How to keep your children safe at playgrounds

illustration of playground

Playgrounds are a place for children to expand their imaginations and develop coordination skills, but they can also be a place where accidents can happen. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year, more than 200,000 children are seen in emergency rooms because of playground injuries. Below is a checklist from Dartmouth Health's Injury Prevention Center or keeping your child safe on playgrounds.

Supervision is key

An adult should always be present when your child is on a playground. Make sure your child can be seen at all times, including inside crawl spaces.

Choose age-appropriate equipment

Look for a playground with age-appropriate equipment. If possible, choose a playground with different areas for children ages 2 to 5 and 5 to 12. Playgrounds should have age ranges posted on signs for each piece of equipment.

A playground area for a toddler (age 6 to 23 months) should not have any equipment higher than 32 inches (a little over 2 feet). Equipment for older children should never be more than 96 inches (8 feet).

Surfaces and ground covers

Choose playgrounds with a ground covering that consists of loose fill material like woodchips, sand, pea gravel or shredded rubber. Some playground surfaces may also be made of rubber tiles, rubber mats or poured-in-place rubber, all of which are safe playground surfaces. Concrete, asphalt, dirt and even grass are not safe playground surfaces. Safe playground surfaces should extend out at least 6 feet from the playground structures.

Inspect the playground

Look around the playground area and the equipment. Make sure the ground is free of glass, cans and other trash that could cause harm to little feet and hands. Check the equipment for missing or broken parts, and for any rusting bolts or fixtures sticking out. Look for exposed footings—areas at the base of playground structures where the equipment is cemented into the ground—that are not covered by the loose fill or other protective material. 

Wear appropriate clothing

Your child should wear sneakers with tied laces or secured Velcro straps not flip flops or strappy sandals.

Avoid any clothing with a drawstring like sweatshirts or gloves that connect with strings in colder weather. Jacket hoods and hooded sweatshirts can get caught on equipment. To keep their heads warm, have them wear a knit hat instead.

While a bike helmet provides head protection when riding a bicycle, it can cause injury when worn on a playground. Children wearing helmets can collide with each other, and helmets can contribute to injuries caused by children’s heads becoming trapped.

…and don’t forget, the summer sun can make playground equipment hot. If you can’t hold your hand on the equipment for five seconds then it’s too hot for your child to play on. Check the different materials such as plastic or metal, as those retain heat more than other surfaces, like wood.

And speaking of the sun, make sure your child is also protected by wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to 50.

Playgrounds and COVID-19

It’s important to follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in park settings. Each park may list its own set of rules and expectations for masks and social distancing, make sure to use hand sanitizer frequently—before, during and after playground use, and wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you have access to a sink.


Jim Esdon is the program coordinator for the Injury Prevention Program.