Playground Safety for Babies and Toddlers

September is Baby Safety Month, and Ready. Set. Food! is committed to helping you keep your baby safe inside and outside of the home.

Playgrounds are only safe for your child if they’re built, maintained, and used properly. Sometimes, kids get hurt because they aren’t playing on the equipment in a safe way, or because the equipment is not safe for them.

How to examine playground equipment and help your little one use it safely? Check out our playground safety checklist.

Playgrounds are great spaces for babies and toddlers to get outdoors, explore, and learn new motor skills. They’ll also learn how to play well with others, share, and possibly make new friends!

But playgrounds are only safe for your child if they’re built, maintained, and used properly. Over 200,000 kids get injured on playgrounds each year due to unsafe equipment or unsafe use.

For instance, some play equipment is only designed for older kids, and some equipment could be broken or worn out. And sometimes, kids get hurt because they aren’t playing on the equipment in a safe way.

How to check playground equipment and make sure your little one is using it safely? Read on for our playground safety checklist.

Playground Safety Before Children Play

  • Dress your little one for play.
    • They should wear well-fitting shoes that are flat, that have backs, and that have a good grip – closed-toe shoes are best.
    • Also, pick outfits that don’t have scarves, strings, hoods, or long necklaces (these are hazards that could get caught on play gear).
    • If your little one is wearing a zip jacket, keep it zipped so it won’t get caught.
    • Put sunscreen on your little one, to protect any areas of their body that are not covered by clothes. Follow safe sunscreen guidelines based on your child’s age.
      • Make sure that the playground surface is safe.
        • Avoid asphalt, gravel, packed dirt, and concrete surfaces.
        • Wood chips, rubber mulch, rubber mats, sand, and synthetic turf are safer surfaces.
        • Loose, soft materials should be at least a foot deep, and extend six feet past the playground equipment.
        • The length of the surfaces around swing sets should be at least twice as long as the height of the swing set.
        • Make sure there are no trip hazards like tree trunks.
        • Check for an age recommendation on a sign.
          • Many playgrounds have separate sections of equipment designed for children under 5 years old. If there are separate sections designed for 0-2 year olds and 2-5 year olds, even better.
          • These sections have lower and shorter equipment, to reduce the risk of a high fall.
          • Stick to these areas when taking your little one to the playground.
          • Make sure that the playground has enough shade.
            • Shady spots will reduce the risk of heat stroke and sunburn, and keep equipment from getting too hot on a hot day.
            • Steer clear of playgrounds with rusted, worn, or broken equipment.
              • Skip playgrounds with splinter spots, nails or screws that stick out, or paint that’s peeling.
              • Stay away from metal slides and other exposed metal playground equipment (without paint). Exposed metal can heat up quickly and possibly lead to burns.
                • Plastic equipment and painted metal are safer, but can also heat up quickly – test those surfaces to make sure they don’t feel too hot.
                • Avoid wet and slippery playground surfaces and equipment. This increases children’s risk for falls.
                • Be ready to supervise your little one at all times while they play.
                  • Teach babies and toddlers to share playground equipment and wait their turn.

                  Learn more about playground safety from Children's (Hospital) of Alabama:

                  Playground Safety for Babies (Under 1 Year Old)

                  • Babies can only start using playground equipment safely when they are 6 months old. If your little one is under 6 months old and you have older children who want to play, you can still take baby to the playground (just not on the equipment). Keep them in the shade, and point out their new surroundings.
                  • Keep a close eye on baby at all times.
                  • Baby swings (with a bucket seat and closed front or safety straps, or with a high back that keeps baby upright and safety straps) are safe once baby can sit up and has good head control.
                    • Usually, baby can start swinging safely between 6 and 9 months of age.
                    • Make sure the swing is made from rubber, plastic, or canvas – not metal or wood.
                    • If the swing has safety straps, buckle the safety straps!
                    • Baby can slide down some short slides, as long as you guide them down while standing off to the side of the slide. Keep one hand on them at all times.
                    • Remember – stand at the side of the slide to guide baby. Never slide with them.
                      • Don’t hold them on your lap, and don’t slide down with them while holding them from behind.
                      • Sliding down a slide with your child increases their risk of injury. Baby’s legs could get trapped, hurt, or even broken if you slide with them. This is because your adult weight generates increased forces if you slide, compared to the low forces generated by a baby or toddler who slides on their own.
                      • Make sure sand at playgrounds doesn’t contain any trash, glass, or unsafe debris.
                        • Clean sand without debris is a great place for baby to play with toys, or even practice crawling or walking.
                        • Just make sure baby doesn’t put sand in their mouth.
                      • If there are areas with low playground equipment and steps that aren’t too steep, baby can try to move and climb in these areas – with your help. You’ll need to support or guide them the whole way.

