All playground games have inherent risks, but there are many things parents, teachers and playground supervisors can do to foster safe outdoor school games for children to enjoy.
Why Play Outside at All?
Because most children's recess-related injuries and accidents occur outside, many safety advocates may at first encourage the elimination or restriction of outdoor break time in an attempt to make recess safer. Outdoor play is crucial for students whenever possible, however. It gives them more space to be active with less crowding because of multiple classes sharing small gyms, and the fresh air and sunshine can rejuvenate students' energy for classroom activities. Furthermore, playing outdoors is no riskier than playing inside if a conscious effort is made to make the games safe.
Characteristics of Safe Outdoor School Games
While there are risks involved with any outdoor game - accidental trips, inadvertent injuries, scraped knees, etc. - there are many ways games can be made safe for all students to enjoy.
A safe environment is the first step to a safe game. The playground area should be fenced to prevent unauthorized persons from entering, as well as to keep students from accidentally straying into unsafe areas. The playground should also be free from potential hazards such as exposed tree roots that could trip students, trash, dangerous plants (thorns, toxic plants, etc.), hornets' nests and animal burrows. To keep students safe from other types of outdoor dangers, schools should also encourage proper dress, including shoes, and sunscreen for outdoor activities.
One of the most important factors in safe games is to ensure that students are actually playing the game properly. The exuberant energy and limitless imagination of school age children can result in crazy game variations that may be dangerous, particularly if other students begin to emulate unsafe actions. Before playing a game, students should understand the rules and be made aware of consequences for breaking them in an unsafe manner. Any horseplay or reckless behavior should be immediately controlled to prevent similar outbreaks, and dangerous behavior should not be tolerated.
Games need intact equipment to be played safely. Balls, bats, nets and other equipment should be carefully inspected before and after play to ensure there are no problems. Playground equipment such as jungle gyms and swing sets should be regularly examined for rust, weak spots, splinters, missing screws, sharp edges and other hazards that could cause injuries. Maintaining equipment properly will also extend its lifespan, letting more students enjoy games safely.
In addition to equipment needed for play, students should also be furnished any protective equipment necessary to participate. Proper footwear is essential - sandals, for example, are not safe for playing soccer - and safety pads, helmets and other protective gear should be available to help avoid injuries. Students should be taught that wearing pads and other safety equipment is the smart choice to make a game safe.
Adequate supervision is necessary to keep playground activities and games safe. At least one adult should be monitoring students involved in organized games, and ideally, there should be several adults to assist with a large group of students. Supervising adults should not be playing the games themselves - pitching for a softball game, for example - because this will limit their ability to monitor the safety of all players. In addition to watching for blatant safety violations, adults should take note of other behaviors such as bullying or inattentiveness that can lead to injury.Unfortunately, most schools do not have enough teachers to provide adequate playground supervision. Parents are often welcome to volunteer as playground aides and recess supervisor duties, as a greater number of adults available will limit harmful situations.
Safe Game Ideas
The best types of safe outdoor school games not only take place in a risk-free environment with proper equipment, behavioral expectations and supervision, but they are also designed to minimize dangerous situations. Safe games have very little contact between participants, and the rules are generally simple and easy for everyone to understand and follow. Popular outdoor games include:
- Freeze Tag
- Capture the Flag
- Touch Football
- Red Light Green Light
- Jump Rope
- Duck Duck Goose
- Hide and Seek
- What Time is it Mr. Wolf?
These popular playground games often have several variations, and adults should carefully monitor how the game is played and make adjustments if necessary to keep the activity safe and fun.
In Case of Emergency
Even safe games can sometimes result in accidents or injuries, and adults need to be prepared to handle emergencies:
- At least one adult should know child CPR and basic first aid.
- At least one adult should have immediate access to a cell phone to call for emergency assistance if necessary.
- Emergency contact information should be available for each student, including how to contact parents or guardians, students' allergies and other critical details.
- First aid kits should be readily available and should include disposable gloves, bandages, and other essentials.
- Adult supervisors should be familiar with students who have special needs, such as allergies to bee stings that may need swift treatment.
By creating an appropriate environment, teaching responsible behavior, providing proper equipment and being prepared for emergencies, it is possible to enjoy safe outdoor school games that offer fun and excitement to break up the school day.