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Tips to help kids stay safe on the playground

Posted Apr 22, 2011 by Courtney Cairns Pastor

Updated Apr 22, 2011 at 12:06 PM

The most feared and awed structure on my elementary school playground was “The Dome.” It was a round – um, domed – metal jungle gym, where it was cool to climb to the top, hang down and fall. Kids were always breaking their arms on it, and we had a rule that you couldn’t climb above a certain rung until you were in third grade.

We also had a tall metal slide that seared the backs of your legs (thank goodness this was Rhode Island and not Florida or there probably would have been actual burns). And my friends and I thought it was fun to play chicken on the swing set, trying to run from one end to the other and dodge the students swinging back and forth.

We were not exactly a model of playground safety.

Playgrounds today have improved immensely, with small-scale ones geared specifically to preschoolers and larger ones featuring twisty slides, climbing walls and mulch or rubber chips below. But now that I’m a nervous new parent instead of a fearless kid, I find myself looking for the dangers that even these new, safe playgrounds could pose.

I’m not out of line. More than 200,000 injuries occur annually on playgrounds.

National Playground Safety Week, which starts next week, highlights how to keep your child safe while he lets loose outside. The National Recreation and Park Association has released some tips for parents when they bring their children to the playground.

Examine the surface material: Kids will fall, but a proper surface underneath the play structures can reduce the chance of injuries. Wood chips, sand, pea gravel and rubber tiles, mats or shreds are all good. If it’s a loose material, like wood or rubber chips, it should be a foot deep and not contain water or debris. Avoid concrete, blacktop, grass and hard ground.

Do a temperature check: True, you won’t find those glaring metal slides any more, but some of the playgrounds I’ve been to are not shaded, and that plastic gets hot. Also look out for decks and steps, which may be metal, before allowing young children on them. Proper footwear provides good protection.

Scan the overall conditions: After falls, the next major cause of playground injuries is broken, tipped or poorly designed and assembled equipment. Look for red flags, such as missing, broken or worn pieces, vandalism and graffiti and metal, wood or plastic that looks deteriorated or stressed.

Pay attention: It would be nice to sit there with a book (or Kindle or smart phone) and unwind while your child unleashes all that pent-up energy. But kids won’t recognize the same hazards as adults. Caregivers need to watch their children at all times and also keep an eye on their clothing. Drawstrings and jewelry, for example, can get caught or tangled in equipment or hardware and could even cause strangulation.

Make sure the equipment is age-appropriate: Preschool children may think they can do it all, but developmentally, they’re not able to handle the same equipment as school-aged children can. The recreation and park association says these structures are not appropriate for the younger children: free-standing arch climbers, flexible climbers, chain and cable walks, seesaws, log rolls, track rides and vertical sliding pools.

You can find more information on the association’s playground safety site here.

We have a ton of great parks locally. If you need some inspiration or want to find a new one, check out the Short List on favorite parks here.

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