April 2018 -

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Ben Throop

Teaching safety skills with visual cards and pictures


Safety knowledge is an important set of skills to teach young children. When teaching about safety I have found it helpful to separate safety skills into separate categories depending on the child’s age and functioning level. Usually, I divide my efforts between two primary groups: ‘Basic Identification of safe and dangerous’, and ‘Community safety’ (Strangers vs. familiar people and/or street signs). These two areas can cover many topics and are useful for an introduction into safety skills.

To teach a child to recognize and identify the concepts of safe and dangerous, I begin by having visual cards of basic items or events. These picture cards are often things that can be either safe or dangerous depending on their context. For example, a pretend kitchen center vs. a real oven in their kitchen or a boy wearing a helmet vs. a boy not wearing a helmet. I try to have a varied collection of these cards that visually demonstrate when an item is safe or dangerous. Once I have these cards, I ask the child to describe, sort, or identify the cards to see what he or she already knows about the subject. From this probe, I can then begin to decide where I need to begin teaching. When teaching safe vs. dangerous, it can be helpful to first teach children to sort the cards into piles (safe pile vs. dangerous pile), then tell you if a picture is safe or dangerous, and then finally tell you why it is safe or dangerous.

The strategies procedures used above (sort, identify, and then explain) can also be used to teach signs in the community. These skills can be practiced multiple times a day in the natural context when you are taking a walk or driving.
Stranger safety skills always seem to be a bit more difficult to teach; yet are so important! To teach a child to recognize and identify the concepts of stranger vs. familiar person, I collect images of people in that child’s environment who are familiar and images of people that the child does not know. I find the “create a new card” function in Mrs. Riley helpful to input these images so that I am able to make all the cards look the same. Ensuring similarity among the materials is a good idea in this program so that children are paying attention to the important cues (recognition of a person’s face) rather than learning the skill by attending to the unimportant cues (familiar people are photographs, unfamiliar are from a magazine, etc.). Similarly, in this program it can useful to use the visual cards to have the child sort, label, find, or explain why that person is a stranger (someone they don’t know) or a familiar person (someone they know).
I also find that with this program, if the child is older, it is especially important to engage in role play with the child. When role playing, I pretend to both the stranger and/or a familiar person. I remind the child of what he or she can do when a stranger comes up to them. I then approach the child and have the child react appropriately depending on who I pretend to be. For some children, it is important to even take this a step further and set up situations in the community. There are a growing number of programs in communities that are reaching out to teach this important skill! In these programs, trained adults are the ‘stranger’ (the child does not know them) and ‘tests’ the child in the community (as the parent watches from another viewpoint to see how their child reacts).  I highly recommend thorough teaching of these skills so that we can all keep children safe.
As with all skills, it is important to make sure the child can demonstrate his or her knowledge in their environment. You can test this by pointing out, asking questions, and having the child show you that he can actually apply his or her safety knowledge throughout the day.
You can see the example PageBuilder file "Safe vs. Dangerous" that I made below.

Link to File - Safe vs. Dangerous



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