- Describe safe indoor school-age spaces.
- Describe safe outdoor school-age spaces.
- Recognize a safe school-age space.
- Plan routine safety checks.
Think back to happy moments from your childhood. Do you remember riding a bike around your neighborhood? Going swimming with friends? Learning to fix a snack all by yourself? Likely, these events are memorable because you felt independent.
Just like we did, school-age children crave independence and challenge. School-age children are active and curious. They enjoy exploring and taking risks. Often, though, they don’t understand the danger in the risks they take. They put trust in their environments and their budding abilities. They think they cannot get hurt. By reducing hazards in your environment, your program can allow school-age children to explore safely during this important phase of life.
Safe Indoor Spaces
Your indoor space can become safer just by meeting the daily needs of the children in your program and keeping the developmental needs of school-age children in mind. Programs for school-age children are busy places with multiple activities going on at the same time.
All of this activity can lead to injuries or accidents. Arranging the space in your area so that a variety of activities can go on without disruption or collisions between children will make a safer indoor environment. Separating active games or sports from quiet activities like reading or homework minimizes distractions and accidents. It also creates clear traffic patterns that prevent running and collisions. Finally, effective furniture and equipment arrangement helps you supervise school-age children for safety.
Safe Outdoor Spaces
It is very important for staff to station themselves throughout the outdoor space so they can supervise all children. Often, outdoor play equipment cannot be moved, so staff must actively supervise by moving around the equipment.
When children go outside, it is important to make sure that there is ample shade and access to drinking water. Inspections of the sidewalks will be necessary to make sure they are not slippery from ice or mud.
Every program will set up indoor and outdoor environments differently to maintain safety. What does a safe environment look like in your school-age program? We can think about this question in three ways. First, we think about our facilities. Second, we think about how we arrange and organize our learning spaces within the facilities. Finally, we think about the condition of the materials in the environment. This lesson will focus on facilities and learning spaces. You will learn about materials in the next lesson.
Your facility has been designed with safety in mind. Watch this video to see the ways your program helps keep children safe.
Your Learning Spaces
Next, we think about the ways we organize our learning spaces. Much of what you do as part of your job every day will help you keep 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 more about the features of learning spaces that help keep children safe.
Indoor and Outdoor Conditions
We must consider the condition of the physical space and facilities indoors and outdoors. Look for these items—listed in Caring for Our Children (2019)—and correct 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 outdoor space may be used by the community at night. Or perhaps your program shares a community park. Even if your outdoor space is protected by a fence, it is still possible that hazardous materials could find their way onto the outdoor space. Before you take school-age children outside, you must be vigilant about inspecting the outdoor space each day. Look for:
- Debris, such as 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.
Now that you understand the importance of keeping school-age children safe and know what safe environments look like, it is up to you to make sure your environment is safe. The best way to ensure that your environment is safe is to do “safety checks” and inspections. It is necessary to do both daily and monthly safety checks.
You should begin each day by carefully inspecting indoor and outdoor play areas and equipment. This will help you prevent major injuries or accidents. The next lesson on Safe Games and Learning Materials will give you more information about safety checks.
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 School-Age 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. Complete the Examining Play Spaces activity. As you watch this video from a school-age program, use the activity form to record the features of the environment that keep children safe. When you are finished, use the key to check your answers.
Walk around your program's indoor and outdoor areas as you complete the different Safety Checklists below or use one provided by your program to evaluate your space. Talk about what you find 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.). https://nrckids.org
Blank, S. (2005) Hours that Count: Using After-School Programs to Help Prevent Risky Behaviors and Keep Kids Safe. Hamilton Fish Institute.
Council on Accreditation (COA; 2008). After School Program Standards. New York, NY: Council on Accreditation.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (n.d.). Public playground safety checklist: Document # 327. https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/playgrounds/public-playground-safety-checklist
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (n.d.). Think Toy Safety. Washington, DC: Consumer Product Safety Commission.