CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009
MaryLee Knowlton is interested in children’s physical safety, and the “Staying Safe” series aims to help children develop personal responsibility for their safety, and the safety of others, through informed decision-making. Knowlton has selected the home, the playground, the school, and lakes, rivers, or swimming pools as four environments where children can be put at risk. Each setting is the focus of one book in the reviewed series. In Safety at Home, Safety at the Playground, Safety at School, and Safety Around Water, readers are presented with six contexts like the “No Joking about Choking,” “Talking to Strangers” and ‘Play it Safe” excerpts above. Each context is followed by a scenario, identified by the heading, “What’s happening?” which ends with a question like “What should you do?” Rather than the reader’s turning the page and reading what should be done, Knowlton proposes three possible actions labeled A, B, and C, asks readers to select the response that they believe is safest, and then invites them to “turn the page to find out.” What teachers and parents will find interesting is Knowlton’s decision to describe the consequences of each possible action, not simply the choice she believes is the best choice for children to make.
One example of this is “How Deep is It?” in Safety around Water. The setting is a lake or bay, and the photograph that accompanies the text is of a girl, around 11-years-old, running along a white, wood pier built out and over water studded with water lilies and ducks. There is no other person in the scene, and one can only infer, given the pontoon aircraft and Sea-Doos in the background, that an adult is somewhere in the vicinity. Knowlton explains that you may want to jump into the water, but you don’t know how deep the water is at the end of the pier. “If it’s too shallow, you may hit bottom and hurt yourself. If it’s too deep…you could have trouble swimming back to where you can stand.” She asks, “How can you tell how deep the water is?” The facing page presents the scenario: “You are visiting your cousins at their cottage and you can’t wait to dive off the end of the dock.” The three possible actions are typed on to what appears to be a much enlarged “Post-it-Note” that is held by a smiling child. These actions are: “A. Take a running dive off the end of the dock”; “B. Look into the water and see if it is deep before you dive”; and “C. Ask an adult in charge if it’s safe to dive in from the dock and if he or she will watch you.” A photograph of a girl who expresses uncertainty about which is the right course of action is placed next to the question, “Which is the best choice?” The following two pages show the most likely results of choosing A or B or C. A and B, for example, reiterate the views expressed by Knowlton in her introduction to the setting. C is identified as the best choice since the adult can tell you if it’s safe to dive and swim and is there to watch. This scenario ends with a section labeled “What have you learned?” In this case, “Never dive into water until an adult tells you it is safe for swimming and agrees to stay and watch while you swim. What you can’t see in the water can hurt you.”
Regardless of the book, each scenario is presented in this way. “C” is always the “best choice,” and the photographs of each setting are realistic and equivalent to the activities in which children would find themselves at home, school, the playground, or around water.
My hesitation to unconditionally recommend the “Staying Safe” series is owing to the anxiety or fear of people and places that certain scenarios may encourage, and the too frequent need to consult a “grownup in charge” rather than to apply the responsible and safe conduct taught by family members. Furthermore, with the exception of the occasional student assignment that requires library research on safety, I wonder why children would wish to read these books. Safety at Home, Safety at the Playground, Safety at School, and Safety Around Water are certainly of value to early years teachers who care about the physical well-being of their students, want to develop responsible decision-making and to promote safe choices, and would like an example of how this can be done.
Recommended with reservations.
Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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