Playgrounds are a great asset to schools and neighborhoods, giving kids a dedicated space for enjoying outdoor play. With extracurricular activities and electronic games regularly taking up more of children’s time, the playground offers the precious opportunity for unstructured play and games; however, playgrounds can also pose serious risk of injury. Parents and teachers should know how to find safe playgrounds, supervise play, and educate kids on safe playground use. From selecting safe play equipment to watching out for signs of bullying, parents and teachers have an important role to play during recess or after-school free play.
Injury Information: A Reality Check
While there’s no need to spread panic, but it’s vital for parents, teachers, and babysitters to know the facts behind playground accidents and injuries. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 45% of all injuries from playgrounds are severe, including fractures, internal injuries, concussions, and dislocations. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Services estimates that over 156,000 children under 14 go to emergency rooms because of playground injuries every year. While these statistics shouldn’t scare you away from using playgrounds, they do underline the importance of using playground equipment safely.
Watching for Danger Signs
To minimize the risk of accidents, the first step is checking out the particular playground equipment and areas. Ideally, the ground should be covered with loose fill, such as mulch, sand or shredded rubber. Concrete or asphalt surfaces can pose extreme dangers in the case of any unexpected falls. Any play equipment should be well-maintained, firmly anchored to the ground and without any exposed sharp edges, bolts, or other hardware. Finally, look over the general condition of the play areas. Avoid playing in any areas that have broken glass, garbage or animal feces strewn on the ground. Even gnarled tree roots or uneven ground can pose tripping and falling risks, especially for small children.
Guidelines for Safe Play
If the playground meets your safety criteria, let the kids start enjoying; however, the role of the teacher or parent isn’t over yet. Playground safety also relies on responsible adult supervision. While watching kids play, make sure that they are using any play equipment responsibly. For example, kids should sit on swings, not stand or kneel. Plus, it’s important to check that individual children each use equipment appropriate for their ages. What can be a safe piece of play equipment for one child could be widely inappropriate for another. If multiple adults are present, you may choose to divide up the responsibilities, with each person keeping watch over a particular group of kids or a particular part of the playground. Finally, keep an eye on the clock and on the weather. On a hot day, make sure that you time regular pauses from play, which should include the opportunity to rehydrate, stay in the shade, and reapply sunscreen. While kids may enjoy their play so much that they ignore the heat, sunstroke or heat exhaustion are real threats, albeit avoidable ones.
While adult supervision is crucial for younger children, at some point kids will spend unsupervised time at playgrounds and elsewhere in the community. Whether at school or at a public park, bullying is a serious risk that any child may face. By its widest definition, bullying may include any aggressive or intimidating behaviors, including threats, physical assault, verbal abuse, or aggressive writings or drawings. To best help a child deal with bullying, it’s important for adults – whether parents or teachers – to take an active, engaged role. Open up dialogue on the subject with your kids or students, referring to expert anti-bullying resources for specific tips on how to formulate an appropriate plan together with the child. Ideally, it’s best to teach kids the skills they need to deal with bullies before any incident occurs.