Friday, October 14, 2011

Tips for Safe Play Indoors

Outdoor playgrounds are of course a key area of focus when it comes to safety as well as educational and entertainment value, however indoor play areas also deserve a similar level of attention.

Sometimes what appears to be the most obvious of common sense solutions -- keeping the floor clear so people won't trip -- often gets overlooked in the fray of everyday school or family life. A recent article by Daniel Akinson points out the fact that a leading cause of injuries that happen inside the house or classroom result from toys not being picked up.

"One specific danger and one that is usually ignored are all the kids’ toys that have not been picked up," the article states. "This can definitely be a hazard if the living area is doubling as a play area."

The magazine provides the following advice on how to prevent accidents that can lead to minor or at times serious injuries:

• "Designate a particular area of the room in which the kids should play" and make children understand that whenever toys are in use, that is where they should be.

• "Show your child how to be neat." Instill this early on in their lives and follow up by making sure they always clean up after themselves when playtime concludes.

• "Teach your kids that picking up is fun." To counter the perception that putting stuff away, the article suggests a game in which kids race to put their things away before the end of a favorite song playing in the background.

• "To keep your kids safe from falls, place a large rug in their play area."

Monday, September 12, 2011

International Efforts to Build Safe Playgrounds in War Zones

It would be hard to find a rational person who would disagree with the idea that children all over the world should have safe places to play.

Organizations such as UNICEF and The Playground Builders Foundation have worked to provide children in war-torn nations with safe, accessible playgrounds.

Playground Builders, a Canadian nonprofit charity, has established a business "model [that] involves the use of a generic playground design and local construction, based on a competitive value bid system," according to the organization's website. "This simplified process ensures many playgrounds throughout conflict areas can be built effectively and efficiently. These special places provide safe spaces for laughter, hope and interaction for war-entrapped children in unstable and poverty-stricken areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories."

UNICEF's common practice is to build or rebuild schools and playgrounds in places ravaged by warfare. Part of its core human rights agenda recognizes the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts."

One example of UNICEF's work in conflict zones is the construction of "20 safe-play areas ... in the occupied Palestinian territory: 11 in the Gaza strip and nine in the West Bank," according to a 2006 press release available online. "These play areas provide an estimated 30,000 children with opportunities to meet, socialize and play in a protected environment."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thinking "Green"

Environmentally friendly playgrounds are becoming increasingly popular and prominent. As the "green" label has become a standard line in marketing throughout all kinds of business sectors, the same is evident among playground equipment manufacturers.

A few examples of more sustainable playground elements include recycled tires in safety surfacing, recycled plastic benches and playground equipment recycling programs. Another common practice in recent years has been replacing asphalt surfaces with grass and natural surroundings.

"There are plenty of new opportunities to transform decaying asphalt playgrounds or vacant lots into natural play areas," Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” wrote in a 2007 New York Times opinion article. "Researchers at the University of Illinois, exploring people’s relationship to nature, have discovered that green outdoor spaces relieve the symptoms of attention deficit disorders, improve the quality of interaction between children and adults and, in urban play areas, reduce crime."

One of the first schools to move the green playground concept into actuality was the Tule Elk Park Child Development Center, according to an article in Edutopia, the Internet publishing arm of The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

"This sixty-year-old San Francisco school in the city's Marina District went green in the early 1990s, with 20,000 square feet of blacktop removed and replaced by an educational Eden complete with native plantings, shady rest areas, and a nature preserve for the three Bs: birds, butterflies, and bugs," the Edutopia article reports.

However, Edutopia cautions that "the Tule Elk outdoor redo cost a half-million dollars more than it did a decade ago, far beyond the means of most public schools today."

A section of the article titled "follow the money trail" observes how Sherman Elementary School, also in San Francisco, obtained its green playground.

"Sherman parents stretched available dollars by doing their own site preparation, mulching, grading, paving, and laying down a permeable cover," the Edutopia article states. "Even the project's architect, Jeff Miller, besides providing a spectacular landscape plan, donated his own sweat equity by running a Bobcat grader during Sherman's green-schoolyard weekends."

Another important aspect of eco-friendly play equipment is the minimization of toxic substances used in manufacturing that can obviously pose a danger to kids who frequent a particular playground.

"Before 2003, nearly all of the wood used for playground equipment was treated with chromium copper arsenate (CCA) to ensure weather resistance," according to "The arsenic in the finish leached into the soil and was even present in the children who played on this equipment. Eco-friendly playgrounds do a double-duty job of protecting children and the environment from harmful materials like CCA."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nonprofits Build Playgrounds in Poverty and Disaster Stricken Haiti

Like warfare, severe poverty doesn't jibe with safe places for children to play together in a public setting. Nonprofits from all over the world have concentrated efforts in Haiti to address the need for playgrounds.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 that killed and left homeless many thousands of people drew a great deal of international attention and aid in the wake of the disaster.

Prior to the earthquake, the Disasters Emergency Committee reports:

• More than 70 percent of Haitians were living on less than $2 a day.
• 86 percent of national capital Port au Prince residents lived in slum conditions.
• 80 percent of education in Haiti was offered in often sub-par private schools because the higher- quality state system provided an inadequate number of schools.
• Half of Port-au-Prince residents didn't have access to latrines and one-third had access to tap water.

