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The environment is part of your curriculum. As you plan your indoor and outdoor spaces, you need to consider the health, safety and learning opportunities for the children.
Building a new center or renovating space in an existing building is a complex job. There are many resources to help you during your planning phase.
To make your job easier, consider a team approach. Your team can help you make sure that your space is friendly, functional and meets required standards.
Your team can help you address the following topics:
Child care licensing: Your state licensing regulations give guidance about policies you need to observe. Child Care Aware's State by State Resource Map provides you with a direct link to the office in your state that is responsible for child care licensing.
Facility design: You will need to plan for many types of spaces for a variety of uses. Think about how the following needs would apply to either a child care center or family child care program.
Also see Location - indoor and outdoor spaces.
Fire prevention and safety: This is one of the most critical areas for you to consider. Contact your local fire station to learn about local fire safety requirements and to get help during the planning phase. Child care programs are governed by the National Fire Safety Code. The following is an example of important codes child care centers need to consider:
Health: Look at both indoor and outdoor areas when you consider health issues.
Americans with Disabilities Act: Consult the document, Commonly Asked Questions About Child Care Centers and the Americans with Disabilities Act, by the Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. Department of Justice for information that will help you plan your design.Additional Resources
Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards: Guidelines for Out-of-Home Child Care, 3rd Edition. See "Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Transportation."
By the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care
Child Care Center Design Guide
By U.S. General Services Administration
Designing Quality Child Care Facilities
By V.L. Stoecklin and R. White, White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group
Physical Environment: A Guide to the NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standard and Related Accreditation Criteria
By the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. Department of Justice
Your playground extends your indoor environment to your outdoor environment. For children, outdoor play is as important as indoor play. Getting fresh outdoor air on a regular basis helps children stay healthy. Playing on large play equipment helps children develop large motor skills such as running, climbing and riding tricycles or other wheel toys. With adult guidance and supervision on a playground, children can learn to experience risk taking and develop risk control.
More than 200,000 injuries occur on playgrounds every year. Consider how the following factors would apply to either your child care center or your family child care program when planning your playground:
Equipment Installation: When you have playground equipment installed, follow the manufacturers' instructions to make sure it is installed safely.
Fencing: A fence helps you to supervise your children and keep unauthorized people out of the area. While not all states require fencing for family child care programs to be licensed, you may find it helpful in supervising the children in your care.
Playground Surfacing: Inadequate playground surfacing material is the leading cause of playground injury. Wood chips, pea gravel, sand, synthetic or rubber tiles, shredded rubber, mats or poured-in-place rubber are safe choices. Concrete, asphalt, blacktop, packed earth or grass are unsafe.
Inspections: Plan to inspect your outdoor play area daily to reduce injuries to the children in your care. Several checklists are available in the resources provided below to make this exercise quick and easy for you.
For child care centers, playgrounds for infants and toddlers and preschoolers should be separate from playgrounds for school-age children.
Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook
By the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Playground Safety Tips
By Safe Kids Worldwide
Choose toys and equipment that are safe and suitable for the ages and stages of children in your program. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 140,700 children visited hospital emergency rooms in 2007 for toy-related injuries and 13 children died from the injury.
Toys and equipment should help children develop a wide variety of skills and help develop large and small muscle. This will increase children's abilities and develop their confidence.
A good resource to help you with your selection that lists safety standards for children's toys and equipment is the CPSC. It also provides regular safety alerts and a recall database.