- Recognizing varying skills and abilities of school-age children.
- Identifying safe materials and games for school-age children.
- Conduct safety checks of the materials and games.
As a staff member in a school-age program, you have the responsibility to make sure children are safe in your care. As children grow older, they become capable of using more complex games and materials. They may have the opportunity to use real tools and equipment that are considered unsafe for younger children. As they are exploring, it is important for you to make sure these items are safe. You do this through regularly checking games and learning materials and using your judgment when choosing games and learning materials for your program.
It is common for school-age programs to serve children from 5 to 12 years of age. Children in this age group represent a wide range of physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Some things may be safe for older children, but unsafe for younger children. Consider the ages and abilities of each child in your program when choosing and using games and learning materials. Take precautions to make sure your setting is safe for younger children as well as older children. Use your knowledge of child development and the children in your care to make decisions. If a new child comes into your program, it is important to take time to show the child how to use materials safely. When new processes or tools are introduced, children should be shown how to use them and how to be safe around others using them.
What do safe games and learning materials for school-age children look like? How do you know if a game is safe? How can you help all children use materials safely? Watch this video to see examples of how school-age staff choose and use materials safely.
Read this section to learn more about choosing, using, and checking learning materials.
Choosing Safe Games and Learning Materials for School-Age Children
When choosing learning materials for school-age children, think about these ideas:
- Loud noises: Choose toys and equipment that are appropriate for your setting. Be wary of equipment that makes loud noises and could damage a child’s hearing. There is no easy way to determine whether an object is too loud. The best advice is to follow safety guidelines printed on toys and equipment. Often, loud objects will carry warnings not to use indoors. For any objects that make noise, supervise children closely and help them learn to use it safely. Help them learn to keep noise-making objects at arm’s distance rather than holding objects near their ears. Provide guidance to children about volume on their earphones, video games, and handheld devices.
- Cords and strings: Strings and cords can be dangerous for younger children in your program. Avoid any strings that go around a child’s neck (necklaces, capes, toy guitar chords, “leashes” in dramatic play). Also avoid drawstrings in sweatshirts and clothing. These may become trapped in doors or moving equipment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends cutting off strings or cords.
- Sharp points: Be wary of broken objects or any objects with sharp points. Proper supervision is needed when working with materials that contain sharp points, such as knitting needles or woodworking tools. Be sure to adhere to recommended age limits set by the manufacturer when using these types of materials.
- Projectiles (flying toys) can easily injure eyes, so be certain that arrows and darts used by children have blunt tips, such as rubber or flexible plastic suction cups or cork. Check to see that tips are attached securely to shafts. Always use safety goggles and safety equipment when recommended. Any activity that involves propelled objects should be done in an area separate from other activities. Propelled objects should be aimed away from other children and staff.
- Electric toys: Use electric toys only with adult supervision and teach children to use them properly and with caution. Electric toys with heating elements are recommended only for children over 8 years old. Make sure electric toys meet safety requirements. Make sure electric toys are labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.
- Balloons: Balloons can be fun, but they are not safe for children under 8. Children may accidently inhale a broken balloon while trying to inflate it. Broken balloons can conform to the throat and completely block breathing. If you use balloons, make sure an adult inflates all balloons. Carefully supervise play, and quickly remove any broken balloons. Children may also have latex allergies. If possible, remind parents to disclose this allergy on medical forms.
- Tools: Woodworking tools, power tools, and kitchen appliances should only be used when an adult can supervise.
- Video Game Ratings: In addition to following age recommendations on materials, you should check the ratings on any video games that children bring to your program or that you have purchased. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) offers guidance about a game's age-appropriateness by giving video games a rating. It is best to keep to games that are rated either EC (Early Childhood) or E (Everyone), even though games rated E (Everyone) can have some violence and infrequent use of mild language. Keep in mind that some computer games have unmoderated online components. If rated by the ESRB, these games will note that the online ratings may not conform with the rating on the box. Read the attachment at the end of the Learn section to find out more about video game ratings.
