Your backyard is your children’s safest playground. You want a fun haven where they can exercise their bodies and imaginations. A little safety planning ensures your play area is ready for exciting adventures. This guide provides playground safety tips to give you peace of mind and your children the play area of their dreams.
National Standards for Playgrounds
Play is serious business, and national playground safety standards exist to protect your children in various settings. Guidance for playground safety is set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Standards apply to both residential and commercial play areas because children can be injured on any unsafe playground. Reputable manufacturers of play equipment follow these recommendations for construction, materials, and design. You want to purchase your playground items from these businesses.
The national program for playground safety is an agency that promotes safe and fun play environments for all children. It educates parents and equipment providers on best practices and standards. As a parent building the best playground experience for your kids, you can start by purchasing products that meet these guidelines.
Your Safety Checklist
By putting safety first, you can relax while your children enjoy hours of fun in their playground. Use this playground safety checklist to cover the highlights. Then read on to learn more about securing each aspect of your play area.
- Anchor playsets securely to the ground. They should not shift or be able to tip over. Make sure anchors and fasteners are covered or buried.
- Install a protective surface under your playground equipment to cushion children when they fall.
- Inspect play structures and surfacing for sharp edges, wear, and damage.
- Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for routine maintenance. A few minutes each month could prevent hazards and expensive repairs.
- Make any needed repairs immediately, before your children find the trouble spots.
- Keep all ropes and cords away from play areas. Hazards include items such as pet leashes and clotheslines that could entangle curious children.
- Openings should be under 3.5 inches or over 9 inches. This prevents children from falling through barriers or getting stuck in openings or between rails. Check ladders and fencing for loose bars or rungs.
- Swing chains should be coated for the comfort of little hands.
- Platforms over 30 inches high need guardrails to prevent children from falling or jumping off.
Pick the Right Spot
If you’re planning your backyard playground, the first step is finding that perfect spot. Choose a level area away from overhanging branches, poles, and wires. Check for low hazards such as ditches, tree stumps, and utility covers.
Set your play area at least six feet from structures such as fences and outbuildings. Swing sets need even more clearance in the front and behind them. Make sure that distance is at least twice the measurement from the ground to the bar suspending the swings.
If your playsets have any bare metal, locate them away from direct sunlight. Children can quickly burn themselves on hot metal in the summer heat. Face surfaces north for the least amount of direct sun.
Plan Your Play Areas
If you have more than one playset, place them so children can access each one without interference. Swings should have open space in front and behind them. Slides should also face away from other equipment. If you have a trampoline, place it apart from other structures.
Anchor playsets and other equipment according to manufacturer directions. One solution is to have them professionally installed. Make sure any anchors are covered or buried so that children don’t trip on them. Coverage also protects these parts from rust and other weather-related wear.
If you have tire or saucer swings, place them in separate bays from other equipment. They can rotate 360 degrees and need full clearance. Platform swings also need extra room as more than one child at a time can ride them.
If you have fond childhood memories of homemade swings, purchase similar swings instead. Handmade swings are often unsafe. Poorly secured ropes can break, and bulky wood seats can injure children. Stay with lightweight and properly installed swings from a reputable manufacturer. You and your children will enjoy years of fun and create new memories.
Young children often enjoy quieter activities such as sandbox games. Kids of all ages build focus and spatial awareness when playing with building-block toys. To encourage children’s development, locate sandboxes and other quieter play areas away from high-traffic playsets.
Cushion Playground Surfaces
Most playground accidents are due to falls, and the right playground safety surfacing will protect your kids. The material should cushion jumping and falling children and absorb shock. It needs to be weather-resistant, non-toxic, and stay in place.
Extend surfacing at least six feet in all directions from the playground. Given how far excited kids can leap, more clearance is a good idea.
Recommended surfacing materials include sand, pea gravel, wood chips, and mulch. Install an even layer at least 12 inches deep. For a smooth and attractive surface, consider rubber matting.
