Feature Article - January 2007
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Safe Ground

Building, maintaining and inspecting playgrounds to ensure all kids can play, safely

By Emily Tipping

Someone to watch over them

The AAOS claims that proper supervision is one of the most important keys to playground safety. Why? Because without adults to watch over them and ensure they don't push the limits of what's safe, children may push the boundaries and end up hurt.

According to Hurst, if the playground equipment and surfacing are both safe, the next most important thing to turn to is adult supervision.

"Adults can spot when kids are getting too rambunctious or engaging in unsafe playground practices," he explained. "So the recreation director has to assign responsible people to supervise."

Wallach agreed, adding that product-wise, we're already doing "just about everything that can be done," with most manufacturers meeting the ASTM and CPSC guidelines. She added, "Increasing supervision, which has nothing to do with products, would be helpful in some areas."

Training on playground supervision was one of the main keys to driving down injuries in Lee's Summit, according to the NPPS.

School districts are able to provide personnel who can supervise the playground. But what should park managers and other unsupervised locations do?

You can't force parents to watch their children. But you can do everything in your power to make supervising their kids as easy as possible.

One way to do this is to ensure that play areas have been designed without "blind" spots. Adults should be able to see the kids no matter where they are on the playground. This not only will ensure adults can watch the kids, but it also helps provide safety from nefarious characters and bullies.

It's also important to establish the rules. You can't guarantee that everyone will read them, but by posting signs you can establish guidelines for expected behavior. Having supervision rules posted is one of the areas that received an F on the NPPS report card.

"The best thing if someone is not on site is to have signs," said Hurst. "All the playgrounds we have built have signs to direct proper behavior."

The rules for rules, according to the NPPS, are based on age. For 2- to 5-year-olds, you shouldn't post more than three rules. For children older than 5, five rules is plenty. And, make sure that the rules you do post are general and to the point, like "No running" or "Take turns."

You must be this tall...

Kids of different ages need different spaces to play. Put a 2-year-old and an 8-year-old on the same play equipment, and you're bound to run into problems.

Most manufacturers now design and build playground equipment for different age groups. Generally speaking, these can be divided into three groups: children who are 6 months to 23 months old, preschoolers from 2 to 5 years old, and school-age kids from 5 to 12.

But it's not enough to just install age-appropriate equipment. You also have to help the right-aged kids get to the right equipment.

You can incorporate certain elements into your design to accomplish this. Separate the play areas somehow, such as with a hedge or a row of planters, maybe with a bench or two where parents can sit. In addition, you can post signs to point out which age groups should be using which equipment. It's not always obvious to parents or kids that equipment designed for older kids is inappropriate for a 3-year-old.