Wintertime at the Playground? Have Fun and Stay Safe
Even though it's cold outside, many parents still head to the playground regularly so that their little ones can run off some steam and get some fresh air. Going to the playground can be a great activity all year round and there is no reason to skip the playground just because the temperature has dipped. But, Rhianna Miller, a playground design and safety expert at Rubber Mulch has some advice for making sure your little one stays safe at the playground all winter long.
Always know the temperature before going outdoors.
While most winter days are likely to be safe enough for extended outdoor activity, not all will be. Frostbite isn’t a walk in the park (or a hop in the playground). It can happen very quickly once the wind chill factor gets below -18ºF. Children are especially susceptible to it because they can’t always tell when they’re being overexposed to extreme cold. In most parts of the country, this isn't likely to be a concern on many days, but it's best to check if you are experiencing a cold snap. If the temperature dips this low, keep your kids indoors for playtime, instead. No amount of bundling up with clothes can keep them safe from extreme chill and other dangerous factors.
Be on the lookout for signs your child is too cold.
If going out in low, but still generally safe temperatures watch out for hypothermic symptoms. Shivering is a recognizable one, but also check for dizziness, nausea, fatigue, fast breathing, confusion, and hunger. If your child is experiencing these symptoms head indoors.
Check the ground for slipperiness.
Once you’ve determined that the temperature is suitable for outdoor play, make sure the ground is slip-proof and fall-proof. Falls and slips are already primary playground hazards on nice days, let alone snow days or the days following a snowfall. If possible, cordon off areas that need to be treated long-term so children don’t go wandering in and injuring themselves or do a quick check of the playground yourself and instruct children not to go by areas that appear slippery. The ground covering at your playground makes a difference. In general, ground coverage like soil, sand, wood fiber, and grass can absorb and retain water. With chilly temperature, it’s easy for them to freeze and become slippery. Rubber mulch doesn’t absorb water, so it’s safer to play on during winter while providing sufficient fall protection.
Test the equipment first.
If you are not sure equipment or a surface is safe, test all outdoor surfaces and playground equipment for slipperiness. Television shows and movies may be exaggerating with the licking-snow-off-a-steel-pole-and-getting-tongue-stuck scenarios, but the truth is, you can’t really predict the silly things kids will do in the name of play! Playground equipment made of metal can freeze really fast and cause various injuries. Make sure to test them for ice, rust, and other dangers before allowing kids to play on them. If you find the surfaces too slippery, cold, or showing some potential danger, it’s best to let the kids play indoors.
Dress for the occasion.
Dressing warmly is a given, but be sure to avoid scarves, drawstrings, and other articles of clothing that could strangle. Look for alternatives. For example, tube neck warmers might be a better alternative to keeping kids bundled up outdoors.
It's never a bad idea to keep a first-aid kit and other supplies ready. Winter brings with it a unique set of potential safety hazards, so add a few items to the kit for cold-day preparedness. Keep some instant hot chocolate or chicken broth packs since they can help hypothermic kids warm up their core temperature while providing much-needed calories. Bring along thick gloves, socks, and leg and arm warmers since arms, legs, hands, and feet are body parts that need to be kept warm for blood to circulate properly. If a child exhibits hypothermia, quickly cover his or her extremities with these items of clothing. Extra towels and fleecy blankets in the car can help maintain proper body heat while keeping kids dry, warm, and comfortable.
Have fun and stay safe!