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Playground Rules and Guidelines: How Parents and Teachers Can Help Make Playtime Fun

If you have a playground, you need safety rules for outdoor play. While not everyone associates rules with fun, the right playground rules for schools and other recreation areas can keep kids safe so they can have more fun. The right playground rules, implemented correctly, can promote safety, inclusiveness and good manners at the playground.

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Why Having Rules and Equipment Use Guidelines Is Important

Playground rules and safety regulations offer many benefits. They clearly outline safe and appropriate behaviors. Clearly outlining rules ensures everyone knows what to do, regardless of previous experience. Having universal rules for outdoor play also creates expectations, ensuring every user of a play area knows what they should be doing.

In many cases, having rules posted can help children feel more comfortable about reporting bullying and wrongdoing. Posted rules mean children are given a voice of some authority. They can feel confident knowing when someone does something wrong and can giving voice to that issue.

Playground rules are also important for discipline. If someone is acting in a dangerous or harmful way, having clear rules makes it easier to remove them for the safety of other children on the playground. No-one can claim they didn’t know the behavior was not allowed, because the rules are clear. Clear regulations can also help reduce your liability and can make it easier to explain what is expected, ensuring teachers or other caregivers are not accused of favoritism. It is much easier to enforce explicitly stated rules.

Increase Playground Safety

One of the big reasons why many playgrounds choose to post guidelines is to promote safety. Not everyone may know how to use specific equipment safely, so having set safety rules while playing can help inform everyone about what to do and what not to do. Written information can also reinforce safety guidelines, reducing the risk that someone will forget. There’s no doubt that we all need to do everything we can to reduce the risk of playground injuries.

Behaviors That Teachers, Parents and Other Caregivers Should Encourage

When creating playground rules for students and children the, you will want to create regulations which promote certain types of positive behaviors, such as:

  • Communication. Good communication can help encourage inclusivity and is important for childhood development. Helping children communicate more effectively can also help keep them safer on and off the playground.
  • Verbal conflict resolution. Exclusion, bullying and conflict most often happen when children disagree about something. Unfortunately, playground disagreements are bound to happen. Kids may disagree about sharing, taking turns or playing together. On the playground, children may still be learning social skills such as conflict resolution, so setting rules which help with this skill can be very useful in keeping the play area more welcoming and in teaching kids an important life skill.
  • Sharing. Playgrounds mean sharing play spaces, equipment, attention and time. Rules such as “no pushing” or “no staying on a piece of playground equipment for more than ten minutes if there is someone waiting” set clear limits and help turn the general ideas of “sharing” into something kids can understand.
  • Personal space. Personal space, like sharing, can be a challenging concept for kids to grasp. Clear rules about maintaining personal space help children build social skills and ensure everyone feels more comfortable in the play area. Rules which encourage personal space also encourage inclusivity by ensuring that everyone is comfortable while playing on the playground.
  • Collaboration. Play is much more fun when it’s a team effort and rules which encourage kids to work together can help kids learn how to play together and even learn new ways of using the play area.

Behaviors That Teachers, Parents and Caregivers Should Discourage

There are also a few behaviors that rules can minimize or help reduce:

  • Rough housing. Creating rules which reduce roughhousing and play fighting is important to improve safety on the playground. Shoving, pushing and other similar behaviors can seem harmless but can easily lead to falls and serious injuries. Rougher forms of games and play can also encourage aggression and can make it harder to draw the line to prevent bullying. Creating rules to prevent physical abuse keeps everyone safe.
  • Teasing and name calling. While words don’t leave physical marks, they can hurt as much as a push or a shove. Name calling can quickly escalate to more dangerous forms of bullying and can impact self-esteem and confidence. Teasing and hurtful words can lead to exclusion and hurt feelings that last long after the words have been spoken.
  • Exclusion. Excluding kids on the playground can make them vulnerable to bullying and can create a negative dynamic. Removing exclusion from your play space encourages a sense of collaboration and community, which helps keep kids happy and healthy.

Rules for Playgrounds

Rules make expectations clear and can help reduce liability as well as the risk of injury. They make it clear to children what they should and should not do, helping them build the skills they need both on the playground and in life. By making regulations clear, it also becomes easier to explain safety rules and allows children to feel confident they are doing the right thing.

Are you looking for rules to add to your playground? Here are a few options to consider:

1) There must be an adult with each child or group of children on the playground at all times. Any problems should be reported to the adults in charge.

