Playgrounds and outdoor play equipment offer kids fresh air, friends, and exercise. So it's important for parents to make sure that faulty equipment, improper surfaces, and careless behavior don't ruin the fun.
Each year, more than 200,000 kids are treated in hospital ERs for playground-related injuries. Many of these could have been prevented with the proper supervision.
And teaching kids how to play safely is important: If they know the rules of the playground, they're less likely to get hurt.
Adult supervision can help prevent injuries by making sure kids properly use playground equipment and don't engage in unsafe behavior around it. If an injury does occur, an adult can assist the child and administer any needed first aid right away.
Kids should always have adult supervision on the playground. Young kids (and sometimes older ones) can't always gauge distances properly and aren't capable of foreseeing dangerous situations by themselves. Older kids like to test their limits on the playground, so it's important for an adult to be there to keep them in check.
Before you visit a playground, check to make sure that play areas are designed to allow an adult to clearly see kids while they're playing on all the equipment.
The most important factors in evaluating the safety of any playground are proper surface, design and spacing, and equipment inspection and maintenance.
A proper playground surface is one of the most important factors in reducing injuries — and the severity of injuries — that occur when kids fall from equipment. The surface under the playground equipment should be soft enough and thick enough to soften the impact of a child's fall.
Here are some things to consider:
Keep in mind that even proper surfacing can't prevent all injuries. Also, the greater the height of the equipment, the more likely kids are to get injured if they fall from it.
Playground equipment should be designed for three different age groups: infants and toddlers under 2, 2- to 5-year-olds (preschoolers), and 5- to 12-year-olds (school-age kids).
In the safest playgrounds, play areas for younger children are separated from those meant for older kids and signs clearly designate each area to prevent confusion.
Younger children should not play on equipment designed for older kids because the equipment sizes and proportions won't be right for small kids, and this can lead to injury. Likewise, older kids shouldn't play on equipment designed for younger ones. Smaller equipment and spaces can cause problems for bigger kids.
Here are some things to check for to ensure the equipment is designed and spaced to be safe:
Whether your kids play on a home or public playground, it's important for you to take a general look at the equipment to make sure that it is clean and well maintained.
Check for objects (like hardware, S-shaped hooks, bolts, and sharp or unfinished edges) that stick out on equipment and could cut a child or cause clothing to become entangled.
All hardware on equipment should be secure, with no loose or broken parts. Plastic and wood should show no signs of weakening, and there should not be any splintered or rusted surfaces.
If the local playground has a sandbox, check for hazardous debris such as sharp sticks or broken glass, and be sure that the sand is free of bugs. Sandboxes should be covered overnight to prevent contamination from animals, such as cats.
Help keep your playground clean and safe by picking up trash, using the equipment properly, and reporting any problems to the city, town, or county parks department, school, or other organization that is responsible for the upkeep of the playground.
If a part seems broken, loose, or in need of other maintenance, designate it as off-limits immediately and report the problem to the appropriate authorities.
Safe playground equipment and adult supervision are extremely important, but it's only half of the equation: Kids must know how to be safe and act responsibly at the playground.
Teach your kids to:
Because swings, slides, and climbing equipment are so different from one another, each requires a different set of safety considerations. And some kinds of equipment are not safe for playgrounds, no matter how careful kids are.
Swings are the most frequent source of childhood injuries from moving equipment on a playground. But a few simple precautions can help keep kids safely swinging in the breeze:
Because seesaw use requires cooperation between kids, they're generally not recommended for preschoolers unless the seesaw has a spring-centering device to prevent abrupt contact with the ground. Regardless of design, both seesaws and merry-go-rounds should be approached with caution.
Other safety tips to keep in mind:
Slides are safe if kids are careful when using them. Guidelines to keep in mind:
Climbing equipment comes in many shapes and sizes — including rock climbing walls, arches, and vertical and horizontal ladders. It's generally more challenging for kids than other kinds of playground equipment.
Be sure your kids are aware of a safe way down in case they can't complete the climb. The highest rates of injuries on public playgrounds are associated with climbing equipment, which is dangerous if not designed or used properly. Adult supervision is especially important for younger kids.
Climbing equipment can be used safely if kids are taught to use both hands and to stay well behind the person in front of them and beware of swinging feet. When they drop from the bars, kids should be able to jump down without hitting the equipment on the way down. Remind kids to have their knees bent and land on both feet.
Track rides are a form of upper-body equipment where kids hold on to a handle that slides along a track once they lift their feet. These rides require significant upper-body strength and are recommended for school-age kids and above.
Log rolls require kids to grasp handles, then balance on top of the log as they spin it with their feet. This helps older kids to develop balance skills and increase strength.
There are specific recommended safety checks for soft contained playgrounds:
More and more cities are opening spraygrounds, which are water playgrounds. At a sprayground, kids can spray each other with water cannons and get sprayed by dozens of water jets that squirt from different colored nozzles and hoses.
These types of equipment are not safe for playgrounds:
Parents should not place plastic climbing equipment indoors. Even carpet does not give enough protection from falls. This type of equipment is intended for outdoor use on safe surfaces.
Play is an important part of kids' physical, social, intellectual, and emotional development. Following these safety tips will help your kids play as safely as possible.
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: July 2011
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