Today starts National Playground Safety Week (runs from April 22-26, 2013). It is a time to focus on the safety of children’s outdoor play environments, and to thank all the adults who work tirelessly to maintain playgrounds.
Tell me what you remember about playgrounds in your childhood, and chances are I can tell your age. Metal “monkeybars,” 10-foot slide, and steel jungle gyms were the norm until the 1970s. (Sometime, those torture devices were actually set up on blacktop or gravel–yikes!) From the 1970s to the 1990s, safety became more of a concern. Plastic was used more often than steel, and the playgrounds were built on softer surfaces, such as wood mulch, plastic mulch, or foam blocks. Since the late 1990s, playgrounds incorporate more natural materials–plants, dirt, hills, streams, pathways, and trees.
The evolution of playgrounds has focused on two main goals: 1) helping children to be active and play creatively, and 2) keeping children safe.
“Playing on the playgrounds is one of the simplest, safest and most meaningful ways for kids to improve not only their physical health, but their emotional, social and cognitive skills as well,” said Randy Watermiller, [president of the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA)]. “This week we recognize the many critical advancements that have been made in making playground equipment and surfacing safer and encourage families to prioritize spending time on the playground together.” [Wall Street Journal Online, April 22, 2013.]
Top Playground Safety Tips
The child safety organization SafeKids.org has provided tips for keeping children safe on playgrounds:
Supervise Kids Using Playground Equipment
- Actively supervise children on playgrounds. It won’t be hard – they’ll probably be calling for you to watch them climb, jump and swing.
- Check playgrounds where your children play. Look for age-appropriate equipment and hazards, such as rusted or broken equipment and dangerous surfaces. Report any hazards to the school or appropriate local office.
- Teach children that pushing, shoving or crowding while on the playground can be dangerous.
- Dress appropriately for the playground. Remove necklaces, purses, scarves or clothing with drawstrings that can get caught on equipment and pose a strangulation hazard. Even helmets can be dangerous on a playground, so save those for bikes.
- Little kids can play differently than big kids. It is important to have a separate play area for children under 5.
Choose the Right Play Area Based on Your Child’s Age
- Ensure that children use age-appropriate playground equipment. Separate play areas for bigger kids and children under 5 should be available and maintained.
- For babies who are mostly crawling or at best learning to walk, the play area should have a smooth and easy surface to walk on.
- If your baby has fairly good head control and can sit up with support (usually around 9 months old), give the baby (bucket-shaped) swings a try.
- Babies love slides but are too young to go down on their own. But they can slide down with your support. Just hold your baby all the way down and enjoy.
Ensure Safe Surfacing Beneath and Surrounding Playground Equipment
- Avoid playgrounds with non-impact absorbing surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete, grass, dirt or gravel.
- Recommended surface materials include: sand, pea gravel, wood chips, mulch and shredded rubber. Rubber mats, synthetic turf and other artificial materials are also safe surfaces and require less maintenance.
- Surfacing should be at least 12 inches deep and extend at least 6 feet in all directions around stationary equipment. Depending on the height of the equipment, surfacing may need to extend farther than 6 feet.
- For swings, make sure that the surfacing extends, in the back and front, twice the height of the suspending bar. So if the top of the swing set is 10 feet high, the surfacing should extend 20 feet.
Check That Playgrounds Are Inspected and Maintained by Qualified Personnel
- Double check with your school and child care center to make sure they have age-appropriate, well-maintained playground equipment.
- If there are any hazards in a public or backyard playground, report them immediately and do not allow children to use the equipment until it is safe.
- Report any playground safety hazards to the organization responsible for the site (e.g., school, park authority or city council).
Meet me at the swing set?
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