A safe early childhood classroom environment must be strategically laid out. The floor space is large enough for some gross motor activity, yet enough barriers (via shelves, tables, etc.) exist to deter the children from aimlessly running from one side to another. Tables and chairs are child-sized and placed in such a fashion that one can safely walk behind them, even when someone is sitting at them.
Shelves are low enough that a child can reach the top without having to climb. This also allows for the adults to be able to see children at all times. Consideration should be given to having open shelves, instead of shelves with backs, for the same purpose. Any shelves that seem wobbly should be securely fastened to a wall.
All outlets not in use should be covered with protective covers. Ideally, something like a shelf should also be blocking outlets, to deter children from trying to unplug them. Any cords plugged into sockets should be tucked behind shelves or securely fastened to prevent tripping.
Check furniture daily for any splinters, loose, or broken pieces. Check carpeting for any snags that can trip little feet. Put rubber backing on rugs to prevent them from slipping. Secure divisions between carpet and hard floors.
Set up a calm preschool environment to keep children safe.
Children should be shown how to safely use any materials in their environment. Avoid using sharp scissors in the art area and sharp knives in food preparation. If these materials are used, it should only be done with very close adult supervision.
Young children like to experience new things with their mouths at times. Avoid using small objects, as these present a choking hazard. Regularly inspect any toys or other materials for anything loose or broken that could choke a child.
Regularly visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website for any product recalls that may affect materials in the classroom. Be cautious when purchasing used toys and games, as they could be made with unsafe paints or other toxins.
Children can be taught to identify unsafe aspects of the physical classroom environment. They should also be taught how to maintain a respectful emotional classroom. Institute a “No Bullying” policy, even at this young age. Teach children how to use words instead of their hands. Model the use of “I” statements and institute something like a peace table as a safe place for them to talk about their feelings. Children can invite friends or even teachers to voice their frustrations.
Teach children how to become independent. Apply the Montessori philosophy of “Teach me to do it myself.” A child who is independent has greater self-esteem and is less likely to make repeated mistakes.
Respecting the Child
An emotionally secure environment for the preschool child includes respect for the child on all levels. Children crave boundaries, yet also like some choice within those boundaries. Allow children to voice their feelings and opinions and help them work through any frustrations. Identify a child’s feelings and provide him words to use.
Use affirmative words and phrases with a child. If she is doing something wrong, offer up another way to do it. “May I show you another way to try that?” Or, simply remove the activity and try it again another day. Demonstrate proper use at another time and let the child try again.
Respect the child’s space. Ask permission before giving a hug or touching the child. Insist that the children do the same to others. Don’t pick up a child, either, without permission. Some children don’t like to be touched in any way. Demonstrate personal space so that he can use it with others. Children mimic the adults in their life, so be a good role model.
Maintaining a safe environment requires both physical and emotional considerations. Prepare the environment well in advance and model appropriate interpersonal communications.