                      Playground Safety for Toddlers (1-3 Years Old)

                      Toddlers are old enough to start exploring more of the playground, but you’ll still need to keep a watchful eye on them as they play. Whether a piece of equipment is safe for your toddler depends on their age and developmental stage. And you’ll need to teach your toddler the safe ways to use the age-appropriate equipment.

                      Safety on the Swings

                      • Toddlers can – and should – continue to use a baby swing until they’re about 2 1/2 to 3 years old.
                        • Once your toddler can hold onto the swing at all times and support themself without a back on the swing, they’re ready to start using a big kid swing (with you still pushing them – kids usually won’t be ready to pump and propel themselves on a swing until they are 4 or 5).
                          • Only let your child swing on swings made of soft material. Avoid rigid wood or metal swings.
                          • Swings are for sitting. Make sure your toddler sits bottom-down the whole time they are on the swing.
                            • They should never swing while standing up or while kneeling.
                            • They should never swing lying down on their tummy.
                          • Only one person should sit on the swing. Don’t swing with your toddler, and don’t let them swing with a sibling or friend.
                          • Make sure that your child holds onto the ropes that support the swing, at all times.
                          • Teach your child to wait for the swing to stop before they get off.
                          • Remind your child to walk carefully around the swings. They need to give the swings a wide berth. (Model how to do this as you walk safely with your child).
                            • Walking too close to the front or back of the swings puts them at risk for getting knocked down by a swing.

                          Safety on the Slides

                          • Your toddler must go down the slide on their own. Never slide down the slide with your toddler.
                            • Sliding with your toddler on your lap (or sliding behind your toddler) sharply increases their risk for a trapped, injured, or broken leg. This is because your adult weight generates increased forces if you slide, compared to the low forces generated by a baby or toddler who slides on their own.
                            • According to a peer-reviewed study presented at an American Academy of Pediatrics conference, “Toddlers age 12-23 months had the highest percentage of injuries [on slides]. The most common injury overall was a fracture, [which usually] happens when the child's foot catches the edge or bottom of the slide, then twists and bends backward while sitting on a parent's lap.”
                            • Only let your toddler go down slides where the sides are at least 4 inches high.
                            • If your toddler is 12-18 months old, they should only go down slides that are 4 feet tall or shorter.
                            • If your toddler is 18 months to 3 years old, they should only go down slides that are 5 feet tall or shorter.
                            • Make sure that the area at the bottom of the slide is clear of glass rocks, trash, sticks, and toys. The clear area must be at least the size of the platform at the top of the slide.
                            • The safest slides have a platform at the top, with handrails at the sides.
                            • Have your child hold the handrails when climbing to the top, and support them as needed as they climb.
                              • They must never climb up the slide itself.
                              • Your child must only slide when the whole slide (including the bottom and the area right off the slide) is fully clear of other kids.
                                • Teach your child to wait in line for the slide.
                                • And to clear the way for other kids, they need to get off the slide quickly once they are finished.
                                • No sliding down in groups.
                              • Your child must sit before going down the slide, and only slide feet first. They need to keep their bottom on the slide at all times.
                                • No sliding head first, and no sliding down on the tummy.

                              Safety on the Play Structures

                              • Teach your child to hold on with both hands whenever they explore playground equipment, and to climb slowly and carefully.
                              • Equipment higher than 2 ½ feet (30 inches) should have barriers or guardrails to help prevent falls.

                              Safety on the Seesaw

                              • Many seesaws are only meant for older children. And you should wait until your child is at least 3 years old before using any seesaw.
                              • The only seesaw an older toddler should use is one with a spring or other device meant to keep the bottom from quickly contacting the ground and injuring a child.
                              • Only one child can sit in a seesaw seat. And you’ll need to find a child of similar age and weight to sit opposite your child.
                              • Teach your child to hold onto the seesaw with both hands, at all times.
                                • They must always face the middle of the seesaw.
                                • They should only push off the ground with their feet, and always keep feet off to the sides (not under the seesaw).
                              • Kids should always stand far away from the seesaw when others are using it.

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