Bouncing and Playing in the Backyard, Safely
The school year is ending and many summer camps and childcare programs remain closed prompting families to get creative in the way they entertain their children. Home playsets, trampolines, bounce houses, and public playgrounds are popular ways to keep kids moving. As I see more and more of these popping up in backyards, now seems like a good time to talk about safety.
Trampolines and bounce houses are fun and present a great way for kids to expend all that extra energy, but they come with risks. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against children’s recreational trampoline use because of the risk of injury. 1 in 3 trampoline injuries results in a broken bone and 1 in 200 trampoline injuries result in permanent neurological damage.
According to the CDC, more than 200,000 children are treated for playground-related injuries in emergency departments each year. About half of those injuries are fractures and contusions/abrasions and about 1 out of 10 injuries includes a traumatic brain injury. Further, as our communities continue to manage the spread of coronavirus, there are some important guidelines to follow to keep you and others safe.
For any of these outdoor activities, an adult should be present to supervise and be ready to intervene when play becomes too wild. Below are some basic ground rules to follow to reduce the risk of serious injury.
- Discourage somersaults, flips, wrestling or placing objects on the trampoline. Failed attempts at tumbling can cause spinal injuries resulting in permanent disability or even death.
- Limit the number of people on the trampoline. Approximately 75 percent of injuries occur when multiple people are on a trampoline. Unfortunately, the smallest children are 14 times more likely to be injured than their bigger playmates. For full size trampolines, all jumpers should be age 6 or older.
- When setting up the trampoline, place it on level ground away from trees, fences, or other hazards. Inspect it for wear or rust and make sure the padding or netting is in good shape. A ladder can help ensure no one tries to jump on or off the trampoline, but it should be stored away from the trampoline to keep small children from gaining unsupervised access.
- Have jumpers remove all jewelry, hats, hairclips, shoes, baggy clothes or drawstrings that can catch, and to empty their pockets.
- Check with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to see if they will cover trampoline-related claims.
Bounce House Safety
From birthday parties to festivals, bounce houses are a popular way to celebrate with kids. The best safety practices for trampolines also apply to bounce houses. However, it is also important to monitor the air pressure of the bouncer and to quickly have the children exit if it seems to be losing air. Additionally, if it becomes windy, have the children exit, as bounce houses can be caught in strong winds and will lift and dangerously travel with their occupants still inside.
Walk and Talk Through Proper Use of all Playground Equipment: When a child cooks in the kitchen for the first time, you take the time to explain that knives are sharp and the stove is hot. However, most kids are given free range the second they spot a playset or playground in the distance. Take a moment to review proper use of the different parts of the playground equipment. This can include:
- Always go down the slide feet first
- Don’t stand on the swings
- Always check for other people or animals when swinging, sliding, or climbing
For young children, it can be helpful to regularly review proper use of playsets. They may forget or as they get older try to test limits in ways that can lead to injuries.
Check the Playground Surfaces: No matter what time of day it is, it is important to check the condition of the playground surface. A wet surface, from morning dew or rain, can make the surface slippery and dangerous for kids running around. When the sun is out, the surface of the playground may become too hot for children to touch. Metal slides, handrails, and steps can easily become hot in direct sun light. Contact burns with hot surfaces can take only seconds for children. Also make sure the equipment is in good condition, with no splinters, broken parts, or worn rungs.
Check the Ground: Many backyard playsets are set straight on grass or dirt. Replacing these materials with something softer that better absorbs the impact from falls can protect your kids. Recommended materials include sand, woodchips, rubber or rubber-like materials, or mulches. Go online to find helpful guidelines and resources for how deep and wide you should lay each kind of materials to provide your kids with a safe place to land.
You also want to take a moment to do a review of the 6 feet around the playground for potential hazards, such as stumps, rocks, broken glass, or nails. If you recently built the playground, offer to pay your kids a prize for every nail they are able to find. They will find all of them no problem.
Practice Hand Hygiene: When spending the day at public parks, your children will be touching surfaces that are commonly touched by other children. There are plenty of diseases that can live on surfaces, so it is important to remind them not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth with their hands. If you brought snacks or a picnic to the playground, encourage them to clean their hands either with soap and water, if available, or with sanitizer before eating.
If Injuries Happen
If there is a potentially serious injury, call 911. Do not move the child (or adult) if they might have injured their head, neck, or back, unless they are in immediate danger. Minor injuries like cuts, scrapes, and bruises can be treated using basic first aid. Always monitor for signs of infection and call your primary care provider if injuries worsen or the symptoms do not lessen.
Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center and UVM Children’s Hospital.