Playground Safety Considerations

By Patrick McGuire
Consultant to the VIRTUS® Programs

Photo of a small boy playing on playground equipmentIn one hypothetical family, things are starting to look up for the kids. After enduring an entire morning of, “Stop climbing on the sofa! Stop climbing on the counter! Stop playing on the stairs! Walk, don’t run! The bookshelf is NOT for climbing!” The parents load their little perpetual motion machines into the car and take the shortest possible route (that involves a drive-through serving oversized, caffeinated beverages) to the playground. Once there, they kill the motor and say those two little words that have come to mean: Okay! Fine! RUN! CLIMB! PLAY! Have at it! And, those two little words are: “Be careful.”
Yeah, right.
It is the rare child that can resist such a splendid device as the monkey bars. Seriously, they don’t call them playgrounds for nothing—and kids love them. Remember when you used to prefer swing sets that were in the grass instead of asphalt or concrete; do you remember why? Because you could swing even higher before you let go! It was pure, adrenaline-cranked pleasure. Now, years later, you ruefully shake your head and wonder how you ever survived past the age of eleven.
Then of course, you look up from your reverie to see your kid on top of the sliding board. Not AT the top of the sliding board, but on top of the plastic, parapet-looking roof that covers the landing to the slide! The words come out before you even consider them, “Stop climbing…!”
It would be easy to offer advice that says it is important to monitor our children at the playground, but that ground has been covered repeatedly. However, now that spring has sprung and summer is once again threatening to inflate our air-conditioning bills, some tips that apply to public playgrounds might come in handy. Bear in mind that playgrounds are everywhere! You will find them in malls, restaurants, pools, parks, schools, churches, everywhere! So even if you don’t go out of your way to find them, odds are that kids you know will be on them anyway.
So here comes the bullet list of tips to increase playground safety:
Things to check with and/or tell the kids!
  • Watch out for the drawstrings on kids’ clothing. It can become snagged in any number of cracks and crevices.
  • Loose-fitting clothing can cause trouble in the same way. Zip the jacket up or take it off.
  • Go over the posted playground rules, and go over your own rules as well.
  • Handrails are your friend. Use them.
  • NO BIKE HELMETS ON THE PLAYGROUND! The straps are a documented strangulation hazard and helmets themselves make kids nearly half a foot taller. Kids are not accustomed to that extra height, and it is quite a shock when you billygoat-butt the top of your noggin into a 2X4 cross-brace that you thought was higher than that!
  • Children should wear shoes at all times on playgrounds. Two words: broken glass!
  • Long hair should be kept back.
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen.
Things to check on the playground itself.
  • Check the equipment for safety.
  • Check the equipment for safety!
  • Check the equipment for safety!! Get the idea?
  • Check the age recommendations for the equipment.
  • Playgrounds should have a soft deep surface to come thundering down on. Falls are going to happen and it should be obvious that asphalt, concrete, and what’s left of that three-year-old mulch is going to cause more damage than a well-maintained base.
  • Speaking of maintenance, poorly kept playgrounds result in more injuries. Go elsewhere if necessary.
  • Check for sharp edges and dangerous hardware, like open "S" hooks or protruding bolts.
  • Check that slides, steps, etc. platforms are not too hot to touch. (Remember wearing shorts? Remember those metal slides?)
  • Look for exposed concrete footings, tree roots, or rocks that could trip running children—or the adults chasing them.
  • Check the non-play features of the playground like tables and benches for safety. (Because you know that to a child, they are just something else to climb and jump from.)
  • Lastly, check the natural growth on and near the playground. Mother Nature can be a little vicious in her whimsy, so look for things like branches in trees that might come down, poison ivy, or bees gathering near a shrub that might indicate a hive. You get the idea.
And then? There’s nothing left but to cut them loose and enjoy that wonder-filled chaos that only children at play can concoct! Have a GREAT summer!

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