Play and Safety
As the weather becomes warmer, spring fever becomes rampant in houses all around the Valley. Many of us begin to long for those longer, sunnier, warmer days and the opportunity to get outside and enjoy it. Many moms and dads head for playgrounds and meet up with their other mom/dad friends with kids and enjoy the sunshine while watching their kids play.
Playgrounds are great! They offer kids fresh air, friends and exercise via the many activities that a neighborhood playground set offers. But they also offer up over 200,000 injuries per year according to kidshealth.org. Many of these injuries could have been prevented if only parents had checked the equipment for any sign of faulty pieces, potential hazards, or just provided more supervision.
Here is a list of compiled ways in which you can keep your child safe while enjoying the sunshine:
- Make sure your children know the rules of the playground and the expected behavior. Everyone needs to take turns and not be using the equipment improperly. Children should especially never roughhouse on jungle gyms, slides, seesaws, swings or other equipment. Teach them to use the equipment correctly – slide with feet first, don’t climb guardrails and swings should be sat in, not standing on knees or feet in them. They should be sure their playground friends are not in the way if they are going to jump off equipment and be sure to land on both feet with knees bent. If playground equipment is wet, it will be slippery, therefore it may be better to come another time when it is dry. Teach your children to play safe.
- Pick a playground that is age appropriate for your children. Playgrounds gears for older children will have play events that are just too big for children under 5. Think about the spacing of the steps and ladders as well as the height of the things in which to climb on. For parents of babies who are crawling or just learning to walk, you will want to pick a place with a smooth and easy surface to walk on. You’ll also want to look for those great little baby swings in which to give your little one a break from practicing these newly discovered skills! Here are some additional tips on safety per specific playground equipment:
- Swings: Swings are the most frequent source of injuries from moving equipment on the playground. Check to make sure they are made of rubber or plastic, not wood or metal. Kids should ALWAYS sit, they should not stand or kneel while swinging. Have them hold on tightly with both hands and then come to a complete stop before getting off the swing. Make sure that they stay a safe distance from other kids swinging and don’t run or walk in front of or in back of moving swings. Swings were designed to safely hold only one person.
- Seesaws: Seats are made for one child only, not for two to balance a heavier child on one side. Children should always sit facing each other and hold tightly with both hands while keeping feet to the sides so that they don’t get caught underneath the seesaw as it comes down. As with swings, children should stay clear from a seesaw in motion and never walk under a raised seesaw.
- Slides: How many times have you told your child, “Slide DOWN the slide, don’t walk up it”? Children like to test their limits and a slide is one of those places in which they like to do that. But really, they should only slide down the slide feet first, sitting up. Sliding any other way may seem like fun, but can be more dangerous. Children should hold on to the handrail when climbing and take only one step at a time and make sure the bottom is clear before sliding down. Once they have slid down, they need to quickly move aside for other children coming down the slide.
- Climbing Equipment: This kind of equipment comes in many shapes and sizes. Some examples are rock climbing walls, arches, and vertical and horizontal ladders. Children should be made aware of a safe way to get down should that not be able to complete the climb. The highest rate of injuries are linked to climbing equipment. Make sure your child has proper shoes for play as well. I know of an incident in which a young girl was climbing a rock wall with cleats after t-ball practice. Her foot slipped and she banged her teeth on the climbing bar, knocking the top four teeth loose. An emergency trip to the hospital had the result of having to have all four pulled out so as not to disrupt her permanent teeth later! Children also need to be aware of other children as they swing their feet while climbing ahead of them. Tell your children to keep plenty of space between themselves and their playground buddies. Remember also, that children under the age of 5 may not have the upper-body strength necessary for climbing. It is recommended that preschoolers should only climb 5 feet high and school-aged kids should only climb 7 feet high.
- Track Ride Safety: Track rides are rides in which a child can hold onto a handle that slides along a track while they lift up their feet. It is a form of upper-body equipment and is recommended for older children. Make sure that your child knows the landing area should be clear before taking off so that they do not accidentally kick or bump another child out of the way.
- Log Roll: This is another piece of equipment geared with older children in mind as they aid in helping children develop balance skills and increase strength. Be sure your child knows to hold on to the handholds to assist them with balance and that the equipment is not placed too high from the protective surface. A safe distance is 18” from the highest point of the log roll to the ground surface.
- Be aware of the surface beneath the playground. Obviously a surface such as asphalt, concrete, or gravel will make a fall far worse than one of sand, pea gravel, wood chips, mulch or shredded rubber. Even dirt and grass can be unsafe because of weather and wear. Synthetic turf and rubber mats are also good as they require less maintenance, therefore lasting longer. The surfacing should be soft and thick enough to soften the impact of a fall. Make sure that the areas around swings and other tall pieces of equipment have enough surfacing extending around it to protect should there be a fall. The greater the height of the equipment, the more likely a child can get injured if they should fall from it.
- Report any faulty equipment to the city, town, or county parks department, school, or other organization that is responsible for the upkeep of the playground. Designate it as “off-limits” to your child while playing until it is repaired.
- And WATCH your children as younger kids often can’t gauge distances properly and won’t foresee a dangerous situation by themselves. Older kids often want to test their limits, so it’s important for you as a parent to help keep them in check. Be sure you can see your child at all times. Be aware of potential hazards on the playground. You don’t want your child tripping over a tree root, rock or other miscellaneous debris. Certainly if there is trash like broken glass or twisted metal, you want to make sure that it is removed and disposed of in order to keep kids safe. You also want to make sure that your children are not wearing clothing that will snag easily on the equipment. On those hot sunny days, be sure to check those metal slides, handrails and steps. They can become dangerously hot and contact burns can occur within seconds. And of course on those warm days, don’t forget sunscreen! You can get a sunburn even on a cloudy day!
As you’ve heard before, 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. Have fun and enjoy the sun!