Basic Tips to Keep Children in Child Care Safe Outdoors

Cihldren's bicycle helmets hanging on a brick wall

Children love to play outdoors. It is a wonderful place to test one’s physical abilities and to just have fun. Keeping children safe outdoors requires some special precautions. Here are some tips for keeping children in your child care program safe outdoors.

General Outdoor Safety Tips for Child Care

  • Never leave children alone outside
  • Teach children not to play near the street
  • Explain that children must ask for help if toys roll into the street or driveway
  • Check the outdoor play area routinely. Remove trash, sharp branches, tools, lawn equipment, and animal feces

Safe Set-up of the Outdoor Environment

  • Be sure all outdoor play areas are fenced, especially near a street, parking lot, pond, well, or railroad track
  • Surround electrical appliances in the play area, such as air conditioners, with fences so children cannot reach them
  • Remove gas grills from outdoor play areas
  • Keep gates closed and install childproof latches
  • Lock storage sheds, barns, and garages

Safety with Tricycles and Other Riding Toys

  • Require children to use helmets when using tricycles, bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, and ride-on toys
  • Reduce choking risks by having children remove helmets when playing on playground equipment
  • Use safety straps to secure children in strollers
  • Do not put children who cannot sit up well in wagons with low sides

Playground Safety

Ensuring that the playground area is safe requires careful planning and monitoring. Remember that infants and toddlers (ages 0 – 2), preschool-age children (ages 3 – 5), and school-age children (ages 5 – 12) have different developmental needs and abilities, and may need developmentally different. Different age groups may need different playground equipment in areas separated by fences to ensure that playgrounds are safe and fun for everyone. Here are some guidelines to assess playground safety.

  • Regularly inspect surface and playground equipment for broken, worn, or missing parts. Remove, repair, or replace items immediately.
  • Cover sand boxes when not in use so animals won’t use them as a litter box
  • Provide some shade in the play space, either from natural sources like trees or from a tent, awning, or other shelter
  • Place metal playground equipment, such as platforms and slides, in the shade to prevent burns. A slide that faces north will receive the least direct sunlight.
  • Place equipment that has moving parts, such as swings, on the outside of the play area
  • Teach children to stay away from the front and back of the swing area
  • Keep outdoor play equipment at least 6 feet away from pavement, fences, trees, buildings, walkways, and other play equipment
  • Provide guardrails or barriers for platforms or ramps over 30 inches high
  • Cover all protruding bolts or screws with plastic safety caps
  • Close S-hooks completely on swings
  • Never attach any ropes or cords to play equipment
  • Safely anchor to the ground permanent outdoor equipment such as swing sets or climbers

Tips for Playground Surfacing

To reduce the risk of injuries from falls, make sure all play equipment has soft surfacing underneath it. Materials such as sand, pea gravel, rubber mulch, and wood chips are soft enough to absorb falls. Grass and dirt are not soft enough to absorb the shock of a fall. Do not install loose-fill surfacing over hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt.

Surface materials should be a minimum of 6 inches deep for equipment less than 4 feet high and 9 inches deep for equipment up to 8 feet in height. The material should extend at least 6 feet beyond all sides of edge of stationary equipment. For swings, surfacing should extend in back and in front, two times the height of the suspension bar. NOTE: The Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends an initial fill level of 12 inches. It will compress to about a 9-inch depth of surfacing over time. The surfacing will also compact, displace, and settle, and should be periodically refilled to maintain at least a 9-inch depth.

For More Information

To learn more about safe outdoor play in child care, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

Photo by Diane Bales / CC BY