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Published on June 02, 2020

girl hanging upside down on jungle gym

Seven Tips for Keeping Kids Safe on the Playground

With more public spaces opening every day, children will see returning to playgrounds as a great way to spend a spring day.

Should they climb those monkey bars and hit the slides? Avera Medical Group pediatrician Shari Eich, MD, offers her answers to some questions many parents or care-givers might have.

Question: What general guidelines would you offer parents who want to take children to public playgrounds?

Answer: First and most importantly, do not take your children into public places if they are at all sick. If they are healthy, it should be OK.

I would recommend using hand sanitizer while they are playing on the equipment and washing their hands well when they are done. This will work for older kids, but I would be hesitant to take a toddler to a public playground if they still put everything in their mouths and put their mouths on everything.

Older kids should be reminded not to touch their faces and to try to keep some distance between themselves and the other kids. Telling them to stay “6 feet apart” is probably not useful; telling them that they shouldn’t be close enough to touch another child is more realistic.

Q: Does the virus live longer on some surfaces, such as plastic or steel?

A: The studies that have been done have been done in labs at room temperature. Those conditions are very different than the ones you’ll find on a playground on a summer’s day.

We don’t know whether rain will wash the virus off or if hot weather will kill the virus, or if there is a certain temperature or humidity that makes it survive longer. Wind speed could also play a role in how much virus lands on equipment.

We do know that even though researchers have recovered some virus after days in the lab, most of the virus was gone within a few hours. Less virus on surfaces means there’s less chance of infection. I would recommend going to playgrounds in the morning because fewer people have been on the equipment, which should mean fewer germs of all kinds.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just updated its guidelines (May 20) and said that the virus “does not spread easily” on surfaces, so that’s reassuring. But as a new disease, we are still learning more about it as we go.

Q: Kids tend not to be too big on social distancing or hand hygiene – are there any ways that moms and dads can help them “play” safe no matter where they go?

A: Kids are big on routines, so get in the habit of washing hands when they come in from outside and again before every meal. Keep it up for two or three weeks and they will remember on their own.

Be good examples for your kids, too. Wear masks when out in public. Kids like to model adults, so if they see all of us wearing masks, they’ll want to wear them as well. However we don’t recommend masks for kids 2 and younger. The same with hand hygiene – if you pull out the hand sanitizer, most kids are right there to get some from you.

Q: Are there other things to consider as well?

A: Parents have to do what they feel is right. If you aren’t comfortable with your children playing on public equipment yet, that’s OK! But know that it probably isn’t realistic to wait until the COVID-19 virus goes away completely – that may never happen.

Kids do need to play for their physical and mental health, as well as development. Kids learn a lot through play, so you may want to start small, with a play date with one friend and see how that goes. If it goes well, you can then expand playtime options for kids from there.

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