Creating Psychological Safety in Early Childhood

The May edition of the CCEI newsletter focuses on ways that program staff can create and maintain safe learning environments for young children.  We can all agree that this is the top priority of the early learning workforce.  Equally important, however, is the ability to create psychologically safe environments for children.

Dr. Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”  Dr. Edmondson’s work focused on adult working environments, but one could argue that teachers are unable to create psychologically safe environments for children if they work in environments that are psychologically unsafe.

Here are some statements presented by Dr. Edmondson that teams can reflect on as they begin to contemplate psychological safety in their environment:

  1. If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  2. Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  3. People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  6. No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

Depending on your position within your organization, the answers to these questions may vary.  How program administrators feel may differ from the thoughts of the teaching staff.  New employees may feel differently than seasoned staff.  It may be a good exercise to present these questions as an anonymous survey to capture a true picture of how employees are feeling about the psychological safety of the work environment.

Only small shifts in language are necessary to adapt these statements to focus on how children experience psychological safety in the environment:

  1. When a child makes a mistake, it is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a reason for punishment.
  2. Children are encouraged to talk about their struggles and support is offered as they attempt to solve problems.
  3. All children and families are welcomed, affirmed, and valued.
  4. Children are encouraged to take risks, explore new materials, and express themselves.
  5. It is common for children to ask peers and adults for help.
  6. Children are learning new social and emotional skills every day. They are not acting out to hurt my feelings.
  7. Children feel safe to communicate their needs and share their interests and skills.

We encourage you to take some time to sit with these questions, either independently or with your coworkers.  The answers may not all be positive as you recognize opportunities to add elements of psychological safety to your learning environment. Create a plan to address situations with a new approach and slowly but surely, you will be actively creating a psychologically safe environment for children and your peers!

Here are some additional resources to help you on your journey:

May 2023 Newsletter – Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments: Maintaining Safety with Fresh Eyes

Maintaining Safety with Fresh Eyes

When it comes to making observations about the environment, it can be challenging to look with Fresh eyes. Have you ever arrived home from work at the end of the week and been surprised by how disorganized your space had become?  This is not necessarily a reflection of your neatness.  Over time, we begin to tune out that stack of mail on the kitchen table and the pile of shoes by the door.  This is called habituation, meaning our brains stop noticing or become desensitized to the clutter over time.

Clutter is one thing, but when habituation occurs in relation to health and safety practices, bad things can happen.  We may notice a glaring safety issue immediately, such as a spill that needs to be mopped up, but smaller issues may fade into the background until they are no longer as noticeable as they first were. For example, you may notice a missing outlet cover on Monday, but as the week progresses, it becomes less noticeable.

When it comes to maintaining a safe environment, there is no room for habituation.  It is essential that early childhood educators consistently look at the environment with fresh eyes.  Here are a few suggestions for how to keep safety top of mind:

  • Use checklists regularly – Most programs have a series of safety checklists, some of which have been in use for years. Checklists are great – but using the same tool repeatedly can contribute to further habituation because they can be completed in a routine way, without critically observing the environment.  To combat this, it may be necessary to change your checklists from time to time.  Rearrange the order of the checklist.  Reword the safety standards that are being evaluated. Randomize the list.  Take steps to add a sense of novelty to the checklist to encourage employees to use fresh eyes, rather than rote completion.
  • Practice mindfulness – Start every inspection or checklist with a mindful moment.  Commit to looking closely at the environment in that moment, not based on your memory of the environment. Remind yourself of the importance of the task at hand – the children depend on you to keep them safe!
  • Observe in different environments – Create a system that requires safety inspections to be completed regularly, but by someone who does not normally work in the environment. Rotate so that different people complete different inspections each month.
  • Paired completion – Ask another person to complete the same safety checklist for the same environment. When you are done, you can compare notes.  Thinking that you might miss something that another person could catch will increase the attention you pay to your task.
  • Talk with children about safety measures – It is not the children’s job to maintain the environment, but they should be encouraged to tell you when they see something unsafe. Talk with them about the steps you take to keep the environment a safe place to play.  Ask them what they should do when they see specific things in the environment, such as a wasp nest on the playground or a puddle of water in the bathroom.  Create mini-inspections using pictures that children can complete during transitions.  Assign Safety Monitors. Again, it is not their job, but these interactions will help keep you on your toes when it comes to keeping children safe.

