“You can journey to the ends of the earth in search of success, but if you’re lucky, you will discover happiness in your own backyard.”

Russell Conwell

2020 has been wild.  Most people are staying close to home.  We are lucky enough to have a small rectangle of a backyard. It’s been such a lifesaver with our children.  But keeping them safe in our backyard is just as important as keeping them safe away from home. 

The best way to help children stay safe when playing in the backyard is to have adult supervision and to create and maintain a safe play environment. In addition to a safe environment, it is important to make sure children have age-appropriate playground equipment and outdoor toys that meet government safety standards.

Privacy fencing

Depending on a home’s location, a child is best kept safe by having the backyard enclosed by a privacy fence. A privacy fence can shield a playing child from prying eyes of predators and can keep a curious child from wandering out of the play area. A privacy fence may help prevent a child from chasing a ball out into a street.

Tree dangers

Within the backyard, there are many naturally occurring potential dangers to children. Children should be discouraged from climbing trees as falls resulting in head and neck injuries may occur. If possible, completely remove tree stumps, especially if located in the central part of the yard. 

It is very easy for a child to forget to watch where he or she is running and a trip over a tree stump, causing injury. If removal is not possible, consider planting flowers around the stump to make it more noticeable. If the yard is home to older trees, promptly remove fallen limbs and large sticks, so children do not trip over them during play. Never allow children to run with sticks or put them in their mouths. Tripping when running with a stick can result in dangerous puncture wounds.

Poisonous plants

Be aware of the types of plants, bushes, shrubs, and flowers that live in your backyard. Many are pretty to look at but may be poisonous to humans if their seeds or leaves are eaten. For example, the common yew bush has little red berries that can be poisonous if several are eaten by a small child. Cornell University has a good list detailing common plants and which portions can be dangerous and toxic to humans if eaten. It is always a good idea to keep the number for the U.S. Poison Control Center on your cell phone and post with your family’s important number list. 

Mower safety

Keeping the backyard play environment safe includes keeping children out of the yard when the mower is in use. A mower can kick up rocks, sticks, or other debris easily launching it as a dangerous projectile. Never leave a riding mower idling unattended in the backyard when children are present. The mower can look like a big, tempting toy to a child. It is also inadvisable to mow with a child on your lap when using a riding mower.

Fire pits and grills

Always keep children a safe distance from a fire pit or other heating devices when they are in use. Adults should always be present when using a fire pit or patio heater, and children must be supervised. Wood added to the fire can create sparks that may singe young, delicate skin. Never allow a child to play by poking with a stick or skewer into the fire. Accidents can happen very quickly. It is equally important to keep children away from the backyard grill when it is in use and immediately after use. The sides of a grill can retain heat for a while after shutting down, and burns may result if touched.

Pool safety

Backyard pools can provide hours of fun for the family but can be dangerous for children playing unattended in the yard. In-ground pools should be enclosed by a locking fence, and above the ground, pools should be covered with a locking pool cover when not in use. Removing the ladder to the above ground pool can also deter children from climbing into a pool unattended. Children should never be allowed to swim and play in any size pool or style of the pool without adult supervision. This includes the small, plastic kiddie play pools.

Sandboxes, swing sets and play areas

Backyard sandboxes are great creative fun for children but must be securely covered when not in use. An uncovered sandbox can become an outdoor litter box for stray cats and other animals. Animal waste in the sand is a danger and hazard to children and adults.

Play equipment like swings, slide, and climbing structures are great entertainment and exercise for kids, but safety precautions need to be followed. Molded plastic structures work great for smaller children, but be sure that they are age-appropriate. No play structure should have any openings that are smaller than about three inches or larger than about nine inches. Metal structures like swing sets should be galvanized or painted to prevent rust. Wood structures should be made of pressure-treated wood and continually checked for splinters and rough spots. All bolts and fasteners should be checked monthly to ensure no part of the equipment is loose or failing.

Never place play equipment on asphal, concrete or in backyard areas that are hard-packed dirt and rock. Play equipment should be surrounded with shock-absorbing materials like mulch, pea gravel, sand, or a certified child safety mat. These materials should extend at least nine to ten inches away from the structure. When installing safety materials around a swing set or swinging area, always check the manufacturer’s guidelines for exact measurements. Stand-alone swing sets also need to be anchored into the ground securely to avoid any potential tipping. Never attach any loose rope like a jump rope or clothes line to children’s play equipment as kids can become entangled in the rope, and strangulation can occur.

Keeping children safe in the backyard does not have to be scary or complicated. To keep children safe in the backyard, adults need to consider the child’s age, maturity, and environment and then use common sense. Ultimately, if your gut instinct tells you the situation is not safe, listen to your gut and remove the children from the potential harm. It is always better to be safe than to run the risk of children being hurt, especially in their own backyard.


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