The National Program for Playground Safety at the University of Northern Iowa provides safety training for administrators, teachers, and custodians. The courses are offered online as well as at the university in Cedar Falls. The program will also hold training workshops at schools, says Donna Thompson, the program’s executive director.
There are half-day courses in supervision and maintenance. The supervision course, which can be taken online in two weeks, teaches playground supervisors to anticipate problems and pay attention to students’ behavior. And a two-day “inspection course” teaches supervision, age-appropriate playground design, surfacing, and equipment maintenance.
“If they don’t get training and kids get hurt, and schools get sued, they’ll lose their lawsuit,” Thompson says.
School administrators can prevent injuries and lawsuits by following the S.A.F.E. checklist, which stands for supervision, age appropriate, fall surfacing, and equipment maintenance, she says. And supervisors should be watching students at play, “not talking on cell phones,” Thompson adds.
Equipment can be designed to help supervisors keep their eyes on children, says Dan Gardner, president of New Mexico-based ExerPlay. One such product manufactured by Landscape Structures is called EVOS. Instead of going quickly up some stairs, down a slider, up a climber and down a slide, students are moving across EVOS for several minutes at a time. “You can put a lot of kids on it,” Gardner said. “After selling many of these, the response we got from schools was … teachers like this because there’s nothing hidden. Kids can’t be doing things they shouldn’t be.”
To keep playgrounds age appropriate, some schools have a set of equipment for older students and a sectioned-off area for younger kids. Both groups of children should be kept in the areas designed for them, though kids will often want to try out equipment that is above or below their age appropriateness, Thomspon says.
And all equipment needs to be checked regularly, she says. “Make sure nuts and bolts are screwed tight enough so kids don’t get fingers caught in them and there are no spaces between decks and slides,” she says. “It’s also a good idea to have shade, and one really good way to do it is to plant trees outside the use zone, and especially on the south and the west.”