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