Tag Archives: safety

The ‘Un’ Factor

‘Un’ is a prefix meaning “not,” freely used as an English formative, giving negative or opposite force in adjectives and their derivative adverbs and nouns.  In the field of family childcare we often use the words ‘unlicensed’, ‘unregulated’, ‘untrained’ yet for many government officials and people outside the field of childcare those ‘un’ words are not viewed as negative – simply a choice that parents should be allowed to make regarding the care of their children.

There are regulations governing the manufacturing of items like cribs, strollers, carseats, and toys etc so parents know they are safe.  There are regulations regarding the production, packaging, and labeling of food products to ensure they meet predetermined standards so people know what they are buying. Why do government officials and the general public think that parents should be able to choose unlicensed, untrained childcare but need regulations to assist them to safely feed, house, and transport their own children?

What other career field allows some businesses to operate unlicensed and/or untrained when others providing the same service are licensed?  What is the incentive for any business to be licensed if they can legally operate without any oversight?  Without any licensing/training requirements?  What if, like in childcare, they could actually make more money if they were not licensed/trained than if they were licensed/trained?

Let’s use truck drivers as an example.  The majority of adults have a class 5 driver’s license and have experience driving their own or a friend’s vehicle.  What if there were no restrictions on what size of vehicle you could drive and anyone could just decide “Hey, I’m going to buy a big truck and start a business delivering things for other people.”

Why, is an experienced driver with their own vehicle not allowed to start up a trucking business without additional training or license? Why don’t people argue “It’s his truck, he can do what he wants with it.  If other people are OK with letting him transport their stuff why not let him/them.  He’s never had an accident and doesn’t need a little piece of paper to prove he’s a good driver.”

What if that same driver or another class 5 driver then decided “A bus isn’t much different than a big truck.  If I had a bus I could earn money driving people around.”  What if you’d seen that driver on the street with his bus full of happy passengers and decided to take a ride on his bus.  Then imagine that one day there was an issue – something was wrong with the bus or the driver.  What if it is too late to get off the bus before the accident happened?

Some argue that licensing all childcare facilities and requiring training for all childcare workers doesn’t ensure quality – but it helps.  Just like trained bus/truck drivers in licensed companies will still have accidents there are standards and checks in place to limit them.  Why don’t we hear arguments that training/licensing truck drivers doesn’t prevent accidents so let’s save some money and not bother requiring them to be licensed?

Do we need more incentives for family childcare providers to become licensed or do we need to eliminated the option for them to operate unlicensed childcare homes?  Currently only licensed providers can accept government subsidized families but private paying families usually pay higher rates than the maximum subsidized rate so that isn’t an incentive to be licensed.

What about training?  Currently family childcare providers with Early Childhood Educator II/III training can receive slightly higher subsidized rates than untrained providers but those rates are still lower than the private rates most unlicensed/untrained providers charge so why bother?  Just think of all the tax dollars we could save if we had trained and untrained police officers  – both had the same duties but the city could pay the untrained ones less – but either trained or untrained officers could go work privately for more money without a gun permit or any other type of license.

In an effort to increase the number of licensed childcare spaces, the provincial government is considering lessening the requirements and ‘red tape’ needed to open licensed childcare homes.  Why, when there was a shortage of family doctors was it never suggested that we lower the requirements to become a doctor?  I don’t think lowering FCC licensing requirements will increase the number of licensed childcare spaces and I’m absolutely positive it won’t improve quality.

What part of licensing do they think is unnecessary?   Criminal record/child abuse registry checks? First aid training or a 40 hour course? Behaviour management, nutrition, safety and supervision policies? Adequate equipment? Developmentally appropriate activities? Documentation and record keeping?

I don’t think any part of the licensing process is difficult or unnecessary.  If fact, I’d like to see more.  I’d like to see MANDATORY licensing for ALL childcare homes.  Greater incentives for trained providers (possibly higher ratios).  MANDATORY annual professional development and more.  I’m thinking about the best interests of the children, not just convenience and the cost for quality and safety.

 

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Licensing Manual

Going for a Walk

I love hiking.  My favourite outings to take the children on are those that allow us to explore our neighbourhood, nearby parks or hiking trails in forests and nature preserves around the city. Adventures like collecting leaves in the fall, following footprints in the snow in the winter, watching the activities of the birds in the spring or checking out the trees and plants in various seasons.

Many years ago I used a Safe-T-Line when out walking with a group of young children.  It looks similar to this one which is available at Quality Classrooms

15-04-walk01Mine has twelve pieces in total – two adult belts with a long lead, two additional extensions which can be attached to the adult belts, and eight children’s belts with clips.  I usually wore both the adult belts and fitted each toddler with a waist belt before we headed out.

