Even in the area of technology, children can’t live without going to playgrounds every single day.
There, they meet up with their friends or find new ones and play to let their imagination out.
Playground activity is the natural way for children to get out as much energy as possible. This way, they also exercise, socialize, and get the sun exposure necessary for proper bone development.
Research has also found that playground activities improve the kids’ physical shape. One experiment showed that after building a playground at a schoolyard, kids became more active and excited about sports within the first six months.
So, there’s no doubt that kids should spend more time at playgrounds. But how do you build and equip a safe one to make sure children don’t hurt themselves?
Here are some recommendations.
1. Create a Playground Layout with Safety in Mind
Before building a playground, you should consider the space you have for it. It’s important to properly evaluate the site and estimate whether any natural hazards сould make this playground unsafe for the children.
The NRC for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education lists the following requirements for a playground site:
- minimum of thirty square feet for an infant
- minimum of fifty square feet for a kid aged 18-24 months
Children aged 6-23 months, 2-5 years, and 5-12 years should have separate outdoor areas for play to ensure the common playground space doesn’t get overcrowded.
If the site is big enough to build a playground, the next thing you should consider is the hazards, the most common of which include:
- Too much sun exposure. The playground should be situated in a moderate shade.
- Roads or highways in the vicinity. It’s not recommended to equip a playground too close to the areas with high traffic.
- Improper playground surfacing. Children’s Environmental Health Network recommends using sand, pea gravel, crumb rubber, tiles, bark mulch or woodchips, and engineered wood fiber. Asphalt is not allowed.
- Used tires. There’s been research showing that, when exposed to high temperatures, used tires produce toxic substances and chemicals that are highly carcinogenic and can harm children’s health.
When planning the layout, you should also consider the playground’s accessibility. It should be equipped for children with disabilities and their parents and not have any dangers to move around the playground.
Another important thing to consider when planning the playground is conflicting activities between children of different age groups. Conflicting activities can result in more injuries, which is why you should consider age separation.
For instance, sandboxes should be placed away from open fields and playground equipment. This way, you separate physical activity from passive and quiet activities. Besides, you should consider dispersing heavy-use equipment to make sure visitors don’t crowd in one area.
2. Choose Age-Appropriate Equipment
As you already know, kids of different age groups need separate spaces on the playground. However, not every piece of equipment is considered safe for each of these groups. That’s why, when planning to build a safe playground, consider age-appropriate equipment.
The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) proposes the following types of equipment for the three main age groups:
- 6-23 months: ramps, spring rockers, stairways, swings with full-bucket seats, climbs under 32 inches high.
- 2-5 years: merry-go-rounds, ramps, rung ladders, slides, stairways, belt swings, spiral slides no more than 360o.
- 5-12 years: belt and rotating tire swings, track rides, arch climbers, chain walks, fulcrum seesaws, ladders, merry-go-rounds, stairways, slides, ramps.
The NPPS recommends considering the types of activities children of different age groups usually engage in. Apart from that, it’s important to review all possible hazards each playground equipment piece can cause.
That being said, there are pieces of equipment that are not recommended on a playground:
- Trampolines – can lead to sprains and fractures, head and neck injuries.
- Swinging gates – can trap feet or jam a child’s fingers when closing.
- Giant stride – can hurt passers-by and cause strained muscles.
- Metal swings – have a high risk of impact injury.
- Rope swings – can potentially lead to strangulation.
When choosing the equipment for the playground, consult all the regulations and have your layout reviewed by a city planning professional to make sure you reduce hazards to the minimum.
3. Build with Safe Materials
What you build the playground with is another point for consideration. Much like with surfacing, not all materials are child-friendly, and some should be avoided at all costs.
When choosing the materials to build a playground with, keep in mind the following recommendations:
- Focus on durability. Use the equipment made out of materials that have proven durability and don’t exhume harmful gases when heated.
- Select finishes and preservatives carefully. For example, when applying treatment to stop grass growth, make sure you use a substance with no dangerous pesticides in it.
