Whether in a garden, playground, park or the countryside, playing outdoors is extremely beneficial for children. However, it also comes with its own inherent dangers. So, as parents and caregivers, we have to strike a careful balance between allowing children the freedom to explore and discover while at the same time ensuring they stay out of harm’s way. There are, after all, hazards everywhere outdoors. With that in mind, today’s post outlines 20 key things to be mindful of to help keep children safe when they’re playing outside.
Vigilance at all times is the real key to child safety when they’re playing outdoors. Parents, caregivers and anyone supervising children should proactively keep eyes and ears open continuously, ready to spot the signs of danger — in whatever form it may potentially take.
2. Stranger Danger
Stranger danger is, of course, also one of the major concerns for anyone in charge of looking after children, particularly when they’re playing outdoors. So, ensure children are all in eyeshot and accounted for at all times and that nobody is around them that shouldn’t be. Those who may want to do children harm can also be rather cunning, so watch out for distraction techniques, people handing out sweets or gaining trust from children in other devious ways too. Ensure children are also educated about this topic and know what to do and what not to do if approached by a stranger.
3. Traffic Dangers
Playing outdoors can sometimes also bring children closer to areas where there may be traffic and this too is terribly dangerous. Supervising adults will therefore need to keep children well away from vehicles, for example by locating play somewhere safer, as well as teaching children to know how to avoid traffic dangers themselves.
4. Water Hazards
Water hazards are responsible for several child deaths each year, so things like ponds, streams, rivers, lakes, swimming pools and hot tubs are not places children, particularly the very young, should play anywhere near. An infant or child can drown in just a few inches of water, so even puddles are potentially dangerous if children are left unattended. Adult supervision and vigilance around the dangers of water are therefore of paramount importance.
5. Trip Hazards
Children, especially the youngest, are often so engrossed in playing that they don’t take enough notice of their surroundings (especially children who are dyspraxic). This is even more the case when playing outdoors with all the different types of terrain around them. Trip hazards like tree roots, steps, and raised flowerbeds may therefore be something both they and you need to look out for. Teaching them to watch their step, quite literally, and to watch where they are going could save them from many a painful bruise.
6. Unlevel Terrain
Similarly, slopes and drops in the height of terrain can be hazardous, especially when children are not concentrating on anything but their game or activity outdoors. Encourage them to be aware of their surroundings at all times and this can help them to stay safe and avoid some nasty accidents.
7. Climbing – Danger of Falls
Climbing frames and climbing into trees, tree houses and raised dens are all firm favourites among children. However, whenever children climb higher, there’s an inherent danger that they could fall back down again if they or their supervising adult are not vigilant. Falls after climbing can be potentially serious, so it’s essential to instruct them suitably and to encourage them to be careful and mindful of the risks.
8. Sharp Things
The world around us also has sharp things everywhere! Whether it’s thorns on a rose bush, brambles, jagged sticks, sharp rocks, or garden tools lying around the garden, they are simply everywhere when you think about it. Supervising adults therefore need to do whatever they can to ensure tools are locked safely away and to keep children away from all other sharp objects associated with the outdoors if children are playing. Children also need to be educated about them, so they can eventually self-manage and assess risks themselves.
9. Dangerous Plants
As we all know, some plants are poisonous and some can even burn and give people nasty blisters if they come into contact with the skin. Which plants are planted in gardens and which children play near are therefore things for parents and caregivers to consider carefully. And, of course, it’s crucial for children to understand that they should not try to eat leaves, berries, or anything not sanctioned by a more knowledgeable parent.
10. Poisonous Fungi
Fungi are potentially even more toxic, many potentially leading to death if eaten. Adults must ensure children therefore understand that they can look but not touch fungi, however beautiful and interesting some may appear.
11. Choking Hazards
The outdoors is also filled with a myriad of different things that are the type of size that could, in theory, fit into a child’s mouth. Children therefore need to learn quickly that they must never put objects in their mouths, for example, acorns, conkers (which are poisonous), stones, twigs and even toys. Any of these could lead to the child choking.
