Safe Playground Surfaces for Preschoolers
Before you let your preschooler play at any playground, you should inspect the location. And don't only check out the equipment itself. Pay close attention to the surfaces under and around the playground equipment and play structures. With falls being the most likely form of childhood injury at a playground, the material being landed on can go a long way to keeping your preschooler safe.
What materials are safe? Soft, loose material is best because is offers cushioning on impact. Watch for playgrounds with sand, smooth gravel, wood chips, shredded rubber, or mulch. These materials are safe and are the best for playground use. Playgrounds covered with concrete or asphalt should be avoided. And even playgrounds that just have grass or natural earth can be more of a hazard because they can so packed with use. Bare earth can be as hard as cement, and not a good surface to play on.
How much material? There should be at least 8-10 inches of shock-absorbing material under all equipment, and that soft surface should extend 6 feet past the equipment on all sides to allow for jumping or falling children. You will have to dig a little bit to see just how deep the layer goes. If you can't tell, get in touch with the city or school that owns the equipment and ask them.
Is the surface clean? This step is something you should do each and every time you visit the playground. Before you let your preschooler go playing, take a look around to see if there is any trash, broken glass, large or sharp sticks lying around the equipment. Take a moment to clear away any debris that could trip or cut a child. If the trash is more than you want to handle yourself, call the city and request that a maintenance crew be sent to the park.
Still play safe No matter how much padding there may be around a play structure, your preschooler still needs to play safely and not take undo risk when running or jumping around the equipment. Cushioned areas are safer, but won't protect completely from falls.