If you've taken your child to city parks, you may have noticed that playgrounds have changed a bit since you were a kid. Gone are the metal, wood, and concrete. In their place, you'll see lots of brightly coloured plastic and spongy, foam-like ground covering.
Despite the modern safety upgrades, children still fall from monkey bars, get burned by hot slides, and get catapulted off of swings or seesaws by over-exuberant playmates. Kids still sport bruises and bumps, scrapes and cuts, knocked-out teeth, and fractures and sprains.
Teachers and P.E. coaches often take students on tours of the school playground and go over safety rules and tips and "play skills." Still, most playground injuries happen to 5- to 9-year-olds, so it wouldn't hurt to take your younger students to the park to go over some safety basics one-on-one:
- Know the slide rules: You'd think slides would be simple stuff to explain. They go down, right? Well, kids will find all sorts of creative ways to slide wrong. First off, give your child time to practise getting up the stairs safely. Then set a "bums-not-bellies" rule, emphasizing how important it is to go down feet first, one child at a time. Remind your child to check the bottom of the slide to prevent collisions with straggling sliders.
- Get in the swing: Playground swings are the sources of many childhood injuries, from fingers caught in chains to kids who face-plant when trying to leap out mid-arc. Warn that no matter how cool some daredevil kid looks, it hurts to fall and a broken arm could be the result. Go over the proper swing posture - sitting, not standing or kneeling - and set a safe distance for walking around or near active swings. Two-to-a-swing may seem fun for best buddies, but swings are only built to safely hold one child at a time.
- Set the seesaw scene: You may see fewer teeter-totters these days. Too bad, since more than any other piece of playground equipment, a seesaw requires cooperation and communication. Practise with your child the art of balancing and landing without thudding into the ground or springing your partner out of their seat. Talk about how tricky and unsafe it would be to work a seesaw if you faced the wrong direction, let go of your post, or horsed around.
- Don't go off the rails: One kind of equipment you may see more of is the track ride, or slider, as kids often call it. Sliders are made up of a suspended handle that slides along a track. To use one of these rides, children grab onto the handle with both hands and propel themselves across the track. Sliders may not be used by children under a certain height. These rides definitely take some practice and getting used to, so this is a good one to work on together outside of school. Test whether your child is tall enough and whether he or she has enough upper body strength to make the slider slide, and practise proper dismount.
- Clear the area: Especially at early-morning recess when students first arrive at school, the playground can become a minefield of potential trips and falls and injuries, with backpacks, books, balls, and jump-ropes strewn all over play surfaces. Discuss with your child the safest spots to leave their school materials. And while you would hope it would go without saying, warn your child against tying jump ropes to playground equipment.
- Don't dress for danger: Cords and drawstrings on clothes pose a playground safety risk, since they can become caught or snagged in play equipment. Same goes for hoods, draping fabric, purses, long keychains, scarves, and even shoelaces. Snaps, buttons, Velcro, or elastic are safer bets.
Other playground pointers to discuss with your child: keeping "roughhousing" play away from structures, equipment, and crowded areas; looking before leaping off any structure or equipment; and testing the temperature of equipment on hot days.
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