Monday, September 28, 2009

Consensus Lacking on Playground Supervision Ratios

It’s clear that adult supervision is the best way to prevent mishaps on playgrounds, whether they be school yards, back yards, parks or wherever groups of children gather to play. But an important aspect of this, narrowing down a viable ratio of adult supervisors to children, remains elusive.

The answer, of course, varies depending on the dimensions and specific characteristics of a playground, the age range and number of children present, as well as legal and administrative factors.

So the key question remains, how many adult supervisors should be present? And while there’s far from a consensus or clearly defined mandate, playground supervision is definitely an active, ongoing topic of discussion in the realms of tort lawyers, government agencies, educators and the broader playground safety community.

Columbia, South Carolina law firm Duff, White & Turner provides a detailed recommendation: “In the area of supervision, school districts should establish an appropriate adult to student ratio on the playground, preferably equivalent to the ratio present in classrooms, since students are even more active, and thus more likely to be injured, while on the playground as they are in a classroom environment. The adults assigned to playground supervision duty need not be teachers, so long as they have received appropriate training on effective supervision. This training should include proper staff coverage of the playground, proper use of equipment and how to handle a fall or other accident which might occur on the playground.”

Fairly straightforward, granted, but a bit on the vague side with regard to hard-number supervision ratios.

Eileen Hull, an executive in charge of childcare insurance programs at Market Insurance Company, is also on the vague side in an article for the teacher’s resource website Early Childhood News: “Whether or not your state mandates supervision on the playground, make sure your program keeps the same child-to-staff ratios outdoors as indoors. And remember, these are minimum standards only. Because of distractions, more staff members may be required to supervise the children.”

Hull did hone in a little deeper, as she continued, “Can one staff person adequately supervise more than two children on the playground? Usually not. It can be difficult to keep even a small group of children together on the playground, and a single supervisor can easily be drawn to one child and lose sight of the rest.”

The general rule of thumb, though still on the vague side, seems to be at least to keep the outdoor playground ratio consistent with indoor supervision. That would appear to be one supervisor per 25 to 30 kids. And with all the intangibles associated with kids at play versus being cooped up in a classroom, 1 to 30 seems too high.

The University of Northern Iowa houses the National Program for Playground Safety. According to its directors in an article on the PTA website, “NPPS recommends that the playground supervision ratio be equal to the indoor classroom ratio. However, a recent study in Iowa found that many supervisor-child ratios were extremely high compared to the recommendations. The largest ratio found the study was one supervisor to 125 children, and the most frequent ratio was one supervisor to 50 students. Two percent of the schools surveyed have parents volunteering to be supervisors.”

Regardless of where children gather, more adults present means a lesser chance of playground injury statistics continuing to rise. Maybe that last point about “two percent of schools” with parents who volunteer to be playground supervisors is worth exploring toward improving that all-important supervision ratio…