Parents shouldn’t horse around when it comes to playground safety. Whether it’s in the neighborhood park or their own backyard, adult supervision and risk awareness are the keys to keeping kids playing and progressing, according to two University of the Sciences in Philadelphia occupational therapy professors.
“We have to allow opportunities for kids to fall, within reason, because not only do kids need to learn what to do, but they also need to learn what not to do,” said Roger Ideishi, JD, OT/L, assistant professor of occupational therapy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. “But kids may not know the limits of that, so that’s why you need to supervise their play.”
The benefits of playground use for children are abundant, when they play safely and mindfully. “A lot of playgrounds now are looking at a variety of forms of development, not just one large movement type of play, but fine motor play, social play, and more thematic play areas,” explained Ideishi. In fact, many new playgrounds are now specially designed to incorporate things for children of all ages and developmental levels. “The designs are starting to look at other ways children play so that they spur imagination and creativity,” he added. In addition to encouraging socialization, these new designs allow for a greater amount of physical and mental growth by challenging all types of children.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says playground equipment is the leading cause of injuries to children, and more deaths occur at home than anywhere else.
“As far as safety goes, cushioned surfaces and safety standards certainly help, but nothing works better than a parent’s eyes and ears,” advised Paula Kramer, PhD, chair and professor of occupational therapy at USP. She added that parents should not hover over their children, because this may inhibit their play and development. Instead, parents should watch attentively from a distance so they can interrupt only when necessary. It’s also recommended that parents periodically inspect playgrounds for dangers such as protruding hooks and bolts, hard surfaces, tripping hazards, splinters, and even metallic or plastic surfaces that can get hot in the sun.
Dr. Kramer also pointed out that parents have a tendency to put ready-made playgrounds in their backyards and then forget about them. “Kids are hard on things, and these playgrounds aren’t indestructible,” she said. “It’s a matter of inspecting and watching the things you have at home.”