Safe Playgrounds for Kids

February 16, 2011

Back in the day, I did a couple of stints as a parent at a cooperative preschool. It was a great experience but, as in most aspects of life, some of the jobs were tougher than others. Take the annual mulching of the playground, for instance. The recipe: Take one truckload of mulch dumped in the school driveway, a couple of wheelbarrows, several shovels, mix in what was invariably a hot, humid Saturday in late August, add whichever parents you’ve managed to corral for the job – and start spreading. We weren’t enriching our kids’ intellectual or social lives – just trying to prevent yet another trip to the emergency room.

In fact, according to the Public Playground Safety Handbook, in recent years children have made more than 200,000 trips annually to the emergency room due to injuries on public playgrounds, defined as those in apartments and condominiums, restaurants, parks, child care facilities, other areas of public use, and schools, like Valley Drive Cooperative Preschool, my (by parental extension) alma mater. I’m sure that a lot of those injuries are due to falls, so proper playground surfacing is important. When I was a kid, playgrounds were floored with sand or dirt, or at least that’s the way I remember it. According to the Handbook, produced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, mulch is a good surfacing material, as is sand, but not dirt. This very useful book also deals with playground siting, shading (would I think about how the shade fell if I were planning a playground? probably not – I can’t even manage that at a cookout.), equipment selection and installation, hazards, and much more.

I liked reading this book because it’s detailed but clear, matter-of-fact about hazards, not preachy about regulations, and designed to help even very small entities, like preschools, design and maintain playgrounds to keep children safe. Are there any guarantees? Dream on! As a child, one of my sisters-in-law stuck her head through a porch railing and couldn’t get it out until assisted by the local mail carrier. This escapade so enthralled the neighborhood children that she felt compelled to show them how it happened – and got stuck again. The Handbook is up against the limitless ability of kids to get themselves in fixes but, given the nature of the challenge, I doubt if it could be met much better than by this book. You can read  the Handbook here, get your own copy here, or find it in a library. And keep your head away from that railing!

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