In teaching, and especially in teaching young learners, classroom safety should be our number 1 priority. Parents are entrusting us with their children and expect them to be safe and taken care of. As professionals dealing with children, any classroom accident is one accident too many. We should do everything in our power to plan and execute lessons safely.
Teaching children has more classroom safety issues than teaching adults as:
* Children lack ‘common sense’. Their experience base is much lower than adults so can’t recognise what might be dangerous.
* Children tend to regard everything as safe until proved otherwise.
* Children implicitly trust parents and authority figures. They will often presume that whatever you ask them to do must be completely safe, so will do it without question.
* Children can be unpredictable. They can move suddenly in unpredictable ways.
* Children are very emotional. They can get very involved in activities which are fun and so often lose a degree of control over themselves.
* Children can be unaware of others. They concentrate purely on what they are doing so are not aware of others moving around them.
While the classroom can seem safe there are things that need to be considered when teaching young learners. Below are some possible problems and solutions to make the classroom a safer place.
* Table: Problem – Running into it / Hiding under it – hitting their head / May trip children up. Solution: Move it out of the way for very young learners / Try to block it / Don’t have children moving close to it
* Chairs: Problem – May trip children up / Children can swing on them and fall off. Solution: Make sure they are out of the way, under the table / Enforce classroom rules, about things like swinging on chairs
* Door: Problem – Children may hit the door handle / Very young learners may try to open it / Often contain glass/windows. Solution: Never have the door as an area to go to during physical activities / If necessary position yourself in front of the door
* Windows & Blinds: Problem – Blinds may have strings that could catch children / Window handles may stick out / Children may try to open the windows / Windows can crack if children hit them. Solution: Move hazards out of the way / Never have children moving quickly towards glass / Position yourself in front of the window if necessary
* Cupboard: Problem – Children may catch on the edge of it / Children may try to open it / Children may catch fingers when closing it. Solution: Avoid children moving towards or across it / Don’t allow children access if you think there may be issues
* Whiteboard: Problem – The whiteboard may have a pen rail that sticks out / Not affixed firmly to the wall. Solution: Avoid overly physical activities / Used for slower paced activities / Stand near the board in case of issues
* Floor (carpeted or tiled): Problem: Children may slip on a tiled floor / Children may trip on the edge of a carpet / An unsecured carpet/mat may slip if children jump on it too enthusiastically. Solution:
Examine the area before classes / Do not have children moving in an unsafe way e.g. jumping, hopping, if there are any issues with your room
* Wall: Problem – Children may run into it. Solution: Control the movement of the children
* CD Player: Problem – Cable may be dangling./ Children could pull it off a cupboard. Solution: Tuck away all cables / Push it out of the way / Put it away until it is needed
* Bags: Problem – Children could trip over bags. Solution: Make sure bags are placed in safe locations, e.g. on the back of the chair
* Board pens: Problem – Children may get them on their clothes / Children may trip and hit themselves or someone else with the pen. Solution: Children should not be moving whilst holding the pen / If necessary the child should move to the board, then pick up the pen
Most solutions are basic ideas of avoidance. Objects in the classroom can be hazards during physical activities. The key factor in classroom safety is recognising the problem in advance; accidents can be avoided by anticipating what might occur.
Different age groups/learners bring different issues and potential problems with regards to classroom safety.
2- 6 year olds 6+ year olds
* Can move unpredictably
* Have less control over emotions
* Can get over excited
* Very kinaesthetic & will try to touch / take
* Have low experience base so don’t know
what can be dangerous
* Often unaware of other people/objects in
the classroom * Have grown physically & can be unaware of this * Enjoy physical games but can be over involved * Can be too competitive, so will try too hard in physical activities * Are stronger than they sometimes realise * Enjoy physically interacting with others, lack boundaries * Can react without thinking, especially when emotional
It is important to consider the materials used in the classroom as well. For example:
* Alphabet mat – Children may go for the same letter and crash into each other, mats can slip on a tiled floor
* Flashcards – Cards have relatively sharp edges and can be thrown
* Sticky Ball – This is quite hard and can hurt if thrown at someone. It can also become attached to out of reach areas, e.g. the ceiling/clock etc which can cause breakages or encourage them to try to retrieve it.
