Previous studies of respiratory rate in children have had a number of methodological problems. The aim of this study was to construct age specific reference ranges for respiratory rate. Respiratory rate in children attending childcare centres, kindergartens, and schools was measured using a nasal thermocouple to obtain respiratory waveforms. Reference ranges were constructed using data from 293 awake children between 12 and 84 months, and from 123 sleeping children between 12 and 60 months. The mean respiratory rate declined with increasing age and was significantly lower, with lower variability, during sleep than wakefulness. Neither the awake nor sleeping reference ranges were significantly affected by sex, nor by the presence of past respiratory nor current respiratory symptoms.