Protected at the Playground

Keep Kids Safe at Play

Whether your child plays at home, at an indoor playspace or on a public playground, safety is the top priority. Follow these tips on your quest for safe play.

Surface materials

Children fall; it’s part of growing up. But landing on a soft surface will reduce potential injuries.

Indoor: A high-density foam deck like the one used on the indoor play- ground at Oasis Family Fun Center in Glen Mills, PA, provides a forgiving surface for kids who take a tumble.

“I want it to be a true soft playground,” says owner Glenn Feldman, who notes that the industry seems to be trending toward hard plastic decks. Foam also covers all metal poles in Oasis’s play area to reduce impact injuries.

Outdoor: Many outdoor play- grounds still have grass or sand bases, which do not cushion a fall well. Non-toxic wood fiber mulch also does not provide a soft landing. This spring, look for playgrounds with rubberized mulch that cushions the child’s body on impact.

Kate Zmich, director of programs and fun for Smith Memorial Playground in Philadelphia, notes that these rubberized surfaces can absorb enough force so a child who falls from the highest point on the play structure would not sustain a life-threatening injury. The rubber also compacts well enough to make it stroller- and wheelchair-accessible.

Safe play structures

Indoor: Plastic playground structures are strong, colorful and recyclable. The preferred materials for plastic playsets are recycled structural plastic and recycled high-density polyethylene.

Outdoor: Older wooden playground equipment may contain chromated copper arsenate, a chemical-rich preservative that is unsafe for children to touch and that gives off unhealthy fumes. Look for cedar and redwood equipment that is chemical free and certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. 

Additional safety features to look for on any playscape include netting to keep kids from falling out of the structure and bars spaced too close together to allow for a tiny tot’s head to slip through and get stuck.

Safety checklist

Indoor: Most indoor playgrounds require kids to leave their shoes in a cubby and wear clean socks on the equipment to avoid tracking in germs from outdoors. Feldman adds that food and drinks also need to stay outside of the play area, not only to keep the surfaces clean but also to avoid choking hazards for very young children who may pick up dropped food items like candy or popcorn.

Although parents should remain vigilant at all times, many indoor play places post staff at each attraction to ensure visitors follow the rules and play safely.

Outdoor: Before you let your child play, inspect the area for hazardous situations like broken glass on the ground or loose boards on a wooden structure and report problems to the responsible party.

But then, “Stay out of the way,” recommends Zmich, who notes that kids play differently when their parents don’t hover. Once you’ve chosen a safe playground, let your child play freely. Kids learn through play how to self-regulate, and the occasional boo-boo prepares them for the cuts, scrapes and bumps of life.

Tania K. Cowling is a former teacher, freelance writer and mother. Find her at

Categories: Elementary Age, Fitness, Toddlers