Teacher’s Guide

Texas Poison Center Network Teacher’s Guide

teachers-guide-frontDear Texas Educator,

A child is poisoned every 30 seconds in the U.S. Children are naturally curious, as it is their way of learning about the world around them. Unfortunately, children put almost everything they see and touch in their mouth, even if it doesn’t smell or taste good. Ingestion is the number one route of poisoning in children. Other poisoning can be on the skin, in the eye, inhalation, or bites or stings.

To address the problem of poisoning in children, Texas Poison Center Network has created a Teachers’ guide to assist you with discussion and follow-up activities used to teach poison prevention. This Program was designed to familiarize you with information about poison prevention. It is well prepared to teach others about the potential dangers of poisonous products. It will also explain what to do in a poison emergency.

Please read through this Teacher’s guide and familiarize yourself with the sections. This will allow understanding of the program and help promote poison prevention.

Most Sincerely,

The Texas Poison Center Network

Texas Poison Center Network

The Texas Poison Center Network (TPCN) was established by the Texas Legislature in 1993 when they passed Senate bill 773. This bill mandated that a network of six regional poison centers be established to provide emergency treatment information to the citizens of Texas for poisonings or toxic exposures. Access to this care advice is available to both the public and health care providers in the state.

By dialing 1-800-222-1222, the citizens of Texas have contact to a network of nurses, pharmacist, and physicians who have extensive education, training and expertise in the field of toxicology. If necessary, the staff may refer callers to the nearest hospital and assist in the person’s initial treatment and follow- up care.

In addition the TPCN has the responsibility for providing public education activities for teachers, students, and citizens as well as professional educational opportunities for Texas health care providers. The poison centers that make up the TPCN are located: Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso, Galveston, San Antonio and Temple.


Changes in our society have had a dramatic effect on the potential for accidental poisonings of children in the home. As trends increase towards single parent families and families in which both parents work outside of the home, many elementary aged students are being left in charge of younger siblings. Add to this, the increasing use of potentially harmful products in the home, from cleaning supplies and medicines to exotic plants and the result is a dangerous situation for home safety.

The accidental poisoning rate for children in the United States now stands at one poisoning every thirty seconds. That’s over 2,880 children poisoned accidentally every day, or one in every six children!

Prevention is the key to alleviating this tremendous problem. Elementary school-aged children hold a special place in poison prevention. Their level of responsibility in the home, combined with their desire to be more independent (and even more helpful), provides an opportunity to instill in these students an awareness of the problem, anticipation of potential poisonings, knowledge of prevention measures and steps to take in the case of a poisoning emergency.


  • 85% of the calls to the poison center can be treated at home. The majority of poisoning involves children under the age of 5.
  • Medicines, cleaning products, plants, cosmetics and pesticides are the most common poisoning agents.
  • For every dollar invested in poison centers, $13.35 is saved in unnecessary medical expenses. Most poisonings are unintentional and can be prevented.


The Texas Poison Center has created this Poison Prevention Program in order to decrease poisonings.

  1. Increase awareness of the existence, purpose and phone number of the Poison Center among students of all ages. It is important for students at all levels to know where to call in case of a poison emergency.
  2. Increase knowledge of products that can be poisonous. Most poisonings occur when products we use every day are used incorrectly.
  3. Increase knowledge of poison prevention measures that can be taken (even by children) to reduce the risk of accidental poisonings.


Children frequently have misinformation regarding poisons. Everyday household products can be poisons if used in the wrong way. Most poisonings are accidental, occurring in the home to children under the age of six. A poison is anything that can cause illness, injury or death if eaten, swallowed, spilled on the skin or inhaled.


Cleaning Products

Most cleaning supplies have directions and warnings on the label that tell how the product should be used. Children should always check with an adult before using any product.

Products in spray cans or bottles are especially dangerous, because they can get into the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs as well as on the skin. Children and adults, alike are often unaware of the danger. ANYONE using spray cans or bottles must be very careful, as accidental spraying can be a danger to other people and pets nearby, as well as to the person who is spraying.

All cleaning products should have labels with directions and warnings and should NEVER be stored in food containers. Always keep household cleaners in their original containers.

Cleaning products act quickly, whether used as intended or accidentally as a poison. Older children should always check with an adult before using any cleaning product. Younger children should be taught not to touch them. It is crucial to keep cleaning products out of the reach of small children.