12. Dangerous Animals
Wild animals and even some domesticated ones can sometimes be dangerous to a child. Whether it’s an out-of-control dog, an adder in the bracken, or a wild animal protecting its young, each animal can be a danger to a child in the right (or rather wrong) circumstances. So, children need to learn to respect other creatures and not assume they’ll always be friendly. Even farm animals can potentially harm a child, perhaps unintentionally, simply due to their larger size and weight. So again, an awareness of one’s surroundings, vigilance, respect and some common sense need to come into play when children are playing near animals.
13. Insect Stings & Bites
Playing outdoors can also bring children closer to insects that may have a nasty bite or sting. Midge bites can be annoying but bee, wasp and hornet stings can really hurt! Even some kinds of ants have a nasty nip, so a good practice is for parents or supervising adults to do a visual ‘sweep’ of the play area to ensure no such critters are living there. Even better — get children to learn by your example.
Germs are, of course, everywhere, but some are worse than others, particularly outdoors. Children and supervising adults need to be mindful of the harm they could potentially do. It’s therefore always wise for adults to teach children good hygiene practices including washing hands regularly, watching out for anything mouldy or grubby, avoiding doggy doos, not touching faces or eyes with dirty hands, and so on.
15. Breaking Rules
Setting some ground rules when children are playing outdoors is always wise. Ensure they know what they are and are not allowed to do, with their safety and well-being in mind. Then, of course, watch to ensure they stick to these rules and, if not, stop them in their tracks and explain why they must not do what they were going to do!
16. Straying Children
Setting physical boundaries for outdoor play is essential for children’s safety. Indeed, it can help to avoid the chance of children getting lost or straying too close to hazards. Before beginning play, they should therefore be made aware of the precise area they are allowed to play in. Pointing out some physical boundary markers is sensible, particularly if they’re playing in a park, in the countryside, or somewhere unfamiliar. Trees, bushes, plants or any physical landmarks can be used to denote boundaries, for example.
17. Changing Elements
Don’t forget to prepare children for whatever weather may come when they’re playing outside. Sun cream and sun hats will be needed on sunny days and it’s always good practice to pack a raincoat in case the weather turns. A spare jumper and perhaps even other spare clothes can also be packed in a backpack just in case they’re needed — or in case children suddenly become cold. Layers are good, if so.
18. Keeping Hydrated
When children are having fun and adventures outside, it’s all too easy for them to overlook the need to keep hydrated. Supervising adults can step in there, though, to offer drink breaks at appropriate intervals.
19. Fire Hazards
We’re all familiar with photographs of children enjoying marshmallows toasted over a campfire and indeed such moments can be quite magical. However, children must be educated about the dangers of fire, appropriate safety protocols and the rules that apply to them if they go anywhere near a bonfire, campfire or barbecue. A responsible adult must also always be present and constantly vigilant while overseeing outdoor play anywhere near a source of heat.
We’ve only scratched the surface above, but it’s clear that there are many potential dangers to children when they’re playing outdoors. It’s therefore crucial for supervising adults to stay close and keep eyes and ears firmly open whenever children play outside.
One of the best ways to protect children outdoors, though, is to prepare well. For example, scour the outdoor location for hazards before play commences, ensure you’ve packed a ready supply of sun cream, rain macs and spare clothes for children, and brief children about potential dangers before they even venture outdoors. Such preparation will stand you and your little one in good stead.
An Edgbaston Nursery & Forest School for Your Child
At Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, we know the incredible importance of outdoor play and the many benefits that nature brings to children. That’s why we run our own Forest School, where children under five can spend time in The Great Outdoors, where they will learn and benefit in so many ways.
Learn more about Forest School here or enquire about a possible nursery place for your child at Leaps & Bounds. We’re a high-quality nursery and preschool located in Edgbaston, near Birmingham, also close to Ladywood, Bearwood, Harborne and Smethwick.
To register for a place, pay a visit with your child, or get answers to any questions, get in touch today:
Please note: the above list is not exhaustive and therefore parents/caregivers/supervising adults should always do their own risk assessments.