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Babysitting: Playground Safety

Outdoor play areas provide kids with fun, fresh air, and exercise. But they can also be safety hazards. Here’s what to know when it comes to play equipment, both in the backyard and at the playground.

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Top Things to Know About Play Equipment

  • It just takes a second for a kid to fall or clothing to get caught. Always watch and supervise kids on play equipment.
  • The ground under and around play equipment should be surfaced in something that’s thick enough to cushion a child’s fall, like a thick layer of mulch, pea gravel, wood chips, or rubber.
  • Check that the equipment is well maintained. If you see sharp or worn surfaces, take the kids elsewhere.
  • Playground equipment is designed to be appropriate to a child’s ages and stages. Always use equipment as it’s intended to be used.

Children love to test their limits as they grow and learn new skills. Unfortunately, the playground is no place for risk taking. When a kid decides it’s more exciting to stand up on a swing or go headfirst down a slide, it can lead to serious injury. That’s why your No. 1 rule for playground safety should be:

It’s Super Wise to Supervise

When kids are busy on the play equipment, it may seem like a good time to check in with friends. But in the few seconds it takes to look down and read a text, kids can get into all kinds of trouble. Keep your eyes on the kids at all times.

If you’re with young kids, stay close enough to reach them if they need help. That’s especially true if they’re doing something challenging like climbing. Young children (and sometimes older ones) can’t always gauge distances properly and aren’t capable of knowing when something is too risky for their capabilities.

When you’re with kids of different ages, stay with the younger child but be sure to keep a watchful eye on the older ones.

Run a Background Check

Before you let kids play, do a quick scan of playgrounds and play areas. For older kids who can understand the idea of dangers, you can make this a game you do together before the playground fun begins.

Play it Safe Nothing is more frustrating to a little kid than getting to the playground and not

If you notice any of the following problems, take the kids somewhere else:

Hazardous Surfaces

  • Check the area for glass, metal, or other dangers before you let kids on the playground.
  • A playground is dangerous if the mulch, gravel, rubber, or other filling under the equipment has washed away or worn down.
  • Avoid play equipment that’s wet because kids can slip and fall off easily.
  • In summer, some surfaces (like metal slides) can become dangerously hot. If the equipment feels hot to the touch, it’s probably not safe or fun to play on.

Damaged Equipment

  • Be on the lookout for cracked or splintered wood and rusted or sharp metal pieces.
  • Bolts or other fixtures shouldn’t be loose, rusted, broken, or sticking out.
  • Check sandboxes for sharp sticks, broken glass, bugs — and other stuff. (To local cats, an uncovered sandbox can look like a large community litterbox.)

Equipment Spacing

  • A playground is unsafe if the equipment is so close together that kids on different rides can bump into each other.
  • Be sure there aren’t too many kids crowded into a small area.
  • In the best playgrounds, areas for younger children are separated from those for older kids so any big-kid roughhousing doesn’t hurt little ones.

Unsafe Surroundings

  • Be sure there’s a fence to stop kids from running out of the play area and into traffic (or the middle of a pickup basketball game).
  • Look out for unleashed dogs in the area.

Set and Enforce Playground Rules

Kids are never too young to learn a few smart playground strategies. Teach them the rules listed below, but be aware that it’s natural for kids to forget rules in the excitement of play. That’s why you still need to keep a constant eye on the action.

You're the Boss If kids complain because you won't let them do things their parents allow, just tell

Only play on age-appropriate structures. Young kids shouldn’t go on equipment that’s too advanced for them. And older kids should stay off items that are designed for toddlers and preschoolers: Smaller structures and spaces are risky for bigger kids, and older kids often play in a way that’s too rough for little ones.

Keep your distance. Teach kids not to get too close to people on swings, and tell older kids to watch out for younger kids when they’re swinging. Tell kids to scan the ground to be sure other kids aren’t in the way before they jump off equipment.

Heads up. Set rules for no swinging or hanging upside down, and no sliding headfirst. Parents may let their kids do this, but you don’t want to risk a head or neck injury on your watch.

No pushing or crowding. Set a strict “no pushing or pulling” rule. Another good policy: one seat, one butt. Don’t let multiple kids sit on a swing or other seat that’s meant for one person only. Tell kids you’ll all go home (or indoors) if you see them acting up

People only. Leave bikes, backpacks, and bags away from the equipment and the area where you’re playing so that no one trips over them.

First Aid

Even with the best care, problems still happen. But following these tips can mean that accidents are more likely to be minor — like a cut or a scrape. Still, don’t hesitate to call for help if a child has a fall or injury you’re not sure about. That’s especially true if a child hits his or her head. Concussions can be hard to spot. So if a child passes out after falling or seems out of it or disoriented, call the parents or the child’s doctor right away.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2014