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Promoting Safety Through Ratios and Outdoor Supervision Practices

As with indoor environments, examined in Lesson Three, promoting safety and maintaining ratios for infants and toddlers in outdoor play environments is important for their safety, development, and learning. Outdoor environments pose different and sometimes greater risk of injury. A heightened level of supervision is warranted.

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



Supervision is easier when the outdoor play space is appropriate for the age of the child. Specific safety practices concerning outdoor environments, equipment and materials were covered in Lesson Two of this course. This lesson deals with supervision while infants and toddlers are outdoors. Supervising outdoor activities is similar to indoor supervision. It involves:

  • Actively observing and predicting children’s behavior
  • Predicting and assessing hazards in the environment
  • Interacting with infants and toddlers during play and learning

Supervision should not be so restrictive that infants and toddlers are not free to explore and learn. In the quest to keep children safe, teachers sometimes overprotect them. That can harm their development of self-competence, self-awareness, social identity, and interactions with peers.

Supervising During Transitions

Transitioning infants and toddlers from indoors to outdoors and back indoors involves precise accounting. There are so many opportunities, especially for toddlers, to get separated from the group during transitions. Always do name-to-face counts before leaving and upon arrival at your destination. Take frequent counts of children in your supervision zone. That means you are positioned in a certain location or zone while on the playground. Share that number with your co-teachers for their zones and compare to attendance records for that day. You can never take too many head counts when transitioning infants and toddlers.

Supervising Active Learners

Infants and toddlers are active learners. They use all of their senses to make sense of the world around them. They want to see, touch, smell, and taste it all to learn everything they can. Objects that children can come into contact with outdoors are very different from what they find indoors.

Infants and toddlers will lick, taste, and bite everything in their path, most of which isn’t meant to be licked, tasted, or bitten. Understand that toddlers and mobile infants learn through oral exploration and don’t yet know what should not be mouthed. Careful observation will help you know which children need to be supervised more closely.

Children who love to climb need you to cheer them on and be ready to catch them if they misstep or lose their grip. Little riders who have discovered the joy of a push tricycle may need you to help them steer, stop, and keep other children out of the way.

Supervising Outdoor Environments

One of the positive effects of taking infants and toddlers outdoors is that it lets them practice motor skills, such as crawling, walking, running, and maintaining balance on different surfaces. They will trip and stumble on unfamiliar surfaces, especially as they are learning to walk and run. Knowing each child’s skill level can help you know when and where to be extra diligent with supervision.

Children have access to different materials and equipment outdoors. Each child is different, and each child will require a different amount of supervision. Each area on the playground and each type of activity requires a different level of supervision as well. In other words, supervision must vary according to the needs of each child, experience, and activity. Never depend on toddlers to keep themselves safe or to follow the safety rules.

Outdoor supervision requires you to continuously scan and move through the environment. Having supervision zones is an effective way to ensure that the entire environment is covered.

Supervision Involves Interaction

Supervision involves caregivers interacting with the environment and children at play. Enjoy your time outdoors. Be excited to see new discoveries children are making. Talk, laugh, encourage active engagement, and participate in their exploration while keeping them safe.

Supervision and Ratios

Maintaining ratios and group sizes is just as critical for outdoor play and learning as it is for indoor play and learning. Outdoor environments provide freedom to roam and discover. This freedom to roam around a less-structured environment with more hazards requires keener observation skills and the ability to see potential hazards. Follow yourPUBLIC program's procedures for contacting your administrator if you need emergency assistance while you are outdoors.


Watch the following video to observe supervision strategies teachers use to keep children safe while they are outdoors.

Observing Outdoor Supervision Strategies

Watch this video to learn how active supervision and maintaining ratios keep children safe.


In order to be prepared to promote infants’ and toddlers’ safety through ratios and outdoor supervision practices, you should be aware of these strategies:

  • Prepare the environment and equipment
  • Plan supervision zones
  • Prepare any special activities or materials ahead of time
  • Remember sunscreen, the attendance list, coats, tissues, and other necessary supplies
  • Continually move and scan, looking for safety and health hazards
  • Encourage active engagement and participate in exploration
  • Provoke conversations, ask questions, and answer questions
  • Provide equipment, props and materials to extend and enhance outdoor opportunities


According to Safe Kids Worldwide, lack of supervision contributes to 45 percent of playground injuries involving children of all ages. As with indoor environments, examined in Lesson Three, promoting safety and maintaining ratios for children in outdoor play environments is important for their safety, development and learning.


Observing teachers as they supervise children outdoors is a useful way to increase your awareness of hazards, children’s behavior and teachers’ preventive measures and responses. Watch the Outdoor Supervision in Action video. Use the Outdoor Supervision in Action Recording Chart to identify the supervision strategies utilized by the teachers and how each of the strategies played a role in the child’s safety. 

Outdoor Supervision in Action

Watch this video to learn about effective outdoor supervision.


Read and complete the Outdoor Supervision Strategies reflection activity to evaluate issues you are experiencing and identify potential solutions. When completed, share with your trainer, coach or administrator.


Emerging skills:
Developmental abilities that infants and toddlers are just beginning to develop; skills not mastered
The number of children in an infant & toddler program compared with the number of supervising staff members
An indicator of infant and toddler emotional development. The child will recognize herself or himself as a person with an identity, wants, needs, interests, likes and dislikes
An indicator of infant and toddler emotional development. The child will recognize his or her ability to do things
Social identity:
An indicator of infant and toddler social development, awareness of social behavior; an awareness of the relationship with others in the group


Supervision that restricts children’s activities…
Outdoor supervision differs from indoor supervision in that…
What should teachers do during outdoor supervision?
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.). American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Cryer, D., Harms, T., & Riley, C. (2004). All about the ITERS-R. Teacher's College Press. 

Greenman, J., Stonehouse, A., & Schweikert, G. (2008). Prime times: A handbook for excellence in infant toddler programs (2nd ed.).  Redleaf Press. 

National Program for Playground Safety, University of Northern Iowa. (2020). 

OCCRRA Columbus (2006). Ohio's Infant & Toddler Guidelines

Safe Kids Worldwide. (n.d.). Playground Safety Tips.