A trip to the playground is one of the simple pleasures of summer. But a fun outing can come to an unhappy end when a child gets hurt on the playground. More than 200,000 children end up in the emergency room each year because of playground injuries. While it’s impossible to prevent every injury, Donna Thompson, Director of the National Program for Playground Safety offers these tips for a safe trip to the playground.
Plan for Play
Choose a cooler part of the day for your playground trip, especially if there is little shade available. Before leaving the house, grab sunscreen and water and be sure to use both liberally. Make sure everyone is dressed to play in clothes that fit well and have no loose strings or ribbons that can catch on equipment. Shoes are a must to protect feet from hot equipment, sharp edges, and debris.
Pick your Playground
Adults often think bigger is better, so bigger equipment means more fun. Not so, says Thompson. “Choose a playground designed for the ages of your children,” she says. “Not only is it safer, your kids will have more fun on equipment designed for their age group.” If your playground doesn’t designate the ages it was designed for, stick to equipment your child can use without assistance. “If you have to lift a child to reach the equipment, he or she is too young to play on it,” says Thompson. And if your young child enjoys swinging, be sure to use a “bucket” swing until age three since young children lack the balance needed for a sling-style swing.
Assess the Area
Don’t let your kids charge onto the playground before you check out the area, even if it’s a playground you’ve visited before. Take a few minutes to be sure the equipment is in good repair. Feel swings and slides to be sure they won’t burn tender skin. Check for rocks, glass and other harmful debris, especially at the bottom of slides. Check the material under the equipment. Special soft mats or 9 – 12 inches of sand, pea gravel, wood chips or ground rubber should be present to cushion falls.
Adults may be tempted to park on a bench with a good book, but it’s important to keep an eye on the action. Most serious playground injuries result from falls, so be sure kids aren’t overloading slides and walkways or climbing on the outside of equipment. Remind children not to play at the bottom of a slide or under equipment where they might be hurt when another child slides down. Children under age 2 shouldn’t use slides, even if they are sitting on an adult’s lap. Kids this age don’t have enough balance to lift their legs so little feet can catch on the slide causing leg injuries. Most importantly, interact with your kids. “Kids love showing adults what they can do,” says Thompson. “Your child will enjoy the attention while you’re keeping an eye on safety.”
For more tips on playground safety, visit www.playgroundsafety.org.