This post was submitted by Jay Harris.
Mothers walk a thin line between wanting to let their children explore and play on their own, while not taking unnecessary risks with their health and safety. It can be hard to let your little munchkins out of site even for a moment (even if it’s just to play in the backyard).
Fortunately, there are steps any family can take to make sure that their backyard play area is as safe as possible, minimizing the need for rushed trips to the ER to stitch up boo-boos after a bad fall. As the winter thaws and backyard playtime becomes more appealing, take a few minutes to review this safety checklist and ensure that your children are not in harm’s way.
1. Know the Rules.
Make sure that your children (and their friends playing in your yard) understand a few rules about playtime.
- Share! Injuries occur when children bicker over who gets to climb, swing, or slide.
- No rough-housing. This is likely a rule inside most houses, but it warrants extra attention when outdoor play equipment is involved.
- Be observant (and speak up!). If someone is sitting on the slide, don’t slide down it. Likewise, train your kids to be careful around the swing set — standing in front or behind of a swing can be dangerous.
2. Create a Safe Play Area
If you have a playset in your yard, it’s important to clear an area around it with a radius of about six feet. You don’t want children falling into sharp shrubs or tree limbs, and the play equipment should be set up away from wires and utility poles. Swing sets should have ample cleared space in front of and behind them.
Likewise, thoroughly inspect your entire yard for small stumps, roots and rocks that could cause potential tripping hazards.
3. Create a Safe Landing
Falling into grass and dirt can still be fairly painful and cause enough impact to break little bones. It’s important to create a safe landing area around a playset, utilizing sand or wood chips or rubber mulch. Recommended depths are typically about 9 inches to one foot to provide adequate cushioning.
4. Look Out for Little Spaces
Older playsets (or those that are homemade) may include small spaces that are dangerous and can trap children. In general, avoid gaps in play equipment between 3.5 and 9 inches that an arm or leg could fall through.
5. Eliminate Dangerous Red Flags
- Does your swing set or play equipment include “S” hooks? Ensure that these are completely closed to eliminate the possibility of them detaching or catching a child’s clothing.
- Remove or secure all ropes and chains. Anything that could potentially have a knot that could strangle a child is a major potential danger.
- Look out for loose bolts and weak connections. If your play equipment has been sitting outside all winter, there’s a chance that connections have rusted or lost their structural integrity. Thoroughly check all equipment, especially any playset piece where children will be above ground-level in some way.
6. Revamp if Necessary
Leaving a deteriorating playset out for ‘one more season’ is too risky to consider. If you are starting fresh with a DIY playset, utilize strong 4×4 lumber for supportive corner posts that will stand strong even under heavy abuse from playing kids. Likewise, if your child has outgrown a playset, it may be time to retire it — trying to squeeze through small spaces or down small slides can lead to unexpected injuries.
7. Dress Appropriately
When climbing, swinging and sliding, children should not wear clothes with drawstrings or hoods. Anything that hangs off of them and could get caught in moving parts can create a danger.
8. Supervise and Do a Spot Check
Just because you’ve taken steps to make your play area safer doesn’t mean it’s fine to turn your children loose and turn a blind eye. Supervision is always important. Keep an eye out the window, even if you are not physically in the backyard at all times.
Finally, walk outside with your kids when they first go to play. Look for loose bolts. Look for potential dangers. Are the swing set or monkey bars wet? Either dry them or wait until the sun does it before letting them play.
What is your child’s favorite part of your playset? What other steps have you taken to make sure that your backyard is safe for playing?
Jay Harris is a Home Depot “on the floor” sales associate in Illinois and regularly to Home Depot’s blog, His home outdoor interests range from providing electric fence and picket fence tips to what to look for when purchasing swing sets for the kids.