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Ensuring Staff-to-Child Ratios and Appropriate Supervision Practices are Followed at all Times

Although it is critical to provide safe materials and a safe environment, supervision is the most powerful tool we have to keep children safe. This lesson focuses on ways to support staff members as they provide appropriate supervision indoors and outdoors. It also addresses ways to ensure accountability for children’s safety and ways to provide feedback on appropriate child supervision.

  • Teach staff members your program’s policies for maintaining ratios and supervision.
  • Model active supervision strategies for staff members in your program.
  • Observe and provide feedback on staff members’ active-supervision strategies.



Ensuring that staff members have the ability to safely supervise the children in their care is your responsibility. It reflects the commitment you make to the families who have trusted your program with their children. It is also your responsibility and commitment to the children who rely on your program for guidance, nurturing, protection, and support. This course will provide simple tools you can use to guide staff as they learn to follow ratio and supervision guidelines.

It is also your responsibility to teach staff members your program’s specific ratios and policies for maintaining accountability. Provide them the tools they need, such as sign-in sheets and attendance logs. Teach staff members in your program how to use those tools. Also, teach them the critical importance of active supervision. The Virtual Lab School Safe Environments course within each direct care track provides staff members or family child care providers specific details about active supervision strategies appropriate for the age groups they serve. Follow-up with staff members or providers to support their use of age-appropriate active supervision techniques.

Importance of Communication

An effective communication system will ensure ratios are maintained at all times. Whether your system involves ratio checks by intercom or in person, staff must have a thorough understanding of your program's communication system so you can be informed and can adjust accordingly. In addition written procedures are equally important. Staff must be trained on those procedures, as well as receive a copy of the staff handbook. This will be addressed in greater detail in the Communication course.

  1. Train for Ratios

    I Should Always...

    Make certain that staff are trained during their orientation on protocols for maintaining required ratios at all times ensure staff never...
    • Step out of the classroom and leave the classroom out of ratio - no matter what
    • Leave at their regularly scheduled time if the classroom is out of ratio
    • Welcome or dismiss children without marking it on the attendance record
    • Transition from one activity or location without taking name to face head counts
    • Get upset when they are reassigned to meet ratios
  2. Monitor Ratios

    I Should Always...

    Monitor ratios using frequent walk-throughs and analysis of ratio sheets. This ensures proper staffing policies are enforced and required ratios are being maintained. ensure staff never...
    • Find themselves in situations where there isn’t adequate staff to maintain ratios
  3. Schedule and Maintain Adequate Staff

    I Should Always...

    Schedule adequate staff to maintain ratio and group size requirements. Having adequate staff accounts for planned and unplanned absences to decrease the regrouping of children and the reassignment of staff. ensure staff never...
    • Find themselves in situations where there aren't adequate staff to maintain ratios
  4. Communicate Consequences

    I Should Always...

    Communicate consequences for not maintaining required ratios, and follow through with those consequences for everyone, every time ensure staff never...
    • Continue to put children and youth at risk for not adhering to the maintenance of ratio protocols

Watch this video to hear about ways to maintain ratios.

Ratios Matter

Ways to ensure ratios are maintained


Supervision of Internet and Technology Use

Technology has changed the nature of our day-to-day lives. While the internet, tablets, and applications or “apps” provide children and staff with new and exciting learning opportunities, they also come with safety and supervision challenges. It is essential that your program has guidelines for the supervision and use of technology by children, and you play an important role in supporting staff so they know the rules and carry them out. Your program may have protections such as software that limits access to explicit material on the internet, but know that this should not provide a false sense of safety. While such programs are useful, and a good starting point, active supervision of children’s internet and device use is best, and you should coach staff to provide the same level of supervision for children’s online activity while in your program as they do with any other type of activity. Consider these questions when helping staff members assess their supervision of children’s online activity and technology use:

Is internet and technology use intentional, planned, and linked to learning goals?

Am I familiar with the websites, apps, or games children are using while in the program?

Are privacy settings and adult controls in place?

Do the websites, apps, and games used during program time contain content that is sexually explicit, promotes hate or violence, or encourages users to buy something or provide personal information?

Are children interacting with others online? If so, who?

Am I engaging with the children during their online activities?

Do I recognize and act on signs of potential abuse or bullying online?