Most of the time the children roamed freely through familiar trails and open spaces. However the walking line came in handy for the parts of the outing where we encountered busy roadways, major intersections or large crowds where noise and distractions made it difficult to communicate.  I could quickly attach the toddlers belts to my belts to ensure we all stayed together until we reached an area where we could explore independently again.

It was like having extra hands and the best part was that all of us had our ‘real’ hands free to pick up treasure along the way, point out exciting things we saw, wave at passing motorists, tie shoes etc.  It allowed the toddlers to venture freely within an acceptably safe distance.  They could begin to learn self control and to follow verbal directions.  Even the strong willed toddlers who balked at holding hands and staying with the group seemed to feel independent.

Then, a few years ago when my coordinator was here for a licensing visit she informed me that I was not allowed to use the safety line as it was designed because it ‘restrained’ the children.  I was instructed to make the belts into loops and have the children hold the loops with their hands – as long as they were free to let go when they chose to.   Sigh.

I don’t really mind not being able to use the safety line but it has limited our outings.  When new children are enrolled our walks are very short – just out the front door around the block and in the back yard to play.  Once I am confident that they understand the safety rules we expand the distance we can travel a block at a time.  I never take the entire toddler group beyond our secluded residential area and I rarely let the children decide the route – those major intersections are so enticing.

Recently, curious to see if my new coordinator would have the same response as the previous one, I asked for her opinion on the safety line.  She reiterated that the children could hold on to the belts with their hands but the belts could not be attached to the children as this would be considered restraining the children.  Just to clarify I then asked if it was acceptable to put them in a stroller with a belt.  She said yes.

So, I still can’t use the safety line as it was designed but I could go for a ‘walk’ if I piled my group of toddlers into one of these.

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Apparently a five point harness in a vehicle that doesn’t allow the children to touch the ground or anything else is not considered a restraint.

I would disagree.

Nap Time

Wow, it has been almost four weeks since I’ve written a blog post — bad blogger. I’ve been super busy – full days with the children, practicum student visiting, conference, presentations, and several evening meetings every week. There has been plenty to write about but no time to write. I started this post more than a month ago so I better finish it before I move on to other topics.

Nap time. When my own children were young we sometimes struggled over nap time. The ones who I felt most needed naps were the ones who were reluctant to take them. There were battles. So, when I first opened my childcare home I was a little apprehensive about being able to get so many little ones to nap.

At first I had used the second floor bedrooms as nap areas – infants in playpens, toddlers on beds. The daily set-up and take-down process was arduous but generally everyone was cooperative. There were, of course, a few exceptions. My frequent trips upstairs to check on the (non)nappers were sometimes disruptive to those that were actually sleeping.

Before the end of my first year in childcare I relocated the toddler/preschooler nap area to the main floor using cots and the living room couches where I could supervise more easily. I continued to use playpens in the second floor bedrooms for the infants to nap. There was still a lot of time required for daily set-up and take-down and many trips up and down the stairs.

I found it interesting that the older children napping on the main floor often slept longer than the infants who were napping upstairs. Many parents seemed surprised too – most of these older children resisted napping when they were at home yet here they actually enjoyed helping with the nap time set-up, fell asleep quickly, and were often difficult to wake after nap.

There came a time when I began to question the safety aspect of having the infants napping upstairs. Yes, we did practice emergency evacuations monthly and sometimes even at nap time. The evacuation times were considerably longer at nap time and although the older children were cooperative during drills – waiting patiently while I ran upstairs to get babies – I wondered if they would do so if there was a real emergency.

It wasn’t something I wanted to risk. I relocated the playpens to the main floor – giving up a little play space but giving my family back the privacy of their own bedrooms. I chose to leave the playpens set up – losing a small amount of space vs. a large amount of time. I detest setting up playpens.

In my most recent renovation I expanded the space allocated to the playpens. My intention was to eventually replace the playpens with cribs. Eventually came earlier than I anticipated because I found some affordable – compact – cribs at Quality Classrooms. In all my year of perusing equipment catalogues I had never noticed that some of the cribs were compact – taking up no more space than a playpen – and on wheels too.

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The extra space is now used to store the preschooler’s cots so they too are out of the way when not in use. Nap time set-up and take down now takes less than five minutes and all the children are visible while I complete the task. When not in use the cribs and cots are out of sight behind these rolling room dividers.

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My intention is to use these dividers as easels for art activities but we haven’t tried that yet.

