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Preschool–Grade 2 Science/Engineering Hands-On Activity Safety Protocols

By Ken Roy

Posted on 2024-04-19

Preschool–Grade 2 Science/Engineering Hands-On Activity Safety Protocols

I. Why Early Grades Hands-On Science/Engineering Activities Are Important

Given the importance of science and engineering in today’s world, it is critical that at an early age, students have opportunities to learn about them, including doing hands-on activities in a safer way. The advantages of doing hands-on science/engineering activities are crucial for preschool through second- grade students for several reasons.

1. Active Learning. Hands-on activities engage students actively in the teaching/learning process. Instead of passively absorbing information, they get to explore, experiment, and discover concepts firsthand. This active engagement though hands-on activities promotes better understanding and retention of scientific concepts.

2. Stimulating Curiosity. Younger students are naturally curious about the world around them. Hands-on activities provide opportunities for them to satisfy their curiosity by exploring and investigating scientific phenomena in a concrete and tangible way.

3. Developing Critical-Thinking Skills. Hands-on activities encourage students to ask questions, make predictions, and draw conclusions based on their observations and experiences. This process fosters critical-thinking skills such as problem-solving, reasoning, and logical thinking.

4. Promoting Creativity. Hands-on science/engineering activities often involve experimentation and exploration, allowing children to think creatively and innovatively. They can explore different solutions to problems and develop their own unique ideas.

5. Building Confidence. Successfully completing hands-on science/engineering activities can boost younger students’ confidence in their abilities. As they see the results of their hands-on experiments and investigations, they gain a sense of accomplishment and become more willing to tackle new challenges.

6. Fostering Collaboration. Many science/engineering activities involve teamwork and collaboration, in which students work together to achieve a common goal. This promotes social skills such as communication, cooperation, and sharing, which are essential for success both in school and in life.

7. Connecting Theory With Practice. Hands-on science/engineering activities help bridge the gap between abstract concepts learned in the classroom and real-world applications. By seeing how scientific principles apply in everyday situations, students develop a deeper understanding of the relevance and importance of science/engineering in their lives.

8. Catering to Different Learning Styles. Not all younger students learn best through traditional lectures and textbooks. Hands-on science/engineering activities cater to different learning styles, including kinesthetic and visual learning, allowing every student to engage with the material in a way that suits their individual strengths and preferences.

9. Building a Strong Safety Foundation. With an emphasis on safety protocols in carrying out hands-on science/engineering activities, students learn their importance at the beginning stages of their education, which only fosters safer teaching/learning activities in middle and upper-grade science/engineering courses, and in their life in general.

10. Acquiring a Lifelong Love of Learning. By providing engaging and meaningful learning experiences, hands-on science/engineering activities can help develop a lifelong love of learning in young students. Hands-on activities can develop an interest in STEM fields and inspire students to explore and pursue further education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Overall, hands-on science/engineering activities provide young children with valuable learning experiences, including the need for safer teaching/learning experiences that go beyond the acquisition of knowledge, fostering skills and attitudes that are essential for success in school and beyond.

II. Doing Hands-On Science/Engineering Activities in a Safer Way

Unfortunately, many school districts lack appropriate safety training of instructional staff to deal with the potential safety hazards and resulting health and safety risks associated with hands-on science/engineering activities. What exactly are appropriate safety protocols for preschool through second-grade student hands-on activities? The following are recommended approaches to helping provide for a safer instructional learning hands-on experience tailored for preschoolers through second graders.

