- Describe how the environment keeps infants and toddlers safe.
- Identify your role in keeping the environment safe for infants and toddlers.
- Apply the information from this lesson to keep infants and toddlers safe.
Take a walk through any home improvement store, and you are likely to see the word “security” over and over again. You can find security lights, fences, doors, locks, windows, cameras, alarms, and even mailboxes. Why is security so important to us? We all have a need to feel safe in our environment. We prefer well-lit parking lots. We like parks with clearly marked trails. We look for places that allow us to recognize and respond to any danger.
Just like adults, children need environments that help them feel secure. Children depend on adults to meet their basic needs: food, water, shelter, clothing. They also depend on us to protect them from harm. Feeling safe opens the door for children to build relationships, become confident, and meet their potential (Maslow, 1943, 1945). We cannot expect children to learn if they do not feel safe.
Infants and toddlers are true explorers. They explore with all their senses, including taste. Once they are mobile, they search every nook and cranny. The environment must be ready to be explored, and you must be ready to supervise.
This lesson will use the term environment to refer to the classroom as a whole along with physical structures, equipment, furniture, and materials, including toys.
Why Heightened Safety Awareness with Infants and Toddlers?
Infants and toddlers do not have the practical experiences adults have had in their interactions with the world around them. This means they may not know what can cause injury. Child development is a factor in the risk of injury. Development occurs in stages and it will be a while before infants and toddlers develop the thinking and reasoning ability to keep themselves safe. As infants and toddlers develop their understanding of the world around them, they become more aware of what is safe and what is not. Therefore, adults are completely responsible for creating and maintaining a safe environment for infants and toddlers.
Here are few things to keep in mind:
- Infants and toddlers are unable to predict hazardous situations. Infants and toddlers are unable to see cause-effect relationships in their interactions.
- Infants and toddlers have a limited vocabulary and may not understand sentences like “That is dangerous.”
- Infants and toddlers lack impulse control to the point they cannot always stop the urge to act, even in unsafe situations.
- Infants and toddlers have limited ability to coordinate movements and maintain balance.
How do we keep infants and toddlers safe indoors? We can think about this question on two levels. First, we think about our facilities. Second, we think about the spaces and materials we provide in the classroom.
Your program was designed with safety in mind. Watch this video to observe the safety features that keep infants and toddlers safe.
Next, think about classroom environments and the materials in those settings. Here are a few of the hazards you might see:
Unforeseen Safety Hazards
Hazards in the environment pop up throughout the day for many reasons:
- Janitorial staff remove electric outlet covers to vacuum and do not replace them, or equipment is moved for cleaning and not properly reset.
- A teacher accidently leaves disinfecting solution on an art table while helping a child in distress.
- An ink pen falls unnoticed from a clipboard.
- A child pops a wheel off a toy car.
- A child drops a toy in the fall zone of the climber.
- A high-chair strap buckle breaks.
- A child learns to climb for the first time.
These are just a few of the incidents that can occur. By being aware of safety issues and taking precautions, you can be ready for these unforeseen events.
Known Safety Hazards
Safety hazards are present in every child-care environment and are most commonly associated with the physical structure of a room. For example, shelving needs to be installed in a way that keeps cleaning chemicals out of the reach of children. Safety hazards also include:
- furniture and furniture placement
- teacher materials used in the environment
- toys and materials children explore
Watch this video, and pay attention to how the teacher remains aware of a known hazard and helps the toddlers make a safer choice.
See the Indoor Safety Hazards attachment for a list of some indoor hazards. Remember, no list can capture every hazard or potential hazard. Consider children’s ever-changing behavior, their development, emerging skills, and possible interactions with the environment to assist you in being aware of hazardous situations.
Hazards in Routine Care
Routine care, such as meals and snacks, diapering, toileting, tummy time, and naps present their own hazards. Active supervision during routine care is essential. See the Indoor Safety Hazards list for routine care hazards.
Toy and Material Hazards
Toys and materials should meet safety regulations and be appropriate for the age and development of children using them. Check age guidelines on all materials, including art and sensory materials. Do a daily toy check for missing and broken pieces. It is best not to try to repair, since repaired pieces can easily come undone. Scan the environment and materials throughout the day for damaged items. For more information about safe toys and materials refer to: https://nrckids.org/CFOC/Database/5.
Manufacturers by law must notify the public of toys and equipment that are recalled. Your administrator will inform you if there are recalled items in your room so they can be removed.
A list of recalls can be found at http://www.cpsc.gov
Because infants and toddlers mouth objects, all toys and materials within their reach must not be small enough to be a choking hazard. A choke tube can test whether toys or materials are too small and could pose a choking hazard. Choke tubes can be helpful in quickly deciding if new toys can safely be given to children. Food is another choking hazard for infants and toddlers, so follow all guidelines for food size. Choking on food will be covered in more detail in the Healthy Environments course.
See the Indoor Safety Hazards list for sizes of unsafe materials. Food choking hazards are addressed in the Healthy Environments course. Choke tubes are not used to test food items.
Take an Eye-Level Look
The world for children looks much different than the view adults have when looking down. To see what hazards lie in wait for infants and toddlers, get on their level. Take a tour of your room on your knees to see what they see.
To best ensure the safety of infants and toddlers in an indoor environment, keep the following guidelines in mind as you go througout your day:
Preparing and maintaining your environment, keeping it free from hazards, and providing active supervision will provide a foundation to enable the infants and toddlers in your care to be free to explore and make discoveries.
Completing this Course
For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Infant and Toddler Safe Environments Course Guide.
Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.
As children grow and change, so do their abilities. At each stage of development, children have increasing risks for injury. Read and complete the Indoor Injury Awareness activity. Read the developmental characteristics of each age range. Decide what injuries might be most common for infants and toddlers. List precautions you would need to take to prevent injury. Share your responses with your trainer, coach, or administrator.
Read the Indoor Safety Checklist activity. Then use this this checklist as a resource to identify safety hazards in your classroom. Write down the date the safety issue that was resolved. This checklist was adapted from:
- Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale—Revised Edition, Teacher’s College Press, New York, 2006 - https://fpg.unc.edu/resources/infanttoddler-environment-rating-scale-revised-edition-iters-r
- Caring for Our Children, Fourth Edition, Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health. (2019). https://nrckids.org/CFOC/Database/5
American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2019). Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. (4th ed.). https://nrckids.org/CFOC
Cryer, D., Harms, T., & Riley, C. (2004). All about the ITERS-R. New York, NY: Teacher's College Press.
Cryer, T., Clifford, D., & Harms, R. M. (2006). Infant/Toddler environment rating scale revised edition. New York, NY: Teacher's College Press. https://www.fpg.unc.edu/~ECERS/
Ohio Child Care Resource & Referral Association. (2006). Ohio's Infant & Toddler Guidelines. Columbus, OH: Ohio Child Care Resources & Referral Association. https://jfs.ohio.gov/cdc/InfantToddler.pdf
United States Product Consumer Safety Commission https://www.cpsc.gov/