Playgrounds can be a great source of entertainment, exercise, and socialization for growing children. However, playgrounds can also be incredibly dangerous. Every year, 200,000 children suffer playground-related injuries that require hospitalization. At least half of those injuries are considered to be severe. Statistics show that children between the ages of 5 and 9 are most likely to be involved in a playground accident.
Many playground accidents and injuries can be avoided. Here are 6 ways to protect your child from an injury at your local playground.
Choose A Reputable Park
There are probably dozens of parks and playgrounds in your area. It’s important to bring your kids to a playground that is known for being safe. Local governments and communities have an obligation to make sure that play areas and structures are safe for your kids. How can you know if the playground you’ve chosen is safe? Check for the following things:
- Soft Surfaces. Your child is less likely to suffer a serious injury if you choose a playground with a soft surface. Specifically, choose a playground with loose fill materials such as wood fiber, pea gravel, mulch, or sand. These materials, when at least 12” deep, can cushion your child in the event of a fall.
- Updated Equipment. Communities should regularly check playground equipment for defects, damage, splinters, and problems with structure and strength. Over time, equipment can become worn down and unsafe. Check for playgrounds that have equipment that is regularly maintained and replaced when necessary.
- Space. Injuries are more likely to happen when equipment is bunched together in a tight area. The safest parks will provide at least 6 feet of space between each playground attraction.
- Cleanliness. Playgrounds should not only be checked for structural equipment issues, but also regularly cleaned. Kids can easily pick up bacteria, viruses, and other bugs that can result in serious illness and injury. Playgrounds that are not cleaned regularly can also pose a threat to your children if there is debris or dangerous material on the ground.
Supervise Children at All Times
The best way to protect your kids from injury on the playground is by watching them at all times. Never let your child out of your sight. If possible, join them on the playground and assist them when they are using larger pieces of equipment. Kids like to test their boundaries and capabilities. You can help to keep them safe by putting limits on just how far they can push the limits.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
Weather conditions can definitely contribute to injury on a playground. Kids are much more likely to be hurt when it is extremely hot or cold out. Weather can:
Cause metal equipment to become hot to the touch, resulting in burns (e.g., slides, swings, bars)
Degrade the structure and strength of wood and plastic equipment over time, and
Create slippery conditions that increase the risk of a fall.
Try to avoid trips to the playground if it is extremely hot or cold, if it has recently rained, or if there is a threat of rain.
Make Sure Kids use Age-Appropriate Equipment
Did you know that there are different age ratings for specific pieces of playground equipment? It’s true, playground equipment is designed with three specific age groups in mind: 6-23 months, 2-5 years, and 5-12 years. Communities are encouraged to install multiple pieces of equipment that cater to each age group. The most diligent communities will clearly label which pieces of equipment are suitable for kids of certain ages.
When you bring your child to the playground, it’s important to make sure that they only use equipment that is age-appropriate. Many playground accidents happen when kids try to use equipment that is intended for older children. When kids don’t use age-appropriate equipment they are more likely to fall, become trapped or entangled in the equipment, or crushed.
Dress Appropriately and Skip the Helmet
Many kids suffer unnecessary injuries on playgrounds because they aren’t wearing the right clothes. It’s important to make sure that your child isn’t wearing loose clothes and objects that can catch on equipment. Avoid letting your child wear sweatshirts with hoods or strings, baggy pants, items around the neck, sandals, or shoes with untied laces. If your child has long hair, it’s best to make sure it is tied up safely behind them.
Some parents have encouraged their kids to wear a bike helmet to protect them on the playground. While it may seem like a good idea, it can actually do more harm than good. The straps on helmets can easily become stuck on or in equipment and cause serious injury. Avoid the helmet and simply encourage safe playground habits.
Encourage Sharing and Safe Play Habits
- Accidents are more likely to happen when kids don’t know how to play safely. Before going to the playground, take the time to speak with your child about safe playground habits. These should include:
- Walking, and not running, around equipment
- Sharing equipment with other kids
- Patiently waiting for a turn when equipment is being used
- Choosing equipment that is age-appropriate, and
- Asking for help when necessary.
Sharing is incredibly important. Accidents can happen when kids become impatient and rush to beat other kids to a toy or attraction. Emphasizing sharing and playing with others can increase playground safety.