How to make outdoor play safe AND fun for your kids
Kids are back in school and likely spending their recess on the playground. Outdoor play is essential for kids to burn off energy and get fresh air; there’s no reason why it can’t be safe too.
Kids of all ages are prone to falling and hurting themselves, sometimes taking unnecessary risks when they play, which could put them or others in danger. As parents, we want to give them some measure of freedom, while still doing what we can to prevent injury, or worse. That’s just common sense.
Have rules but vary them based on location and age
The rules you might want to impose on your kids in your own backyard, where you can keep on eye on their play activities, might be different than what you expect from them in the local schoolyard or playground.
Similarly, a ten year old doesn’t necessarily need the same rules as a five year old, while playing at the park. But there should be rules and everyone should be clear on what they are before they go out.
As kids become more independent, you will need to remind them of your rules.
- Keeping their hands to themselves (no pushing, shoving, roughhousing or fighting)
- Not jumping off any structure at a height
- Being careful when using rackets or balls, so as not to whack anyone accidentally
- Being aware of smaller children in the area, so they don’t get hit or run over by a bigger kid
Dress for success
Even if her favorite ‘she’s going to cry if she can’t wear it’ outfit is her flowy princess dress and mini-heels, this isn’t playground appropriate clothing. It IS an invitation to injury. Make sure that your kids have and wear play appropriate clothes.
Add a hat and sunglasses in the spring, summer and fall, and don’t forget warm clothes throughout the winter. It doesn’t take long to cool off when it’s freezing out!
As with warm-weather playground safety, it is as important to dress appropriately as temperatures take a nose dive. This means no scarves, drawstrings, belts, ribbons, necklaces, and other clothing details and accessories that could get caught on playground equipment. Tube neck warmers might be a better alternative to keeping kids bundled up outdoors.
Under no circumstances should children wear their bike helmets on the playground as they are a choking hazard.
Keep everyone hydrated
Little bodies get dehydrated pretty quickly and even fall can bring a few warmer days, so make sure that your kids have refillable water bottles with them when they’re going to the park or the playground. Even while playing sports or just being very active in cooler weather, kids should have access to water.
Check the ground for slipperiness
Important in fall and winter, make sure the ground is slip-proof and fall-proof. Falls and slips are already primary playground hazards on nice days, let alone wet rainy or snow days. Let hardened snow melt first, shovel a clear path and area for the kids, and treat icy areas with salt. Cordon off areas that need to be treated long-term so children don’t go wandering in and injuring themselves.
Ground coverage like soil, sand, wood fiber, and grass can absorb and retain water. With chilly temperature, it’s easy for them to freeze and become slippery. Rubber mulch doesn’t absorb water, so it’s safer to play on during winter while providing sufficient fall protection.
Make sure playground equipment is age appropriate and in good condition
Whether at home in your backyard or at local schools or if you’re going to the park, check over the equipment to make sure it’s not broken or rusted. Look for playgrounds that have shock absorbing surfaces below the play structures and, if you’re building your own, consider a base like Rubber Mulch to ensure that if your kids fall -and they WILL fall, if only by tripping -they’re safe from a hard landing!
Learn the signs and symptoms of concussion
Even a fun game of soccer with friends at the local field can result in a concussion as can a tumble off playground equipment especially on a harder surface. The danger is less with the first concussion a child might get than if they were to get a second one soon after, so recognizing the signs of concussion is very important for parents, caregivers and coaches alike.
At a high level, you’re looking for:
- Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head.
- Loss of consciousness, even if only for a moment.
- Ringing in the ears.
- Nausea and / or vomiting.
Keeping kids safe isn’t about bubble wrapping them and preventing them from playing, but it is about taking some basic steps such as these. It just makes sense to avoid preventable and foreseeable injury and make sure that everyone has a good time playing outdoors!
Rhianna Miller is the playground design and safety expert at https://rubbermulch.com/, the original and environmentally responsible mulch made from 100% recycled rubber used in gardens, playgrounds and sustainable landscaping. Rubber Mulch is weather resistant, durable, and the most cost effective mulch around and is specifically designed to protect children from falls on the playground.
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