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Ensuring Toys and Materials for Children are Safe

Safety is a major priority in child development and school-age programs. Unsafe toys and materials can put children at risk for injury or illness. You can help staff members choose, use, and check toys with safety in mind. This lesson focuses on inspecting toys and materials for safety and providing guidance to staff about toys and materials.

  • Teach staff members how to inspect toys and materials for safety.
  • Model how to choose safe materials, use materials safely, and check materials frequently for safety.
  • Observe staff members’ as they choose, use, and check materials. Provide feedback and monitor compliance with program policies.



New staff members may have a limited knowledge of child development. They might not know what toys and materials are appropriate for the age group with which they work. You can help them learn more about choosing, using, and checking toys and materials.

Teach staff members your program’s specific policies regarding purchasing, inspecting, and reporting problems with materials. Make sure you are familiar with the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and its recall lists. You may need to lead efforts to identify and exclude materials that have been recalled. The Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps a database of product recalls. Visit to see lists of recalled products. You can find a link for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website in the References and Resources section of this lesson.

Use the resources concerning best practices found here in the Virtual Lab School. Collect staff members’ responses to the Explore section in their own lessons about safe toys and materials. Review their responses and compare them to the suggested answers. What misunderstandings do you see? Talk to staff members about any safety risks they did not identify in the Explore section activities and in their own classrooms.


You are an important role model for providing safe materials. You should help staff members choose materials. Review their purchasing lists or requests. Talk to staff members about the materials they request and how they can be used safely in child-development or school-age programs. If an item is appropriate for only a certain group of children (i.e., an item for children ages 10 or over in a school-age program for children ages 5-12), begin to discuss ways the staff members can introduce the toy, set guidelines for its use, and make sure it is used safely. Ask questions about the staff members’ goals for the item and how those goals could be reached with age-appropriate materials. Help staff members think in advance about issues. For example, if a school-age program has a toy for children ages 10 and up, help the staff member practice what they might say to younger children who want to play. Model ideas like, “We need to be safe. Let’s find a toy that we can play with together.”

You can also model using toys and material safely. If you see materials that seem unsafe, say something. Step in to help children if needed. It is your responsibility to help keep children safe. Always debrief with staff members after you have modeled or helped out in a program. Be sure to explain why you did what you did.

You can model how to check toys and materials for safety. Regularly walk around your program and inspect toys and materials for damage. Report problems. Make sure staff members are supported when they report problems with materials.


Safe toys and materials are an important part of programs for children. It is your job to help staff members be sure these materials are safe. Inspect toys and materials regularly while you are in programs. Also observe staff members as they choose, use, and check the toys and materials in their programs. Talk with staff members about the materials they provide. Help them reflect on the safety of those materials.

You can use the Safe Materials Best Practices Checklist in the Apply section to focus your observations on safe materials.

It is also important to prepare yourself to support staff across the range of skills and competencies you will see. Staff members have different strengths and challenges related to choosing, using and checking toys and materials. In this section, you will see several examples of safe and unsafe materials.

We will follow a case example that shows the challenges in choosing and using age-appropriate materials in an infant setting and a school-age setting. Then, you will see how aPUBLIC coach might respond to support the staff members. Finally, you will see a few additional video examples with commentary about howPUBLIC coaches might support individual staff members.

Case Example: Safe Materials

Watch how staff members use materials

Now take some time to think about the examples you just saw. What strengths and concerns did you notice? How would you respond to each situation?

Case Example Step 1

The first step after noticing a need is to help staff develop a plan to address the need. Think about the infant video with the expanding ball. Here is an action plan that Cheryl and herPUBLIC coach wrote following this observation:

Teddy Bear Room Action Plan

Our Goal:

To provide a safe environment for infants and toddlers to explore!

The Steps to Reach our Goal:

  1. Check toys throughout the day for broken or missing parts.
  2. Use a choke tube to test toys. Get rid of any toys that have pieces that could fit inside the tube.
  3. Watch how children play with toys. If any toys seem to hurt children in any way (pinch, scrape, etc.), remove the toy immediately.
  4. Check the age rating on all toys in our classroom. Only provide toys that are appropriate for the youngest child in our care.
  5. Provide a range of age-appropriate toys and have duplicates of favorites.
  6. Talk with our trainer about toys we would like to purchase.

