When it comes to children’s at-home safety, the city of Plymouth is proud to offer a meaningful service. Home Alone workshops teach participants about basic safety, discuss possible at home scenarios and prepare them for extraordinary situations.
The popular classes, run by two Plymouth firefighters and a DARE officer, tend to fill up quickly. With a cap of just 30 students, the instructors are able to answer questions from every student.
“We give them a situation and have them suggest what they should do,” says Plymouth firefighter and class instructor Timothy Peterson. Situations range from seeing a strange car in the driveway to what to do in case of a fire. Kids attend the class without their parents so they can come up with their own answers and bring them home to discuss. “It’s very rewarding. Kids leave empowered and confident and they’re able to deal with being home alone,” he says.
While kids may hear this safety information at home, learning from emergency responders like a police officer and firefighters can help the message stick. “There’s an instant credibility,” says Plymouth firefighter Steve Marti.
“They’re role models in many cases and they have professional teaching skills,” says Sara Cwayna, a public safety education specialist with the Plymouth Police Department.
Plymouth parent Todd Wood says the class reaffirmed what he had been teaching his 8-year-old son and instilled greater confidence in his family. "Even if your kids only learn a handful of new things, and I believe they will take away more, it's more information to help keep them safe," he says.
There are no state laws in Minnesota for how old you must be to stay home alone, but the workshop measures preparedness with comfort level. “There’s going to be a 10-year-old who’s scared and a 10 year-old who’s a rockstar,” says Cwayna. She notes that age doesn’t always tell who’s ready to stay home alone.
The class begins with the instructors asking students to write down questions they want to ask and to rate themselves on how comfortable they feel about being home alone. “We do a grading scale,” says DARE Officer Dallas Gjesvold. “We share feelings and comfort level.”
“We get such a positive answer at the end when we rate again,” says Cwayna.“We have 30 questions answered by the end of the night. We make sure to answer what they’re concerned about, answer what’s important and improve how they feel about their own home.”
The instructors hope the kids are as confident at home as they are when they leave the class, but there are always areas to improve on. “Do they have a cell phone or a landline? Are they looking around the home before they enter and does anything seem off? Do they have the keypad code or neighbors they can go to?” asks Cwayna.
Cwayna also recommends keeping kids busy with a chore list and structured activities, but there’s no planning for the unexpected.
“One thing I always try to talk about is smoke,” says Marti. “If anything is burning it can be so lethal and dangerous—get out!”
A recent addition to the program includes cyber-bullying and internet safety, two variables Cwayna says
enter kids' worlds as soon as they get a cell phone.
Classes fill up quickly, so Cwayna recommends checking the website and the city’s social media for posts about sign-ups for the $5 class, which can be made online or over the phone.