About 40% of playground injuries are linked to inadequate supervision. Good supervision at all times is important to prevent injury and to stop any bullying behavior or any actions which can lead to injury. If a minor injury does occur, strong supervision can ensure the child gets help right away. Having adults watching also encourages children to try their best to get along and to take turns. Ensuring children are supervised at all times ensures children are safe from wandering off, bullying and injury.

2) No oversize clothing, hoodies or clothes with drawstrings are allowed on the playground.

Many caregivers may not even consider the risk, but strangulation is the leading cause of playground-related fatalities, accounting for about 56% of playground fatalities. The CPSC has created guidelines for drawstrings on clothing designed for kids to help prevent strangulation, but these rules are voluntary.

Untied shoes, jackets with cords, loose hoods and sleeves, costume capes and just about any clothes with drawstrings or loose elements can pose a hazard. Children can trip over long hems or can become entangled in equipment if they are wearing the wrong clothing for play. Inappropriate shoes can also cause them to slip on rungs and climbing equipment, so make the rules about appropriate clothing clear.

3) Be Clear About the Ages a Playground is Intended For.

Maybe you need to develop playground rules for preschoolers ages 2-5 or elementary-aged students ages 5-12. Be clear about stating age ranges, because play equipment designed for older kids can be dangerous for younger kids. Only about 42% of playgrounds in the United States have separate play spaces for kids in the 2-5 and 5-12 age ranges. If your playground is not designed to separate different ages, make sure your rules clearly indicate which age groups can play on which pieces of equipment.

Keep in mind, too, that having smaller children playing around larger children can present problems. Children between two and five are still working on balance and motor skills. They may be more prone to falls and may need more time to use certain pieces of equipment. When older kids move more quickly around them, they could more easily lose their balance. Smaller kids may also be intimidated by “bigger kids” on the playground and may not feel as comfortable exploring, so having separate areas or at least some equipment for each group can help ensure safety and can keep children feeling comfortable.

4) Be extra careful on climbing equipment and never touch anyone who is climbing. Wait your turn instead of trying to climb, too.

Any piece of playground equipment which is at a height can create a danger of falls if used incorrectly. Falls are one of the most common types of playground injuries. About 54% of public playground injuries involve climbing equipment and about 70% of playground injuries related to equipment involves fall to a surface, with another 10% of such injuries being related to falls onto playground equipment.

The right impact-absorbing surfacing can help, but the goal should still be to prevent falls entirely. Even with good surfacing, a child can land wrong. Make sure the rules emphasize not overcrowding climbing equipment and correct usage.

You may even want to limit how many kids can climb at the same time. Fewer children climbing means less risk of contact and falls and ensures parents and caregivers can watch the children on climbing equipment more closely for any signs of misuse.

5) No pushing, shoving, hitting, teasing, bullying or unkind words.

Verbal and physical abuse should not be tolerated in any form on the playground. Having a zero-tolerance policy is important in building an inclusive playground where all kids can feel safe and comfortable. This regulation is also important to help prevent injuries caused by playground aggression.

6) No running, playing tag or chase games on or around playground equipment.

Just like at any pool, children should not run around playground equipment. Kids who are running or playing tag on or around the playground can trip and fall, potentially falling off the playground equipment, or coming into contact with playground equipment or other children playing on the playground. This could cause serious injury.

Having kids walk can help ensure there’s no rush and no collisions, creating a safer space. No running can also make the playground more inclusive by ensuring that no one becomes overwhelmed or gets run over.

7) When you get on or off equipment, make sure there is no one in the way.

When a child is going down a slide or starting to swing, they need to check to ensure there isn’t a child who they will impact with. When climbing on a climber or up a ladder, they also need to check to ensure there isn’t someone in the way. This simple rule can help prevent overcrowding and prevent accidental kicks and impact, ensuring all kids stay safer.

8) Touch the playground equipment before you start to play. If it is wet, hot or cold, do not play. Tell an adult.

Ideally, parents or other caregivers will check playground equipment before children start to play. If they do not or do not check all equipment carefully, kids should be encouraged to recognize dangerous playground equipment. On a hot day, playground equipment can become hot enough to cause burns.

On a cold day, it can be cold enough to cause injuries to hands and other exposed skin. Metal playground equipment can also be dangerous in the winter because tongues can get stuck to cold metal if a child gets curious and licks the surface. Each year, this causes painful injuries to children.

Wet playground equipment, especially rungs and climbers, can be comfortable and can also be unsafe. Wet equipment can cause children to slip and fall, especially if they are wearing shoes without good treads. Sneakers, especially, can become very slippery on wet or damp climbers and playground equipment.

