kids at play merry-go-roundWhat’s the second thing most children look forward to as the warm weather approaches? For many children, the end of the school year may be what they look forward to most but being outside is a close second.

Playing outside comes naturally to most children.

Just ride down any suburban street and the sounds of children yelling and laughing will fill the air as you drive. Though most of us take extra care when driving down the streets of our neighborhoods, fully aware that little heads may dart out at any time, most of us overlook our own backyard. Parents are well acquainted with the traditional safety proofing of their homes but when the weather heats up, we tend to get lost in the carefree days of summer and forget about our yards. While the lawns are mowed and the flowers are in bloom alongside the patio, we forget about making the outside not only an oasis for lounging but a safe environment for playing.

Playground Related Injuries

According to the Home Safety Council, each year more than 200,000 children go to emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. Though fatalities from these injuries are rare, it’s scary to realize that most of these injuries happen at home. Of course we all know that we must have our eyes on our children when they are playing outside, but for families with swingsets, playgrounds and pools, there are steps they can take to reduce risk.

Is Your Playgound Safe?

First and foremost, consider covering under and around the play equipment with a shock absorbing material. Sand and mulch are two alternatives. The new rubber mats that are seen in your town’s playground are an excellent choice. If you choose to go with sand or mulch, remember to go 9 to 12 inches deep for a ground cover. Covering the surrounding areas with shock-absorbing surfaces helps lessen the risk of head injuries.

As far as the swings themselves, make sure they are made of soft rubber, not hard wood, as most mothers can recall a time when a swing came swinging back to strike another child who was unknowingly passing behind it. Though commercial playgrounds tend to have up to 6 swings, it’s advised not to suspend more than two swings in the same structure of the equipment’s frame. Swings, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, are the culprit of most home playground injuries.

As far as climbing and jungle gym equipment, ladders with steps in lieu of rungs provide easier access. If you do have a set with rungs, be sure that they have are 9 inch rungs with less than 3.5 inches between them. The appropriate size will prevent children from getting stuck.

Most swingsets have exposed hardware that is a necessity in their being assembled. If there are any bolts protruding, it’s important to cover them, ideally with a thick rubber material. It’s also important to make sure that the swingset itself is secured to the ground, usually with spikes anchoring each of the corners into the ground. This will ensure that the swingset does not topple over and injure your child. Platforms, walkways and ramps, as well as ladders, should have adequate guardrails, especially when there are toddlers playing on them. The height of slides and platforms should be no higher than six feet for school-age children and four feet at maximum for preschoolers.

Though many children like to tie ropes and cords on their swingset or jungle gym, it’s important that you explain to your children that ropes and cords can hurt them. Ropes and cords are especially hazardous, posing a strangulation risk should the child accidentally entangle themself.

For families with a pool in their backyard, water safety is imperative and a few precautions can be taken to keep children safe.

With drowning being a leading cause of death in children under 5, these simple precautions can keep children safe all summer long:

  • always supervise children in and around the pool. Never leave children in a pool, no matter how deep, unattended.
  • Fence the pool area completely off from the rest of the yard. Fences should be four feet high, minimum, and the gate should be self closing and self latching, the latches out of reach of children. Worth the investment: many gates now comes with an alarm that sounds when the gate is open, a great way to know that a child has wandered into the pool area.
  • Keep a lifeguard’s styrofoam floating device by the pool and keep a portable phone outside with you in case of emergency. Having to go inside, even for only a second, can make a life or death difference.
  • Ladders for above ground pools should be secured when in use and removed when not in use to prevent small children from accessing the pool.
  • Use a cover for the pool when not in use.
  • Cover drains to prevent hair, especially little girl’s ponytails, from being sucked into the drain which can lead to a child’s head being held under water.

Our backyards should be a paradise, an escape from the day to day trifles and pressures, and a safe haven for our children to pass the lazy, hazy days of summer.


Starting Your Own Playgroup

The Importance of Play

Christine Lorenzen

Christina Lorenzen, author, and editor of Ages and Stages of Child Development Section, she specializes in parenting and health issues. In addition to this column, Christine is also a columnist for Connecting Home magazine. LorenzenAges and StagesAges and Stages,Family Safety TipsWhat's the second thing most children look forward to as the warm weather approaches? For many children, the end of the school year may be what they look forward to most but being outside is a close second. Playing outside comes naturally to most children. Just ride down any suburban street...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids