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Supervision and Accountability Indoors and Outdoors

As school-age children become more independent, supervision becomes crucial for keeping them safe. This lesson focuses on ways to provide appropriate supervision both indoors and outdoors.

  • Recognize that supervision is adapted for varying developmental levels and varying activities.
  • Recognize supervision needs for arrival, dismissal, and indoor and outdoor activities.
  • Develop methods for ensuring all children are accounted for.
  • Evaluate restroom procedures to ensure supervision and privacy.



You are responsible for supervising the ongoing activity of each child in your care. In school-age programs, activities should support the development of children’s independence and growing sense of responsibility. Children should have the opportunity to make meaningful choices, follow their interests, and spend time alone or with small groups of peers. As a staff member, all of your skills will be put to use supporting each of the children as they gain more independence.

It is especially important that you take your role as a school-age staff member very seriously, as distractions can be deadly. You should never become so engrossed in any activity that your ability to supervise children is compromised. Any work-related reading, telephone calls, or computer use should be discussed with your administrator and planned for a time when you are not responsible for children.

You will also need to adapt your supervision to the children in your care. Because structure and programming vary across school-age programs, supervision should be flexible to meet the needs of all children.  The level of supervision of the groups and individuals depends on two things: characteristics of the children and characteristics of the activity. Some children may require closer supervision than others. You should consider the ages, abilities, developmental stages, and needs of school-age children.  Very young children, children with special health care needs, children with disabilities, or children with behavioral needs may require closer supervision.

In addition, the type, complexity, and level of risk or difficulty of activities should be taken into account. For example, more supervision may be necessary when learning a new or difficult skill. Less supervision may be necessary in activities like reading or playing board games. Independence for older children should be respected and encouraged. 

Supervision is an active process. It involves watching, listening, interacting, monitoring, and preventing problems. In a school-age program, supervision describes how the staff can help protect children from injury or other harm. 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)

It is also important to be aware of how your indoor and outdoor environments influence supervision. Good environmental design is the first step in effective supervision. You should design your space with low shelves, clear traffic patterns, and safe materials. You must also teach school-age children the safety rules for your program. Your daily safety inspection should ensure that you have taken all preventive measures to keep school-age children safe.

Because outdoor play is active, school-age 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. Some programs may use a walkie-talkie or cell phone when necessary, which are excellent tools for such a situation. For certain outdoor activities, a written plan should be in place for providing increased supervision. Examples of these activities might include swimming, skiing, skateboarding, or biking. Sometimes during outdoor activities, group sizes may exceed 30; however, there must be adequate supervision for the group.


What does active and positive supervision look like? In this section, you will see video examples of supervision during arrivals and dismissals, indoor activities, and outdoor activities.

Supervising During Arrivals and Dismissals

You must have written instructions from parents as to how their children will be arriving and departing. See the Learn section below for a sample release/pickup authorization form. Watch how this program ensures accountability during arrival and dismissal. 

Supervision during Arrival and Dismissal

Watch how this program ensures accountability during arrival and dismissal.

Supervising Children Indoors

Staff members should position themselves in such a way that they can move around an area and see all children easily. They must use active supervision strategies to notice risks and take action. Having appropriate activities along with setting and maintaining clear and consistent rules and consequences help children learn expectations that guide appropriate behavior. Watch how this staff member recognizes a problem, takes action, and follows through.

Active Supervision

Watch how this staff member recognizes a problem, takes action, and follows through.

Supervising Children Outdoors

Teams should work together to identify “hot spots” where children usually need assistance or where adults have a hard time seeing children. Staff should stand strategically so they can supervise all areas. This means staff will not stand or sit together on the playground. Staff should be spread out, watching, listening, and interacting positively with school-age children. Be wary 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 staff members to supervision and other staff members to play and conversation. Watch how this program supervises outdoors using zones.

Supervision Outdoors

Watch how this program supervises outdoors using zones.


Keeping Children Safe: Maintaining Accountability for Children

Because school-age children move around the facilities, it is important to have methods and strategies in place for ensuring that all children are accounted for at all times. Good accounting methods, according to Caring for Our Children, include:

  • 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 to 30 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 to an extracurricular activity or are picked up early).
  • Know the location of school-age children when they have permission to be out of sight and check on them at regular intervals.
  • Have a system for knowing where children are as they move from room to room or from inside to outside.

When school-age children use the restroom facilities, they no longer need direct supervision. Your role at this time 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 if help is needed. You should also be able to enter the restroom quickly to provide assistance for younger school-age children. Depending on the layout of your environment, a staff member may monitor the entrances to the restrooms, or your program may have a system in place such as restroom passes or a sign-out sheet to help staff be accountable for children while they use the restroom. It is important to give school-age children privacy when using the restroom.  A staff member should be present to supervise hand washing and other sanitation procedures. The public should not have access to the restrooms.


Active supervision involves all your skills as a school-age staff member. Read the scenarios in this Supervision activity. Identify the problems related to supervision. Then, brainstorm possible solutions. Share your responses with a coach, trainer, or administrator. Compare your answers to the suggested answers key.


It is important to know where the “hot spots” are in your program and on the playground. Draw a map of your program or playground in the space provided in this Hot Spot 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, administrator, trainer, or coach.


The act of being responsible for children. It means knowing which children are present and where they are at all times
The process of watching, listening to, interacting with, and protecting the safety of children


Which of the following is an important strategy to ensure that all children are accounted for at all times?
True or false? The level of supervision will vary to match the needs of individuals and groups.
Quentin has just joined your school-age program. He has autism and has a difficult time with transitions. How should your supervision change?
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.  

Bender, J., (2005) Half a Childhood, Time for School-Age Childcare, School Age Notes, Nashville. 

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC; 2010). Public Playground Safety Handbook.