Ahhh, the playground. The place where slides burned you alive, tunnels delivered electric shocks, and swinging really high on the swings earned you the medal of honor when the poles lifted up off the ground. Studies show that these rights of passage carry some major weight in early learning!
The benefits of nature based learning and outdoor play are clear. However each year, more than 200,000 kids are treated in hospital emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. Playground safety is critical in early childhood education (ECE), especially since the majority of playground-related injuries occur on equipment located at schools and childcare centers.
Need to check in with parents on playground safety? Get our free Guide to Parent Feedback including 25 sample survey questions to help childcare centers boost engagement and revenue!
Does anyone else still get excited when they find a cool rock on the playground? Just us? 🤷
Unfortunately, early childhood education professionals are seeing a huge decrease in outdoor play right now, with parents reporting that their young children just aren’t playing outside like they used to.
This decreased activity is due to many different reasons. And sure, electronics play a role. However, increased safety concerns are also a major factor.
Fortunately, playing on the playground at school can help increase the total amount of time kids spend playing, helping to bridge any learning gap that may result from less time spent outdoors, especially for children in low income areas.
Playground safety is your preschool or childcare center’s plan for inspecting a playground or play area to ensure that young children are able to play safely. Playground safety includes checks and policies to help reduce the risk of injury and ensure the adequate condition of a playground.
Studies show that playing can be linked to improved behavior, better attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) management, as well as increased cognitive, social, and creative development. And it makes sense.
When you put kids on the playground, they’re forced to communicate and problem solve with each other. They make games with their own sets of rules, and hold each other accountable for following them.
Here are just some of the developmental impacts a safe playground can have on kids:
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been major declines in children’s health. Rates of children’s physical activity are lower and we’re seeing reports of increased behavioral issues, as well as more children being diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
Parents are under pressure. Trying to balance job transitions, financial instability, and keeping kids on track developmentally is a lot for anyone to handle.
The good news is, playing outside on the playground is a great way to balance out some of these negative health habits and replace them with better ones.
Here’s a quick recap on just some of the many health benefits of outdoor play:
Ever wanted to bottle up a preschooler’s energy and throw it in your espresso?
All that energy can make it difficult for children to pay attention. Fortunately, playgrounds can help children release their energy prior to entering the classroom and can lead to more engaged students, and fewer disruptions during classroom activities.
While we want kids to be able to go out and get the full benefits of playing on the playground, we also need to remember the liabilities and risks associated with doing so.
Balancing safety on the playground while continuing to protect play can be difficult. So, how do we ensure children are having fun while staying safe?
To ensure safety, children need to be emotionally and socially mature enough to follow instructions and make good choices when using the equipment.
Teaching children behaviors like good communication skills can help them make better decisions during play, and may help playground supervisors take more of a back seat.
When off the playground, try to teach and encourage behaviors such as:
The playground may be one of the few places preschoolers can confidently take the lead on activities.
This is huge developmentally, but also makes it exceedingly important to teach responsibility when it comes to safety and following directions.
Every preschool playground should have its own set of rules, but here are a few basic recommendations to get you started.
When it comes to preschool education, communication and consistent reinforcement between parents and teachers is everything.
Students that are frequently engaging in unsafe playground activities, either due to lack of education or supervision, may have a harder time following the rules at school.
Here are some things to communicate to parents around playground safety:
Keep in mind, playground-related injuries may increase in older parks due to outdated and hazardous equipment. This is especially true in lower income areas, where equipment is generally not maintained as well. Some parents may not be aware of the risks.
Another great way to keep parents in the loop is to design a playground safety checklist tailored to your school and equipment.
Here are some of our favorite playground safety checklists to get you started:
No matter how experienced your teachers and staff are, it’s important to know the statistics around playground safety to help keep educators and supervisors aware of what to look out for.
The CDC released a playground safety report with some interesting information around the how’s and why’s of playground injuries.
There’s currently a trend in early education where we’re seeing some schools electing to use nature playgrounds vs. manufactured ones.
As part of an ongoing movement towards nature-based learning, nature playgrounds replace slides with leaf piles, climbing areas with stone walls, and more.
So, should you make the switch?
If you’re considering making the leap to a nature playground, check with your insurance provider, as well as any relevant licensing laws. There are no design standards to follow with nature playgrounds, so they often present an increased liability, making them harder to insure and legally regulate.
Also, keep in mind that both manufactured playgrounds and nature playgrounds have their own set of safety risks. Here are a few examples of the common injuries in each.
In addition to preventing injuries, it is also important to inform staff on general playground first aid so that they are prepared on how to handle situations, should an injury occur.
Note that it may be a good idea to contact your local health department to ensure your first aid practices are up to date.
Here are some of the basic first aid tips to stay on top of:
If recess happens after lunch, take time to ensure all teachers have access to a child’s medical devices and medications such as epi pens, as well as relevant health records so they know how to administer medication.
Keep in mind, environmental allergies should also be documented and considered during outdoor play time.
As ECE professionals, we always want to focus on playground safety. But it’s important not to micromanage play, as this can negate the positive effects of outdoor free play.
Here are some tips on finding a balance:
When it comes to playground safety, communication is key.
But keeping the lines of communication open between staff, parents, and children can be difficult. The right childcare management software can help bridge the gap, empowering teachers and staff to easily keep track of important information like allergies and communicate faster with parents and families.
Schedule a demo with us today to see how the right system can make managing playground safety easier, while freeing up more time for quality interactions with the young kids in your care.