 

For the article main article Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments, CLICK HERE

For the article Active Supervision, CLICK HERE

For the article General Indoor Safety Considerations, CLICK HERE

For the article General Playground Safety, CLICK HERE

May 2023 Newsletter – Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments: General Playground Safety

General Playground Safety

Outdoor environments provide rich learning experiences and the chance for children to strengthen motor skills, refine muscle coordination, and burn some energy.  They also present several safety concerns unique to the outdoors.

Programs should develop systems that ensure that outdoor environments remain fun, engaging, and safe places for children to play.  Daily, weekly, monthly, and annual inspections should occur.  Programs should refer to their state’s licensing regulations and other child care safety resources to determine what items should be included as part of each inspection.

It is best if staff rotate these responsibilities to gain multiple safety perspectives. Once an inspection is complete, a plan of action should be developed to address any issues that were noted during the inspection.

Checks must be performed regularly to ensure that teachers, not children, are the first to discover hazards on the playground.

Surfacing

__ The equipment has adequate surface under and around the equipment (at least 12 inches of loose-fill fall-zone material or other approved surfacing).

__ Loose-fill protective covering is free from foreign objects and debris.

__ Loose-fill protective covering is not compacted (should not be hard or non−absorbent).

General Hazards

__ No sharp points and edges on the equipment.

__ All protective caps and plugs are in place.

__ No dangerous protrusions and projections.

__ No entrapment or strangulation hazards.

__ No trip hazards or pinch, crush, or shearing points.

Wear-and-Tear

__ No dangerous rust, cracks, or splinters.

__ No broken or missing components.

__ Equipment is properly anchored.

Hardware

__ Fasteners (bolts, screws, etc.) are not loose or worn.

__ Bearings on spinning, rotating, or other moving parts are in good working condition.

Drainage

__ Playground has proper drainage.

__ No standing water under swings or in high−traffic areas.

General Upkeep

__ The playground is free of litter and debris.

__ Trash receptacles are emptied on a regular basis.

__ The area is free of poisonous plants and harmful insects.

__ Shade is available and shade structures are in good condition.

Barriers and Gates

__ No holes or damaged sections in the fence.

__ Latches and hinges on gates are in good working order.

Here is another resource to review.

 

For the main article Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments, CLICK HERE

For the article Active Supervision, CLICK HERE

For the article General Indoor Safety Considerations, CLICK HERE

For the article Maintaining Safety with Fresh Eyes, CLICK HERE

May 2023 Newsletter – Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments: General Indoor Safety Considerations

General Indoor Safety Considerations

When it comes to ensuring safety within the facility, there are many areas to consider.  It’s a good idea to start at the front door and walk the entire facility looking for potential hazards and safety concerns on a regular basis.  Be sure to look at each area of the facility from both an adult’s and a child’s perspective, which means lowering yourself to a child’s height, where you can notice things you might overlook at your normal eye level.

In addition to regular safety inspections, every employee who enters the building must be focused on identifying items or areas that may pose a safety hazard. Common items may be overlooked if staff is not completely focused on safety.  For example, a tube of lip balm that rolls under a table can pose a choking hazard to a curious child.  Plastic bags should be removed from areas accessible to children immediately.

Staff should make a point to check for items that might have been left out by cleaning or maintenance personnel. As employees walk the halls, they should make a point of checking to be sure closet doors are locked and there are no obstructions in the hallways.