You may be wondering if your backyard lawn will suffice. Lush grass is gorgeous but doesn’t cushion well enough. Instead, place playground surfacing over the grass around play structures.
Remember that fragrant wood mulch from your childhood playground days? Bring it home for your children to enjoy. To brighten your playground, try rubber mulch in blue, green, or red. It absorbs your children’s jumps and falls and doesn’t mold or rot.
If you’re planning to be in your home for a long time, consider pour-in-place rubber mulch. This permanent surface conforms to any landscape and needs little maintenance. It provides even protection for your entire playground and enhances your backyard’s appearance.
For high-traffic areas, playground safety mats are a great option. These thick rubber mats provide cushioning underneath slides, swings, and monkey bars. They add protection for areas where excited children could trip or jump as they enter the playground.
Buy Solidly Built Playsets
Your children’s playsets build agility, strength, and hand-to-eye coordination. They are also carefully designed for safety. Well-built structures have these features:
- Playsets stay in place and can’t tip over.
- Platforms higher than 30 inches have barriers to prevent jumping or falling.
- Openings are either 3.5 inches or less or greater than 9 inches. This spacing prevents a young child’s head from becoming trapped.
- Steps, slats, and rungs are spaced evenly to prevent tripping or misses.
Choose Kid-Friendly Materials
Safe playground structures are built from premium materials that provide years of worry-free fun. Top choices are durable plastic and pressure-treated wood. Look for stainless steel hardware to ensure strength and longevity.
Playset parts should fit together seamlessly with no gaps. Surfaces should be smooth with no pitting, warping, or cracks. Inspect more closely, and you shouldn’t see jutting nails, crooked screws, or sharp corners.
Paints, stains, and other coatings should be non-toxic. They should resist chipping, fading, and peeling.
Any playground metal should be painted with lead-free paint or treated to prevent corrosion. Another safe option is galvanized metal, which has a zinc coating applied to avert rust.
PVC plastic is a practical all-weather choice for your playsets. Five times stronger than wood, PVC doesn’t rot or need maintenance. It stays cooler than metal on hot summer days and resists fading.
If you love wood’s natural beauty, consider pressure-treated wood playsets. They have smooth surfaces, stay cool in summer, and resist winter icing. The pressure treatment keeps wood from molding or rotting and deters insects. Just make sure the playset has not been treated with pesticides or creosote, which can be toxic to children.
Play structure platforms and decking should be slip-resistant and not build up static. Slats should be closely spaced to prevent little fingers from slipping through. Surfaces should stay cool enough for bare feet in the summer. Heavy-grade plastic is an ideal material as it holds up to constant traffic.
Hardware parts may be small, but they have the mighty job of holding playgrounds together. They can also injure children if not safely installed.
Check these playground safety tips for your hardware components:
- Hardware that contacts children’s hands should be rubber coated to avoid pinching.
- Screws should be recessed or set flush.
- Load-bearing parts should be made of stainless steel for strength and durability. Examples are corner and joint brackets and wheel ball bearings.
- Structures should use metal rebars for long-lasting stability.
- Tubing should be covered with plugs or caps that stay firmly put.
- Bolts should be capped and as flush as possible. They should not protrude more than their diameter past the nut to avoid scratching skin or catching clothes.
- Hooks should be closed, and any gaps should be thinner than a dime. Kids can catch their clothing on open hooks.
Safe railings and fences let children enjoy their playsets to their heart’s content.
Children love to hurtle down slides. Open slide walls should be at least 4 inches high to keep kids safely inside. Tube slide interiors should be at least 23 inches wide.
Safe playset platforms have guardrails that deter children from jumping or climbing out. Slats should be spaced closely enough to prevent even very young children from falling out or getting stuck. There should be no gaps between the fencing and openings to slides or other structures.
Openings for slides and other areas should be tall enough for children to sit or crawl through comfortably and wide enough to prevent getting stuck.
