Before you let your little one loose on play equipment, make sure it is safe.

Regulations for Outdoor Play Equipment for Preschool Children

by Jenivieve Elly

Outdoor play equipment provides a good excuse for kids to get fresh air, tons of exercise and fun social time. More than 200,000 kids, however, are treated for playground-related injuries annually, and nearly 40 percent of those injuries happen at home, according to the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. While you don't want your kiddo getting hurt, you also can't keep him in a bubble. Regulations for outdoor play equipment and adhering to play safety rules can reduce the risk of injury.

1. Design Safety

KidsHealth says playground equipment should be categorized according to age group: children younger than 2, 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds. On most playgrounds, there are clear boundaries to separate the big kid equipment from the little kid equipment. As a parent, your job is to make sure your child sticks to the part of the playground intended for her age group. You also need to check for safety before you turn her loose. Elevated surfaces should have guardrails and protective barriers, and there should be a 9-foot space between equipment 30-inches high or higher. Anything that swings, swivels or moves should be in a separate area and all openings on equipment, such as rungs on a ladder or bars on a guardrail, should measure less than 3½ inches or they should be wider than 9 inches.

2. Maintenance

Play equipment should regularly be maintained and inspected. Make it a part of your routine and have your kiddo help you. Check for breaks, cracks, splinters and rust, as well as for objects that stick out and could injure someone or catch on clothing. If there is an issue and you are at a public facility, contact the appropriate parks department to fix it and choose another spot to play until it is resolved. Sandboxes at a public park should be avoided as animals may mistake them for a litter box. For sandboxes at home, use a cover when not in use to discourage animals.

3. Spraygrounds

Spraygrounds, or water playgrounds, are sprouting up in communities everywhere. Preschoolers typically love water play, so this kind of play equipment is perfect for their age range. Spraygrounds have jets, buckets, spouts, water cannons and squirters that the children can play and spray each other with. More often than not, there is no lifeguard, so follow the rules and regulations, which are usually posted within the play area. Swimsuits are required, as are swim diapers if your preschooler is not completely potty-trained. And don't forget his favorite towel, hat and sunscreen! It is also a good idea to make him wear non-skid water shoes to prevent falls and protect his feet from any debris that may be in the area.

4. Teaching Play Safety

Whether you hit up your local park, attend a play-date or set up play equipment in your backyard, teaching your child play safety is a must. Most preschoolers love to climb, which makes falling a major cause of injury. If you have a little daredevil, make sure he knows to look for other kids before jumping off equipment, and coach him on how to land on both feet with his knees slightly bent. Teach your kiddo to use the equipment properly, not to "rough house," and to use good judgement on wet or hot equipment. The CPSC encourages parents to install protective surfacing, check for hazardous hooks and edges on swings and slides and avoid ropes on home playgrounds. Bumps and bruises are a part of growing up, but with a grownup's watchful eye, outdoor play equipment can make for an enchanting adventure.

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