I want my room above all for my students to feel safe at school. I also want staff, parents, administrators, colleagues and visitors to feel safe. If I can manage to ensure everyone's safety, I will feel safe too. This is a win-win for everyone, especially me.
Creating a refuge is my fundamental goal, so I developed a fundamental rule to support it. That fundamental rule is:
Everything I do, everything I plan, and everything I review is seen through the perspective of being safe.
Threats to safety come from several different directions. Most of us look in the direction of physical safety. Physical safety as it relates to classroom practice means being keenly aware of anything that might cause injury to the bodies of the people in the kindergarten. I pay attention to ensure furniture and equipment is in good repair and functioning properly.
If there is anything that might cause harm——scissors with sharp blades, cooking utensils or heat sources used in cooking projects, chemicals used in cleaning or science projects, sports equipment like bats or badminton rackets, or anything else that could hurt a child——I store these things away from students. When these items are being used, they are under watchful supervision. I store heavy items on the ground instead of on high shelves where an earthquake might topple them.
Being watchful of physical safety must be balanced with having fun. No one I know would be happy with a kindergarten program so focused on physical safety that students simply worked safely at their desks all day long. The concern for physical safety must be balanced with the need for play, experimentation, and risk.
Therein lies an art of teaching: We must decide what physical injury is acceptable in the pursuit of happiness.
In my kindergarten, for example, many students get to ride two-wheeler bicycles. I have a large collection of two wheelers donated by parents whose kids have grown up. Kindergarten students enjoy riding their predecessor's steel. I have discovered that bicycles seem to be more dangerous than they actually are. In two decades of riding, far we have had no injuries more serious than a scraped elbow or knee.
Physical safety is just one dimension of safety. Just as important are the social and psychological dimensions of safety. I’ll talk about each of them in future posts.