- All fasteners and connectors should be properly secured. It should be impossible to disassemble the equipment without proper tools.
- If exposed, all fasteners and connectors should be smooth. They should not cause any hazards or injuries.
- Avoid bare metal forms. They can get very hot when under direct sunlight and cause burns.
- Treat metals for corrosion. If metals are not resistant to corrosion by their nature, it’s better to treat them with substances that prevent rust.
- Choose safe paints. Use finishes that are approved by CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
- Treat wood. Wood is naturally prone to rutting and attracts insects. If you use wood on the playground, make sure you treat it properly to increase its durability.
When choosing the materials for the playground, look for those that are intended for outdoor use. Not all paints would last long under direct sunlight and in changing weather conditions. That’s why, to keep the playground safe for the kids, make sure you use materials that won’t harm their health.
4. Add Playground Use Guideline
To make the playground safe, you need to remind the visitors of the main rules of using it. A great idea is to create a banner or a plaque with rules and guidelines and place it right next to the playground entrance.
Here are some notifications you can put on the banner with playground rules:
- There should be an adult to oversee the children’s play.
- Avoid using wet equipment.
- Don’t walk in front of swings.
- Don’t use broken equipment.
- Avoid pushing others.
- Don’t climb up the front of the slides.
- Use both hands when climbing.
- Use swings sitting down.
- Remove the trash when you’re about to leave the playground.
When you have your banner ready, proofread it before printing. You can use online resources like Grammarly that have built-in proofreading tools.
You can also add the playground open hours to the banner with guidelines. If the playground is in a heavily populated area, its use should be regulated by a schedule.
5. Ensure Regular Maintenance Inspections
Before building and equipping the playground, you should have a routine inspection plan in place. This plan will ensure that the playground remains safe for the children and that all hazards are removed on time.
The routine inspection plan usually consists of the following points:
- Check the equipment for broken elements such as missing or loose bolts, rusting, bending, etc.
- Check the wood for splinters and remove them if necessary.
- Evaluate the chains on the swings and check if they are attached properly. Change them if they have rust.
- Remove all broken glass and trash.
- Check the playground for poisonous plants, mushrooms, etc.
- Check the surfacing and evaluate its durability.
- Take a look at the surfacing under the swings and slides, where it often wears out quicker, and replace it if needed.
- Remove all the tripping and slipping hazards.
- Check the playground for beehives.
- Evaluate each piece of equipment to see if it needs lubrication.
- Check the drainage on the playground.
- Replace all missing equipment parts if necessary.
If equipment repairs or replacements are in order, make sure you do it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Also, create a maintenance schedule for each piece of equipment – the more consistent you are with it, the longer it will last, and the fewer hazards it will present.
How should you do a playground inspection?
The NPPS recommends two different types of inspections – routine and periodic. A routine inspection takes place daily. During a routine inspection, you can check the playground for minor damage, eliminate it, and also remove all trash.
Periodic inspections are less frequent and should involve a certified professional. During these inspections, you can do the maintenance for all the equipment and replace the surfacing.
Building a Safe Playground: Topic Round-Up
Playgrounds are absolutely vital for a child’s development. But building a playground is a job that involves a lot of responsibility and compliance with specific regulations.
If you decided to build a safe playground for kids, make sure you follow these essential tips:
- Create a thorough layout. Consider the type of surfacing, zoning for children of different ages, and check the site for possible hazards.
- Go for age-appropriate equipment. Choose proper equipment for each zone according to the children’s activity level.
- Build with safe materials only. Avoid using finishes and treatments that are unsafe for children.
- Place playground use guidelines near the entrance. This way, you’ll ensure that the visitors use the playground properly.
- Have regular inspections. You can run routine inspections daily or weekly and period inspections every one to three months involving a certified professional.
Playgrounds are fun, but safety is the main concern. Hopefully, our tips will help you build a safe and fun playground for your kids.