The environment is part of your curriculum. As you plan your indoor and outdoor spaces, you need to consider the health, safety and learning opportunities for the children.

Design of facility

Building a new center or renovating space in an existing building is a complex job. There are many resources to help you during your planning phase.

To make your job easier, consider a team approach. Your team can help you make sure that your space is friendly, functional and meets required standards.

Your team can help you address the following topics:

Child Care Licensing: Your state licensing regulations give guidance about policies you need to observe. NACCRRA's State Licensing Information Map provides you with a direct link to the office in your state that is responsible for child care licensing.

Facility design: You will need to plan for many types of spaces for a variety of uses. Think about how the following needs would apply to either a child care center or family child care program.

  • An area where providers can take breaks away from the children
  • Bathrooms and handwashing areas for both children and adults
  • Child activity rooms
  • Eating area
  • Hallways
  • Janitorial closets (lockable)
  • Kitchen and food storage area
  • Laundry area
  • Management and administrative area
  • Room for large motor activities
  • Storage for individual children's possessions
  • Storage for equipment and materials for adult use
  • Reception area

Also see Location - indoor and outdoor spaces.

Fire prevention and safety: This is one of the most critical areas for you to consider. Contact your local fire station to learn about local fire safety requirements and to get help during the planning phase. Child care programs are governed by the National Fire Safety Code. The following is an example of important codes child care centers need to consider:

  • There must be two exits out of each child activity room. One exit must lead directly to the outside.
  • There must be a fire suppression system throughout the facility.
  • Cribs should fit through both the door leading directly to the outside and out of the alternate exit door.
  • In the reception area and in each activity room, you must post the maximum capacity of your center based on total square footage.

Health: Look at both indoor and outdoor areas when you consider health issues.

  • Make sure older buildings contain no lead, asbestos or other toxic materials. Your community health department or child care center licensing agency can put you in contact with experts who can take samples of paint and other materials for official findings.
  • Avoid areas with high air pollution.
  • Avoid areas near gas stations where there are underground or above ground gas/oil storage tanks.

Americans with Disabilities Act: Consult the document, Commonly Asked Questions About Child Care Centers and the Americans with Disabilities Act, by the Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. Department of Justice for information that will help you plan your design.

Additional Resources

Design of playground

Your playground extends your indoor environment to your outdoor environment. For children, outdoor play is as important as indoor play. Getting fresh outdoor air on a regular basis helps children stay healthy. Playing on large play equipment helps children develop large motor skills such as running, climbing and riding tricycles or other wheel toys. With adult guidance and supervision on a playground, children can learn to experience risk taking and develop risk control.

More than 200,000 injuries occur on playgrounds every year. Consider how the following factors would apply to either your child care center or your family child care program when planning your playground:

Location

  • Your playground should be on level ground
  • Avoid areas with heavy traffic
  • Avoid areas with high air pollution
  • Avoid areas near gas stations where there are underground or above ground gas/oil storage tanks.

Equipment Installation: When you have playground equipment installed, follow the manufacturers' instructions to make sure it is installed safely.

  • The manufacturers' instructions will tell you how much space to leave around playground equipment. In general, there should be a 6-foot clearance around any structure.
  • Entrapment: There should be no openings between 3.5 inches and 9 inches. In some situations, a child can place his or her body through an opening. Because the head is wider than the body, the head may not be able to pass through the opening that the body passed through. This can result in serious injury or possibly death.
  • Entanglement: Drawstrings on clothing, loose clothing or shoestrings can become entangled on protrusions that extend too far on equipment. Protrusions usually result because bolts are not placed on equipment properly. As a general rule, bolts should not protrude more than the diameter of the bolt. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued voluntary guidelines for drawstrings on children's clothing to prevent strangulation on playground equipment.
  • 'S' Hooks: Close all open 'S' shaped hooks on playground equipment. Children can catch their fingers or the drawstrings on their clothing in an open 'S' hook, resulting in injury or strangulation. 'S' hooks are usually found on swings, but may also be found on other equipment.

Fencing: A fence helps you to supervise your children and keep unauthorized people out of the area. While not all states require fencing for family child care programs to be licensed, you may find it helpful in supervising the children in your care.

  • Fencing should have no head entrapments, sharp points, or edges.
  • There should be no openings between 3.5 inches and 9 inches.
  • Wood material is not the best choice for fences because of potential splintering hazards. They also attract insects and require high maintenance. If you do choose wood, make sure it has not been treated with creosote or pesticides and that it has not been painted with lead-based paint. Redwood and cedar are good choices.
  • Metal should be galvanized or rust resistant to prevent corrosion.

Playground Surfacing: Inadequate playground surfacing material is the leading cause of playground injury. Wood chips, pea gravel, sand, synthetic or rubber tiles, shredded rubber, mats or poured-in-place rubber are safe choices. Concrete, asphalt, blacktop, packed earth or grass are unsafe.

Inspections: Plan to inspect your outdoor play area daily to reduce injuries to the children in your care. Several checklists are available in the resources provided below to make this exercise quick and easy for you.

For child care centers, playgrounds for infants and toddlers and preschoolers should be separate from playgrounds for school-age children.

Additional Resources

Age-appropriate equipment

Choose toys and equipment that are safe and suitable for the ages and stages of children in your program. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 140,700 children visited hospital emergency rooms in 2007 for toy-related injuries and 13 children died from the injury.

Toys and equipment should help children develop a wide variety of skills and help develop large and small muscle. This will increase children's abilities and develop their confidence.

Cautions:

  • Toys suitable for a 3-year old are not suitable for an infant or toddler. Older children's toys may have loose parts that can be removed. These can cause a choking hazard for infants and toddlers.
  • Manufacturers list age ranges on toys. Toys may not be suitable for the ages specified, so use caution when you select toys for your program.
  • Read the content on the packaging to make sure there is no lead or paint that could be toxic.

A good resource to help you with your selection that lists safety standards for children's toys and equipment is the CPSC. It also provides regular safety alerts and a recall database.