Preschool Environment

About one half of the children in the United States are cared for by people other than their immediate family. Two thirds of two-parent homes have both parents working and therefore child care is needed. Single-parent homes have 20% of the children in the United States who need child care. The preschool or childcare setting may be unsafe and contribute to health problems. The most prominent hazards for children are: toys and equipment; chemical hazards, such as cleaning materials and disinfectants; biological hazards such as airborne and blood-borne infections; handling and moving of equipment and children; unattended children; security of entry points and exits; availability of drugs and other medication; and visual or hearing impairment. There is a need for good personal hygiene and good facility sanitation practices, infectious disease control, injury prevention techniques, illness management, and emergency preparedness.

Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi are readily spread by young children through close personal contact, hand-to-mouth behavioral traits, and inadequate personal hygiene. Infections can be spread readily from person to person by means of hands and bodies. Infections may be spread by the oral-fecal route, respiratory route, and blood, urine, and saliva. Many surfaces, such as diaper changing tables, food tables, bathroom surfaces, fabrics, toys, and books, are contaminated and can easily be the reason for the transmission of disease. (See endnote 23.)

Children under age 4 are especially at risk for injuries. Children are prone to drowning, motor vehicle injuries, burn injuries, poisonings, choking, and suffocation.

There are a range of environmental contaminants found in early learning and childcare environments. The contaminants come from: outdoor air pollution; indoor and outdoor pesticide use; inadequate ventilation, and the inhalation of carbon monoxide and especially other contaminants from painting, cleaning, and art supplies; dust carrying chemicals from furniture, carpets, televisions, computers, plastic toys, and cleaners; dust tracked in from outside with all the usual contaminants; mold from water-damaged drywall and carpets; lead from old paint, toys, and objects illegally painted with lead-based paints; mercury from broken old glass thermometers and potentially from fish; radon from surrounding soil; tobacco smoke from previous smoking areas; fragrances found in air fresheners, cleaning agents, and perfumes; and fumes from disinfecting or cleaning products. (See endnote 1.)

Best Practices for the Preschool Environment (See endnote 1)

  • • Conduct a comprehensive study of the preschool environment to determine the types of pollutants and microorganisms which may potentially cause disease and injury to children and the appropriate measures needed to prevent this.
  • • Check the Air Quality Index and weather conditions each day before allowing children to be out of doors. (This is especially important in areas where there is frequent smog, fires, and excessive heat or excessive cold.)
  • • Locate children’s activities out of doors away from motor vehicles and parking areas.
  • • Do not allow motor vehicles to idle near the facility.
  • • Reduce the potential for motor vehicle exhaust to enter the building.
  • • Children should not be allowed to play in areas where pesticides have been used recently, near stagnant or standing water, or during peak mosquito biting times.
  • • Play equipment must not be treated with chromated copper arsenate.
  • • The children under supervision must wash their hands after using the toilet facilities, playing with toys, touching equipment, and before eating.
  • • The adults must frequently wash their hands to reduce the chance of spreading disease.
  • • Children must be protected against the effects of the sun especially between 10 AM and 2 PM.
  • • Provide adequate and appropriate ventilation for all areas of the facility.
  • • Determine if mold or mildew is present and remove it immediately and also remove the source.
  • • Remove dust frequently with damp mops or treated cloth.
  • • Vacuum all carpets and rugs utilizing equipment with special filters.
  • • Periodically test the facility for levels of radon.
  • • Do not use air fresheners or fragrances in the air.
  • • Store all cleaning products, disinfectants, and sanitizers away from children.
  • • Utilize cleaning products, disinfectants, and sanitizers only after the children have left the facility.
  • • Make sure that all toys, arts, and crafts materials, etc. are safe, age appropriate, lead free, sanitized, and used under the supervision of an experienced adult.
  • • Maintain kitchen, food preparation, and food serving areas at the highest standard. (See Chapter 7, “Food Security and Protection.”)
  • • Continuously evaluate storage temperatures, cooking temperatures, serving temperatures of food, and the temperatures of equipment used in the food preparation process.
  • • Be careful of the temperature of the food that the child is consuming so that the child will not be burned.
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