Determining a Program's Primary Purpose: Recreation or Child Care

Ontario's Child Care and Early Years Legislation

The Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014 (CCEYA) governs child care in Ontario and came into effect in August 2015. The legislation supports the health and safety of children, increases the government's oversight of caregivers, and helps parents make informed choices about their child care options.

The Act and its regulations set out what programs and services fall outside the scope of child care or do not require a licence.

What programs and services are not affected by the Act?

Examples of programs that are not considered child care include:

  • Nannies or babysitters that provide care to children in the children's home.
  • Care by relatives.
  • Day camps that only care for children aged 4 and over.
  • Programs where a parent remains on site and is readily accessible.
  • Nutrition programs operated in partnership with a child's school, a community organization or publicly funded entity.

What recreation programs are not affected by the Act?

Under the Act, programs where the primary purpose is to support skill-based sports and recreation are not considered child care and do not require a licence.

These tend to be episodic programs and services of short duration and frequency. For example, this can include things such as:

  • One hour lessons (e.g. dance, music, swimming)
  • Team sports (e.g. hockey practice and games)
  • Club activities that are offered once or twice a week (e.g. Girl Guides, 4-H)

How about programs which provide child care as a primary purpose?
Where the primary purpose is to provide child care, these programs must operate as:

Examples of the above could include after-school programs that are offered 3-5 days a week or half day programs for children under the age of 4.

What is an "Authorized Recreational and Skill Building Program"?

Where recreation is a complementary purpose, certain programs may operate without a licence for up to 3 hours, once a day, as an Authorized Recreational and Skill Building Program.

An Authorized Recreational and Skill Building Program must meet the following criteria set out in regulation:

Programs may operate for up to 3 hours, if the program is:

  • Operated by a school board, First Nation, the Métis Nation of Ontario, or a municipality;
  • Operated by the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club of Canada;
  • An Ontario After School Program funded by Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (MTCS);
  • A member of a provincial sports or multi-sport organization recognized by MTCS;
  • Operated by an MTCS agency or attraction; or
  • Authorized by the local service system manager or First Nation provided that the program supports the health, safety, and well-being of children.

Beginning September 1, 2017, the programs listed above may only serve children aged 6 and up (or turning six by the end of the calendar year, if the program is offered after the start of the school year).

How does the ministry determine whether a program's primary purpose is recreational or child care?

The ministry looks at the six factors set out in regulation to determine whether the primary purpose of a program is recreational or child care. These factors are:

  • The hours of operation, including the frequency and duration of the program offered.
  • The ages of the children being served.
  • The programming content, including how much time is dedicated to recreation versus care.
  • The type of facility, equipment and furnishings used to support the program.
  • Whether or not transportation is provided to and/or from the program on behalf of the parent.
  • Whether registration and administration of the program is coordinated with one or more programs by the same provider.

The primary purpose of a program is determined based on a cumulative assessment of all six factors.

How does the ministry apply each factor to determine primary purpose?

Determinations are based on an assessment of each of the six factors above. Frequency, duration and the ages of the children are key factors that establish general thresholds for determining the primary purpose of a program. For example, programs that operate every day or every weekday are generally not considered to have a primary purpose of recreation.

For example, drop-in programs for children aged 6 and up that operate every day after school may be considered child care. These programs could operate if they are licensed as a child care centre or meet the conditions set out under the Act and regulations as an authorized Recreational and Skill Building Program.

Scenario 1:
Program: Art for Kids
Days: Program operates Saturdays (once a week)
Time:1:00 – 2:30pm
Ages of children: 3 to 6 years
Transportation: Not provided by the program
Program Description/Facilities and Equipment: Children make artistic creations through painting, drawing, collage and dough. Children express themselves and explore their creativity in these activities and learning basic steps in arts and crafts.
Administration and Coordination of Programs: Not coordinated with any other program
Assessment: May be Exempt as a Recreational Program

Scenario 2:
Program: Nature Fun!
Days: Tuesdays and Thursdays (twice a week)
Time: 10am – Noon
Ages of Children: 3-5 years of age
Transportation: Not provided by the program
Program Description/Facilities and Equipment: Children explore nature and discover the interesting plants and animals in the local park and woods. Find bugs, put your hands in the dirt and soil, and learn about the different species that live with us.
Administration and Coordination of Programs: Not coordinated with any other program
Assessment: May be Exempt as a Recreational Program

Scenario 3:
Program: After School Martial Arts Program
Days: Operates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
Time: from school dismissal to 6pm (no more than 3 hours)
Ages of Children: 6-12 years of age
Transportation: Program arranges for children to be picked up from school to the Martial Arts Club.
Program Description/Facilities and Equipment: Children are picked up from school and taken to a Martial Arts Club where they are provided with a snack, given time to do their homework and take part in Martial Arts classes.
Administration and Coordination of Programs: Not coordinated with any other program
Assessment: Must be Licensed Child Care or Authorized Recreational Program

Scenario 4:
Program: Before and After School Care
Days: Operates Monday to Friday
Time: before and after school (1.5 hours in the morning, 3 hours after school)
Ages of children: 4 and up
Transportation: Not provided by the program
Program Description/Facilities and Equipment: Children participate in activities such as active play (sports, dancing) in the gym or playground, listening to stories, engaging in arts and crafts, and playing board games.
Administration and Coordination of Programs: Not coordinated with any other program
Assessment: Must be Licensed Child Care

Scenario 5:
Programs: Adventure Time! and Nature Fun!
Days: Monday – Thursday (Adventure Time! operates Mondays and Wednesdays and Nature Fun! operates Tuesdays and Thursdays)
Time: 10am - noon
Ages of children: 3-5 years of age
Transportation: Not provided by either program
Program Descriptions: Adventure Time! children engage in outdoor themed activities and learn skills and practices that might come in handy when camping. Nature Fun! children explore nature and discover the interesting plants and animals in the local park and woods.
Facilities and Equipment: programs are located at the same premises.
Administration and Coordination of Programs: The two programs (Adventure Time! and Nature Fun!) share coordination and administration to offer care and supervision over consecutive days.
Assessment: Must be licensed child care

You may note that Nature Fun!, which may be exempt as a recreational program in scenario 2, is no longer exempt in the scenario above. Where a child is receiving temporary care and supervision at the same premises through different programs in a day, or over a series of consecutive days; and these programs are operated by the same provider; or administrative functions are coordinated/shared between the programs, this temporary care and supervision may be considered one program for the purposes of ministry assessment.

How do I know if a program serving children is exempt as a recreation program?

To determine whether a program falls under the recreation exemption, please email: information.met@ontario.ca with a description of the program in relation to the factors noted above.

There may be some exceptional circumstances where a program operates every day for multiple hours and is not considered child care (e.g. religious study).

Complaints about unlicensed child care can be directed to:
Telephone: 1-844-516-6263

Please be advised that the ministry cannot provide legal advice or interpret the legislation for your business. This information is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. It is the responsibility of the provider to ensure compliance with legislation. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

This information does not limit ministry inspectors' ability to apply and enforce the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014 and O. Reg 137/15. Inspectors will apply their judgment to the situation that presents itself.  This guide does not fetter their discretion.