Playing it safe in the heat

How hot is the metal at your child's favorite playground?

Slides, seesaws and jungle gyms remind us of carefree childhood days, but as we get older, the allure of playgrounds becomes much less simple. These outdoor havens are great ways to encourage physical activity in kids, but strong summer heat can also cause them to become danger zones. Here, Lois Lee, MD, MPH, director of trauma research at Children’s Hospital Boston, breaks down summer playground safety and suggests ways to keep your outing safe.

Recent reports of children who have burned their hands and feet on hot playground gear underscore the need for shady spots in playgrounds. “Ideally, it would be great for kids to have access to shaded playgrounds to keep cool and out of the sun, but it’s not always realistic,” says Lee. She recommends making sure kids have sunscreen on their faces and bodies, dressing them in lightweight, protective clothing and keeping them out of direct sunlight between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, when the sun is most intense.

A lack of trees can lead to more than just sunburns; it can also cause severe over heating. If your child’s playground gets too hot to handle, Lee recommends stepping away from it to avoid overheating. “It’s important to take breaks from the sun and spend a few minutes in the shade here and there, and hydrate more than usual.”

Lois Lee, MD, MPH

What’s more, toddlers and young children actually have thinner skin than adults, so it will burn more easily on hot playground equipment, such as metal slides, steel jungle gyms or even plastic surfaces. “Parents should touch the slides and other plastic structures before letting kids play on them,” says Lee.

Lee offers parents additional advice for assessing a playground’s safety any time of the year. “Pay attention to the height and strength of the structures, and look closely at the ground surfacing, which is important in breaking a child’s fall,” she says. “To minimize impact, the ground should feel a little spongy and not be made of concrete.” As for the structures themselves? Go ahead and give them a kick. Lee recommends this playful method for checking for flaking paint and sturdiness.

Read Dr. Claire McCarthy’s post on the power of play, and more summer safety tips.