- Describe characteristics of safe indoor and outdoor environments.
- Arrange indoor and outdoor materials to promote safety.
- Evaluate the condition of materials indoors and outdoors.
- Practice safe supervision strategies indoors and outdoors.
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 for food, water, shelter, and clothing. They also depend on us to protect them from harm. Feeling safe allows 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.
What do safe environments for young children look like? We can think about this question in three ways. We can think about our facilities. We can think about how we arrange and organize our classrooms within the facilities. And we can think about the condition of the materials in the environment. This lesson will focus on facilities and classrooms. You will learn about materials in the next lesson.
First, we provide safe facilities for children. Your child development center has been designed with safety in mind.
Watch this video to learn more about facilities that keep children and staff safe.
Next, we think about the ways we organize our materials. Much of your work as a preschool teacher involves keeping children safe indoors and outdoors. Arranging your spaces with the developmental needs of children in mind will help keep them safe.
Watch this video to learn important ways to promote safety in your classroom.
The following list presents some characteristics of safe learning environments:
- Low, open shelving promotes independence and prevents toys from falling on children.
- Labeled shelves encourage children to clean up after themselves, and prevent abandoned toys from becoming tripping hazards.
- Clearly defined interest areas promote engagement and create clear traffic patterns that prevent running and collisions.
- Providing a variety of materials keeps children engaged, and discourages playground behaviors (inappropriate running, jumping, and climbing) indoors.
See the Learning Environments course for more information.
Finally, we must consider the condition of the materials in the environment indoors and outdoors. Caring for Our Children suggests looking for these issues and correcting them before children are permitted to play:
- Missing or broken parts
- Protrusion of nuts and bolts
- Rust and chipping or peeling paint
- Sharp edges, splinters, and rough surfaces
- Stability of handholds
- Visible cracks
- Stability of non-anchored large play equipment (e.g., playhouses)
- Wear and deterioration
- Broken or worn electrical fixtures or cords
In many settings, your playground may be used by the community at night, or perhaps your program shares a community park. Even if your playground is protected by a fence, it is still possible that hazardous materials could find their way onto the playground. Before you take children outside, you must be vigilant about inspecting the playground each day. Look for:
- Debris like glass, cigarette butts, litter, building supplies
- Animal excrement and other foreign material
- Mulch that is spread too thin
- Standing water, ice, or snow
- Surfaces that are too hot or cold for children to touch safely
- Natural objects that might cause harm: sharp rocks, stumps, roots, branches
- Unsafe insects: anthills, beehives, or wasp nests
- Ditches, holes, wells, traps
- Exposed power lines or utility equipment
Remember to check the temperature of play surfaces. Metal or plastic slides, benches, and poured concrete surfaces can get very hot and very cold. Inspect surfaces for cracks caused by temperature changes or water damage.
Understanding the importance of keeping children safe and knowing what safe environments look like are the first steps to creating a safe space for children to learn. It is up to you to make sure your environment is safe. There are several things you can do to keep children safe before they arrive and while they are present.
Before Children Arrive
You should begin each day by carefully inspecting indoor and outdoor play areas and equipment. This will help you prevent injuries and accidents. The next lesson on Safe Toys and Materials includes more information about safety checks.
When Children are Present
Constant supervision is the best tool for preventing injury. Preschool children are active and curious, but situations can become unsafe very quickly. Active supervision is key to keeping children safe. Active supervision involves scanning, predicting, and assessing. This involves moving through the indoor or 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. As a responsible caregiver, you should ensure that:
Although you can never prevent all accidents, taking these simple steps will help minimize serious risks to children.
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 Preschool 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.
Your workplace has been designed with safety in mind. In this activity, you will identify features of outdoor spaces that help keep children safe. Read and review the Play Spaces Activity then watch the Outdoor Spaces Video which features outdoor play areas from different programs. Use the Play Spaces Activity to record the features of environments that keep children safe. When you are finished, compare your answers to the suggested responses and discuss with a trainer, coach, or administrator.
Walk around your classroom or playground. Use the safety checklist provided by your program or one of those provided here. Talk about what you see with a co-worker, trainer, coach, or administrator.
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. https://nrckids.org/CFOC
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. https://ers.fpg.unc.edu/sites/ers.fpg.unc.edu/files/playground%20revised%2009-28-11.pdf
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (2012). Think toy safety. Washington, DC: Consumer Product Safety Commission. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/281%281%29.pdf
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (n.d.). Public playground safety checklist https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/playgrounds/public-playground-safety-checklist