Public playgrounds are a priceless amenity for parents and children all over the country. They offer kids the opportunity to play and burn off their energy outside while building social skills and promoting healthy physical development. Unfortunately, playgrounds aren’t all constructed to meet the same safety standards, and differ wildly from place to place. Some playgrounds, particularly older ones, might even be outright dangerous to use. Here’s what to look for to make sure that the playground in your neighborhood is built with your child’s safety in mind.
Freestanding play equipment like swingsets, slides, or monkey bars should be set at least 9 feet apart. Kids play for fun, and inevitably find ways to use equipment improperly. Proper spacing works to minimize the risk of injury of any child falling or jumping from the equipment. If equipment is spaced too closely, a child could accidentally or deliberately strike it on the way down and get seriously hurt.
Swings should be spaced at least 2 feet from each other, and 3 feet from any frame. This is to prevent swings from getting entangled with each other, and to keep kids from striking the frame, even if they were to reach for it.
Playground surfaces should be made of shock absorbent materials such as wood chips, gravel, sand, shredded rubber, or specialized solid surfaces like rubber tiles. Loose-fill options should be about a foot deep. While it’s impossible to eliminate all risk, this significantly reduces the risk of serious injury when falling from tall playground equipment. Hard surfaces like concrete or packed dirt can be deadly, and should be avoided.
Line of Sight
Maintaining a clear line of sight to your child to supervise them continuously as they play is critical to keeping them safe. Check where benches are placed around the playground and how the equipment is laid out in relation to them. Parents and guardians accompanying their children should have a clear view of all the playground equipment. Kids play with fun in mind, not safety, and they will inevitably try to climb over guard rails, jump from tall objects, or possibly get into confrontations with each other on the equipment.
Climbing requires a high level of coordination and strength, which makes it a great tool for physical development. However, climbing equipment has the highest associated rate of injury of any type of playground equipment, precisely because it’s challenging. Check to make sure that there are no hooks or protrusions that clothing could get snagged on, and that the playground surface around the equipment is properly maintained. Additionally, look to see that the equipment is designed in such a way that it’s not possible to hit anything other than the ground when falling or jumping from it.
Playgrounds should be kept free of any kind of tripping hazard. These include debris, like rocks, branches, or discarded toys, or permanent landscape features like potholes, tree stumps, or other irregularities. Often, tripping hazards are indicative of poor maintenance standards in general.
If you notice any safety issues at your local playground, reach out to your local homeowner’s association, your school board, or your local government to have it addressed. Poor safety standards pose risk to the entire community, and are worth the time it takes to deal with them, and to provide your children with a safe and fun place to play.