There is something exhilarating about playing outside when the air is cold and there’s a hint of snow. The crisp air brings about a carefree atmosphere that seems perfect for playtime. However, parents and caretakers shouldn’t be carefree about winter playground safety. If you want your kids to have fun outdoors, follow some practical advice so they can play without getting hurt.
Frostbite isn’t a walk in the park (or a hop in the playground). It can happen very quickly once the wind chill factor gets below -18ºF. Children are especially susceptible to it because they can’t always tell when they’re being overexposed to extreme cold. (Not an issue here in the Palm Beaches, fortunately!)
Some ways to check if it’s safe to let young kids play outdoors:
Tune in to weather forecasts or keep an app at the ready. You can install a thermometer near your door outside so you can decide if it’s a stay-in kind of day.
If you aren’t sure about the wind chill index, you can either use an online calculator to determine it for you, or consult the National Weather Service. They issue advisories and warnings that are best to heed.
Keep your kids indoors for playtime, instead. No amount of bundling up with clothes can keep them safe from extreme chill and other dangerous factors.
Watch out for hypothermic symptoms. Shivering is a recognizable one, but also check for dizziness, nausea, fatigue, fast breathing, confusion, and hunger.
Check the ground for slipperiness
Once you’ve determined that the temperature is suitable for outdoor play, make sure the ground is slip-proof and fall-proof. Falls and slips are already primary playground hazards on nice days, let alone snow days. Let hardened snow melt first, shovel a clear path and area for the kids, and treat icy areas with salt. Cordon off areas that need to be treated long-term so children don’t go wandering in and injuring themselves.
Ground coverage like soil, sand, wood fiber, and grass can absorb and retain water. With chilly temperature, it’s easy for them to freeze and become slippery. Rubber mulch doesn’t absorb water, so it’s safer to play on during winter while providing sufficient fall protection.
Test all outdoor surfaces and playground equipment first
Television shows and movies may be exaggerating with the licking-snow-off-a-steel-pole-and-getting-tongue-stuck scenarios, but the truth is, you can’t really predict the silly things kids will do in the name of play! Playground equipment made of metal can freeze really fast and cause various injuries. Make sure to test them for ice, rust, and other dangers before allowing kids to play on them. If you find the surfaces too slippery, cold, or showing some potential danger, it’s best to let the kids play indoors on rubber and plastic playground equipment.
Avoid scarves, drawstrings, and other articles of clothing that could strangle
As with warm-weather playground safety, always have kids properly attired for play. This means no scarves, drawstrings, belts, ribbons, necklaces, and other clothing details and accessories that could get caught on playground equipment. Tube neck warmers might be a better alternative to keeping kids bundled up outdoors.
Keep a first-aid kit ready
When young children at play are involved, a first-aid kit is a must at all times. However, winter brings with it a unique set of potential safety hazards, so add a few items for cold-day preparedness:
Instant hot chocolate or chicken broth packs – they can help hypothermic kids warm up their core temperature while providing much-needed calories
Thick gloves, socks, and leg and arm warmers – arms, legs, hands, and feet are body parts that need to be kept warm for blood to circulate properly. If a child exhibits hypothermia, quickly cover his or her extremities with these items of clothing
Extra towels and fleecy blankets – they can help maintain proper body heat while keeping kids dry, warm, and comfortable.
Rhianna Miller is the playground design and safety expert at https://rubbermulch.com/, the original and environmentally responsible mulch made from 100% recycled rubber used in gardens, playgrounds and sustainable landscaping. Rubber Mulch is weather resistant, durable, and the most cost effective mulch around and is specifically designed to protect children from falls on the playground.