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Promoting Safety Through Ratios and Indoor Supervision Practices

For children to grow, develop and learn, they must be healthy and safe. They rely on adults to protect them. Families trust you to keep their children safe. Essential indoor safety practices include providing supervision during routine care, play, and learning, and maintaining caregiver-to-child ratios.

Objectives
  • Describe how ratios and supervision keep infants and toddlers safe in indoor environments.
  • Identify yourPUBLIC Program’s ratio and supervision requirements.
  • Apply the information from this lesson and yourPUBLIC Program’s requirements to promote safety.

Learn

Know

Your first priority is to keep the children in your care safe from harm, though it is not as easy as it might sound. Infants and toddlers rely entirely on you to keep them safe. The younger the child, the more dependent they are on the adults around them. While they are learning about what is safe and what is not, it will be a while before they are able to stay safe without your constant attention. Therefore, you must provide active indoor supervision all day, every day.

Utilizing primary care-giving supports active supervision. Assigning a primary group of infants or toddlers to you and your teaching partner creates a smaller group of children, which makes supervision easier. Even though you are assigned specific children for the purposes of continuity of care, all teachers in a classroom provide assistance in supervising all the children in the room.

Ratios

Good ratios optimize care and help keep infants and toddlers safe. Your program's ratios must be maintained at all times. Follow your program's procedures for contacting your administrator if you need emergency help in order to maintain ratios.

What is a Safe Adult-Child Ratio?

Recommendations for adult-child ratios have two parts: (a) the number of children per staff member and (b) the maximum group size. National associations and the Department of Defense recommend a maximum group size of eight for children ages birth to 15 months and a ratio of at least 1:4. When children are 21 to 36 months, the maximum group size can reach 12 children (ratio 1:6). The group sizes and ratios are guidelines. Your specific State has established adult-child ratios designed to keep children safe.

Supervision

Supervision is more than watching infants and toddlers. It involves actively observing and predicting their behavior, predicting and assessing hazards in the environment, and interacting with infants and toddlers during routines, play, and learning. Supervision must vary according to the needs of each child, each experience, and each activity.

Act to avoid problems before they occur. During conversations with your co-teachers, discuss safety issues and make necessary adjustments. Be available to step in if necessary. While supervising, you can play with infants and toddlers to support their social development.

How your environment is arranged can either help or hinder supervision. For example, a tall shelf can get in the way of your ability to visually supervise the children on the other side. If there are areas that make being able to see more difficult, it’s important that you position yourself so you can see what’s going on at all times. Hazards in the environment can pop up at any time. For instance, toddlers may drop toys in the fall zone of the indoor climber or water may spill on the floor during water play, putting everyone at risk. Frequently scanning the room for possible hazards and taking the necessary actions will help prevent injury.

See

Supervision During Play and Learning

During play and learning, you should be able to easily see children at a glance in all parts of the room. Noise levels should be maintained that allow you to hear infants' coos, sounds of distress, and the language of toddlers. Being able to hear infants and toddlers means you will be alert to distress, and it is important for development of language skills.

Stay within easy reach of infants and toddlers at all times—no more than an arm’s length away. Some activities require closer supervision. Tummy time, sand or water play, and use of climbing equipment, for example, present greater risk of serious injury if children are left unattended.

Sit close to non-mobile infants to protect them from mobile infants and toddlers. Stay closer to a child whose behavior is more aggressive. Allow all infants and toddlers to interact with their peers to develop social skills. Your presence will not only protect infants, it will facilitate socialization.

Supervision During Routine Care

Routine care, which includes meals and snacks, diapering and toileting, arrival and departure, and napping, requires vigilant supervision.

Arrival and Departure

The arrival and departure routine is the transferring of care to and from home. Greeting each family member and child upon arrival is a conscious and visible strategy to say “I am aware and happy that you are here.” This says to families that their child is transitioning to your care for the day. Departure is similar. Greeting the family when they arrive and saying goodbye to the child and family completes the transition. To account for each child, immediately record the arrival and departure date and time and the name of the adult dropping off or picking up the child. Your program should also have a process in place to contact guardians if a child does not arrive at the program at their usual scheduled time.

Feeding

Follow these safety supervision guidelines during feeding:

  • Bottle-fed infants and older infants should be held or, if the child is able to hold the bottle, seated.
  • Infants and toddlers should always be seated while eating and drinking. Choking or injury risk is greater when children are on the move.
  • You need to be within an arm's reach of children who are eating and maintain visual supervision. Choking is a silent accident.

