Time to put the winter coats, sleds and ice skates away for the next winter (I hope!). The weather is starting to finally warm up, which means we get to spend more time outside with our children and grandchildren. Zoos, parks and playgrounds – here we come!
When I was a child, there were things on the playground that have since been removed for safety reasons. Did a fond memory just pop into your head? Anyone remember a 12-15 foot (or taller) metal slide with a bump in the center? Not only did the bump send you flying, but eh sun warmed up the surface of the slide so it was sometimes too hot to touch! What about a merry-go-round?
These were popular in my day; you could get going so fast the motion could throw you right off! And what about being the kid who spun the merry-go-round? How many of you ended up being dragged when you lost your footing? Yes, there is a reason playgrounds look differently today than they did over 30 years ago.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children, ages 14 and younger, for playground-related traumatic brain injuries each year.
The National Safety Council (NSC) states that nearly 80 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls. The top equipment associated with injuries includes: climbers, swings, slides and overhead ladders.
Some unnecessary risks can mitigate using the SAFE guidelines later discussed in this article. But, there is a healthy degree of risk necessary for learning and development.
WORTH THE RISK?
The opportunity for “risky play” is not without benefit. In the early years, children should have numerous and varied opportunities to assess risk and manage situations. Very young children assess and take risks daily, which ultimately leads to new learning.
Think about a child learning to walk. At first they need substantial support, from us and the furniture around them. But gradually, they make small changes to their posture and the speed at which they move. Sure, they fall down a lot before they master it fully, but with practice comes skill.
The same goes for risky play on playground equipment, or just playing outside in general. Children are not only learning how to move their bodies to be successful, which develops skills and coordination, they are also learning about success and failure.
Risky play ignites motivation. We want our children motivated – to strive for success, make adjustments and try repeatedly. Giving it their all, and finding success or failure, will also teach them their limits. Research shows us children who do not engage in risky play may have poor balance, appear to be clumsy and even feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.
THE ADULTS ROLE
Adults do play a part. Our children need us to be there to cheer them on, give them a thumbs up and offer support as needed. We need to take them to parks and playgrounds that offer play movements which are often associated with risk. These include swinging, hanging, sliding and rolling. We also need to educate ourselves on which equipment is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age and personal development
The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) provides us with the acronym S.A.F.E. as a way to remember the four contributing factors to properly maintain a safe playground atmosphere.
S – Provide proper SUPERVISION of children on playgrounds.
A – Design AGE-APPROPRIATE playgrounds.
F – Provide proper FALL SURFACING under and around playgrounds.
E – Properly maintain playground EQUIPMENT.
National Playground Safety Week is coming up, April 23-27. Parents, childcare providers, schools and communities should plan to take time this week to focus on their outdoor environments. Additional playground safety resources can be found at www.playgroundsafety.org