Now that we are well into Spring and warmer days are upon us, more kids will be playing outdoors. Parents and guardians will find themselves frequenting public parks while teachers and administrators will find themselves keeping watchful eyes as students actively spend recess and/or lunch on the playground.
Since this week is National Playground Safety Week, it’s a good time to review safety tips, assess playground equipment, and talk to children about playground safety.
Although playgrounds have certainly improved since our days, a recent study by the CDC found that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related traumatic brain injury each year. Below are some tips and suggestions schools can consider.
Tips for playground safety:
- Actively supervise children at all times.
- Encourage children to follow playground rules and play safely with other children. Shoving, crowding, and pushing should be discouraged. And although playfully wrestling may be fun for some children, these types of activities should be avoided while on top of a play structure.
- Dress children appropriately for playground play. Avoid items that can cause strangulation like scarves, necklaces, purses.
- Use playgrounds that are age-appropriate. Having separate age-appropriate areas can help prevent accidental injuries.
- Take children to playgrounds with shock-absorbing surfaces like rubber, grass, sand, wood chips, or synthetic turf.
- Conduct periodical assessments of playgrounds by following the S.A.F.E framework.
If you feel a playground is unsafe, report your concerns to the owner, park district, or school district. And remember to always keep a watchful eye on children.
What inspired you to write and share your story?
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School affected so many people, and I felt like there was this whole other side to the story no one even knows about. Losing my daughter Emilie completely paralyzed me. I felt such a great loss. In my search to find and understand my daughter’s “new life,” if you will, I was able to also find forgiveness and peace. Sharing that journey with the world was not an easy decision, but I felt like it was the right thing to do.
This book is incredibly personal, filled with private, painful, but also very precious memories of you and your family. Throughout the process of writing this book, what did you learn about yourself?
I learned a lot actually. When I began writing, I had no idea what story I was going to tell through my experiences. I knew that we had had many unique experiences that were important our family and I wanted to record them for my young daughters. But as the story began to unfold on paper and I began to connect the dots, I saw for the first time the whole story. I was stunned. The picture before me was so beautiful! To see how all the pieces connected together was amazing. I felt very humbled by the many blessings our family had been given and how far we had come in the years following Emilie’s death.
In the book, we learn from Emilie that “Everything is connected!” This is one of the themes in your book. Can you talk about the connection between forgiveness and healing? What role has forgiveness played in your journey of healing?
In the beginning, forgiveness wasn’t even something I was thinking about. I wanted to focus on my family and our healing, and the forgiveness part would come later. But, of course that is not what happened. I found that healing and forgiveness went hand and hand and I couldn’t do one without the other.
After Sandy Hook, you reveal that you struggled with your identity, the idea of being defined by tragedy. How important has this book been in helping you own your story, in helping you define you and/or your family’s identity?
Emilie was so much more than the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Her life was full of color and light! I did not want her identity to be defined by someone else’s actions. This story gives people a look at the whole picture of what her life looked like, before and after.
You share many sweet stories of Emilie. It paints a colorful picture of Emilie’s personality. We learn that she was and continues to be a source of inspiration for many. How do you want your daughter to be remembered?
I guess I would want her remembered the way our family remembers her. As a chatty, colorful, messy, caring, emotionally sensitive little girl that always put others before her. She was a loving leader and playmate to her sisters, and an example of Christ-like love to my husband and me.
How did you decide what stories you wanted to share and what stories you wanted to keep private for you and your family?
Oh, there is a whole additional book of stories we didn’t end up using for the book. Some were by choice and some just didn’t fit the main thesis of the book. This is Emilie’s story and we had to use that as a guide to decided what stories needed to be told.
For those who haven’t read the book, what are some of the themes readers can look forward to?
I hope people walk away understanding how connected we all are to the ones we love and that those connections are never truly lost. There is a lot of hope in knowing that. In the darkest of times, it can be hard to see the light. I learned through this experience that the light is all around us, we just have to choose to let it in.