Diapering and Toileting

During diapering, keep a hand on the infant at all times. Having materials prepared before diapering allows your hands to stay on task. Toileting routines exposes toddlers to water deep enough for drowning. Hand washing may involve a step stool, which toddlers can fall from. Remember, these types of care-giving routines may be routine for you, but they aren't for the toddlers. Their motor skills are still developing. They are still learning coordination and balance, so accidents are more prone to occur. Bathrooms are not easy environments to make safe, so your awareness of hazards is crucial to prevent injury.

Nap Time

Active supervision during napping is critical. Infants should be directly observed by sight and sound at all times. This includes when they are going to sleep or waking up. The lighting in the room must allow you to see each infant's face, to view the color of their skin, and to check on their breathing. While safe sleep practices are addressed in Lesson Five of this course, it’s worth saying here that infants must always be placed on their backs for sleeping. When infants and toddlers are sleeping, mirrors or video equipment may be used to support supervision in sleeping areas, but they don’t replace direct visual or auditory supervision.

Watch the following video and observe the supervision strategies used by the caregivers and how each of the strategies play a role in keeping children safe.

Indoor Supervision

Watch strategies for supervising indoors

Do

Supervision is not a solitary task. You supervise best while interacting with infants and toddlers. You and the infants and toddlers will be talking, singing, giggling, making discoveries, having quiet time, sharing a book, exploring toys and materials, sharing one-on-one time, and engaging with peers.

Because of your supervision, infants and toddlers are free to learn about themselves, their environment, and the people around them, which promotes a holistic approach to development. 

In order to support your infants and toddlers, be sure to always utilize the following strategies:

  • Anticipate the actions of children
  • Continuously move through all of the spaces where children are
  • Frequently scan areas to ensure safety
  • Limit your contact with other adults
  • Remain within an arm’s reach of infants during tummy time
  • Consistently check equipment for damage
  • Frequently make eye contact with children
  • Always keep one hand on the infant while diapering
  • Immediately act to prevent injury
  • Provide interaction and support during play and learning
  • Provide closer supervision for high-risk activities
  • Sit close to infants when mobile infants and toddlers are near
  • Always place infants on their backs to sleep
  • Remain present and closely watch each child use the toilet and wash their hands
  • Coordinate with other staff members to ensure all the children are visible at all times
  • Remain in an arm's reach of children who are eating
  • Maintain visual contact with children who are going to sleep, are asleep, or are in the process of waking

Explore

Observing other teachers is a great way to learn new ways of doing things. Watch the video Observe Supervision: Indoor and identify the supervision strategies utilized by the teachers. Use the Supervision in Action recording chart to help you capture your observations. The strategies listed at the end of the Do section may be helpful as you complete this activity.  When you have completed this activity share it with your trainer, coach, or administrator.

Observe Supervision: Indoor

Observe how active supervision, and maintaining ratios, keep children safe

Apply

Read and review the Active Supervision activity to reflect on the challenges you experience when supervising infants and toddlers.

This activity handout was adapted from:  

Glossary

Facilitate:
To bring about help
Motor skills:
Skills involving a child’s increasing ability to use one’s body to interact with the environment; for example, the ability to grasp, sit up, crawl, and walk
Ratio:
The number of children in an infant & toddler program compared with the number of supervising staff members
Social development:
A developmental domain of child development; a child’s emerging development of an understanding of self and others, and the ability to relate to other people and the environment

Demonstrate

Based on information from this lesson which strategy is not appropriate for supervising infants and toddlers?
Why do some activities and routines need closer supervision?
Which of the following safety guidelines should be followed when feeding infants and toddlers?
References & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aap.org 

California Department of Education. (2002). Infant/Toddler caregiving: A guide to routines. (2nd ed.). Sacramento, CA: WestEd. The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina. Infant/Toddler environment rating scale. (3rd ed.). Teachers College Press. 

Ohio Child Care Resource & Referral Association, South Carolina Program for Infant/Toddler Care. (2012). Ohio’s infant & toddler field guide: Strengthening professional practices of infant & toddler care teachers. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. https://occrra.org/wp-content/occrra/spec/spec-user-guide-infant-toddler-field-guide.pdf 

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. (2012). Health and safety in family child care homes participant guide. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.