Ask the Expert: Supervision Challenges and Solutions for Outdoor Play
By Angie Dorrell M.A.

Ask the Expert: Supervision Challenges and Solutions for Outdoor Play

By Angie Dorrell, M.A.


Recently, a child suffered a minor injury on our playground as a result of improper supervision. One of our teachers turned her back for just a few seconds, but it was long enough for an accident to occur. The parents have been extremely supportive and understand that accidents do sometimes occur, however, we want to prevent any future injury to the children in our care. How do you ensure proper supervision of playgrounds at all times?

– Katrina Bellevue, Troy, AL


Why supervise during outdoor play? Take a few moments to observe most playgrounds in a home or school setting and you will more than likely see adults congregating and talking amongst themselves instead of supervising the children at play. The playground is a common place for childhood accidents to occur, and according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission more than 200,000 children were treated in emergency rooms last year for playground-related injuries. Let’s do our best to work together to improve this statistic by improving our playground supervision with these simple tips: 

Determine stations for monitoring – For example, one teacher might be assigned to monitor the large play structure, while another supervises the sand area, and a third watches the children in a shady quiet play area. While these teachers should assist in monitoring other areas as the children move around on the playground, having an area to patrol helps focus their attention and prevents responsibility from being deflected onto someone else. Be sure to change positions frequently to keep everyone alert and engaged. 

Encourage and provide resources for development of outdoor activities – Free choice time is very important during outside time, but providing some planned activities and changing the props frequently keeps the playground fresh and is more likely to engage the children in play. Try adding different sand toys to the sand box, hats to the riding toy area, and cars to the cement area, and providing butcher paper attached to a fence for painting. 

Require an attendance form to be checked regularly – Attendance forms ensure that the staff on the playground has not only done a head count, but also matched names with faces. This is especially important when more than one group of children is outdoors at the same time. Keep attendance forms handy by placing them on a clipboard near the door or another convenient location so that teachers can perform head counts at regular intervals. 

Walk the playground – Look around and under play equipment for sharp nails or splinters. Stop at intervals and get on your knees to match the height of a child and see if another teacher can always see you. Discovering blind spots before the children are outside provides security. Share these blind spots with all outdoor personnel and determine who will always be watching those areas. If at all possible, eliminate blind spots by fencing off or blocking an area from children’s access. 

Establish and review outdoor rules with the children – Rules for outdoor play should be consistent with the rules for inside and they should be consistent across all classrooms, especially when two or more classrooms of children are on the playground at the same time.  

Determine how to handle issues ahead of time and prepare a plan of action – Topics to consider include: When may a child go inside to use the bathroom? Who will stay with the child while he uses the restroom? Who will stay with the children that remain outdoors? How will proper ratios be maintained at all times? How will a minor injury be handled? What first-aid materials need to be outdoors for easy access? How will a major injury be handled? How/who handles facility repair issues? Can a parent check a child out from the play yard?  

Do NOT provide benches or other adult-sized yard furniture (Unless a physical limitation presents the need for seating.) – Outdoor seats naturally draw an adult to sit down. A person that is sedentary cannot see the playground well enough to prevent accidents from occurring. Sitting down to observe the children is also not as fun as interacting and playing with them!


Angie Dorrell, M.A., is Director of Education for La Petite Academy, the largest privately held early childhood education company. She also serves as a NAEYC accreditation validator and former commissioner. She is the proud mother of two young daughters. She can be reached by email at