When parents are selecting an early childhood program for their infants and toddlers, one of their top priorities is a safe environment. Parents should always assess safety procedures and how educators work to ensure the safety of the very young children under their care. Data from a large-scale national study conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that two-thirds of the childcare settings they examined had at least one safety hazard.
“Safety was an extremely important aspect when we were looking for a program for our 9-month-old baby, because it creates the foundation for a healthy environment,” Ellianne Dean, a Minnesota mother of two young boys, said. “As a parent, it is necessary to be an advocate in ensuring children are part of an early childhood program that will set them up for success by prioritizing their physical and mental well-being.”
For early childhood educators with Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, the first requirement among the 13 CDA Functional Areas is to maintain a safe environment for young children. CDA students are also taught basic practices on how to prevent and reduce injuries. Educators in most communities are required by local and state licensing guidelines to adhere to certain standards to keep children safe while under their care. Keeping infants and toddlers safe is no easy task, because it requires vigilant supervision of young children, ongoing monitoring of the facility’s safety, collaboration among colleagues, and careful observation and individualized attention to an early child’s cognitive, psychosocial, and motor development.
Child safety is also more than learning pediatric CPR and first aid. Infants and toddlers are curious and eager to explore the world around them, which means that they can surprise an educator with a potentially dangerous action at any time. It takes a keen eye and meticulous attention to ensure that they are safe when sleeping in their cribs or attempting to crawl or walk; as well as, monitoring what foods are safe for each of them to eat (a topic we will focus on our next infant/toddler blog on Functional Area 2: Health). An early childhood educator also can help improve young children’s safety at all early childhood education settings (family child care, center-based, preschool, and home visitor) by paying attention to and sharing the following tips with families.
Safety During Playtime
Maintaining a safe environment while infants and toddlers play or engage in other activities helps them to learn how to navigate their surroundings in ways that minimize risks of being hurt by objects or other children.
Therefore, it’s important for educators to make sure that:
- There are no animals nearby that pose danger to children;
- The play area is free of holes and other physical hazards;
- All play equipment is free of sharp edges, rust, rot, cracks, peeling paint, and protruding nails and bolts;
- The environment is smoke-free;
- Children do not wear rattles, pacifiers, or teething toys on strings or laces around their necks;
- Children wear helmets when using riding toys;
- Children in strollers are fastened in with safety straps;
- A well-stocked first aid kit is stored in a locked cabinet out of children’s reach;
- The space is configured so that babies will not be knocked down by older children;
- The arrangement of furniture, toys, and other objects allows mobile infants and toddlers to easily move to activity areas;
- Children are monitored by sight and sound at all times; and,
- Toy pieces and removable parts are larger than 1¼ inches in diameter.
Safety During Naptime
Paying attention to infant and toddler safety when little ones are sleeping is also critical. This innclude following certain guidelines for (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) prevention. SIDS is the leading cause for death among infants from birth to 12 months, and it requires that children be monitored often while sleeping.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, educators can help reduce the risk of SIDS and other hazards by:
- Always placing babies on their backs to sleep, for naps or at night;
- Using a firm and flat sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft items in the sleep area.
- Not putting any type of objects, toys, crib bumpers, or loose bedding under or over the baby, or anywhere in the baby’s sleep area
- Ensuring babies are dressed lightly for napping, so that they do not6 get too hot while sleeping
- Giving babies plenty of tummy time when they are awake, and someone is watching
In short, with good training, planning, and staffing, and careful attention to the young children in your care, you will play a vital role in promoting infant and toddler safety. Your work shows that quality care puts safety first. Other tips can be found in the Essentials for Working with Young Children (2nd Ed.) textbook’s early childhood education guidelines, and training sections on how to maintain a safe environment for infants and toddlers.
1 Bullard, J. (2011). “Safety in Early Childhood Environments.” Retrieved from https://www.education.com/reference/article/safety-early-childhood-environments/.
2 Washington, V. (2017). Essentials for Working with Young Children (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: The Council for Professional Recognition.
3 Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2017). Ways to Reduce the Risk of SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Causes of Infant Death. Retrieved from https://www1.nichd.nih.gov/sts/about/risk/Pages/reduce.aspx
4 Visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website for more information about crib safety: http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/cribs/.