Playing Safe & Having Fun
When you’re a kid there’s nothing that beats the joyful rush of when you head out to recess. The freedom and fun of the playground is one place kids can feel safe and free to be, well, kids! To make sure that they have the most fun possible, it’s important for us as adults to take a few things into consideration.
The playground should certainly by no means turn into a no fun zone, but some rules and safety checks are key to keeping everyone at play and not on their way to the school nurse or the hospital. This is especially true for those in charge of other people’s children, like school administrators, superintendents, teachers, downtown development teams and others working in such an environment.
Start Before Recess
Even prior to children arriving to enjoy the playground, parents and administrators of schools should take note and do a few safety checks to ensure the area is generally safe for kids. The ground surfaces, for instance are an important area to consider that many may overlook. But as many young children especially are still getting used to proper balance and may jump and fall while outside, the ground surfaces around a playscape are pretty important! Make sure the area is free from exposed concrete, rocks, stumps or pavement and about 12 inches or so thick with wood chips, sand, non-toxic rubber mulch like Jelly Bean, or soft rubber mats to surround the playscape.
Make sure that equipment has a wide enough area around them, swing sets for example should have at least 6 feet of clearance in all directions to provide for a safe level of area when in use.
Ask questions like, do all the raised platforms and areas have guard rails and the proper barriers? Give a checkup on these parts of a playground because between running, pushing, shoving and general fun to be had, these will be indispensable in keeping kids safe during play time. And playground equipment isn’t finished once all those big pieces are in place! Make sure that bolt and screw ends are covered and there are no sharp or protruding nails or other items that can be hazardous and should be capped or covered to ensure fun and games stay fun and never hurtful.
Consulting a resource like the NPPS website and corresponding public playground safety handbook can be helpful in understanding common playground safety industry guidelines for public schools and parks.
No Sun Still Can Equal Fun
While fun in the sun is a great way to get vitamin D and enjoy the nice weather whatever the season, too much sun exposure or playground equipment that has become too hot can both pose health risks. Kids love to play rain or shine. And the weather doesn’t affect some children’s desire and willingness to play outdoors. So here are some things to consider, when playtime may be subject to the weather.
Make sure children drink plenty of water before, during and after play time (and of course let children who drink lots of water know exactly where the bathrooms are!).
As for playground equipment, give a careful touch if you think a surface is too hot. Based off your judgment, perhaps set certain over heated items or areas off limits for the duration of playtime. Even in the rain, if it’s summer or hot in general, playground equipment like metal slides can become exceptionally dangerous. Liability claims are a serious and growing issue for schools when it comes to playground safety.
Rain, moisture or even frost (for those who have seen a Christmas Movie) can also pose some hazards. Moisture and rain can make surfaces and handrails very slippery. And while the classic, “No running!” rule is always a handy go-to management tool, considering how children play realistically may deem it necessary to put certain equipment off limits altogether, or maybe decide to have indoor recess or playtime in the classroom, all-purpose room or school gymnasium instead.
Supervision & Safety
As educators there is nothing wrong with giving a bit of a helpful and practical tutorial before playtime. For example give kids a little advice before playing such as; no roughhousing, pushing or grabbing while on the swings, slides, seesaws, swings or other playground equipment.
Use equipment properly, like going down the slide feet first, one at a time and no standing on swings. Let kids know how to properly use certain pieces of equipment and how not to use them as well.
Jumping is fun, and can be good for kids. But make sure kids know to jump with no other children in front of, under or near one another. Be sure that children land on both feet with a slight bend in their knees to land softly.
While these tips may sound simple to an adult, kids are so focused on fun, we have to be the ones to teach and show them the best ways to play safe.
Bags, Bikes & Automobiles
The playground is more fun when we can run and play freely! So perhaps designate an area away from the equipment and play area for bags, helmets, bikes, necklaces and clothing or coats with long drawstrings. This area can also keep the aforementioned from posing hazards on the playscape like getting caught on things and lead to serious health risks.
Make sure children know to stay far away from any kind of road or area with traffic. If a ball or toy goes into the street or road, let kids know not to chase them and to go ask an adult nicely to get the ball instead. How many busy roads are located near playgrounds? Unfortunately, too many.
And of course, nothing beats good old fashioned adult supervision. Faculty and staff should exercise their best judgment and make sure children are always visible while playing and playing safely as best they can. Children who may be playing too recklessly or putting themselves or other kids in possibly dangerous situations may need some time out as per your best judgment in the situation.
Strangers & Animals
Let children know that while it is nice to be friendly, if a stranger or adult they do not know comes to the playground or approaches them, to walk away and get the faculty or staff members immediately. Stranger safety is a very important aspect for kids to be taught.
The same principle of playing it safe goes for animals. Learning about nature and wildlife are important and meaningful aspects of education, especially for children. But bees, snakes, strange or unfamiliar dogs or other animals should not be approached or played with. Again, let kids know that if they find a bee’s nest or a dog they have not seen before on the playground to go get faculty or staff as soon as they see them.
Safety and fun don’t have to be opposites. With proper care, supervision and a bit of knowledge about equipment and how best to play in ways that keeps everyone safe and limits the possibilities of kids getting hurt are all fantastic ways to enjoy recess or other play times. With the right balance of safety and play, every playtime will be a fun one for the children and for yourself!
“Playground Safety (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth.” Edited by Kate M. Cronan, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Sept. 2019, kidshealth.org/en/parents/playground.html.
“Safety at Home.” Playground Safety, www.nsc.org/home-safety/safety-topics/child-safety/playgrounds.