Parent & Teacher Guide to Keeping Kids Safe During Playtime

Many of life’s lessons are learned on the playground. As a parent, teacher, or caretaker, you don’t want to “hover” too much. Kids need room to explore and figure things out on their own!

Just as you need to guide your child through learning elsewhere in life, you need to guide him or her through learning on the playground. This means choosing the appropriate play environment, supervising them while they play, and teaching kids to use equipment the correct way. Easier said than done, right?

Let’s go over some of the key points to remember.

Finding Safe Playgrounds

Parents don’t usually “shop around” for playgrounds, right? Instead, they usually go to whatever playground is already at their school, church, or in their neighborhood. In these cases, you need to make sure the playground is as safe (and fun) as it can be. In some circumstances, you may have your choice from among several playgrounds in your area.

So, how do you pick the safest one?

For starters, a safe playground needs to have age-appropriate play equipment and safety surfacing. A playground feature that is safe for one child may be dangerous for another. Equipment is generally intended for three distinct age groups:

  • Infants and toddlers (6-23 months)
  • Preschoolers (ages 2-5)
  • School-age children (ages 5-12)

Playgrounds often have signs showing the age group for whom the equipment was designed. If they do not, you will need to make an educated guess.

Make sure the bars and railings are spaced properly so that your child cannot get their head or limbs stuck between them. Make sure equipment is maintained, firmly anchored to the ground, and free from splinters or sharp edges.

Make sure there aren’t hard surfaces in areas where there is a risk of falls. A safe playground incorporates safety surfacing around these “danger zones.”  No Fault Surfaces offers poured-in-place rubber surface, rubber safety tiles, loose-fill rubber mulch, bonded rubber mulch, and synthetic turf to make your playground area safer.

Supervising Play

So you have a playground that meets your safety standards—fantastic! Now the kids can have fun. However, your job as a parent or teacher is not over. In fact, parents and teachers have an important role to play during recess or after-school free play.

Lack of or improper supervision is associated with approximately 45 percent of playground-related injuries (according to the American Trauma Society). Schools and daycares can even face lawsuits if a child is injured, and the judge is convinced there may have been a lack of appropriate supervision.

Make a plan! Turn off your cell phone and keep your eyes peeled. Remember, teachers and parents can work together by taking turns watching kids in certain areas of the playground.

Supervision can be a balancing act. You must be ready to step in when needed, but you also have to know when not to intervene. Be sure to give older kids distance and don’t get involved unless you see too much horseplay or other harmful behavior. Don’t intervene too often or kids this age will find a way to play out of your sight line. Remember: play is all about testing one’s limits and exploring with an acceptable level of risk. Let the older kids build confidence by doing things on their own (within reason).

Supervision is also important to keep bullying and fighting away from the playground. Do not intervene too soon. It’s better to let kids work out their problems amongst themselves; however, if you see children are hurting one another (physically or mentally), you’ll need to take action.

Teaching Kids About Safe Play

The third aspect for parents and teachers to keep in mind is this: Kids need to know how to be safe and act responsibly while at the playground, and it’s your job to teach them.

You need to make sure kids are using play equipment correctly. Don’t let them stand on the swing set, for example. Teach children that pushing, shoving, or crowding at the top of the slide isn’t just rude—it can be dangerous.

Are the kids dressed appropriately for play? Make sure they aren’t wearing necklaces or clothing with drawstrings that might get caught on equipment. If there’s a metal slide on the playground, make sure your child is wearing long pants and check the temperature of the slide to help avoid burns. Teach kids to keep bikes, backpacks, and other items away from the play area so they won’t risk tripping and falling.

Resist the temptation to get on the equipment with younger kids. As we’ve written before, that can be more dangerous than you might think! Finally, teach kids to be aware of the weather and their environment. It may be a hot day, so make sure those kids get plenty of water and (if needed) sunscreen. Does it look like it might rain? Then it’s a great opportunity to teach them to come prepared by grabbing a raincoat or umbrella before heading over to the playground.

Poured-in-Place or Loose-Fill? Which is Right for You?

Are you building or upgrading a playground in your community? Or are you responsible for maintaining a play area at your school, civic center, or some other place where kids gather to work off that endless supply of energy they seem to have?

Either way, you have probably already spent a significant amount of time researching the types of playground equipment available and gathering quotes from various suppliers. While you are at it, do not overlook the importance of the playground surfacing that will go around your new equipment! Your ability to decrease the risk and liability of serious injuries related to falls depends on the kind of safety surface material you choose.

There are several playground surface options for you to consider. They include “unitary” playground surfaces (which include uniform surfaces such as poured-in-place rubber surfacing, rubber tiles, and bonded rubber mulch) and “loose-fill” playground surfacing (like engineered wood fiber or rubber mulch).

How you choose your playground surfacing depends on the purpose of your playground, how many kids you expect to use it, the type of equipment you purchase, and your budget.

Unitary Playground Surfacing

Unitary playground surfaces are smooth and uniform. They include poured-in-place rubber (“PIP”) surfacing, bonded rubber mulch, and rubber tiles. Unitary surfacing options can be more expensive than loose-fill when evaluating initial up-front costs. However, the long-term maintenance costs and costs over time may be lower.

A few key things to remember about PIP and other unitary options:

  • Poured-in-place systems like No Fault’s are made with recycled post-industrial EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) rubber and polyurethane. Because the rubber and urethane components are mixed and applied on site, it’s easy to add school colors, logos, or geometric shapes into the surface.
  • Many playground designers like the consistency of having large areas (or even the entire playground) uniformly covered with a unitary surface.
  • Poured-in-place and other unitary surfaces are easy to clean and require little maintenance after installation.
  • Unitary rubber surfacing is a good choice for accessible and inclusive playgrounds, since wheelchairs roll easily on the smooth surface.

Loose-Fill Playground Surfacing

Loose-fill materials are cost-effective, traditional playground surfacing favorites because of their shock-absorbing properties (when installed and maintained at appropriate depths). They include products like engineered wood fiber and recycled shredded rubber.

A few key things to remember about loose-fill options:

  • Most shredded rubber comes from used tires and is a great choice if you want to use recycled products in your playground environment.
  • Loose-fill surfacing materials get kicked away from under the swings and from the bottom of the slide, which means someone has to rake it back in place or (eventually) buy new material to replace it.
  • These options can be used by animals (especially cats) as a litter box. They can also conceal other unwanted things (bottle tops, cigarette butts, etc.).

Comparing the Safety of Unitary and Loose-Fill Options

A 2000 study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrated the differences between loose-fill options. The study measured the “attenuation performance” of loose-fill playground surface materials (“attenuation performance” meaning how well something can stop the impact or force of another). Among the loose-fill playground options studied, rubber mulch was the best performer.  You can see information about No Fault’s loose-fill rubber mulch here.

Poured-in-place surfaces and other unitary products can be installed over asphalt, concrete, or other compacted sub-base aggregate. The thickness can be modified to comply with critical fall heights, defined as the “maximum height from which a life-threatening head injury would not be expected to occur.”

Loose-fill rubber and poured-in-place rubber are more durable than wood fibers because they won’t degrade over time. All options mentioned can give you the safety and protection you need, but the loose-fill options will require constant maintenance and testing to ensure effectiveness.

We hope this has cleared up any confusion you may have had about safety surfacing. However, if you still find that you have more questions than answers, fill out our “request a quote” form here and give us as much information as you can about your project; we’ll give you a call and talk with you about PIP rubber surfacing, rubber tiles, and other options you have for your playground project.