When disposing of empty containers, be sure to rinse them out thoroughly before recycling or throwing them in the trash. Children get into the recycling bin too. Some containers might even need special disposal as a household hazardous waste. Read the label on the product for information from the manufacturer concerning specific disposal instructions.


Medicines are also available in several forms: liquids, pills, sprays, drops, salves and powders. Medicine helps us to get well when we are sick, if taken properly. All medicines have directions and precautions on their labels and those directions must be followed carefully. Prescription drugs should be taken only under a physician’s guidance and only by the person to whom they are prescribed. Even one pill ingested by the wrong person can cause serious harm and even death. Medications include both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, laxatives and vitamins. Many medicines are shaped and colored like candy and some are sweet tasting. Parents and caregivers should teach children that medicine is not candy and avoid rewarding children for taking medicine. As children love to imitate adult behavior, we recommend that adults don’t take their own medication in front of children. Medicine should NEVER be taken without adult supervision.


Vitamins are a natural and important part of our food, but sometimes we need extra vitamins. In the right amount, vitamin pills are helpful to our bodies, but in the wrong amount can cause illness and poisoning. Vitamin pills may look like candy and taste good, but they should be treated like medicine — kept out of reach of children and used only according to directions. Children should NEVER be told that vitamins are candy.

Plants, Berries, and Mushrooms

Plants can be both helpful and harmful. Some parts of a particular plant may be edible, while other parts of the same plant may be poisonous. For instance, rhubarb stalks are good to eat, but the leaves are poisonous. Some plants may be poisonous to animals, but are not poisonous to people, and vice versa. Plants are frequent causes of poisoning in pets. They should be kept away from houseplants and poisonous plants growing outside.

Children are very often confused about berries and mushrooms. Discuss the difference between wild berries and mushrooms which grow in the yard versus safe berries and mushrooms bought at the grocery store. A good rule is to never eat any plant except those served as food (like carrots, broccoli, and spinach). The TPCN has a poisonous plant list that can serve as a helpful guide.

Did You Know?

Edible Plant Poisonous Part Poison
Sprouts/Green Part Seeds Pit
Solanine Cyanide Cyanide


Cosmetics are designed to make us look better, smell better and feel better, but they too can be poisons. Most of the chemicals used in cosmetics today are not toxic to the skin and eyes, but can be toxic if ingested. Mouthwash, perfume, aftershave and cologne all can contain alcohol. Alcohol is not meant to be drunk by children and, if ingested, can cause serious illness and even death. Some dandruff shampoos, those that contain phenols or coal tars, can cause severe mucosal burning if ingested. All cosmetics should be kept out of children’s reach.


Many people use bug killers, weed killers, lawn fertilizers and other pesticides/insecticides to keep their trees, shrubs and lawns healthy and insect-free. These products are poisonous and can be particularly dangerous. Read and follow the directions and precautions on the label of each product carefully every time the product is used. If anyone comes into contact with these products the skin area must be washed with water immediately. When using an insecticide or mosquito repellent with DEET, be sure it is 10% DEET or less. Flea and tick shampoos used on pets are also considered pesticides and treated the same way.


Many poisoning accidents can happen while an adult or older child is in the room. It just takes a minute for a child to reach something that is dangerous — while they’re answering the phone, talking to a friend, going to the bathroom or watching television. That’s why dangerous things should ALWAYS be kept out of reach of children. Take the child to answer the door, phone, or to do other duties in order to observe the child even while taking care of other responsibilities.

How can a poisoning be prevented?

  • Always ask an adult before using a product such as medicine, cleaning products, etc.
  • Never leave a young child alone with a potential poison. It must be stressed that this means even for a moment because children act fast.
  • Store all medicine, chemicals, and other dangerous products out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet. Have parents check the home with a home safety check list.
  • Dangerous products should all have child-resistant caps whenever possible. While caps may be child-resistant, they are not CHILD-PROOF. Therefore, always keep any dangerous product OUT OF REACH of children. ALWAYS make sure that caps are put back on tightly when you are not using a product.
  • Never put anything but food or beverages in food or drink containers. Little children can’t tell the difference.
  • Always read the label directions on all products before using them, especially the warnings.
  • Alcoholic beverages should not be left within reach of children. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause problems for children.
  • Make sure that everyone understands that houseplants or plants found in the yard are not for eating. Know what kind of plants are in the house, and poisonous plants should be moved to a safe place.
  • Special locks for cabinets and doors are available at hardware and some drug stores. These are easy for adults to use, but difficult for small children.