When you spend time in classrooms and programs, model the active supervision strategies you expect staff members to use. When you go on playgrounds, move around and make sure children are safe. Avoid standing still and talking to staff members. This might distract them from their supervisory responsibilities. Make sure you know children’s names and are able to support staff members as they supervise for safety.

Frequently check-in with staff members and ask how many children are in their care. Staff members should be able to instantly state the number of children in their classroom or program. This “spot check” is one way you can make sure staff are aware of and following ratio and supervision practices.


Observe staff members and talk with them about ratio and supervision practices. It is important for you to know each staff member’s individual strengths and challenges. Remember to focus on the content the staff member is working on: in this case, ratios and supervision. You can use a variety of tools to focus your observation:

  • Checklists. Complete a supervision checklist and share results with the team.
  • Setting maps. During a site visit, sketch a map of the classroom or program. Mark the form to indicate where adults stand and where the majority of children are. Share results with staff. Relate results to the action plan. Are staff members following the action plan?
  • Video recording. Record staff interactions with children. Review the video with staff members. Talk about strengths, issues and concerns related to the action plan.
  • Track a child. If staff members are concerned about supervising a particular child, spend some time specifically observing that child. Keep anecdotal records of the child’s movements, behaviors, and interactions with children and adults. Share results with the team, and brainstorm solutions.
  • Track Incident Reports. Spend time reviewing incident reports for a classroom or setting. Look for patterns and discuss these with staff members. Identify when and where problems are occurring. Discuss with staff whether supervision issues played a role in the incidents.

As aPUBLIC coach, you should remain aware of the children in each group who may need special attention. Staff members may need extra support to supervise these children effectively. You may have to help them brainstorm staffing solutions and activity plans that meet the child’s needs. You might have to help develop activity schedules, role and responsibility plans, and other staffing supports for the child. You can support staff members as they refine their supervision skills by:

  • Providing information about a particular child’s behavior or skill
  • Providing information about classroom “hot spots”
  • Discussing a video of the classroom together
  • Providing resources about what to do if a room is out of ratio (over or under)

Observing Effective Supervision

It’s important to remember that you can provide support for staff members at all levels of skill.  As you watch this video of Nikki, think about ways you could (a) recognize her effective practice and (b) help her continue to refine or grow her leadership.

Case Example: Supervision

It is important to think about how you can coach even the strongest staff member.

Additional Examples of Supervision Strategies

Staff members use a variety of strategies for maintaining accountability. Watch these examples of adults supervising infants and toddlers. As you watch, think about the strategies you see related to supervision and ratios.

Supervision for Infants and Toddlers

Watch the different ways adults supervise infants and toddlers.

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

Infant & Toddler Scenarios


You See

What you observed:

  • Space for active play
  • Five toddlers on climbing mats
  • Adult nearby to physically assist
  • Two children fall on one another as they jump and slide

You Say

What you might say:

  • “Toddlers love to move, and the slide you set up really meets their need to move. You mentioned that there was a pretty nasty collision yesterday. Let’s talk about that…”
  • “If you could change one thing about the climbing area, what would it be?”
  • “Which children have the hardest time staying safe on the climber? Let’s think of ways to teach them how to use it safely.”

You Do

What you might do:

  • Help the teacher develop reasonable limits for the number of children on the climber at one time.
  • Talk about staffing and offering enough engaging experiences that children don’t crowd into one area.
  • Make a list of other age-appropriate active play materials with the teacher. See which are available in the program.

You See

What you observed:

  • Children playing in carpeted area
  • Boy climbing on box
  • Adult moves over and helps him get stable footing on the ground


What you might say:

  • “I can tell you are really clued into what each baby is doing and needs.”
  • “You have a range of gross motor skills in the room. Tell me more about how you keep everyone safe as they learn to creep, crawl, and climb.”

You Do

What you might do:

  • Brainstorm equipment or materials that meet creepers’ need to climb.

Supervision for Preschool

Think about how to support all staff members.

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

You See

What you observed:

  • New child’s first day
  • New child interested in door and opens it several times
  • “Stop” sign posted on door
  • Staff members stationed in other areas of the room, so child has access to door before adults can arrive
  • Door opens onto locked courtyard

You Say

What you might say:

  • “Tell me about your new little guy.”
  • “I could tell your new child was interested in the door. You and the other adults noticed this, too, and took some steps to keep him safe. I noticed the stop sign, etc. How can we help keep him safe and in the classroom tomorrow and going forward? How can I support you?”
  • “What did you try today that worked? What didn’t work?”

