Last summer, Keri Knutson took her 3-, 6- and 7-year-old children to the Edmond Fire Department’s Children’s Safety Village.
Located near the Interstate 35-Covell interchange, the village is a child-sized safety education center with a city park, pond, buildings, streets, a railroad crossing and power poles. Children learn about safety in a hands-on environment and practice real-life situations like crossing the street or encountering an abandoned handgun.
Knutson said despite the passage of time her children still talk about it.
“Even my 3-year-old remembers what she learned,” Knutson said.
Knutson, an University of Central Oklahoma adjunct professor, and Jan Wetsel teach a health, safety and nutrition for early childhood class. She is also a certified child passenger safety technician and participates in the car seat ministry at Church of the Servant.
In December 2013, Edmond Fire Department personnel were on the Edmond campus, meeting with professors from different areas. Knutson joined a focus group and toured the village with firefighters. The group brainstormed about improving the village, involving UCO students, enhancing the teaching framework and funding their ideas.
Many of her students are early childhood education majors and plan on teaching young children in a school setting, Knutson said. Fire Prevention Chief Mike Barnes has given Knutson’s students tours of the village.
“Seeing the village always makes such an impact on every person who visits,” Knutson said. “My students are always amazed at the facility. It inspires them.”
After the tour, Knutson’s students either create a hands-on area for the village or expand upon an existing one. They describe the area in detail, sketch it, include a list of materials, research children’s books about the safety concepts being taught in the area and create a lesson for the teacher to use as a review or a post-visit extension activity. Knutson keeps them on file for Barnes.
“The partnerships with UCO and Edmond Public Schools are essential to the continued success of our life-saving programs,” Barnes said.
Barnes said UCO students think about things that they might not be aware of like poison safety. Professors helped create a working document of challenges, focus and a mission statement outline, suggested teaching topics like reaching special needs students as well as biology experiments.
“Some of these we are looking at for our summer programs,” Barnes said.
In the future, the Fire Department would like to add a scaled-down Old North in the village, Barnes said. It would have a classroom and storage, which could be used for UCO classes, Barnes said.
UCO students have volunteered at the village and supplied feedback, Barnes said. This is a critical component because the Fire Department wants to make sure the messages being taught and learned are taken home to parents and other members of the family, Barnes said.
“All this helps us in creating a FireSafe Edmond,” he said. “Since we are already well below the national average for home fires we believe we are creating ambassadors for safety with each student that visits the village.”
Knutson said no one thinks something horrific will happen to them or someone they know. We hope it won’t, but we need to be prepared. Knutson said adults are supposed to know what to do in an emergency.
“It’s also our job to teach the kids in our care safety, and to teach them what to do in potentially dangerous situations,” she said. “If a child isn’t safe or doesn’t feel as if they are in a safe environment they cannot make connections with others, learn academic concepts or have positive self-esteem.”
The core of instruction is that fires and injuries are understandable, predictable and almost always preventable. The campus also serves as home base for juvenile fire-setting intervention and other community-based life safety programs.
FOR MORE information about upcoming classes or to schedule a group visit, call the fire prevention office at 216-7303.