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How To Tell If a Playground or Jungle Gym Is Safe For Kids

There are obvious and not-so-obvious signs that a playground or jungle gym is dangerous for children. These are the signs parents need to know to have safe kids.

Flickr/Ian D. Keating

A playground jungle gym can help kids burn energy, but with great activity comes great irresponsibility. Injuries are inevitable. That said, injuries on different jungle gyms can mean very different things. Some gyms leave kids with splinters. Others leave kids with a limp. For parents, this means that being able to assess the threat level of play equipment — ideally without being totally neurotic — is critically important. But how can a parent tell if a playground is harboring hidden danger? Well, for one thing, they can look down.

“Falling onto a surface is the number one cause of injuries at a playground,” explains Brian Johnson, spokesman for the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association. “So, if a parent walks up and they see exposed concrete or grass growing that’s going to tell you that the playground surface is probably not safe.”

Johnson suggests parents take a look at the vertical posts that support the equipment. These posts, by necessity, are anchored in concrete footings. If those footings are exposed, that’s a good indication that the depth of the play surface material, be it sand, rubber or wood material, is too shallow. The upshot? Very little cushioning if a kid happens to take a header.

If the surface looks safe, parents should also look for signs of disrepair. A playground that looks ragged and old, may simply not be worth the chance. In fact, IPEMA notes that parents should be suspicious of any playground that hasn’t been renovated since 1993. That’s well and good for someone who has had experience with the same playground for over 20 years but may be tougher to suss out for someone just getting introduced to a local playground.

Luckily, parents don’t have to have specific dates of renovation. Sometimes it’s good enough to eyeball the equipment. “If there is something that you can tell has been damaged or vandalized or that can snag clothing or jewelry, those are things that you might want to watch for and report to whoever owns the site,” Johnson explains.

How To Tell If A Playground Or Jungle Gym Is Safe For Kids

  • Look for appropriate surface material. Grass and exposed concrete are a bad sign.
  • Look for disrepair or objects that could snag on children’s clothing.
  • Safety standards change, which means the playground should have been renovated since 1993.
  • Equipment is required to be labeled for an appropriate age-range. Look for an easily accessible label or sign.
  • Vandalism or graffiti is a good sign that the playground has been ignored.

But when it comes to snagging, parents have a little responsibility too. Kids on the playground should remove any items that could get caught and cause strangulation. Drawstrings on pants and hoodies are prime suspects for getting kids hung up on play equipment, putting them in danger.

RELATED: The 11 Best Environmentally-Friendly Playgrounds in America

Parents should also consider if a playground is age-appropriate for the child because it turns out that not every playground is appropriate for every age. In fact, manufacturers are required to label equipment for three specific age groups: six to 23 months, two to five-years-old, or five to 12-years-old.

Parents should be able to easily locate these age ranges on the play equipment. If it’s not on the equipment itself, there should be a sign at the entrance of the playground that notes the appropriate age ranges for the equipment.

Johnson notes that if parents do see disrepair or something that looks dangerous, they should get in touch with the parks department or the owner-operator of the playground. “Everyone should take ownership of their parks and want to make sure they’re well maintained,” he says. “We want kids and families to be out playing because it’s very, very good for them.”