The summer months offer many opportunities for exploration and play in outdoor learning environments. With proper planning, early care and education staff can
ensure that children are able to take advantage of these experiences and enjoy the summer months safely.
Staff can use the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Child Care Weather Watch resource to help them understand the words used in weather forecasts. This resource, along with local forecasts, can help staff monitor local temperature, humidity, and air quality. To stay up to date on current conditions:
- Check the Air Quality Index at and subscribe to EnviroFlash. This service from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state or local environmental agencies provides daily emails with information about local air quality. Poor air quality can negatively affect children with asthma and other special health care needs.
- Check the forecast for the UV Index and limit exposure to the sun on days when the Index is high.
- Sign up to receive hourly weather forecasts from the National Weather Service.
Children need protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays whenever they’re outdoors. Shade and sunscreen protect children from sun exposure and can help to reduce the risk of some skin cancers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even a few major sunburns can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following guidelines regarding sun safety and the selection and application of sunscreen:
- If possible, use play areas that provide some shade to help children stay cool.
- Protect infants under 6 months from direct sunlight by keeping them in a shady spot under a tree, umbrella, or stroller canopy.
- Limit children’s sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are the strongest.
- Encourage families to dress children in cool clothing such as lightweight cotton pants and long-sleeved shirts. A hat will protect their face, ears, and the back of their neck.
- Obtain written permission from children’s parents or guardians to use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Choose a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen to screen out both UVB and UVA rays.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outdoors so it is absorbed into the skin. It will need to be reapplied every 2 hours if child; see Caring for our Children (CFOC) Standard 220.127.116.11.
Water play is a favorite activity for many young children, and families may ask about opportunities for children to engage in outdoor water play during the summer months. The CFOC do not recommend the use of portable wading pools, as they do not permit adequate sanitation control and so may promote the transmission of infectious diseases. Sprinklers, hoses, or small individual water basins are safer alternatives than wading pools. Always use active supervision when children are playing in or around water; see CFOC Standard 6.3.
If water tables are used, ensure that staff clean and sanitize the water table and that toys are used safely. All children should wash their hands before and after play. It is best to provide an individual basin for children with cuts, scratches, or open sores on their hands; see CFOC Standard 18.104.22.168.
An age- and developmentally appropriate and well-maintained playground offers children many opportunities for outdoor learning and physical activity. For more information, see the Consumer Product Safety Commission Public Playground Safety Handbook and other resources available on the Resources for Safe Playgrounds page. To keep children safe, staff should use active supervision strategies at all times.
In addition, they should also follow these guidelines:
- Inspect materials and equipment and ensure that repairs are completed when needed.
- Check the temperature of metal swings, slides, dark rubber and plastic materials, including surfacing under and around playground equipment, to make sure that these surfaces will not burn a child’s skin.
- Ensure that impact-absorbing surfaces are the proper depth to protect children from injury.
- Keep fall zones clear; see CFOC Standard 6.2.2.
Insects and Insect Repellent
Protect children and adults from insect bites by checking for and removing insect nests under slides, in bushes, and in the ground. Make sure there is no standing water near play areas for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Check for ticks after outdoor play. CDC provides instructions about tick removal. To prevent children’s insect bites, programs may consult with their local health department, Health Services Advisory Committee, or a child care health consultant about whether to use insect repellent when local insects are likely to carry diseases. Be sure to obtain written permission from children’s parents/guardians to apply insect repellent and follow the instructions on the label. These products often use different levels of a chemical called DEET. “The AAP recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30% DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than 2 months.” Additional information about using insect repellent on children is available at CFOC Standard 22.214.171.124. Adults can find information here about insect repellents that can protect them.
All children older than age 1 should wear properly fitted and approved helmets when they are riding toys with wheels or using any wheeled equipment. Helmets should be removed as soon as children stop riding the wheeled toys or using the equipment. Approved helmets should meet the standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); see CFOC Standard 126.96.36.199.
Additional summer safety tips to share with families.
- Drowning is the leading cause of injury death for young children ages 1 to 4. Always stay within arm’s reach whenever a child is in or near water. CDC recommends that families with backyard swimming pools install a four-sided isolation fence, with self-closing and self-latching gates, around the pool. Fences should completely separate the pool from the house and play area to prevent children from accessing the water
- When possible, open windows at home from the top and use window guards. Screens will not prevent children from falling out of a window.
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Resource Type: Publication
National Centers: Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety
Series: Embracing Health and Wellness
Last Updated: May 25, 2023