What do you hope people will take away from An Unseen Angel ?
There is so much despair and darkness associated with the shooting at Sandy Hook and I hope this story will show people the other side. The side that can inspire us to look at the world in a different way… the way Emilie saw it. It’s a world full of color and hope and above all else, goodness.
Alissa Parker is the mother of one of the 20 children who died tragically in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. After Emilie’s death, Alissa began TheParkerFive blog as a tool to express the emotions she and her family experienced throughout the grieving process. She is also the cofounder of the Emilie Parker Art Connection, a charity helping local community arts programs for children, and Safe and Sound Schools, a touring national advocacy group that helps people take action to make schools safe.
Q: I’m concerned about visitor management protocols at my child’s school. Yesterday, I went to pick my child up from school early. No one asked me to identify myself. Surprised, I asked them if they needed to see ID. Although they looked at my ID, they didn’t verify whether I was one of the people authorized to pick up my child from school. What can I do to make sure the school is verifying visitors and asking for identification?
A: Most schools at least require that visitors sign in and present ID in this situation. Others take it a step further and verify your information with their records. Still others, utilize “visitor management” technology to scan and even run a visitor’s ID through a database, which then supplies a badge or pass, if the visitor is approved.
I recommend reaching out to the principal to share your experience (I am sure he/she will want to know) and reinforce your expectation for your child’s safety. It could be that there is not an established protocol in place. Unfortunately, lots of school communities feel that they don’t need to worry about this. If this is the case, you might offer to help them think it through and toward a safer solution. It could also be that the office staff was busy or you were dealing with a substitute. Either way, it’s important to figure out what is at the root of this safety issue. If your daughter’s school has a school resource officer or police liaison, I would ask that that person join the conversation as well. It is not easy to have to approach your child’s school about a problem you have found, but if you are able to come forward positively and ready to help, as well as firm about your expectation, you are likely to have success.
Other resources you can reach out to in the school are the school counselor, and of course, your child’s teacher. It may also be helpful to discuss this with other parents and/or members of the PTA/O. I applaud you for speaking up in the moment, asking, “Don’t you need to see my ID?” With this simple action, you communicated your expectation and actually changed the action of the staff member. You are already moving things in a safer direction. There is no firm requirement for schools to develop and implement visitor management protocols at this point. It’s up to us to speak up and change that. Please keep us posted on your progress and be ready to stick with it until you feel that your child is safe.
– Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
Update: Since the parent’s meeting with the principal, the school has improved their process, making sure school members are aware of new greeting and visitor management protocols. Visitors are now required to provide ID and share their visitation purpose. There is a sign posted on the door to remind visitors not to hold the door open for others. School members are required to verify whether visitors are authorized to pick up the child.
Submissions: If you’d like to submit a question, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a question through our inbox on our social media platforms. Safe and Sound Schools is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
In today’s climate of fear and uncertainty, children need to feel a sense of security especially when away from home. Schools have taken more measures to ensure student safety and are also beginning to embrace pedagogical programs such as Social Emotional Learning. Emotional intelligence is important for children to understand their emotions, show empathy toward others and form healthy relationships. Providing our youth with the skills necessary to navigate their world and make sound decisions will help them feel safer and more confident. One venue to share encouraging messages and model positive emotional skills is through children’s literature.
Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban
Grades: PreK – 2
Mouse is mad, really mad. His failed attempts at expressing his anger cause more and more frustration and irritation. By the end of the story, however, Mouse finally discovers a positive way to express his anger which also helps him to let go of it.
Ishi: Simple Tips from a Solid Friend by Akiko Yabuki
Grades: All grade levels
Ishi is a simple, little rock who has bad days like all of us but its optimism always finds a way to make it feel better and look on the bright side. This is a wonderful book to teach mindfulness and may be supplemented with the Ishi website.
Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale of Kenya by Mary Chamberlin
Grades: K – 3
When Adika accompanies his mother to market to buy ingredients for pancakes, he invites several friends he sees along the way to join them for dinner. Mama becomes increasingly concerned because her two coins will not be enough to buy the ingredients needed for so many pancakes. And although Mama tries to gently discourage Adika from inviting so many, it is clear that she loves her son and his generosity.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Grades: 1 – 5
Maya, a new girl in school, is not accepted by her new classmates. They ignore her and make fun of the way she is dressed in hand-me-down clothes. Although Maya tries and tries to befriend the other girls, they continue to pay her no notice. At the end of the story, Maya moves away and one classmate realizes she has missed an opportunity to be kind.
The Orange Shoes by Trinka Hakes Noble
Grades: 2 -5
Delly Porter who comes from a poor farm family, doesn’t have a pair of shoes that fit her so she walks to school barefoot. This elicits teasing from Prudy who has no shortage of shiny shoes. When Delly’s father finds enough money to buy his daughter a beautiful pair of soft orange shoes, the reader thinks everything will turn out just fine. But that is not the case when the other girls at school see Delly’s new shoes. What happens forces Delly to rethink what is important to her.
12 Tips for Staying Safe by Jamie Kallio
Grades: 2 – 5
Part of the Healthy Living series, this informative book provides tips on staying safe indoors, outdoors, at school and online. The photos and interesting facts makes this book engaging for students.
Kindness and Generosity: It Starts with Me by Jodie Shepherd
Grades: PreK – 3
This book is part of the character education series Rookie Talk About It from Scholastic. It is full of ideas and interactive activities that highlight how the qualities of kindness and generosity can strengthen your character.
For other literature suggestions, this link has several titles organized by emotions and character traits.
Submitted by Louise Prescott
Library Media Specialist
Mills Pond Elementary Library
Louise Prescott is the Mills Pond Elementary Library Media Specialist. In 2010, the Western Suffolk BOCES School Library System named her the 2010 School Library Media Specialist of the Year for integrating new technology into the curriculum. Prescott started her career as a speech pathologist. Due to her love for children’s books, she pursued a career in library science and continues to bring children and books together. You can follow her on Twitter @libraryprescott. To learn more about Mills Pond Elementary Library, visit, www.mpelibrary.com.
Our mission is founded on the principle that our children –the nation’s children–deserve to learn and develop in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by peers, educators, and staff that empower them to succeed.
As a rule, Safe and Sound Schools does not take a position on political topics. However, on the heels of a divisive and embattled election season, our nation is now faced with the task of restoring unity, stability, and a sense of safety. Our schools and our students are not immune to the current political climate. They watch the news, engage in social media, and engage in the political process at home, on the bus, and at school.
Unfortunately, not all of these interactions are positive, respectful, and considerate. In this climate, students have reported harassment, bullying, and even fear and uncertainty about their future and safety. Like most parents, educators, and community members, safety is our number-one priority. Here are five suggestions to help ease concerns with your students and help them make sense of the current post-election climate.
1. Make time for discussion. Chances are your student has an idea about the kinds of issues our country is facing. Whether they are getting their information from home, the news, social media, or their peers, they are subject to a lot of information and many opinions. Take this time to hold a family discussion. Ask your child about their day and address concerns they have about current events happening in their school, community, or in the news.
2. Encourage kindness, compassion, and inclusiveness. Violence, bullying, and harassment are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated. By modeling kindness, teaching compassion, and encouraging inclusiveness for our children, we plant the seeds of hope among our nation’s youth and open the door to understanding and acceptance.
3. Teach acceptance. Our country is diverse and filled with people who come from all walks of life. As the National Association of School Psychologists states, “American democracy is founded on respect for individual differences.” Teach children that people should be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect despite perceived race, appearance, language, orientation, affiliation, or religion. Model this behavior by remembering to embrace these values at all times.
