Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.1 Overall Requirements

5.1.2 Space per Child Space Required per Child

In general, the designated area for children’s activities should contain a minimum of forty-two square feet of usable floor space per child. A usable floor space of fifty square feet per child is preferred.

This excludes floor area that is used for:

  1. Circulation (e.g., walkways around the activity area);
  2. Classroom support (e.g., staff work areas and activity equipment storage that may be adjacent to the activity area);
  3. Furniture (e.g., bookcases, sofas, lofts, block corners, tables and chairs);
  4. Center support (e.g., administrative office, washrooms, etc.)

Usable, indoor floor space for the children’s activity area depends on the design and layout of the child care facility, and whether there is an opportunity and space for outdoor activities.

Numerous studies have explored child care space requirements that are necessary to:
  1. Provide an environment that is highly functional for program delivery and to encourage strong, positive staff-to-child relationships;
  2. Accommodate the recommended group size and staff-to-child ratio; and
  3. Efficiently use space and incorporates ease of supervision.
  4. Recommendations from research studies range between forty-two to fifty-four square feet per child (1).

Studies have shown that the quality of the physical designed environment of early child care centers is related to children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development (e.g., size, density, privacy, well-defined activity settings, modified open-plan space, a variety of technical design features and the quality of outdoor play spaces). In addition to meeting the needs of children, caregivers/teachers require space to implement programs and facilitate interactions with children.

A review of the literature indicates that in the past ten years, there has been growing research and study into how the physical design of child care settings affects child development. Historically, a standard of thirty-five square feet was used. Recommendations from research studies range between forty-two to fifty-four square feet per child. Comments from researchers indicate that other factors must also be considered when assessing the context of usable floor space for child care activities (1,5-8).

Although each child’s development is unique to that child, age groups are often used to categorize developmental needs. To meet these needs, the use of activity space for each age group will be inherently different.

Child behavior tends to be more constructive when sufficient space is organized to promote developmentally appropriate skills. Crowding has been shown to be associated with increased risk of developing upper respiratory infections (2). Also, having sufficient space will reduce the risk of injury from simultaneous activities.

Children with special health care needs may require more space than typically developing children (1).

The usable floor space for children’s activities in this standard refers to indoor space that is used as the primary play space. Consideration should also be given to the presence or absence of secondary indoor play space that might be shared between programs as well as to outdoor play space.

Staff-child ratios (i.e., the number of staff required per number of children) should also be taken into account since staff consumes floor area space as well as children. Group size for various age groups should also be considered. Since groups of infants are smaller than groups of preschoolers, “infant and toddler rooms tend to be small, while preschool and school-age rooms are a bit generous at full capacity” (1). Infant and toddler rooms often dedicate a considerable amount of inflexible space to cribs and diaper changing areas. Sufficient space to accommodate these activities, space for adult seating to care for infants, and space for safe mobility of infants and toddlers requires that the per child square foot requirements are applied for their areas also.

Square footage estimates should only be intended as guidelines. Especially in child care facilities with fewer than fifty children, “plugging in” the square footage into a formula to calculate space required usually does not work (1).

It is important to keep in mind that state licensing regulations specify minimum space requirements and that they must be legally adhered to. Such requirements vary from state to state (3). For Federal child care centers, the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) child care design standards require a minimum of forty-eight and one-half square feet per child in the classroom (4).

Although providing adequate space for implementing a program of activities that meets the developmental needs of children is important in providing quality child care, how that space is actually used is likely more critical (8). It has been observed that child care facilities operating in older buildings with less than ideal space can still deliver quality child care programs to meet the needs of children. Nevertheless, the amount of activity space required per child should take the known research into consideration.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Ratios for Small Family Child Care Homes Ratios for Large Family Child Care Homes and Centers Ratios for Facilities Serving Children with Special Health Care Needs and Disabilities Space and Activity to Support Learning of Infants and Toddlers Space for School-Age Activity
  1. Olds, A. R. 2001. Child care design guide. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. Fleming, D. W., S. L. Cochi, A. W. Hightower, et al. 1987. Childhood upper respiratory tract infections: To what degree is incidence affected by daycare attendance? Pediatrics 79:55-60.
  3. National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center and the National Association for Regulatory Administration. 2009. The 2007 licensing child care study. Licensing Study_full_report.pdf.
  4. U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). 2003. Child care center design guide. New York: GSA Public Buildings Service, Office of Child Care.
  5.  Beach J., M. Friendly. 2005. Child care centre physical environments. Working Documents, Child Care Resource and Research Unit.
  6. Moore, G. T., T. Sugiyama, L. O’Donnell. 2003. Children’s physical environments rating scale. Paper presented at the Australian Early Childhood Education 2003 Conference, Hobart, Australia.
  7. White, R., V. Stoecklin. 2003. The great 35 square foot myth.
  8. The Family Child Care Accreditation Project, Wheelock College. 2005. Quality standards for NAFCC accreditation. 4th ed. Salt Lake City, UT: National Association for Family Child Care.