What should I watch out for on the playground?
- Sharp points, corners, or edges on equipment that can cut or puncture the skin. All corners should be rounded, and metal edges should be rolled or have rounded capping. Wood parts should be smooth and splinter-free. And be aware that some metal surfaces, such as slides, can heat up enough on hot, sunny days to burn the skin.
Openings that children can get their heads or feet trapped in. Space between slats should be too large for a young child to get his head caught in or too small to fit his feet through. So metal bars, for example, either should be spaced relatively far apart or very close together. Cargo nets are also an entrapment hazard.
- Cables, wires, and ropes that children can trip over. They either should be out of the way of frolicking children or brightly painted so they're easily visible. Likewise, large, sharp rocks and protruding tree roots should be removed.
- Equipment that is not securely anchored to the ground, including handrails, ladders, and steps.
What can I do to keep my child safe on the playground?
- Surfaces that are too hard. A fall from any height onto concrete or hard ground can cause a break or a head injury. The safest surfaces are made of shock-absorbing materials, including mulch, wood chips, sand, fine gravel, and rubber matting material.
Close supervision — either by you, or a trusted peer or Nanny — is critical when your child is at the playground. (You can't always be with your child during his playtime, especially during the school day or after school, but make sure he's never unattended at a playground.) For example, your child may know how to use a slide, but not know the best way to get off it once he reaches the bottom. So watch your child carefully as he slithers to the bottom, or be there to spot him. And if the playground you're at is overrun with other kids, choose another spot. It's easier to observe your child at play in a calm, rather than chaotic, environment.
Another key to playground safety is to dress your child appropriately. Loose threads, strings, and clothing can catch on equipment, posing a strangulation hazard. Dress your child in close-fitting but comfortable clothes, free of drawstrings or other hanging material.
How can I make sure the playground equipment is age-appropriate?
Of course, all children grow and mature at different rates, but here are some general guidelines to follow with specific playground equipment. Designated "tot lots" are best for children under 3 years old; the equipment there has been specially designed with the tiniest people in mind. Children under the age of 5 should be strapped into swings to avoid falls; older kids have the strength to hold themselves in the seat and keep from falling out. Jungle gyms, which invite climbing, are best for children 6 years of age and older. Younger kids are too small to safely navigate the equipment. Closely supervise children under 8 on the merry-go-round. Little kids more easily lose their balance when whirled around. And seesaws are best reserved for kids 8 and older, too. But if younger children want to try their hands (and feet) at the seesaw, be sure to oversee them on the equipment.
Where can I report a problem with the equipment?
First go to the authority that oversees the playground where you spot a problem. For example, if your playground is on city land, call the parks and recreation or related department. If you're at a school, go to the principal or superintendent. You also might consider organizing a community group around improving a local playground. Whatever you do, don't ignore any potential safety hazard. If the problem isn't getting fixed, go to another site that's safer.