Create a safe play area for children at home and on the farm

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 20, 2009 – Throwing, kicking, and catching a ball improves hand-eye coordination and teaches cooperation on a team. A swing set encourages balance and arm-muscle growth. Fantasy games expand a child's creativity and independent thinking. In whatever form it comes, play helps children develop physically, mentally, and socially.

Parents can create a safe play area for their child by avoiding common dangers and providing age-appropriate supervision, especially in hazardous locations such as farms. “Although no play area is ever truly safe, parents can minimize risk by choosing a proper location for their children to play and keeping them away from dangerous equipment, chemicals, and animals,” said Bobby Grisso, Virginia Cooperative Extension farm equipment and safety specialist.

When creating a play area, parents need to keep in mind the age and maturity of their children and their surroundings. Physical barriers such as fences or shrubs should separate a play area from the road, tractors and machinery, loud noises, open water, farm animals, and dust or other hazardous airborne particles. A play area should also be in a well-maintained, shaded area with a first-aid kit kept nearby.

Grisso explained that play equipment must be safe, too. It should be free from protrusions, sharp edges, and lead-based paint.

An appropriate ground surface reduces the risk of injury or death in the event of a slip or fall. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, appropriate surfaces include wood chips, double-shredded bark mulch, fine sand, and pea gravel. Although asphalt, concrete, and dirt are acceptable surfaces for sports and running, they pose a serious danger where a child might fall from play equipment.

“Most importantly, a safe play area will be in a location where adults can provide adequate supervision for children at play,” Grisso said.

According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, children need varying levels of supervision, depending on their age, the number of children at play, the type of play, and the location. Children ages 2 to 6 require constant adult supervision. They should be allowed to explore, but with strict boundaries and always within sight and sound of an adult.

Depending on play activities, children ages 7 to 9 need constant or intermittent supervision. Although many children at this stage can be out of sight and sound for up to 15 minutes at a time, parents still need to be firm about safety rules and to ensure that their children know to contact an adult in case of an emergency. Likewise, parents ought to check on children ages 10 and older every 15 to 30 minutes.