With tales of tragedy and Amber Alerts filling your news feed almost every day, it can be frightening to allow your children to play outside. Add to this the fact that over 200,000 children head to the emergency room for playground-related injuries every year, and many parents may feel the desire to keep their little ones in a bubble. Yet outside play — and play that is independent of too much parental involvement — is crucial to developing well-rounded, happy and healthy children. How can concerned parents strike the right balance? The key is to teach your children these important rules for playing outside on the playground safely.
Always Have Adult Supervision
Children need freedom to play independent of adults, but that doesn’t mean they should be given free rein of the playground or other outdoor play area without an adult nearby. If your kids are going to play at the playground, make sure that they know they need to have an adult on the premises who can encourage safe play and assist a child who is injured.
Do a Safety Check on Playgrounds
Before allowing your little ones to play on a playground or other outdoor play area, emphasize the importance of having an adult complete a safety check. Start by ensuring that the ground under any climbing surface is soft and has some give to minimize injuries from falls. Wood chips, gravel or a soft rubber surface are all acceptable. Packed earth and even grass is too hard and does not provide enough cushioning.
Next, check all surfaces of the play area for sharp points, exposed screws and rust spots.
Finally, check to make sure that climbing apparatuses are appropriate for the age and abilities of the children in your care, with walking platforms and guardrails free from gaps that children could fall through. Encouraging kids to climb and explore is important, but not at the sacrifice of their safety — so be cautious.
Wear a Helmet When Needed
Teach your children to wear a helmet whenever they are on something that has wheels. Whether it is roller skates, a scooter, a bike or even a skateboard, they need proper head protection. Similarly, if your children are going to play with a pogo stick, or even stilts, or some other plaything that puts them at risk of falling on a hard surface, a helmet is a necessity.
That said, teach children when helmet use is not appropriate as well. For instance, when children are playing on a playground, a helmet actually presents a risk because the straps can get caught on the equipment. Have them leave their helmets behind when not on a bike, scooter or similar wheeled device.
Only Add Water With Permission
Finally, teach your children to be careful with water. The hose and a sprinkler can turn a boring day outdoors into a water-filled adventure, but water and many play surfaces do not mix well. For example, spraying a plastic playground with water could make the slide faster, but it could also cause children to slip when on the climbing platform. Also, make sure children learn not to drink from the garden hose, which puts them at risk for lead poisoning. Don’t forbid water, but teach your children to ask before they add water to their play to ensure it is safe.
As warmer weather approaches and your kids are itching to get outdoors, let them! Just make sure they’ve mastered these rules, so you can be confident that they are enjoying their outdoor fun to the fullest.