Safeguarding Your Kids in a Park Playground
Whether you and your children live in a populous urban area, a suburb outside the city or in a rural hamlet, you can probably find an interesting park playground not too far from your home. Municipalities, community organizations and land developers all take the addition of green spaces and playgrounds seriously, and new parks are popping up all over.
Park Playgrounds Add Value to Children's Lives
No matter where they may live or how little outdoor play space surrounds them, most children reside relatively close to a park playground with all its attending benefits. Even if an adequate yard surrounds your family's living quarters, your kiddos may gain many of the following advantages from regular park visits as they grow.
Enjoy Fresh Air and Exercise
With a wide variety of activities and equipment, many parks encourage children to spend time outdoors and burn up energy with vigorous play. From small spring-riding animals, swings and low slides to larger climbing rocks, twisting tunnel slides and basketball hoops, most playgrounds offer a happy variety of equipment for different age groups. If the park also includes trees, plants and green space, kids typically grow up with a greater understanding and appreciation of nature.
Develop Physical Skills
It's hard to beat playground equipment for the encouragement of using motor skills and developing balance, muscle strength and control. Using upper arm power to navigate an overhead ladder from one part of the play area to another, for example, teaches skills and perseverance since most kids have to work at mastering this.
Develop Social Skills
Perhaps most importantly, the park playground often provides a child's first exposure to playing, working and getting along with other children. At a playground, kids learn to take turns and share, wait in line to use the slide and work together to think up games as they explore the equipment. They learn to appreciate diversity as they play with children of different ages and abilities. With proper guidance, they may learn kindness and inclusion as they help playmates having trouble mastering some playground apparatus.
Transfer Skills to School Playgrounds
The basic skills and socialization learned at the local playground may help children as they navigate school playgrounds and recess time. Schools often offer supervision on the playground, and teachers or paraprofessionals may formally organize some activities. Students often use the outdoor equipment with children of a similar age that they know from the classroom. In spite of these differences, however, many of the safety lessons and skills transfer back and forth between the two different playground settings.
Watchfulness Is the Key to Playground Safety
Before reviewing some of the dangers lurking at playgrounds in the park and how to deal with them, the most important factor in safeguarding your kids needs emphasis. There simply is no substitute for you—or a trustworthy person you designate—keeping a watchful eye on your children at all times. This means actually observing and being involved, not just sitting on a bench buried in a book or deep in conversation with another adult. Accidents occur quickly and unexpectedly, so your attention needs engagement with the children at all times. Obviously, as children grow older and learn to respect safety rules and their own limitations, you may ease up on the constant supervision. Still, there is no alternative for a vigilant adult to keep children safe.
Four Areas of Playground Dangers
As you select nearby parks and watch your children enjoy the playground equipment, you may want to pay particular attention to four main areas that could compromise their safety.
Some families may enjoy more park and playground choices than other families. Reasons include location, transportation and park conditions. Your children may prefer a nearby park as their favorite option, or perhaps you sometimes take them farther afield to a new park for a special treat. Whatever parks you frequent, you will want to take a close look at the playground equipment and design.
When it comes to playground accidents, falls lead the major causes of injuries. While one goal of a safe playground is to prevent falls, another important goal concerns cushioning the fall with a protective landing surface. You certainly don't want your child landing on concrete or asphalt, and even grass or dirt makes injuries more likely. The best materials for placement under playground equipment include thick layers of wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel or shredded rubber. Depth is important. The higher the equipment, the deeper the protective layers needed. Pay extra attention to areas around slide exits and make sure no broken glass, sharp stones, syringes or other debris pose hazards.
You will also want to evaluate the actual playground structures for safety and signs of adequate maintenance. With falls being a major playground concern, check that stairs, landings and areas around slide entrances have proper safety railings and handles. Be certain the structure is solidly anchored to the ground so there isn't a lot of shifting, especially when multiple children are running around on it. Keep an eye out for sharp edges, rusty bolts, flaking paint or any other dangers that could pinch, cause cuts or snag clothes.
While not part of the actual playground equipment, other features to look for in a park include easily accessible restrooms, well-kept picnic tables for snacks, handicap and wheelchair-friendly equipment and places where adults and children can play together. Play equipment and areas for designated age groups also enhance safety and enjoyment. These amenities not only add to a pleasant experience for everyone, but they also indicate concern for all potential users of the facilities.
Building social skills definitely provides a good incentive to take your kids to the park, but not all playground users embrace the same values and behaviors. Once again, keeping watch on your children and their activities becomes important to keep them safe from bullies, careless playmates and daredevils who may encourage your kids to try dangerous stunts. Usually, stepping in with a friendly word of warning will defuse any situation, but if language and tempers start to flare, you may just want to call it a day and take the kids home. A park playground is not the place to teach your kids to hold their ground and stick up for their rights. Too many unknowns exist, and there usually is no authority to contact for assistance.
Your Own Kids
From your first early visits to a park, the playground offers a great introduction to teaching kids responsible behavior. Your watchfulness is crucial, but children also need to accept responsibility for their own safety by staying alert and following the rules.
Start by teaching them to prepare for the park visit. They should dress appropriately and not wear any jewelry, scarves, drawstrings or hoods that might pose strangulation risks if the items catch somewhere on the play structure. Do not allow them to take along jump ropes to the park because it can become tempting to tie ropes and swing in unsafe places. Teach them to apply sunscreen when they play outdoors, whether at the park, pool or beach.
Go over the rules of good manners, sharing, taking turns and getting along with different age groups. They will be far less likely to get embroiled in an argument with other children if they practice kindness and tolerance of other ideas for play. Make sure they know the safe way to slide, and don't let them go down face first. Likewise, teach them to avoid swinging on their stomachs or jumping off the swing when it is high in the air. Finally, as they get older, remind them to watch out for little ones and avoid accidentally causing them to fall.
While you don't want to alarm your children, remind them to stay away from strangers at the park. Since they may see some of the same workers and visitors from time to time, you need to make them understand that strangers include people you don't know but who may seem familiar. Once again, keeping a close eye on your children is important, but they have to learn to stay proactive about their own safety.
Balancing Fun and Safety
The park playground provides fresh air, fun times and memories that last a lifetime. Yet you can't get away from the fact that the playground also poses safety risks for the children who enjoy playing there. Adult guidance and watchfulness go a long way to mitigating those perils, but children need to stay alert and follow safety rules. How can you keep your children safe without spoiling their fun with a lot of fears and regulations? That's always a fine line, but parents and caretakers who become a part of the activities and set a good example of safe enjoyment go a long way to keeping things in balance. Watch the little ones carefully, teach them good habits as they grow and then trust them with age-appropriate responsibilities.
Children have to learn to accept accountability for their own health and safety. Parents have to learn to let go. It's a fine balancing act for parents to perfect as they guide their children and watch them grow.