Occasionally a child will become injured at school. This is more likely to happen in PE lessons or the playground where they are more physically active and testing their growing motor skills and abilities, including visual tracking skills, depth perception and anticipatory timing. This information is designed to help reassure families of where and how safety fits into our PE curriculum and transfers to other active settings. While bumps and bruises in childhood are inevitable there are certainly many ways we can significantly reduce the risk of injuries in physically active settings at both home and school. With over 700 ES children being highly active doing Physical Education 3 times per week, including ball handling and swimming units, we need to take child safety seriously.

 Every student is learning how to use both equipment and space safely. There is a big emphasis on being safe in a physically active setting in the early years in both preschool, Kindergarten and Grade 1.  We focus on developing self-regulation skills, impulse control and using equipment safely. Later on students will learn skill cues to help develop skill mastery but the focus on safety is always paramount. When a child lacks impulse control they will do things like chase a ball that has rolled out onto a busy road. When a child develops impulse control they stop, think, then do – part of PE lessons is developing impulse control in young children.

Older children in Grades 2, 3 and 4 will tend to make social comparisons with each other in active settings and sometimes sacrifice safety in a competitive environment where winning can become paramount. For this reason we limit score keeping and competitive sports until children are older and are better able to handle competition and maintain safety – this usually occurs around the ages of 10-12 and is the ideal age for children to begin more competitive sports. We want to keep the focus on skill mastery and safety rather than winning in elementary school.

What does all this look like in a PE lessons? Students might be taking take turns to bat a foam ball off a tee with a plastic bat and the focus for the lesson might be to learn safety rules for batting. The main safety rule for batting is “never walk near a person that is batting” . We then might make connections with this safety rule to other activities such as using a hockey stick, a cricket bat or a tennis racket. Some students will make connections to sports they play outside of school such as Little league or Golf lessons. Students learn to learn to recognize and apply other simple safety rules such as tagging gently on the shoulders or below in tag games and looking in front when chasing fleeing and dodging during tag games so as not to bump into others. Children are taught to move in control and we use analogies to cars and runaway trains that have brakes that are not working! Children learn that we are only allowed to move fast enough that we can still stop or change direction to avoid a collison with others when playing fast paced tag games. Having large boundaries and soft surfaces also helps reduce the likelihood of injuries as does changing the locomotor movement to skipping or jumping rather than running.

Students also spend considerable time learning to find a safe self-space within general space. An example of this is when they are using scooters to develop postural stability or jumping a short self-turned rope or manipulating a hula hoop they are expected to be able to locate a self-space that will not interfere with others and that gives them ample space to be able to explore and practice skills.

A learning goal for Kindergarten and Grade 1 is to develop the ability to listen attentively and actively participate in group discussions about being safe and moving in control in a physically active setting. Some students, usually the more naturally competitive students, will require ongoing reminders and encouragement to follow class rules and participate safely in class activities. Our goal is for students to consistently recognize and apply simple safety rules in the various PE units – ball handling, swimming, gymnastics and dance.   Our swimming program in particular places a large emphasis on learning water safety and survival skills in and around aquatic settings in addition to stroke development. Our program provides many opportunities for students to recognize and demonstrate safe behaviors in all PE units. This does not mean that students are never injured – while we take many precautions by modifying games and equipment and discussing safety – we can never guarantee that a child will not be injured, but we will always do our best to reduce the likelihood of injuires.  Children are learning to take calculated risks in active settings and gradually developing mastery of skills. We have large numbers of children being active in daily PE lessons (up 24 ES PE lessons per day with 700 children being active three times per week!) so ways to monitor and increase safety is frequently being addressed in our weekly meetings. PE teachers are also First Aid qualified. The ES PE equipment and facilities are routinely checked to identify any signs of wear and tear that may cause injury. Any defective items are immediately taken out of use until repaired or replaced. There is a routine for checking equipment and reporting faults.

It is certainly unexpected when a child is injured, although statistically probably unavoidable over time. Most injuries are extremely minor like a small bump or fall and the child is able to continue with the PE lesson. If any serious injury (and all head injuires) occur in a PE lesson we immediately telephone the school clinic and have the nurse or doctor attend to the student and contact the parents. The PE teacher would also make contact with the parents to discuss the incident.

What next? How we as both teachers and parents react to an injury can be either supportive or sometimes detrimental to the child. If we accept that the child is hurt, that accidents do sometimes happen, and statistically are more likely to happen in a physically active setting – assuming safety measures are in place and being adhered to – then we can  focus on the recovery process and reassure the child that they will be okay. Children will learn that sometimes accidents do happen but they can behave in certain ways to maximise their own safety next time. They learn that they can endure temporary hardships and will ultimately be okay.

For further reading:

“The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” by  Wendy Mogel. Clinical Psychologist .

“Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age” .Dan Kindlon, Child psychologist and Harvard lecturer.

Here is a link to an interesting link to an article by therapist Lori Gottlieb that talks about what children learn from hardships, including childhood bumps and bruises. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/rchive/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/308555/