ChildForum Early Childhood Education Nationwide Network
Promoting quality, valuing knowledge, advancing thinking and working together for the benefit of children, services and the sector

Follow us on FacebookFollow us on Twitteryoutube

Member Login

Advice, resources, research (etc.) for members and subscribers


Space in ECE Services and Avoiding Overcrowding, Stress, and an Environment in Which Learning is Difficult for Children

By Dr S Alexander
© ChildForum 2013


how many children in a space is too many?  read moreWhen you walk into an early childhood centre or home-based education setting you are likely to feel either one of two things:

  • you want to leave as soon as possible because there are so many people (adults and children) within the space - and it may be noisy and have a feeling of confinement; or,
  • you feel at ease, relaxed, as if you could easily stay the day and still leave feeling good and without a head ache or ears ringing from the noise.

This article discusses the minimum amount of space per child in early childhood centres and home-based ECE services, problems with this, advice to parents, and research. 


Space Per Child

In early childhood education centres, including childcare centres and kindergartens, the legal requirement for space is a minimum of 2.5 square metres per child indoors, and 5 square metres outdoors.

In home-based/family daycare homes the legal requirement is for 10 square metres of space in one area only (e.g. the living room) and there must be some outdoor space although the minimum amount is not specified. 

Some services exceed the space requirements and provide children with ample space to move around in, play, and not get in each others' way.  But many other services fit in the maximum number of children to the space that is available in order to maximise revenue from fees and government funding. 


How to Judge if the Balance between the Number of People and the Amount of Space is Right

The minimum legal requirement for space in early childhood centres in New Zealand makes it difficult to avoid an environment that is noisy, overcrowded and stressful for children.

An easy way to judge the quality of the physical environment of an early childhood setting is how you emotionally respond to staying in the environment.

In a home-based education setting or in a centre, there needs to be sufficient space, and space that is well-designed, so that:

  • children can play in small groups if they choose,
  • a child can have privacy if he/she chooses
  • a child can rest or play uninterrupted by others, and
  • the noise levels do not reach a level at which children cannot easily hear others nearby.



Compare Space per Child in an Early Childhood Service to that Recommended by the Department of Labour for Adults in Offices

"The space assigned per person is one of many factors that may affect an employee's safety and sense of well-being at work, productivity, and absenteeism. As such it cannot be considered in isolation.

Employers should consider the following guidelines:

  • Ensure that employees are not grouped together so closely that they cannot work in a safe and healthy manner. This would include things like bumping into each other, telephone conversations intruding on others, movement in the area causing distractions, slipping or tripping, knocking themselves on the edges of desks, and not having safe emergency egress.  

For office work, space requirements are listed in terms of the (a) footprint and (b) the average floor area per occupant.

  • Footprint: A value of 5 – 7 square metres is recommended as a minimum for the footprint – the area available for a person’s workstation, chair, the need for movement, and freedom from intrusion from others. 
  • Average floor area per occupant: An absolute minimum is 12 square metres per person – and this assumes ideal circumstances in all other aspects. A Treasury target for Central Government spaces is 16 square metres per person.  Some Guidelines indicate a larger space may be acceptable in provincial locations. 

The circumstances to be taken into account include, but are not limited to, the nature of the work, the hardware used, the storage needed, privacy requirements, the extent to which facilities are shared, the layout of the office (close packed or broken up by meeting rooms), the presence of partitions, and noise levels (particularly from loud conversations)."   (Retrieved from the Dept of Labour website on 15 March 2012) 



Research Findings 

The key points from research are as follows:

1.  More space is better for toddler behaviour and learning

To keep reading and view the full article login with your member's username and password

Here’s how our membership plans work:

  • Individual Membership plans can view both Individual member-only articles and our library of Research Journals (but not the ECE Service management article area). In addition, individual members can discuss and ask questions of fellow members any time through the online childcare and early childhood education practice, policy, and research discussion forum.
  • Early Childhood Service plans can view ALL member articles: Individual, Research Journals and Early Childhood Service articles. Also on this membership plan members can access the online discussion forum for individual members AND the online ECE service management / business forum.
  • Research Journal subscription plans can view our library of Research Journals and related research articles only

Should you not hold a current membership –  you are welcome to apply now.

Free E-Newsletter

Receive the free Early Childhood Alert.


We hate spam as much as you, we will not sell your contact details to anyone.

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Read our Privacy Policy here.

Don’t miss out any longer, click the button below to join ChildForum

Most Hot Discussion Topics!

There are many great discussions happening here for both 'Individual' and 'Early Childhood Service' members. Please login to view them!



Not a member? See what you’re missing.

Click Here

Join Us!



Subscribe now for information you can trust, expert advice and research, as well as access to quality resources

We are confident you will be delighted to discover and experience the benefits of membership - so join now and make this message for non-members disappear from your screen. 

Membership Options


Who is this for?
This plan is for any person who works with children or has an interest in early childcare and early childhood education.

$98.00 12 months from the date of joining
$60.00 6 months student-only

Your own personal username and password.

ECE Service 

Who is this for?
Centres, home-based, hospital-based, playgroups ... licensed or new set-ups.

$198.00 12 months from the date of joining
Does your ECE group have more than 1 service? See our discounted rates

A shared username and password for your team or ECE group.

Library NZ-International Research
in ECE Journal Subscriber

Who is this for?
Universities, Polytechnics and organisations wishing to have access to all past and current NZIRECE published journal and its articles. Hundreds of research articles!

$125.00 annual renewable in November each year

A username and password for your library users linked to your IP address.