Tips for Playground & Backyard Safety

by Tyrone Scott

You’ve finally convinced your child to put down the Playstation controller, turn off the TV and venture outside. But ushering kids out the door is not enough.

It’s important that children play in the fresh air and sunlight. Kids who enjoy active play and exercise are less likely to be overweight and tend to be physically fit in the future. Staying fit can improve self-esteem and decrease the risk of serious illnesses later in life.

However, according to the Consumer Product Safety Council, hospitals across the country attribute 200,000 emergency room visits to playground

injuries each year. Following these tips will help your kids play safely outside.

Playgrounds and Parks
Here’s what you can do to help keep your child safe.

• Actively play with your children on the playground. Don’t just watch your child run around or you might not be able to intervene if he takes inappropriate risks or cannot solve conflict on his own. Actively playing with your child also allows you to spend quality time with him.

• Stay away from high-risk equipment. Kids playing on trapeze bars, trampolines and swinging gates risk potentially disabling injury. Additionally, children younger than age 5 should not play on log rolls, sliding poles, dome climbers or a see-saw that doesn’t use a spring to assist motion.

• Steer clear of swings with seats that feel heavy — even when empty. Avoid swings that feature animal seats resembling a carousel. Look for swings that only accommodate one child and have flexible rubber or plastic seats.

• Don’t allow your child on equipment that hasn’t been properly maintained. Look for excessive wear and tear or loose bolts — signs that the equipment is not safe. A protruding bolt can catch drawstrings and cause strangulation. If two threads of a bolt are showing, the equipment has probably not been properly maintained. The space between a slide and its platform can also catch strings and clothing. So can open “S” hooks that connect swing seats to chains.

Backyard Play Sets
Similar guidelines apply when your child is playing on a backyard play set, whether at home or at a friend’s. The emergency department staff of Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, PA offers these tips.

Ensure age-appropriate equipment for every child. Some play sets provide one piece of equipment for all ages. Younger children can be injured on equipment designed for older kids. Make sure the play set has equipment appropriate for the age and skill level of your child.

Install proper surfacing under and around equipment. Asphalt, concrete, dirt and grass do not provide cushioned protection from falls and should not be used under or around equipment. Surfaces such as pea gravel, sand, wood chips or mulch, and synthetic surfaces designed for playgrounds help reduce the impact of falls and the seriousness of injuries.

Private play sets require routine maintenance. Regularly check equipment and surfaces to make sure they are in good condition. Look for and repair any sharp points or edges. Remove tripping hazards such as exposed concrete footings, tree stumps or rocks. Look for spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, which should measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.

General Safety
Whether your family plays at a neighbor’s house or a neighborhood park, teach your children general playground safety.

Always use a ladder to reach the top of a slide.

Avoid walking in the path of a moving swing.

Sit on a swing in the proper position.

Remove clothing with strings.

Simply asking a child to repeat a rule back to you does not mean that she understands it. You can help your child understand safety rules by asking open-ended questions such as, “What could happen if we hang upside-down on the monkey bars?”

It’s fun to watch kids enjoy safe outdoor play, and satisfying to know you’ve provided an experience with benefits now and for years to come.

Tyrone Scott is professional development manager of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC), and a certified playground safety inspector with the National Playground Safety Institute. To contact DVAEYC, call 215-893-0130 or visit