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"Children Act Fast...So Do Poisons!"

The theme of this year's National Poison Prevention Week (March 15-21) is "Children Act Fast...So Do Poisons!" -- a reminder to educators that we must "act fast" to teach poison prevention. Included: Internet connections and classroom activities to teach poison prevention!


According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, more than one million children in this country were involved in accidental poisonings in 1996 -- and more than 90 percent of those poisonings occurred in the home. Although Pediatric Pharmacotherapy reports that a combination of increased awareness and child-resistant packaging have reduced the number of poisoning deaths from 450 in 1961 to 42 in 1992, the incidence of poison exposure continues to be high. And most accidental poisonings are still the result of exposure to medications and household cleaning products. Those exposures are often due to the improper use of child-resistant packaging and the improper storage and use of poisonous substances.

But medicines and household cleansers are not the only poisons found in the home.

  • Many common household plants can also be toxic to young children.
  • Pesticides pose an added risk because they do not need to be ingested to be toxic. Pesticides that are inhaled or come into contact with the skin can cause serious damage -- or even death.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning kills nearly 300 people in this country each year -- many of them children.
  • And despite long-standing legislation, nearly one million children in the United States show signs of lead poisoning from ingesting old lead-based paint.

Outside the home, bugs, snakes, and other animals often deliver poisonous -- though seldom deadly -- stings and bites. And more seriously, inhalants and drugs such as marijuana and cocaine can -- and often do -- prove fatal to older children and teens.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's Poison Prevention Council has designated the theme of this year's Poison Prevention Week (March 15-21, 1998) as "Children Act Fast...So Do Poisons!" It is meant to serve as a reminder to parents and educators that we must act fast too -- to teach younger children what substances might be poisonous and to teach older children how they can protect themselves and others from accidental poisoning. The following activities can help.


Health/Safety. Invite students to take a Tox-Trivia quiz to see how much they know about poison prevention.

Math. (All grades.) Provide students with one of the simple tables showing Statistics on Poisoning and Toxic Exposure and ask them to create a graph to show the table's information. Tables provide information on the number of calls logged in to the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center in categories such as Most Frequent Call Types, Most Frequent Medication and Drug Exposures to Humans, Age of Human Exposure, Insect Bites or Stings, and Reptile or Snake Bites.

Writing. Print the pages from the poison prevention coloring book. Provide each student with a set or arrange students into groups of six and provide each group with a set. Invite students to color the pictures and then write a caption for each. Have students combine their pages into a poison safety book.

Science. Provide students with a list of poisonous bugs and ask each student to select one bug from the list. Have students use classroom, library, and online resources to learn more about the bug they selected. Students should prepare illustrated reports about the bugs, including information about how they administer their poison. Each student should prepare a two-minute presentation to the class about what s/he learned from the project.

Classifying. Continue the previous activity by asking students to classify the bugs studied according to whether they bite, sting, or cause damage by coming into contact with the skin. Create a class chart to show this information.

Health/Safety. Discuss poison prevention safety rules with students. Then ask students to make a list of the rules they can follow to help keep themselves and other children safe.

Home Connection. Continue the previous activity by printing the Poison Safety Checklist. Make a copy for each student. Ask students to discuss the list with their families and to use it to check their own homes.

Games. Encourage students to complete a Word Search to learn about some substances that can be poisonous.

Another Home Connection. Print copies of the Babysitters Information Guide and suggest that students fill one out for any young children who live with them or visit them. Older children might fill one out for younger children they babysit for. (The Adobe Acrobat plug-in is required.)

More Science/Health. Invite older students to learn how Drugs such as tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine affect the human body. Arrange students into groups, assign one of the drugs to each group, and ask each to create a diagram showing how the assigned drug affects the entire body. Provide younger students with a diagram of the human body and ask them to label the parts that could be harmed by poisonous substances.

Speech/Language Arts. Invite students to create a public safety message. Suggest that they read, or read aloud to them, the script for a poison prevention radio spot. Then ask students to write and perform their own poison or drug prevention message. (You might even work with a local doctor to create some other radio spots to air on a local radio station. Other possible spots include ones for teen smoking, kids and tobacco, kids and tobacco, bug bites, teen smoking, teenage marijuana use, secondhand smoke, poison oak/ivy, snake bites, and teen drinking.)

Classifying. Provide students with a list of some poisonous and nonpoisonous plants found in the Southwest and ask them to identify which are poisonous and which are not.

Research. Continue the previous activity by inviting students to identify and research poisonous plants that are found near where they live. Suggest that students create a poster illustrating some of the most dangerous plants. If possible, invite a representative of a local nursery or garden club to visit the class and discuss their findings.

Art. Invite younger students to look through magazines, newspapers, store ads, and other sources to find pictures of substances that might be harmful if used incorrectly. Arrange students into groups and have each group use their pictures to create a "poison collage." Encourage each group of students to think of an appropriate title for their collage

Pet Care. People aren't the only ones who can be poisoned in the home. Pets can be poisoned too. Provide younger students with copies of Teaching Master 1 and ask them to complete it. Then discuss their answers using the information about poisoning and pets provided by the Arizona Poison and Drug Information site.

Home Safety. Help students find information about the poison control center nearest them at the National Pesticides Communication Network Web site. Have each student write the name and phone number of the center on a label with a self-adhesive backing and then decorate the label with an appropriate symbol. Encourage students to bring the labels home and display them on their phones or refrigerators.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 1998 Education World

Related Sites

Additional information about poison prevention and tips for preventing accidental poisoning can be obtained from The Internet Public Library Poison Prevention Page, Healthtouch, the Tucson Fire Department, and The Children's Medical Center of Dallas.