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How Safe Is Junior at Play?

Before kids hit the jungle gym, know what dangers they face.

Keeping Close Watch

Efforts have also been made to keep kids closer to the ground. According to voluntary CPSC guidelines (established in 1991 and updated in 1997), the maximum height of climbers has been set at 84 inches for school-aged children and 60 inches for preschoolers. It's also suggested that ladders have steps instead of rungs, promoting greater stability. And, of course, the guidelines offer a list of other simple corrections that can save children from injury -- nuts and bolts that are smooth and inset, so children can't scrape themselves or catch their clothing, for instance.

Unfortunately, many playgrounds across the country still have a long way to go. To help increase awareness of playground safety issues, the National Program for Playground Safety has declared the week of April 24 through the 28th as Playground Safety Week. It's a good time to have a look at your local playground equipment. But don't stop there, say playground safety advocates. Make sure you keep an equally sharp eye on the children themselves -- particularly those who like to climb.

What to Look for -- or Avoid -- in a Playground

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the following tips can help prevent injuries:

  • Avoid playgrounds that have asphalt, concrete, hard-packed dirt, or grass surfaces. Safe surfaces have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand, or pea-sized gravel, or are made of safety-tested, rubber-like materials.
  • Don't allow your child on equipment with open "S" hooks or protruding bolt ends. Check for bolts that project outward horizontally, particularly from the top of a slide, since the drawstring from a hooded sweatshirt or coat can easily catch on a piece of equipment and cause a child to strangle.
  • Steer children to equipment under 4 feet high if they are less than 5 years old.
  • Avoid any equipment with openings that could entrap a child's head. To prevent a child from going through feet first and getting his or her head stuck, minimum spacing between bars should be less than 3.5 inches or greater than 9 inches.
  • Swing seats should be made of plastic or rubber; avoid hard materials like metal or wood.
  • Be sure you can clearly see your children on the playground -- and that your children can also see you.

Eileen Garred is a senior editor at Child magazine and a former reporter for Time magazine. She lives in New York and is the mother of one child.

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