Children love to play on the playground. Playgrounds offer youngsters an opportunity to be outside, play with friends, and get some exercise. Play is incredibly important to the development of children’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, as well as creativity and imagination. But unfortunately, each year, more than 200,000 children are treated at hospital emergency rooms for playground related injuries. Many of these accidents are preventable.
Teri Coco, MD, is a physician in the emergency department at Children’s of Alabama. She says parental supervision is the best way to prevent playground accidents. Adult supervision can help prevent injuries by making sure kids are using playground equipment properly and aren’t engaging in any unsafe behavior on the playground.
“Watch your children. Be aware of where they are, what they’re going down, what their climbing on.” Playground equipment should be age appropriate. Little ones should play on playgrounds that are designed for their size and abilities. These are usually smaller and are lower to the ground than full- size playgrounds. “You want to watch that what they’re playing on is developmentally appropriate,” Coco said. “So for those children who are less than 2 to 3 years of age, you want to look at that equipment when you get there. Be sure it’s low to the ground, that there are no monkey bars. The slides should be very low and the surfaces of the equipment should be smooth.”
Small children are also safest if they are playing in their own area, not mixed in with bigger children who could knock them over. But adult supervision shouldn’t just be limited to the younger children. Older children may test their limits on the playground, so it’s important for parents to keep them in check.
Coco says, the parent should walk around before allowing their children to play on the playground to see that everything is safe. They should check the surface of the playground to be sure there are no exposed nails or twisted metal. Adults should also look for things like broken glass under or around the playground. Coco also recommends feeling the surface of slides to be sure they’re not too hot. The old days of a playground built on top of asphalt or concrete should be over. A hard surface is extremely dangerous in the event of a fall. “The harder the surface is, the more serious the injury is going to be when they fall,” Coco said. Grass, soil and packed earth surfaces are also unsafe and unacceptable because weather and wear can reduce their capability of cushioning a child’s fall. Recommended surfaces include wood chips, mulch, pea gravel or shredded rubber.
Coco said it’s always best for even the older children to avoid more dangerous playground equipment like monkey bars. Parents should also instruct children how to play properly. They should make sure children slide feet-first, not head-first, down slides, and watch that they are using swings properly. They should also make sure children aren’t pushing or rough housing while on the playground.
Parents should encourage their children to play on a playground. Play is an important part of their physical, social, intellectual and emotional development. But it’s important that a parent is always present to watch out for potential dangers and to ensure that their children can play safe.