- Animals: If your program is considering pets or other animals, read the Pets in Programs attachment at the end of the Learn section.
Using Games and Learning Materials Safely
Once you have chosen games or learning materials, you must be sure to use them safely. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are safety goggles, where required, available and in good condition?
- Are any heating devices (cooking equipment, etc.) stored out of reach when not in use?
- Are adults nearby and actively supervising when potentially dangerous materials are used?
Checking Games and Learning Materials
All games and learning materials are subject to regular wear and tear. This means games and learning materials may become unsafe over time. Consider these issues when checking on the games and learning materials you already have in your program.
Chairs, tables, and shelves may get sharp edges over time. Both wooden and plastic materials can become unsafe and warp, crack, and break. Children can get splinters or cuts when just sitting on the furniture or getting something from the shelf. These damaged objects should be removed from your program space.
Some of your metal or hardware can start to snag, rust, or warp. Have any plastic or glass pieces splintered? If so, these items are unsafe and should be replaced or removed.
Look at your board games and puzzles as they are played. From daily use, pieces may become broken. The cases or containers may also become less strong, and small or sharp pieces may fall out and become unsafe. If you should find this is to be true for your program, replace the box and put the items in a safer container.
As you check your room for safety, some questions you should ask before you allow children to play and use materials include:
- Are rugs in good condition and free from frayed edges? Will children trip over them when walking around the room?
- Are items such as sharp objects, medicines, cleaning supplies, chemicals, and heating devices stored out of reach of children?
- Are scissors and sharp pencils stored with points facing down?
- Are safety goggles available and in good condition? Look to see that the straps are strong and long enough and that there are no cracks in the frame.
- Are basketball and soccer nets well-constructed and firmly attached to the rim so that they don't become strangulation hazards?
- Are electrical cords secured safely and in good condition (no fraying)? Are all electric objects in good working order?
- Are computers plugged into approved, secured surge protectors?
The facility conditions for a school-age environment can change weekly, daily, hourly, or maybe even instantly. Therefore, it is very important for the safety of the children in your program that you inspect facilities daily and monitor continuously while children are present. It is unlikely that all facility hazards will be prevented, but inspection and continuing supervision can go a long way in keeping children safe.
Consider the following:
- Choose games and learning materials with children’s safety and age in mind.
- Use games and learning equipment safely. Teach children how to be safe. Supervise carefully.
- Check games and learning materials daily. Use your daily safety checklist to inspect games and learning materials.
- Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website for product recalls.
What should you do if you decide a material or environment is unsafe? Make note of any potentially unsafe situations on your daily safety checklist. Remove or replace the unsafe item. If the unsafe situation is related to facilities or equipment, immediately make a report to your director.
Be sure to listen for news of product recalls, as well. The Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps a database of product recalls at www.saferproducts.gov.
Remember, do not allow children to play with or on unsafe materials or equipment. It truly is better safe than sorry.
To complete the Choose or Lose Activity, read about the materials. Then decide whether you would “choose” the item for your program or “lose” it. If you choose the item, describe how you would use it safely. If you lose the item, explain why it is unsafe. Then compare your answers to the suggested answers key.
You saw safety checklists in Lesson One. Use the additional sample checklists provided here. Walk around your program area with a coworker, administrator, trainer, or coach. Discuss the safety features of the materials in your program. Learn what to do if you find something that is unsafe.
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
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2019). Good toys for young children by age and stage. National Association for the Education of Young Children. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/play/toys
Oesterreich, L. (2001). Understanding children: Toys. [PM 1529M]. Iowa State University Extension. https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/Toys-Understanding-Children-PDF
Oesterreich, L. (1995). Spaces and equipment. In L. Oesterreich, B. Holt, & S. Karas (Ed.), Iowa family child care handbook (pp. 69-80). Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension.