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Supervision and Accountability Indoors and Outdoors

Although it is critical to provide safe materials and a safe environment, your supervision is the most powerful tool you have to keep children safe. This lesson focuses on ways to provide appropriate supervision both indoors and outdoors. It also addresses ways to maintain accountability for children’s safety.

  • Describe what active, direct supervision looks like.
  • State program strategies for maintaining accountability in supervision, including during rest time and toileting.
  • Design indoor environments to promote effective supervision.
  • Plan how to provide active, direct supervision outdoors.



Supervision: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Supervision describes the ways adults help protect children from injury or other harm. Supervision is an active process. It involves watching, listening, interacting, monitoring, and preventing problems.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “active and positive supervision” involves:

  • Knowing each child’s abilities
  • Establishing clear and simple safety rules
  • Being aware of and scanning for potential safety hazards
  • Standing or sitting in a strategic position
  • Scanning play activities and circulating around the area
  • Focusing on the positive rather than the negative to teach what is safe for the child and other children
  • Teaching children the appropriate and safe use of each piece of equipment (e.g., using a slide feet-first only and teaching why climbing up a slide can cause injury, possibly a head injury).

You can see that supervision is much more than watching. It involves all your skills as a teacher and caregiver. Supervision is your responsibility and commitment to the families who have trusted you with their children. It is also your responsibility and commitment to the children who rely on you for guidance, nurturing, protection, and support.

Types of Supervision

In most circumstances, you should use direct and active supervision. This means an adult should be able to see and hear all preschool children at all times. This includes indoors, outdoors, and nap times. Caregivers and teachers should not be on one level of the building while children are on another floor or in another room. Ratios should remain the same whether inside or outside.

For older preschool children who request privacy in the restroom, it is appropriate to supervise by remaining in hearing distance for short periods of time. Short intervals without sight of children are permissible only during toileting. Although you may not be able to see the child, you or another adult can quickly intervene if help is needed.

It is very important that you take your role in supervision seriously, as distractions can be deadly. You should never be so engrossed in an activity that you are not watching the children.

  • Working on lesson plans or child daily notes during rest time 
  • Writing documentation notes during free choice time 
  • Documenting accountability checks
  • Completing accident/incident reports during free choice when there is an additional professional present to cover ratio and supervision
  • Answering the classroom phone
  • Greeting a family
Not OK
  • Using headphones during rest time
  • Writing the class newsletter during free choice time
  • Carrying on an in-depth conversation on the classroom phone
  • Carrying on a personal conversation, checking and/or sending personal messages on your cell phone or smartwatch, even while in ratio
  • Carrying on an in-depth conversation with a family

You will also need to adapt your supervision to the children in your care. All children have different needs. Very young children, children with special health care needs, children with disabilities, or children with behavioral needs may require additional supervision.


Supervision is an active process. It includes recognizing risks, acting on risks, and talking with children. Watch how these teachers use active supervision strategies to guide children's behavior and prevent harm.

First, watch as this teacher helps children learn how to be safe on bikes.

Supervising for Safety

This video shows an example of active supervision on the playground.

Now, watch as another teacher helps children practice safety in the classroom.

Active Supervision

This video shows an example of active supervision in the classroom.

Think about how these teachers dealt with problems. They recognized the risk, they took action, and they helped the children learn how to behave safely.


Keeping Children Safe: Maintaining Accountability for Children

Because families have trusted you with their children, you must ensure the safety of each child from the time they enter the program until the time an approved parent or family member has signed them out. Children move very quickly, and it is not uncommon for children to attach themselves to another group, slip out an open door, or hide during a transition. There are several important strategies for ensuring that all children are accounted for at all times, according to Caring for Our Children:

  • Count children by matching name to face.
  • Count on a scheduled basis, at every transition, and when leaving one area and arriving at another. You should count children approximately every 15 minutes.
  • Be sure you can state the number of children in your care at all times.
  • Record the count on an attendance sheet or pocket card.
  • Note any children who leave the group (e.g., those who go with another adult to get the breakfast cart, those who are picked up early).

Watch as a teacher describes attendance procedures in her program.

Attendance Procedures

Watch as a teacher describes attendance procedures in her program.

Watch as a teacher talks about strategies to account for children.

Maintaining Accountability

This video describes strategies for maintaining accountability at all times.

Supervising Children Indoors

Good classroom design is the first step in effective supervision. You should design your classroom with low shelves, clear traffic patterns, and safe materials. You must also teach children the safety rules for the classroom. Your daily safety inspection should ensure that you have taken all preventive measures to keep children safe.

