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. Children ages 4 and younger need to be kept away from swings and slides. Kids ages 5-14 are most often hurt on swings, monkey bars, and other climbing equipment.
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 Sport Group offers poured-in-place rubber surface, rubber safety tiles, loose-fill or bonded rubber mulch, and synthetic turf to make your playground area safer.
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 moving equipment. And if there’s a hot metal slide on the playground, make sure your child is wearing long pants to 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.