A change in the season also can mean a change in routine preparations in childcare programs. Many areas of the country experience ice and snow in the winter months, while others may be subject to heavy rain, wind, and power outages. Being prepared for winter can help with safety issues should storms or other weather situations arise.
Winter weather can create different safety concerns in outside play areas. Playground areas can pose safety challenges when resilient surfaces freeze or become covered with snow. Swings may no longer have leg clearance because of deep snow, slides can become even more slippery than usual due to ice, and icy patches or piles of snow can pose hazards to children running or playing games. Playground areas should be checked frequently; remove dead tree limbs, remove swings if needed, and close off areas which have too much ice or snow.
Winter play is fun. Dressing properly for winter play can help a child stay warm and remain safe. Jacket hoods should not have drawstrings that can catch on exposed surfaces and cause strangulation. Remove all drawstrings and replace them with Velcro or buttons, or ask parents to do so. Children should have warm, properly fitting boots, hats, and gloves or mittens--preferably two pairs of mittens in case one pair gets wets. In addition, encourage parents to dress their children in layers of clothing to allow for "breathing" inside the clothing and for easy removal if a child becomes too hot. Children often do not detect that they are too hot; caregivers should be aware of this and carefully watch children.
Most childcare programs allow children to be outside for a part of each day, but some days may be too cold, wet, or windy for safe outside play. A 20°F day may seem pleasant for play; but with a strong wind, wind chills of -20°F make it dangerous to be outside. Listen to a local weather source such as radio or television so you know what weather conditions exist or may appear during the day.
Remember that using sunscreen and wearing sunglasses are just as important in the cold months as in the summer season. Snow reflects the sunlight, which can cause damage to exposed skin and eyes just as it does in the summer.
- Check cushioning surfaces on the playground. Loose fill materials often become displaced during summer usage and lose resiliency if soaked with rain or ice. Rake, turn, or replace cushioning as needed.
- Inspect surrounding trees for dead or damaged limbs that could break and fall in a storm or due to the weight of snow or ice, causing injuries to anyone below them. Inspect trees, shrubbery, and other plants for dead limbs, leaves, or undergrowth that could fuel a fire.
- Inspect the driveway, parking lot, walkways, and playground areas for dips, cracks, or raised edges. Have them repaired before they are covered with snow or ice and pose a hazard.
- Inspect or install both indoor and outdoor thermometers that do not break easily and do not contain mercury.
- Bring in toys that may sustain damage or hold water and form ice.
- Clean and cover sand boxes. If covering is not needed in temperate climates, sand boxes should be cleaned on a regular basis and have adequate drainage.
The winter months can mean spending more time inside. Inside toys may be used more often and require more frequent cleaning and safety checks.
Areas used for children's outdoor clothing should provide space for the clothing to dry, and the floor beneath the clothes should be mopped frequently. Boot trays placed on the floor will allow the boots to drip without creating safety hazards with pools of water. Do not place mittens or gloves on heat vents or other warm objects to dry because of the risk of fire.
Here are some areas to check inside your childcare program before the winter months:
- Have your furnace checked by a qualified technician; inspect filters monthly and change them as needed.
- Test your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for changing the batteries. Smoke detectors and CO2 monitors should be replaced if they are more than 10 years old. Remove dust and cobwebs in and around your smoke detectors or CO2 monitors.
- If you have not done so already, notify your local utility companies that you care for young children in your location. This will give you priority status in the event of outages or other emergencies.
In the event of a serious storm, primary concerns are the potential for loss of heat, power, telephone service, and a shortage of supplies if storm conditions continue for more than a day. It may be difficult for parents to reach your center if roads are impassable. Power outages may make portable telephones useless; have at least one telephone that does not require electricity. If you have a cell phone, be sure to recharge it daily.
Contact a local church or school to arrange for alternative shelter in the event that you must evacuate and inform parents in advance of these arrangements. Provide all parents and staff members with a map to both the childcare program and the alternative shelter; include both primary and secondary routes. Have the following items available and easily accessible:
- Flashlights and extra batteries.
- Extra food and water (Good choices: high-energy food, such as dried fruit or trail mix, and food requiring no cooking or refrigeration).
- Extra medicine and supplies, such as diapers for children and babies.
- First-aid supplies.
- A cellular phone with extra batteries and/or a car charger.
- Emergency phone numbers and contact information.
- Battery-operated radio and extra batteries.
As with all seasons, winter can be a fun, wonderful and educational time for children, parents, and early childhood professionals alike. By increasing your knowledge about winter safety, making proper preparations, performing routine maintenance, and educating parents and children, you will be in a better position to effectively deal with the many changes and challenges that winter weather may bring.
Konnie Parke, RN, Child Care Health Consultant, Healthy Child Care Utah
and Kathryn Breighner, Publisher, Healthy Childcare Magazine
Federal Emergency Management Administration, (FEMA) 500 C St., SW Washington, D.C. 20472; 202-566-1600; www.fema.gov/hazards/winterstorms/wntsft.shtm
National Safe Kids Campaign, 1301 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Ste. 1000, Washington, DC 20004; 202-662-0600; www.safekids.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=4170&folder_id=183
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, www.chp.edu/besafe/kids/01frostbite.php?base=hs
Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=HQ00418