The best part is that all the napping children are within 12 feet of my centrally located desk and within 20 feet of an emergency exit. I’ve come to another conclusion too. As I’ve observed the children as they settle down for nap time I’ve noticed that there are no arguments when they can see me. They lay happily in their beds, talking or singing quietly, occasionally smiling and waving at me until they fall asleep.

I wonder if nap time struggles are not really caused by resistance to napping but rather by the feeling of being left alone in a ‘quiet’ space where the children may actually feel abandoned. Or, maybe these children sleep so well because they’ve been busy playing all morning and getting plenty of outdoor time too.

Added Features

Last week I wrote about how I renovated the playroom to improve the walkway issues.   As always, no renovation is ever truely complete so now I want to tell you about some newly added  features.

First, I was a little concerned about the corners of the items attached to the loft post;

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This photo angle may show it better;

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It didn’t cause any problems the first week after the renovation but I was concerned that it may at some point in the future.  To address the possible problem I added some pieces of pipe;

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One is there to soften the pointed corners but both of them are used for play.  The words ‘vertical’ and ‘diagonal’ have been used often in our daily conversations this week.  The toddlers have been experimenting with what toys slide best through the tubes;

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I used some pieces of the leftover pipe to create some more tool storage in the workshop area too;

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A mesh curtain was also added at the entrance to the block area;

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Which I have been informed now makes it a pirate ship 🙂

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That’s just a few of the added features – there will be more.

Outdoor Babies – With Gravel & Rocks

There has always been gravel in our outdoor play space.  Way back in 1997 when I first opened my childcare home we didn’t have a ‘natural’ outdoor area.  We did however have pea gravel as a fall surface under the wood and plastic play structures.

I’ll admit that back then I was one of those ‘OMG, what if they eat the gravel?’ people.  Consequently I never let babies play in the gravel area.  So today, when parents seeking childcare visit/tour my childcare home and express concern over the letting their babies play with gravel and rocks, I can honestly say ‘I understand’. There was a time when I only let babies play here;

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There was a two foot tall fence dividing the deck area from the gravel area and I never let the babies go past the fence.  I even had some wire mesh on the bottom portion of the fence so they couldn’t reach through the fence boards and get a handful of gravel.  I was keeping them ‘safe’.

In fact, it wasn’t just infants and toddlers who were prevented from entering the gravel area.  I considered children ‘old enough’ to play in the gravel area when they could reach over the fence and open the latch without assistance – most children were three or four years old before they could ‘pass the test’.

Looking back now I realize that the ‘test’ was ridiculous because their ability to open the latch is irrelevant to what they may do with the gravel.  In fact, I discovered that the longer I prevented them from playing in the gravel, the more harmful their behaviour could be. Overexcitement in the new environment meant throwing gravel was a major issue.

In the last ten years since I began allowing the infants and toddlers to play with gravel and rocks I’ve discovered that many of them actually never try to eat it.  Those that do occasionally put gravel in their mouths do so for only the first week or so and then move on to more constructive gravel activities.

Activities like making ‘gravel rain’

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Testing gravel on an incline plane

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Lying in gravel to get the ‘full body’ experience

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Gravel is the ultimate ‘loose part’

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I thought this little girl’s ‘Rock Eyes’ were very imaginative

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Walking on gravel and rocks can be a challenge for young children and gives them the opportunity to further develop their balance and gross motor skills.

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Yes, eating or throwing gravel can be an ongoing issue for a small percentage of children but it isn’t limited to infants and toddlers.  By not allowing young children to experience and experiment with gravel and rocks we’re not ‘protecting’ them.  We are preventing them from learning about textures, weight, gravity and more.

With a combination of supervision, guidance and opportunities for experimentation gravel and rocks can offer many benefits for the infant and toddler development that outweigh any concern for safety.

Safety

I’ve got plans for six or seven projects that I hope to have completed this spring/summer.  Some of them are minor changes that may be completed in a single weekend.  The bigger projects will have to wait until my vacation or at least a long weekend.

Some of these projects will involve changes to the daycare spaces.  As I make the plans and supply lists for these projects I always consider safety.  What types of materials will I use?  Where will I need a gate or door to restrict access to off limit areas?  What latches or locks will work best?  I try to envision all the things the children may do in the space.

As I consider the various options I briefly reminisced about an entry I wrote for my CBA portfolio.  My advisor had suggested that I create a safety checklist for my home. I used a variety of sample checklists to develop my own safety checklists.  I considered many of the items on these sample lists to be somewhat ridiculous. Items like ‘make sure stairs are free of clutter’ and ‘turn pot handles inward when cooking’ – not because I didn’t think they were unsafe but they were things that I considered to be common sense and certainly didn’t require a checklist to ensure I did them. In fact, even the items that I did include in my checklists would take less time to correct than the time required for me to complete the checklists.