* Beach Ball – Although light it can be thrown with some force and could damage loose articles e.g. glasses, as well as cause some children to lose balance and fall
* Foam blocks – Learners may throw them at each other, could cause children to trip/stumble
* Plastic fruit – Very young learners may try to eat them or put them in their mouth, could cause children to trip/stumble
* Plastic animals – Very young learners may try to put them in their mouth. Some can be quite hard, could be thrown.
* Tea set – Hard plastic objects which can hurt if fallen on or pushed into someone. Very young learners may put them in their mouth.
* Building blocks – Very small blocks can be a choking hazard. Learners can make larger objects which are then dangerous if thrown, or hit with etc. Some blocks have relatively hard or sharp edges.
However, the materials encourage creative play and use of language, allowing learners to interact in a more natural way with/in English. By nature young learners are very kinaesthetic and learn through play and toys.
In anticipating potential problems in the classroom it is possible to avoid issues before they cause problems.
Stations: Teacher places ‘yes’ and ‘no’ cards on the opposite sides of the room. Teacher calls out ‘do you like…?’ questions (e.g. Do you like ice cream?) Learners run to touch the card which is true for them.
* Possible Problem: Learners could run into each other / fall over / trip each other up.
* Solution: Learners start in the centre of the room. They should not be running towards each other. Don’t put the focus on speed. Learners could perform an action whilst moving to the station.
Volleyball: In 2 teams, on either side of the classroom, learners hit the ball from one side to the other counting upwards. If one side allows the ball to touch the ground they lose a point.
* Possible Problem: Learners may hit the ball too hard at each other or collide with each other.
* Solution: Let some air out of the ball so it is softer. Have each team member set up their own designated area to reduce crashes. Limit the number of players a turn – the others could be referee or scorer.
Run & circle: Teacher writes one set of target language/vocabulary on the board. In teams learners line up with a pen and when the teacher calls out one of the target items one person from each team runs to the board to circle the correct item. Then run to the back of the room, touch the wall and say the target item.
* Possible Problem: Learners are running and might start crashing/running into the board or wall. They might get in each other’s way and start pushing or colliding with each other. The board could come away from the wall or fall down.
* Solution: Have a set of vocab for each team. Make sure there is a clear path to the board and back, with all tables, chairs, bags etc out of the way. Learners hop or crawl to the board to slow them down. Everyone has a designated spot out of the way to wait when it is not their turn.
Song: We like to walk. Learners & teacher move round the classroom performing the actions to the song (walk, skip, go to sleep, run, hop, jump).
* Possible Problem: Learners may bump into each other or collide, move in different directions, may bump into classroom objects, get over excited and start running.
* Solution: Make sure learners know all the actions and movements by practicing in advance. Always have them moving in one direction. Make sure there is a clear path with no tables, chairs, bags in the way. Don’t chase them or allow them to chase you.
Alphamat: Teacher connects the alphamat together to build a path. Teacher then scatters the letters around the classroom and learners collect the letters and put them in the correct mat.
* Potential Problem: Learners may collide with each other, fight over who has the letter, or hit each other with the letters.
* Solution: Don’t have learners going for the same letter; give them each a separate target. Allocate a letter relatively close to themselves so they don’t bump into each other. Alternatively: Learners could perform a relay, one gets a letter and then ‘tags’ the next person to go. Goal should be clear and give them lots of praise on completion – when the letter is put into the mat.
Sticky Ball: Teacher draws or writes the target language on the board, then calls out one of the items. Learners throw the sticky ball at the correct item.
* Potential Problem: Learners may hit others with the ball, get out of hand and start throwing the ball harder or in a dangerous fashion.
* Solution: Assign clear roles so everyone knows where they should be standing when throwing or waiting their turn. Learners should only have one attempt each turn; this should focus them more on accuracy than strength. Learners could use their non-dominant hand (i.e. right handers use their left).
As a general rule, if there are any doubts about an activity, or think the learners may have a problem with it, do not do it.
How do you make sure your classroom is safe?
Shane English School