Stairs and climbing walls should have sturdy handrails at the right height and diameter for the intended age group. Bars should be made from a smooth, non-toxic material that won’t rust or warp, get too hot, or ice over.
Select Age-Appropriate Playsets
Children grow so fast that you may wonder how to choose the right size of playground equipment. If your children range in age, you want to provide safe fun for all. The good news is you can purchase a playset that has swings and other activities for mixed ages. You can also buy add-ons for your existing equipment or a standalone set for small children.
Older children need rugged equipment sized for them. If their playsets are too small, they can accidentally break swings and slides meant for younger tykes. Their heavier weight can weaken structures over time, adding injury risk and shortening the life of your playset.
Young children playing on equipment meant for older kids will be limited in what they can do and probably frustrated. Tall slides and swings increase their risk of falling. They need to play on smaller structures to build skills and enhance their development.
Here are some age-appropriate options for playground safety.
- Climbing structures under 32 inches high
- Fully enclosed bucket swings
- Spiral slides less than 360 degrees
- Rung ladders
- Bucket, belt, and rotating tire swings
- Spiral slides up to 360 degrees
Grade School Children
- Rung ladders
- Belt and rotating tire swings
- Spiral slides with more than one 360-degree turn
- Horizontal, rung, and step ladders
Homework for Parents
With a little attention from you, your home playground should provide years of trouble-free fun. Follow the playset manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines to ensure safety.
Here are some playground safety tips for parents.
Playsets and Other Equipment
- Check that all surfaces are smooth and safe. Look for sharp edges and jutting nails and screws.
- Remediate any rust, worn paint, or roughened surfaces.
- Test the temperature of surfaces, such as slides, before allowing kids to play. This includes checking for heat in the summer and ice and extreme cold in the winter.
- Check for damaged or missing parts, such as climbing wall posts or swing seats.
- Inspect hooks, ropes, and chains for damage.
- Test and tighten nuts and bolts every two weeks.
- Lubricate metal parts per manufacturer’s directions.
- Treat wood and other surfaces per manufacturer’s directions.
- Make sure that any fencing around the playground is intact and free from hazards such as jutting nails.
- Keep equipment that could pose a hazard away from the playground. Examples are ropes, lawn and gardening equipment, propane and lighter fluid, and pesticides.
- Keep the base of slides, stairs, and climbing walls free of debris.
- Check smooth ground surfaces, such as rubber matting, for damage or excessive wear.
- Inspect mulch, sand, or wood chips for bare spots or buried objects.
- Rake mulching to keep it loose and evenly distributed.
- Make sure your children and their friends have appropriate supervision.
- Ensure your children dress appropriately for the playground. They should avoid flimsy shoes that could cause tripping. They shouldn’t wear scarves, belts, or drawstrings that could catch on equipment.
- Remind your kids to play on the structures suitable for their ages. Children younger than school age should avoid platforms over 30 inches high. Older children should stick to swings and slides meant for them.
- As much as your child wants to slide while sitting on your lap, resist the pleas. Children at a raised height could fall out of the slide.
Tips for Kids
Reward your children with playdates or extended playtime if they respect some basic playground safety rules. They will build good habits and social skills for life.
Here are some playground safety tips for kids:
- Wait for your turn. Do not push other children, even in fun.
- Do not pile on swings, not meant for multiple kids.
- Don’t run in front of swings when other children are on them.
- Go down slides feet first.
- Don’t jump off platforms, roofs, or other heights.
- Don’t throw mulch or remove it from the playground.
- Don’t move or damage protective ground surfaces.
Creating a safe playground takes a little knowledge and planning.
You must consider the playground area, the equipment, and your children’s ages and abilities. You also want to check structures regularly for wear and damage. If you purchase reputable equipment, it will provide your children years of low-maintenance fun.
Use these tips to build a safe playground that your children will love. Their enjoyment and your peace of mind will be worth it.