Staying Safe Around Heat And Light
Now that the colder, darker days of winter are upon us, even though we on the Gold Coast don’t get them to the extent that those further south do, we’re probably more likely to have the lights switched on and use some form of heating in our homes. If you’ve just moved to the Gold Coast and have only just started taking your child to our Montessori early learning centre, you are probably relishing the chance to switch off the air conditioning. But if you and your family are acclimatised to this area, you are probably starting to feel a bit chilly. And as you’re using heat and light more at this time of year, this is a good time to talk about keeping your child safe from getting burned.
When your child was a toddler, you probably did a lot of childproofing around your home to keep them safe. Over the years, however, we can get a bit laxer about safety issues, so here’s a quick refresher on the basics of how to keep your child safe.
- Use those safety plugs to block up empty electric sockets when they’re not in use.
- Put fire guards around any source of radiant heat that can burn (e.g. electric bar heaters, fires of any description, braziers, chimineas, patio heaters, etc.) to stop children stumbling into them.
- Make sure that the cords attached to hot things (and, while you’re at it, anything) are well out of the reach of a curious child who is likely to tug on the cord to see what happens.
But now that your child is old enough to go to a Montessori early childhood centre and is starting to learn about the world, the situation changes slightly. Yes, you still need to be vigilant but there are several things that your child can do for him/herself as new skills are learned. A very basic Montessori principle is that a child should be encouraged to do things for him/herself if they can. So how do you get your child through this new stage while keeping them safe?
Let’s take electrical sockets. Your child is probably old enough by now to know that it is very, very dangerous to put fingers or anything else into a socket. However, your child is probably physically capable of plugging in and unplugging things, and can probably manipulate a switch. Should you let him/her do this? The safest answer is “probably not yet”. You can start showing your child the process – making sure that the switch is turned off before you do anything with the plugs, then making sure that you hold the plug by the back and stay well away from the metal pins. But you shouldn’t let your child have a go at plugging and unplugging yet – that is best left until they’re school age. However, they can have a go at turning the switch on and off, as this helps them learn how to interpret a switch. Let your child operate the switch when you use household appliances such as the vacuum cleaner. But stress that plugging and unplugging are things that only Mummy or Daddy can do (and siblings who are at school).
A child old enough for Montessori is probably old enough to know not to try touching fires or heaters because they look so bright and shiny. But you might not want to get rid of the fireguard quite yet, as trips and falls happen, especially during boisterous play. However, from time to time, you may visit a house where there is no fireguard, or you may find it impossible to put a fireguard around certain heat sources. This is where you introduce the “heater metre” rule: you have to keep one metre away from a source of radiant heat. Naturally, this gives you the chance to introduce the concept of a metre as a unit of distance and it can be a fun activity to find things that are about a metre long to help your child grasp the concept.
If you have a natural fire of any description, you should keep your child away from matches. Most children of the right age to attend a Montessori early learning centre probably don’t quite have the motor skills to light them, but the rule about not playing with matches is a good one to instil early on. Your child will probably enjoy helping to scrunch newspaper to start the fire, but don’t let them light one yet, although you might like to talk through what you’re doing as you light it, making it into a demonstration.
Care also needs to be taken with hot water. An intelligent child who has seen natural fires in any form (e.g. on the barbeque) has probably realised that water puts out fire and may struggle with the idea that water can burn. But hot water can burn. Even if your child is very good at pouring themselves a drink of water from a plain jug, it is probably not a good idea to let him/her have a go with pouring water from the kettle, and most parents probably wouldn’t let them try. You may, however, let your child pour tea (herbal’s best for young children to stop them from getting the caffeine habit too young) from a pot to make a drink, as the process of brewing allows the water to cool down enough to a safe temperature. Your child may be able to run hot taps for a bath or to fill as sink with water for water play, but make sure that your hot water cylinder is set below 60°C to avoid burns and scalds.
On the topic of heat and burns, you might wonder if it’s safe to let your child cook things. The answer here is yes, but under supervision. Your child can stand on a stool or a chair to help you stir something bubbling gently on the stove top safely enough, but hot spitting fat is another story and best avoided. You can also let your child use a microwave reasonably safely (under supervision again) if they can read numbers well enough to press the right buttons – most things zapped for one minute are safe enough for a child to handle, and a four-year-old should be able to manage porridge, popcorn, toasted cheese sandwiches and jacket potatoes in the microwave without burns or disaster (mess, however is another story!).