Playing Safely

Most of us think of playgrounds as a safe haven for children. Away from the dangers of the street they are an escape from the usual routines of the backyard. Here, youngsters of all ages can run, scream, climb - be free. The innocence with which they pursue each piece of equipment for the thrill it provides is the same innocence and spirit we feel when we take them there; when we watch them play; when we reminisce the joys of our own childhood. Scraped knees, falls from swings and slides, cuts from broken glass have no part in these memories. The broken arm we suffered from a fall off the "monkey bar" was simply a part of growing up. Or so it seemed at the time.

But playground injuries can be prevented. While a broken limb usually heals well with time, many other injuries like a fall to the head can lead to more severe problems including epilepsy, headaches, even behavioral abnormalities. It is up to us as parents and caregivers to understand playground safety, to be aware of possible hazards so our kids can have the joys of childhood they rightly deserve without the risk of injury.

The guidelines that follow will enable you to spot potential hazards.

    * Before you allow your child to play, quickly scan the area for broken objects, stray animals, equipment that looks severely worn or has protruding parts.
    * Check the ground cover surrounding all equipment. It is recommended that a soft surface of sand, wood chips, shredded tires or sponge mats be in place and should equal a depth of 10-12 inches. Asphalt, cement, stone or grass surfaces are too dangerous as they do not protect a falling child.
    * Ensure that all equipment is securely anchored to the ground.
    * Flexible rubber swing seats are better than traditional wood or plastic seating and will cause less harm when they strike a child.
    * Make certain all equipment is free of loose or broken parts and that bolts and screws are receding or are covered with plastic caps. The S-shaped rings attached to swing chains should be closed on both ends.
    * Equipment containing bars should measure less than 3-1/2" in width or more than 9" in width to eliminate the possibility of a child's head becoming entrapped. Exercise rings should be less than 5" wide.
    * Young children should not be allowed on slides over 6 feet in height. Slides should have good handrails and gentle slopes.
    * Equipment should be at least 6 feet away from fences or buildings to allow free movement of the children and the equipment parts.
    * All equipment situated on the daycare property should be inspected weekly to ensure the children's safety. Ask to see the center's or the home's inspection report.
    * Most important, children must be properly supervised while they are on the playground. The attending adult must be actively involved with the children. Reading, chatting and resting do not constitute proper supervision. It is recommended that two adults be available while the children are playing outdoors.
    * Sandboxes should have covers and be free of animal feces.
    * Water play must be closely supervised and the children should never be left unattended for any reason.

If playground hazards are spotted, parents should report them immediately to the daycare provider, the local Parks and Recreation Department or housing authority. These problems should then be followed up to ensure they are corrected.