For the school-age example in Simone’s program, we might adapt this action plan to reflect the needs of older learners. For example, the goal might become “To provide at least five toys or learning materials in each program area that are interesting, engaging, and approved for each age group of children in the program.” The team might then adapt the steps to reach the goal:

  1. Check toys and learning materials throughout the day for broken or missing parts.
  2. Check the age rating on all toys or materials in the program. Make sure at least five toys are available for each age group of children.
  3. Supervise children closely when using high-risk materials like electronics, tools, etc.
  4. Redirect children when they choose a toy or material that is not age-appropriate. Redirect them to materials that are appropriate and follow through to help them stay engaged in the activity.
  5. Talk with our trainer about materials we would like to purchase.

Case Example Step 2

Once staff members have developed an action plan, you are a valuable resource for helping them make the changes they identified. Use the action plan and your observation tools to help you target your observations. Remember to focus on the content the staff member is working on.

Here is a follow-up observation from Cheryl’s classroom. Do you see new skills or behaviors she tried?

Follow-Up: Safe Materials

Watch how a staff member adjusted based on feedback.

Here are sample notes herPUBLIC coach took during this follow-up observation:

They have a wide variety of toys and materials. All are age appropriate and have different textures. Matthew is smiling and exploring. Matthew explored every ball with his hands and mouth. All are soft. No sharp edges or small pieces. Note for next time: Matthew’s playing alone­—very content—but adults are on other side of room.

Here is the discussion Cheryl and herPUBLIC coach had following the observation. What strategies does her coach Training and Curriculum Specialist use to facilitate the conversation?

Cheryl’sPUBLIC coach: I noticed that you put out a new basket of balls today. How did you choose which balls to include?

Cheryl: I just thought about what they like. And I tried to remember that they are going to put everything in their mouth. I wanted to find things I could clean easily and that wouldn’t hurt anyone if it got grabbed away by another child. They loved them. I think they liked them just as much as the expandable ball.

Cheryl’sPUBLIC coach: I think you’re right. Did you see how long Matthew spent exploring all of the balls? That’s absolutely what he and the other infants should be doing. He was safe and learning so much.

Case Example Step 3

All of us need the right tools to do our jobs. Use the information you have gathered to connect staff members with resources they need. Here are the resources Cheryl and herPUBLIC coach identified to meet her goals.

Cheryl and herPUBLIC coach went over the supply catalog together. They identified age-appropriate toys that Cheryl would like to request for her classroom. Cheryl brought in a ball that she had seen other infants and toddlers enjoy and that was age appropriate.

Additional Examples of Safe Materials

Here are a few additional examples of things you might see in programs. After watching the clip, read the ways a PUBLICcoach might respond to help reinforce the use of safe materials.

Safe Materials: Preschool

This video highlights the significance of using materials safely in preschool.

Following each video, think about the competencies you saw and what you might say or do. Here is an example:

Preschool Scenarios


You See

What you observed:

  • Children are using appropriate tools.
  • Activity caught children’s interest.
  • Ice chips flew toward eyes (even hit teacher’s face).

You Say

What you might say:

  • “I noticed that the kids were so excited to get started that they forgot the goggles. How do you think we could set up the space to help them remember?”
  • “It looks like you’re dodging ice! I’ll grab some goggles out of the closet for you and the children.”

You Do

What you might do:

  • Lesson plan with the teacher and help him brainstorm all of the supplies he needs to gather before activities begin.
  • Review his classroom supplies with him to make sure he has all the materials he needs.
  • Help him develop a purchase request list for safety supplies.

    You See

    What you observed:

    • Real tools are provided.
    • Teacher provides prompt, “Remember…” and children fill in the safety rule.
    • Teacher is close by and helps them use the tools safely.


    What you might ask:

    • “Your class was so careful with the tools today. What strategies have you used to help them learn the safety rules?”
    • “How do you decide what materials are safe for the children? How does this compare to other activities you do?
    • “Would you mind sharing your ideas for discovery centers with other teachers? Could [name] come observe next week?”

    You Do

    What you might do:

    • Ask her to inventory her classroom supplies and join the program’s curriculum committee (if applicable).
    • Ask her to develop guidelines for using authentic materials safely and to share them with other staff.

    Safe Materials for School-Age Programs

    This video provides examples of materials for school-age children.

    School-Age Scenarios


    You See

    What you observed:

    • Children are doing a meaningful project that interests them (solar ovens).
    • Children are working together in groups and sharing age-appropriate materials.
    • Children are using a variety of tools. Some (the safety scissors) are not strong enough to cut cardboard and could introduce risk.


    What you might ask:

    • “I noticed that Paul is struggling with cutting his box. Are there other options for that group?”
    • “How did today’s project go? Did you have all the supplies you need? How would you change it if you did it again?”

    You Do

    What you might do:

    • Inventory supplies and make sure there are sufficient quantities for activities.
    • Brainstorm with the staff member about ways small groups could be scheduled, so limited materials are shared.


    What you observed:

    • Children are very engaged in making Mother’s Day gifts.
    • Children are using real tools (sewing machines).
    • Extension cords stretch across a walkway. This could be a safety hazard.


    What you might ask:

    • “The children enjoy sewing so much. They all seemed really invested in finishing those projects, and they were using the machines so carefully.”
    • “Tell me about your ideal sewing station. How would it be arranged?”

    You Do

    What you might do:

    • Order power strips, so multiple machines can be plugged into one strip.
    • Help the staff member arrange the strips so they are secured under tables.
    • ·Use electrical tape to temporarily secure loose electrical cords to the floor (to prevent tripping on cords).

    You See

    What you observed:

    • Staff member reminds child how to be safe with scissors.
    • Staff member is sitting near a child who might need extra supervision and support.


    What you might ask:

    • “You were very aware of helping your little guy use the scissors safely.”
    • “How do you help children remember and follow the safety rules?”

    You Do

    What you might do:

    • Help her brainstorm staffing patterns if individual children need additional supervision.

    You See

    What you observed:

    • A variety of real tools are provided in a clearly defined area.
    • Safety rules are posted.
    • Staff member is able to describe how and why they keep children safe.
    • Staff member mentions what children are not allowed to do.


    What you might ask:

    • “It’s so important to be able to talk about why and how we do the work we do. Thanks for sharing about your station.”
    • “How do children know what they are not allowed to do? Do they always know? How do you teach them what they can do?”

    You Do

    What you might do:

    • Help her create short, positively stated rules that apply to the entire construction junction (or the entire program).
    • Encourage her to expand her knowledge and perhaps mentor new staff members about the importance of safe materials.

    Assess Professional Understanding and Practice

    At this point, staff members should recognize and use safe materials all day, every day. You are ready to observe and document their new competencies. Use the Safe Materials Best Practices Checklist in the Apply section. Observe in the classroom using the checklist as a guide. Discuss your notes with the staff member. Store it in the employee’s training file. This is not the end of learning, however. Observe, provide feedback, and offer resources as needed throughout the employee’s career. Needs will change, but your role will always serve a critical mission.


    In this activity, you will choose one of the staff members you watched in the Learn section. There are a few additional staff members featured in these videos as well. Choose a staff member and think about how you would support that staff member’s professional development around safe materials.  First, choose one of the videos to watch again (Infant/Toddler, Preschool, or School-Age). Then choose one staff member featured in that video.  Read and review the Coaching About Materials Activity. Answer the questions and share your responses with a colleague. 

    A Range of Materials for Infants and Toddlers

    Watch the different ways toys and materials are used for infants and toddlers.

    A Range of Preschool Toys and Materials

    This video provides examples of materials for preschool children.

    A Range of School-Age Materials

    This video provides examples of materials for school-age children.


    Read this Safety Checklist and use in your program (or use one provided by your workplace). Walk around each classroom or the playground and use the checklist. Discuss the safety features of the materials with staff members. Make sure each staff member knows what to do if something is unsafe.


    Carmen brought you an educational supply catalog and pointed out a toy she wanted to purchase for her infant classroom. Here is the description you read in the catalog: “Our stretchy satin ribbons slide right onto children’s wrists—keeping their hands free to dance, wave, clap and more! 12 ribbons include 2 each of 6 bright colors; the machine-washable ribbons are 15 1⁄2" long. Toddler - kindergarten / 18 mos. - 5 yrs.” What are your concerns about this product for an infant classroom?
    Your school-age program is planning to begin a woodworking program. Which one of these items is not important for keeping this program running safely?
    Whose responsibility is it to make sure that unsafe toys are removed from classrooms and programs?
    References & Resources

    American Academy Of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. 2011. Caring for Our Children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. 3rd edition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; Washington, DC: American Public Health Association. Also available at

    Consumer Products Safety Commission  To sign up for email alerts when there are child related recalls.

    U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (n.d.). Think Toy Safety. Washington, DC: Consumer Product Safety Commission.