  • Call the POISON CENTER immediately.
  • Remove the victim from the dangerous situation.
  • Always call the Poison Center, even if you are unsure if a substance is poisonous.


  • By calling the poison center’s 24-hour helpline, you will be connected to a healthcare professional that will assist you with your emergency or answer your poison questions. Remain calm.
  • Bring the poison product and the victim to the phone with you.
  • Provide the name of the product. If difficulty with pronunciation, spell the name of the product to the poison specialist. This is very important.
  • Have the following information ready: name, telephone number, age and weight of the victim
  • Give detailed information on “what happened.”
  • The poison specialist will provide you with the necessary treatment and recommendations
  • A follow-up phone call will usually be done within an hour.


If the victim is in a life threatening situation (for example: not breathing, seizing, or unconscious), instruct the students to call 9-1-1 immediately and tell an adult if one is nearby.

    • REMOVE poison from contact with the child.
    • EYES: Flood eye with lukewarm (not hot) water poured from a large glass 2 or 3 inches from the eye. Repeat for 15 minutes. Have patient blink as much as possible while flooding the eye. DO NOT FORCE THE EYE OPEN.
    • SKIN: Remove contaminated clothing and flood skin with water for 10 minutes. Then wash gently with soap and water and rinse.
    • MOUTH: MEDICINES: Do not give anything by mouth until you have called the poison center first. CHEMICALS OR HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS: Unless patient is unconscious, having convulsions, or cannot swallow, give milk or water immediately, then call the poison center.
    • LUNGS: Immediately get the person to fresh air. Avoid breathing fumes. Open doors and windows wide. If victim is not breathing, start artificial respiration.
  2. NEVER make the victim vomit until you have been instructed to do so by the Poison Center or your doctor. It can be dangerous to induce vomiting.


SPIKE’S POISON PREVENTION ADVENTURE – A 9 minute video available on the TPCN website. Spike, the porcupine, makes it easy and fun to teach poison prevention. It includes a video and classroom activities as well as education materials for parents/caregivers. Appropriate for pre-school, kindergarten.

POISON PATROL ADVENTURE (English and Spanish) – It is a 20 minute video available on the TPCN website. Jimmy, Angie, Rex and Jenny go through the magic of video to learn about things that are poisonous. In addition, the adventure includes games and activities appropriate for Elementary students.

KID’S CORNER – The TPCN website has an assortment of interactive poison prevention games, virtual field trip, and other activities for all school aged children.

POISON CONTROL IN ACTION – A 13 minute video including common reasons for adult poisonings, such as misuse of household products, inhalation or other contact with chemicals on the job and inappropriate use of prescription or non-prescription drugs.


Poisonous Look-Alikes

Did you know that many medicines and household cleaning products are similar to food, drinks and candy? It is important to be aware of these similarities and to store these items separately. These Look- Alikes can be very confusing to adults and even more confusing to children who cannot read labels. The Poison Center advises that you keep all poisons locked up and out of reach of children, especially these Look-Alikes.

Look-alike Flipchart

Create a look-alike flipchart containing pictures of look-alike products. The Flipchart makes it easy to show the similar food products are to the matching poisonous products. See Example below:

Look-Alike products:

Poisonous Household Products

Ammonia, Rubbing Alcohol
Sports Cream (red & white label)
Sparkling Laxative (green bottle & label)
Beer (match label color to soda label) Cleanser (green label)
Mouse bait (packaged in a box) (Sound-Alike) Chocolate Laxative
Red Lamp Oil
Pine cleaner
Decongestant or Cold Preparation (red) Dishwashing Liquid (with picture of lemon) Blue Windshield Washer Fluid

Non-Poisonous Food Items

Toothpaste (red & white label)
Ginger Ale (green bottle & label)
Soda Pop
Grated Cheese (green label)
Candy (same type of container)
Chocolate Candy Bar
Cranberry Juice
Apple Juice
Red Hot Cake Decorations
Lemon Juice
Blue Punch/Kool Aid

NOTE: There are many medicines, including vitamin pills that look like candy. While there are only a few listed here, you should be aware that many more similarities exist.

This list is not complete. It is just a sample of some of the more common poisonous look-alikes. There are many other look-alike products on the market.


“Good products” can become “bad products” when you don’t follow label directions and instructions.

Ammonia/ Rubbing Alcohol and Water – The distinctive odor of ammonia or rubbing alcohol fades when left sitting out and exposed to the air. Many people use these products in cups to clean jewelry. It’s very easy for a child to mistakenly think it’s water and drink it, never noticing the jewelry at the bottom. It’s best to NEVER put non–food items in old food containers.

