In observance of National Playground Safety Week, April 25-29, 2011, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) encourages all parents and caregivers to be vigilant and mindful as their children play and interact in America’s Backyard.

Each year, more than 200,000 injuries happen on playgrounds. NRPA has provided five quick tips for adults, so they can ensure that their children enjoy challenging and safe play experiences.

1. Check the surfacing material beneath the equipment to ensure it is acceptable.

Fact: Improper surfacing material under playground equipment is the leading cause of playground-related injuries.

Children are adventurous even as their bodies are still developing. It’s important that playgrounds have proper surfaces to reduce the possibility of injuries from falls. Acceptable surfaces include things such as wood fiber and wood chips, sand, pea gravel, synthetic and rubber tiles, poured-in-place rubber, shredded rubber and mats. Loose surfacing such as wood chips should be at a depth of 12 inches and be freestanding of water and debris. Unacceptable surfaces include concrete, blacktop, packed earth, and grass.

2. Check the temperature of equipment surfaces.

Fact: Hot surfaces in direct sunlight can reach temperatures high enough to cause serious contact burn injuries in a matter of seconds.

Playing in the sun is glorious, but younger children often don’t have the reflexes to pull back from hot surfaces before an injury occurs. Be sure to check playground equipment such as metal decks, slides, and steps before allowing young children access. In addition, proper footwear can serve as good protection for feet.

3. Be observant of the conditions of the playground.

Fact: After falls, the next leading cause of injuries on playgrounds is related to breakage, tip-over, design, and assembly of equipment.

Parents should be observant, making note if an area or the equipment seems neglected or poorly maintained. Red flags include things such as missing, broken, or worn out components; fatigued or deteriorated metal, wood, and plastic; and vandalism or graffiti. All parts of equipment should be stable with no signs of loosening, and surfacing material should be maintained.

4. Supervision and proper clothing can reduce risk.

Fact: It is estimated that 40 percent of playground injuries are associated with a lack of supervision.

Young children are constantly challenging their own abilities and often are not able to recognize potential hazards. Parents and caregivers should observe children at play at all times to reduce the possibility of accidents. Special attention should also be paid to a child’s clothing, as drawstrings and jewelry can become entangled in equipment and protruding hardware, and can cause death by strangulation.

5. Ensure the equipment is age-appropriate.

Fact: Preschool-aged children (2 to 5 years) have developmental needs that differ greatly from school-aged children (5 to 12 years).

It is important to make sure that playground equipment is appropriate for the age of the user. Equipment not recommended for preschoolers includes free-standing arch climbers and flexible climbers, chain and cable walks, fulcrum seesaws, log rolls, track rides, and vertical sliding pools.

These tips have been developed from NRPA’s “The Dirty Dozen,” a comprehensive 12-point inspection guide for playground safety, as well as the Consumer Product Safety Commission 2010 Public Playground Safety Handbook. Adults who identify potential hazards are encouraged to notify the owner or operator of the playground so that they make take steps to eliminate them.

A free copy of “The Dirty Dozen” is available for download on the NRPA website.

New Jersey has safe playgrounds in most towns, however, you won't find imaginative wooden play structures everywhere. Our article Playing Around on NJ Playgrounds lists some great spots to take your kids. For a comprehensive list of indoor and outdoor playgrounds in New Jersey, visit NJ Playgrounds.