Outdoor play is essential for kids to burn off energy and get fresh air; there's no reason why it can't be safe, too.
Kids of all ages are prone to falling and hurting themselves, sometimes taking unnecessary risks when they play, which could put them or others in danger. As parents, we want to give them some measure of freedom while still doing what we can to prevent injury, or worse. That's just common sense.
Have Rules, But Vary Them Based on Location and Age
The rules you might want to impose on your kids in your own backyard, where you can keep an eye on their play activities, might be different than what you expect from them in the local schoolyard or playground.
Similarly, a 10-year-old doesn't necessarily need the same rules as a 5-year-old while playing at the park. But there should be rules and everyone should be clear on what they are before they go out.
As kids become more independent, you will need to remind them of your rules. Some examples:
- Keeping their hands to themselves (no pushing, shoving, roughhousing or fighting)
- Not jumping off any structure at a height
- Being careful when using rackets or balls so as not to whack anyone accidentally
- Being aware of smaller children in the area so they don't get hit or run over by a bigger kid
Protect Kids From the Sun
This might seem like an obvious tip, but the number of children who come away from a few hours of play with a sunburn in a year is astronomical. Children's skin is more sensitive to the harsh rays, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and it only takes a few sunburns during childhood to increase the risk of developing skin cancer later on. Get the kids into the habit of putting on broadbase UVA/UVB sunscreen SPF 30 or higher before they go play and to wear a ball cap or hat when playing in full sun.
Dress for Success
Even if her favorite "She's going to cry if she can't wear it" outfit is her flowing princess dress and mini-heels, this isn't playground appropriate clothing. It is an invitation to injury. Make sure your kids have and wear play-appropriate clothes. Add a hat and sunglasses in the spring, summer and fall, and don't forget warm clothes throughout the winter. It doesn't take long to cool off when it's freezing out.
Keep Everyone Hydrated
Little bodies get dehydrated pretty quickly on a hot summer day, so make sure that your kids have refillable water bottles with them when they're going to the park or the playground. It's important to avoid sun or heat stroke, which can have serious consequences. Even while playing sports or just being very active in cooler weather, kids should have access to water.
Don't Forget the Protective Gear
Kids who have grown up used to putting on protective gear to play sports or engage in higher risk activities like cycling, skateboarding, scootering or rollerblading likely won't think twice about donning a helmet and pads.
That said, it's a good idea to check in and make sure that they remember to do it every time. Before sending your kids off to play, you should also make sure that the equipment is in good working order, is appropriate for what your kids are using it for and that it fits properly.
Make Sure Playground Equipment Is Age-Appropriate and in Good Condition
Whether at home in your backyard or if you're going to the park, check over the equipment to make sure it's not broken or rusted. Look for playgrounds that have shock absorbing surfaces below the play structures and, if you're building your own, consider a base like Rubber Mulch to ensure that if your kids fall—and they will fall, if only by tripping—they're safe from a hard landing.
Learn the Signs and Symptoms of Concussion
Even a fun game of soccer with friends at the local field can result in a concussion. The danger is less with the first concussion a child might get than if they were to get a second one soon after, so recognizing the signs of concussion is very important for parents, caregivers and coaches alike.
At a high level, you're looking for:
- Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head.
- Loss of consciousness, even if only for a moment.
- Ringing in the ears.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
Keeping kids safe isn't about bubble wrapping them and preventing them from playing, but it is about taking some basic steps such as these. It just makes sense to avoid preventable and foreseeable injury and make sure that everyone has a good time playing outdoors!
Rhianna Miller is the playground design and safety expert at r
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