Tania K. Cowling is a former teacher, a published book author, and award winning freelance writer.
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Over the years, I've found that using age-appropriate storybooks can help primary students understand safety. The combination of words and illustrations catches their attention, and they often lead to wonderful discussions. I like to break up my safety lessons into categories and present teachable moments on a weekly or monthly basis.
Each year, approximately 200,000 children in the U.S. are treated for playground-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Students ages 5 to 9 are most likely to be hurt, and incidents typically involve slides and climbing equipment.
I love the book Please Play Safe! Penguin's Guide to Playground Safety by Margery Cuyler. The story revolves around a menagerie of colorful animals that teach children the correct way to use slides, monkey bars, seesaws, jump ropes, balls, sandboxes, and more. This book also teaches proper playground behavior, such as waiting for a turn, staying clear of the swings, and not throwing sand.
Whether a child is riding a bicycle to school or just cruising around the block at home, bike rides can lead to minor injuries, like a scrape on the knee, or more serious injuries that involve the head. Wearing a bike helmet can reduce the risk of a serious injury, but how many children wear them consistently? Students who are reluctant to wear helmets may relate to Franklin's Bicycle Helmet by Eva Moore. Franklin the turtle buys himself a new bike helmet but gets embarrassed when some of his friends make fun of it, so he hides it. His friend, Rabbit, comes along, and they talk about bike safety together. Franklin realizes that he shouldn't succumb to peer pressure and makes the right decision for protection.
What do your kids know about street safety? In the book Look Left, Look Right, Look Left Again by Ginger Pate, Wally Waddlewater needs to learn how to cross the street safely in order to reach the mailbox. He wants to mail a birthday card to his grandmother, but he needs to cross a number of streets in town. After reading this book, my little learners practiced crossing a pretend street that I made in the classroom with masking tape.
Because many children are transported by the school bus every day, teachers should make sure to cover bus safety. Do your students know bus rules, such as waiting for the bus to stop before getting out of their seat, never walking behind a bus, and using handrails when boarding or exiting the bus? Robin Pulver's Axle Annie and the Speed Grump is a lighthearted tale that sends a big message in terms of bus safety. Annie is the school bus driver, and she's determined to keep her young riders safe on the road—particularly from Rush Hotfoot, who defies all the safety rules of the road. Annie's bus adventures lead to great class discussions about this mode of transportation. The story also engages listeners to learn about the safety equipment on a school bus like hazard lights and stop sign arms.
You and your students have likely participated in fire drills: Everyone marches out of the classroom to your designated outdoor location, all is OK, and then you go back indoors. But do your students really know what to do if a fire broke out in your classroom?
In Margery Cuyler's book, Stop Drop and Roll, young Jessica is worried she won't remember all the safety rules she was taught. Will she be able to discuss escape plans, smoke alarms, and the most important rule about what to do if your clothes catch fire? This story presents a cute story about how Jessica extinguishes her fire safety fears.
These are only a few of the many safety lessons I conducted in my classroom. You can teach your class about water safety, playing safely with pets, and how to handle a true emergency by calling 911. Storybooks lead to great discussions and activities that will get your primary students thinking about the "what ifs" and what to do. Because young kids learn by repetition, be aware that you may have to read and revisit these books a few times.