Good teaching is good supervision. Join children in their interest areas. Observe the children. Have meaningful conversations. Sit or kneel at the children’s eye level. Interact with children so you know their strengths and needs. Use what you learn about children to make changes to your environment or activities. Use positive guidance techniques to help keep children safe.

Children’s needs change all the time. Supervision must change, too. You must think on your feet to keep all children safe.When determining the level of direct, engaged supervision necessary for various activities, consider the type, complexity, and level of risk involved. More supervision may be necessary when learning a new or difficult skill. Less supervision may be necessary in activities like reading or playing with soft blocks. Independence for older children should be respected and encouraged, although this should be balanced with direct engagement during appropriate activities.

Watch these adults talk about how they adapted their supervision for a particular child.

Adapted Supervision

This video describes the ways a team kept individual children safe through supervision.

They describe a child who has behavioral difficulties. What challenges did they face? What strategies do you hear them discuss?

Supervising During Rest Time

This topic is covered in more depth in Lesson Six about Safe Sleep for preschool children. This lesson provides a brief overview. 

Preschool children still need supervision during rest time. Usually, preschool-age children rest during a set time of the day (rather than napping on individual schedules like infants and toddlers). During rest time, typical ratios are relaxed. One adult can supervise all children, however, the staff member who leaves the classroom must stay in the facility and be available to assist in the event of an emergency or evacuation. Maximum group size must be maintained. Multiple full classes cannot be combined and supervised by a single adult. It is required for at least one adult to stay in the room with children during rest time. This helps monitor and support children who do not sleep, children who wake early, and children who may have sleep problems. Just like on the playground, it is critical that the supervising adult be able to call other adults for help without leaving the room.

Remember to take each child’s individual needs into consideration. If a child with mobility issues (e.g., a child who requires a walker or wheelchair) or special health concerns (e.g., seizures, sleep apnea, asthma) is napping in the room, additional adults should be on-call. Always consider the number of adults who would be required to help evacuate the children in the event of an emergency.

You can find more information on this topic is Lesson 6: Safe Sleep for Preschool Age Children.

Supervising Children Who Desire Privacy

Good classroom design always offers children places they can go to be alone. Preschool can be an overwhelming world! It is important, though, that you can see and hear children at all times — even when they are in spaces designed for privacy. Consider designing privacy spaces with open tops, low barriers, or sheer draperies.

Toileting is another time when older preschool children may desire privacy. Your role is to help children use the restroom facilities safely and independently. It is not necessary to see each child as they use the restroom, but you should be able to hear all children. You should also be able to enter the restroom quickly to provide assistance. An adult should be present to supervise hand washing and make sure other sanitation procedures are followed.

Supervising Children Outdoors

Because outdoor play is active, children will usually need more supervision outdoors. Adult-child ratios must be followed at all times. You should also be able to contact another adult for help if needed without leaving the children. A walkie-talkie or approved cell phone (used only in emergencies) is an excellent tool for such a situation.

Playground design is an important part of supervision. The playground equipment should be organized so adults can see all children at all times. There should be no blind spots, such as tunnels around corners, large stones children can hide behind, or enclosed structures.

Playground equipment often cannot be easily changed. Adults still have a tool at their disposal: location. Teams should work together to identify “hot spots” where children usually need assistance or where adults have a hard time seeing children. Adults should stand strategically so they can supervise all areas. This means adults will not stand or sit together on the playground. Adults should be spread out, watching, listening, and interacting positively with children. Be wary, however, of having long discussions or intense play with a child or small group of children while supervising a zone. It is difficult to supervise all children while engaged with a group. Consider assigning certain adults to supervision and other adults to play and conversation.


Active supervision involves all your skills as a teacher and caregiver. Read the scenarios in the Active Supervision activity. Identify the problems related to supervision. Then brainstorm possible solutions. Share your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator. Then compare your answers to the suggested responses.


It is important to know where the “hot spots” are in your classroom and on the playground. Read and review the Hot Spots activity. Draw a map of your classroom or playground in the space provided in this activity.  Spend some time observing children. Each time you see a problem behavior or an injury, mark an X where it occurred. At the end of the day, look for patterns. Which areas have the most Xs? Discuss your results with your team, trainer, coach, or administrator.


Finish this statement: Preschool children need to be supervised during…
Which of these staff members is supervising appropriately?
True or false? Children can be supervised even when they need privacy or want to be alone.
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. 

Harms, T., Clifford, R. M., & Cryer, D. (2014). Early childhood environment rating scale.(3rd ed.). Teachers College Press. 

McWilliam, R. A., & Casey, A. M. (2008). Engagement of every child in the preschool classroom. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company. 

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2015, December 29). Public Playground Safety Handbook.  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.