōhanga reo
  • PF3 – hospital-based ECE services
  • PF11 – home-based ECE services
  • PF7 – playgroups

It is the responsibility of service providers to demonstrate that the playground structures, equipment and surfacing are safe and meet the relevant criteria. Ministry of Education licensing staff complete an inspection of each ECE service’s playground equipment and surfacing as part of the licensing assessment process.

If there are concerns, the service provider may be asked for additional evidence such as a certificate of compliance that shows the equipment and/or surfacing comply with the New Zealand standard for playground equipment and surfacing, NZS5828:2015. In some cases the service provider may be required to have a comprehensive inspection of their premises and facilities completed. This would need to be completed by an appropriately qualified expert such as an engineer or qualified playground safety inspector.

Note: Those offering an inspection or assessment service (especially for detailed inspections or compliance checks) should be able to produce evidence of relevant qualifications and training in inspecting against NZS5828:2015.


  • Purchasing and installing playground equipment and surfacing
    • Before purchasing new equipment or safety surfacing, service providers should ensure that the product has been tested against the specifications of NZS5828:2015 and the manufacturer can supply a certificate of compliance for that product.

      ECE services should check with any potential manufacturer/supplier that a certificate of compliance is available before purchase (for example a certificated manufacturer may have added a new piece of equipment to its range since certification and the new product may not comply with NZS5828:2015).

      Newly installed playground equipment or safety surfacing must have a certificate of compliance to show that it is installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. These may be asked for during the licence assessment process.

  • Constructing a sand area
    • It is not compulsory to have a sand area in your service, but if you do decide to have one this information will guide you through the process.

      Drainage, edging and the 'look'

      • The area dug out for the sand should be up to 600 mm deep.
      • It is a good idea to create an edge, to clearly separate the sand from the surrounding soil. Tanalised posts can work well, or line the sides with marine ply.
      • Consider how you want children to access the sand area, particularly children with disabilities or very small children. Also consider how natural you want it to look.
      • You can create edging up to 200 mm above the ground to contain the sand without obstructing most children's access. However, you may decide to design the sandpit without a raised edging so that children can crawl into it.
      • Tussocks and large rocks provide an attractive natural barrier between the sand area and other activities. If rocks are used, ensure that the area on their other side is not close to climbing equipment or activities where children are prone to fall – such as bike tracks.
      • Line the bottom of the pit with 300 mm of scoria if there is no stormwater drain. If a drain is available, scoria is needed to contain it.
      • Cover the scoria with a layer of filter cloth, mud matting or shade cloth. Water can drain through but the children cannot dig up the scoria.
      • Add approximately 500 mm of sand. Dune sand is a fine grain sand good for making sandcastles. East Coast sand is also a good option because it is not too light and won't fly about in the wind. It is a white grain of sand.

      Covers, seating and shade

      The Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008(external link) (regulation 46, criterion HS12) requires that equipment, premises, and facilities are regularly checked for hazards to children. These hazards can include dangerous objects and foreign materials. Sand areas should be covered after the last session each day, or raked and inspected for animal droppings and dangerous objects before children arrive each morning. It is a good idea to talk with other ECE services about covers that they have found useful. If covered, covers should be easy to remove, allow the sand to 'breathe' and allow rain in to clean the sand.

      Consider building a seat around part of the sand area. Any corners should be rounded off.

      A suitable sun shade should be provided. It is a good idea to talk with other ECE services about the pros and cons of various sun shade solutions. Consider natural shade options like trees also.

      Size and position

      • The sand area is a very important area of play and will be well used. Consideration of size and position should be well thought through. A warm position that is easily supervised is recommended.
      • In terms of sand pits, bigger is generally better.

      Storage and other considerations

      • Consider having a tap close by so water can be added to sand.
      • Provide a storage area close to the sand for equipment. If possible, children should be able to select their own equipment. Good storage will help this process and save teachers’ time.
      • Consider having a decking platform for extended play such as the water trough, water spouting or dramatic play near the sandpit.