9) If more than one person wants to use a piece of equipment, get in line and wait for your turn. Do not hold places or try to jump the line.

Waiting can be difficult for children, but it’s an important lesson to learn on the playground. When children don’t obey this rule, they can overcrowd pieces of playground equipment, which can be dangerous. Overcrowded pieces of play equipment can cause falls and other accidents.

Lineups for equipment also need some rules. Good rules ensure children wait their turn patiently, without physical aggression which can lead to injuries or verbal disagreements. Strong rules ensure children know the rules and wait in an orderly way so everyone gets a turn and no one is left out.

10) Use the equipment as it is intended to be used. Ask an adult if you’re not sure how to use a piece of equipment.

Creativity is a great part of play, but when equipment is not used as intended, serious injuries can occur. When children slide down a slide sideways, upside down or with limbs hanging over the sides, for instance, they can suffer abrasions, sprains, fractures and other serious injuries. When climbers are not used as intended, falls can happen. Reminding children how equipment should be used encourages them to have fun in safe ways which reduce the risk of injury.

While most kids and parents know the right way to use a slide or swing, extra care may need to be taken if you have especially innovative pieces of equipment. Posting clear guidelines and rules at each play station ensures parents and caregivers can fully support children in playing safely.

Additional Things to Consider When Creating Playground Rules

The best playground rules are those which are adapted for your specific playground and for the children who play there. When creating your list of guidelines for your play space, be sure to consider:

  • What is your location like? Consider the terrain of your playground as well as the climate. If your playground is located in an area with long winters, you may need to have regulations about winter safety. If you are in an area near open water, you may need to have rules about approaching the water without adult supervision.
  • What is your community? Consider whether you want to post your rules in English as well as another language, whether you want to include a strong visual component or whether you want to have braille rules, too.
  • Where will the rules go? A brightly-colored sign at the front of your playground entrance ensures everyone can see the regulations as they enter. Making them eye-catching can increase the likelihood they will be read.
  • How much can you streamline the rules? Having dozens of rules is overwhelming and few people will remember more than a few. Try to be as succinct as possible. Take a look at the rules posted on other playgrounds to get inspiration.
  • What types of playground equipment do you have? Consider whether any equipment needs its own signs and rules. You can place these next to specific pieces of play equipment and have general rules for the entire play space.
  • Have you seen any problems which should be addressed with a new rule? Rules can change. If you notice a problem, you can address that in your rules or even add a rule to make it clear what play space users need to do to keep everyone safe.

Inclusive Playgrounds Encourage Safe and Fun Play for Everyone

If you want to create a playground that allows everyone to have fun while staying safe, you may want to look beyond rules, too. Rules can be a great way to build a foundation, but the very design of your play space can have a direct impact on safety. Creating an inclusive playground can help promote peaceful, fun and safe play for a number of reasons:

  • Inclusive play spaces encourage collaborative play and allows children of all ages and abilities to take part. By definition, inclusive playgrounds are designed for all children, not just children with specific needs or children with no mobility or other conditions. This sort of inclusion can encourage children to work and play together, which can help reduce the risk of exclusion and even playground aggression, creating a safer space for all kids.
  • Inclusive playgrounds can encourage children to learn from each other. Inclusive playgrounds let children get to know and play alongside children who are different from them. This can potentially help build respect and empathy, which in turn can help children to think of others and to play more carefully.
  • Inclusive playgrounds can reduce wait times for play equipment. Inclusive playgrounds do not create a separate area for kids who are different in any way, which means that the “cool” pieces of equipment are not reserved for just some kids. Moreover, inclusive play equipment is designed to be used by kids in different ways, ensuring children can use more of the play equipment on the playground. With more fun equipment to choose from, kids may not be crowding around the few same activities, which can reduce wait times and lineups and the resulting frustration. Kids get to play more and have more options to explore. Not only is this more fun, but it can mean less problems with lines and sharing.
  • Inclusive playgrounds encourage peaceful play. Inclusive playgrounds have quiet spaces for kids who may become overwhelmed and equipment which is safe for children of all ages and abilities. These quiet spaces and variety can help naturally discouraged roughhousing and can create a more peaceful play space.

If you’re interested in signs for rules or inclusive playgrounds which help you create the best possible experience for the greatest number of kids, contact Little Tikes Commercial today to help you create the right play space or browse our site furnishings, including signs and other accessories to make your play area welcoming.

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