Play Together. Play Smart. Play S.A.F.E.™

Heather Olsen

Executive Director & Associate Professor

Dr. Heather Olsen is part of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa with an interdisciplinary background in the fields of curriculum and instruction, parks and recreation, and health and human services. Heather also serves as the Executive Director for the National Program for Playground Safety. She has led a number of research projects and dissemination efforts on children’s outdoor environments, specifically to enhance the understanding and improvement of their health and safety. She has spearheaded several research initiatives to identify and address playground safety hazards in order to reduce injuries and deaths to children and to improve the existing conditions of outdoor spaces.  

Heather has published articles, book chapters, technical reports, and has two books on topics around playground safety, injury prevention, creating developmentally appropriate and inclusive outdoor environments, supervision, health and safety compliance in the outdoors, and facility planning and management. These outreach and dissemination efforts for educating on playground safety has supported a framework for best practices, playground infrastructure improvement, and improving injury surveillance. Dr. Olsen’s research is focused on contributing to the protection of children from unintentional playground injuries and educating others about the importance of outdoor environments for children. She participates with several organizations, including ASTM International, National Parks and Recreation Association, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Head Start Association, and ChildCare Aware.