Playgrounds are a wonderful resource for families, offering children a chance to exercise their bodies and their imaginations. They let children experience thrills in a mostly safe environment.
As children test their limits by climbing to new heights, and as they move around among other swinging, sliding or jumping kids, accidents can happen. And some equipment at some playgrounds is not as safe as it should be.
Each year, more than 200,000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. Most of those injuries are from falls. Serious injuries are also caused by collisions, faulty equipment and by entanglement, when clothing is caught on something sharp as a child jumps or slides.
Gina Duchossois, MS, an injury prevention expert with the Injury Prevention Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Chair of Safe Kids Southeastern Pennsylvania, has some advice for parents on reducing the risk of playground injuries.
Checking for playground problems
“Start by taking a scouting trip,” says Duchossois. “Visit the playground yourself, before you bring your child. Check to see that the equipment is appropriate for your child’s age. Make sure the equipment is in good condition, with no broken pieces and nothing sharp sticking out that might catch clothing.”
Here are some key safety features to look for when you inspect a playground:
- Safe surfacing like wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel or rubber under and extending at least six feet around equipment
- Play structures that are more than 30 inches high and spaced at least 9 feet apart
There are also some hazards to watch out for:
- Dangerous hardware, like open "S" hooks or protruding bolt ends
- Spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs
- Sharp points or edges in equipment
Report dangerous playgrounds to the organization responsible for them.
Safety messages to teach your child
“It’s important to talk with your child about how to play safely on a playground,” Duchossois continues. Here are the messages she suggests you teach your child.
- Use playground equipment properly:
- Always swing sitting down.
- Allow only one person on a swing at a time.
- Wait your turn on the slide.
- Sit on the slide, and slide on your bottom only.
- Use monkey bars for climbing only — not acrobatics.
- Don’t jump for a distance from the swings or other equipment.
- Play gently — pushing and roughhousing can lead to falls.
- Never wear jewelry, jackets with drawstrings or scarves when playing. They can get caught on playground equipment.
Playground safety guidelines for parents
Parents are responsible for dressing young children in appropriate clothing for playground play, and for monitoring them to be sure they play safety.
- Supervise your child at all times.
- Make sure your child wears a helmet or protective gear when using scooters, skates, skateboards or bicycles.
- Make sure your child does not wear a helmet when playing on climbing structures or using a slide. The chin strap can get caught on a projection, with a risk of serious injury.
- Make sure your child wears proper footwear, like sneakers.