Dennis Smiddle is an approved assessor for - PA School Safety and Security Assessment Criteria. (physical site) with extensive experience in child care and playground safety.
Nonprofit to rethink playground space - Published in the Observer-Reporter by Katie Anderson Jul 31, 2020 Updated Aug 10, 2020
Dennis Smiddle, owner of a playground maintenance company, Fans of Play, recently started a nonprofit called Fans 4 Help. The nonprofit, which advocates for more natural and open playground spaces, will seek grants to fund the design and installation of those types of playgrounds in school districts and community parks.
“One of the best ways for children to learn is through play,” Smiddle said. “There’s a mindset that play is all about playground equipment, but that’s structured play – it can only really do what it was designed to do. There’s a lot more to play than swinging, sliding and climbing.”
According to Smiddle, a retired state inspector of child care facilities and playgrounds, children need access to playtime in more natural environments, “where kids can get outside in open spaces and make up their own games and use their imagination.”
Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, more open spaces on playgrounds make more sense, Smiddle said. He said traditional playgrounds with slides and swings and climbing areas are difficult to maintain and keep sanitized.
“Every playground has a capacity,” he said. “It’s very difficult to social distance on a playground.”
The nonprofit will offer design services, consultations and playground products that meet the mission of his company, like raised-bed gardens, sandboxes and balance beams. In the name of the nonprofit, “Fans” stands for fitness, art, nature and science, while “Help” stands for health, environment, learning and play, Smiddle said.
“It’s more of an empowering concept,” he said. “People can design their own playgrounds, where you don’t have to rely on these big playground companies.”
Smiddle said school districts and municipalities typically purchase playground equipment through catalogs because “it’s easy,” and because people don’t realize other options are available. However, he said the concepts he uses are safer for children, more cost effective and they “reduce liability.”
“I’m hoping to get funding and build awareness so that communities can start to change the playground mindset to a more natural concept to help protect children and provide more beneficial playground opportunities for learning and play,” he said.
How PA Certified Child Cares can help PA Public Schools open more safely during the Covid19 pandemic.
As a retired PA Child Care Licensing Representative with 20 years of experience and having done over 2,000 child care inspections, I know a little bit about health and safety. Also, as an expert safety witness with the Expert Institute, my expert opinions are based on studying the differences between Guidelines, Regulations, Accreditation, Standards and Practices (best).
The following are just a few key health and safety differences between PA Certified Child Care Centers and PA Public Schools.
In conclusion, in order to open more safely, PA Public Schools can learn and benefit greatly by following the Health, Environment, Learning and Play regulations and practices that PA Certified Child Care Centers have been following for decades. Also, the PA Department of Human Services already has great resources and systems in place that can complement the PA Department of Education Public School systems.
Dennis Smiddle – Executive Director of FANS 4 HELP (a new 2020 nonprofit).
631 Highland Ave.
Canonsburg, PA 15317
As a former PA Child Care Licensing Representative with 20+ years of experience, I am very familiar with both child care and school regulations. Pennsylvania Child Care regulations are primarily concerned with health and safety practices, whereas school regulations are primarily concerned with curriculums. Opening schools and child cares safely during this unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic, must concern everyone with the best practices for health and safety. Fortunately, these best practices can be found in a comprehensive resource entitled, Caring For Our Children.
Since 1995, the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education (NCR) has maintained and continues to develop national health and safety standards for early care and education settings. While the PA Department of Human Services and the PA Department of Education may do good work in their respective areas of expertise, their oversight and guidance are focused on minimum health and safety compliance. However, this is a time when everyone must be concerned with the best practices for caring for our children and the time for an action plan is now.
As the executive director of a new 2020 nonprofit, FANS 4 HELP, I can show everyone how to connect with, Caring For Our Children, a collection of national standards that represent the best practices, based on evidence, expertise, and experience, for quality health and safety polices and practices for today’s early care and education settings.
Dennis Smiddle is a former PA Recreation Therapist (15 years), PA Child Care Licensing Representative (20 years), a former Certified Playground Safety Inspector (6 years) and Keystone Stars Playground Safety Trainer (6 years).
631 Highland Ave.
Canonsburg, PA. 15317