Many of our schools and churches across the United States have playgrounds or spaces used for recreational activities. Playgrounds can be indoor or outdoor. Children experience a number of benefits from outdoor play, including physical activity, exposure to sunlight and fresh air, enjoyment of nature, interaction with other children, and reduced screentime. It also allows for a balance between schoolwork and physical activity during a key developmental stage.
As with many things in life, however, there are inherent risks to having playgrounds available for our children. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year more than 20,000 children are treated for traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, related to playgrounds. [i] In fact, 75% of playground injuries require a hospital visit. [ii]
What would you say if someone asked you which piece of playground equipment is your favorite? Would it be the monkey bars, the swings, the slide, the sandbox, or the merry-go-round? As a follow-up question, which playground equipment would you identify as the most dangerous?
While safety in many instances seems to be common sense, multiple injuries on playgrounds show otherwise. What actions can be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury or worse to our children on our playgrounds? Here are important points to consider:
Proper and effective supervision
Playground equipment is frequently used during the school year. Teachers and staff members who take children to the playground for recess should make it a point to walk the playground area, doing a visual inspection to check if anything is out of order. Even with an untrained eye, you can easily identify equipment that is malfunctioning or in disrepair. Document your findings. Leave thorough inspections to professionals, who should be scheduled to perform them on a regular basis.
With time and frequent use, things begin to wear. In addition to visual inspections and professional inspections, it is prudent to have a regular maintenance schedule to ensure equipment is in good condition. It is always a good practice to document the results of any inspection, maintenance, or repair. Frequent use, along with exposure to the elements, can damage playground equipment. Many equipment pieces come with warranties. Check the manufacturer’s user manual and take advantage of any warranties.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides a wealth of information online and in print about public playground safety, including safety checklists. They provide specifications on playground surfaces, including various types and depths of material, distances between play structures, and measurements of openings for rails, ladders, cargo nets, and other types of structures. The guidelines are provided to avoid or reduce such hazards as entrapment, strangulation, falls, impact, and trip hazards. Children should never attach any kind of rope or string to playground equipment. Click Here to learn more.
In all aspects of child safety, the topic of supervision cannot be emphasized enough. Staff should not be distracted with things such as electronic devices, headphones, conversations with other staff, or reading a book. There should be proper, effective, and active supervision when on the playground. If possible, strategically position yourself on the playground so that children are always in line of sight.
According to the National Program for Playground Safety, “Active supervision requires focused attention and intentional observation of children at all times. Adults position themselves so that they can observe all of the children: watching, counting, and listening at all times. They also use their knowledge of each child’s development to anticipate what they will do, then get involved and redirect when necessary. Children should never be left unattended.” [iii]
In case of a playground injury or an emergency involving a child, a plan should be in place for the child to be cared for and responded to immediately. It is prudent to ensure your crisis management team develops an action plan for different kinds of playground emergencies. This includes training, creating documented procedures, and acquiring emergency kit items. A Playground Emergency Plan should include:
Code Yellow: Use when a threat is detected on the playground.
Code Red: Use when a crisis occurs.
Code Green: Use when the danger has passed.
Required emergency kit items (e.g., contact information, site plans of grounds, cell phones, a bullhorn and/or whistle, and children’s medical records) [iv]
Let’s make spending time at the playground a favorable memory for our children by exercising safety measures and putting best practices in place. Keeping our children safe is paramount. Whatever the environment, stay alert, stay active, and be vigilant in ensuring child safety.
[i] Playground Safety. (n.d.). National Safety Council. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://www.nsc.org/community-safety/safety-topics/child-safety/playground-safety
[ii] Take Action. (n.d.). National Program for Playground Safety. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://playgroundsafety.org/take-action
[iii] Supervision. (n.d.). National Program for Playground Safety. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://playgroundsafety.org/safe-resources/supervision
[iv] Emergency Planning. (n.d.). National Program for Playground Safety. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://playgroundsafety.org/topics/topic/emergency-planning
Image Credits: Maria Sbytova-stock.adobe.com