My ECE My Early Childhood EducationDear My ECE,

I have read lots of advice on choosing daycare that includes asking what the adult-child ratio is.  Please can you tell me what the best ratio is and will this mean I can be sure the daycare will be good for my daughter?  


Answer supplied by Dr Sarah Alexander

The minimum adult-child ratios in all-day kindergartens and childcare centres is 1 adult to up to 6 children two years and older. 

When there are more than 6 children then the minimum required ratio is 1 adult to every 10 children two years and older.

There must be at least 1 adult to every 5 children under two years of age.

In home-based ECE the ratio is 1 adult to up to 4 children (no more than 2 children can be under 2 years).  

Read more about the legal requirements by clicking here.   Note also that when an adult goes on non-contact time (to do laundry or other tasks or is on a lunch break) this adult is no longer counted in the ratios and must be replaced to ensure that at least the minimum ratio requirements continue to be met at all times.  

For example, in a centre with 30 children a minimum of 3 adults/teachers must be present and working with the children.  When one of these teachers leaves to go on a break another teacher should replace her/him.  If there are 4 teachers and 30 children it is not necessary when one of these teachers goes on a break to have a substitute teacher as ratios are still being met by there being 3 teachers.  

It is in your child's interests and for the sanity of the adults/teachers working with the children that the legal minimum number of adults to children is maintained at all times throughout the day.  Should your early childhood centre not have adequate staffing ratios at all times, lay a complaint with the centre management (click here for a complaint form).  If ratios continue to be breached, phone your local Ministry of Education office and ask to speak to a Senior Advisor for ECE Licensing. Request that your complaint be formally recorded to ensure that it is followed up and the Ministry takes seriously its obligation to ensure your centre is meeting the legal minimum requirements. .

In regard to whether a centre that has a high ratio (e.g. 3 teachers to 24 children - or 1:6) would be better for your daughter than a centre that meets only the minimum requirements (following the previous example: 3 teachers to 30 children - or 1:10) it is more likely that it will be better for all children, but it is difficult to know if it will be specifically for your daughter.  Keep in mind that a centre which is good for one child might not suit another.  As individual's we have different needs, perceptions, and experiences (quality is in the eyes of the beholder). 

Under some circumstances ratios can be meaningless in practice. For example, children will not benefit from more adults being present if those adults then talk with each other and don't engage in conversation and play with children. 

A high number of adults to children will not benefit children if the adults are mostly involved in cleaning or other tasks and are not able to give children their full attention.    

Something else you should look at is the size of the number of children at the service.  

1. Small group size can help offset a poor adult-child ratio. Within a small group it's easier for children to have and hold adult's attention, form friendships with other children, hear each other talk, and engage in lots of shared interaction and collaborations.

2. A high adult-child ratio will not mitigate the risk of large group size for children. The more children a centre has, sharing the same teachers and play area, the lower quality it is likely to be for children's learning and development regardless of whether it exceeds the minimum ratio of adults to children requirement. 


Some feedback

Susanah Simpson
If you say to parents the best ratio for children over 2 is 1 adult to 6 children, which I do agree with you then why doesn't the ministry of education apply these ratio`s in their requirements? As most centre`s only hire teachers to cover the bear minimum ratio`s set out by the ministry?

Because a ratio of 1 - 6 requires more teachers which costs the centre more. The national government reduced funding in ece which makes quality ratios very hard to achieve.