Sports Cream & Toothpaste – The tubes as well as both products look similar. The strong smell of a sports cream cannot be depended on as a warning, especially for a young child.

Sparkling Laxative & Ginger Ale (bottle) Sparkling Laxative (cherry flavor) & Red Soda Pop – These laxatives look and smell very much like soda to a young child. They can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if ingested in large amounts.

Cleanser & Grated Cheese – These products and their containers are both very easy to confuse. You can prevent this confusion by storing food products and cleaning products separately.

Pesticide – mouse bait pellets in a box and candy in same type of box – These products are not so much look-alikes as sound-alikes. To a young child the brightly colored boxes are both attractive and when shaken sound identical.

Chocolate Laxative & Chocolate Candy – Many medicines look and taste like candy, but they are not candy. Never call medicine candy to encourage a child to take it. All medicines (and vitamins) should be stored out of reach of children.

Beer & Soda Pop – There are many beers and alcoholic beverages on the market that resemble sodas and fruit juices. Be aware of these similarities so that you don’t store look-alike beer and soda side by side in the refrigerator. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause problems in small children.

Red Lamp Oil & Cranberry Juice – This is a good example of two liquids that are similar in color and consistency. Lamp oil contains a petroleum distillate which can cause severe respiratory distress when ingested.


Lesson Plan & Activity Ideas for Early Elementary What is a Poison?

Materials needed by Teacher

  • Clean, empty poison containers or pictures of the same.
  • Clean, empty food containers or pictures of the same.
  • Activity discussion ideas provided.

Materials needed by Students.

Crayons, glue, scissors, pencils and paper.

NOTE: DO NOT ask children to bring poison containers from home.

Skills Addressed

Taking care of ourselves, matching, comparing, evaluating, discussion in group, drawing, writing, storytelling/role playing, differentiating.


  • Students will identify containers of poisons.
  • Students will classify containers of food.
  • Students will determine how to distinguish between poisonous/nonpoisonous items.
  • Students will participate in discussion about poisonous/nonpoisonous items.


  • Ask students to tell what a poison is and what it does.
  • Ask how to tell if a substance is a poison or not.
  • Present pictures/containers and discuss.

Presentation Outline

  • Define poison/non-poison.
  • Discuss dangers of poisons.
  • Present pictures for discussion.


  • Define poison.
  • Identify pictures of food/poison.
  • Draw a picture of a poison and write/tell a story about where it can be found.


  • Participation in discussion.
  • Completion of picture.
  • Telling/reading a story.

Activity Ideas
Level: Preschool, Kindergarten, and Grade 1-2

What is a poison?

A poison is something that can make you sick if you taste it, smell it, or get it on your skin or in your eye. Something that is useful to clean floors is not intended to be drunk and could harm a person when swallowed. Many products are safe when used as intended, but are otherwise unsafe.

It’s important for children to understand that poisons come in all shapes and sizes and in many different types of containers. They can be plants, liquids, powders, fumes, or sprays. Poison can also be a good thing used in a wrong way, like vitamins, medicines, perfumes, or hair spray.

What forms does a poison take?

Poisons can be solids, liquids, or vapors (gases). Examples of each are as follows:

  • Solids – medicines, plants, granular drain cleaners
  • Liquids – perfumes, toilet bowl cleaners, floor cleaners
  • Sprays – window cleaners, perfumes, cleaners
  • Gases (Invisibles) – natural gas, car exhaust, carbon monoxide.

What can a poison do to me if I eat, drink or even taste it?

It can make you sick or it can even kill you. The way your body reacts to the poison depends on what and how much you ate, drank or tasted of the substance. It also depends on your age, weight, general health and any other medications you may be taking at the time.

Activity Grade level: Preschool, Kindergarten

  • The children may be asked to participate in a poison hunt in the classroom, pointing out (but not touching) the various containers or pictures and stating whether or not they are a poison.
  • The teacher may ask each child to discuss why he/she considers an item a poison or food.
  • The children can be instructed to place the articles in a receptacle (box or trash can) after they have asked the teacher “Is this a poison or not a poison?”

Lesson Plan-Spike

Materials needed by Teacher

Spike Video, Spike’s Poison adventure Video, Spike’s reproducible image (2 for each student), tongue depressors (2 for each student), glue, scissors.