One example is Kids Around the World, a religiously themed group that since 1994 has built nearly 150 playgrounds in 27 countries, including nine either completed or in the works in Haiti.

The organization's website says it provides "safe play equipment for children ... in situations where it was difficult to just be a 'kid.' So often children find themselves as victims of situations out of their control, they become victims of economic stress, victims of political injustice, victims of natural disasters and worst of all, victims of war. It was for these children that Kids Around the World began."

Numerous other playground equipment and financial donation drives have taken place toward creating Haitian playgrounds. Some donor organizations include:

• Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos International
• International Childhood Enrichment Program
• Tilt-A-World
• The Miriam Foundation

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Children's Hospitals Promoting Safe Play

Children's hospitals around the country are promoting safe play, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A report published in January titled "Injury Prevention on Playgrounds, at Home and in the Neighborhood" notes endeavors by hospitals in several states.

The foundation's Injury Free Coalition for Kids is the spearhead for raising awareness about safe play at children's hospitals and within the broader community.

"More than half of the Injury Free coalitions built playgrounds, typically with plastic or rubber materials, a soft ground covering and other features to prevent injuries," the report states. "The purpose -- and impact -- of the playground projects went beyond just providing safe places for children to play. ... By bringing neighborhood residents into the planning and construction process, the Injury Free teams were also building community."

The Comer's Children Hospital at the University of Chicago built two playgrounds with help from area residents. "Both projects contributed to an increased effort by community residents and the local police to keep children in the neighborhood safe from violence," states the report. "St. Louis Children's Hospital reported that while a few of its playgrounds experienced vandalism, most neighborhoods were committed to maintaining their new play spaces."

The Injury Free Coalition has also encouraged in-home safety and violence prevention for young people through research and community initiatives.

Cases in point include a coalition-sponsored annual program in Worcester, Mass. in conjunction with the UMASS Memorial Children's Medical Center and local law enforcement that collects guns in exchange for Wal-Mart gift certificates, according to the report. "In Miami, members of the Injury Free team helped develop a local violent injury surveillance system ... and used the data to assess patterns and trends in violent deaths and to report findings to the public and policy-makers."

The Indianapolis Injury Free program at Riley Children's Hospital collaborated with the local fire department to hand out more than 17,000 smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Backyard Playground Safety Issues

Safety in backyard playgrounds is obviously just as necessary as at public facilities.

"Ten years ago, a study conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission discovered more deaths occurred on backyard playground equipment than on public playgrounds," recently reported. "A 2009 study from the CPSC found that 40 deaths were associated with playground equipment between 2001 to 2008, the majority of which were the result of hangings or asphyxiations."

Toward preventing such tragedies, the article highlights "location," "equipment," "surfaces" and "inspection" as the keys to a consistently safe backyard play area.

Playground placement is especially emphasized:

"Location, location, location! A home playground's location is very important. When deciding where to put a playground, consider its accessibility."

Earshot distance is a suggested gauge for determining a reasonable distance for responders -- be they parental or paramedic -- in the event of an emergency.

Other statistics of note:
  •  On Equipment -- "A 2009 report from the CPSC indicated that climbers were associated with 23 percent of all playground injuries while swings were associated with 22 percent."
  • On Surfaces -- "According to the CPSC, 67 percent of playground accidents between 2001 and 2008 involved falls or equipment failure."

Regarding playground equipment "inspection," the article advises parents to make children very aware that they should immediately report if anything is loose or not properly functioning.

"Kids often like to play rough, and as a result playgrounds commonly take quite a beating," the article states. "Even if equipment was sturdy at installation and was installed to the letter of the manufacturer's instructions, parents should routinely inspect equipment to ensure it's holding up to the wear and tear of children."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Shade Sails, Umbrellas Help UV Protection

The sunny spring and summer months have begun, making protection from ultraviolet rays a concern for those who spend time outdoors. Unfortunately, shade sails and umbrellas are often overlooked in playground designs.

Umbrellas and sails provide shade for playground patrons and also keep the intense heat of direct sunlight from benches, slides, swings and other play structures. This can of course prevent burning-hot injuries to tender young skin, but it also prolongs the life of playground equipment, which takes a beating from the sun on a daily basis.

Durable shade sails can be designed to accommodate irregularly shaped areas, and low points can be positioned relative to the sun's direction for optimal blockage.

Beyond playground applications, shade sails are a cost-effective solution for keeping direct sunlight from most outdoor areas such as pools, barbeques, house fronts and spas.

"They can be the best idea for your outdoor areas, improving the look while also offering  protection from the sun's harmful UV rays," according to Coastal Design Concepts Inc. "They can be successfully used in public outdoor areas -- at shopping centers, car parking [facilities], community centers, kindergartens, schools, outdoor playgrounds/activity areas and sport facilities."

Shade sails are easily customized with lots of flexibility in shape, size and color.

Sails and umbrellas are attached to free-standing uprights or suitable existing structures and don't require any form of structural roofing support.

Coastal Design recommends products made by Georgia-based Skyspan Structures. According to the company, Skyspan umbrellas and sails are designed for longevity and can withstand wind gusts over 90 miles per hour, in addition to being easy to install and use.