Penn State Poison Prevention Outreach Program focuses on young children

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Each year, more than 2 million poisonings are reported to 55 poison centers across the country, with more than 90 percent occurring in the home. Just over half of the poisonings occur in children younger than 6 years old.

These worrisome statistics inspired the Penn State Pesticide Education Program to join with Penn State Master Gardeners to create the Poison Prevention Outreach Program.

"For the past five years, first-grade students across the state have learned a valuable lesson about poison prevention from the Penn State Pesticide Education Program and the Master Gardener program," said Kerry Richards, director of the Pesticide Education Program.

"In the last two years, high school agricultural science teachers joined the partnership to promote this message," she said. "With March being National Poison Prevention Month, it's a good time to be talking about this."

Last year, for the second year in a row, the number of first-grade students reached by the program in counties across Pennsylvania topped 12,000. The program provides unique lessons that teach children about the need for poison prevention, what pests are, ways that pests are controlled -- including chemical controls -- the need for chemical safety in the home, safe practices to prevent accidental poisonings, and what to do if a poisoning occurs.

The 35-minute, interactive program includes three lessons. During the first lesson, children discover the importance of learning safe practices. They learn how to identify signal words, which help explain toxicity.

The second lesson teaches practices to keep everyone in the home safe from accidental poisonings, especially small children and the elderly. The third lesson helps children understand what to do if a suspected poisoning has occurred.

Parent packets also are included with each lesson for the children to take home and share with their families. Each packet contains "Mr. Yuk" stickers, and the students, with the help of an adult, are to put the stickers on products that have labels containing a signal word they were taught in the lesson.

The parent packets are provided in both English and Spanish, which has proven successful in the Philadelphia School District. Educators visited Bridesburg, Clara Barton and Mary McLeod Bethune schools, where officials and parents were pleased with the translated option.

The dual-language materials will prove especially helpful when the Pesticide Education Program staff works this year with the Chester County Migrant Education Program to reach nearly 300 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and some out-of-school youth.

"This year's program is reaching even more Pennsylvania counties than last year, and we are excited the program is continuing to grow," said Richards. "Materials have been revised to provide more concise information for educators, teachers, students and families."

For more information about Penn State's Poison Prevention Outreach Program, contact Kerry Richards at 814-865-2134 or by email at

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Last Updated April 15, 2014