Materials needed by Student

Scissors, crayons

Skills Addressed

Taking care of ourselves, recall, and classifying, listening, physical coordination.


  • Students will create Spike’s puppet and engage in the puppet show.
  • Students will discuss the dangers of poisons.
  • Students will understand the use of the Poison Help telephone stickers.
  • Students will recall and memorize the Poison Help Number.


  • Discuss Spike’s adventure
  • Play Spike’s Video (on line).

Presentation Outline

Involve class in discussion of poisons (what are/are not) Review.

  • Discuss if anyone knows of someone who has been in contact with a poison.
  • Discuss technique if someone gets into a poison- Always Call First.
  • Discuss people to call for help (teacher, parent, older sibling, Poison Center).
  • Talk with students about what Spike did.
  • Ask what Spike did that is very important.
  • Introduce concept of poisons and students using Spike’s puppet to identify poisons.


  • Discuss poisons and how to use Spike’s puppet
  • Create Spike’s puppets
  • Role-play Spike’s Poison Adventure


  • Discussion and Participation


Poison awareness is an ongoing project, and to help you with your efforts, we have provided a list of suggested support materials. Reinforcement of the concepts learned in this program can be provided both at school and at home.


Home Safety Check List.

Included in this program is a take-home letter for parents and the Home Safety Check List, designed as a program reinforcement tool to involve the parents in the poison safety program. Stress that it is to be given to parents to assist them in making their homes poison-safe.

Poison Prevention Guide.

Our Poison Prevention Guide is an in-depth way for parents to look room-by-room at poison proofing their home.

Local Emergency Numbers.

Include the Poison Center telephone stickers in the take-home materials.


We hope this information has been helpful in preparing your students for poison safety. Your role in education provides an opportunity for the students to recognize the importance of poison safety and to learn techniques that help save lives.


Contact the Poison Center for questions and additional materials.

Dear Parents,

We have just completed a course on Poison Safety in our class. Accidental poisoning is a major cause of injury and death for children. To help make sure your home is poison-proof, we have provided a list for you to use to check your home for poison safety.

Smaller children cannot read, and are naturally curious. Make sure that all products that are potentially poisonous are kept in their original containers and in a locked place.

Special locks are available in hardware and home supply stores for use on cabinets and doors in which potentially dangerous products are stored.

Be sure to teach your children how to use the telephone and the phone numbers to use in case of emergency. The following numbers should be placed next to the telephone:

  • Poison Control Center
  • 9-1-1
  • Police and Fire
  • Where you can be reached if you’re not at home.

We hope this information helps you in providing safety for your children. For further information, please call your local poison center or hospital.


  • Remove household products such as detergents, dish washing compounds and drain cleaners from under the sink
  • Avoid keeping medicines on counter tops, refrigerator tops, window sills, or in open areas.
  • Keep all cleaners, household products, and medications out of reach.
  • Install child safety latches on all drawers or cabinets containing harmful products.
  • Keep harmful products stored away from food.


  • Regularly clean out the medicine chest.
  • Get rid of old, expired medications by taking advantage of community drug take-back programs. If one is not available, take medications out of their original containers, crushing and mixing them with an undesirable substance, such as expired yogurt, cat litter or used coffee grinds. Conceal or remove personal information, seal container, and place in trash.
  • Keep medicines in original safety top containers.
  • Keep medicines, sprays, powders, cosmetics, fingernail preparations, hair-care products, 
mouthwash, etc., out of reach.


  • Avoid keeping medicines in or on dressers, bedside tables, or diaper bags.
  • Keep perfumes, cosmetics, powders, and sachets out of reach.


  • Keep bleaches, soaps, detergents, fabric softeners, bluing agents, and sprays out of reach.
  • Store products in original containers.


  • Store insect spray and weed killers in locked area.
  • Store gasoline and car products in locked area.
  • Store turpentine, paints, and paint products in locked area.
  • Keep all products in original containers.


  • Keep alcoholic beverages out of reach.
  • Empty ashtrays and keep them out of reach.
  • Keep plants out of reach. Keep paint in good repair


If you suspect that a child may have gotten into a potentially poisonous product, ALWAYS

  • Remove the child from the dangerous situation.
  • Try to determine what the product is.
  • Call your Poison Center immediately–even if in doubt. 


_____ Is the Poison Center phone number on or near your telephone 1-800-222-1222?

_____ Does everyone know how to dial 1-800-222-1222?

_____ If an accident happens, can adults in the family be easily reached?


For further information, call your local Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222