By REBECCA SLOAN
his year when Amanda Stanek of Hermitage decorates her home for the holidays, practicality will take priority or artistry.
Although Stanek typically decks the halls with the enthusiasm of Martha Stewart, this year, breakable ornaments will rest only on the highest evergreen boughs, and no flames will flicker from the living room fireplace.
Prized houseplants will be relocated from their sunny spots on the dining room floor, and fragile keepsakes will be stowed away.
This year, Stanek, who has no children, will be opening her door to four small, rambunctious nieces and nephews.
"Our home is not child proofed at all. We are definitely going to have to do some arranging, and I'll have to decorate differently than I would if children weren't coming over," Stanek said.
Like many other childless couples, Stanek and her husband, Sean, face a common holiday dilemma: effectively child proofing the house for pint-size visitors.
A plan: Marie Economos, family and consumer science agent at The Ohio State University's extension office in Trumbull County, said many adults who don't have children forget that if they are having young people as guests, they will need to plan.
"The biggest safety concern for children around the holidays involves objects that children might choke on," Economos said. "Hard candy and nuts shouldn't be left out in dishes where children can grab them, and decorative ornaments shouldn't be within their reach."
Economos said leaving the lower boughs of the Christmas tree bare is the safest route to take.
"Ornaments are dangerous for a variety of reasons. They can break, and children can get cut on the glass," she said.
Barricade the tree: For homes where exceptionally curious children will be on the loose, Economos recommends putting a barrier around the Christmas tree.
"Some families will put up a sort of fence around the tree to keep curious children away," she said, adding, "Christmas tree lights are also a danger. Children can get burned on them or shocked if they jerk them down." Economos said extension cords pose a similar problem.
Economos said artificial trees are more child-friendly because they don't shed pine needles.
Other concerns: Other everyday items not intended for consumption can also spell trouble.
"For people who don't have kids, a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner left sitting out in the bathroom is no big deal, but if a child that has come to visit goes into the bathroom and sees that toilet bowl cleaner, they might decide to give it a taste," Economos said.
Low-to-the-floor cupboards where bathroom and kitchen cleaners are stored should be locked, Economos said.
Houseplants, which might also be poisonous, should also be put up out of reach.
"Poinsettias, which are always popular at the holidays, are poisonous. If you don't always have children in your house, it might not even occur to you that a poinsettia might look tempting to a child," Economos said.
Glowing candles are another item that can attract unwanted attention from little fingers.
"Never ever leave a candle unattended, especially if there are children around," she said. "If you buy a candle that doesn't come with a votive holder, put it in one before you burn it, and don't burn candles too close to anything that could catch on fire. These are basic rules that most people know, and yet every year many house fires start because of candles," she said.
Age factor: Although older children might understand the meaning of the words no and hot, Economos said age isn't a guarantee for what a child understands.
Although individual development varies, for small children, stairs always spell potential trouble.
Economos said basement doors should be locked and gates should be put up in front of stairs to keep curious toddlers from taking a tumble.
And if children are going to be overnight guests, make sure the bed is appropriate for their size.
"Remember that small children need special sleeping arrangements," she said. "Also remember beds shouldn't be too close to curtain strings, lamp cords or dressers loaded with objects that could fall off onto the child."