Playing for Safety

Don't talk to strangers. Look both ways before you cross the street. Always wear your seatbelt. Don't climb into the bull's pen.

Something here doesn't fit, or does it?

three Amish children playing and laughing

Most of us remember when we learned to stop, drop, and roll or dial 911, but farm safety was not a part of our school curriculum. Yet for children living in Amish and Mennonite communities, falling into a hay hole or stepping on a pitchfork are common concerns.

In 1996, a team of researchers from the School of Nursing at Penn State began researching elder care in the Old Order Amish community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Interviewing local nurse practitioners, Kathleen Fisher, an assistant professor, found that the elder care system was well developed, but that there was a great need for teaching farm safety to Amish children.

The Lancaster County Safe Kids Coalition, a farm safety advocacy group, and the Strasburg-based Clinic for Special Children with Special Needs, a non-profit medical service for children, worked with Amish and Mennonite children regularly. The two organizations thought a board game could teach the children how to avoid getting injured and how to respond to emergencies. Amish schoolhouses often use board games as teaching tools, so the organizations knew the game would be accepted within the community. They invited Fisher and Judith Hupcey, also an assistant professor of nursing at Penn State, to join the project.

Both the Safe Kids Coalition and the Clinic for Special Children had established relationships with many Amish families over the years. Fisher began working side by side with these nurses to gain the community's trust. She attended farm safety meetings with the Amish community in the Safe Kids Coalition's building. Along with Public Health nurses, she performed as a puppeteer, putting on farm safety plays in Amish schoolhouses. At the Clinic for Special Children the team held monthly meetings with representatives from the Amish community to plan the game. Fisher and Denise Rhodes, then a graduate student in nursing, began interviewing Amish families to learn what kinds of accidents were common on a farm. Fisher also surveyed 72 Amish teachers about their childhood on the farm to learn how common injuries were among children. Seventy percent of these women were injured on the farm when they were young, a "pretty significant number," said Fisher.

This survey did not provide enough examples of the types of injuries Amish children suffer. Normally such examples can be found by researching health insurance records, but the Amish do not carry insurance. Instead, the research team turned to two Amish newspapers, a national paper called The Diary and the local Die Botschaft. There, Fisher found reports of a ten-year-old who died in a hay-baling accident, for example, and a four-year-old who was hospitalized after being butted by a cow. Reviewing these two papers over 16 months, she found 47 injuries and 14 fatalities due to livestock, building structures, and machinery.

The research team then began to develop questions for the game based on the reported accidents. One question reads, for example, "True or False: Placing a metal fuel container on a 12-volt battery can cause an explosion." According to Fisher, an Amish member of the team reported that this incident had caused an explosion that burnt down a barn. The questions were reviewed by Amish farmers. "If you weren't on an Amish farm," says Hupcey, "you wouldn't be able to answer them."

In April 1999, Rhodes brought a mock-up of the game to the Farm Safety Day in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, an event the Safe Kids Coalition held with the support of Penn State's Ag extension. Rhodes, using a plain board with pencil drawings of an Amish farm, the questions the team had developed, and Parcheesi pieces, played the game with groups of four to six kids from the ages of five to 14. "The kids were very excited about it," says Rhodes.

After playing the game, Rhodes asked the children how it could be improved. One idea was to add photo cards. The Safe Kids Coalition had taken photographs of hazardous situations on a farm, such as a child standing behind the wheel of a tractor, for a demonstration at the Farm Safety Day. These pictures were then formatted into small playing cards for the game.

With funding from the Children's Miracle Network, "Amos and Sadie's Farm: A Pathway to Safety" was produced in 1999. The game board, drawn by a local Amish artist, starts at a farm house and takes players past a horse and buggy, fence line, pond, silo, work shed, and barn.

Children start at the farmhouse and move game pieces through the farm in search of their father. Along the way they draw question or photo cards dealing with farm safety. The spaces on the board also have examples of safety procedures and potential dangers. Climbing into the bullpen or swimming alone will cost you spaces, but you are safe if you land on the "Picnic Square." The first player to return to the farmhouse to find Father wins.

Copies of "Amos and Sadie's Farm" were sold in Amish stores and at cost—$10—to Amish teachers, so that local schools would be encouraged to try it. All 300 copies of the game were sold and Fisher plans to give the original over to the Amish, "as the community is interested in producing it themselves," she said.

A comment sheet was included in each game and, according to Fisher, the feedback has been positive. "One teacher," she said, "has prepared a 25-page lesson plan around the game."

Kathleen Fisher, Ph.D., CRNP, is assistant professor in the School of Nursing, College of Health and Human Development, 1300 Academic Support Bldg., A110 Hershey Hospital Medical Center, 600 Centerview Dr., Hershey, PA 17033; 717-531-4159; kmf103@psu.edu. Judith Hupcey, Ed.D, CRNP, is assistant professor in the School of Nursing; 717-531-4160; jxh37@psu.edu. Denise Rhodes received a M.S. in nursing in May 2000 and currently works at the Hershey Medical Center. This project was funded by the Children's Miracle Network.

Last Updated May 01, 2001