4. Be vocal. If your child has any concerns or has experienced any sort of violence or harassment at school, encourage them to speak up. Hold a meeting with their teacher or school principal to address the issue. Work together to find a solution so that your child feels safe at school. If your child is the one causing the trouble, work with your student, and the school if necessary, to ensure their behavior is respectful going forward. Remember that every child deserves to learn in a safe environment.
5. Seek help. Remind your students they can make use of their school community and its resources, and as a parent, you can too. School communities are comprised of mental health professionals, educators, administrators, school safety officials, and parent associations – connect with these resources. Support, understanding, and solace can often be found within these groups. You may even discover that other families are going through similar experiences. Safety and confidence can be restored when you address concerns, seek help, and work together as a community.
We realize that as a nation, our backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions may differ, and that is one of the things that makes our country special. One thing we can all come together around is the common goal of providing safe and secure schools for all our children.
Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis, National Association of School Psychologists
Social Media and School Crises: Facts and Tips, National Association of School Psychologists
Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor, shares our dedication to the safety of children. Here she talks about her mission and Jesse’s legacy, teaching love and compassion to prevent violence and promote peace.
After the shooting death of my 6 year old son, Jesse Lewis, along with 19 of his classmates and 6 educators, two questions emerged from my shock and horror: How could something like this happen? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
I watched as people began pointing fingers, first at the shooter, his mother, and then at guns, politicians, video games and media—all to no avail. When blaming and demanding that others fix the problem doesn’t work, what then? We must take responsibility for what is happening to our children and in our society. We must be part of the solution. The truth is that every school shooting is preventable. Period.
Before Jesse’s funeral, I found a message he had written on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died, “Norturting Helinn Love” (Nurturing Healing Love). Those three words are in the definition of compassion across all cultures. Love is as necessary to our healthy existence as food and water. This need unites and connects us all as humans. What if we could infuse our classrooms with love and teach all children how to give, and receive love?
The hard fact of the matter is, some children do not receive love at home and in their lives. I set out to figure a way to get Jesse’s message into classrooms with my understanding that if the shooter knew how to give, and receive love, our tragedy would never have happened. I found that this was already being done, through Social and Emotional Learning, “SEL”.
SEL has been around for decades and teaches children how to get along with one another, how to manage their emotions, have empathy for others and show compassion – basically how to be responsible and kind citizens. Children and adults without these skills suffer from feeling a lack of connection to others, impaired–if not disabled–ability to learn, increased physical and mental health issues, and increased rates of drug abuse and incarceration among other negative implications.
Studies show that children who receive SEL have better academic performance, more positive attitudes and behaviors, and experience less anxiety and depression. Long-term studies following kindergarteners who were taught Social and Emotional Learning skills into adulthood have found there were higher graduation rates and even less divorce rates among these individuals. In fact ALL the research on SEL shows that this is the most powerful and proactive mental health initiative we have, and cultivates safer and more positive classroom and school climates.
When I think about what we focus on in schools other than academics: anti-bullying, drug awareness, suicide prevention, sex education, it looks to me like we are teaching kids what not to do. Social and emotional learning teaches kids what to do by providing a positive focus on tools and skills that can help children feel good, about themselves and others.
Columbia University did a study recently that showed for every $1 invested in SEL programs there was an $11 return to the community. I can’t think of a better investment –in our children, in our safety, and in our futures. In fact, SEL has proven to be more important than academics, when determining future success. When children have these skills, personal and academic achievement follows.
The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is committed to making sure every child has access to this life-changing and life-saving education. This fall we are piloting our signature Choose Love Enrichment Program, Pre-K through 12th grade, that includes SEL, Character Values, Positive Psychology, Neuroscience, Mindfulness and more. The Choose Love Enrichment Program teaches children a formula to choose love in every situation, based on Jesse’s message. This is offered online and is free at www.jesselewischooselove. org.
Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor.