For kids, there’s nothing better than an outing to the playground on a breezy, sunny summer day. It’s been a favorite pastime for generations alike. But, playgrounds aren’t just fun and games. They offer kids vital physical, cognitive and social interaction crucial for their development.
“Playgrounds allow kids to master motor skills and interact with other kids to learn social or cultural skills from one another,” said Stephanie Weigel, injury prevention coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley. “It also promotes brain development through repetitive and imaginative play, like kids’ fantasizing they’re pirates on a ‘ship.’”
But while your kids are busy playing, learning and growing, faulty equipment, improper surfaces and careless behavior can ruin the fun. Each year, more than 200,000 kids are treated in hospital ERs for playground-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You can help make playgrounds safe by teaching your kids proper playground play and following a few safety guidelines. Weigel offers 9 tips to keep your kids safe and help prevent injuries this summer because let’s face it, playground play is vital to their development.
- Inspect the playground first. Take a look around to make sure the playground is clean and well-maintained. If the playground has lots of trash, such as broken glass, or the equipment looks loose or broken, has rusted parts or splintered wood, don’t play there. The playground should be properly maintained to keep your kids safe.
- Report problems. If you spot a loose bolt, a broken swing or find any other problems while your kids are playing, report the problem to the park so it can be fixed. Do your part to help keep the playground clean and safe.
- Make sure equipment is age-appropriate. Playground equipment should be designed for 3 different age groups: kids under 2, 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds. Separate play areas, and make sure your child uses equipment that’s right for her age. Many playgrounds have tall towers to climb or open passageways between equipment for older kids. Younger children should not play on this equipment because the sizes and proportions won’t be right for them, and this can lead to injury. Also, be mindful of where your child is developmentally. Even though she’s 2, she may not be capable yet of doing what her peers are doing. Therefore, she isn’t ready to move up to the equipment made for 2- to 5-year-olds.
- Look for proper playground surfacing. A proper playground surface is one of the most important factors in reducing injuries — and the severity of them — that occur when kids fall from equipment. The best playgrounds put down special impact-absorbing surfacing materials, such as mulch, wood chips, pea gravel or shredded rubber. “We don’t ever want to see dirt, grass or cement,” said Weigel. “Grass seems like it would be soft, but when it’s very dry it can be as hard as falling on concrete.”
- Avoid lapses in supervision. Be present and engaged while your kids are playing to help prevent injuries. Young kids can’t always gauge distances properly and aren’t capable of foreseeing dangerous situations by themselves. If you’re there with other adults, split up so you can see the kids from different angles. Also, assign each adult with a child to keep an eye on her at all times. Be sure to make it a phone-free zone. It just takes a second for a child to stumble off the slide or trip and fall off a platform.
- Teach your child about playground safety. Adult supervision and safe equipment are only half of the equation. Kids must know how to be safe and act responsibly at the playground, as well. Teach your child to follow the playground safety rules, including how to safely use the equipment, don’t push or roughhouse and stay out of the path of moving equipment, such as swings.
- Stay away from a crowded playground. It’s best to come back at a time when all children can be properly monitored.
- Dress your kids for safe play. Make sure your child’s shoes are tied, and don’t dress her in clothes that have drawstrings, scarves or anything else that dangles. Drawstrings, purses and necklaces could get caught on slides or other equipment and accidentally strangle a child. Also, make sure she has the appropriate shoes for traction while running and climbing to help prevent injuries.
- Beware of hot surfaces. Some equipment, such as slides, swings or stairs, can heat up to extreme temperatures in the hot summer months, so it’s important for parents to check them before play. Young kids’ reflexes are delayed so even though they may perceive the heat, they may not react in time to prevent a burn from occurring. “Parents should place their hands on the surface for several seconds because certain materials transfer heat at different rates,” said Weigel. “So, the danger may not be perceived by a parent if they only place their hand on the material for a brief second.”