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PLANNING KEY TO A SAFE BACKYARD PLAYGROUND
Courtesy Donna Thompson, Ph.D., Director,
Heather Olden, MA, Program Coordinator
National Program for Playground Safety
play structures are popping up in backyards across America. Simple swingsets
have been replaced with a myriad of options for climbing, swinging and
sliding. But as a family starts dreaming of creating the ultimate playground
in their own backyard, safety must remain a top consideration.
Making your backyard playground safe and fun requires planning, according
to Donna Thompson of the National Program for Playground Safety. “A
well-designed play area can greatly reduce the likelihood of injury along with
providing hours of fun,” she says.
Start the planning process by choosing the location, one with proper
drainage and preferably some shade. Measure the area since the amount of space
will affect which components you choose. Then figure out what your kids like
to do. Are they climbers? Do they enjoy pretend play? Is sand the ultimate
play experience? Not every play structure has to have swings or a slide so
make your wish list reflect what your kids will enjoy most.
this information in hand, visit your local outlet for playground equipment.
Ask if equipment meets the Home Playground Standard ASTM-1148. If it doesn't,
don't buy it, Thompson says, because it may not meet today's safety standards.
If it meets the standards, you are ready to design your playground.
"When looking at equipment, adults tend to think bigger is better," says
Thompson. "But the higher the equipment, the harder the fall, especially for
young children." Research shows equipment taller than 6 feet doubles the
possibility of injury. Choose age-appropriate equipment, especially if your
children are young. Preschoolers are often injured when they play on equipment
designed for older kids. A good rule of thumb is if you have to lift your
child up to use the equipment, it isn't safe for him or her to use.
After choosing the components, lay out your playground allowing at least 6
feet of open space around the equipment. This space allows children to use the
equipment without swinging, jumping or falling onto other equipment. Whether
you're installing the equipment or calling in a professional, be sure the
structure is firmly anchored in the ground to avoid injuries from tip-overs.
Inspect the structure for sharp edges and rough wood and be sure all S-hooks
are closed. Most importantly, install appropriate surfacing materials under
the structure since falls account for more than 70% of playground injuries.
to Thompson, pea gravel, sand, ground rubber and woodchips are good surfacing
materials but need to be 9 - 12 inches deep to be effective. "Many people use
the right materials, but not enough to truly cushion a fall," she says.
But concern for safety shouldn't end when the structure is finished. Though
kids are in their own backyard, they still need adult supervision. Children 6
years and under should have constant supervision and older kids should be
checked on frequently. Thompson urges parents to think about play equipment
like they would a backyard pool. Both are great fun, but the potential for
injury requires vigilance.
For more playground safety tips, visit
Our appreciation to Planet
Playgrounds for providing the playset graphics!
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