1.    Supervision. It is absolutely critical to make sure there is adequate adult supervision during all hands-on instructional learning activities. This can be successfully achieved by establishing and maintaining a low student-to-teacher ratio to ensure close monitoring of student behavior.
2.    Simple Hands-on Activities. Teachers need to select hands-on activities that are safer, simple, and age-appropriate. Do not choose hands-on activities involving potentially hazardous materials or complex procedures.
3.    Safety Discussions. Before starting any hands-on activity, always have a brief discussion about safety rules and procedures. Remember to keep the language simple and provide examples that students can relate to.
4.    Safer Environment. Ensure that the teaching/learning environment is free from potential safety hazards such as loose wires, slippery floors, sharp objects, and hazardous chemicals.
5.    Use Safer Materials. Remember to select and use non-toxic, child-friendly materials for hands-on activities. Make sure that all materials are age-appropriate and do not pose choking or poison hazards.
6.    Safer Handling of Materials/Equipment. Teach children how to handle materials safely. For example, remind them not to put objects or materials in their mouths (e.g. paint, modeling clay, etc.) and to wash their hands after handling materials.
a.    Chemicals and Cleaning Agents. Any substances labeled as hazardous or toxic, including cleaning agents, solvents, and chemicals used in experiments. Even seemingly harmless substances like vinegar or baking soda should not be ingested.
b.    Sharp Objects. Items such as scissors, needles, pins, or other sharp objects used in crafting or science/engineering experiments should not be put in the mouth to prevent injury.
c.    Small Objects. Small objects that can be swallowed and pose a choking hazard should be kept away from young children. This includes small toys, beads, buttons, or parts of experimental apparatus.
d.    Batteries. Batteries can be toxic if ingested and pose a choking hazard. Keep batteries out of reach during science/engineering activities.
e.    Electrical Cords. Children should not put electrical cords or wires in their mouths to avoid the risk of electric shock.
f.    Plant Parts. Some plants may be toxic if ingested. Children should be taught not to put any part of a plant in their mouth without adult supervision.
g.    Animal Specimens. If engaging in biology-related activities involving specimens, children should be taught not to put them in their mouths to prevent the spread of bacteria or potential ingestion of harmful substances.
h.    Hot or Cold Substances. Children should not put hot substances (like very warm or boiling water) or very cold substances in their mouths to prevent burns or discomfort.
i.    Proper Handling of Equipment. Teach students how to handle equipment and tools safely. Emphasize the importance of being gentle and cautious.
7.    Chemical Safety. If using any chemicals or substances, ensure they are non-toxic and safer for children. Store chemicals out of reach of children when not in use.
8.    Equipment Safety. Inspect equipment and materials for any damage before use. Ensure that they are in good condition and safer to use.
9.    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Depending on the activity, consider using basic PPE such as aprons and safety goggles or safety glasses with side shields as appropriate. Indirectly vented chemical splash goggles are required especially if there is any potential hazard and resulting risk of splashing chemical hazard liquids such as food coloring. On the other hand, safety glasses with side shields can be used for potential physical hazards such as flying objects, springs, sticks, balls, and so on.
10.    No Eating or Drinking. Strictly prohibit eating food items or drinking beverages during science/engineering hands-on activities. This helps prevent ingestion of any potentially harmful substances and resulting cross contamination.
11.    Hand Washing. Always encourage students to wash their hands with soap and water before and after doing a hands-on activity. Cleaning hands is critical to reducing any risks when exposed to biological or chemical hazards. 
12.    Cleanup Procedures. Show students how to clean up after themselves properly after completing a hands-on activity. For example, ensure that liquid spills are promptly wiped up, and any equipment is stored safely out of reach.
13.    Emergency Procedures. Educate both students and adults on emergency procedures, such as what to do in case of spills, burns, cuts, or other accidents.
14.    First Aid Kit. Have a well-stocked first aid kit readily available. Ensure that staff members are trained in basic first aid procedures.
15.    Allergies and Sensitivities. Be aware of any allergies or sensitivities among the children and adapt activities accordingly. Avoid known allergens.
16.    Fire Safety. Teach students basic fire safety rules, such as not playing with matches or lighters, and what to do in case of a fire alarm.
17.    Parental Consent. For certain hands-on activities involving minor potential hazards and resulting risks, parental consent should be secured beforehand using a written parent advisory form. Check with the administration if a sample form already exists and is required.
18.    Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment. Before conducting any hands-on activity, perform a potential safety hazard analysis and resulting health and safety risk assessment to identify potential hazards, resulting risks, and appropriate safety measures to mitigate them.  
19.    Physical Distancing (if applicable). If conducting hands-on activities during a time when physical distancing is necessary (e.g., during a pandemic), ensure that children maintain appropriate distances from one another and limit sharing of materials when possible. Also make sure shared materials are cleaned and sanitized or disinfected as appropriate before giving them to other students.
20.    Labeling. Clearly label any hazardous materials or equipment and store them out of the reach of children. 
21.    Documentation. Keep records of safety protocols, including any safety incidents or near misses, to improve future hands-on activities.
22.    Regular Review. It is critical to regularly review safety protocols with both students and adults to reinforce safer habits and ensure everyone remains vigilant about safety.

III. In Conclusion

By establishing and following important safety protocols, teachers can create a safer and enjoyable teaching/learning experience environment for preschoolers through second-grade students to carry out important hands-on science/engineering activities. Safer hands-on science/engineering activities at an early age will foster curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and a lifelong passion for learning in young students.

Submit questions regarding health and safety issues in science/STEM instructional spaces to Ken Roy at

Follow Ken Roy on X: @drroysafersci.

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