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Playground Safety

Cute children playing in the playground

The good old days . . . My local playground had monkey bars and a jungle gym on which I spent many an afternoon hanging upside down, staring at the blacktop below me. The seesaw was a bit of a death trap as you never knew if you’d be flung from one end or have the other end smack down hard on your toes – or both. The merry-go-round was my favorite but the weeds underneath were so overgrown, and the urban legend was that snakes lived there. Right in the mix of it all were the swings and we used to double-dare each other to see how far out we could fling ourselves, hopefully landing in the grass. 

As a pre-millennium child, it seems I was always one head bump away from a concussion, one cut away from stitches, one injury away from the ER. Thankfully, for moms everywhere, we know so much more about playgrounds, injury prevention and safety. From materials to age appropriate equipment, safe surfaces and more, parents today are much more vigilant about where and on what their children are playing. And, just in case you’re not feeling up on the latest, we’ve got a shortlist about playground safety that will help you keep your child safe and your sanity intact!

Soft is safe:  Long gone are the days when playgrounds were built on blacktop, cement, grass or even soil. Ideally, a playground should be built on a firm, even environment. For this reason, even grassy areas are a no-go because the areas can shift and change with weather and erosion, causing uneven surfaces and the potential for falls. As you’re evaluating your child’s play area, look for soft surfaces like wood chips, mulch, sand or even shredded rubber. These types of surfaces can absorb a child’s fall or landing much better than grass or blacktop. And let’s be honest, children are going to fall!

Up-to-date Equipment:  One of the biggest hazards on playgrounds can be old or faulty equipment. As a parent, you want to ensure that the surfaces are smooth without rust spots or sharp objects sticking out. Unlike my playground of yore, you want there to be age-appropriate sections so that the baby swings are not by the “big kid” swings or near where older children might be running or climbing. On particularly hot days, ensure there is not a “burn risk” where a child might hurt themselves touching a hot surface. If equipment such as slides or climbing structures are off the ground, they should have barriers or guardrails so that children cannot fall. Always take a look around the playground when you arrive; if it looks neglected, it probably is and not a safe area for you or your child. 

baby sunscreen
If you’re heading to the park, don’t forget to pack your sunscreen. Look for broad spectrum SPF 30+.

Be the Parent:  All too often, it’s tempting to use playground time as a chance for parents to catch up with friends, check their phone, read or other relaxing activities. Don’t! Be the adult and be near your child when she’s playing. You want to be close enough to see and hear her if she falls or lend a hand as she needs it. As the mom, you know her physical capabilities and can better determine if she’s heading for something that’s unsafe. So, while a playdate at the playground may be the perfect time for you to get a break, socialize or catch up on email, always remember to be the parent!

It’s the Little Things:  Sometimes you don’t even think about it. Sometimes it seems something is so obvious and yet we still can overlook it. But, a drawstring, a scarf, a flip flop, a necklace can easily get caught within a play structure. Make sure your child is dressed appropriately and that there is nothing that can get in the way of a good, safe playdate. 

Mind your Manners:  Playing at the playground is a great lesson in group dynamics for your little one – and for you! You want your child to play well with others, and this is a perfect, teachable moment. Share, take turns, and wait patiently. Keep hands off and treat others how you want to be treated. Use kind words and try to include everyone. Be a good winner – and a good loser. Robert Fulghum wrote “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  And that can be true of playground etiquette as well. 

Stranger Danger:  As a parent, you cringe to think this could ever happen, but just read the news and you know it does. When playing in a public area, this is an opportunity to reinforce Stranger Danger lessons with your child. Even though you want them to know most of the world is good, they need to know what to do when something isn’t. As you are keeping your eye on them, ensure they know to periodically look for you. Grown-ups that they do not know are NOT their friends, and your child should never leave the play area.  When in doubt, find a mommy or someone in authority that can help. It’s a hard but a good lesson to teach – and to emphasize when you have the right moment.

Whether you’re in your backyard, at a neighbor’s house or your local park, a playground is a great place to have fun, get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. But as a parent, safety is your first concern and these tips are geared to help you do just that! Though it’s hard to believe, Spring is really just around the corner. So get out there with your child and enjoy – safely!

Happy Parenting