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    • 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 scanning, predicting, and assessing. This involves moving through the outdoor space, scanning children and the environment for hazards, predicting potential hazards and making necessary changes to the environment. Safe equipment and play space is important, but nothing replaces active supervision.

    Age Appropriateness

    Infants and toddlers are continually practicing 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 cushions 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 observe any concerns with fall surfacing report them to your supervisor right away.

    Equipment Maintenance

    All materials and equipment must be in good working condition. There should be no evidence of damage, protrusions, or possible entrapment hazards. 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 supervisor 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.

    If you are prepared to ensure the safety of infants and toddlers in an outdoor environment, you should be able to make the following statement.

    When it comes to ensuring safe outdoor environments, I always do the following:

    • I check outdoor play spaces before allowing infants and toddlers to play.
    • I correct any minor hazards before infants and toddlers play.
    • I check the temperatures of play surfaces so infants and toddlers won’t get burned.
    • I report major hazards and do not allow infants and toddlers to play until the problems are fixed.
    • I 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. Download and print 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 supervisor, trainer or coach.



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

      Apply Activities
    • Outdoor Checklist



    Emerging skillsDevelopmental skills infants and toddlers are just beginning to develop; skills not mastered
    Entanglement hazardsDangerous 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 hazardsOpenings in which children can fit their bodies but not their heads with the danger that they could get trapped or strangled
    Fall zoneThe 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 developmentSkills 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. 2011. Caring for Our Children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. 3rd edition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; Washington, DC: American Public Health Association. Also available at &

    American Academy of Pediatrics.

    Cryer, T., Clifford, D., & Harms, R. M. (2006). Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale Revised Edition. New York, NY: Teacher's College Press.

    National Program for Playground Safety

    Playground Information to Use with the Environment Rating Scale