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Questioning Playground Safety

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: I am doing some research on playground safety and I have a few questions: 1) What are the main safety problems that you have observed on school playgrounds, and 2) do you feel that this issue is addressed enough in our schools? Do our kids know enough about how to conduct themselves on the playground that they could be considered safe, or do we quickly teach our children the basics and then send them out to play? I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Thanks.

A: Let's speak generally about playground safety. Every year over 200,000 children visit U.S. emergency rooms for injuries sustained on playgrounds. The most common injuries are broken bones, bruises, scrapes, and deeper cuts. School systems do have the best interests of the kids in mind. It's important for kids to run around and climb, burning energy, and developing their motor skills. However, when grouping children of similar age with varying developmental or cognitive levels, injuries may still occur. Often times, it's not that children are unable to achieve their motor skills, but they get into social situations with trying to compete and raise their own self-esteem.

Although safety is something that should be taught, kids will always need to be supervised. Playground systems can be quite elaborate and really challenge children. With proper supervision and continued teaching throughout childhood, we can maximize safety so kids can always enjoy these exciting activities. Schools do attempt to minimize injury by having soft surfaces for kids if they fall, such as sawdust or dirt underneath slides or jungle gyms. Safety can be improved by adequately spacing all equipment, and by maintaining the quality of the equipment. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a safety checklist that can be used to inspect playgrounds. Responsibility for playground safety must be shared by parents, teachers, and other adults who supervise play, as well as the people who design, construct, and maintain playgrounds.

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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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