In my evaluation of the checklists in this CBA portfolio entry I stated; I can see the benefit of having a simplified safety checklist for substitute providers who are not family members.  If a substitute is unfamiliar with my home and our procedures a checklist may be helpful to remind them to keep baby gates and doors closed’.

Possibly the director of a large childcare centre would find safety checklists to be helpful.  If there are many staff members there may be confusion as to who is responsible for safety checks and a completed checklist could provide evidence that staff were doing regular safety inspections.  Even then, I still think that safety checks should be a regular habit for everyone and you shouldn’t need a checklist to tell you what is dangerous and when to fix it.

Then I recalled an occasion a while back when I was visiting the home of an acquaintance.  Although we spent some time sitting in her living room she periodically went to the kitchen to check on the progress of the meal she was preparing.  Every time she stirred the food in the pots she would leave the pot handles sticking out past the front of the stove.  Each time I entered the kitchen I would automatically turn the pot handles inwards.  After doing this several times it occurred to me that maybe this was not a hazard that she recognized.

This brings me back to my original topic.  I do not ensure that my childcare home is as safe as possible.  If the environment was as safe as possible there would be no need for the children to think about safety.  I want them to learn to assess possible hazards and take reasonable risks.

There are some uneven surfaces.  Certainly there are gates to prevent infants and toddlers from climbing up or falling down an entire flight of steps.  However, there is also an unprotected single step at the entrance to the nature area.  Occasionally a child will trip on it if they forget it is there or they are not paying attention.  Sometimes a crawling baby will tumble off the step – I show them how to turn around and back off the edge safely.  I teach unsteady toddlers to hold on to the wall when then step down – don’t rely on me to hold your hand, I may not always be near enough. This single step is an acceptable risk – the opportunity for learning outweighs the chance of injury.

Before the children arrive I don’t walk around with a safety checklist and check off boxes.  During the day, if I notice something unsafe I don’t block off the area or make a note to deal with it later.  In fact, I often point out unsafe situations to the children and enlist their help to determine what should be done about it.  Rain or frost will make the deck and other surfaces in the yard very slippery.  This doesn’t mean that we cannot play outside – we just need to be aware of situation and adjust our activities to suit the conditions.

I don’t allow running or jumping indoors – there are too many obstacles so the risk is not an acceptable one.  Out in the yard we do run and jump.  As a child climbs onto a stump and prepares to jump I ask them ‘what do you see?’  They check for any objects that may be in their path and pose a hazard to them or others – I assist if necessary.  They are taking acceptable risks – they are learning.  Learning about textures.  Learning about space and distance.  Learning about force and speed.  Learning about responsibility.

If we live in a ‘safe as possible’ bubble we never learn to be aware of our surroundings, observing the environment, assessing possible dangers and taking necessary precautions.  Learning safety is a process and it requires practice – practice requires taking risks.

Writing Time

It has been very difficult to find time to write — we have been so busy.  My morning writing time has been shortened due to the early arrival of several of the children.  My weekend writing time has been eliminated due to some major projects — I’ll write about them soon but for now you’ll just have to wait.

Today all I have time to write is a little snippet of some of last week’s  observations.  First, I’m very pleased with the progress of the plants in the garden.  Last year the cucumbers made it only part way up the trellis but the children still enjoyed relaxing there;

This year the beans have grown to the top of the trellis and beyond;

Most of the herbs are growing well too but sadly many of the children enrolled this year seem to have little interest in exploring the garden.  They do like to water it though.

I’m quite interested in some of the plants that are growing in the bare spots that we never got around to planting anything in.  I wish I was able to identify some of them – I assume they are weeds.  I pull the thistles but others I think are pretty so I leave them to grow.  Maybe someday I’ll find out what they are – do you know?

The baby loves the gravel area — I’m glad I no longer restrict the little ones access to this area.  Some day I’ll write a post about my transition from keeping babies ‘as safe as possible’ outdoors vs ‘as safe as necessary’.  One of the babies favorite activities has been to slide her feet back and forth until she buries them completely;

Then she picks all the little gravel pieces out of her sandals – without asking me to help 🙂

Finger knitting has become the favorite quiet time activity for the school-age boys – the girls have little patience for it;

But everyone loves painting on the plexiglass outdoors;

Moving the plexiglass easel was part of the major project this past long weekend.  Stay tuned for more of the project details when I find some time to write….