Keeping kids safe, especially during outdoor play, is a main priority for parents. Many may not realize that there are fairly strict guidelines to children’s outdoor play equipment. All public parks, child care centres, and any place that children play publicly or in a care environment must have play areas that comply.
At home we are generally more relaxed, but large equipment you buy should already follow these guidelines. Even kits that you construct should comply with standards. If you are a do-it-yourselfer you might want to think about these requirements and build accordingly.
This is far from wrapping our kids in cotton wool. It’s more to do with preventing heads getting jammed between bars, steps being too far apart, and what will be underneath the children when they do end up on the ground.
It cannot be stressed enough that by far the best protection for any child is responsible adult supervision. No matter how ‘safe’ your area is, or how strictly it follows guidelines children need supervision. Those under six years of age should not be outdoors unsupervised for any period alone. Those older may not need supervising ion their own backyard every second but do check on a regular basis and supervise as much as possible.
Australian Government Guidelines
The government has set guidelines for public parks but they also have a stringent set of guidelines for childcare centres. This would include family day care. Learning through outdoor play is also a large component of these standards. Here is an overview of the main points covered by these standards. Remember these aren’t enforced for homes but can be taken on board.
* Injury at play – Any injury while playing signals a failure in the ‘play’ aspect. This can have implications both physically and psychologically for children and therefore any injury is unacceptable. There is a duty of care by providers to have safe areas for children to play and learn outdoors.
* Spaces – Three main areas must make up an outdoor play area:
o Open Area – This would encompass grassed areas, paths, sheds, mounds.
o Quiet Areas – Areas of low vegetation, trees, landscaped garden areas, vegetable gardens, sanded areas, cubby houses, seats etc, anywhere a child might go for less active play or a rest.
o Active area – As it indicates this is the area with the major play equipment, digging patches, water course/creek, bike tracks, and platforms.
All of these things are allowable if there is space and a lawn area is recommended for at least one third of the outdoor area. Mounds should be kept low and not take up the majority of the grassed area. Paths and paving should allow disabled access and solid pathways are required between selected areas.
There should also be adequate shade areas including over the sandpit. Sandpits need to be as large as possible to allow room for play, and also should be wet down in hot weather. Wet sand is a better play medium than dry sand.
* Equipment — Each part of the kids play equipment has guidelines to the heights and widths and how far off the ground they are allowed to be. Equipment that you buy readymade should already follow these standards. There are far too many to mention in one article but these guidelines are readily available online.
* Soft Fall – this refers to what is underfoot around the active areas. Most parks will have pine bark or woodchips. Sawdust, sand, or even grass isn’t the best thing to use to cushion a fall. Public indoor active play areas (e.g. fast food restaurants) have a soft foam material they use.
This is one way that you will prevent accidents and injuries at home. Do regular inspections of equipment to be sure it isn’t failing anywhere. Trampolines, swings, climbing frames etc can be hazardous when not kept in good repair. Make this a regular task.
It’s not like we all need to have full blown regulated play area in our backyards, but taking some care is always a good thing. Supervision and keeping equipment and areas in good condition will go a long way to keeping kids safe.
If you have kids other than your own children, you do have a duty of care to see that those children are safe while on your property. There is no greater way to get offside with anyone than if their children are injured.
Other Safety Issues While Outdoors
While planning outdoor play there are a few ways to ensure safety apart from the play areas and equipment.
* Be Sun Safe – hats, clothing, sunscreen, and shade are most important for kids out in the sun. Also try to limit outdoor play for smaller children during the hottest part of the day between 10am and 3pm.
* Be Water Safe – always have children protected from large bodies of water, pools, even fountains. Water is an integral part of outdoor play and should always be encouraged and provided for kids. But there are safe ways to offer this. Be vigilant if water is present.
* Be Animal Safe – Nobody ever thinks that their beloved pet would hurt the family children. Maybe not but other kids might not be the same. Also, unsupervised time with animals will more than likely end up being some sort of threat to the safety of a child, the younger the child the more risk associated. A cat scratch, a bird’s beak, and dog bite can inflict harm.
Keeping kids safe during outdoor play can be a stressful time for many. But if you buy good, standards compliant outdoor play equipment and toys, have it installed correctly, and supervise adequately for the age groups, your kids will avoid most major injuries.