Backyards and the outdoors are wonderful places for children to explore, learn, and get some much-needed physical activity. Studies show that outdoor play is beneficial to children, stimulating cognition as well as improving mood and physical fitness. Just like any activity, however, outdoor play can present risks to children of all ages, but especially for the youngest. With some planning, instruction, and supervision, it is possible to enjoy safe outdoor play.
Teach Boundaries and Acceptable Behavior
There are many potential hazards outdoors. Part of growing up is learning about the dangers of the world and how to conform behavior to avoid injury and problems. The first step to encouraging safe outdoor play is to teach your children where they can and cannot play and your reasoning. A fence is a physical barrier that can be easily climbed by most children and is therefore essentially useless as a deterrent to wandering for all but the smallest children -- who wouldn’t reasonably be unsupervised anyway. Teaching your children not to play outside of your yard is more effective than considering a fence as a failsafe.
This same lesson can apply to most backyard hazards. Write up a list of rules, and if your kids are old enough, ask for their help in determining these rules. Explain that you want them to be safe, and express your concerns. Children are resistant to parenting that is dropped on them unilaterally, so even when you are parenting by decree, including them in the process helps them understand your mentality.
Outdoor Play Equipment
Swing sets, jungle gyms, and tree houses are typical outdoor play equipment that can cause injury if misused. Explain your reasoning for simple rules. For example, tell them that the swingset is not designed for children to hang upside-down from the monkey bars. Age-appropriate use is also important; toddlers can be seriously injured when playing on sets designed for older kids, and bigger children can get hurt on kiddie equipment.
Do your part as a parent to ensure your children’s safety by checking equipment throughout the year. Test out swings and steps, check wood surfaces for splinters, rotted boards, worn ropes, nail and screw pops, and any other potential hazards.
When buying or installing outdoor play equipment, make sure you are buying good quality items by checking online reviews before purchasing. Make sure the playsets are properly installed, and add appropriate ground covering to absorb the shock of inevitable falls. It is also crucial, regardless of your children’s age, to ensure that the play equipment is within your line of sight.
Backyard pools are sources of endless family summer fun, but they also present a serious drowning hazard. Again, establishing rules is one of the best ways to minimize injury risk. Establish and post a written set of pool rules and enforce them. Explain that “no running” is not a suggestion -- it’s a sanctionable offense. Learn basic pool safety, and revisit the rules each year as part of the pool opening routine. Also, prepare an emergency plan for pool accidents. Often, people do not know what to do in the event of a serious accident in the backyard. Have a first aid kit and a simple numbered list of who to call and when. This simple list is for the adult’s benefit as well as children’s.
Outdoor spaces are excellent places for children to learn and thrive. Spring and summer bring opportunities for healthy outdoor activities, and while some risk of injury exists, there are several ways to mitigate hazards while still enjoying outdoor play.