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Published on April 24, 2019

kids playing at an outdoor playground

Ensure Your Next Trip to a Playground is Both Fun and Safe

A trip to the playground is always fun for kids. Playgrounds help children develop large motor skills like climbing, balancing and jumping, as well as exercising muscles and allowing them to test their skills and take reasonable risks.

National Playground Safety Week, April 22-26, is a good time to review tips to keep kids safe on playgrounds.

Most public playgrounds are safe, but parents and caregivers must be on the lookout for hazardous playground equipment and conditions. Be especially wary of old playgrounds with outdated equipment. See-saws, teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds are no longer considered safe playground equipment due to their crush or shear points. Check the playground for damaged equipment or other hazards.

When we evaluate playground safety, we look at the following things:

Surfaces

Playground surfaces need to absorb impact if a child falls. Acceptable playground surfaces include wood fiber or mulch, pea gravel, sand or rubber. Avoid playgrounds with concrete, asphalt, grass, dirt or gravel surfaces.

Openings

Any equipment openings on ladder rungs, ropes, railings or crawling tunnels should be less than 3 1/2 inches or more than 9 inches. These measurements are small enough so a child’s body cannot go through and possibly entrap the head OR large enough so the child’s whole body will go through, without entrapping the child’s head. Always remove bike helmets before playing. The equipment opening size limit does not account for a helmet. The helmet can be wedged between equipment and the strap poses a strangulation hazard.

Equipment Size

Choose a playground that is safe for the age and developmental level of your child. On a playground appropriate for toddlers, equipment like slides should be smaller and equipment height levels should be lower. Watch your child carefully to be sure he/she can safely navigate the equipment on a particular playground.

Installation and Maintenance

  • Playground equipment should be anchored
  • “S” hooks should be enclosed
  • All bolts should be counter-sunk or covered
  • No loose ropes; climbing ropes should be anchored and secured at both ends
  • No “V” shaped joints that could entrap a child’s head

General Hazards

  • When you arrive at the playground, do a quick check; look for sharp edges, broken glass, garbage, etc.
  • Be on the lookout for damaged equipment and report it
  • Swings should have soft seats

Supervision

Parents must supervise their children, especially if the playground is not fenced; be aware of nearby hazards like streets and ponds. Turn off your device and keep your eyes on the children. Make sure children are not wearing anything around the neck like scarves, drawstring hoods, or jewelry when on playground equipment. Backpacks, purses and similar items should be removed before playing; these items can become tangled or caught in equipment causing a strangulation hazard.

Sun and Heat

Be sure your child is wearing sunscreen. Bring water, especially on hot summer days. Children can become dehydrated quickly so offer water frequently. Check the temperature of playground equipment like slides and swings before children use them. Even if materials are heat resistant, they can still get hot on a summer day.

Try a Playground Marathon

For a fun summer activity, try a playground marathon day. Pack sunscreen, snacks, water, and a picnic lunch and choose three or four playgrounds to visit. Spend 30-45 minutes at each playground before moving on to the next one. Take pictures so you can compare the playgrounds later and describe which you liked best and why.

As long as parents and caregivers keep safety in mind, check playgrounds before use and supervise children, playgrounds will remain at the top of the list for fun activities for kids.

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