Preparation is another way to ensure safety. This means gathering all necessary materials before diaper changing so that complete attention can be given to the child. Extra serving spoons should be available during mealtimes in case a spoon falls on the floor.  Ready-to-go bags should be prepped and easily accessible in case of an evacuation.

Close and engaged supervision throughout the day can also help teachers prevent safety issues, such as sitting with children as they eat meals and snacks.  This allows teachers to observe children closely and act quickly in case of an emergency. Engaging with children as they play can help teachers identify toys or materials that may have sharp or broken pieces.

Ongoing training on how to inspect learning environments for safety should occur regularly. Whenever possible, training should include some kind of practical application that requires employees to conduct safety checks or identify safety hazards in photos. Safety training can become repetitive, so it is important to find new and creative ways to engage staff in this important topic.

Here is a comprehensive checklist that you may find helpful that is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

 

For the main article Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments, CLICK HERE

For the article Active Supervision, CLICK HERE

For the article General Playground Safety, CLICK HERE

For the article Maintaining Safety with Fresh Eyes, CLICK HERE

May 2023 Newsletter – Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments: Active Supervision

Active Supervision

The most important way that caregivers can ensure children are safe is through active supervision. To achieve active supervision, the Office of Head Start recommends the following actions:

Set Up the Environment – Furniture should be arranged in a way that allows adults to supervise all areas of the room.  Shelves with clear or open backs can help reduce blind spots in the classroom. Avoid blocking areas of the classroom with tall furniture.  Learning areas should be organized and free from clutter to allow adults to move in and out of spaces with ease.

Position Staff – When considering room arrangement, think about the placement of tables where teachers will work with small groups of children.  These tables should be arranged so that the teacher can choose the seat at the table that allows the best view of the whole classroom.  Teachers should position themselves in different areas of the environment, allowing them to see all areas of the room or playground.

Scan and Count – Constantly scanning the environment allows teachers to notice when issues arise.  When two or more adults are present, they should work out a plan for who is going to maintain a general scan and who is going to manage the planned activity.  If both teachers are working with individual children, supervision of the rest of the children becomes a challenge. Teachers should conduct regular headcounts and document the results per program policy.

Listen – In addition to visually scanning the environment, teachers should maintain their attention on the sounds of the classroom. Teachers should listen for changes in volume and tone, as well as suspiciously quiet moments!

Anticipate Children’s Behavior – As teachers get to know the children in the group, anticipating their needs and behaviors will become easier. Teachers will be able to note how different children interact with one another and the toys in the environment.  For example, a very popular toy may cause some competition in the classroom, and recognizing that can help teachers support children as they play.

Engage and Redirect – Teachers should spend lots of time engaged with children – not managing every aspect of their play, but being close by to answer questions, encourage cooperation, and help solve problems. Teachers should use redirection when necessary to maintain safety while allowing children to work out solutions on their own.

For more information, check out this resource from Head Start/ECLKC.

 

For the main article Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments, CLICK HERE

For the article General Indoor Safety Considerations, CLICK HERE

For the article General Playground Safety, CLICK HERE

For the article Maintaining Safety with Fresh Eyes, CLICK HERE

May 2023 Newsletter – Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments

Assessing Safety in Early Learning Environments

In this month’s newsletter, we will be focusing on strategies and program practices designed to keep children safe in early learning programs. The primary focus of all employees must be to create an environment that is safe for children to explore. CCEI is offering CCEI900: Safety in the Infant/Toddler Classroom as the free trial course for the month of May to all new CCEI users.  In addition to this course, CCEI recently launched two new courses focused on safety:

  • HLTH113: Building and Physical Premises Safety: Indoor Environments
  • HLTH114: Building and Physical Premises Safety: Outdoor Environments

Be sure to sign up for these courses to make sure you are doing everything possible to keep young children safe.

 

For the article Active Supervision, CLICK HERE

For the article General Indoor Safety Considerations, CLICK HERE

For the article General Playground Safety, CLICK HERE

For the article Maintaining Safety with Fresh Eyes, CLICK HERE