Playgrounds provide great opportunities for outdoor fun and fresh air for children of all ages. Unfortunately, they also provide ample opportunities for accidents. About 200,000 children receive treatment in emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries. Accidents do happen, but here are some cautionary tips that will help you and your toddler enjoy the playground worry-free:
1. Check it out.
You might be tempted to think that because a playground is available for children, it is going to be a safe place for them. But before you settle in, be sure to check for age-appropriate equipment. Many playgrounds have an area designated for children under 5 years old. These areas usually have smaller steps and crawl spaces, low platforms with short ladders or ramps with grips, shorter slides, usually less than 4 feet high. Take note of any equipment your child should stay away from, including those with broken or rusty parts.
2. Look underfoot.
Most modern playgrounds have impact-absorbing surfaces, such as rubber mats, synthetic turf, shredded rubber, wood chips, pea gravel, or sand. For children who are mostly crawling or are new to walking, look for a smooth surface. Avoid those with asphalt, concrete, gravel, or packed dirt, to lower your miniature explorer’s risk of head injury in case of a fall.
3. Look overhead.
Shade is a key strategy for reducing children’s risk of heat stroke or sunburn, so be sure to check for adequate coverage at the playground. Shade also helps keep the playground equipment, such as swings and slides, from becoming too hot to play on.
4. Stay close.
Don’t worry about being a helicopter parent when you take your young child to the playground. Many playground accidents can be prevented with proper supervision, especially when young children are trying to navigate a play space for the first time. You’ll want to assess the equipment, the area, and your child’s ability to use the playground. Your child will likely be calling you to watch (or help) them as they run, climb, and explore, so staying engaged will ensure you are keeping a close watch.
5. Go over rules.
Manners count even during outside play when children are running full throttle. Teaching children to share equipment and wait in line can help prevent accidents caused by pushing and shoving.
6. Choose age-appropriate play.
Your child should not go for a ride in baby bucket swings until he can sit up without support and has good head control, usually around 8–12 months of age. Children should slide only when they can do so independently. Resist the temptation to go down the slide with your child. While it may seem that riding the slide together makes your child safer, it actually increases the risk of injury. Don’t allow your child to bring his or her own toys into areas with play equipment—they and others can easily trip over balls, jump ropes, and other toys.
7. Dress for safety.
Remove necklaces, as well as unzipped jackets or anything with a drawstring that might get caught on the equipment. Making sure your child wears well-fitting, flat shoes (ideally with grips) will help reduce her risk of falls on playground equipment. Don’t allow her to run around barefoot.
For more about playground safety, see the Public Playground Safety Handbook from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.