On parent-teacher night, parents have the opportunity to ask questions about their child’s educational environment. They ask questions about access to technology, standardized test scores, teacher/student ratio and a host of other topics related to their children’s academic performance. One topic that is rarely discussed—but perhaps should be—is the school playground. Studies have shown that much of the activity contributing to child development occurs outside the classroom. A swing set on a concrete slab just doesn’t make the grade—from a developmental or a safety standpoint.
Considering that your child will spend a portion of every day on the school playground, the following are some basic questions you should ask:
1. How old is the equipment, and how often is it inspected for safety?
While playground equipment is built to withstand the elements, it isn’t indestructible. Furthermore, older equipment may not meet the guidelines of The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Handbook for Public Playground Safety.
2. What surface is used to minimize injuries from falls?
Falls to the surface account for 68% of playground injuries. While supervision and well-maintained equipment can help prevent falls, Kirsten Rines, a Certified Playground Safety Inspector notes that one of the most important factors in reducing serious injury is proper surfacing.
3. What kinds of equipment are provided to engage students in a variety of physical activities that build strength, stamina and coordination?
The President’s Challenge, which many schools administer, tests children in these areas. Playgrounds should provide an environment that fosters development of these attributes.
4. What features of the playground foster interactive play?
Social development is enhanced when children have opportunities for unstructured play with others.This kind of play may be encouraged by equipment as simple as roofed platforms; by equipment that requires two or more children to work together, such as a see-saw; or by game stations, such as ball drop chutes, where children must negotiate with others to establish the rules for the game.
5. How does the school playground accommodate children with a wide variety of physical abilities?
Playgrounds are used by a wide variety of age groups, and even within age groups, children’s physical development may vary. Playground equipment should also be designed to allow children with physical disabilities to play alongside their peers.
Experts agree that children’s play time is serious business. And while schools understandably focus their spending on academic tools and materials, there are grants that are specifically geared towards the purchasing of playground equipment. The playground is a developmental and physical classroom—make sure it has the right educational materials.