You Do

What you might do:

  • Talk with classroom staff and help develop a supervision “map” so all exits are closely supervised at all times.
  • Brainstorm ways to make sure staff are aware when a child gets close to a door (bells on the door, etc.).
  • Offer to help out in the classroom while the staff are learning how to support the new child’s needs.
  • Model redirection strategies the staff might use if the child tries to exit.
  • Help create visual reminders for the child and the classroom staff about safety rules.

Finally, watch these examples of adults supervising school-age children. As you watch, think about the strategies you see.

Supervision for School-Age Children

Watch the different ways adults supervise school-age children.

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

You See

What you observed:

  • Boys arguing over computer
  • Physical and verbal argument (insult one another using inappropriate language); both boys upset
  • One boy leaves computer, insults other, and walks toward him
  • Adult notices and gets up to intervene 
  • Adult sits down with both boys and follows through with the situation
  • Refers children to safety guidelines (being respectful)


What you might say:

  • “Tell me more about what happened with the two boys who were fighting today.”
  • “I noticed a potentially unsafe situation today at the computer. How did you handle it? What would you do differently next time?”
  • “You did a nice job preserving safety and calmness in the program, but it’s also important to facilitate as school-age children solve their own conflicts. What strategies might help the boys solve problems more independently?”

You Do

What you might do:

  • Help staff member post safety guidelines/expectations in visible locations around the room.
  • Discuss supervision with the team to make sure all adults understand how and when to intervene.


For Providing Feedback on Supervision, choose the Infant Toddler Supervision video, the School-Age Supervision video, or both. Answer the questions based on what you viewed. Think about what kinds of feedback you would provide to the staff members. Remember, feedback happens in the context of a relationship with each staff member. Focus on what you would actually say. Use first- and second-person language like “I” and “you.” 


It is important to know where the “hot spots” and “blind spots” are in indoor and outdoor program spaces. On a separate sheet of paper, draw a map of the indoor and outdoor space and spend some time observing how children play and interact there. Each time you see a problem behavior or an injury, mark an X where it occurred. At the end of your observation, look for patterns and answer the questions in the activity, Active Supervision- Identifying Hot Spots.  Discuss your findings with the direct care team and brainstorm solutions. Consider posting cutouts of suns in the hotspots and sunglasses in the blind spots to remind staff members to be extra watchful in those areas.  The Ratio Log and Daily Attendance Record are samples of forms that can help with monitoring accountability and compliance in programs.

Staff members should know, understand, and use ratio and supervision guidelines all day, every day. Consider using the Supervision and Ratio Best Practices Checklist as a tool to observe and document competencies that specifically address supervision and ratio. As you observe and reflect on a staff member’s practice, indicate how often the staff member performs the following actions using the scale provided. Share your observations with staff and use the information learned from the checklist to identify goals and focus your coaching interactions.


When you arrive for a visit to the school-age program, you see Cassie on her cell phone. She is supposed to be supervising the outdoor playground. What should you do first?
True or false? Staff must use direct and constant supervision of school-age children at all times.
You have noticed that your toddler team is having a hard time on the playground. Children are getting hurt, climbing up the slides, and climbing fences. Which of the following might you discuss with the team?
References & Resources

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2015).Internet use in children. Retrieved from

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education (2020). CFOC Standards Online Database. Aurora, CO; National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. Also available from

Better Kid Care (n.d.). Supervision: Counting Children. (2020). 23 Great Lesson Plans for Internet Safety.

Council on Accreditation (2021). Standards for Child and Youth Development Programs. Accessible from

Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (2021). Active Supervision.

Harms, T., Cryer, D., & Clifford, R. M. (2019). Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale, (3rd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Harms, T., Cryer, D. and Clifford, R.M. (2014). Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, (3rd ed). New York: Teachers College Press.

Harms, T., D. Cryer & R.M. Clifford. (2017). Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale,.(3rd ed). New York: Teachers College Press.

Harms, T., Jacobs, E. V., & White, D. R. (2013). School-Age Care Environment Rating Scale. New York: Teachers College Press.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). (2016). ISTE Standards for Educators. Retrieved from

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). (2016). ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (n.d.). Guiding principles for the use of technology with early learners. Retrieved from