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Play it safe: A parent's guide to summer playground safety

Play is critical for the mental, physical and social development of young children, and playsets and local playgrounds are the perfect place for that to take place. But over 200,000 children are rushed to emergency rooms in the U.S. every year due to injuries that occur on playgrounds, so it’s important to keep safety in mind when taking your kids out to play. Make sure to supervise your kids any time they are using play equipment. Keeping an eye on them while playing can help reduce injury by ensuring they’re properly using the equipment and not taking any risks they’re not ready for.

Make sure the equipment is safe:

The equipment should be designed to promote kids’ safety. That entails not only the materials and their upkeep but also the setup and spacing of the various structures. Any sections that are taller than 30 inches should be at least nine feet apart from each other. These pieces of equipment should also have handrails that children can hold onto and guard rails to prevent them from falling off. The ground should be made of something relatively soft that’s at least a foot deep. Mulch, shredded rubber, wood chips, sand and pea gravel help absorb most of the harm posed by falls. This material should extend at least six feet out from the edge of the equipment—even further for swings, which children can easily fall from. Materials such as asphalt, concrete, gravel, dirt and even grass are too firm to be shock-absorbent and should be avoided. Ideally, equipment should be organized based on its intended age group so that younger children are not playing with older children in a way they aren’t yet ready for. Make sure your children know where they should play so that they can take safe risks to boost their confidence and aid in their development of balance and motor skills. It’s also a good idea to check the equipment before they start playing on it so a broken part doesn’t cause them injury. Some common defects to look out for are:
  • Rusted or broken metal
  • Cracks in plastic
  • Splintering wood
  • Sharp edges
  • Open metal S hooks (often on swings)
If you spot any of these malfunctions, find a safe piece of equipment or even another park instead. Contact your township, school or other park owner to report what’s wrong and keep the other park users safe, too. When they go off to play, make sure the bikes, bags and helmets stay outside of the play area. These can cause unnecessary trips and falls and are safer when left with you. Avoid dressing them in jewelry or clothes with drawstrings so they don’t get caught on parts of the equipment.

Sun exposure and sunscreen:

Keep the weather in mind. If your kids get too much sun exposure, they risk sunburn, dehydration and dizziness, among other possibilities. Make sure they wear sunscreen when going out to play to protect from UV rays and sun damage regardless of the amount of sun you see in the sky. Have them take breaks to catch their breath and drink some water, especially on hot and sunny days. Don’t be too quick to head out to a playground right after it rains either, though. The plastic surfaces can get quite slippery when wet and can potentially cause falls or slips. If you hear thunder or see lightning while outside, make sure to go inside and wait at least 30 minutes after it’s done to go back outside.


Keep in mind that metal and even plastic slides can get hot enough to cause burns when under direct sunlight for a long period of time. For this reason, it’s always safer to use slides that are situated in the shade. On sunny days, make sure you touch the equipment to feel if it’s too hot for your kids. Teach your children to make sure the bottom of the slide is clear—from rocks and sticks and especially other children—before sliding down. Discourage them from sliding down in groups or head-first as these actions can easily cause injuries that warrant a trip to the emergency room. This includes sliding down yourself with a child on your lap.


Although most swings are plastic, deter children from using metal or wooden ones if present. Encourage them to ride swings sitting down rather than standing, kneeling or lying on their stomach. This may tempt them to jump off the swing, but it’s easy for kids to sustain an injury from falling while jumping off. Help them come to a complete stop before moving onto the next part of their play. Push them in bucket swings before they’re ready for regular swings instead of letting them sit on your lap to swing. No matter how tightly you may hold onto them, this is a dangerous way to use play equipment. Children benefit significantly from their experiences at playgrounds and the risks they get to take on the equipment and with other kids. Keep these safety tips in mind next time you take them out to play for a safe and fun visit.