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Providing a Safe Outdoor Environment

Outdoor play settings offer many learning opportunities and pose many hazards. Reducing the hazards will allow children to be free to safely explore and to make discoveries. This is the key to learning and making discoveries that support learning.

  • Describe how the environment keeps infants and toddlers safe outdoors.
  • Identify your role in keeping the outdoor environment safe for infants and toddlers.
  • Apply the information from this lesson to keep infants and toddlers safe when outdoors.



Outdoor physical play provides infants and toddlers much-needed exercise, sunshine, and the opportunity to practice motor skills in a different setting. As you will learn in Lesson Four, outdoor environments have different safety hazards than indoor settings.

The National Program for Playground Safety recommends that child-care programs consider four categories for ensuring playground safety. The S.A.F.E. categories are:


Age appropriateness

Fall surfacing

Equipment maintenance


Active supervision is key to keeping infants and toddlers safe. Active supervision involves moving, scanning, predicting, and adjusting. It can look like moving through the outdoor space, scanning children and the environment for hazards, predicting potential hazards, and adjusting the environment to make necessary changes. Safe equipment and play spaces are important, but nothing replaces active supervision.

Age Appropriateness

Infants and toddlers are continually discovering new skills, practicing emerging skills, and mastering skills. They could be in different stages of skill development when it comes to motor skills. They may have mastered walking, are practicing running, and discovering climbing. Equipment and surfaces must safely support the three levels of developing motor skills. A wide variety of equipment and materials for infants and toddlers to use outdoors will support their development.

Here are some ways safety is influenced by development:

  • Cognitive development: Infants and toddlers are not yet able to predict hazardous situations or see cause-effect relationships in their interactions. 
  • Language and communication development: Infants and toddlers have a limited vocabulary and may not understand sentences like "That is dangerous."
  • Emotional development: Infants and toddlers lack impulse control to the point they cannot always stop the urge to act, even in unsafe situations.
  • Motor development: Infants and toddlers have limited ability to coordinate movements and maintain balance.

Fall Zone Surfacing

Children may fall when they play. It is your job to reduce the frequency and severity of falls. Maintaining proper surface cushioning surrounding equipment and proper spacing of equipment will help minimize injuries, so will using the correct height of equipment. Equipment should let children practice skills but should not be too challenging. If you have any concerns with fall surfacing, report them to your administrator right away.

Equipment Maintenance

All materials and equipment must be in good working condition. There should be no evidence of damage, protrusions that could entangle clothing, or gaps in which a child’s head or fingers could become stuck. Another hazard for infants and toddlers can be excessively hot or cold play surfaces. If you observe any concerns with equipment, report them to your administrator right away.


There are many rules and regulations for equipment, spacing, and materials. Playground checklists often are for children 2 and older, but infants and young toddlers should have daily access for play outdoors as well. The document Playground Information to Use with the Environment Rating Scales contains safety guidelines for all children. 

Outdoor Safety Check: Infant Toddler

In this video you will see an infant-toddler teacher conduct her daily playground safety check.


Take an Eye Level Look

Have you looked at your playground while on your knees? Doing so shows us how infants and toddlers view the world and everything in it. Adults cannot always see everything from our bird's-eye view.

In order to ensure the safety of infants and toddlers in an outdoor environment, be aware of the following procedures:

  • Check outdoor play spaces before allowing infants and toddlers to play
  • Correct any minor hazards before infants and toddlers play
  • Check the temperatures of play surfaces so infants and toddlers won’t get burned
  • Report major hazards and do not allow infants and toddlers to play until the problems are fixed
  • Continuously monitor the outdoor play space for hazards while infants and toddlers are playing


As children grow and change, so do their abilities. At each stage of development, children have increasing risks for injury. Review the Outdoor Injury Awareness Worksheet. Read the developmental characteristics and decide what injuries might be most common. List precautions you would need to take to prevent injury.  When complete, share with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Review the Safe Outdoor Environments Checklist activity and use it in your outdoor play area.  Document the date safety issues were resolved. When complete, share with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Emerging skills:
Developmental skills infants and toddlers are just beginning to develop; skills not mastered
Entanglement hazards:
Dangerous pieces of hardware, such as protruding bolts or open S-hooks on swings that could entangle children’s clothing, particularly drawstrings on the hoods of jackets or sweatshirts, and cause strangulation
Entrapment hazards:
Openings in which children can fit their bodies but not their heads with the danger that they could get trapped or strangled
Fall zone:
The area around and under climbing, sliding, or swinging equipment where protective surfacing is required to prevent injury from falls. The fall zone should be cleared of items that children may fall onto or run into
Motor development:
Skills involving a child’s increasing ability to use their body to interact with the environment. Motor skills refer to a child’s ability to grasp, sit up, crawl, and walk


S.A.F.E is an acronym for:
True or false? Safety is influenced by infants’ and toddlers’ emotional development.
Finish this statement: When it comes to fall surfacing…
References & Resources

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.). Itasca, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics. 

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). 

Cryer, T., Clifford, D., & Harms, R. M. (2006). Infant/Toddler environment rating scale revised edition. New York, NY: Teacher's College Press. 

The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina. (2009). Playground information to use with the environment rating scales. Environment Rating Scale Family of Products. 

National Program for Playground Safety. (2021).