Spring 2014 Health Link Online

HealthLink Online

Uniting Children, Parents, Caregivers, and Health Professionals

Active Play Safety – Spring 2014

Active Play Safety – Spring 2014

Spring brings increased opportunity for outside play. It is a good time to check outdoor active play areas. Check and fix indoor active play areas too. The design and maintenance of large muscle play areas should provide risk-taking opportunities that are not likely to cause serious harm.  The most common and most severe injuries in child care occur during active play.   

Outdoor areas can be multi-purpose. They can  accommodate activities that build a variety of skills: small muscle movement, literacy, numeracy, science and appreciation of nature. They should be a place for daily moderate to vigorous physical activity. For safety, be sure to divide different types of activities to maintain safe distances between them. As much as possible, design safety into the active play area rather than rely on supervision.  Then concentrate supervision in active play areas where risk-taking is likely or encouraged.

Instead of expensive climbing equipment that requires high levels of maintenance and supervision, you can make a low cost climber by using a hill of sand or grass over dirt. A hill challenges children to use a variety of climbing skills and gross motor experiences.  Indoors or outdoors, give children tunnels, low level obstacle courses, and surfaces to practice walking in a straight line. A big cardboard appliance box with all sharp edges removed makes a no cost tunnel.  Use plastic hoops and ribbons in patterns or chalk on a sidewalk for an obstacle course or a board on the ground to practice balance.

Children soon lose interest in expensive equipment that seems so attractive to adults. They may start inventing hazardous ways to use it.  If the play area has equipment from which children can fall, this equipment must have proper surfacing under and at the required distance around it. Asphalt, concrete, and other hard surfaces as well as grass and dirt are not acceptable surfacing or materials for equipment from which children can fall. Use properly installed loose fill surfacing or use surfacing materials like poured-in-place rubber or artificial grass that meet the guidelines in the Public Playground Safety Handbook published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/122149/325.pdf.) If maintenance of the equipment and surfacing is too costly or too difficult, remove that equipment.

For advice about safe active play, use the resources recommended by the Early Childhood Education Linkage System (ECELS)-Healthy Child Care Pennsylvania.  Go to the ECELS website home page. Enter “injury” in the search box.  Look at the list of items related to injury and active play.  Then, return to the home page and search for “active play. The items about injury prevention and active play on the ECELS website include information, handouts, and web links to many useful online resources.  Use the two Self-Learning Modules that address Active Play: the newly updated Active Play and Head Bumps Matter. You can also request a workshop about this topic.  These professional development activities earn Keystone STARS professional development credit.  

In October 2013, ECELS published Model Child Care Health Policies, 5th edition (MCCHP5.)  This fill-in-the-blank set of polices is based on best practices defined in Caring for Our Children, 3rd edition. Using MCCHP5 eases the burden of drafting site-specific policies.  For large muscle play, MCCHP5 includes requirements for equipment, supervision, maintenance, required clothing, footwear, risk-control, and teacher participation in activities. Use the forms in MCCHP5 Appendix O: Daily and Monthly Playground Inspection and Maintenance and in Appendix P: Staff Assignments for Active (Large-Muscle) Play.  MCCHP5 is free online at: http://www.ecels-healthychildcarepa.org/publications/manuals-pamphlets-policies/item/248-model-child-care-health-policies. You can buy the hard copy, printed version of this publication at www.aap.org/bookstore.

Betsy Caesar, MEd, Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) and Dennis Smiddle, CPSI contributed to this article.