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Does size matter in child care and early education centres?

Size Child Care

Child care and early education plays a vitally important role within the life of children and families. As the demand grows and the sector is guided by changing syllabus requirements towards the delivery of better quality education, innovation in the sector will be required.

One of the trends that has emerged globally and in Australia, is the move towards larger capacity child care and early education centres. This change raises good questions about the standard of care provided along with the relative benefits to children provided by larger centres.

The question of size in education is an age-old debate. From school class sizes to total school populations, opinions and statistics vary. The Dr Jensen report, which analysed a range of studies and has provided input to the Gonski school reforms, found that smaller class sizes do benefit children in early grades. This is due to the increased one-on-one teacher time available to students.

While this finding would seem to carry weight for child care and early education, it misses the main points. That is, in child care and early education centres, the requirements focus on child to educator ratios and the minimum amount of space per child. The ratio requirements do not change with centre population.

The current child to carer ratio requirements in NSW are:

  • 0-24 months of age: 1 educator for every 4 children
  • 24-36 months of age: 1 educator for every 5 children
  • 36 months and older: 1 educator for every 10 children

The current space per child ratio requirements in NSW are:

  • 3.25m2 of indoor space per child
  • 7.0m2 of outdoor space per child

So with child to carer and space ratios fixed, the real focus should be on:

  • The quality of care and education
  • The quality of relationships
  • The quality of educators
  • The education philosophy
  • The quality of centre design
  • The translation of the philosophy into the care and education programs and facilities that are actually provided

Larger facilities do enable many areas of potential benefit:

  • Increased variety of environments within the centre

The Early Years Learning Framework guides early childhood educators in developing quality, early childhood education programmes. It places a strong emphasis on play-based learning.

The idea of play-based learning leverages the child’s endless potential for learning through discovery and play. Learning is enriched by the quality and variety of environments in which children learn. The aim is to build the child’s appetite for learning and ultimately develop the ability to learn. The ability to learn is a skill that will benefit the child throughout life.

Larger centres offer the potential for a greater variety of learning and play environments within the total centre area.

  • The ability to create flexible spaces and learning environments

Flexible spaces can be adapted to the changing learning needs of different age groups. For example, by simply adding a divider, the centre can create cosier learning environments for small groups of children. Or a divider can be removed to create a large space for educational activities such as experimenting with light and shadow across the greater expanse of walls and ceilings. Flexibility allows the centre to adapt to the variety of children’s learning needs and add variety and discovery to the learning environment.

The Orchard Kirrawee View 8 Upper Floor Kids Area

  • The development of school readiness

Research by the Australian Government’s Australian Institute of Family Studies, identified that developing school readiness was one of the most important child related reasons for parents sending their child to a child care and early education centre. In addition, the Early Years Learning Framework also recognises the importance of social and emotional development and on making a successful transition to formal schooling.

Developing school readiness is both a cognitive and social pursuit. Beyond developing the ability to learn, the child has to acclimatise to much higher student populations. Therefore, the move from a larger centre to school presents less of a social challenge than moving from a small centre.
What can parents do to assess the suitability of larger centres for their child?

  • What is the quality of the centre and its facilities?
  • What is the variety of indoor and outdoor learning and play spaces?
  • What is the learning philosophy and what education methods are applied?
  • How do the learning philosophy and education methods translate to practical childhood learning as seen through the facilities and the approach of educators?
  • How well does the centre really know your child and family?


  1. Australian Government. Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  2. NSW Department of Education.
  3. The Conversation.


About Orchard Early Learning Centre

We exist to prepare children for a life of learning and wellbeing. There is nothing more important for your child than being safe, cared for and nurtured. And there is no better way for a child to prepare for life ahead, than by developing the ability to learn. Read more…

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